Review – Render Unto Caesar

Cover of Render Unto Caesar by Gillian BradshawRender Unto Caesar, Gillian Bradshaw

I struggled with this one for a long time. Much as I’ve enjoyed other books by Gillian Bradshaw (I think I gave Island of Ghosts 5/5 stars!), this one really didn’t work for me. It’s easy enough to read, and the research and detail seems as solid as I’ve come to expect from Bradshaw, but I just didn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t get involved with the characters or plot, which is too bad considering it involves figures like a female gladiator.

I kept putting it aside for when I felt more like it, but months have passed without me being any more ‘in the mood’, and I’ve even read another Bradshaw book in the time which had similarities in terms of the tone and pace, but which I loved and read compulsively.

I’d say I’ll give this another chance someday, but I think I’ve given it a pretty fair one already. Bradshaw had me enjoying even a gutting of ‘Bisclaveret’; this just didn’t work for me. Time to cut my losses and move on to Bradshaw’s other work, which I will most likely enjoy.

Review – Skulk

Cover of Skulk by Rosie BestSkulk, Rosie Best

I couldn’t get into this one enough to enjoy it. I liked the atypical protagonist, or at least the idea of her — I liked that she wasn’t stick thin. Her mother seemed more than a bit like a cartoon villain, though, even though I know such mothers do exist in real life. It just didn’t ring true, somehow.

I did like the fact that all the shapeshifters are urban creatures — no wolves or bears or wildcats in the middle of the city, here. That aspect worked well, although the reason for their existence didn’t stand out. That’s pretty much my problem with the whole thing: the book barely stands out. I’ve seen these protagonists before, I’ve seen these antagonists before. The details, like Meg’s physical type and the types of shifter, seemed interesting, but I didn’t find anything else below that which interested me.

It’s not bad, just… boring.

Review – Dead Ground

Cover of Dead Ground by Chris AmiesDead Ground, Chris Amies

Got this from LibraryThing FirstReads, though I think it was actually originally out in 2002 or so. It’s quite a dry story in tone, despite the body count: there’s something detached and distant about it. I didn’t really feel for any of the characters (and wondered a bit about the whole “going native” theme, and about the choice of white Europeans being used as avatars of these ancient Polynesian gods, instead of, you know, Polynesians).

The most interesting thing was that Polynesian folklore, and that was pretty much what I kept reading for. That is something fresh and different in fantasy, in my experience at least. I think that’s pretty much the only thing I’d recommend this book for, though. Otherwise, it just felt bland.

Review – The Normans

Cover of The Normans: From Raiders to Kings by Lars Brownworth The Normans: From Raiders to Kings, Lars Brownworth

I thought I knew a decent among about the Normans. I mean, I’ve read a couple of books focusing on Normandy’s rulers, and obviously I don’t think a British schoolchild gets all the way through education without getting the date 1066 hammered into them and at least a vague idea about William the Conqueror and the Domesday Book.

But! This actually goes a bit further and looks at other Norman rulers, who pushed into Italy and Sicily — something that I wasn’t really aware of as stemming from Norman origins. I’ve read bits about this before, but never from this perspective. I knew nothing about the descent of the family or the web of feuds between them, Byzantium, various popes, and the German kingdom/s of the time.

All in all, pretty interesting, and well-written. I’m not sure about “witty”, which another review mentions, but it isn’t a chore to read. It does seem to have a reasonable number of sources and footnotes, which is another thing that makes me wary when it comes to popular histories. All in all, glad I won this from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Review – Night of Cake and Puppets

Cover of Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini TaylorNight of Cake and Puppets, Laini Taylor

Night of Cake and Puppets is a short story/novella about two of the side characters from the main Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. It’s not required reading, if you’re a fan, but if you’re impatiently waiting for Dreams of Gods and Monsters, it might hit the spot.

I didn’t find Zuzana and Mik all that inspiring as main characters — they couldn’t have carried a novel for me, at least not as they’re seen here — but it is very sweet and I enjoyed the quirkiness. I agree with another review I saw somewhere that mostly, there’s a problem with the fact that it’s a very straightforward romance. There’s no mystery or angst, which wouldn’t fly in the main trilogy, but it is a sweet little thing of its own.

Still, I can’t rate it as highly as the actual trilogy.

