Review – Madam, Will You Talk?

Cover of Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary StewartMadam, Will You Talk?, Mary Stewart

Not my favourite of Mary Stewart’s novels, but it’s what the library had when I felt like revisiting. It probably hasn’t really been long enough since I first read them, but ah well: they’re still fun. Stewart was brilliant at establishing a sense of mood and place: a hot French town, dust on the roads, shade under the trees, a cool breeze when you drive fast but sticky and heavy when you’re stuck in traffic… I enjoy Charity’s character, her past, and the fact that despite that tragic past, she uses what her husband taught her about life and love to move on, and Stewart never implies that her love for either the new love or the old diminishes the other.

The relationship itself, well. The constant descriptions of the love interest as dictatorial are exactly right, and one can’t help but think the whole relationship a little off-putting. She’s terrified of him at first, she thinks he’s a murderer, and he’s violent to her, and yet… There’s a passion in the relationship, which is something I do like to see, but his violence was waved away all too easily. A different era, I know… and yet.

The mystery itself, well: it’s melodramatic, all kidnapping and attempted murder and links to Nazism. But it works as long as you’re in the right headspace, and I was, since I’m well used to Stewart’s work.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesday is “books recently added to your TBR”. That’s an easy one for me, because I keep veeeery careful records… I won’t just add the ones I’ve got most recently, or it’d basically echo my last couple of Stacking the Shelves posts. So here’s a selection of what I’ve got/borrowed in the last couple of months.

  1.  Touch, Claire North. I might’ve been disappointed in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry Augustbut I have been a fan of North’s work since she first published as Catherine Webb.
  2.  A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias. I think this was mentioned by a friend in a book group. It made it to my wishlist, anyway, and from there onto my bought list!
  3.  Impulse, Dave Bara. Picked up on, ha, impulse. Looks like fun space opera type stuff.
  4. Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. For book club!
  5. Mortal Heart, Robin LaFevers. I’ve just read Grave Mercy. I already had Dark Triumph on my list, but now I’ve gotta get my hands on Mortal Heart…
  6. Blackout, Connie Willis. I’m actually pretty ambivalent about Willis’ work, but I told myself I’d give it another go!
  7. Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson. Had never quite connected this book with the Ms Marvel writer! When I realised, well, the choice was obvious.
  8. Knight’s Shadow, Sebastien de Castell. I’m still only partway through the first book, since I got distracted. Oops. But this is waiting for me.
  9. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro. I have to get around to this soon. I hear it’s got Gawain in it!
  10. The Mirror World of Melody Black, Gavin Extence. Having loved The Universe Versus Alex Woods, and knowing this is about mental illness in many ways, I couldn’t help but pick this one up as soon as I could.

Tahdah! What’s everyone else been getting hold of?

Review – Blloon

I don’t normally review services on my blog, but since this one is an ebook subscription service, it seems pretty relevant! I came across Blloon a little while ago through another blogger. I can’t figure out who that was, but I think it was a regular visitor here, so please do let me know and I’ll give you the credit.

I’ve been looking for an ebook subscription service for a while, but it looked like the best ones were in the US or really limited when it comes to serving other countries. I do have a Scribd subscription too, because of the access to so many comics on there — finally read Lumberjanes, last week, and my recent attempt on Daredevil was through them as well. But they don’t have a lot of more recent books.Screenshot of the Blloon app

Enter Blloon! I was surprised to note as soon as I opened the app that they have some very recent and high profile releases on offer — The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, for example — and I found a fair number of books I’m interested in. To give you just an idea of my list so far, it’s got some Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley, Kelly Link, various non-fiction books… And I’m sure there’s plenty more to discover. There are several ways to discover new books too, with a section of highlights, some reading lists (including one to help you diversify your reading called “Not Reading White Men”!), and of course you can also browse by genre.

As for their subscription model, it’s a very flexible one. You can pay monthly for a certain number of pages (500 or 1,000 are the options at present), or you can buy packs of top-up pages. These pages roll over each month, so you don’t have to use them all up to feel like you’re getting the best of your subscription. You can also earn them by giving feedback, sharing the link, and even net 50 pages by following them on Twitter. The first 10% of every book is free, too, so you can test drive it before you ‘spend’ your pages.

So far, I haven’t spent much time actually reading on Blloon. For one thing, for a reader like me reading a 400 page book every day or two, even 1,000 pages a month could be exhausted in less than a week. For me, it’s probably going to be a supplement to my usual sources, for when I really want a book right away or it’s not available on Kobo or whatever. Still, the interface is nice: clean and simple, and you can adjust font size and the background, depending on what’s comfortable for you. My only quibble really is that it doesn’t flip orientation with my iPad, so if it’s on its stand I’m tilting my head while I’m checking for stuff on Blloon, and I couldn’t read like that (though Sarah from Blloon assures me that there’s an update this very week to fix that). More customisation options might be nice if you need to change the font, but the basic features are all there.

