It is entirely thanks to the book blogging community that I have discovered Nalo Hopkinson. I have spent the last few months actively looking for female SFF writers that I didn’t know yet (thanks again to the WWE Women of Genre Fiction Challenge) as well as writers of color, stories about people of color and LBTQ characters. Because, as much as I read, there are very few non-American or non-European writers to be found on my reading lists and I wanted to remedy that. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech also served as an eye-opener and I found it extremely inspiring. There is so much diversity out there and I want to experience it. Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia E. Butler’s names kept coming up and all of their books sounded so good that there was no reason for me to wait any longer discovering them. Thank You, Internet!
Published by: Warner Aspect, 2000
Paperback: 336 pages
My rating: 8,5/10
First sentence: Oho. Like it starting, oui? Don’t be frightened, sweetness; is for the best.
It’s Carnival time, and the Carribean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance and pageantry. Masked “Midnight Robbers” waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. But to young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favourite costume to wear at the festival–until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgivable crime.
Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from folklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Here Tan-Tan must reach into the heart of myth–and become the Robber Queen herself. For only the Robber Queen’s legendary powers can save her life…and set her free.
Seven-year old Tan-Tan lives on Toussaint, a Caribbean-colonized planet, where she – like everybody else – is connected to the Granny Nanny Web through the nanomites in her blood. Being the daughter of the mayor of Cockpit County, she leads a happy life and wants, more than anything, to play the Robber Queen at the upcoming carnival. But the story doesn’t open with Tan-Tan. We first get to know her father, Antonio, who has his own troubles to deal with. A cheating wife, the constant surveillance of Granny Nanny, the lust for more power. When he catches his wife cheating on him and challenges her lover to a duel, his and Tan-Tan’s lives are about to change forever.
As soon as they arrive on the parallel planet of New Half-Way Tree which is used as a prison colony, the story really starts to kick off. Tan-Tan and Antonio have to learn how to survive in the bush of this new world. The local species, the douen, help them survive their first days and lead them to a human village where they try to make a new life. But as Tan-Tan grows older and starts looking more and more like her mother, Antonio commits a terrible crime that will haunt his daughter and turn her into the real Robber Queen of New Half-Way Tree…
When I picked up this book, the first thing I noticed was the language. I had never read anything written in Anglopatwa before and I admit it took a few pages to get used to. But after these few pages, the prose had a beautiful flow to it and told Tan-Tan’s story very organically. If the beginning puts you off, I urge you to keep reading. The style adds a layer of atmosphere to what is already a fantastic story, part science-fiction, part mythological fantasy. Personally, I loved every page and even caught myself thinking in patwa every once in a while. There are French words strewn among the English, the grammar is simplified, but there was never a moment where the language didn’t make perfect sense. It felt so natural that I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
One of oonuh tell me about junjuh mould. It does grow where nothing else can’t catch. When no soil not there, it put roots down in the rock, and all rainwater and river water pound down on it, it does thrive. No matter what you do, it does grow back.
Characterization and world-building are done phenomenally, not through info-dumps, but through action. We are never told how the ‘Nansi Web works but it becomes clear from the context and the interactions between characters and their earbuds. New Half-Way Tree is a whole new world to discover and because it is as new to Tan-Tan as it is to the readers, we are introduced slowly to its secrets. From the human settlements and their basic governments, to the flora and fauna of the place, to the culture of the natives, the douen, everything felt utterly vibrant and alive. It was a pleasure to discover this place! I particularly enjoyed the myth-like stories the narrator tells every once in a while. The origin story of New Half-Way Tree in particular got to me.
It ain’t no magic in do-feh-do,
If you take one, you mus’ give back two
After all this praise, I must say this was a strange reading experience. I would pick up the book, devour page after page, put it away and suddenly lose all urge to continue reading. I would pick it up again, wonder what was wrong with me, how I couldn’t want to read this fantastic book anymore. And so it went for a while. I really can’t tell you why that was. In retrospect, some passages feel a little slow or drawn-out, but while I was reading I couldn’t find fault with the pacing at all. Not a single part of the plot was boring and I did want to know how Tan-Tan’s story continued – so my conclusion is that it is just me. The reason I’m telling you this is simply because, if you feel the same about the book, don’t let it put you off. Continue reading, it really pays off.
