Stacking the Shelves

Once again, a quiet week! Which is good, since that’s what I’m aiming for. I did get two new books — rewards for finishing books two and three of my Open University course!


Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier Cover of Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier

I’ve read (and reviewedPrickle Moon already; it’s lovely. And I’d been wanting Dreamer’s Pool for a while!


Cover of The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

Just one, a bit of self indulgence — I’ve read all of Mary Stewart’s romances, but this was the first one I read, and I’m looking forward to going back to it. Frothy comfort reading for the win! Though right now, I’m digging into Soulless (Gail Carriger) for that!

Oh, and the latest issue of Thor came out, too.


Thor #4

How’s everyone else doing? Broken your resolutions yet?


Review – The Broken Sword

Cover of The Broken Sword by Poul AndersonThe Broken Sword, Poul Anderson
Review from 18th June, 2011

I was really excited about reading The Broken Sword, because when I first toyed with the idea of buying a book by Poul Anderson — this was actually the first I bought, it’s just took me longer to read — I realised how closely it was based on the style of the Norse sagas I’ve studied. It draws on the mythology, of course, and the path of curses and thwarted love and raiding echoes that of the sagas, but it also echoes their form: the narration, especially to begin with, is very much like a saga, and the verses all comply with the Old Norse metres. In many ways, The Broken Sword is a (relatively) modern example of one of the Skáldasögur — a saga about a skald, or poet, like Kormáks saga. The tale of lost love, and the verses of first love and desire and then lament fit that pattern, albeit not like a glove.

The verses really, really impressed me. They’re written in dróttkvætt metre, which is extremely difficult. A verse is made up of eight lines, divided into equal halves (‘helmingr’). There are six syllables per line, and two syllables in each even line must alliterate with one in the following odd numbered line. Even lines must have a full rhyme within the line with the penultimate syllable; odd lines must have half-rhyme within the line with the penultimate syllable. Each line must end with a trochee.

Add to that the poetic words that would only be used in verse, heiti and kennings, which Anderson imitates to some degree, and… Well, I’m very impressed. It might seem less compelling to someone who hasn’t read verses in Icelandic — translations tend to make it a bit more flowery.

The story itself is perhaps less fresh to me, but I still enjoyed it: basically, it melds British/Irish and Norse mythology, with both the Sidhe and Æsir present, along with the coming of Christianity. Skafloc is stolen by the elves and replaced by a doppelganger, Valgard; the two eventually, and inevitably, come into conflict. In the course of this, Skafloc and his sister Freda, not knowing their relationship, fall in love…

It’s fun — adventure and love and doom and a tragic end, quite fitting for a skald.

Rating: 4/5

Tough Travels – Law Enforcement

The prompt this week for Tough Travels is this:

Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.

So I thought about this and for some reason my mind was totally blank. I mean, there’s various forces of law and order in fantasy, of course, but I couldn’t think of specific ones. In a lot of what I read, they’re just in the background — the king’s guardsmen, the city watch, whatever. Anyway, I’ve done my best to think of some of the forces of law and order that we don’t normally associate with the men in blue, as such. Like…

  • The Avengers (Marvel comics). You’ve never met a more law-abiding, law-enforcing person than Steve Rogers! And, admittedly, he does wear a mostly blue uniform.
  • The wizards on Roke (A Wizard of Earthsea). They’re pretty insular a lot of the time, granted, but if there’s a problem out there in the world, they’re probably the only ones who can solve it. And Ged is very aware of that fact. There’s the short story in Tales from Earthsea where he goes after a disgraced wizard, and then there’s the whole plot of The Furthest Shore
  • Valek (Poison Study). The Commander might be the centre of power, but he wouldn’t be that way without Valek keeping people in line.

And for a guy who does represent the boys in blue, though this is not strictly fantasy (it’s alternate history)…

  • Peter Carmichael (Small Change trilogy). Because he tries to do his job even when it’s hard. Because despite all the risks to himself and those he loves, he subverts the regime he’s in, and supports real justice.

Review – Prickle Moon

Cover of Prickle Moon by Juliet MarillierPrickle Moon, Juliet Marillier

Prickle Moon is a collection of short stories, most of them previously published but five of them new, and I knew I’d have to pick the book up someday because of that hedgehog on the cover. I love hedgehogs; just yesterday we rescued one from our garden which seemed too small to be out, and sent her off to a carer to spend the winter. Last winter we did that with a couple of hedgehogs; one of them died, but the second lived and was even strong enough to make a break for it. He tunnelled out with some friends and is now living under someone’s decking!

So mostly I got this for the title story, Prickle Moon, because I love my hedgehogs. Like most of the stories in this collection, it’s bittersweet; woven with loss and hope, awful tasks and finding your way through them. Some of the stories are fairytale retellings — Rapunzel, Baba Yaga — and some are new stories very much styled as fairytales, with very familiar motifs. Some of the stories are oddly modern, which jars against the more traditional and more fantastical ones. Marillier’s good at putting her characters into awful situations which require compromise with their morality, and then making it work out so that it isn’t so bad after all. She’s good at grief, and especially healed grief — the kind of grief you learn to live with and live in.

