Review – Jurassic Mary

Cover of Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters by Patricia PierceJurassic Mary, Patricia Pierce

I couldn’t resist grabbing this when I came across it randomly in the library. I was hoping for more books on dinosaurs, but I’ll take a biography of an amazing female scientist any day. The unfortunate thing about Mary Anning is that she wasn’t treated as the professional she was. Or, rather, she was accepted as a professional fossil hunter, but she wasn’t given the recognition she deserved. And unfortunately, a lot of what we know about her is framed by the male geologists and scientists who relied on her.

Still, Patricia Pierce does a decent job of bringing Mary Anning to life and pointing out how amazing her achievements were, given her social context. I could do with less speculation about her romantic life, about which there appears to be not a shred of proof. Maybe she just wasn’t interested? But that didn’t take up too much space: it just struck me as falling into the trap of seeing Mary Anning the way her contemporaries would’ve, with too much emphasis on her being a ‘spinster’.

Rating: 3/5


Thursday Thoughts: Gender Trouble

Thursday Thoughts this week, prompt via Ok, Let’s Read.

Gender Bias & Sexism – What is your opinion on males reading books “geared towards women” such as YA contemporary, romance, most new adult, etc? In that same vein, what’s your opinion on females reading comics and graphic novels? Do you agree that sexism, or at least gender bias’, are apparent in today’s bookish world? Are you someone who “breaks” these bias’?

I… have a problem with this question. I’m not a fan of people overemphasising gender in the first place. My dad cooked the meals and ironed my clothes, my mum earned the money to put food on the table. I played with Polly Pockets and Barbies, my sister played with Action Man, and we both fought tooth and claw — with each other, and with local boys. I don’t see that rigid ideas of gender do anyone any good; it’s mostly cultural stuff that enforces the differences, and most people are somewhere on the spectrum, not plonked solidly at a point marked ‘girl’ or ‘boy’.

That being said, of course there’s bias in the bookish world, especially in the market place. There’s constantly people on Goodreads wanting to filter reviews by the reviewer’s gender, because they don’t agree with ‘the opinions of females’. Some authors choose gender neutral pen-names to just dodge any sexism. If a woman writes urban fantasy, it goes in paranormal romance. If a man does, it goes in fantasy or maybe horror. Women are constantly objectified on book covers, and you should see some of the abuse female writers get — Kameron Hurley leaps to mind.

And yeah, I do break these biases. I read Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, and I read the Captain America comics. I read hard SF. I read non-fiction that I seriously have been told is ‘too difficult for a woman to understand’. Blood and guts and gore don’t bother me, while flowery sex scenes make me want to puke.

I’ve been glared out of comics shops because I’m female-shaped, or blamed for other people being pushy, or told they don’t sell ‘girl’s comics’ like Ms. Marvel; the bias is there, but I say fuck it and go give someone else my money. Best thing to do — that, and complain to the managers.

There are people out there who feel constrained by these biases, of course, and I hope that doesn’t last forever. Mind you, a couple of Christmases ago, my male cousin asked for a copy of Twilight for Christmas, so if we ignore his taste in books, I think that does show that there are plenty of people who just don’t care.

What are you reading Wednesday

What have you recently finished reading?
Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise by Steve Jones, which I still need to review. Interesting, and a better read than his update of The Origin of Species. Before that, Sarah Canary (Karen Joy Fowler), about which I still feel pretty ambivalent.

What are you currently reading?
I’m working hardest on my stack of books from the library, before I go away for a few weeks, so I’m nearly finished with Y: The Descent of Men (Steve Jones), which is definitely more entertaining than either of the other books of his I’ve already mentioned. I’ve also got This Is the Way The World Ends (James Morrow) on the go, because it fits both my finish-library-books bet and my SF Masterworks challenge; I’m really enjoying it, actually, although I thought from reading the back that it might be too absurd for me. I’ve juuuust started Windhaven (George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle), which is interesting but not blowing me away so far.

