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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Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around.

Sometimes, there are books that stare straight into my heart and soul and reflect them back. For me, this was one of those. There is probably no such thing as a perfect book; Among Others, however, was exactly the right book at the right time, and that is not something to be underestimated. It rekindled my appreciation and love for libraries, it spoke a lot of my truths, and it allowed me to remember my sixteen and seventeen year old self with more compassion and understanding than I’ve ever managed. So, obviously, this review is enormously biased and I am well aware that this book may not be for everyone.

It’s 1979. Mor, who has lived her whole life in the Welsh Valleys surrounded by a varied and sprawling family, among fairies and wilderness and magic, has been forced to live with her (somewhat useless) English father whom she has never met and who promptly sends her to boarding school. Her twin sister is dead, her mother is mad and possibly evil, and she is alone. Among Others is written as a diary, as Mor turns to books and journalling, observing the world around her with sharp eyes and a certain dry humour while trying to make sense of what happened, what is happening, and how to move on. The fairy/magic aspect of the world is some of the most convincingly real that I have ever come across; odd and earthy and tied to the landscape, relating to the “real world” in strange ways. Mor is an unreliable narrator in the way that most grieving people are, and the story just… unfolds. Slow, unhurried, and yet still at times shocking, heartrending and heartwarming. If I was told tomorrow that I was only allowed one book for the rest of my life, it would be a close call between Among Others, Unquenchable Fire, and the dictionary (but which dictionary?!).

Rating: Read this book. Go to the library.