Review – Myth and Magic

Cover of Myth and Magic, ed. Radclyffe and Stacia SeamenMyth and Magic, ed. Radclyffe and Stacia Seaman
Received to review via Netgalley

Normally I quite enjoy queer retellings of fairytales — I’ve written a couple, because it’s just fun to take such a familiar story and wring the heteronormativity out of it. I’ve enjoyed stories like Malinda Lo’s Ash greatly. But most of these took the same sort of tone, flippant and trivial — which is fine, but not what I’m interested in right now. There are some fun ideas, some humorous bits, but there’s also some aspects that make me wince: the idea that only one sort of boy (a gay one) would wear a felt scarf to dinner. Whaaaat? Stereotypes, really? Gah.

It wouldn’t be so bad if those stereotypes weren’t still harmful. In so many ways, it’s ridiculous to look at someone and say, “Oh, you look gay.” Or whatever. It’s not funny yet because it’s still so harmful.

Shrug. Mostly left me cold, though some of the stories were better than others.

Rating: 2/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten books from your childhood you’d like to revisit. Now, I’m a bit odd in that I jumped from very basic books right up to adult books in a pretty short space of time. So there are some adult books mixed in here which I nonetheless read as a pre-teen.

  1. Magician, Raymond E. Feist. Man, it took me forever to get through this doorstop, but I loved it. And promptly reread it when the extended edition, with more material and tiny font, came out.
  2. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. Okay, I frequently revisit this one, but there’s nothing quite like the thrill of encountering Smaug by the light coming through a crack in your curtains after your parents have threatened to take away the book if you don’t go to sleep now.
  3. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Maybe it’d just be a disappointment, but there’s still a sort of breathless romanticism about the idea of the shut away garden. And it’s set in Yorkshire, which I know well, and occasionally miss.
  4. The Positronic Man, Isaac Asimov. My most epic library fine ever was accrued on this one. The library wouldn’t let me take it out, because it was an adult book, so Mum took it out for me. And then had a lot of trouble getting it back from me. I didn’t have my own copy until I was dating my current partner and she tracked down a copy — all I’d been able to find was the book of short stories which contained the original.
  5. The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff. Another book I read to bits. I think I went through three editions, and even the fancier edition I won as a prize from school quickly got a battering. I loved the Britain underneath the Roman occupation that Sutcliff brought to life — accurate or not, I was happy to believe in it all. And there’s some really, really powerful stuff here.
  6. Animorphs, K.A. Applegate. I never did stick it out and get to the end of these. I loved the concept, though, the way you could let yourself believe that it could be real (or is that begin to fear that it is real?). Maybe I should just look on Wikipedia for how it all panned out…
  7. Clockwork, Philip Pullman. This one creeped me the heck out. I never actually owned a copy, which is weird, but I loved reading it. Sometimes I’d whisper the words, because somehow it worked really well as a whispered story.
  8. Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn. I remember being enraptured by these books. I should read them again and see if they stand up to my remembered fondness. I suspect they were quite appropriative culturally, though…
  9. Just about anything by David Eddings. I really have a craving to reread his stuff. Just one trilogy/series will do; there’s so many similarities between them that after that it’d drive me nuts. But I did adore Sparhawk.
  10. The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin. Or all the Earthsea books, really. God, they were an enchantment for me!

That’s ten already? Yeesh! But I have so many more I could mention…

Review – Elizabeth is Missing

Cover of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma HealeyElizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing is a very interesting play on the unreliable narrator. Maud isn’t unreliable because she’s lying or because she has anything to hide – or not exactly. She’s unreliable because she can’t hold onto her memories or make coherent sense of the things around her. It might sound a bit like a weird mystery novel: you could imagine it like that, with Maud being really sane but being gaslighted by the people around her into believing she’s crazy, and that’s why none of them will listen to her when she talks about Elizabeth. But it’s more mundane than that, at least for one strand of the plot.

