Review – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Cover of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillipThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia A. McKillip

Somehow, from the midst of feeling dreadful because of this cold, I realised that what I really wanted to read was something by Patricia McKillip. It’s so strange how I disliked the first book of hers I read; I feel like I appreciate her work more with each book I do read. And this one… it’s fairytale-like, mythic — a review on GR said ‘parable like’, and yes: that too. It’s full of epic fantasy elements but the real struggle is between taking revenge and being true to who you really are and those you love. (The phrase “being true to yourself” sounds annoyingly cliché, but I can’t think of another way to put that without quoting the whole book.)

McKillip’s writing is gorgeous, and works well with the character she’s chosen — a girl who has not been loved, does not know how to love; who hasn’t been among people to be drawn into loves and hatreds. And in the course of the book she does learn, and she struggles with it… There’s a coolness to the book, like a mountain stream; an aloofness that you can get with distance from something, but toward everything. I can understand why some people disliked it for that very thing, but for me it perfectly matched the subject.

I like high fantasy, but since so much of it draws from the same well as Tolkien, there’s something all too real about it sometimes. This book, the character of Sybel, are closer to real magic for me, in the same way that the contemplative parts of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books (the sleeping man with the thistle growing by his hand…) come closer to real magic for me than all the magic rings and restless shades in the world.

And one last thing to love: I adore the way that the relationship between Coren and Sybel works out. That it has to be worked on, from both sides, that it’s not always matched.

Rating: 4/5


Review – The Missing Ink

Cover of The Missing Ink by Philip HensherThe Missing Ink, Philip Hensher

I wanted to like this, not least because I bought my mother a hardback copy a while ago because of her interest in all things pen, ink and handwriting. However, after spending most of my time reading it constructing a properly scathing review — if you’re going to complain about someone’s grammar, try not doing so by saying they know “eff-all”; don’t disagree with people just by calling their opinion “crap”; some diversity of vocabulary in general would be nice, you hypocritical snob — I decided I’d just gently put it down. It doesn’t help that I’m very much not the right audience: you can’t get someone to join in a funeral dirge for a lost art of handwriting when they write notes on paper to their grandmother nearly every morning, letters to their mother semi-regularly, keep their accounts in red pen in a book, and own at least a dozen fountain pens.

It doesn’t help that my mother writes and receives several handwritten letters a day, handwrites her diary, and is a moderator at The Fountain Pen Network.

A lot of what he says is true. Typing is taking over; a text may be more convenient than a hand-written note; teachers probably don’t spend a few lessons a week on handwriting. Still, a friend of mine who’s going to be a teacher is carefully trying to improve her handwriting to set a better example; I have two boxes full of letters between me and my partner, me and my parents, me and various friends, etc, etc. I think he’s seeing a confirmation bias: he wants handwriting to be a lost art, so he finds the evidence he’s looking for — and is a snob along the way about grammar and vocabulary, while his is itself pretty woeful.

Plus, if he could’ve avoided snide comments about butch hairstyles and fat girls with “obese handwriting”, I might’ve liked him better.

Rating: 1/5

Top Ten Tuesday

Today’s prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2014” — which don’t have to be to do with books. Still, most of mine probably will be to do with books. Let’s see what I can do…

  1. Never impulse-buy a book. Always always wait a day or two, or make sure it’s been on the wishlist for a while, etc. I mean, geez, self: it’s very rare you’re ever going to come across a book where this is the only copy you ever have access to.
  2. Read every day. Even if it’s just five minutes before bed. I always feel better when I do, more like myself, and yet often I don’t make the time for it.
  3. Bed before midnight. I was starting to get into this habit, and then I stayed up reading. Which doesn’t contradict #2, I swear.
  4. Up before ten. Up before eight, preferably, but I figure I can stick to ten even when I wanna give myself a lie in.
  5. Buy only one book from a series at a time. Even if I know I’m gonna love it. See also #1!
  6. Post something to the blog every day. I’m already pretty much achieving that, but I’d like to get better at having a buffer of posts ready to go live as well.
  7. Comment on at least one other blog every day. It’s a nice low bar to set, and it encourages me to be social.
  8. Tithe 10% every month. I did this in 2014, too. It wasn’t always easy to keep up, especially when my earnings were pathetic, but it’s something I’m proud of doing.
  9. Do 100 hours volunteering. I should manage this easily, if I volunteer the same amount as I did in 2014, especially now I’m a committee member for the library and not just a volunteer librarian. But it’s good to pledge a solid number; makes it easier for me to keep rolling out of bed on a cold Friday morning, or walk into the clinic on a warm sunny day. If it’s not meeting the target, it’s by how much can I beat it?
  10. Review all new books from Netgalley/bookbridgr/Edelweiss within a month of receiving access. I’m still struggling to catch up with books I was approved for over a year ago; obviously, I’ve lost access to a lot of them, so I’m borrowing them from libraries or buying them so I can fulfil my promise of reviewing them. It would be better all round if I just reviewed them in time, though!

