Female Authors Only Month

Well, both the reading and the posting for my month of reading only female authored books are done. I also didn’t buy books by men or borrow books by men from the library during the month, and made sure all my ‘Flashback Friday’ posts were of books by female authors. Did I notice a change? Well, no, not really. Once or twice I had to remind myself, and put off reading something or other until the month was over. I don’t think I’d want to extend the month any longer; I read a lot of female authors anyway, and there’s so much worthwhile stuff out there that isn’t written by women.

Still, it was interesting. Browsing the shelves at Caerphilly Library, realising that I had to go for three shelves in the SF&F section until I found a female author; looking for books about science written by women and finding them thin on the ground; noticing my own dismissal of certain genres (paranormal romance, for example) because I just assume they’re all the same. Even though I’ve read some and really enjoyed them.

It wasn’t a struggle to read female authors only for a month, but the change in focus was interesting. I might do it with other groups in future.

What about you? Did you notice that I was only posting reviews of books by female authors in May?

Review – Peacemaker

Cover of Peacemaker, Marianne de PierresPeacemaker, Marianne de Pierres
Received to review via Netgalley

I’ve been meaning to read something by Marianne de Pierres for ages. I don’t know if this was a good place to start, but I usually enjoy Angry Robot books; they usually have interesting ideas, and they’re quick reads. And I got this on Netgalley before I cut down my requesting habits, so I have finally, finally got round to reading it. And I enjoyed it! It keeps up a hell of a pace, there’s a bunch of interesting mysteries (some characters are mysteries in themselves, there’s a larger mystery which causes all the mayhem, and there’s an ongoing question yet to be solved, presumably awaiting further books), etc.

In some cases, it felt a little too scattered, waiting for something to pull it all together: why is Heart so involved in Virgin’s life? Why does Hamish care? How much does any given character know about what’s going on? And some things felt a little too convenient/easy. The park is easy to picture, but other areas less so: Virgin doesn’t spend nearly as much time describing anywhere but the park, which makes sense with her character, but still. The near-future setting kept throwing me: where exactly is the technology in relation to ours? Etc.

Overall, it’s fun. A bit Western-y, a bit urban fantasy, a bit near-future spec-fic. There’s a pretty diverse cast of characters, and nearly all of them have a role to play — there’s no, or at least few, throwaway characters who are just there to prop up a bit of the plot.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Without a Summer

Cover of Without a SummerWithout a Summer, Mary Robinette Kowal

When I’m just reading this and not thinking too much about it, I love it. If I try and pick nits, I’m less enthused — like sometimes I just think about Jane’s behaviour for a moment too long, and want to slap her down. She jumps to conclusions, acts like Melody is brainless, dismisses her… If I think about it too much, my frustrations with Jane take the shine off things a little.

So: why I like it — it’s so easy to read. I love the relationship between Vincent and Jane, at least as far as he’s concerned; I think she could stand to trust him more, but I also think that there’s reasons she doesn’t and that she works on it, which helps. I love the small ways the trauma of his past is made clear: very little is said about his father, it’s all in the way he acts, in the little tells like the nervous whine at the back of his throat… I liked Vincent’s mother’s part, the way her actions speak of the same traumas, and yet also of love and determination.

I like the political plot behind this, too: the use of real history interwoven with the magic of this world, the issues with Irish people and problems of interaction between aristocracy and working people… It works pretty well, for me at least.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

I’ve been a bit naughty in the last week. In my defence, there was a signing in a bookshop and my sister insisted I get one of the books below. Uh. That’s a good defence, right?

Acquisitions

Cover of The City by Stella Gemmell Cover of Signal to Noise by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia Captain Marvel: Stay Fly

Cover of From Eternity to Here by Sean Carroll Cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige Cover of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I forgot about the issues with Full Fathom Five when I picked up Dorothy Must Die; that was the one my sister wanted me to get, because of Ollie the talking monkey. I feel a little bad about that.

Arrivals

Cover of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh Cover of Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

These have been on order for a while and finally arrived this week!

Library

Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie Cover of Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Cover of Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell

Those with long memories will know I actually owned the first four already (and I’ve read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell before), but I thought I’d grab them in dead tree to see if it would poke me to get on with it and read them!