The real mystery is in Maud’s memories of her sister, Sukey, who went missing. There’s a great sense of time and place here, putting it so firmly in post-WWII Britain in the same way as those youthful memories are the most vivid for elderly people. There’s a lot of really great description, too, which is partly facilitated by the fact that Maud doesn’t remember things right. You can make the most mundane things fresh and new if they’re a surprise to the narrator; you can tilt the world slightly off-balance like that. Healey does pretty well with that, and with the narration; to me, she balances a lot of things very well.

For example, it’d be easy to show the impatient daughter who just won’t listen to her senile mother. But it’s not like that in real life for most people; it’s just that people are impatient, and will say a sharp thing or roll their eyes or utter something sotto voce just to help themselves cope with what’s going on. And we see Helen like that; we see her trying to be patient, trying to understand, and sometimes coming up short. If there’s a carer in the world, especially a family member, who doesn’t feel like that, well, get them sainted.

It’d also be easy to really mess up the narration, over-exaggerating the things Maud forgets, making her memory come and go too conveniently for the story, smoothing over the edges of the illness to give us a tidy ending. Healey doesn’t fall to that temptation, either.

I can see why you might find it tedious, too painful to read, too disjointed; I liked the slow unfurling of the mysteries, even when I expected the endings, and I laud Healey for writing an elderly heroine with patience and understanding.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Half A King

Cover of Half a King by Joe AbercrombieHalf a King, Joe Abercrombie

I originally had this as an ARC. It’s now out in paperback, so I do actually own a copy. I feel terrible about taking so long to get round to it; I can only cite a long, long, long, long… backlog. Also, I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood; I’ve read the First Law trilogy, and that is generally pretty violent and depressing. This was still… gritty, I guess, though that word might be overused, but the characters and situation are interesting enough.

I was actually amused by the parallels (initially) with The Goblin Emperor, which I love so much. It took almost every trope I was glad that Addison avoided, and used them to spin a new story. The result isn’t entirely original (I mean, I could go “oh goodie, it’s about time for the epic cross country trek followed by a battle”), but it is fun and very readable, and Abercrombie can ditch the worst of the profanity and write something that most people wouldn’t mind their teen reading. (I shouldn’t be surprised, given I know Chuck Wendig can do it too, and that man loves profanity like I love ketchup.)

Overall, the result is an interesting bunch of characters, a not-so-typical relationship between some of them (like, the teenage crush doesn’t come to anything), and a very readable book. I’ve got Half the World from the library, and intend to get to it very soon.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Speaking from Among the Bones

Cover of Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan BradleySpeaking from Among the Bones, Alan Bradley

I do like this series — and tear through the books — when I get round to reading it, but I don’t particularly feel a pressure to keep up. There’s just something too precious about Flavia, and indeed the whole portrayal of idyllic British country life after the Second World War. My usual pet peeves with this series are firmly in place, in that sense.

But it is nice to just relax into it and enjoy the family’s weirdnesses, the unusual set up for the mystery, the intrepid Famous Five feel you get from Flavia — and the fact that hey, she’s a young girl who is great at chemistry, who deserves and demands respect from the people around her for what she can do. Sometimes she overshoots (and, ah, I think I do recognise myself in that; I was quite a mature kid, but also very aware of it and keen for people to know, which then veers toward being immature again), but mostly she’s quite right that she deserves some respect. I do enjoy her little crush on the inspector, too.

The last line is clearly set up for Things To Change, and I’m quite looking forward to that. There’s a formula now to these books; I hope the next book breaks it, at least somewhat.

Rating: 3/5

Stacking the Shelves

Hey everyone! If you were curious about how my year’s goals are going, you can swing by my resolutions update here. If you just want to see what I’ve acquired this week, well, read on. It’s not actually a big haul; instead of splitting them up into sections, I’ll just list them together this week, I think!

Cover of We Are Our Brains by Dick Swaab Cover of Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell Silk #2

Super thanks to the publisher for Knight’s Shadow — I requested it based on being halfway through Traitor’s Blade, and I’m looking forward to it.

Review – Wildwood Dancing

Cover of Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet MarillierWildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier
Review from 23rd January, 2011

Wildwood Dancing is a very interesting blend of several different fairytales and folklore: the seven dancing princesses, the princess and the frog, stories of vampires and fairies. I love fairytale retellings, and it was interesting to see the way these were all put together in a reasonably historical framework, in Romania — with strong touches of realism, when the girls were going about their ordinary lives.

