Tag: Jo Walton

Review – Farthing

Posted May 1, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Farthing, by Jo WaltonFarthing, Jo Walton

Halfway through rereading this, I stalled for a moment, thinking about the ending. See, the book starts out seeming pretty fun, despite the dark threats in the background: there’s plainly loving pastiche of Dorothy L. Sayers going on, and Lucy Kahn’s narration is lively and silly. All of that disguises, for a while, how serious the themes turn — and when they do, when the bottom of Carmichael’s life drops out, you’ll feel it too. I quoted Dar Williams’ song Buzzer when I first reviewed this, and it still applies: I get it now/I’m the face, I’m the cause of war/We don’t have to blame white-coated men anymore (it’s an amazing song, about Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments).

All in all, it’s just so well done. The pastiche works, and so does every aspect of the alternate history. The details are tweaked, and it all feels so plausible. I love the image of Churchill’s defiance of the events that create the background of and overshadow this book. For something that seems light at times, a pastiche, it turns out to be so horrifying — and not in the sense of gore and monsters, in the sense of how people can be so completely plausibly awful.

Personally, I love how Walton handles the minorities here, too: their individual voices, their differing hopes and fears, their differing ways of living in a world that’s trying to push them and their kind out. I mean, it’s obvious I’m already a fan, here, but I just think she gets so much right.

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Review – Among Others

Posted April 25, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others, Jo Walton

I’ve reviewed this before, at great length. Rereading it was interesting, though, both because Jo Walton shares a lot of my thoughts on rereading (see her book What Makes This Book So Great, which is a collection of essays), and because it’s not the kind of book that is changed by knowing the ending, because it’s not a book with a climactic scene, really. There is one, but ultimately that’s not as important as the whole process of the book: Mori learning to live without her sister, learning to grow and find her place. I said in my original review that it’s set after the real climax of the story, and that still seems fair to say. We don’t even learn about exactly what the big events were, because what’s interesting about Among Others is watching Mori live with it.

I still feel quite personally close to this book. Mori’s general style reminds me of myself at the same age, though I was a 2000 version rather than a 1970s, so my journal was online and I had a bit of an audience, but the similarities are still there. This time I noticed the differences more — Mori’s physical disability, the fact that she was at a boarding school, the fact that she had a twin and I never did, etc — but I still felt that kinship with her, her imagination, love of books and her Welshness. Definitely not least because I still inhale books like Mori, and have a self-professed love affair with libraries. They don’t seem to make the interlibrary loan system as apparent these days, but it’s worth chasing up a little, because it might just surprise you.

Anyway, in many ways it isn’t just the big things I identify with Mori on. It’s little details. It’s when she talks about not giving anything away, because it can be used against her. When she befriends other misfits. When books are more interesting to her than the things people are doing around her. Little mistakes that she makes because she reads more than she interacts with people, like thinking “Jr” is a name in itself and pronounced “Jirr” (don’t get my mother started on this subject, please). It’s the exact same reaction to people claiming something is a “successor to Tolkien” or “as good as Tolkien”!

All in all, I loved rereading this. It made me smile, sometimes laugh; sometimes it made me shake my head at teens and Mori and myself at that age (and even, really, myself now). One of the best moments was coming to one of Mori’s entries about riding the train into Wales, rereading a book, as I was riding a train into Wales rereading Among Others. Delightfully meta.

And I still think What Makes This Book So Great makes a very good companion read to get into all sorts of classic fantasy and SF.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted March 13, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter evidently, since I just posted the review today — and before that, Conquistadors by Michael Wood. One fiction, one non-fiction, but both based on bits of history I know comparatively little about, so both interesting for that!

What are you currently reading?
Dark Currents, by Jacqueline Carey, is what’s at the top of my pile. It’s fairly standard for urban fantasy, I guess, not as rich as most of Carey’s other work, but absorbing and well written. More like Robin McKinley’s Sunshine than Random Joe’s The X’s X or whatever. Speaking of a more Random Joe-ish one, I’ve also started reading Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey, which… well, when the main character has been dragged down to hell and then escapes, owns an Impala, and has an attitude problem, I side-eye Supernatural and wonder about the influence there.

Other than those two, I started Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which I thiiiink got mentioned in Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great? So that would be the impetus for finally getting round to it, probably. So far, the actual links to the Tam Lin ballad are just beginning to take shape, but I’m just glorying in that academic world. It seems so simple compared to the hoops they want me to jump through to get back into academia. (Hm, a thesis on fairytale retellings?)

