Review – Urn Burial

Cover of Urn Burial by Kerry GreenwoodUrn Burial, Kerry Greenwood

If you know what to expect from Phryne Fisher, then this won’t really be a surprise. It’s not particularly remarkable among the other books of the series, bar a slightly less stereotyped version of a queer couple which even includes a bisexual; it’s Phryne, being awesome, not letting anyone get away with prejudice versus her Chinese lover, solving a country house mystery. The more I think about it, the more I see the various books as echoing, mirroring, making homage to other detective stories, particularly Golden Age ones. Which kind of adds an additional level of fun, if you try to play “spot the reference”.

As with the other books, I find it very relaxing and fun, even when the characters are in some danger. Cosy mystery — partly because I know Dot and Phryne and the other characters I care about are going to be alright. I wonder if, just once, Greenwood has Phryne sleep with the murderer unknowing, or has one of her lovers genuinely threatened… That might raise the stakes a little.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Of Bone and Thunder

Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris EvansOf Bone and Thunder, Chris Evans
Received to review via Netgalley

Once I read some reviews pointing out this is essentially a novel about a fantasy version of Vietnam, “slyts” and all, I couldn’t unsee it. I found it surprisingly absorbing at first, though I’m generally not that interested in war stories. There are some amazing bits of description — mostly gross, but it still makes you really feel the world in which the characters live, the heat and dirt, the discomfort of riding a dragon, the futility of the fight.

But… the dull grind of it started to get to me. When they talk about this being anything like Tolkien, they really mean just because it’s got dragons. It’s basically a very thinly veiled version of Vietnam. Everything’s dirty and futile and there’s no justice in it. I couldn’t keep track of the characters, given their fantasy-fied names (which made me wonder if Evans actually bothered thinking about the language these people speak and what their naming conventions are, because I couldn’t really detect patterns), and I just… lost interest.

If you’re into war novels, though, it might be more up your alley. It’s definitely more Abercrombie than Tolkien in terms of tone, though. If you’re reading this for the dragons… to me, they were just a prop, a way of making the Vietnam War into a fantasy war.

Rating: 2/5

Review – Badgerlands

Cover of Badgerlands by Patrick BarkhamBadgerlands, Patrick Barkham

A mostly interesting, mostly charming look at the twilight world of one of Britain’s iconic animals. It does a good job of going into the history of badgers and discussing why they’re seen as pests, when they started to be rehabilitated, even a little about one of Britain’s more famous badgers (the one from The Wind in the Willows, of course) and his author. It’s part natural history, part social history, and then veers into the modern problem of badger culling, etc.

Quite interesting, but I skipped some chapters because they didn’t interest me, and there was a slight tinge of superiority in Barkham’s attitude in some places.

Rating: 3/5

Stacking the Shelves

Just library books this week — my resolution is holding good, so far! Here’s hoping I stick to it (though I have put some books on my Christmas list, of course).

 Cover of Feed by Mira Grant Cover of Deadline by Mira Grant

Cover of The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer Cover of Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Feed and The Talisman Ring are rereads; the former so I can read the whole series, and the latter for sheer fun. Started Early, Took My Dog was a challenge read and ugh, I have not enjoyed it. It’s already winged its way back to the library.

What’s everyone else been getting their grubby mitts on?

Review – A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Cover of A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas SniegoskiA Kiss Before the Apocalypse, Thomas E. Sniegoski
Originally reviewed 10th April, 2011

Eighth book for the readathon in 2011. I was having to force myself to read the seventh book, but this was fun and absorbing, so I had no problems with falling asleep.

As might be predicted for me, I loved the references to Raymond Chandler (the detective is called Remy Chandler; his dog is Marlowe). I also loved the fact that in my head, Remy totally looked like Castiel from Supernatural, as portrayed by Misha Collins.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse is basically the story of a sort-of-fallen angel who works as a private investigator, and who then finds himself caught up in investigating where the Angel of Death has got to and who wants to start the apocalypse. His closest sidekick is his dog, and not his cop friend, which was not what I expected — I wish supporting characters had been used better, actually. Francis and Lazarus were amazing. He should’ve used ’em and abused ’em.

The thing that I liked most was the relationship between him and his aged wife — given that, being an angel, he can’t age — and the tenderness between them, even when to outsiders she appears old enough to be his mother. I love Remy’s devotion to her.

Nothing amazingly special, but a fun (and quick) read.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Illumicrate Box #1

Illumicrate is a new book box subscription service, mailing out four times a year, priced at £30 per box. The plan is for it to contain new releases, mostly young adult, and the first box went out in early November. It’s always really exciting to get mail, to me anyway, and especially when it’s a surprise. I haven’t signed up to a book subscription service before, though I’ve been tempted; I’m always a little unsure about whether the book is actually going to be something I’m interested in.

Well, with this box, the contents were the following:

The box itself looks gorgeous: the design is great — simple but distinctive. Everything was well packed, too. I was glad to get Wolf by Wolf — it’s a book I’ve been thinking about getting anyway, and now, well, I have it! The matching bookmark is nice, too: the design fits perfectly with the cover art, but it’s also attractive on its own.