An odd mix of book, blog and general life, I know, but if I have a secret eleventh goal it might be “stop being so obsessive about lists”. I love lists, goodness knows, and they’re helpful, great, fun, etc, etc. But sometimes I let myself get a little too caught up in organising a list and not in doing what’s on it, or I get so obsessed about getting a list done that I neglect everything else.

Maybe the by-word for this entry should be “happy mediums”?

As for how I’m going to stick to it, I’m planning to figure out a way to fit the ten resolutions above into the habits/dailies sections of HabitRPG. It’s a great way of gameifying your life and making yourself accountable, and it’s pretty flexible for whatever goals you need to set. It’s pretty much trained me to remember to floss every day, from never flossing at all, for example — and it keeps track of when my library books are due back. There’s nothing like the cute pixel art for a reward for getting stuff done, for me, and you can set up custom rewards too. If anyone’s on the site already and interested in figuring out some kind of book related challenge, let’s put our heads together and come up with something!

Anyway, I’d love to see everyone else’s goals and resolutions, so please leave me a comment — I’ll visit everyone who comments, and leave comments back as long as technology permits.

Review – The Mutilation of the Herms

Cover of the The Mutilation of the Herms by Debra HamelThe Mutilation of the Herms, Debra Hamel

This is a short ebook which summarises the written evidence about a curious event that happened in Athens in 415 BC. It might be tempting to dismiss the mutilated statues of Hermes as a drunken prank, but the people of Athens took it extremely seriously. It’s important to remember that at that time religion was a big part of life; it isn’t just like a gang going round and defacing images of Christ, which seems in poor taste but not (for most people) much of a threat. More like a nuisance. But people were executed for involvement with the mutilation of the Herms, and a related issue involving the Eleusinian Mysteries.

This is more summary of the evidence than analysis, but it’s accessible and (to someone like me who will dip into all sorts of random areas of knowledge, at least) interesting. It’s a mystery that still exercises the minds of classical scholars: why mutilate the Herms? Was it just a prank? Was it a political statement? To me, given the issues with performances of the Eleusinian Mysteries for the uninitiated that were happening at the time, it seems to be linked to a more religious than political kind of unrest, but of course the two were more deeply linked then…

All in all, I suspect Debra Hamel and other classicists are more likely to solve the mystery than people reading a short ebook on it, so perhaps I should keep my opinions to myself. But it is interesting to read about, and this ebook made it accessible for anyone, with plenty of information on where to follow up for those who want to go to the sources or read other analyses.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-earth

Maps of Tolkien's Middle-EarthThe Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, John Howe, Brian Sibley

This is a gorgeous bit of work: a slipcase with a hardcover book of information on the making of the maps and what they depict, and a book-cover type folder which contains the four maps, folded up but completely separate (so if you wanted to frame and mount them, that’d be possible). It’s a beautiful collection, and the book itself is gorgeous too. The type-set is the same as most copies of The Hobbit I’ve seen, which I liked, and the layout too. Various illustrations — sketches and full colour — are included, with Brian Sibley describing the events and locations on each of the four maps.

It’s not hugely informative if you’re familiar with the geography and history of Middle-earth, but looking at things laid out like this can be different, and it’s a gorgeous collection, too.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Tolkien: A Dictionary

Cover of Tolkien: A Dictionary by David DayTolkien: A Dictionary, David Day

I may love Tolkien’s worlds, but my knowledge isn’t encyclopaedic. I didn’t read this cover to cover — I’m sure some people would, but it’s not the kind of thing I enjoy — but it strikes me as a good encyclopaedia for the world (less a dictionary, I think: it’s not just about the etymology and meaning of words, or even mostly) and a good reference, especially for those who find things like genealogies and far off cities difficult. It’s a well presented book, too: faux-leather, with an embossed cover and nice pages, some illustrations included, and the maps on the endpapers.

Just flicking through it, I’d find myself drawn in and reading an entry or two in whole: the one on dragons spans several pages, for example. It covers a lot of the more obscure stuff, from The Silmarillion and beyond; I’m not sure how much it draws on Tolkien’s unpublished papers, given the difficulty of figuring out what is meant to be canonical. I’ll update this if I ever find out definitively.

Rating: 5/5

Stacking the Shelves – The Holy Crap Edition

Or, Stacking the Shelves: The Christmas Edition! I think I’ve probably had similarly large hauls before, but still… I had a very good Christmas, and if I could just tear myself away from my new game (Final Fantasy Theatrhythm: Curtain Call), I’ll show you all the details. Plus my giant literary giraffe, a gift from my dad.