The collection also includes a Sevenwaters story. I haven’t read that series, so it took me a little while to get into it and pick up everything that was going on, but the joy in the ending, the hope, is not something you need to have read Daughter of the Forest and the other books to understand. Though, right now, I’m definitely in the mood to read more of Marillier’s work.

Rating: 4/5

Get To Know Me

Since Paper Fury posted 21 things you probably don’t know about her, I ended up doing a response. With 25 items because I’m 25.

  1. I’m Welsh. It actively pains me when people go “oh cool, you’re English!” when they find out I live in the UK. No.
  2. I have a sister. She’s a brat.
  3. I have five library cards. Two from the same library. I’m sneaky, me.
  4. I’m on a library committee. I’m in charge of book acquisitions!
  5. I haven’t read all the Harry Potter books. Sorry?
  6. My favourite animals are hedgehogs, hippos and giraffes. Don’t make me choose.
  7. I barely speak any of my partner’s native language. I can say thank you in a shop. That’s about it.
  8. I didn’t learn to read until I was nearly seven. Everyone assumes otherwise, but nope. I just wasn’t interested.
  9. I love King Arthur. See also #1. I wrote three of four of my MA essays on Arthurian texts, plus my dissertation.
  10. I have a BA and MA in English Literature… And I did very well in them, thank you.
  11. …But now I’m doing a course in Natural Sciences to prepare for medschool. Neurology, maybe? Genetics?
  12. I can sleep on a motorbike. Not as the rider, obviously; as the pillion passenger. I have a rally medal, and all I did was hold onto my dad and snooze for 36 hours.
  13. I’m a transcriptionist and copy writer. Neither of these things pay very well.
  14. I’m a volunteer at an eye clinic, a library, a forum, Lightspeed’s slush pile, and an occasional volunteer for Cancer Research UK and Tenovus. None of these things pay at all.
  15. I like chicken on my pizza. My partner thinks this makes me practically heathen.
  16. I like cold pizza the next morning. My sister is positive this makes me a heathen.
  17. I read in the bath. And I’ve only ever dropped one book in.
  18. I don’t get the ereaders vs. dead tree books debate. Both! Why not both?
  19. I know the stock at my local bookshops better than they do. And yet they won’t employ me. Sigh.
  20. When I really love a character, it sometimes means I can never consume more of their canon because I get too anxious. Castiel, bb. Why. And I worry this is going to happen with Steve Rogers/Captain America, because his next film is Civil War. Gaaah.
  21. I have no gallbladder. Had it out two years ago because it was full of stones.
  22. I once read The Lord of the Rings in 24 hours. That included sleep.
  23. I averaged buying more than a book a day in 2013. And I wasn’t far off in 2014. Oops.
  24. I had to pry open the back of my ereader to swap in a bigger SD card. I wrote a guide about it. Then they promptly stopped selling that type of ereader. Huff.
  25. I can’t back down from a dare. Like, my dad dared me to read War and Peace in a week. So I did it in five days. Or my sister said I wouldn’t dare suck spilt vodka out of the carpet. So I did. But I blame that on the previously imbibed vodka, too. Regardless, no one ever lets me forget it, so I’m trying to be proud of it. Or something.

You probably know most of these things about me, actually.

Review – Pieces of Light

Cover of Pieces of Light by Charles FernyhoughPieces of Light, Charles Fernyhough

This is rather more anecdotal than I’d hoped, often exploring memories through Fernyhough’s relationship with his own memories: memories of his father, teaching his children about his father, comparing his memories of a place to re-experiencing the place later on, etc, etc. Some of this is fascinating — especially his interviews with his grandmother, recording all the stories she had to tell. It’s a very personal thing, not scientific, but it’s interesting all the same; I sometimes get the same urge with my grandmother, just to capture the weird things she says sometimes that she trots out like proverbs and yet no one has ever heard before!

There are some discussions of more scientific stuff, and most of it seemed perfectly solid from what I know from other authors; it’s just, under the sea of anecdotal data, I don’t feel like I learned much. There’s nothing wrong with the writing style or the content, but it’s more H is for Hawk than scientific.

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is ‘ten books I’d love to read with my book club’. I am a member of an awesome group for SF/F, so that’s easy — except that we’re quite particular about the sorts of books we end up reading for discussion. So hmmmm.

