Review – Crow Country

Cover of Crow Country by Mark CockerCrow Country, Mark Cocker

This is a book more about a personal, anecdotal, observational understanding of crows than a scientific one. It tells us, perhaps, as much about Cocker as about the corvids. It’s written in a lyrical sort of way, with plenty of Cocker’s own sense of wonder communicating itself through his breathless and admiring descriptions. I think he’s achieved what he set out to do, in that I want to go out now and find a rookery, watch some jackdaws, learn the differences between all the British corvids and their calls. It goes to show that you don’t just catch people’s interest with exotic birds: that there’s a lot of richness and mystery right under our noses.

I liked that he included references to crows in literature and imagination, the word-of-mouth descriptions of events like a rook’s parliament, etc. He indicates where this does seem likely to be mythical, and likewise where it might be rooted in fact, so that overall you get an image of the bird as we imagine it as well as the real creature.

I wonder if anyone who has read The Dark is Rising can read this book too without thinking about those attacking rooks, the birds of the Dark, and what Cocker would make of them…

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “Top Ten Books You Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing”. Which is a little awkward, as I know almost exactly what Santa’s bringing me — so I’ll have to try and think of books I didn’t put on my list, to make this a bit more fun.

Italics added to ones that I’ve been bought since I made this list!

  1. Two Serpents Rise, Max Gladstone. I really need to read more of this series. I enjoyed the first book, and people have been pretty enthusiastic. (Aaaand my partner’s buying me this.)
  2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie. As of typing this, I haven’t read Ancillary Justice yet. But I’m still reasonably sure I’m going to enjoy it…
  3. The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Patricia A. McKillip. Or, in fact, anything I haven’t already got by McKillip.
  4. Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier. It sounds like one of her books that I might well enjoy.
  5. Mélusine, Sarah Monette. Since I adored her book as Katherine Addison. (And partner’s getting me this one too.)
  6. Faery Tales, Carol Ann Duffy. It’s Carol Ann Duffy! ’nuff said. (Though my aunt may be getting me this one.)
  7. Beowulf, trans. J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve read it, but I don’t have my own print copy to go on my shelf.
  8. The Gift, Alison Croggon. Since a friend talked a lot about this series.
  9. Those Who Hunt the Night, Barbara Hambly. For some reason, I’m seeing people recommend this a lot lately. And somehow I still haven’t tried reading anything of Hambly’s.
  10. Mindscape, Andrea Hairston. I can’t remember much about this, but it’s been bookmarked for ages in my ‘looks interesting’ queue, and I remember being veeeery tempted to buy it at the time.

Now I’m thinking maybe I should’ve let this go live way before 23rd Dec, to give people a chance to maybe make some of my wishes come true… Ah well, I’m being spoilt enough already!

Review – Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread

Cover of Black Widow: The Finely Woven ThreadBlack Widow: The Finely Woven Thread, Nathan Edmondson, Phil Noto

It shouldn’t really be surprising that this comic features a lot of Black Widow being kickass. There’s quite a casual tone to it, though, with some of the things she says, which made me feel a bit like it was trying to be Black Widow a la Hawkeye. A comment like “Pro tip (often learned too late): don’t argue with crazy”… I don’t know, it seems more like smartass Hawkeye than Widow. Not that she couldn’t imitate whoever she needs to, to fit in, but… that’s her mental commentary? Doesn’t feel right.

It’s fun watching Widow be kickass and all, but it did feel a little lacking in that the overarching plot is the same one as every other Black Widow comic I’ve read: Natasha wants to atone for her past sins. Natasha can’t let anyone close. Natasha is a predator. Etc. It wouldn’t be true to the character to drop that, but there are plenty of people who can put a fresh spin on an old story, or bring new motivations and conflicts to an old character. (Steve Rogers facing off against Bucky Barnes in Brubaker’s Winter Soldier is a good example, but Widow facing off against people from her past has been done, and done.)

The art looks gorgeous, though the constant muted red palette is again… something that feels typical. I enjoyed reading this, but it didn’t bring me anything new. It’s a good place to start to build something, and there does seem to be an ongoing plot as of the last couple of issues collected in this TPB, but… I don’t want to be able to predict Natasha Romanoff.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Whose Body?

Cover of Whose Body? by Dorothy L. SayersWhose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers

The first time I read Whose Body?, I don’t think I thought much of it. Little did I know. It’s not just that I’ve come to love the character — though I do — and the actors who’ve portrayed him, the various adaptations, etc. It’s that Sayers is just so damn clever. Even in Whose Body?, which is far from my favourite, you’ve got the mystery to untangle and then you’ve got all the background references to stuff. I keep finding myself looking up names of murderers and famous poisoning victims and random books and… all the sorts of things that Sayers has Wimsey just know. It’s always very gratifying (to borrow a phrase from Bunter) when I know what she’s talking about right away; it lets you feel like part of the cleverness, though I never feel left out when I don’t understand it.

