Book review catch-up: part two

Part two of the book review catch up – another four slightly random books for you all to enjoy.

The Just City

by Jo Walton

The Just City by Jo Walton

She turned into a tree.

Another one by Jo Walton – this something else entirely again. Apollo and Athena decide, as an experiment, to provide support for humans trying to build Plato’s Republic. It is, as you can imagine, chaos. This book is well written. It is funny as well as thoughtful, exploring the consequences of not only trying to create a utopia but of trying to create that particular utopia. There were multiple POV characters, and the plot was spread out over numerous years as the city developed.

I wasn’t all that invested in the characters, emotionally, but I really enjoyed the challenge of making ideas fit into my brain, and thinking about all the different ways that things might happen and when I finished reading it I felt that my mind had had quite the workout.

Rating: read this, and see if you can come up with a utopia that survives contact with ten-year-olds!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel meets world

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Dean Hale SHannon Hale

Doreen Green liked her name.

EEEEEEEEEEE! I LOVED THIS BOOK! I stayed up all night reading it, and laughing, and thinking “I should go to bed now” and then reading another few chapters and then it was ONE IN THE MORNING. This is a novel tie-in to the comic series, taking place when Doreen Green A.K.A Squirrel Girl is fourteen. And it is, in a word, delightful. It’s warm, funny, and fantastic. I love Doreen Green, that rare superhero with no tragic past who just wants to help. She’s great. And I love the format – there are little footnotes and text messages throughout. Her parents are wonderful and supportive. Her best friend Ana Sofia is deaf and brilliant. We meet Tippy Toe the squirrel for the first time. There are LARPers and robot parents and hysterical interactions with the Avengers (Doreen Green texts the Winter Soldier under the impression that he is probably a yeti who works with them).

There is just SO MUCH LOVE AND JOY TO BE HAD HERE!

Rating: READ IT READ IT READ IT *calms down* and then, yanno, imagine that you’re a squirrel…

 

Letters Between Gentlemen

by Professor Elemental and Nimue Brown, illustrated by Tom Brown

Letters Between Gentlemen

This was another “stay-up-all-night, just one more chapter okay make that two woops it’s one in the morning” read. I laughed on pretty much every page. At first, I wasn’t sure how the story was going to happen – the entire thing is told in correspondence between various characters and the letters seemed so completely random that I could not see how they were going to fit together. But happen it did, and somehow, against all logic, a brilliant narrative emerged. I bloody loved it! The characters were outrageous and brilliant. There were secret occult societies (with very similar names but quite different functions), rather intelligent mice, opium, explosions, deaths, some rather fun playing with gender and a hilarious detective story.  And tea. Quite a lot of tea. Altogether wonderful.

Rating: Read it, and avoid mixing the opium with the tea…

Of Sorrow and Such

by Angela Slatter

Of Sorrow and Such ANgela Slatter

Edda’s Meadow is a town like any other, smaller than some, larger than many.

And now for something completely different; this is the only Angela Slatter book I’ve read, and I’m reasonably sure that it fits into her other works (though I don’t know where, and I have yet to get my hands on them). It is an odd gem. Witchy books are my kryptonite (along with dragony books, queer fantasy books, free books, books with magic in…), and this was an especially interesting one. Part of what stood out for me was that we were in this tiny setting – Edda’s Meadow – which at first appeared calm. But then there were faultlines hidden everywhere, movement beneath the surface and things just waiting. It was remarkably atmospheric.

As witchy books go, this is a challenging one due to a) things being shit for women and b) things being shit for witches. However, I enjoyed the writing and the worldbuilding, the ways in which magic worked here, and SPOILER the ending was not terribly terribly tragic. END SPOILER. There’s a lot that feels unique in here, though it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what…

Rating: read it. Do not make dolls from bread.

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Book review catch-up: part one

Hello! Oddly enough, I am reading less than usual at the moment, but have managed nevertheless to get quite behind on reviews. How these two things have managed to occur at the same time, I’m not entirely sure :s So here is a slightly random group of catch-up reviews, for your delight and delectation. Another round of catch-ups will be published next week, and then some more normal reviews and ephemera.

Tooth and Claw

by Jo Walton

tooth and claw front cover jo walton

Bon Agornin writhed on his deathbed, his wings beating as if he could fly to his new life in his old body.

This was an odd read. It took me a little while to get into, and then suddenly it clicked that it was really quite funny. Because, essentially, this is a send up/tribute to Austen, with dragons. Yes, you heard me, dragons. Very proper, very polite dragons who are bound by tradition and propriety and an odd host of biological strangeness as well as cultural norms. It was unlike anything I’ve read before, and on those merits alone I’d recommend it. Not the most brilliant thing out there, certainly, but with charm and wit. And dragons who wear hats.

Rating: read this, and then visit your milliner.

The Bone Dragon

by Alexia Casale

the bone dragon alexia casale

I rise up, towards the surface.