The necklace is quite unique, made of wood with an engraved quotation from the Hunger Games series: “If we burn, you burn with us.” It looks a little odd in shape — I wouldn’t have realised what it was without the description — but I kind of like it anyway. Definitely unique. Harry Potter is not my thing, so someone else is going to get the benefit of the poster, but it’s nice enough that a fan should enjoy it. And the little mirror is cute; I don’t have much use for one, but if I did, it’d be one that talks about books.

I’m not 100% sure that Illumicrate is going to be my thing, since I’m not always a fan of popular YA, but I’m going to stay subscribed for now and see what the next box is like. I think it’s always going to be the problem with a subscription box that sometimes it just isn’t going to fit your interests. Illumicrate is beautiful and the first box was near-enough the target that I’m happy to see what’s next.

Review – Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities

Cover of Catastrophes and Other Lesser Calamities by Tony HallamCatastrophes and Lesser Calamities, Tony Hallam

Cheerful title, I know. It’s about mass extinctions, in theory: not just the really iconic one at the K-T boundary (that’s the dinosaurs), but the end-Permian, and others that have been defined as extinctions, some in more detail than others. I was hoping it would focus on the causes of mass extinctions and the immediate effects on animals, but actually it included a lot of geology and didn’t spend that much time discussing specific extinctions — more like ways we can find those extinctions in the fossil record, and even to what extent we can call these events mass extinctions. (For example, by the time you reach the K-T boundary in the record, most dinosaurs were already extinct and the diversity of species was tailing off.)

It’s a little dry, but not a bad guide; I only really skimmed parts of it, because I know a lot of this info about geology. It is interesting to see some things that people think they know being examined and the foundations weakened, though.

Rating: 3/5

No Book Buying Challenge: Thanks

 

This month’s prompt is a bit of a retrospective already — do you feel thankful for doing the challenge, has it changed your habits? Yes, I think it’s helped. It’s certainly made me keep a close track of it. I’m trying to close out the challenge by not buying any books in December (other than paying for a couple of pre-orders, which I’ve just realised I already placed and don’t really want to cancel, since first day sales are important). Or, rather, from now until the end of December! I’ve already gone a couple of weeks now…

Here’s my general updates on the #ShelfLove challenge and my New Year’s Resolutions.

  • 52/51+ already owned books read from prior to 2015 (last one recorded: Moon-Flash, 25/10)
  • 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
  • Spent £20 out of £20 for October
  • Spent £36 out of £50 for November

Here’s my more general progress on resolutions:

  • No books impulse-bought 
  • 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 8o hours volunteering total
  • Reading/reviewing books from NG/etc (76% ratio)

Not bad at all, right? One thing I’m not going to make is my volunteering commitment, unless I go back and count online volunteering. It’s disappointing, but things have come up, unfortunately.

Review – Ruddy Gore

Cover of Ruddy Gore by Kerry GreenwoodRuddy Gore, Kerry Greenwood

I wasn’t as caught up in this one as with some of the others — at least, not the mystery, though I am enjoying Phryne’s latest lover, Lin Chung. But the whole supernatural aspect is just thin to me, and the plot relies on the reader to make the same mistake as the characters, or it becomes rather obvious. I found bits of it contradictory — Phryne notices certain characters, but then doesn’t factor them into her understanding of what’s going on for far too long. And there’s the melodrama with the hints that perhaps there is a real ghost…

Not my favourite so far, but still compulsively readable, of course.

Rating: 3/5

Review – The Mirror World of Melody Black

Cover of The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin ExtenceThe Mirror World of Melody Black, Gavin Extence

I was excited to read The Mirror World of Melody Black, given that I found myself enjoying The Universe Versus Alex Woods more than I expected to. Reading the first 100 pages or so, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to continue. See, the main character is bipolar, and her swings of mania and depression are really well written. I could see what was coming and wasn’t sure if I wanted to be along for the ride.

The thing is, when the main character is in a psychiatric ward, she and another character talk about it being an alternate world, and each person having their own portal to it. Basically, the turn you made that made everything go downhill. The thing that triggered the cycle. Getting better, she talks about seeing those portals and being able to avoid them. That struck a bit close — I have generalised anxiety disorder, and I’m constantly aware of the things I could do which might make me feel a little better, temporarily, but which could start me off on the whole rollercoaster of anxiety (where the only way seems to be down, and down, and down).

And around page 100, with the way Abby was behaving, I was a little worried this book was going to be one of those moments for me. Usually it’s a moment of stress in my life, or confronting a new situation. But really, I think I was just responding to Abby’s foreboding — and Extence’s. See, he finishes the book with a chapter in which he explains his own experience with mania. The chapters that I found uncomfortable were precisely the ones that made him uncomfortable and which embodied his experience the most. So yes, Mr Extence: you wrote something true. It worked.

If you’ve read this and don’t really understand the title, I have to wonder if it’s maybe because you don’t have that experience of those portals. You don’t know that a silly minor thing could constitute a left turn into another reality. The whole book, everything Abby does from the opening pages, it’s not really a story about finding her neighbour dead, being a journalist or dating when bipolar. It’s a story about that moment she takes the wrong turn and enters an alternate world, where logic stops working properly. Melody Black is important not particularly for herself, but because talking to her makes Abby realise these things. The ‘mirror world’ of the title is really Abby’s own head, when her manic phase is triggered, and Melody Black is just a symbol.

At least, that’s how I read it.

Rating: 5/5