ARC-wise, I’ve got the longer books I’ve mentioned before in hand, plus Gutenberg’s Apprentice (Alix Christie), since I now have one of the limited edition Bookbridgr copies.

What will you read next?
I’ll go back on the attack with Elantris (Brandon Sanderson) and Monster of God (David Quammen), I think. They’re both library books. After that, probably Steve Jones’ Darwin’s Island, which is actually not about Galapagos but about the UK.

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Top Ten Books I’m Not Sure I Want To Read”, which is an interesting one. Here goes…

  1. The Firebrand, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’m fairly sure I don’t want to read this anymore, with all the stuff that’s come out about Bradley’s child abuse, enabling of paedophilia, etc. And I know I loathed The Mists of Avalon. But it’s Cassandra of Troy, and that gives me this tiny spark of hope, because I haven’t read enough about her… but yeah, probably a bad idea.
  2. So You Want to Be a Wizard, Diane Duane. For no big reason, it’s just — they’ve been on my to read list for so long, and have never yet caught my attention and said “read me, now”.
  3. The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I know I’ve read books of his before, but the ones in this series haven’t really stuck in my mind, and I’m not sure I have the interest anymore.
  4. The Body at the Tower, Y.S. Lee. I read the first book ages ago and thought it was okay, but… the fact that I never went on to the second or third books, and I mean not even within two or three years, doesn’t really encourage me to go back and try them.
  5. Snobbery with Violence, M.C. Beaton. Did noooot get on with her Agatha Raisin books.
  6. Avempartha, Michael J. Sullivan. I liked the first book well enough, but it’s another where I just didn’t pick up the next.
  7. Empress, Karen Miller. I loved what she did with characters in the Innocent Mage duology, but some of the plot was just… argh, cartoon villains and such slow development of events. And other people have said they didn’t think she did a good job with the characters here.
  8. The Many-Coloured Land, Julian May. I tried these when I was younger and never got into them… Sorry Mum.
  9. The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker. Mostly just because it’s so dauntingly long.
  10. Lord Foul’s Bane, Stephen Donaldson. Sorry again, Mum! This is just one that’s never appealed to me that much, especially because of the way the character behaves very early on. (The description of his leprosy, etc, didn’t bother me at all; while others think that’s a slow beginning, I liked the way it set him up. But his behaviour? Ughh.)

So, what about everyone else? And if you tell me The Lord of the Rings, we need to have words. (You are allowed not to like it, I swear.)

Review – Sarah Canary

Cover of Sarah Canary by Karen Joy FowlerSarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler

I do not know what to make of this book. I suspected I wasn’t going to enjoy it, since I haven’t enjoyed other stuff by Karen Joy Fowler, but that’s not exactly what happened. I did get caught up in the story, intrigued by the mystery of Sarah Canary. At the same time, I felt like it was one of a type of novel I don’t get on very well with, something very opaque, where motivations aren’t clear and things just happen to the characters as if they are just giving themselves over to whichever way life pushes them.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that kind of story, it just doesn’t really do anything for me. Well, I’m sure there are exceptions, but this wasn’t one — the best I can say is that I read it very quickly, I had no intention of stopping, and I did find it interesting. Partially because of the genre-twisty is-this-SF question about it, rather than because of it — ambiguous stories don’t bother me, but the combination of style and character here did.

On the other hand, I did like the portrayal of B.J. For all that he’s clearly “not all there” in colloquial terms, he’s good at heart and the way he sees the world makes for an interesting point of view. The passages from his point of view were maybe the best in the novel, for me.

Rating: 3/5

Seven Deadly Sins (of reading)

Quite like this meme which I lifted from Leah @ Uncorked Thoughts.

GREED – What is your most inexpensive book?

Well, aside from all the freebies, bookmooched stuff, etc, I think it’d have been something from a charity shop. I have a copy of Raymond E. Feist’s Magician that cost me 20p, for example. (Why I bought it when I already own it in paperback and ebook is a mystery I’ll leave for you to ponder.)

WRATH – What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?

