Review – Overture to Death

Cover of Overture to Death by Ngaio MarshOverture to Death, Ngaio Marsh

It’s a solidly entertaining mystery, I suppose, aware of the genre and making sly little jokes at its expense. It doesn’t really sparkle, though; I felt that the culprit was made obvious by their behaviour, and not just because they acted guilty — also because they had that whole cliché Freudian repressed sexuality going on, which seems to crop up in crime fiction of that period far too much. Gaudy Night is another example, though it does sparkle, because of the character development that’s going on too. In this one, despite his engagement, and the appearance of some regular characters, it isn’t really about Alleyn or development of him or the minor characters. In fact, the POV characters are pretty much two young lovers who we may not even see again.

The repressed sexuality stuff is worthy of an eyeroll, but the machinations of the murder set-up are quite interesting to follow. It gets a bit repetitive, and does that irritating holding-back-of-details that means you can’t solve the crime for yourself (or, in this case, be sure about it), but as a murder mystery it’s alright. I just hope somebody kicks Alleyn into a higher gear…

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR”. Well, my TBRs are generally a mess and I schedule these posts in advance, so as usual, this one is more guesswork than anything.

  1. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson. I actually just got this as an ARC. I probably shouldn’t have requested it, because I’m trying to reduce my NG ratio, but it was so tempting…
  2. Queen of Shadows, Sarah J. Maas. Granted, I need to finish Heir of Fire first…
  3. The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch. I feel due a reread!
  4. The Dark Arts of Blood, Freda Warrington. Definitely time for some more deliciously gothic and ambiguous vampires.
  5. The Girl With All The Gifts, M.R. Carey. Because it’s high time, darn it.
  6. Permanent Present Tense, Suzanne Corkin. The next read for Habitica’s book club, and one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.
  7. Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire. Just got this one, but I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.
  8. Santa Olivia and Saints Astray, Jacqueline Carey. Reread for the first one, first read for the second. I’ve also an urge to reread Phèdre’s trilogy, at least. We’ll see if I get chance.
  9. Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb. I’m way behind with reading Hobb’s latest releases, and I feel like starting from the beginning and having a good old wallow.
  10. The Salt Roads, Nalo Hopkinson. I just recently saw a glowing review of this, and it’s high time I got round to reading it, so it’s definitely high on my priority list.

What’s everyone else making grabby hands at? Special mention for me to Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, and Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie, both of which are preordered.

No Book Buying Challenge: Perils

This month’s prompt is all about the perils of being a book hoarder. And, well, I happen to know some things about that. Coincidentally, this month I’ve actually made a big effort to get rid of books I didn’t actually intend to read — books I read years ago and won’t reread, books I own multiple copies of, unsolicited ARCs that are just not genres I enjoy — and all that hauling around of book boxes did pull a muscle in my shoulder…

But also, there’s the whole issue that I have literally about a thousand books owned and unread. Someone counted them a while back, I’m not kidding you. I get stressed, I buy books for comfort… and then I reread books I already own because it’s more comforting to know the plot and characters ahead of time! And it’s actually a little bit stressful having such a big, big pool of books to choose from. I already have problems making decisions, and now. Well. It’s at peak levels.

One thing I am doing to get over it is monthly TBR lists — picked somewhat randomly from my backlogs. Usually I’ll pick a category (like, “oh, I’ll tackle some of my unread comics”) and find some books to fit it, and try to use that as motivation, to cut down on the problem of choice. It’s working reasonably well in September, but I gave myself August as a month off because I’m fickle and sticking to a list stresses me out… And I can be pretty enthusiastic about the set-up in the last week of the month, and then go off it on the first. I have a list drafted now for October, but I don’t know how the actual list is going to resemble it.

(You can, uh, see the problem with the fact that I keep masses of lists about books.)

Anyway, rambling done, here’s my general updates on the #ShelfLove challenge and my New Year’s Resolutions. The colour scheme should be familiar by now…

  • 47/51+ already owned books read from prior to 2015 (last one recorded: The Martian, 21/09)
  • Spent: £21 out of ~£30 budget (budget is 10% of my income) for January
  • Spent: £20 out of ~£25 budget for February
  • Spent: £22 out of ~£25 budget for March
  • Spent: £15 out of ~£16 budget for April
  • Spent: £45 out of ~£30 budget for May
  • Spent: £18 out of ~£40 budget for June, plus stuck within holiday budget
  • Spent: £45 out of ~£50 budget for July
  • Spent £51 out of ~£60 for August
  • Spent £30 out of £40 for September

Not such good pay so far this month, alas, but the total might go up.

