Review – Sockology

Cover of Sockology by Brenna MaloneySockology, Brenna Maloney

I read this on Scribd after browsing through the craft books (where’s the crochet hiding?!). It’s a fun sort of book, with patterns and ideas about how to cut up and reuse socks to make various creatures. I didn’t always find the results attractive, but the patterns could be fairly easily altered. As soon as you figure out how to look at a sock for how you can cut it up and change it, instead of as a sock, you’ve got it.

Not something I’m going to get into, I think — I never seem to have enough socks anyway. But I have a friend or two who might enjoy it…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mammoths of the Great Plains

Cover of Mammoths of the Great Plains by Eleanor ArnasonMammoths of the Great Plains, Eleanor Arnason

I still need to read A Woman of the Iron People, which is the main work I’ve been recommended by Arnason. But I thought I’d read this on Scribd, since it was available and I find the Outspoken Authors series generally interesting. I was less interested in the interview and essay, though it’s interesting to know where Arnason comes from (in many senses!) and what her preoccupations are. I’m not sure how much general interest the essay has; certainly, if you’re not fond of non-fiction, I can’t imagine you’ll appreciate it.

The story itself is interesting: it’s alternate history, where mammoths survived into the last couple of centuries, and where humans drove them to extinction with hunting and tourism. The background of the Native American characters and customs was particularly cool, especially given the educated and successful Native American women at the heart of the story.

The contemplative tone is a bit Ursula Le Guin-ish, which I think Arnason says herself — and the structure, too, with the story within a story. It’s quite a slow narrative: not about things happening, so much as things that have happened, about the power humans have for good and bad (but usually bad) over our environment. I don’t know enough about Native American culture and belief to judge that aspect of the story: to me the ecological, intimate link with nature stuff seemed a little like an idealisation, more of the ‘noble savage’ persuasion than realism, but it doesn’t do so in a negative way and, like I said, I don’t know enough to judge.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Third Time Lucky

24965354Third Time Lucky, Tanya Huff

I’ve wanted to get this collection since it came out, so no surprises that I read it as soon as I got chance. I love Huff’s collections of short stories: they’re bite-sized, sure, but there’s enough there to get your teeth into. Especially in this collection, which is a group of stories about the same character/world: Magdalene, the most powerful wizard in the world. I loved that she is literally the most powerful wizard, and that Huff chose to deal with that not by making her less powerful, but by making her essentially her own worst enemy. (Which is particularly true in the last story.)

I like that Magdalene is lazy, indolent, sensual, sexual — and none of this is particularly judged by the stories in any kind of “teach her a lesson” way. She still does what needs to be done, she still cares about the people around her, and she doesn’t care to boast about her. That would take effort.

In fact, arguably the only “lesson” in these stories is that she must accept herself, whole and entire, the good with the bad. Not a bad message at all, if there’s going to be one.

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____”. So, because I’m predictable like that, let’s have my top ten characters who love books!

  1. Matilda, from Roald Dahl’s MatildaI don’t know about anyone else, but I used to sit and stare at things and wish I could have powers like Matilda. But even better would’ve been to read as fast as her.
  2. Mori, from Jo Walton’s Among OthersI think this one is extra-specially predictable. Shush.
  3. Hermione Granger, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry PotterI’m in the middle of my rereads of these books and remembering just how much I loved Hermione — I was that know-it-all who sucked up to the teachers, though I didn’t have such good and loyal friends as Harry and Ron surrounding me. And unfortunately, I still didn’t have powers.
  4. Cath, from Rainbow Rowell’s FangirlWhy is this list so populated with people like me…?
  5. Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries. Well, she’s more of a writer and we don’t see her reading much, but we do see her engaging with literature, and practically sparring with Peter via quotations from books.
  6. Beauty, in Robin McKinley’s BeautyGimme the Beast’s library, please.
  7. Alec, from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. I suddenly remembered a scene with Richard bringing Alec a book and the hunger Alec seemed to feel about it…
  8. Jean, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Jean!
  9. Memer, from Ursula Le Guin’s VoicesI need to reread this one now I’ve remembered about it!
  10. Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little WomenI think I actually came across Jo and Matilda not that far apart in time. Both of them lived in a world of books that only encouraged me to read more!

That was actually harder than I anticipated. Huh. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people are going with!