Philip Palmer. The books of his I’ve loved, I’ve really loved (despite having giant problems with them, in some cases). And then two of his other books were so meh I wanted to shake him.

GLUTTONY – What book have you devoured over and over with no shame?

The Lord of the Rings, of course. Well, and The Hobbit; they come as a pair for me, really, but I’ve probably read The Hobbit more, since Mum wouldn’t let me read LOTR until I was old enough to appreciate it. I could pretty much start it again once I’ve finished it; it’d have to go with me to a desert island.

SLOTH – What book have you neglected reading due to laziness?

An awful lot of books. One example… Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. I’ve had it on my shelves for ages now.

PRIDE – What book do you talk most about to sound like an intellectual reader?

I don’t think I do that much. Maybe Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Which I honestly do love, though. I’d rather show you how smart I am by telling you all about how Tolkien used his sources in The Lord of the Rings, for all that it’s looked down upon by some “intellectuals”. He was a clever, clever man.

LUST – What attributes do you find attractive in male or female characters?

In any characters, male, female or otherwise, it’s compassion and loyalty. I am gaga for the stupidly loyal ones.

ENVY – What book would you most like to receive as a gift?

Other than a first edition of LOTR? Honestly, I’m not too acquisitive about books in that sense — I’m not envious of the books other people have, generally. Sometimes there’s an ARC that makes me flail — like, I missed out on Kim Curran’s Delete when it was on Netgalley, since I expected to be able to buy it soon after, except then there was Strange Chemistry’s demise… Now I’m jealous of everyone with a copy.

Stacking the Shelves

Aaaand it’s time for Stacking the Shelves, a la Tynga’s Reviews, as usual. I’m still on a book ban until WorldCon (I think this is the third week now I haven’t bought anything), but I am still receiving ARCs and freebies, woo.

Via Bookbridgr

Cover of A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick Cover of Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene

Both of these sounded intriguing when I looked them up. I’ve already finished A Love Like Blood — review here.


Cover of One Two Three by Elodie Nowodazkij

Won from Reading Is My Treasure‘s giveaway — can’t believe I forgot to include this last week. Thank you to her and the author for sending me this.


Cover of Hollow Crown by Dan Jones Cover of Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie Cover of The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas

I’ve been reading other stuff around the War of the Roses recently, so I guess it’s not surprising I jumped at that one. I’ve been looking at Gutenberg’s Apprentice for a while, especially since I read The Gutenberg Revolution earlier in the year. And The Hidden Blade just looked kinda fun. Swordswomen! Even if swordsmanship in that dress seems… unlikely.

What’s everyone else been getting their grubby hands on?

Review – Mindstar Rising

Cover of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. HamiltonMindstar Rising, Peter F. Hamilton

Mindstar Rising is a reasonably entertaining technological thriller, though I’m not going to touch the politics aspect of the speculative world Hamilton has created. The pace is okay, enough to keep you interested, and there are some characters that you get a little caught up in — Julia, for example, and her grandfather; I felt pity for the wreck he was in, and sympathy because of the way he adored her. And Julia… I sympathised with the way she was struggling to figure out how she fit into the world.

On the whole, though, I won’t be reading more of Hamilton’s work, at least until I’ve got this ridiculous stack of books down a bit (unless there’s another Hamilton book hiding in the pile). I think it’s something more in my sister’s line than mine, perhaps. Anyway, my main problem was the main character, Greg Mandel. He was just bland to me, up to the point where he used his psychic abilities to seduce a much younger, vulnerable woman. Then I started feeling twitchy. It’s one thing to use it against people in criminal investigations — although even then, I feel like someone’s thoughts and emotions are really their own business and no one else’s — but using it for the sole purpose of getting laid?

Also, man, I have had enough of the male gaze-y crap. There are intelligent women in this book, strong women, but I think every woman Mandel comes across is evaluated first in terms of how she looks. I’ve had quiiiiiite enough of that, thank you.

Entertaining, like I said, but I’m not feeling the enthusiasm.

