Tag: books

Review – The Riddle-master of Hed

Posted May 27, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia McKillipThe Riddle-master of Hed, Patricia A. McKillip

This is beautifully written, as all of Patricia McKillip’s work is. However, something in the density of it makes it difficult — not to read; I sped through it, in that sense, but to understand exactly what it going on and how we should feel about it. I’ve had that problem with one or two of McKillip’s other books, so I think it’s something about her style which may or may not be a problem for other people. I wouldn’t actually start here, with McKillip: I first fell in love with The Changeling Sea, I think, and I’d start there if I could begin with her work again.

Nonetheless, it is beautifully written and a joy to read in that sense. You might find yourself lingering over a sentence, a paragraph, because of the way it’s put together.

I can’t help but think that Le Guin’s Ged and McKillip’s Morgon have a certain amount in common. They’re both driven by their destinies, rather than following them willingly. They baulk more than a hero-type like, say, Aragorn or Frodo. Maybe slightly more in common with Bilbo, wishing he could be back home listening to his kettle sing, and Morgon especially shares that unwillingness and the sense that the goal is not really his own.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the world-building. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff here, revealed in a careful way (avoiding any info dumps like “as you know, Bob, the wizards disappeared seven hundred years ago”). But the story is so clearly unfinished, so clearly part of a trilogy — maybe not even a trilogy, I can’t see how this could be a complete book on its own in any sense, it doesn’t really come to any conclusion. So I’ll reserve broader judgement for later. Onwards!

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Review – A Mind of Its Own

Posted May 26, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Mind of Its Own by Cordelia FineA Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine

If you’ve read much on the subject, this doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but it’s presented in a readable, well-organised format, meticulously footnoted, and adopts a pretty light tone. If you’re anything like me, you’ll smile in recognition of some of the things she says — in the middle of describing the brain’s unreliability, Fine points out that precisely in line with what she’s saying, your brain is probably insisting you’re different. It doesn’t apply to you. You’d ignore the researcher in the obedience to authority experiments, you can see through your brain’s attempts to make you believe you’re better than you are.

(And if you’re honest, you’ll admit at this point that you do want to think you’re different. My favourite bit was putting some of this together. For example, when it talked about experiments where people were told that extroverts do better at something, they went through their memories and pulled out only ones that corresponded with an extroverted image of themselves. On the other hand, I ruefully thought about all the ways I am a hopeless introvert — thereby illustrating one of the brain’s ways of protecting itself from failure, by providing myself with an excuse, i.e. ‘if I’m less successful, it’s because I’m not extroverted’.)

Not revelatory, but pretty fun.

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Review – Six Feet Over

Posted May 25, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Six Feet Over by Mary RoachSix Feet Over, Mary Roach

I don’t think I’m the greatest fan of Mary Roach’s style. It’s informal, easy to read, self-deprecating — but when it comes to a topic like this, I don’t want to hear all about Mary Roach unless it really illuminates the subject matter. Granted, stuff like near-death experiences and the various ideas of what happens to us after we die are things I’ve been interested in for a long time, and don’t really need an entry-level primer on. (I had to memorise the stages of an NDE as described by Kenneth Ring for my religious studies A Level.)

Still, where this deals with facts instead of impressions, it’s interesting stuff. A couple of the studies and anecdotes were familiar to me from what I already knew: I still find the case of the woman who saw the surgical tools being used on her despite having her eyes taped shut an interesting one. (It’s convincing because it wasn’t a typical tool, not something she’d have come across elsewhere, and she didn’t see the instruments before or after her operation.)

Overall, this probably isn’t going to convince you either way, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it’s certainly got some interesting snippets of information.

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Review – My Real Children

Posted May 24, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of My Real Children by Jo WaltonMy Real Children, Jo Walton

So, first off: I am completely, utterly biased. Jo sent me a copy to review, I had my own pre-ordered copy several days before the book released, I love her work in general, and she’s been great to me. This doesn’t speak to me in the same way Among Others did, but all the same, it’s wonderful. I love the way the two timelines are handled, and I love the way that last chapter brings things back into alignment. I love that I was thinking all along that I wasn’t sure about the narration, and yet somehow it worked and brought me to tears.

The thing with the narration is, this is a short book to hold the sum of two lives. So at times the narration seems to summarise things that could have been interesting expanded. I wasn’t sure for parts of it whether the emotional impact would still be there, but it is. In some places, it fits perfectly the way things happen: matter of fact, sudden, without announcing themselves first. I was thinking about whether I’d want it to be expanded, but I don’t think I would. It would take away from the structure, the careful balance Jo builds.

I love the fact that this book is jammed full of people. Gay people, out and closeted both; unconventional relationships and love that doesn’t colour between the lines; families, built and chosen; people with disabilities who conform to no stereotype; pacifists and campaigners; scientists; women making their way in a sexist world and pushing the boundaries… All of them are handled with respect and care for their stories.