I did not realise quite what this book was about when I picked it up. It is not fantasy, not really. I’d give this one quite strong trigger warnings for abusive family situations, which are in the past and now escaped, but impact hugely on the story and on the characters. It may be that it shook me as hard as it did because I was not expecting it, but I would warn anyway. If that’s something you can read, then this is a very good book indeed. Strong imagery, very well imagined characters, and a reality that’s just a little bit malleable. Our narrator is a teenage girl, who has just had an operation to remove a dead bit of bone from her ribs. She is one of the best unreliable narrators I’ve come across in a good while. It’s harrowing and brilliant and disturbing, all in one innocent looking book.

Rating: go out into the night, to the bleached moon, and face the things you fear.

The Murdstone Trilogy (a novel)

by Mal Peet

The Murdstone Trilogy Mal Peet

The sun sinks, leaving tatty furbelows of crimson cloud in the Dartmoor sky.

Hah! This book! I loved it – a hilariously mocking love-letter to fantasy, to authors, and the industry as a whole. Philip Murdstone is a writer who made a niche writing fiction about slightly odd boys finding their place in the world. But his work is not selling, and he lives in a cottage in Dartmoor and feels miserable about having no money. He also really quite fancies his agent, who persuades him that the only thing to do is to write a swords and sorcery style book. Which he has no idea how to even start.

Cue a visitation from a rather rude and grubby being from a different world, who will give him a story in return for finding an amulet. And, well, everything snowballs from there. Fantastically. As readers, we’re really kept guessing about what’s real, what’s not, and what the hell is going to happen next. Incisively observed characters, very funny descriptions and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that I really appreciated. You won’t get all the jokes unless you’ve actually read some swords and sorcery fantasy, but I think it would still be pretty entertaining regardless.

Rating: read this,  and perhaps refrain from making agreements with grubby beings from other worlds.

The Palace of Curiosities

by Rosie Garland

The Palace of curiosities by Rosie Garland

Before I am born, my mother goes to the circus.

A while ago, I started reading The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, and failed to finish it. Part of this is my personal difficulty with collections of short stories. This novel reminded me of many of the things I enjoyed in that collection – in fact I would have said that this novel is perhaps what I wanted The Bloody Chamber to be. It was weird, and definitely happening in the realm of fairytale. It was a love story, sort of, between monsters. The Palace of Curiosities had a sharp descriptive style that I liked, and alternated POV between two characters. I was completely immersed in this odd underworld of Victorian London, with the lion woman and the undying man. It was luscious and sensual and dark and odd, and I very much enjoyed it. In fact, my only complaint was that the last sentence was really awkward, and having enjoyed the rest of the book so much, I found that annoying. Still, this is something of a feast.

Rating: read this, and be wary of the circus…

And that’s all for now – until next time, keep well.

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Reblog and shoutout to my sister!

This is a reblog from my sister’s blog, yogaruby. She’s starting a Women’s Circle in Stroud, and blogs about wellness, yoga, and her personal journey through circus, movement and learning to be a facilitator. Take a look, I hope you enjoy!

Reviews from me tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest 🙂

Before I tell you about the women’s circle, I want to share a little bit about the journey which led me to start it… I began this year training at Circomedia, planning to be there for the next two years at least, but more and more I felt a yearning for something else. Eventually I […]

via A new venture – Women’s Circle — YogaRuby

Re-blog from Nimue Brown

Fantastic blog piece from Nimue Brown – I really enjoyed this post, so many layers to it.

Advice for heroines There comes a point, usually rather late in the story, where saving the man from the patriarchy may look like a job with your name on it. At this point, the odds are he’ll be blaming a woman and not the system for what’s happened to him. It is his mother’s fault […]

via Advice for heroines – fictionish — Druid Life

The Life and Times of Angel Evans: Behind the Scenes

Welcome back! This month, I’m exploring Dragonboats, Featherboats and worldbuilding.

Dragonboat sketch by Meredith Debonnaire

Art by Meredith Debonnaire

So, dragonboats. They are, as you will (I hope) know, mentioned in the story. As are featherboats. And they’re one of those things that’s actually quite important to Angel Evans’ world. As you can see from the sketches above, I imagine dragonboats to resemble viking longships with figureheads. They’re mainly made out of wood, with the scales being added on later (if you imagined them differently, I would love to know how). And it’s the scales that allow them to travel the way that they do. Angel Evans’ native world has a lot of natural magic, including really big currents of it that are known as marivers. Dragonboats travel by tapping into the magic of the marivers and using it to float. They are fast, reliable transport. They tend to be used more for cargo and trade than transport, although there are people willing and able to pay to travel quickly, as well as stowaways, and others who do things like join a dragonboat crew and conveniently hop out at the place they wanted to go.