Needless to say, I am incredibly happy to have disocvered Nalo Hopkinson. I can see why she is hailed as one of SFF’s best young authors. One thing is certain: This will only be the first of Nalo Hopkinson’s books I read, not only because the language showed me a completely new aspect of SFF fiction but because this book tickled all my soft spots. The mixture of science fiction and fantasy, mythology and survival story, a fantastic female protagonist and a fascinating alien species… I mean, what more can I want? That’s right, a good ending. Until it happened, I had no idea whether this would end well or terribly, and either way would have worked for this story. I found the ending satisfying in its half-open, half-resolved way. In fact, I could not have imagined a better way to end this book.
If you like original, fresh fantasy or science fiction, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
THE GOOD: Great use of language, fantastic characters, beautiful world-building, and a fascinating alien culture.
THE BAD: Said great language may not be for everyone.
THE VERDICT: A highly-recommended book by an incredibly talented writer whose work I’ll certainly continue devouring.
RATING: 8,5/10 - Absolutely excellent
You’re probably getting sick of this. But here is another book that deserves all kinds of superlatives and that I can’t shut up about. To my attentive readers, this will come as no surprise at all. Cat Valente has been rocking my reading world since last year but 2013 is particularly Valente-heavy. I just can’t keep my hands (and eyes) off her books. And the amazing, surprising, even unbelievable thing is that every single one of them is brilliant. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it here: Catherynne M. Valene is easily my favorite writer.
Published by: Subterranean, 2013
Hardcover: 165 pages
My rating: 8,5/10
First sentence: I accept with equanimity that you will not credit me when I tell you Mr. H married a Crow woman and had a baby with her round about the time he struck his fortune in the good blue, which is how folk used to designate Nevada silver.
From New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title’s heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves.
A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.
I’ll be honest, this time around the style took a little getting used to. This is, however, entirely my own fault. I am still right in the middle of The Orphan’s Tales and my head (and heart) has a lot of trouble letting go of that world. But when this hardback beauty arrived in the mail, there was no way I wasn’t going to devour it, and soon. Especially because I thought, when I bought it, I was just getting the “regular” hardback, not numbered or signed or special in any way (other than being a Cat Valente book and, therefore, inherently special). I was all the more surprised when I opened it and saw this:
Yup. That is mine. All mine. Even my boyfriend squeed with me (because guess who gets to hear even more gushing Valente fangirl rants from me than you guys?). A bit of research showed me that there were only signed copies of this and I, without knowing it, snatched one.
Like I have mentioned before, fairytales were my very first contact with stories, tales that I knew so well I would correct my grandparents when they told me one. Retellings of fairytales are incredibly popular these days which does not mean that they are any good. Most YA retellings (Margo Lanagan totally excluded) simpy set the fairy tale in an different place or make it modern. Valente is cleverer than that. While transporting the story of Snow White into the west, making her father a miner and her mother a Crow woman, already adds an element of interest to the well-known story. Snow White’s childhood is not a happy one and she is reminded constantly – by her name if not anyone else – what she can never be. Beautiful and loved and white. The stepmother lives up to everything you’d expect from Snow White’s evil stepmother and that fact that she wraps her cruelties in a cloak of “love” makes it even worse.
She put jasper and pearl combs in my hair and yanked them so tight I cried – there, now you’re a lady, she said, and I did not know if the comb or the tears did it. She put me in her own corsets like nooses strangling my waist til I was sick, my breath gone and my stomach shoved up into my ribs – there, now you’re civilized, she said, and I did not know if it was the corset or the sickness that did it. She forbade me to eat sweets or any good thing til I got thin as a dog and could hardly stand I was so damn hungry – there, now you’re beautiful, she said and I did not know if it was my dog-bones showing or my crawling in front of her begging for a miserable apple to stop my belly screaming that made me fair.
For myself I thought: this is how you make a human being. A human being is beautiful and sick. A human being glitters and starves.
There are heartbreaking moments of cruelty in this novella, but then there are amazing moments of strength. I couldn’t quite figure out Snow White until the end, I could never be sure how she would decide in a given moment, but I had endless amounts of empathy for the little girl just trying to be loved by her new mother, for the lost woman trying to find a place where she can belong, but never quite fitting in anywhere.
Elements of the original fairytale were incorporated in a clever way. Apples are involved, the stepmother does visit three times, but Snow White is anything but stupid. Her character was nuanced, which made her quite different from the Snow White we may all know (from fairytales or the Disney version) but it also made her a believable person. There is a hunt but it involves guns rather than bow and arrow, and my favorite part was the shape the seven dwarves took in this alternate version. They brought me enormous amounts of happiness but I can’t tell you why without spoiling the fun a little.