One thing Sayers was very good at is the convoluted type of mystery, replete with five or more red herrings and careful timetables. This might strike you as pretty contrived, and if you’re particularly literally minded, you might wonder how Wimsey, Parker and Bunter always manage to find such convoluted mysteries, which unravel as soon as you hit upon that key detail (x wanted to marry y once, this book is important, he corresponds in French, which tube of paint was missing, when did a new Property Act come into force, etc). If that’s likely to bother you, then Wimsey might not be able to charm you out of it.

But despite all that, it’s not all about the cleverness or the convoluted plots. It’s also about Peter, who is revealed more and more with each book as a good man, as someone with a fragile core, as someone who struggles between responsibility and his love of the chase. And then there’s other characters like Bunter and Parker, good people themselves who are devoted to him, and who you want to see more of…

And Harriet. Just wait until we meet Harriet.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Melancholy of Mechagirl

Cover of The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Melancholy of Mechagirl, Catherynne M. Valente

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a selection of Valente’s stories and poetry. As usual with Valente, I have the problem that I love her writing, but not always the substance. The poetry was too busy being strings of pretty words that I didn’t really get the sense out of it; some of the short stories felt so ornate they felt like they were more for show than to really be handled. I know this is my preference here — other people dig through Valente’s prose happily — and I even like it because of that ornateness, in some ways. If I want to see someone being magical with words, I’ll open up one of Valente’s books and find it.

That’s not to say that she’s bad at characters and plot, per se. These stories often draw on folklore, particularly Japanese folklore, and collected like this it’s also apparent that they’re deeply rooted in Valente’s own life, as well. Her time in Japan affected her deeply, and every story holds its footprints. Some of these are really cleverly done, and for plot, ‘Silently and Very Fast’ is great. I love her story of an AI slowly learning about the world, the family and the AI wrapped around each other. Elefsis works as a character, and that ending works really well.

Finally, the title definitely captures the predominant feeling of this collection. ‘Melancholy.’ That’s not to say it’s depressing to read, but it definitely feels written in the minor key (if you’ll let me mix my metaphors).

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

Setting this up very much in advance, so goodness knows what it’ll look like by the time I’m done…

Gifts

Cover of The Unquiet Grave by Katherine Lampe Cover of She Moved Through the Fair by Katherine Lampe Cover of A Maid in Bedlam by Katherine Lampe Cover of The Parting Glass by Katherine Lampe

Yep, someone sent me Smashwords codes for all these. ❤ I’m looking forward to trying them. I actually got them last week, but I didn’t remember in time to include them in that StS post.

Comics

Spider-woman #2 Ms Marvel Captain Marvel 50th Anniversary

Oh dear, all three out on the same day now? I got these covers from the Marvel site before the release, hence the lack of text (I think?).

SantaThing

Cover of Ex-Machina: The First Hundred Days Cover of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss Cover of Planetary vol 1 by Warren Ellis Cover of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I love taking part in the Secret Santa on LibraryThing; the person who had me to choose for clearly ‘got’ me as a reader, given how much I love Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. So good to have a dead tree version — and that’s an excuse to reread it, right? Right? …No? Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the comics, too! I’m not as sure about The Name of the Wind; on the one hand, I’ve been recced it several times, on the other, some people I trust really disliked it. Still, prime excuse to try it!

Bought

Cover of The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher

I bought this for my mother a while back, but she hasn’t had chance to read it. (She’s nuts about fountain pens; it seemed perfect.) But I saw this copy today in The Works for £3, and I thought… well, why not? I was meaning to borrow it after Mum anyway.

What’s anyone else been getting?

Review – Stardust

Cover of the Illustrated Stardust, by Neil Gaiman and Charles VessStardust, Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess
Review from April 17th, 2009

I just finished rereading Stardust, this time in the illustrated edition. The art is all by Charles Vess, and it’s gorgeous. He has his own style, but the art is all accessible and pretty. I particularly liked the illustration of Tristan and Yvaine kissing, on page 202, and the design of Lady Una. I like the way he’s portrayed all of the characters, really. It brings them to life in a lovely way, and the art is arranged nicely — not distracting from the story, but adding to it.

I’ve always loved the book, and the movie is the movie I watch when I need comfort, so rereading was a happy occasion. I forgot how different the book and the movie are — the movie is definitely an adaptation. Not that it’s a bad thing: the way things happen in the book simply wouldn’t translate to the screen.