Stacking the Shelves

It’s Monday as I’m starting to assemble this post, and I already have two reservations to pick up from the library, so I think I can confidently say this is going to be a busy week. Which is just the way I like it. So, as usual for a Saturday morning, here’s my Stacking the Shelves post for the meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

Review copies

Cover of Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Bought (fiction)

Cover of Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach Cover of The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

Bought (non-fiction)

Cover of My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek Cover of Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane Cover of The Spark of Life by Frances Ashcroft

Library (fiction)

Cover of Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman Cover of Hounded by Kevin Hearne Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Library (non-fiction)

Cover of Dry Store Room No. 1 by Richard Fortey Cover of Darwin's Ghost by Steve Jones Cover of Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey

I’m most excited about the Richard Fortey book, I think. I’ve already read the one from last week and the first one in this post. I really like his style. Also glad to have finally found a book on dinosaurs — I’ve read one of Switek’s books before and quite liked it.

For the fiction, I’m most interested in Fortune’s Pawn, by Rachel Bach. Even if my Welsh-orientated brain reads her name as ‘little Rachel’. My sister loved the book, and Kameron Hurley recently mentioned it in a list of recs. Also curious about, if wary of, Magic Bites — I’ve never read Ilona Andrews before and I don’t know if it’ll be my thing. But I enjoyed Charlaine Harris when I didn’t expect to, so!

Review – Marketing the Moon

Cover of Marketing the Moon by David Meerman Scott, Richard Jurek, Eugene A. CernanMarketing the Moon, David Meerman Scott, Richard Jurek, Eugene A. Cernan

Lots of photos and so on in here! I imagine it’d be a big glossy book to own, although I just had it from Netgalley. It’s more about marketing the space program, as you’d expect, than about the actual space aspect itself, though there’s plenty of snippets of information, and it does look at the astronauts themselves as part of that marketing effort.

If you’re an Apollo enthusiast, it’s worth picking up, I’d say. It’s certainly accessible and informative.

Review – Black Dog

Cover of Black Dog, by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog, Rachel Neumeier

I quite liked this one. I had the author on my blog for a blog tour post a while ago, here, and I was sure I’d finish this in no time. But, life happened, I got a job, and this lingered tantalisingly on my Kobo, just waiting for me to finish it off and put together my thoughts.

So, I originally requested it because of the comparisons to Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, which I think are actually fairly apt. It has an interesting take on werewolf mythology, in the same way that McKinley did something a bit different with her vampires, and a magic system and world building that work well together. There’s even hints of a magic-related disaster where vampires run amok.

But, it’s also got an intriguing cast of characters who, gasp, are not all white. Natividad and her brothers are great, and their relationship seems more important than the other relationships in the book. Natividad doesn’t automatically fall for Tall, Dark and Sexy, and in fact there’s a lot of issues around that which have to be worked out.

My only problem with Black Dog is that I did have trouble picking it back up once I put it down. It builds tension well, but it’s hard to jump back in at that point when you’ve been busy. It then starts to feel quite slow. Still, very enjoyable and, importantly, something a bit different. I don’t know about the YA label — goodness knows I hardly ever agree with people about that — but it’s a good story.

Review – Deeds of Men

Cover of Deeds of Men by Marie BrennanDeeds of Men, Marie Brennan

At first, having won this on LibraryThing FirstReads, I intended to wait until I read at least the first book of this series to read this, but it sort of surfaced on my ereader today and I thought, well, why not? If I don’t understand the world, I can always stop and save it for after I’ve read the other books. Actually, I found it a decent introduction to the world. You have to be ready to be pretty spry in your thinking to understand some of the rules that shape the world, but for me it came together fairly well.

The story itself is suitably novella-sized, and even though I did see the conclusion from a mile off in terms of the resolution to the larger plot, I enjoyed seeing the process of how it came about. I suspect Deven is a character from other books, and Lune as well, but while details of their relationship were lacking, their problem still worked as a drive for the structure.

One odd thing was the way the narrative jumps about in time. I caught on to the pattern easily enough, and the alternation made sense, but it could be a little disorientating. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one, and am looking forward more to reading the other books of the series.

Review – The Water-castle

Cover of The Water-Castle by Brenda ChamberlainThe Water-castle, Brenda Chamberlain

There’s something strangely absorbing about The Water-castle. The relationship between Elizabeth and Klaus feels painfully real, which of course is because this is partially autobiographical. If it were a romance story, they’d have found some way to be together. As it is, it’s something real and painful, and unresolved.

Brenda Chamberlain’s writing is relatively simplistic, as if this really is a woman’s journal where she bears her thoughts without constructing them for an audience, which makes it work all the better. I’m glad in the finished version, she went with the ambiguous ending rather than the dramatic one: I’m not sure how the latter would have worked with this story; I don’t think it would have fit.