Here’s my more general progress on resolutions:

  • No books impulse-bought (I’ve made a couple of impulse purchases)
  • Read every day 
  • Bed before midnight
  • Up before ten every day
  • 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 every month so far
  • Done 6o hours volunteering total
  • Reading/reviewing books from NG/etc (67% ratio; steady progress)

So not so bad! Especially that leap of eleven books from last month’s check-in, when it comes to reading books I’d previously bought.

Kids and Reading

The twitter conversation that caught my eye this weekend was started by Joanne Harris, talking about ways to get kids to read, and one of the important things she said is that you mustn’t denigrate a kid’s choices — even if they’re too young or too old for them, even if you don’t think it’s appropriate. You shouldn’t take the book away, even if an eleven year old is picking up Fifty Shades of Grey. And, well, I agree.

See, the thing is, if you forbid something, it becomes even more intriguing. And if they then seek it out for themselves, you’ve put a barrier between yourself and them — they can’t come to you with any questions or problems related to it, because you forbade them to do it and they’re worried about getting in trouble. So say your eleven year old does read E.L. James’ work; wouldn’t you rather they be able to ask questions about what they read, discuss problems with it with you, and not needlessly have them enshrining it as the epitome of adulthood and sexiness and romance?

I don’t recall my parents ever saying I shouldn’t read something. Sometimes my mum thought a book was a bit too ‘old’ for me and it’d spoil it if I tried to read it too young (The Lord of the Rings, for instance), but I only recall that happening once or twice. I had the run of her bookshelves from a very young age, and she got books out of the adult section of the library for me when our librarians wouldn’t even let me into that part of the library. I don’t recall her ever vetting ahead of time the books I was reading, and I don’t recall either of my parents ever talking trash about a book I was reading.

The first time I remember anything of the kind was a school librarian scolding me for reading Enid Blyton — and so I went home and asked my mother why I’d been scolded, and we talked about the racism and sexism of the books, and why people didn’t think much of them. And I’m pretty sure Mum told me that it was okay to read them as long as I understood that, and that of course the books were fun, they were meant to be, and there was nothing wrong with enjoying them. (I’m also fairly sure that was about the same time as I realised that there were much better books out there, as I was meeting wizards and robots; Tolkien, Le Guin and Asimov.)

Racking my brains, those are the only instances I can even think of where I was discouraged from reading anything as a kid. And, well, look at me now…

But seriously, if you want your kid to read, don’t try and drag the “wrong” books out of their hands. Just try and make sure that they know you’re open to them coming and asking questions, and perhaps you could even let them know if you think a book is better put off (it worked with me and The Lord of the Rings, at least). Even if they’re reading comics, books below their reading level, books you don’t like — it’s a door into the world of literature, and if you slam that door, it might put them off finding another. I was older than my peers when I finally started reading, and was still reading books with rhymes and pictures and lots of colour. A year after I finally unlocked that door and learnt to read, I’d leapt ahead of everyone else, while my peers were still bouncing off the school reading books.

(The first door I went through into literature was the door to Cat and Mouse’s house. After that, it was small and round and painted green, with certain marks scratched onto it with a staff: “Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward.” I don’t know how many times I read and reread The Hobbit; again, my parents didn’t try to stop me. Well, there was a creaky floorboard and a loud bedside light designed to let them know if I was reading late into the night, but that was just to make sure I slept.)

Oh, and if your child gets most of their vocabulary from books, don’t mock them when they inevitably pronounce things wrong, please. My mother has had much jollity at my expense because I couldn’t pronounce even simple words, and it didn’t exactly encourage me to use my vocabulary and express myself. Puts a bit of a halt in the conversation when I have to stop and spell out a word because I don’t want to be laughed at if I say it wrong.

Should I ever have children, they’re getting their own library cards and as soon as they’re old enough to express any preference, I’m gonna let them choose whatever they like. Even if I’m sick of reading it. Even if it’s more pictures than words. Even if it’s too difficult for them and it’ll take a long time to get through it, or they’ll get bored of it. I’m going to let them choose, let them know they can talk to me about any and all of it, and make sure that they always, always have access to books — new and old. If they have favourites that they want to revisit, I’ll buy them so that enchantment is waiting ready to hand whenever they want it.