  1. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. This is kind of cheating, because we are discussing it. And actually, I’m supposed to be leading it.
  2. Mélusine, Sarah Monette. Because it’s so different to The Goblin Emperor! (It’s the same author under a pen name.) And it’s a bit more dark than I’d normally go for; I need some impetus to get on and read it.
  3. Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds. Or really anything by Reynolds; I used to like his work a lot, though I haven’t read any in a long time, and Century Rain was my favourite.
  4. Lock In, John Scalzi. We’re planning to read this anyway, but it does sound fascinating. We normally enjoy Scalzi, and this sounds like there’s a fair amount to chew over here.
  5. Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Because hey, I love this series and I want to share it. And talk about how it could be even better and all the places we wanna see Carol go.
  6. Just about anything by Octavia Butler. I think we’ve probably already discussed some of Butler’s work, but it’s all great to talk about (and sometimes problematic, too, in ways that would make it even more interesting to bat it back and forth).
  7. The Unreal and the Real: Collected Stories, Ursula Le Guin. It’s most often Le Guin’s short stories that I find I want to discuss and pick apart to make sure I really understand them.
  8. The Just City, Jo Walton. And we probably will, since we’re big fans of Jo.
  9. Under the Skin, Michael Faber. I’ve been convinced to buy it, so let’s discuss it. I think someone in the group actually suggested this one, too.
  10. Anything by Ian McDonald. I think they might’ve discussed one of his books without me at some point, but I’ve read a couple of his older ones that’re really interesting too.

What about you guys? Any reading groups online to recommend?

Review – The Goblin Emperor

Cover of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonThe Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

Yes, again already. I can’t really justify doing a whole new review for this, but I felt the need to at least record that I read it again and loved it just as much — loved the characters, giggled, got embarrassed for them, wanted to just high five someone when they did awesome things. This book is up there among my discoveries of Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch, N.K. Jemisin, Guy Gavriel Kay… I believe it’s Hugo eligible, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to vote again this year for the sake of this book.

Why do I like it so much? Well, here’s my original review; reading the book again, I was excited about the characters (as you can tell from my first paragraph), but also by the world Addison’s created. There’s stuff that’s like the Tudor court or Regency Britain; there’s a more Eastern influence on the religion; there’s steampunk; there’s all the politics, the elf families, the history with other peoples that is only touched on. There’s so much going on with the place of women, the place of queer people in the court, racial difference… and it’s not as if this is a utopia where everything is just as we would wish it, but it’s a world undergoing change with some people meeting it, some people trying to hold it back, some people quietly unaware…

I like a lot of the things it doesn’t show us face-on, too. The complexities of Setheris’ character, his relationship with his wife; Maia’s father, and the fact that despite his neglect of Maia, his court love and respect him; the lot of the more common people which we only glimpse by hear-say; the Great Avar’s court and his relationships with his family. While it’s a rich world, it goes much more for immersion than for infodumping. And if you begin it confused, well, so does Maia; he’s been kept away from most of this society for most of his life, so he’s in the same boat.

I can understand, objectively, that this book is not for everyone. Even some people whose tastes I share quite closely. Subjectively, though, if you don’t like Maia and his struggles, I don’t know if we can be friends.

(I’m joking. I think. Mostly.)

Rating: 5/5 with bells on

Review – Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome

Cover of Unlocked by John ScalziUnlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, John Scalzi

This novella gives a lot of the background for Scalzi’s latest novel, Lock In. I was in kind of a reading funk, so I thought I’d try reading something short to whet my appetite for Lock In — or just fiction in general, really. It worked for me: I know what effect Scalzi is going for, and he manages to hit the sweet spot between being too technical and too much like a documentary, and offering glimpses of character (like the President) and an idea of the kinds of things in play when you get to Lock In.

He gets the form pretty well, and while I don’t know much about the technology he suggests, I didn’t see anything completely impossible about the biological aspects of Haden’s syndrome. It pretty obviously draws on the Spanish flu of 1918 and the roughly concurrent encephalitis lethargica epidemic. There are separate diseases which produce the effects Scalzi posits for Haden’s syndrome, he just has them combined — with a suggestion that they have been deliberately combined.

Overall, it can be quite a dry read if you’re not interested in that kind of background, but I am. Still, it’s lacking in real narrative and urgency because of the post-facto documentary nature of it.

Rating: 3/5

Stacking the Shelves

Haven’t bought any books this week! I know, it’s shocking. I do actually owe myself a book from finishing my second OU textbook, and I think I know what I’m going to get, but I seem to be holding out on myself. (I’m probably going to get Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish. They actually approved me for an ARC of that on NG and immediately, literally seconds after, archived it so I could never have downloaded it anyway, though, so I’m a liiiittle bit cranky about that. No fair teasing like that!) Anyway, I have got some library books and it’s starting to get to the point where my pull list means I get at least one comic every week, woo.

Library books

Cover of The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge Cover of Wildwood by Roger Deakin

Yep, that ol’ nature reading interest again.


Spiderwoman #3


So how’s everyone else been doing? Still sticking to your resolutions? (I posted a bit about mine here just this week, if you’re interested!)