Review – Creative Colouring for Grown Ups: Mandalas

Cover of Creative Colouring for Grown Ups: MandalasCreative Colouring for Grown Ups: Mandalas, Various Authors

I think this might be my favourite in the series so far. Unlike most of the other Creative Colouring for Grown Ups books I’ve seen in this series, this has background colours, which can really set the mandalas off if you pick the right colours, and the paper quality seems to be even better, too. The designs are printed on one side of the paper only, too, so there’s even less chance of colour leaking than with other books, like the Japanese patterns book.

There’s a good range of patterns, too, with various different styles. I love colouring mandalas, so that might make me biased, but I’ve really enjoyed doing the designs in this one. Especially because I have new 0.4mm markers and they work quite well with the detailed patterns.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Over Sea, Under Stone

Cover of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan CooperOver Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper

It’s time for a The Dark is Rising sequence readathon again! If you wish to join, you can do so via this blog. It’s the perfect time of year to reread the books, at least the second one in particular, with the winter solstice coming up. I always try and read them around this time of year!

With that said, here goes my millionth (ish) review of Over Sea, Under Stone. I’ve noted before that it’s basically an Enid Blyton adventure/mystery story, with Arthurian trappings. This time through, I noticed a bit more than that; despite the fact that it is much lighter than the later books in tone, for the most part, there are moments of darkness and fear: the moment on the top of the cliff with the standing stones, Barney captured, Barney in the cave, the last few pages before the epilogue… Because of that link to Arthur, because of the figure of Merriman, the seriousness that we see later in the story is still there. The Dark doesn’t go away safely in the way that the criminals always do at the end of a Famous Five book.

I think it’s partly that which makes the books survive for me — under the concerns of the children, there’s that darkness and fear.

Another thing which gets me is how all the people act like people. Jane and Barney and Simon get scared, they get jealous of each other, they puff themselves up and act important… The adults are indulgent, complacent. And then there’s the poetry of the quiet moments, the moon on the water and the quiet dusty attic and… Yeah. Brilliant writing. Not as compelling as the later books, but even here it’s very fine.

Rating: 4/5

Review – A Wizard of Earthsea

Cover of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin

This month’s challenge in the Book Club on Habitica is reading (or rereading, in my case) Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. I scarcely need the encouragement to come back and read them again, so of course, I was in for this. It’s interesting reading this first one as an adult, having gone through my own coming of age and seeing Ged as young — just seventeen! It’s also interesting because I’ve read some of Le Guin’s critiques of her own work: the lack of place for women, “weak as women’s magic”, the typical male-centred quest story. It’s interesting to think about what could’ve been changed, and how that would have changed the canon of fantasy.

At first glance, the world of Earthsea is relatively typical fantasy. Yet there’s a spirituality here, too, and Le Guin’s interest in anthropology — her references to the customs like Sunreturn and the Long Dance — give it depth. It’s definitely its own thing, not derived solely from the fantasy tradition. And I’ve thought of Ged’s flight away from and then toward his shadow in very personal terms for a while now: to me it echoes my struggle with my anxiety, the way that I was weak and unable to fight it whenever I tried to pretend it away or avoid it. I had to face it and admit it was part of me, as Ged does with the shadow he’s unleashed. And like Ged, I didn’t stop being scared of it, but I gained strength from finding the way to fight it.

(Don’t get me started on the parallels in The Tombs of Atuan between the forces of the Nameless and depression, abuse. Now that I’ve thought about it, I think I could write a paper on it.)

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life.”

Rating: 5/5

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

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 – 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

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