Aaaaand I still haven’t picked The Thirteenth Tale back up yet, but I’ll get there.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, probably a bunch of graphic novels, since they’ll be the most awkward things to drag back to Cardiff in my suitcase. Then there’s my ARCs of Gretel and the Dark (Eliza Granville) and Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen) that I really really have to get to, or no one will ever send me physical ARCs again.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted January 29, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker, which was okay but not wondrous. And before that, Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great, which is wondrous and a joy to read — it distracted me from work, a lot (or made work easier to handle).

What are you currently reading?
Slow Fall to Dawn, by Stephen Leigh. It’s one of the books I found in Belgium that I’d never heard of before. Apparently it’s from the 80s, but it doesn’t seem too dated, probably because the author sensibly decided to set it after a civilisation crash (and rebuild). I’m enjoying it: at times, the writing seems a little clunky (like introducing a tiny detail and then two pages later, in the next chapter, bashing you over the head with the This Is Plot Relevant mallet).

Aaand Black Dog, by Rachel Neumeier. I’m taking my time with it, really. I’m quite enjoying that it doesn’t feel like YA, aside from in having adolescent protagonists — the characters aren’t instantly falling in love, they’re wary around each other, things aren’t easy, sibling bonds are more important than most other things… Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour swings by my blog tomorrow, so look out for that if you’re interested. There’s a giveaway as well.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, so far this year I’ve followed a fairly steady pattern of working on books I’ve already got started while reading one new, recently bought book that I obviously thought was shiny, while it’s fresh in my mind. So after Slow Fall to Dawn, I’ll probably read the two sequels, and after that… I might get round to Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen.

As for finishing books I’ve already got started, I think Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis and Gillian Bradshaw’s Render Unto Caesar are my next targets.

And I’d like to note that I haven’t bought any books since the Jo Walton, yet. I’m expecting an ARC and I won a LibraryThing giveaway, but I’ve been restrained.

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Review – What Makes This Book So Great

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

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo WaltonWhat Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton

If you’re looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the “100 Must Read” books I’ve been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it’s worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan — she doesn’t claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn’t hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those “100 Must Read” books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation.

It’s rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton’s written resonate right through me — and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I’ve spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there’s that: I’m utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there’s some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it’s no surprise that I adored this.

It also helps that it’s very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words — or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology.

It’s the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that.

The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of “100 Must Read” books and others of that species try and arrange, but there’s a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It’s not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read — it’s just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted January 25, 2014 by Nikki in General / 22 Comments

It’s time for Stacking the Shelves again! If you’re new to it, basically we all show off what books we’ve got in the past week. It’s hosted at Tynga’s Reviews, and you can find a ton of other people’s posts linked there too. So here’s my haul for the week — very restrained, for me: I think my partner will be shocked. At least if she discounts the ARCs, some of which I requested ages ago and some of which were unsolicited.

Ebooks

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Gretel and the Dark, by Eliza Granville Cover of The New Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko Cover of biography of Sally Ride Cover of Charles Darwin: Destroyer of Myths Cover of The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

I think I’m most excited about reading Jo Walton’s book. It’s sort of a companion to Among Others, in a way, talking about fantasy/SF, a lot of which is probably mentioned in Among Others. That book meant a lot to me for personal reasons, but the range of books discussed in it was amazing too. I’m interested in the Sally Ride biography, too; women in space!

And for those who’re just dropping by this blog for this post, and aren’t planning to look around at the rest of it, may I tempt you to stay?

Posts coming up on The Bibliophibian sometime soon:
-Comparison of ereaders.
-Reading and the blind/partially sighted (written as an RNIB volunteer, but however not officially representing the RNIB or blind people in any way, just my personal experiences).
-Lord of the Rings Online as an adaptation of the books.
-A post in Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour for Black Dog, with giveaway!

Plus, of course, the usual reviews of a range of books and comics!

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted January 23, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing I read was the Ultimate Hawkeye comic, I think. Not a big fan. And before that, J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Archive, which again, not a big fan of. Before that, though, it was Emilie & the Hollow World (Martha Wells), which makes a great girl’s own adventure story.

What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Emilie & the Sky World (Martha Wells), the sequel to the book mentioned above! It’s an ARC and I’m very much enjoying it. I wanted to finish it today, but work got in the way…

Non-fiction: Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages? (Guy Deutscher). It’s fascinating to read a longer explanation of the issues like the Ancient Greek epithet for the sea, the “wine-dark sea”, and why that arose from seeing colour differently.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Black Dog (Rachel Neumeier), as she’s stopping by my blog on her blog tour (post coming up on 31st January, if I remember rightly), from my ARCs. I also want to start on Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen).

And then there’s also What Makes This Book So Great (Jo Walton), which I will be buying in the morning. (Not now, I don’t need another excuse to procrastinate and get distra

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Books that define me

Posted December 20, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I’ve talked about books I reread, and authors for whom I will read anything they produce, which must go some way towards helping even the casual reader get to know me. But when I was thinking about possible posts for this blog, I wandered off into thinking about books that I’d give people to help them understand me — not non-fiction books, which would be too easy, but the fiction books which have shaped me or given a voice to something in me.

