Review – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Cover of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

From the description and the photographs included, I expected this book to be creepier than it was. The story itself, though, didn’t really creep me out — the photos are weird, but having in-story explanations for them kind of takes away that mystery and power. It’s still pretty atmospheric, but not creepy in the way I expected. I was a little surprised to see the fairly lukewarm reviews, though, because I got caught up in the story that’s actually here, and didn’t really mourn the one I didn’t get. (Probably partially because I am a gigantic wuss.)

I had some issues with the characters — why are those people who are repeating the same day over and over, who are hundreds of years old, still acting like children? If they’re learning, why aren’t they changing? They don’t lose their memories, so how are they so static? Even though the headmistress does so much to try and keep them within her loop, and satisfied with it, she can’t stop them interacting, learning from each other and from new people. The situation simply couldn’t stay so fixed, even with the threats the little community faces.

Still, I enjoyed reading this; the narrative swept me along enough that I actually finished it in one sitting, and I’m pondering getting the next book right away. Something about it manages to be compelling, so that I didn’t even really ask these questions while I was reading. Perhaps one best not overthought!

Rating: 4/5

Perhaps YOU should…

This isn’t so much book-related, but hey, this blog is the platform I’ve got, so I’ll use it. And it can be related to books, since it comes up when people advocate for buying more books by authors of any minority identity, or for more books of a certain topic. It’s that argument I’m sure you’ve seen around…

“If you want [x], then YOU should do it.”

Which makes two assumptions: one, that when somebody wants something, it’s their responsibility to go and get it for themselves — even if they’re in a difficult position for that, even if what they want is fairness and equality, even if other people are in a position to help them. And two, that the person advocating for this thing is a hypocrite and is not campaigning in their own life for these things.

If you believe that fairness is not your responsibility, or the responsibility of anyone else, that’s fine, but I’m gonna sit here and judge you for it all I want.

But the second assumption — look, even if I was a hypocrite, all that says is that I’m a hypocrite, not that what I’m arguing for is wrong. And you better be damn sure while you’re at it that I am actually a hypocrite, or you look really fucking silly.

Review – The Last Witness

Cover of The Last Witness by K.J. ParkerThe Last Witness, K.J. Parker

I love the way this novella takes the idea — that someone could perhaps look into your mind and take away your memories, at the cost of having to keep them themselves if there was anything distressing in them — and then develops it, runs with it, deals with what a character who could do that would be like, what they would be willing to do, what they’d feel about it. How they could profit from it, and what that might cost them.

The narrator is, of course, unreliable. He’s unreliable even to himself, because he doesn’t know which memories are his, and which memories might be missing. Truth is a malleable thing in this world, because it depends on what you believe, and he can change that. (It never really addresses what happens when someone has some kind of record of what he’s going to wipe.) Identity is malleable too — and his changes all the time as he takes on the memories of murderers and victims. It’s definitely a fertile ground for a story, and K.J. Parker makes great use of it.

This novella has convinced me I really need to get round to reading more of K.J. Parker’s work. He does an amazing job here of creating a character and a complex story from a simple seed — without it ever getting too tortuous.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

Hello, everyone! Thanks for the good wishes last week — my grandmother’s operation went okay, and she seems quite well, all things considered. Hope you’ve all had good weeks too!

Bought

Cover of Murder Past Due by Miranda James Bitch Planet vol 1

Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

Cover of Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews Cover of Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

Suddenly, I’m mad about Phryne Fisher. Even considering watching the series, if it’s on the UK Netflix! I’ve read a bunch of these already.

Library

Cover of Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood

Yes. Uh. As I said.

Comics

Shield #1

I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first heard about it!

What’s everyone else been getting?

Paper book sales soar

You’ve probably seen a headline like this on Twitter; the particular one that broke this camel’s back is from CTV News Vancouver. On a light note, I’d like to point out that Canada are reporting paper book sales up just after I had a trip to Canada and filled my suitcase and my partner’s with new books from Indigo and various non-chain bookshops. Coincidence?

Well, yes, but I like it anyway. Even though I was in Calgary, not Vancouver. And made some of my purchases in Edmonton. You’re missing the point.