Photo of me wearing a paper party hat, next to my five foot tall giraffe
His name is Charles Parker, after Lord Peter’s best friend.
He turns up when you least expect it.
Turn around…

So yeah, that was a Christmas. And this is a haul…


Cover of Batgirl: Silent Running by Kelley Puckett Cover of Batgirl: A Knight Alone by Kelley Puckett Cover of Batgirl: Death in the Family by Gail Simone

Cover of She-Hulk vol. 1 by Dan Slott Cover of Saga vol 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples Cover of Saga vol 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The first four are from Mum and Dad — and don’t worry, I know it’s the first two feature Cassandra Cain as Batgirl, and the third Barbara Gordon — and the two Saga volumes are from my little sis. ❤


Cover of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay by Simon Napier-Bell Cover of Sex & Punishment by Eric Berkowitz Cover of The Reluctant Yogi by Carla McKay

Cover of Lucy: The Beginnings of Mankind Cover of The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin

One of you lot recommended me The Trouble with Physics, and Dad got me that and the book on Lucy. The other three came from the Kindle sale.

Pure geekery

Maps of Tolkien's Middle-Earth Cover of Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day

Little sister knows me well! Or, you know, remembered what I did some of my master’s work on.


Cover of The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone Cover of Sold for Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robins Cover of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Cover of Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson Cover of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Agguire Cover of The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

Cover of The Future Falls by Tanya Huff Cover of Mélusine by Sarah Monette Cover of Mindscape by Andrea Hairston

Cover of Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly Cover of Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone Cover of Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Cover of Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman Cover of Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds

That’s a real mix of gifts, sales and randomness.


Cover of Swordspoint audiobook by Ellen Kushner Cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)

I had credits to spend.

I also got a £20 Waterstones gift card, which I’ll be spending today, so watch out for next week’s haul, too… What’s everyone else been getting?!

Review – Always Coming Home

Cover of Always Coming Home by Ursula Le GuinAlways Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin
Review from January 22nd, 2011

I expected to take a long time over Always Coming Home. In a way, I wish I had: there’s a lot in it, and a lot to reward a slower, careful reading — this time I went plunging through it for the narrative, such as it was, enjoying the layers of understanding that came to me, imagining and figuring out what I didn’t know. I didn’t read the “Back of the Book” section, this time: another time, I think I will. I just wanted to fly through it, this time, total immersion in a culture that does not exist.

Always Coming Home is a collection of stories, of fake-histories, of poems and plays and things that do not neatly fit into our genres, belonging to a culture that does not exist. The first note says it best, “The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern Carolina.” It seems to be the story almost of the Native peoples, and then it begins to mention computers and other technologies of our day… The way the world came to be this way isn’t really seen clearly, only seen in its effects on the people. It’s very interesting to read this way: interesting, and frustrating, because like real history, it doesn’t always show you the bits you most want to see.

Ursula Le Guin’s writing is beautiful, as always, and easy to read and understand despite the invented words and concepts. I sort of imagine this as the way she might build up any culture, in any book, through the scraps of their literature and histories that come to her… It’s quite a nice thought, actually.

I didn’t read the “Back of the Book” section, preferring to keep things vaguer, not spelled out. I will probably read it one day, but not now.

Though I greatly enjoyed this, I don’t know if I’d dare recommend it to anyone. For me it required some patience with the original idea, which turned into delight as Ursula Le Guin once more captured my heart. For others, who didn’t find Earthsea compelling, it’d be dry as dust, I think. And as with many books, but particularly with those that are a bit different, someone might find they love it, when they have never loved Le Guin’s work before — or that they hate it, when they’ve always loved her work.

Rating: 5/5

Happy Christmas

Nadolig Llawen/Happy Christmas! I’m full of good food, good wine, and smugness about my presents being appreciated. I hope all you readers are well, and that whether you celebrate Christmas or not today managed to be a day of rest and recuperation, a little warmth against the cold (or a cool breeze in the hot summer, if you’re in the other hemisphere). And, of course, I hope you got all the books you could wish for!

Take care of yourselves!

Nikki @ The Bibliophibian

Review – Clouds of Witness

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

As usual, Sayers manages a convoluted plot, the characters we love, and some bits of pure fun. Peter’s mother is catching my interest this time — if you focus on it, you can follow through exactly why each of her remarks leads on to the next. Of course, if you’re missing a reference in the chain, you’re doomed, but I’m having fun trying to follow it all through. Sometimes it helps to google things and find people wondering about the same bits, too…

Considering how close to Peter the story is — given his own brother is accused of the murder of his sister’s fiancé, with his sister as a witness — it doesn’t seem as close to the character as we were during the last chapters of Whose Body?, where Peter is having his PTSD episode/recovering from it. Still, there’s plenty of interaction with Parker and Bunter, and plenty of Peter poking his nose in where it’s not wanted (and sometimes where it is wanted, in that timely manner he has). And I have to confess that I really like the way Parker’s affection for Mary is shown, and his interactions with Peter about it.

Of course, as I write this review I’m already through Unnatural Death and nearly at the end of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, so you can imagine the fun I’m having…

Rating: 4/5