And if they don’t want books, well, I won’t despair. My sister didn’t read much from the age of ten to sixteen or so, and then I put a copy of Century Rain (Alistair Reynolds) in her hands, and she’s been devouring books ever since. Sometimes it just takes the right book at the right time.

Review – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Cover of The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Catherynne M. Valente

At this point, if you haven’t read the first two books, I definitely don’t suggest you jump in here. If you have, then what’re you waiting for? Fairyland has more enchantment, sadness, and whimsy for you. And in this book, September gets to spend time with Ell and Saturday again — the Ell and Saturday she knew in the first book, and not their shadows.

Once again, September doesn’t go back to Fairyland; at least, not so simply and directly. We have another new setting for the friends to explore, and another new problem for September to try to solve. Or do we? There’s no Marquess or Shadow Self to defeat this time, that’s for sure. I enjoyed the setting, and stuff like the taxicrabs, and all the puffins. I’m not entirely certain what the Blue Wind is up to in this book, and it looks like we might have to wait another book to find out…

My only real criticism is that despite the lovely whimsy, there’s a bit too much of it. The plot doesn’t really get going until nearly halfway through, and instead we seem to sort of sightsee — only for things to then rush past enormously fast. But it does say gorgeous things about friendship and love and having a heart, and growing up.

Just as this was settling into a rhythm, where September goes to Fairyland in the first part, wanders about gathering allies, and then solves all the issues, this book shakes things up a bit. It does take a while to get going, but once it is, things don’t quite turn out the way September expects them to, from prior experience, and it ends differently, too. And I gather the next book shakes things up even more, with new protagonists! I don’t know how much I’ll like that, but I can’t wait to give it a try.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Thor: Who Holds the Hammer?

Thor vol 2Thor: Who Holds the Hammer?, Jason Aaron et al

Normally I would list all the creators working on a particular comic, but there’s seven listed on the front and nine on the back.

This is a bit of a bitty comic, which annoyed me. There’s a couple of issues dealing with the ongoing story, but there’s also a lot of extra stuff — a short one about Thor sometime way in the future, a side story with Thor’s friends, one about Thor having a drinking contest, and then a “what if” about Jane Foster finding Mjolnir originally. That last one is especially difficult if you’re not familiar with Thor’s canon, because it really requires comparison with the original/referenced issues of Thor. (And it ends kind of weirdly, with Odin marrying Jane after Thor goes off with Sif.)

There are some awesome bits, like when the All-Mother gathers a whole army of women (plus the original Thor) to back the new Thor up in a fight. The fight between the All-Father and the All-Mother continues, and Frigga continues to hold her own and demand respect. And of course, there’s Thor going up against the Destroyer.

But, with all the extras, it didn’t feel like a satisfying progression. The main question it answers is a simple one: “Who is Thor?” Which… wasn’t a surprise to me, at all. And then it just leads into Secret Wars, which I’m not all that interested in, although most of the comics I follow are having tie-in issues. Ah, well.

Also, will someone please give the male Thor a shirt?

Rating: 3/5

Review – Magic Bleeds

Cover of Magic Bleeds by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bleeds, Ilona Andrews

Oh thank goodness. I sort of knew it, because I read the extras with Curran’s POV, but Magic Bleeds is the point where Curran and Kate start communicating properly and fully, and they eventually stop running away from the issues between them. The scenes with them are great; there is indeed a sex scene or two, but you can skip it if that’s not what you’re reading the books for — there’s still an epic amount of fight scenes and showdowns. And witty one-liners and snarky banter.

I’ve never been too inclined to take this series too seriously, so it’s amazing that it does actually pull me in and make me need to know what happens. And at least, unlike the Mercy Thompson books, it’s not like everyone is in love with Kate. And the dynamics of Curran’s pack make more sense than Adam’s pack; while some oppose Kate, she also has allies, and there’s a more robust sense of politics within the Pack. I initially thought of it as lighter than the Mercy Thompson books, less serious, and while it is, and the steaminess is definitely higher, it seems to deal with things better. Like, people around Kate actually manage to respect what she’s capable of, for instance. As a consequence, I’m more invested in this whole group of characters.

Things this book did need more of: Derek. And possibly less of Saiman, because though I kind of want to know what’s up with him and why he’s been in all the books so far, he’s a creepy asshole.

Anyway, we’re getting more and more of Kate’s background, and it’s intriguing. It’s building to an epic climax, and I’m definitely invested in it enough that I might have to beg or borrow the next book right away.