So overall, a very satisfying haul for me! Must put some of these on the June TBR list, since the May one was a success for me. How’s everyone else been doing? Lots of new books? Exciting library trips? Self-control and budgeting?

Review – Steal Across The Sky

Cover of Steal Across The Sky by Nancy KressSteal Across the Sky, Nancy Kress
Review from January 1st, 2013

I didn’t really intend to read Steal Across the Sky all in one evening, it just sort of happened. It’s the first of my books for a challenge which I might or might not fully participate in, the Worlds Without End female writers challenge for 2013. I’ve meant to read Nancy Kress for ages, and I actually have Beggars in Spain somewhere to read, but on impulse I chose this one.

It’s an interesting concept, or bundle of concepts: people are chosen to bear witness to the results of a crime committed by aliens long ago, and to take that knowledge back to the human race. But it’s not a book about aliens — we barely see the aliens — it’s a book about humans and how we might react, how things might change, if those Witnesses existed and came back with the news of what they saw.

Nancy Kress seems to be, from this at least, a good judge of what people are like. The whole range of responses is here, and a range of different personality-types to react to each other in all the ways people do, seeing things from different sides. My main quibble was that it felt very much like the narrative took a side in the whole debate, so I was very sure what the truth was. I would rather have wondered a little more, or even a lot more.

It’s not so much about specific people and personal emotions, but about the central concept, and how it affects everyday people. There was enough personality there, though, to keep a character-orientated person like me reading. Once I’d picked this up, apart from a break to wash my hair, I read it more or less in one go — it had me thinking, which is sometimes more important than feeling when it comes to books.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Gifts

Cover of Gifts, by Ursula Le GuinGifts, Ursula Le Guin

Gifts is a quiet story, in the way that Ursula Le Guin can do really well: those moments of silence, introspection, contemplation. It isn’t my favourite of her books, but I love the things she explores here: the longing of parents to see their children succeed; love within families; grieving and loss; trying to choose the lesser evil… Orrec’s voluntary blindness and the way it affects the world around him, his fears and his wants, are beautiful; Canoc is a wonderful portrait of a difficult man: difficult to love, impossible to hate.

The whole feel of the book is really epitomised by Gry, for me; her quiet loyalty and determination, her love of Orrec which is undemanding and completely rock-solid. Their friendship and later the love between them is perfect.

I’m looking forward to rereading the rest of this trilogy; as I recall, the other two books feature more suspense and tension, and less of the solid quietness of this book. All of them have their own loveliness, though: it’s Le Guin, so how not?

Rating: 4/5

Review – Graceling

Cover of Graceling by Kristin CashoreGraceling, Kristin Cashore

I’ve read Graceling before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it then. The anti-marriage plot and Katsa’s rejections of femininity didn’t sit well with me then; not because I’m that vociferously pro-marriage or that insistent on anyone being feminine, but I think I was looking for someone more like Celaena back then. Someone who could fight and survive and still be a woman, and not view feminine pursuits or interests as weak. Katsa isn’t that at all: she’s a woman who has been mostly forced to act as a thug, who is only beginning to learn that she can take control of her own life, and that has included being paraded for the marriage market and forced to pretty herself up, despite her lack of interest in both.

The issues of marriage and contraception… Well, to an extent they still feel a little bit incongruous to me, but I’m also impressed that they’re included in a YA book. It’s positive about sex and Katsa’s right to do what she wants with her own body, positive about finding a compromise that works for both you and your partner. And in a world where ineffective abstinence is about all that’s taught in schools, there’s definitely no harm in YA drawing attention to the existence of contraception, and it’s a valid part of the worldbuilding that it’s something which Katsa is aware of and can use.

I think I enjoyed it more this time because I appreciated those things more, and I knew they were coming. It left me more time to focus on other aspects like the worldbuilding. I’m still not sure about some of the place names — Middluns as the name of a kingdom? Really? But I did like other things like the whole idea of Graces, the idea of how kings and rulers would use that, how it would effect families. The exploration of how women were expected to rely on their male family members for protection, and yet that protection often failed them. I liked that Graces aren’t straightforward; they can evolve and change, they can surprise you, because all the time you thought you were Graced to do [x] and it turns out just to be a side effect of [y].