Anyway, I’m getting pretty sick of these headlines, which inevitably come with lines about how reading a “real” book is more satisfying. More interesting, perhaps, are the articles which I’ve seen that show teens are not big adopters of ereaders and ebooks. I’d love to see more about that, because this is a generation that has grown up reading from screens all the time. Maybe it’s because when we’re reading, we want to escape from the everyday world. When screens are your everyday world, maybe you want something that creates a bit more separation, and has no extra bells and whistles to let you know that you just got five emails.

Maybe it’s because many teens just aren’t that interested in books, and therefore won’t invest in an ereader, and teen purchases of books tend to be one-offs, in paperback. I don’t know; I’d love to see studies on why teens aren’t adopting ereaders/ebooks — link me, if they exist!

But what I really don’t get is the way people are crowing over the “failure” of ebooks. I walk into the eye clinic I volunteer at, and I clock at least three Kindles in each 2.5 hour session. They’re great for making books accessible. Large print books are usually not cost effective: the library I volunteer for have a collection of older ones, but I don’t think we’ve added a new large print title in years. They’re just not available for reasonable prices. But you can choose your own font size — uniquely calibrated to your needs and preferences. You can pick your own font, too. Some ereaders even have the font designed for dyslexic readers as an option.

I’m not seeing the failure here. People are choosing what works for them. Ebooks constitute 17% of sales in Canada, for example. That’s not nothing, or a failure. It’s people choosing the technology they’re comfortable with, and which suits their needs. The stats don’t even tell us anything about whether people use both.

For me, it doesn’t matter. I’m not “more satisfied” reading one way or the other. I love my ereader for the access I get to ARCs and the way ereaders create opportunities for short fiction and serialisation. I love paper books because, yeah, I like the smell of the pages, I like to own things. I like my ereader because it has a backlight which adjusts to current lighting conditions, and I can get new releases cheaper. I love paper books because they make my room look lived in. I love my ereader because I can travel, with all the books I want still at my fingertips. Kindle sales can be amazing, but there’s also the satisfaction of carrying home a nice stack of books.

It’s weird how invested people get in the “death” of ebooks, in how “artificial” they are or how they’re “killing” the book industry. Nope, Amazon across all book sales is much more of a threat than ebook sales as a whole, including non-Amazon sources.

I have no big investment in how other people read. Ebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks, audiobooks — whatever floats your boat. Just read, I don’t care in what format.

Review – Lifelode

Cover of Lifelode by Jo WaltonLifelode, Jo Walton
Originally reviewed 16th March, 2011

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Jo Walton, but it’s so hard to rate them in relation to each other, because they’re each so different. I enjoyed Lifelode more than Tooth and Claw, but perhaps less than Farthing — yet I rated both four stars. I loved Among Others most of all her work so far, and I’m not sure Lifelode matches up… Maybe I should be rating all her work that I’ve read so far five stars, except Tooth and Claw.

Her range of work is fascinating. Her books are not like each other, and yet all of them are well-written and ambitious, and succeed very well with their ambitions. The narration of Lifelode, for example, is done in both past and present tense, because for one of the main characters, time is like that: all things happening at once. I expected to see more of the more distant past, through Taveth, but it was very much about that generation, the people she knew. It’s a very warm book, full of family bonds and love.

It’s also interesting in that polyamory seems to be the default, and Jo Walton treats that sensitively. There’s a sense of great strength in the relationships, but also an acknowledgement of the problems they’ll succeed. There’s also LGBT people, and one who seems pretty much asexual. She always writes about all kinds of people, and that’s another thing I really appreciate about her writing.

It’s also nice that the gendering of roles isn’t a really big thing here. Taveth is a housewife, but she chooses that, and her role is central to the functioning of her home. But even a female priest is still just called a priest, not a priestess.

I’ve managed to say all that and say nothing about the plot. It’s a domestic fantasy, although there is also a level on which it is about gods. I think the homelife is as important to the story as the bursts of fighting, and the magic — the bonds between people are, I think, more important, as they are what is under threat. Don’t go into it expecting a big showdown at the end, or something like that.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Hard To Be A God

Cover of Hard to Be A God by Boris and Arkady StrugatskyHard to Be a God, Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, trans. Olena Bormashenko

I was fascinated by the sound of this when I came across it in the library, because I really liked Roadside Picnic, and because the foreword mentions parallels with Star Trek and Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. However, I found this… pretty much unreadable. There’s a sort of opaqueness I associate with reading Russian novels in translations, but in spades. Supposedly, this translation is much more readable than the old one, which was done via German, but… if that’s the case, I hate to think what the old one was like.