Now the scales, as I have said, are the things that allow them to tap into the marivers. Dragonboats are covered in them (which makes them a bit painful to look at if the sun hits at the right angle), and not many people are sure how they work: something to do with absorbing and refracting the magic in a particular way. As you may remember, the scales for the dragonboats are made by Dwarfs. It’s one of their biggest exports. And the Dwarfs have never shared the secrets of how the scales are made (in fact, no single Dwarf knows the whole process – the scales are made from a rare raw material that is mined by the women, then forged by men, enchanted by grafs and sold by kleed), meaning that the main method that Humans have for transporting cargo is dependent on trade with Dwarfs (who don’t often use dragonboats themselves). This makes for an interesting relationship, as the dynamic between Dwarf nations and Human nations is often fraught with cultural misunderstandings (and battles). However, the Humans like fast, convenient transport, and the Dwarfs (who do not have a very agrarian culture) like the variation in diet afforded them by this trade, so the dragonboats are one of the main reasons why battles between Human and Dwarf nations do not tend to last, although they are often bloody.

The next best thing are featherboats. No-one’s quite sure who came up with featherboats: some people say it was a Human, some that it was a renegade Grem with poor Phasing skills. What is certain is that, although featherboats are the next best thing, they are not actually good. They are smaller, they are riskier, they sometimes explode. Or stop floating. Or decide to go somewhere else entirely. They are the cheap option, and unfortunately, as in so many places, this means the dangerous option. As the name suggests, they substitute feathers for scales, with very very mixed results. Some feathers are good at channeling magic, and some are not. About the only advantage is that featherboats can travel along weaker marivers than dragonboats, but considering the possible exploding this is not a great advantage…

Join me for Behind the Scenes next month for some thoughts on the elusive Yumiko.

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Book Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

the invasion of the tearling erika johansen

The second Mort invasion had all the makings of a slaughter.

BEWARE SPOILERS!

This, you may have guessed, is the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. And it is amazing! One of the main points about the fantasy world that has been created here is that, although it looks pretty typical human high fantasy at first glance, it is revealed throughout the first book that actually, these people are descended from fugitives from our world. Or our world some years forward with horribly believable dystopian trappings. A revolutionary called William Tear led the Crossing (what they were crossing is a reveal in this book, so I’m not telling).

This means that the Tearling (and presumably other kingdoms and queendoms) has this interesting juxtaposition of technologically being about able to make a basic cannon, but having historical records of x-ray machines. I love it. This book really deals with that part of the story, as Kelsea starts having visions of a woman who is somehow connected to the Crossing. At first, I was a little impatient with these flashbacks as I just wanted to know what was going to happen: Mortmesne is invading! We’re getting clues about who the Red Queen is! Please just tell me what’s happening! However, after a slightly awkward section I quickly became hooked, and it started becoming clear that the flashbacks were important and also forwarding the plot.

Kelsea herself I found challenging in this instalment, but nowhere near as challenging as a lot of teenage sovereigns in fantasy can be. And I think I was meant to find her challenging, and to question her judgement and her decisions. Other characters certainly did. I loved the intrigue, the back and forth between church and crown intensifying, the preparations for this totally hopeless invasion, Kelsea’s weird magical powers starting to make more sense…

The end was, well, I had a hunch about the ending. And I was half-right. And it was a massive cliffhanger (Kelsea you redeemed yourself bigtime) and I have been waiting on tenterhooks for the final book to come into the library (which it finally has). So, if you are interested in some slightly brutal, fast-paced, interestingly-built fantasy with WOMEN, I recommend this series.

And if you have read it, I would love to chat about it with you! I have so many feelings about this series!

Rating: read this book – do not make deals with the demon in the fire.

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An updatey thing!

Hello! This is an update, in which I shall ramble at you, and share things I’m excited about.

Writing: Working on a mini-series, which will eventually be posted FOR FREE here on my blog (although, I remind you, I am a poor writer and you can buy me coffee through the interwebs). It’s gonna be twelve episodes long, each episode approximately 800 words, and it was born when I had to interact with a very unpleasant transphobic/homophobic woman and, through an odd series of conversations, decided that the best response was to write an odd sci-fi series full of happy queers in space… stay tuned!

Editing: that novella I finished recently. Yeah, you remember. I mentioned it before at some point. It’s baaaaaack *spooky noises*

Excited about: Okay, so, the Booksmugglers, who published The Life and Times of Angel Evans, are running a Kickstarter. They’re a two woman outfit, started as a blog focusing on SFF reviews and essays, developed into a publishing house dedicated to diverse voices in sci-fi and fantasy. In short, bloody awesome. They also do a hell of a lot of the legwork for free at the moment, and are looking to expand. I am super skint and cannot currently give them anything, so I’m just gonna yell about them here. You can check out their website here, and their kickstarter page here.

Pondering: getting a haircut.

UPDATE TO THIS UPDATE: WE KNOW WHO WROTE THE INFAMOUS FANFIC ‘MY IMMORTAL’ I AM NOT SURE IF I CAN FUNCTION!!! Also, it seems like she was trolling us the whole time, and she is actually kinda awesome and I’m gonna go borrow her books from the library now. ONE OF THE GREATEST MYSTERIES OF MY TEEN YEARS HAS BEEN SOLVED!!! Ahem, I’m calming down now… There’s some more info here.

Listening to: Con Toda Palabra by Lhasa de Sela

And that’s it from me. See you round.

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