So I’ve come up with a little list of five and some explanations; you may also see these as recommendations.

  • There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Hazel Edwards. If there’s a book that defines my whole childhood, I guess this is it. As far as I was concerned, there was a hippo on my roof too, and if there wasn’t, there should be. (And a giraffe in the garden.) My life is still filled with teddies, many of them hippos, and I keep a copy of this book in sight of my desk. And there’s still a hippopotamus on my roof, although sometimes now he worries about his weight, and trades in the cake for a diet of mushrooms. (Why mushrooms? That’s another story.)
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. I probably love The Lord of the Rings more than The Hobbit, but this is the book that enchanted me when I was a bit too old for Cat and Mouse or hippos on the roof. I could’ve read this endlessly, and often did. I remember one night when my parents were particularly determined to make me go to sleep, and I was equally determined not to, I read this book by the light of the streetlights down past the end of our garden, shining in just a little through my window. My imagination became full of dragons and trolls, and dwarves and gold, and wizards. And they’ve never left me either.
  • The Positronic Man, Isaac Asimov. Once upon a time, my mother got me some Asimov books out of the library on her account, because they wouldn’t let me into that section and I’d read everything they didn’t drag out of my clutching little hands. I have no idea what the library fine was when I finally allowed her to take this one back, but it’s fair to say it was probably the most epic fine I’ve ever wracked up — and I did manage some epic ones in university. I loved Andrew and his struggle to become human, and still do, even if I’d happily move the other way. Also, Andrew’s struggle for his rights, for the respect of the people around him, certainly speak to me now on a level I wasn’t aware of back then. I had no idea at that age that civil rights would become an issue for me, or that they were an issue for people like me.
  • The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. I didn’t read this until I was about fifteen, sixteen, despite what everyone expects when they see my battered to death copy. I reread it just about every year, around this time; it seriously got under my skin. It’s magic with consequences: Will is an adult and more than an adult in a child’s body; Bran is isolated, motherless, starving for love; the Drews grow up over the course of the books; John Rowlands loses the love of his life, learning that she’s not the woman he thought she was… Things don’t really come alright at the end. And, of course, it draws on some of my heritage, Welsh legends, and deals with some of the tensions between Welsh and English. And there are themes about racism and bigotry, and some amazing passages about all sorts of things from justice to Englishness to responsibility.
  • Among Others, Jo Walton. I read this and thought, this is me. Of all these books, if you want to get to know me, this is the most important. Sure, there are ways in which I’m very unlike Mori, but her love affair with books, her thirst for them, some of the Welsh/English issues going on, many of the things she’s dealing with… I recognise them. For Christmas, I gave each of my ex-housemates a copy of this book. On reading the back, they all mentioned the immediate parallels between me and Mori…

Honourable mentions go to Enid Blyton’s Tales of Brave Adventure (I owned two much-loved, faded copies: one my father’s, one my mother’s), C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth.

And, perhaps surprisingly even to my mother, the old chapter-a-day retelling of the Bible for children which I had. I’m not a Christian, but I still think that a lot of the goodness in me, I learnt there.

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A correction and a giveaway

Posted November 11, 2013 by Nikki in General, Giveaways / 27 Comments

I missed someone out of my auto-read list. This is a bit mortifying as I’ve actually had personal interaction with the author and adore her books. She is lovely and offers good advice on home remedies for things like acid reflux. She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of Jo Walton’s Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.

This correction is important because now I am going to run a giveaway! I’m going to Belgium to stay with my partner at the end of this week, and before I go anywhere I usually announce a guessing game on Twitter: how many books am I taking with me?

To make this easier, we’re not including the comic books I’m taking to lend to Lisa, or books on either of my ereaders. We’re just talking about dead tree books. That’s all you have to do: guess the number of dead tree books I will take with me to Belgium. I don’t know yet myself, so I can’t give you any hints. The only guidance I can give is that I’ve been known to take anything from five to twenty books with me on this particular trip, I will probably read about a book a day, and I will be there two weeks, but I will be going to one of my favourite bookshops in the world while I’m there.

The prize will be one book, under £10, by any author mentioned in either my auto-read list or my reread list, which I will send anywhere in the world via Bookdepository. If you enter, make sure I have a way to contact you so I can get your address! The winner will be the person whose guess comes closest to the number of books I actually have with me on the train come Friday 15th November.

You can enter by leaving a comment here, or by emailing me at bibliophibianbreathesbooks[at]gmail[dot]com.

ETA: If two people guess the same number, that’s fine — I’ll just pick one of them to get the prize by a random draw.

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