The whole plot… I don’t know how much is too much to give away, here. The final chapter just makes everything slide into place and come clear. You’ve got Pat/Trish living two separate lives, each with their own kinds of happiness and fulfillment. You think it’s going to be simple to choose which one you’d prefer for her, and then if you just tilt to the head you can see why that wouldn’t be the right choice.

And I don’t know if anyone else felt this, coming to the last page, but I don’t actually know which version of herself Patricia chooses. It looks like a straight-up choice between personal happiness and wider well-being, but the whole book shows us the importance of tiny actions by a single person. Trish is a person who takes care of other people, who sacrifices her own well-being for that: does Patricia choose to follow her path, because that’s part of who she is? Pat is a person who focuses on her family, who loves art, who makes the world a better place, but who is ultimately quite insular: does Patricia choose to follow Pat, because that insularity is part of her too? Saying that she couldn’t make any other choice only makes sense after she’s chosen.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted May 24, 2014 by Nikki in General / 38 Comments

Oh. Oh dear. It’s been a busy week, and it’s time for Stacking the Shelves, as hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! There was a library, and a second hand bookshop, and… things just escalated, okay? It doesn’t help that I’ve actually got hard copies of some of the books I originally got as ARCs from the library, just to make me feel guilty when I look at them. I’m not sure it’s working, but. Books! Also re-bought some books I already technically own, for the excuse to reread. You may have noticed I like doing that.

Library books

Cover of Six Feet Over by Mary Roach Cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Cover of Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach Cover of Honor's Knight, by Rachel Bach Cover of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell Cover of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley Cover of Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

Of this lot, I already had Fortune’s Pawn in ebook, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches and Wolfhound Century as ARCs, and I’ve already read and adore The Night Circus.

Second-hand bookshop finds

 Cover of The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia McKillip Cover of Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Adventures of Alyx by Joanna Russ Cover of Dodie Smith's It Ends With Revelations Cover of The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith Cover of The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

These are all new to me, though I know Patricia McKillip is great, and I picked up the Dodie Smith books because, oh, how I love I Capture the Castle.

Ebooks

Cover of Beowulf trans. J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of Bloodshot by Cherie Priest Cover of Hellbent by Cherie Priest Cover of The Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein Cover of A Mind of Its Own by Cordelia Fine

The Cherie Priest books are to reread, because I love them. <3 And omg, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf. I have been hoping for this to be published since I first heard of it.

Hardcovers

Cover of My Real Children by Jo Walton

Look what showed up!

Review copies/ARCs

Cover of The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I am so excited for this one.

So yeah, busy week! What’s everyone else been stocking up on?

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Review – Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary

Posted May 23, 2014 by Nikki in Academic, Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Beowulf trans. J.R.R. TolkienBeowulf: A Translation and Commentary, J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien

I’m full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf — Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England — but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here — the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations, mythic and historic origins — and dealt with in a confident, convincing way. Tolkien’s close reading of the text is exemplary. I don’t feel like I have the knowledge to criticise his work, but I do know that it’s incredibly worth reading.

As with most of the other posthumously published work by Tolkien, though, this isn’t really something for the layman. It’s not exactly technical, but in delves into the minutiae so much. For a translation of the poem for an interested but not greatly knowledgable layman, I’d still recommend Seamus Heaney’s translation as lively, well-considered and interesting. For commentary on the poem, general introductions are still enough. But for anyone who is more deeply interested in Beowulf, then this is an amazing resource. His treatment of the plot of the poem as a short story, ‘Sellic Spell’, doesn’t entirely convince me as a precursor story to Beowulf (it rings very strongly of fairytales, to me, and not so much to a sort of mythic background) but is interesting nonetheless.

In terms of fans of Tolkien’s fiction as well as or instead of his academic work, there are gems here for us too. His translation of Beowulf really emphasises the Beowulfian elements in The Hobbit, and the way he phrases things, though slightly more archaic, is definitely familiar. His commentary mentions words you might recognise from his novels — maþm, OE ‘gift’, for example, as long as you remember that þ = th…

