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

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?

Review – Cybele’s Secret

Cover of Cybele's Secret by Juliet MarillierCybele’s Secret, Juliet Marillier
Review from 27th January, 2011

To my surprise, I actually enjoyed Cybele’s Secret more than Wildwood Dancing. The main problem I had with Wildwood Dancing was the predictability, and maybe the tortuous way everything went wrong, and so the pacing… For the most part, Cybele’s Secret was better, in that respect. I didn’t figure out the whole plot in the first fifty pages as I did with Wildwood Dancing, so it didn’t drag so much for me — and when it got to the last part, I was hooked, toes curling with excitement, grinning like an idiot: the lot.

My main criticism of Cybele’s Secret is how very, very similar Paula’s tone was to Jena’s. The two sisters are alike, but… Not so alike, I’d thought. I might have been reading the same narrator, though, or so it seemed to me… And the separation of Paula and her father, the way she got on the ship… Once she was on the ship, she acted in character, but there was nothing level-headed about going to confront a man she believed to be violent, unscrupulous and cruel. I didn’t believe that as something she would do. Which is unfortunate, because part of the plot hinged on that.

I predicted who would be following them, too, and even how she would end, so it still didn’t keep me on my toes — but the feeling of utter familiarity wasn’t there.

It’s hard to say, after that, what I did like so much. Duarte and Stoyan, mainly. I believed in both their characters, and in their different loves for Paula. And I believed in her affection for them. The end made me smile a lot.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Station Eleven

Cover of Station Eleven by Emily St John MandelStation Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

I originally received this to review, but have actually bought a copy in the meantime because I took too long about getting to it — and some of my friends were very enthusiastic about it.

I’m actually finding this one a difficult one to review, anyway. The prose is great, and the interweaving of the plots, the character arcs, and the way the different time periods are handled… all of that worked very well for me. The set-up of the world, too: the plague, the way people survive, the existence of something like the Travelling Symphony (though it did remind me of Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique). It just… doesn’t seem to be sticking with me. I finished it last night and I’m already forgetting details and connections.

Maybe part of it is that I didn’t really form an emotional connection to anyone. The way it shifts between central characters caused that, somewhat: I was never sure who was coming back, who was incidental. And sometimes the characters were just… drifting through their lives without purpose. The actor, for example, his hopping between wives and his callousness to his friends; he’s a well-written character, and yet not one I can be passionate about.

I think maybe what it really lacked for me was a sense of destination. “Survival” is all the characters aim for, and there’s no one unifying thing that they’re all drawn toward, so that their coming together feels unimportant. I don’t usually need some big epic event as a book’s climax, but it didn’t seem like this had a climax — it was more a character study, a world study, which normally I would enjoy, but because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, it didn’t elevate the novel beyond “well, objectively I can see it’s well-written”.

I hesitate over giving it a rating, because I normally rate by enjoyment, but also by a sense of ‘okay, I’ll take a star off for x and y’. I don’t want to dock it stars, though, and yet it doesn’t merit the highest accolades I’ve given to books like The Goblin Emperor. I’m going to have to go with three stars (‘liked it’) — which is not to say it’s not a good book, maybe even a five star book in some ways, but it just can’t touch the involvement I’ve had with books I’ve given five stars.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Yesterday’s Kin

Cover of Yesterday's Kin by Nancy KressYesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress
Received to review via Netgalley

This novella has two complementary storylines, really: each relies on the other to give it more meaning and to create tension, although each could be a satisfying story on its own. One thread of the story isn’t SF at all, as such: it’s about family and belonging, knowing who you are and knowing who your family are. The other thread is fairly typical SF: an alien civilisation contact Earth saying that they are very close to humans, genetically, and that a disease that devastated them is coming toward Earth. So then there’s a scramble to find a cure or a vaccine, with plenty of secrets and inequalities in the relationships, etc, etc.

Where the two come together is in the customs of the aliens, which emphasise family, and one of the scientists from the humans, who has besides her interests in genetics a somewhat dysfunctional family. I’m not going to spoil the various twists in the story which weave the two threads together, because I found it fairly predictable even without hints!

My main feeling is one that I’ve had before with Kress’ writing: I didn’t really feel the emotions deeply. It seemed like I should, but there was something distant about the characters. I could relate to them fine, but I almost didn’t believe their emotional moments, their turmoil. It was quite weird, intellectually recognising each reaction and knowing it was appropriate for the situation, and yet somehow not feeling as if it was real for the character.

Overall, I liked the ideas and the way the two threads work together, and though I’d begun to expect the twist, I did enjoy the way it happened. I just didn’t feel much for the story.

Rating: 3/5