Review – The Girl at Midnight

Cover of The Girl at Midnight by Melissa GreyThe Girl at Midnight, Melissa Grey

Hm. I got 150 pages into this and stopped to take stock, and found too many correlations between this and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone to keep reading without looking up some other reviews to see if I was the only one. And… I’m not. And the reviews indicated more points of similarity, and not just with Taylor’s work, but also with Cassandra Clare’s. So I took a deep breath and started reading again, but sceptically, which was probably enough to harm the book right there without the surfacing of other similarities.

Let’s look at them, shall we? The doorways. The Ala and her likeness to Brimstone. The two races locked in battle, without a clear cause or end. The warlord (Thiago/Altair). Animal aspects (though this time for both races). Love surviving reincarnation. A Romeo and Juliet set-up. The two main characters wanting peace. Even the tone of it, the desire to conjure magic in mundane human spaces, it all seemed so familiar.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I had it on a list of anticipated books, and I even bought a copy, despite having originally got a review copy. It’s like, jeez. You start a story in a library, you wax poetic about books, and then you betray me like this? I like to believe that the author didn’t intend for all these similarities to be here, but they were, particularly as I’m just about to read the final book of Laini Taylor’s trilogy, and the story so far is fresh in my mind. I feel played by this book.

It’s not badly written, and for that, two stars. It’s just… not the breath of fresh air it was hyped to be.

Rating: 2/5


Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme is the top ten books read so far in 2015. Which is at least easier than all-time favourites or something like that!

  1. Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan. Or Tropic of Serpents, in fact. I gave them both five stars!
  2. Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer. Though it’s the whole series, really; they’re so weird, and I think you do need to read all three to get a good picture.
  3. Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers. Or the second book… I might even prefer the second book. But yeah, I was surprised by how much I liked these.
  4. The Just City, Jo Walton. Nobody’s surprised. Are you?
  5. Season of Storms, Susanna Kearsley. Go on, break my heart, you meanie.
  6. Lock In, John Scalzi. Really fascinated me.
  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke. Okay, okay, I know it’s a reread, but I discovered a whole new appreciation for it.
  8. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie. I might not have given it five stars myself, but it is pretty awesome.
  9. A Court of Thorns & Roses, Sarah J. Maas. I wasn’t a huge fan of Throne of Glass, though it’s fun, but ACOTAR… yeah.
  10. The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge. I don’t love it like I loved A Face Like Glass, but. Yeah. ❤

Looking forward to seeing everyone else’s, but bear in mind I’m in Canada on holiday right now and might not get much chance to comment!

Review – Ring of Bright Water

Cover of Ring of Bright Water by Gavin MaxwellRing of Bright Water, Gavin Maxwell

I wanted to read this after having a go at Miriam Darlington’s Otter Country, which in many ways revolved around this book and the landscape described by Gavin Maxwell. He got much closer to the animals than Darlington, so perhaps it’s not surprising that his account is more interesting and vital. Otters were, not quite pets, but definitely companions for him, in a way that Darlington had no opportunity to understand.

Maxwell takes such a delight in the landscape and the antics of the creatures within it, both the wild ones and those he tamed or half-tamed, that it’s impossible not to enjoy this, for me. He wasn’t ashamed of his love for the animals, and sometimes that just shines through so clearly.

It’s not some adventure story, not such a battle of wills as, for instance, H is for Hawk chronicles. Mostly, it’s worth reading for that delight in nature, described with love and attention to detail. If you’re not interested in autobiography and nature writing, it’s probably not for you.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna ClarkeJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

This was a reread for me, so I knew exactly what I was in for — a long book, with digressions and ramblings. A book that echoes, pastiches, draws on the tradition of an older sort of novel, establishing a narrative of literature and scholarship around itself with its footnotes and references. A book of magic, and fallible people, and old enchantment. It’s a novel other people have found badly paced, slow, boring, full of unlikeable characters, unbearable, etc.