All in all, I definitely recommend Blloon. They’re friendly, helpful, and they have an interesting selection available including most Open Road Media reprints. It is limited to iOS in the UK, at least for the moment, but within the UK it’s easily the best option.

And, pssst. If you want to net me 200 extra pages in my ‘wallet’, sign up to Blloon using this link! Mum, that means you.

Review – The Explorer

Cover of The Explorer by James SmytheThe Explorer, James Smythe

I’ve been vaguely meaning to read something by Smythe for a while. This doesn’t really encourage me: the idea is interesting enough, but my interest waned from the very first chapter, because the narration is so flat and lacking in affect. I couldn’t care less about Cormac (or indeed, the rest of the crew), and the science was inconsistent enough that it didn’t capture my attention as a novel of ideas, either. (I mean, be clear: are you or are you not breaking Newton’s laws of the conservation of motion? If yes, why?)

It seemed… just rather too similar to various other books and sci-fi films that are around, without giving me anything that made it stand out. Which is a disappointment given that this book has been vaguely on my radar for a while, but not too surprising when I look at the reviews on Goodreads and such. Ah, well.

Rating: 1/5

Review – Daredevil vol. 1

Cover of Daredevil volume 1 by Mark WaidDaredevil volume 1, Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin

I don’t really know much about Daredevil, beyond the fact that his real name is Matt Murdock, and that he’s blind. This comic makes a reasonable introduction, though it’s a bit obvious that it is an introduction — there’s a lot of ‘as you know, Bob’ type exposition about how Matt can see, his limitations and his background. Apparently this takes a turn out of a gritty trend for Matt, which it sort of flags up in the story by Matt going on about how he has to do this to cope. It feels a bit clumsy, in that sense.

Some of the art is really great, though: the way they represent Daredevil’s senses, the way they bring across the insouciance of the character, etc. The plot itself seemed similar to She-Hulk’s, in a way: they’re both lawyers, both now trying to integrate their superhero identities with that and having problems. It wasn’t a bad plot, but it didn’t feel particularly new and fresh and startling; it definitely felt like just a primer on Daredevil and what he can do. State of the Daredevil.

Okay, and I did read it in one go, but not enough to make me love the character (unlike, for example, Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel or the new elements introduced to the team in Gillon’s Young Avengers, which were also Marvel Now titles).

Rating: 3/5

Review – Season of Storms

Cover of Season of Storms by Susanna KearsleySeason of Storms, Susanna Kearsley

There’s so much about reading Susanna Kearsley that reminds me of reading Mary Stewart’s work. Something about the sense of place (this is so firmly Italy, and the house and its grounds are so easy to imagine), the female heroine, the romance… Except it’s better, because it steers away from some of the colonial and sexist attitudes that were still pretty firmly entrenched in Mary Stewart’s work, despite her independent and reasonably proactive heroines.

And this book especially won me over, because the main character has been brought up by two gay men in a stable, loving relationship. Neither of them are stereotyped, and the relationship feels real, lived in, between both them and the woman who is essentially their daughter. I got more caught up by Roo and Bryan than by Celia and Alex, honestly. I also ended up having a conversation on Twitter with the author about which of various characters I’d want to be my dad… (Well, in reality, no one is better than my dad. But shush.) There’s some serious emotional punches there, which really work because of that warmth and family which Kearsley portrays so well.

The plot itself is reasonably predictable; the trick is that I got involved with the characters.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

I’m not quite sure whether I should be listing books I’ve saved on my book subscription apps this week! Best not, or I’d overwhelm my blog with book covers. But thank you to Blloon for sending me 1,000 free pages to trial the app (to get me more, if you’re in the UK, do consider signing up here! I’ll be reviewing the service soon), and Scribd for the free month. It’s been a quiet week, since I couldn’t really go to the library; I injured my foot last week, and getting to the library on crutches is just a bit too much faff.

So it’s just the two books I got myself to celebrate finishing my fourth OU textbook! Oh, and the book my sister got me.

Cover of The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu Cover of Lord of All Things by Andreas Eschbach Cover of Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales

Apparently ’tis the week of SF in translation? Anyway, I’ve been meaning to try The Three-Body Problem, and I enjoyed Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, so when I saw these both for under £2, it seemed an obvious choice… My sister got me Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, which is the next pick for the Cardiff SFF Bookclub. ❤

What’s everyone else been getting? Still behaving yourselves?