I’m not sure how I felt about Po’s Grace compensating for the injury. It’s represented as something different, not a straightforward replacement, though, so I think it steers clear of handwaving the disability away — and it’s definitely hinted at ahead of time.

The mindreading and mind control Graces creep me out as much as they do Katsa. They’re pretty closely aligned in my mind; it’s interesting how Po’s Grace is explored, but how the antagonist’s Grace is only ever condemned. It’s not as if people can help their Graces, only what they do with them. It’d be interesting to see someone with a similar Grace who struggles not to misuse it.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Curtsies and Conspiracies

Cover of Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail CarrigerCurtsies and Conspiracies, Gail Carriger

Like the first book, this YA book set in the world of the Parasol Protectorate is a fun romp with slightly less sex talk than the Parasol Protectorate books. It still has a bit of romance, but it’s mostly banter in keeping with the age of the girls, with a touch of teenage confusion and angst as regards having feelings for anyone. They’re not books with great depth: the perfect description is a ‘romp’, as many people have said before me.

It annoys me that people complain about Sophronia being a ‘Mary Sue’, when a boy doing excellently at school in the same way wouldn’t be questioned. This is what she’s good at, with the help of her friends, and without them and some helpful coincidences, she wouldn’t be so good at what she does. Nor is she gracefully immune to everything the other girls say or think — she can be hurt by them, and do them injustices.

So yes, it’s a little piece of fluffy wish fulfilment. And it’s fun, and positive about female characters who can stand up for themselves and take care of themselves.

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “beach books”. Which is not something I really do, so instead I shall pick the kinds of books I like to relax with. Whether that looks like your beach reads or not, I don’t know!

  1. Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. Or anything in that series, but the first one is the lightest and closest to Austen and the like.
  2. This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart. Or any of her mysteries — they have an amazing sense of place, it’s like going on holiday without leaving home.
  3. The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley. Another one with a great sense of place, this one in Cornwell. It’s not all happy, but the romance is sweet and it has a happy ending.
  4. The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer. I have a huge soft spot for these romances. I loved Sophy in particular, though I’m also a fan of…
  5. The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer. Which is more of a mystery/adventure than some of the primarily society type ones.
  6. Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews. Light and compulsively readable.
  7. Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers. Okay, I think you need the background of previous books, but I love the first line and the rest doesn’t disappoint: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.”
  8. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers. For Harriet Vane in the prime spot, with her final answer to Lord Peter’s proposals at the end of the book… Plus, tons of smart women in academia.
  9. Jhereg, Steven Brust. It’s a fun first book of the series, it raced past me, and it’s really easy to read.
  10. Soulless, Gail Carriger. Fluffy fun with werewolves.

I don’t think that’d be a bad selection for the beach, right?

Review – Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Finally rereading the first two books so that I can finally get round to the third one without getting confused. Or that’s the plan, anyway. I wasn’t as wowed by this on a second reading, somehow; little things niggled at me more than they did when I first read it. Not so much plot things, just bits of description or interaction that didn’t quite ring true; things that seemed a little over the top. But it’s still an enchanting world, and a really quick read; it just skims past effortlessly, lovely images, little bits of worldbuilding, a lovely physicality of the love/attraction between Karou and Akiva.

Sometimes, I think it tries just a little too hard to be whimsical or affecting or magical. And then sometimes it works really well.

There’s a really cool array of characters, here. Humans and chimaera and angels of all different motivations and beliefs; loving relationships you can really believe in (particularly Issa and Karou, and Karou and Brimstone), with conflicts you can also believe in. There isn’t really any manufactured misunderstanding here, or silly drama; Akiva and Karou’s differences are real and deep, as are the differences between their peoples. There is a bit of black/white good/bad thinking when it comes to the angels/chimaera (I don’t think there is really a way to sympathise with what we know the angels have done), but there are also moral ambiguities. (Do you support the chimaera’s destruction of valuable archives? Their resurrections? Their magic, based on using pain?)

I’m looking forward to finishing the series, in any case; there is a lot here to enjoy.

Rating: 4/5