Obviously, because this was a reread, I didn’t find the pacing terrible or the characters so unlikeable as to ruin it; in fact, now I’ve finished it, I could almost be tempted to begin again right now. I love this book even more than I did the first time I read it. Clarke creates a wonderfully rich world, full of people who act like people — self-interested; lazy; careless; fearful; brave; heroic; clever… It strikes me that it’s easier to list dozens of ways you can be less than ideal than it is to come up with dozens of ways to be ideal, so perhaps there’s some truth in saying that this book is heavy on the less-than-ideal characters. Which is fine, by my lights, because so is life. If you spend time in the world, you see all the major characters doing things both good and bad, making sins of commission and omission, quarrelling and loving.

I find it an incredibly rich world, and I was sorry to be finished. I want to know what Strange and Norrell study, what Childermass does, whether Arabella ever sees Strange again, what the new King is like… I love the way it uses some of our legends and stories about magic and fairies, but adds to them and draws them together. I loved that it was a really solid read, something I could lose myself in. I love reading all the time, but I especially love it when a book opens a new world to me instead of just letting me observe that world, and that’s how I feel about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I could feel while reading as though if I turned and looked at a mirror, it might be a door leading to who-knows-where — and while under Clarke’s spell, I’d take that door in a heartbeat.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Ladies of the Grand Tour

Cover of Ladies of the Grand Tour by Brian DolanLadies of the Grand Tour, Brian Dolan

This is an interesting and worthy subject for study: the enlightenment and freedom women found (or didn’t find) while on the ‘Grand Tour’, a round of Continental travel that naturally only the rich could pull off. This is a time where women were just beginning to consider that they might have rights, when the French Revolution was still rumbling on. It’s well researched and while sometimes dry, usually interesting enough to read, if a bit offputting when it focuses on ‘extra-marital affairs and bastard children’, as another reviewer put it. I didn’t find it quite as single-minded as they did, but yes, it does discuss the way women began to pull free of social restrictions on their behaviour.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Glamour in Glass or A Natural History of Dragons and the female characters there who push against the boundaries of society and make discoveries, become equal partners with men, etc. Some of that spirit is here, too, in the real women Dolan studies.

Rating: 3/5

Stacking the Shelves

Greetings from Canada! Though my WordPress scheduling still has stuff going up at my standard UK posting times, I am indeed far from home.

So the haul this week… I got The Long and Faraway Gone due to a giveaway Chris Holm did. ❤ I hadn’t heard of it before, but I’m intrigued. And then, well… Canadian bookshops. Calgary is amazing.

Cover of The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney Cover of Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold Cover of Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences by Ursula Le Guin

Cover of Mission Child by Maureen F. McHugh Cover of A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman Cover of Reading in the Brain by Stanislaw Dehaene

Cover of Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link Cover of Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Cover of Armor by John Steakley

Cover of The Thousand Names by Django Wexler Cover of Dinosaurs Without Bones by Anthony Martin Cover of Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones

And me and my partner jointly got Nimona. And she got Sex Criminals and Loki: Agent of Asgard. We share comics anyway; reminds me I need to lend her The Wicked + The Divine if I haven’t yet. And is the next TPB of that out?

Cover of Nimona by Noelle Stephenson Cover of Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky Loki: Agent of Asgard #2

Seriously; Shelf Life on 4th Street SW was okay, Indigo in the Core was great, but Fair’s Fair on 9th Avenue/8th Street was a paradise.

And here’s our weird Canadian encounter for the week: while stood at a bus stop with our bags of purchases, my partner and I noticed a guy walking towards us with a book in hand. Naturally we wondered what it was, but I didn’t let her ask (I’m too British). As he came up to us, he asked if we liked books. Partner said yes and showed him the bags as proof. He dropped his book into the bag and walked on before we even had chance to say thank you.

Cover of Margin for Murder by Bronte Adams

I’m not sure if I’m gonna read it, but I will keep it for the story of how I got it…

What’s everyone else been getting? Are you anywhere exciting this week?

Review – The Death of Grass

Cover of The Death of Grass by John ChristopherThe Death of Grass, John Christopher
Review from 25th January, 2012

There’s a sense in which all post-apocalyptic novels feel the same. In all of them, we see society collapsing, torn apart by the pressure of finding a way to survive. The Death of Grass is no different, but it’s very well written and well structured. There’s a Chekhov’s gun or two, a good structure which takes us from calm gentility to the feudal need to survive terrifyingly believably, terribly fast. It’s horrible, but you can understand the characters, understand their decisions.