Rating: 2/5

Review – A Love Like Blood

Cover of A Love Like Blood by Marcus SedgwickA Love Like Blood, Marcus Sedgwick

A Love Like Blood is a pretty disturbing book. I wasn’t sure that to expect when I requested it from Bookbridgr, and I’m a little worried that everything I say or tag it with is going to spoil the story somewhat. It’s a mystery, a slowly unravelling one, and part of that mystery is actually what genre we’re in here. I suggest you don’t read beyond here in this review if you’re planning on reading this; while I’ll try not to include spoilers as such, it still might inform your reading of the novel.

Given Sedgwick’s previous work, I expected it to have paranormal elements; I wasn’t expecting the darkness of this story, though perhaps from this quote on the back, I should’ve: “the worst monsters are entirely human.” I’m still not sure how exactly I feel about that bait-and-switch — everything about it seemed to suggest a sort of gothic vampire novel, especially with Lindqvist blurbing it.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing. I admire the structure of it, the way it plays with the reader’s expectations: it’s very conscious of other books in the various related genres, I think. I admire the way it comes together, and of course it leaves me thinking back over the story and what each little event described means — because it does all mean something.

I’m a bit baffled by the way some reviewers reached the end of this and then still complained the character was not likeable enough to follow for the whole book. Well, if you read for likeable characters, then that’s valid, but I can’t understand finishing the book and then feeling that Sedgwick accidentally made his protagonist a creep.

In terms of the writing style, I found it a pretty easy read. It’s written in a slightly old-fashioned style, since it’s narrated from the point of view of an educated Englishman during/post WWII; I thought that was reasonably well handled, though I do find myself wondering why the narrator is telling the story, and to who.

All in all, I think I’m rating this a slightly uneasy 3/5. It possibly deserves more in some respects, but I can’t say I liked it. This is a compromise between the fact that I found it interesting but also repellant.

Rating: 3/5

Throwback Thursday

It’s been a while since I did Throwback Thursday, which some book bloggers are using to highlight books they’ve had kicking around for a while and haven’t got round to yet. But there’s definitely tons and tons of books on the list for me. Each time I do this, I narrow it down to three… So far, it hasn’t got me to hurry up and read them yet, but I live in hope.

The Alchemist of Souls, Anne Lyle

Cover of The Alchemist of Souls by Anne LyleWhen Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

It’s an Angry Robot book, so it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll get round to this in the end. And I do love alternate history scenarios, especially when they blend in magic. I’ve actually got the whole trilogy, so it’s really high time I got round to this.

River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay

Cover of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel KayRen Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

I love pretty much everything GGK’s written, so I’m excited to get round to this. That’s a while away, though, because I have a plan to read through all of his work, chronological order by publication, to watch his skills and themes developing. I’m on A Song for Arbonne.

To Ride Hell’s Chasm, Janny Wurts

Cover of To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny WurtsWhen Princess Anja fails to appear at her betrothal banquet, the tiny, peaceful kingdom of Sessalie is plunged into intrigue. Two warriors are charged with recovering the distraught king’s beloved daughter. Taskin, Commander of the Royal Guard, whose icy competence and impressive life-term as the Crown’s right-hand man command the kingdom’s deep-seated respect; and Mykkael, the rough-hewn newcomer who has won the post of Captain of the Garrison – a scarred veteran with a deadly record of field warfare, whose ‘interesting’ background and foreign breeding are held in contempt by court society.

As the princess’s trail vanishes outside the citadel’s gates, anxiety and tension escalate. Mykkael’s investigations lead him to a radical explanation for the mystery, but he finds himself under suspicion from the court factions. Will Commander Taskin’s famous fair-mindedness be enough to unravel the truth behind the garrison captain’s dramatic theory: that the resourceful, high-spirited princess was not taken by force, but fled the palace to escape a demonic evil?

I’ve been meaning to try Janny Wurts forever, ever since I was reading Raymond E. Feist’s books and she did work with him. I’ll probably get to That Way to Camelot first, but I’ve read the first few pages of this one and was very nearly sucked in…