And hopefully we get lots more of Grendel, because that dog is hilarious, and I love her justification for his final name.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

It’s been a bit of a weird and wonderful week for me, as far as acquisitions go — which surprises nobody, really. My trip last weekend to a consciousness workshop in London was really interested, and prompted pretty much all the non-fiction I’ve picked up, and then I had a three hour monster exam on Wednesday on maths and science, and my mother provided a nice chunk of Amazon voucher to reward me, so… yeah. Books!

I don’t know if I mentioned I also got a new Kindle recently — a Kindle Voyage, which has been christened Glyph, and which I should write a review of soon.

Non-fiction

Cover of The Edge of Uncertainty by Michael Brooks Cover of 13 Things That Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks Cover of The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan

Cover of The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran Cover of Self Comes to Mind by Antonio Damasio Cover of A Portrait of the Brain by Adam Zeman

Cover of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

I know, I know, it’s a little unbelievable I haven’t read more of Sacks’ work already. Working on it!

On a side note, since this week covered my weird reading habits, here’s a weird blogging habit: I prefer multiples of three for covers in a row. Two is acceptable. That Oliver Sacks cover on its own is a travesty that, if I’d noticed before, I’d have fixed by getting out another library book on neurology.

Fiction (bought)

Cover of The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker Cover of The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente Cover of Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Cover of The Heart of Valour by Tanya Huff Cover of Valour's Trial by Tanya Huff Cover of The Truth of Valour by Tanya Huff

Cover of Farlander by Col Buchanan Cover of Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss

Sunset Mantle was blurbed by Jo Walton, so I’m very much looking forward to it. I noticed the Tanya Huff books were only £2.50 ish each on Kindle, so I grabbed ’em to complete my collection. Goodness knows when I’ll get round to all this reading…

Fiction (library)

Cover of The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri S. Tepper Cover of London Falling by Paul Cornell Cover of Hard to Be A God by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

I have a challenge/resolution to read more of the SF Masterworks, and I’ve been meaning to try London Falling for a while, so they were my somewhat random choices at the library.

And that’s it! It’s been a busy ol’ week. How’s everyone else been doing? What have you been reading, acquiring, reviewing and squealing over? Do tell.

Review – Iron Council

Cover of Iron Council by China MiévilleIron Council, China Miéville
Originally reviewed 1st May, 2009

I didn’t enjoy Iron Council anywhere near as much as I did Miéville’s other books. I’m not sure quite why, to be honest. Parts of it irritated me stylistically — the large section which follows Judah in the middle, mainly — but that wouldn’t automatically lower my enjoyment of the whole book. I didn’t find the writing as descriptive, although there were some very interesting descriptions, mostly the parts where the train goes through the stain. Whyever it was, I just didn’t get into this book that much. I did enjoy it, and if you enjoy the other Bas-Lag books and know what to expect from Miéville’s writing, then I’m sure you’d get a lot out of it. I just didn’t.

Part of it is that it isn’t as focused. It’s not just one city, but two. The train-city is built up and described, but I don’t feel as strongly connected and rooted to it as I do to New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station and Armada in The Scar. If the cities are characters, Iron Council falls a little flat. There are interesting characters, mostly Cutter and Judah, who I think I got more attached to than other characters of similar importance in the other two Bas-Lag books. I think Cutter was the character I got most attached to. Judah being all saint-like all the time kind of made me want to hit him sometimes, but Cutter’s feelings were so honest and open in the narrative.

In terms of plot, I spent a lot of time wondering where it was actually going. It never came together as strongly as I expected it to, and the climax wasn’t much of a climax. The end is appropriate, and makes sense, but I think the book could have been edited/reordered for better effect.

Rating: 3/5

Review – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Cover of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M ValenteThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Catherynne M. Valente

If you liked the first book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, I can’t see why you would dislike this one. The writing is of the same quality, the world is just as strange and intriguing — and there’s a lot of new things — and the characters are just as dear. Particularly Aubergine, who was the star of the book. There wasn’t enough of Ell and Saturday, but the plot with their shadows was interesting because it looked at familiar characters and the parts they didn’t show to September originally, and dealt pretty sympathetically with what it might like to be a shadow, without independent existence.

For me, the one sour note was that it began to feel very rushed in the last couple of chapters. September bounced from person to person, place to place, after a slower progression up to that point. It’s Fairyland! Of course I’d like to stop and smell the roses, and get to know just a little bit more of the many many things there are to know. The speed here, though, made it feel that little bit disjointed — I think the pacing of the first book was better.

Rating: 4/5