And if you can read it and say with assurance that you’d never even think of doing those things, I think you’re probably lying to yourself. Personally, I doubt I’m capable of such ruthlessness, but I can’t swear I wouldn’t allow someone else — say, my father — to do it for me. It’s easy to wring your hands and call your protector a tyrant, but not so easy to walk away from that protection.

So, yeah, well-written and definitely worth a read if post-apocalypse worlds or human nature are your interest.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Thor: The Goddess of Thunder

Cover of Thor: Goddess of Thunder by Jason AaronThor: The Goddess of Thunder, Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Jorge Molina

This version of Thor is really fun. I’m not really Thor’s biggest fan, either in the MCU or in the comics; give me half a chance and I can give you a whole list of examples why Steve Rogers should wield the hammer instead of Thor, or at least be able to. (I would also be happy with Sif or Freyja, two possibilities that Thor considers in this volume.) But this version got my attention because of the decision to give another character the powers of Thor. Now, I’ve read the spoilers, so the hints here at the reveal aren’t for me to judge, but there are some hints.

I think if there was a female author at the helm of this comic, the angry reactions would have been even more prevalent. It explicitly takes on “damn feminists are ruining everything” and makes a joke of it; it challenges the assumption that Asgard needs the All-Father by having Freyja stand up to him, declaring herself the All-Mother; Thor absolutely wallows in self-pity; Hel, Mjolnir takes on whole new life in the Goddess of Thunder’s hands. How much must male rights activists hate this?

I think it’s pretty well done, though. The art is gorgeous, and it captures a lightness of heart and goofiness that always improves Thor’s reception with me. I love that the new Thor revels in her powers, that she enjoys learning to wield them. For all that it’s taking a bunch of traditionally masculine things and putting them in the hands of women, and it hangs a lampshade on that every so often, the fun is certainly not lost.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Hawley Book of the Dead

Cover of The Hawley Book of the DeadThe Hawley Book of the Dead, Chrysler Szarlan
Received to review via Netgalley

This sounded great when I originally requested it; I’d forgotten most of that by the time I picked it up, but I was still interested. The set-up is great: the creepy/historic house and village, the magic in the family, the magic tricks on the stage, the mysterious Fetch coming after the family. The setting is great; I could easily picture both the theatre for the performance at the beginning of the story, and the little abandoned town in New England.

But. The family. There were details that seemed meant to be vivid — the black/white clothes of the twins, the red hair, the string Caleigh uses… it felt flat to me, and so did the described emotion. If the numbness after a loss was what I was meant to feel vicariously, then that would have worked, but there was also fear, a desire for vengeance, anger, and those didn’t come across to me.

Perhaps worst of all, this reminded me too much of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat (the woman fleeing bad magic with her children, the magic running in the family), The Night Circus (the magic, but here without the enchantment), and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. It didn’t feel “rich”, as the blurb on Goodreads had it. I can’t say it was terrible, but it was just so… flat.

Rating: 2/5

Review – Homo Britannicus

Cover of Homo Britannicus by Chris StringerHomo Britannicus, Chris Stringer

I only had the chance to skim through this, because the library was tired of renewing it for me (not really, they’re excellent to me), but it’s an amazing resource. Limited, of course, in that it examines the development of humans in Britain, which doesn’t allow for taking into account other parts of the story. And indeed, it was written in 2008, so I’m not sure if some of the vital parts of the human story were available then — when were the Denisovan caves discovered and published about? It’s also pretty obviously for the layman (which would normally include me! but I’ve done so much reading on the subject, going over the basics again doesn’t work for me).

It’s a well-presented book, with plenty of photography, illustrations, etc. It links in the story of humans in Britain with the issue of climate change, which is on the one hand understandable — occupation of Britain fluctuated over and over again as Ice Ages came and went, and once hippos lived in the wild in Britain! — and a little disingenuous. Obviously, I’m not looking for a lecture on climate change when I want to read about humans.

(Not to mention: the choir? You’re preaching to it. I’m well aware of the cycles of climate change on Earth, and their potential effects on all species and countries. And to me, it doesn’t matter whether we’re driving climate change or not. We’re using an unsustainable fuel supply to do so, and in many other ways it measurably damages our world. Let’s fix that and then wrangle about whether or not it’s fixed the climate too.)

Rating: 3/5