It’s really disappointing, honestly, because the foreword makes it sound interesting, it’s blurbed by Ursula Le Guin, and the parallels mentioned are there. But I couldn’t even hold onto the meaning of the action — why did this character say that, what was the significance of that…

I might try again at some other time, maybe with the other translation, or with some future translation. The setting itself — being fairly traditional-fantasy-esque — doesn’t bother me, and I did, as I said, enjoy Roadside Picnic. Hm.

Rating: 1/5

Review – Colour Me Mindful: Underwater

Cover of Colour Me Mindful: UnderwaterColour Me Mindful: Underwater, Anastasia Catris

I’m not so sure about this craze for calling adult colouring books a tool for mindfulness. Whatever works for you, I guess, but I use it much more as a way to relax and just… have some fun. The delight is a childish one and I’m totally okay with that, for the same reason I’m totally okay with people reading or doing whatever appeals to them, regardless of age or gender or whatever. Modern life is pretty darn stressful for our monkey brains, and we need to remember to play.

This one delights that kid in me because it’s full of fish that you can colour in improbable combinations of colour. And quite a few turtles, which are just adorable. The paper quality is good; I use felt-tips to colour in, and it doesn’t leak through at all, which is fortunate because there are designs on both sides of all the pages. I have had slight problems with pages curling up, though, when there’s a lot of colour and therefore obviously a lot of ink. I do suggest if you’re going to use felt-tips, markers or paint, you test on one of the blank pages to make sure there’ll be no leakage with your particular implement of choice.

The designs pretty much all have some small fiddly bits, but not so much so that I found it frustrating.

Also, Anastasia Catris apparently lives in Wales, so hurrah for that.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Made to Kill

Cover of Made to Kill by Adam ChristopherMade to Kill, Adam Christopher
Received to review via Netgalley

You might know from my reviews of another Angry Robot alumnus, Chris Holm, that I kind of love the hardboiled pulp mystery fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. This is basically exactly that… except you add a robot and his equally electronic handler, Ada; the robot has a limited 24-hour memory because his memory’s on tapes; and the electronic handler has a prime directive of “profit” and nothing to keep her on the straight and narrow.

There’s an interesting story in the background, too: Ray discovering what he does during what are essentially blackouts; the whole background with Ada and Ray’s creator; the manipulations of Ray’s memory by Ada; Ray’s discovery that he’s being used as a murder weapon… Wisely, I think, this fascinating stuff is kept as background. It keeps you wondering what exactly Ada’s up to, it means you know about Ray’s limited memory and how he can be manipulated, but it focuses on an immediate mystery and leaves all that background to keep you wondering and coming up with your own red herrings.

Adam Christopher doesn’t quite have the style and originality of Chandler (there’s no phrases like “shop-worn Galahad” to delight the senses), but the writing is slick and functional in the best way. I read the whole thing in just over an hour, without stopping, without ever catching up on a snag that made me want to stop. He uses the robot nature of his protagonist in great ways to add detail, uses the limitations of the character to convey expressions and emotions. The robot technology is also kept at just the right level: sure, Ray can take pictures using his eyes, but they’re stored on film and he only has four rolls of film at a time. Ada runs on tapes. The technology is clunky, old-fashioned.

The plot itself is classic and I’m not gonna spoil it by giving you any clues. There’s some staples of pulp fiction here, though, and it’s good for a knowing smile, makes you want to wear a trenchcoat and a natty hat.

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “10 Wishes I’d Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me”.

Well.

  1. Auto-approval on Netgalley for everything. Especially Tor.
  2. Budget and unlimited space at local community library. Please?
  3. Free publicity for the above. We need more readers.
  4. A TARDIS for personal book storage. This one’s obvious if you know me at all… and hey, I could use it to travel to my partner’s and take all my stuff!
  5. Digital and print copies in the same purchase. Wouldn’t bundles like this make life so much easier?
  6. Time spent reading pauses “real life”. Then I could get soooo much more done.
  7. More library cards. And more libraries, come to that.
  8. A conversation with Mori from Among Others, when she’s 26. Seems like it might, you know, be relevant to me.
  9. Ability to slap some characters and say no don’t do thatFitzChivalry Farseer, I’m looking at you.
  10. The ability to read some books for the first time… again. ’nuff said, right? Some books, you just wish you could come to them fresh again.

I could probably keep going for a while on this topic…