Review – Traitor’s Blade

Cover of Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de CastellTraitor’s Blade, Sebastien de Castell

Halfway through this one, I went on Netgalley and requested an ARC of the second one. It was just so easy to read. It’s definitely a fantasy world sort of Three Musketeers story, with plenty of historic and cultural background to the story to make it interesting.

The characters worked well for me, too: okay, I’m not so fond of the womanising Brasti most of the time (especially not when he wants to loot corpses, which is totally against the Greatcoats’ customs), but the relationship between him and the others was still important. My favourite was probably Kest, though. The relationship (in flashbacks) between Falcio and his king is also an important one, and at the heart of the emotional part of the story. The group also has a bantering Gentleman Bastards flavour, if you’re a Scott Lynch fan.

In terms of plot, I called pretty much all of the twists a bit before they happened, but I looked forward to seeing exactly how it played out, so I didn’t mind. I’m interested to see what comes next, particularly with the characters who gained in importance toward the end of the book: Valiana and Aline.

One thing jarred a bit. There are powerful women, female Greatcoats, etc, and yet “you hit like a girl” is still a joke. Buh? Granted, the first time it’s used someone points out it’s idiotic, but really, is that where we need to get our humour from? Do we have to impose the gender norms of our world on fantasy ones? Sigh.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Howl’s Moving Castle

Cover of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this now, but it’s probably my favourite of Diana Wynne Jones’ work. I actually saw the Studio Ghibli adaptation first: it’s very different in some ways, but it still captures some of the ideas and tone. The thing I really loved, though, coming to the book after the film, was discovering all the Welsh background. The ‘saucepan song’, Howl’s family, his Welsh Rugby shirt, even some of the things he says — “there’s a welcome in the valleys”! As well as the Welsh background, there’s just a lot more in the book: Sophie’s sisters, her aunt Fanny, a different view of Howl…

And Sophie is a fun protagonist: capable, pretty, not stuck up, capable of making mistakes, admitting she’s wrong, and being really ratty about it. She’s not perfect, by any means — which is fortunate, because neither is Howl. Both of them have a lot to put up with, in fact! And yet it doesn’t go too far, either: most people have something redeeming about them. For a while we think of Sophie’s Aunt Fanny as rather exploitative and unfair; a wicked stepmother, in fact. But there’s another side to the story, and Jones makes sure we know it.

Then of course there’s the tone. It’s light, silly, and yet you come to care about the characters easily because they make you smile, and because sometimes you can see right through them to their real motivations. Like people, really. I love all the references to traditional folk tale structures, too, like Sophie thinking she’ll never come to much because she’s the eldest of three.

Rating: 5/5

Readathon Progress

Okay, so there’s no progress yet, because there’s still about two hours to go. But this is where I will put all updates on my progress, responses to mini-challenges, etc. My stack is here, but really I’ll be choosing anything from my vast backlog. I’ll start with finishing off Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan, and The Secret Museum, by Molly Oldfield, since that will get me off to a flying start and I didn’t quite manage to finish them up yesterday. Reviews will go into the queue, which means you won’t see them until a few weeks into May… sorry!

Looking forward to it! Here’s me and my Captain America bear, still in our jammies for now…

Me and my Captain America teddy bear, both in PJs

13.45: Nearly finished with my first book, The Secret Museum. Here’s the opening meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Cardiff, Wales.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? All of them? Maybe A Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab). I’ve wanted to read it for months.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? My sweet n’ salt popcorn!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I’m 25, and I can’t literally ‘breathe books’, but close enough.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I’m planning to be pretty relaxed about it. Rather than forcing myself to stay awake to read, I’ll just read; if I get too tired, I’ll sleep. But I’ve always found that when I purposefully stay awake to read, I can’t, and when I just pick a book up and get absorbed, I don’t get sleepy at all. We’ll see how it goes!

14.08: First book finished. I’m going to jot down my initial thoughts for a review, and then go see a couple of blogs to say hi!

15.01: I seem to have developed one of my headaches just as soon as it knew it’d be inconvenient for me. Sigh. Anyway, I’m now reading Voyage of the Basilisk; my reading tracker estimates it’ll take me another hour to finish it. I love it.

Oh, and me and Steve-bear are suited up now, including one of my book necklaces (made by Paper Fury!). Do you recognise that cover?