The best things about Stardust, the book, are the tone in general and Yvaine’s voice. The tone is kind of dryly humorous, gently mocking the fairytales it comes from and improves on, with fun conversations and great lines. Yvaine herself is awesome, with her grumpy sharpness and her angry obligation and her not-at-all-saccharine love. Compared to the movie, the realisation scenes are maybe a bit dry, and I wish there had been more with the boat in the sky, as in the movie, but all in all, I do love the book so much, and I think it’s one of my comfort-books the same as the movie is my comfort-movie.

Perhaps my favourite part of all is the note Tristan and Yvaine leave, though: “Unexpectedly detained by the world.”

Rating: 5/5

Review – Etiquette & Espionage

Cover of Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerEtiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger

I read Soulless a while ago, and liked it enough that I had a vague intention of reading more, but not so much I was in a hurry. Likewise, I only really picked up Etiquette & Espionage because I know that Carriger’s work is pretty fun, and it was in a 3 for £5 deal in the Works. And then it languished on my to read pile for… well, just over a year. But I was feeling a bit bleh about the other books I had lying around, so I decided to just go for it and try this — and I promptly read it in one go.

It’s not a book I love like I loved, say, The Goblin Emperor. It’s more like frothy fun. It works well for that, though: 19th century sensibilities in a steampunk alternate history, girls learning to be spies, and a sprinkling of adventure. I liked Sophronia; she’s not perfect, but she tries to be decent, she doesn’t have prejudices, she does her best for the people around her, and she lets nothing get in the way of her curiosity. I guess the best term might be ‘spirited’, which does make me sound like some faintly disapproving adult…

It’s fun, and I’d definitely recommend it to teens who want a bit of adventure and supernatural stuff, without accompanying sparkles or plagiarism. (Sorry, they’re easy targets.)

Rating: 3/5

What are you reading Wednesday

What have you recently finished reading?
Most recently, hmm… Etiquette & Espionage (Gail Carriger). I’d been meaning to read it for a while, since I thought Soulless was fun, and yesterday proved the perfct opportunity for it. I actually read it in one sitting, no pauses at all, which was surprising. It wasn’t earth shatteringly good or something, but it was fun.

What are you currently reading?
H is for Hawk (Helen Macdonald), which is a quite moving work on grief, training a hawk, and interaction with a historical figure. Bonus points for that figure being T.H. White, given that he wrote The Once and Future King, and I’ve done some academic work on that (albeit as little as I could get away with).

What are you planning to read next?
I actually still feel like reading familiar stuff, so I’m planning on sticking my head back between the covers of Whose Body? (Dorothy L. Sayers). I did reread that a year or so ago without going on to reread the rest of the series, but I want to do my Lord Peter spree right, and that means starting at the beginning. Though I probably will miss out the Jill Paton Walsh stuff: I just don’t feel that she does justice to either herself or Sayers, since I’ve enjoyed her own original work much more than her work for the Sayers estate.

Review – Seaward

Cover of Seaward by Susan CooperSeaward, Susan Cooper

I’ve been meaning to reread this one for a while. It was lovely to go back to it. It’s a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, I think; certainly, there’s a physicality between Cally and West that isn’t even hinted at in The Dark is Rising. The first time I read it I said that this book ends perfectly, “neither too early nor too late”, and I still feel that way. It’s enough to have the promise of Cally and West’s future, at the end of the book; I don’t need to read about it, and that would take away from the bittersweetness of the story.

I didn’t like this as much as the first time I read it, I think; I still enjoyed it, found it interesting, loved the creativity, but this time I was asking more questions, picking more holes. Why was this element taken from Welsh legends, and not that? When is it set — it feels unrooted, which might make for universality, but it makes it hard to imagine how Cally and West will find each other again, how to read their absence, their changes — and where do Cally and West come from?

It’s beautifully written, though, and full of lovely things: gorgeous passages, enchanting creatures (Peth!), mysteries and metaphors. I do still love it, and I also appreciate that unlike The Dark is Rising, it’s a personal journey, not an all-out fight against absolute evil. The absolutism of the Dark and the Light in those books is completely absent here, with the dichotomy drawn between Life and Death instead, and with both wearing kindly faces and less kind. It’s a journey for Cally and West, one in which they’re frightened, have enemies and allies, but it isn’t moving toward some apocalyptic endpoint, some make-it-or-break-it scene where a few decide the futures of the many.

I’m not sure the new cover does the book any favours, in that sense; the traditional fantasy elements here are the least important.

Rating: 4/5