Unfortunately, for me, there was something all too predictable about it. I’d answered all the questions long before the narrator, Jena, even thought to ask them. I knew the identity of Gogu, and what Cezar had done, and what would happen to Costi… At some point, I’ve read a book very like this, or enough books that were like this to tie them all together and make an Ur-Wildwood Dancing in my head! That made it rather less fun for me, since I knew how it would all go and I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, constantly.

With that in mind, I’m not sure how much I actually enjoyed reading it. Everything just seemed so familiar — and I’m absolutely positive I haven’t read it before. If you enjoy fairytale retellings, I think it’s worth a try, and I haven’t been put off Juliet Marillier entirely: I’m going to read Cybele’s Secret, at least, which is the sequel to this. I’m told the narrator is one of the sisters from this story, but not Jena. I wanted more depth in Paula, Iulia and Stela, so perhaps Cybele’s Secret will provide. If not, I’ll give one of her other books from a different series a try, and then perhaps give it up if that doesn’t work out… I really want to like what Marillier does — and in some ways, her work reminds me of Robin McKinley’s: that was a part of the familiarity I had with the writing, I think — but this was just too, too predictable for me.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Sand and Ruin and Gold

Cover of Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis HallSand and Ruin and Gold, Alexis Hall
Received to review via Netgalley

This is… not a romance. It’s something strange and sad; a fairytale with an ending that isn’t precisely happy or sad. The writing is lovely, and the descriptions of the mermaids as something wholly other really works. The relationship — is it a relationship? — between the narrator and the merman is strange, and the more realistic for being ambiguous, for being… what it is, a strange union between two species where one has more power over the other, where one is a captive and the other is, nominally, in control.

It’s not a very long story, at all, but it’s just the right length; someone else commented that it feels like the background to a novel rather than a story in itself, but I definitely didn’t feel that way. I would’ve liked more, more explanations, more depth to the world, but I didn’t feel as if it was necessary.

Rating: 3/5

No Book Buying Challenge: My Secret Sauce

Yes, my puns are terrible, I know. This month’s prompt from the #ShelfLove challenge is about free books: where do you get them from?

I have a feeling that I had a brilliant idea for this list and then forgot it. Ah well: I can always add it later. And now to the general update!

  • 8/51+ already owned books read
  • Spent: £21 out of ~£30 budget (budget is 10% of my income) for January
  • Spent: £20 out of ~£25 budget for February
  • Spent: £12 out of ~£25 budget for March

As for my other resolutions:

  • No books impulse-bought (two marginal; they weren’t on my list, but I was aware of and interested in them before, and I used a voucher)
  • Read every day
  • Bed before midnight… mostly
  • Up before ten every day (now basically up before eight every day and not entirely happy about it)
  • Only bought one book from a series at a time
  • Posted to the blog every day
  • Commented on at least one other blog every day
  • Tithed 10% in January, February and March.
  • Done 27 hours volunteering total
  • Reading/reviewing books from NG/etc… making some slow progress

I now have a couple of challenges and stuff set up on HabitRPG to keep me accountable, too. If I don’t get to 80% feedback on Netgalley by December 31st 2015, I pay an eight gem forfeit to a random person who joined the challenge. (You can find it in the Short-Term Accountability Guild if you’re a HabitRPG fan like me!)

Review – The Importance of Being Earnest

Cover of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WIldeThe Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde

I don’t think there’s much I have to say about this that hasn’t been said. Like, gee, did you know Wilde was really witty and satirical? I know, it shocked me too… But in all seriousness, even reading this rather than seeing it performed, it has a wonderful flow and wit, and it’s really funny. I don’t normally have much patience with plays, because they’re so much flatter on the page, and you don’t get the fun of watching actors/directors interpreting them, but I really enjoyed this anyway.

And yes, yes, I know; it’s disgraceful I have two English Lit degrees and this is the first time I’ve ever read The Importance of Being Earnest. I can only say that Wilde was a bit too recent for me…

Rating: 4/5