Me and my Captain America bear, suited up

16.40: Just finished Voyage of the Basilisk. Not sure what to go with next — maybe Batgirl, for a change of pace?

17.33: Owww, my head. But I just finished Batgirl: Death of the Family! Crap, I forgot how dark DC comics are.

19.24: Headache somewhat better now. Currently rereading Touch Not The Cat (Mary Stewart), because I felt the need for something familiar. I’ve forgotten the resolution of the mystery entirely…

20.10: ReadMore reckons I’ve got about an hour and a half to go with Touch Not The Cat, and whether it was my anti-anxiety meds or the paracetamol finally kicking in, my headache has abated. Now I’m gonna go check out some blogs again for a little break.

21:44: Still working on Touch Not The Cat, though I have remembered pretty much all the resolution now. 25% to go. I’m pondering having a bath once my partner’s gone to bed and isn’t about to keep me awake anymore.

22.16: Definitely going to bath. Once I’ve finished Touch Not The Cat, I think it’ll be Shades of Milk and Honey (Mary Robinette Kowal) or The Winter Sea (Susanna Kearsley). But we’ll see how my whimsy takes me (which now makes me think I might just read Strong Poison). 

00.54: Bath done! Wow, was I that long in there? Oops. I finished Touch Not the Cat and read all of Shades of Milk and Honey. Not sure what’s next, but I think perhaps Jo Walton’s The Just City while I’m still awake enough to appreciate it.

01.11: Now I’ve caught up on some blogs and stuff, I think I’ll get back to reading, though I am yawning ominously. First, though, the mid-event meme:

1. What are you reading right now? I’ve just finished everything I had on the go, actually.
2. How many books have you read so far? Five.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I’m keeping my options open, really. Perhaps The Winter Sea (Susanna Kearsley).
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I have, but I just took them in my stride. I’ve learnt it’s no use fretting about them, and I certainly get enough read anyway!
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Nothing, really; I’m an old hand. Perhaps the sheer number of people this time!

02.25: I did start The Just City. I’m a little surprised; I thought it would be a quick read, but ReadMore reckons I’ve got three and a half hours left with it. Oh well; three and a half hours in company with Jo Walton is no bad thing.

03.20: ReadMore is being a little more optimistic now about how long it’ll take me to finish The Just City. But I might get sleepy now; I’m cold, so I’m going to cwtch up in bed with my electric blanket on. I might play a bit of chess too, to keep my brain awake!

04:07: Did play some chess, but kind of zoned out too — I haven’t read anything since my last update. I’m going to get some sleep and try to get up at my usual time (08.30) so I can finish The Just City and also read The Buried Life before the end of the ‘thon. That’ll be just four hours sleep, so it’s a compromise between knowing how much my mental health depends on sleep and how much I want to read!

09.15: I’m now up and I’ve had breakfast, so hopefully I can settle down to read again once I’ve caught up with comments and posts!

09.45: I’m not feeling the reading, so I’m going to do a bit of impromptu cheering and write up my reviews for the five books I did finish. Not bad, even if my brain isn’t cooperating this morning!

11.00: Still writing reviews, wow. Apparently I have lots of thoughts to share!

11.24: There, reviews done. Going to wander through some blogs now and try to say hi/encourage people still going. Or encourage people who need sleep to go ahead and sleep; I’m not so fond of the people urging other people to stay awake when they’re past their tolerance. Social pressure is no fun.

12.36: Time for the end of event meme!

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? None, really. I took it fairly easy this year.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I like having a good mixture, with contrasts between the books; that’s the key for me, rather than a specific book. I enjoy Mary Stewart and Susanna Kearsley’s work when I’m tired and in need of something unchallenging and fun.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? No.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I liked the cheerleading a lot more this time; it seemed more substantive and I saw the same people a few times.
  5. How many books did you read? Five.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? Let’s see: Voyage of the Basilisk, The Secret Museum, Batgirl: Death of the Family, Touch Not The Cat and Shades of Milk & Honey.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Probably Voyage of the Basilisk, it’s the only one I five-starred.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? Probably Batgirl; it was a bit too dark for me.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I wasn’t. I just randomly wandered and said hi. But my advice is always to engage with the post, rather than just copy/pasting something pre-prepared.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I will, and most likely I’ll be a reader, maybe a mini-challenge host, and an informal cheerleader.