All in all, this may be because of my personal interests and the fact that I have done some academic work on Tolkien, but I think this is generally more valuable than most of the other work brought out posthumously by Christopher Tolkien, and I found CT’s editing most logical and less of a barrier here than ever since The Silmarillion. I got very excited about it, and while I got an ebook to have it right away, I will shortly obtain a hardcover for my collection, and count it worth it.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted May 20, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I haven’t done the Top Ten Tuesday thing for a while, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I like this topic — top ten books about friendship.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. The friendship between Ged and Vetch, the quiet solid thereness of it… you know for sure that Vetch would never let you down if he could help it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I actually thought of this because they’ve got it in their list, but it’s still true. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli… even, in a way, Frodo and Gollum, because Frodo manages to reach out with pity and sympathy to Smeagol.
  3. The Prize in the Game,Jo Walton. Ferdia and Darag. “Your name in my heart,” indeed. (Okay, there’s romantic aspects to that, but I think first and foremost they’re friends.)
  4. The Grey King, Susan Cooper. Bran and Will. The way they fit together, understand each other better than anyone else, and the way they still hurt each other because neither of them is perfect.
  5. Captain Marvel, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol and Steve! Carol and Jessica! Carol and Monica!
  6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker. Steve and Bucky. Just, Steve and Bucky. I know this is a movie quote but, “I’m with you till the end of the line.”
  7. The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay. Paul and Kevin, primarily, although all the bonds between the group are great. Kim and Jennifer, particularly. Just the way there are these deep loves that come entirely out of friendship. Guy Gavriel Kay is also pretty good at this in other books, too, like Tigana.
  8. The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Gavin Extence. Alex and Mr. Peterson. So unlikely, and yet Extence made me believe in it.
  9. Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff. Arthur and Bedwyr. Ouch, ouch. “I could have cried out to him, as Jonathan to David, by the forbidden love names that are not used between men; I could have flung my arms around his shoulders.”
  10. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman. Crowley and Aziraphale. Because of course.

I am a little bothered by the fact that almost all of those are male friendships. It’s partly a function of the books I’ve loved since I was a kid, before I was really choosy in any way about what I read, but still. Rec me your books with female friendship!

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Review – Attachments

Posted May 18, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Attachments by Rainbow RowellAttachments, Rainbow Rowell

I unexpectedly adored this. I was tempted to stay up late to finish it. I pretty much devoured it. I feel the urge to defend it against bad/lukewarm reviews. And I don’t even really know why — there’s something in the writing style, the characters, the warmth I feel from it.

I love that it deals with heavy issues like self-esteem and miscarriage and self-loathing without making them seem incidental and trivial: Lincoln falls in love with Beth partly because of how she comforts Jennifer, and so did I. She seems a wonderfully warm character, wise, and yet not perfect. If she were perfect, she would have seen her relationship with Chris for what it was. Jennifer is a side character, but she’s not just a plot device: I cared about her issues with having a baby, with her grief and guilt. I cared about Lincoln’s mother’s issues, his sister.

Also, I loved the nostalgia. I was a kid at the time, I guess, but I still remember the new millennium, the worry about the Y2K issues with computers, and I remember those email filters on the school computers and… I think that’s likely to seem like a completely different world to readers only a little younger than me, but I was a bit charmed by the nostalgia factor there.

Bottom line, it’s not a life-changing book, it’s not going to shake your world view in any way. But it’s enjoyable and sweet, and I loved it. It’s a chick flick in novel form, in terms of theme and plot, but it takes serious things seriously, and that makes the whole thing work.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted May 17, 2014 by Nikki in General / 28 Comments

Time for the Stacking the Shelves meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. Busy week! These actually came in an assortment of omnibuses, but seeing the individual books with their old covers seems more fun to me.

Cover of Taltos by Steven Brust Cover of Phoenix by Steven Brust Cover of Athyra by Steven Brust Cover of Orca by Steven Brust Cover of Dragon by Steven Brust Cover of Issola by Steven Brust Cover of Dzur by Steven Brust Cover of Jhegaala by Steven Brust

Also received my print ARC of Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life! <3

Oh, and some comics…

Cover of Marvel's Captain Marvel, issue three

Oh, and one final review copy…

Cover of Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick

I’m not a big fan of Emma Rios’ style, but I do enjoy Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work, so I’m excited. And yes, this post is pretty much the Steven Brust and Kelly Sue DeConnick show.

What’s everyone else been up to?

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted May 15, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Most recent was The Twelve Caesars (Matthew Dennison), which was disappointing in its total inability to make any concrete statements. Like being wrapped up in wool. Ugh. I’ll stick to getting round to Suetonius. Before that was The Door into Summer (Robert Heinlein), which I liked well enough but didn’t blow me away (and creeped me out in the place it usually creeps people out).

What are you currently reading?
My Real Children (Jo Walton). I gulp it down when I get a minute, but I haven’t been in the mood to read as much so I haven’t been making the minutes. Also The Buried Life (Carrie Patel), same issue.

What will you read next?
For once, I’m fairly certain: it’ll be Steven Brust’s Yendi. Otherwise, I’m still going to work on the endless currently reading list, though I am for some reason very tempted to try Jim Butcher again, and to try reading more Vorkosigan (Lois McMaster Bujold). Because it’s not as though I have enough on the go already, right?

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