This being a novella, there are few characters, but every one of them – even the ones who never get any lines – are three-dimensional. This is something that keeps impressing me. Cat Valente creates atmosphere and an entire personality within a short paragraph. Her style, while experimental and a little different in every book, has a fairytale-esque quality to it that never ceases to engross me. Even if the plot were shit, I could open any of her books and just fall into whatever paragraph my eyes would land on. That’s how beautifully she writes.
My only complaint about this book is that it could have been longer. Especially parts that happened toward the end, Red Deer becoming a character, Snow White sort of bonding with animals, were so powerful that I could have read on and on and on. They were cut short by the ending and I was a little sad about that. The ending as such worked for me, but then so would a completely different one. I consider it a good thing that Valente’s books aren’t about how it all ends, they are about everything that happens from beginning to end, they don’t rely on a big reveal at the end or even a huge climax. They just are. Whenever I read one of her books, I have that feeling of I don’t want this to end.
THE GOOD: Valente paints pictures of wonder and magic in your head, uses words in a way I have never seen before, and tells stories of strong women struggling through life.
THE BAD: I wanted more (or longer) scenes toward the end, more of the women’s village, more of Red Deer.
THE VERDICT: If you like fairytale retellings, mythpunk, or lyrical prose, you’ve come to the right place. This also happens to be a beautiful book (speaking of the cover, binding, paper texture).
RATING: 8,5/10 – More than excellent
You can read an excerpt on Tor.
Let me be honest with you. I’ve always preferred Through the Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Even so, it is rare that I can resist anything with a bit of Alice in it. There were two reasons why I requested a review copy of this book via NetGalley. Number one was the beautiful cover. It drew me in and made me read the blurb. Number two was just that blurb. The little descriptions of the four short stories all included some buzz word that made me go “ooh”. Let’s see how I ended up liking this small volume.
Published by: Candlemark & Gleam, 2011
ebook: 219 pages
My rating: 5/10
First sentence: The boy has managed, so far, to displace himself four meters off the ground.
In 1865, Alice went on an adventure to Wonderland. Today, four modern authors follow her down the rabbit hole…
This is the first in a planned series in the (re)Visions line, which is devoted to exploring the lasting legacy of classic works of speculative fiction on our genres and on our lives. In each book in the series, four authors will tackle a classic work of imaginative fiction, and give it their own spin; along with each of these novellas will also be the original work.
I read few to no anthologies or short story collections (a fault I am trying to remedy at the moment) and it may be because I feel the need to read the stories in order and not skip any of them. Reading short stories online (at Clarkesworld, etc.) has brought me enormous amounts of pleasure, though, so I thought I’d give this little collection a try. After all, not much can go wrong when you know you’re getting spins on a favorite classic, right? Well…
Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I won’t say much about this. It is Alice as we know and love her, and if I ever do write a review on that book, it will get its own post. This was very nice beginning for the anthology, of course, and gave me an excuse to re-read it. Luckily, I can continue in my Annotated Alice which includes Through the Looking Glass. That one is definitely worth its own review…
I will talk about each of the four contained novellas separately, as they were all written by a different author.
Kaye Chazan – What Aelister Found Here
Blurb: It is 1888, and Aelister has never felt at home, not even in his own skin. Now that he’s been expelled from school, he sees no reason to stick around his house in Warwickshire, so he runs away to another world altogether: London. The city is a maze of heat and rain, where a murderer stalks the streets of Whitechapel and a Crown Prince flouts his mother’s laws, and Aelister soon finds himself dealt into a series of deadly games—ones that put his life, and far more, on the line. And while London may not be the wonderland Aelister expected to find, he is far from the only person in the city looking for that very place.
Now this is what I was hoping for. The story opens on our practical boy-protagonist in avery Alice-like style. The witty prose and clever asides were totally up my alley and reminded me very much of Victorian prose. There are references to Alice and they are very neatly incorporated into the real-world setting. While the main story has pacing problems as soon as Aelister arrives in London, it picks up once a very peculiar game of chess starts. I enjoyed how Jack the Ripper was mixed into this strange little tale, but the end came extremely abrubtly and was somewhat anticlimactic. The Alice-elements are subdued, you will recognize a lot of characters from the original. Altogether, a story that I enjoyed more for its whimsical tone and its practical protagonist than for its connection to the original Alice. Recommended. Rating: 6,5/10
Amanda Ching – House of Cards
Blurb: There’s Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole and had an adventure. Then there’s the Queen of Hearts, who loses her temper quite frequently. But before that, there was Mary Ann, a servant pressed past patience, past duty. As all three hurtle toward an inevitable meeting, a creature has broken from its coffin and is even now tunneling to meet them. When the deck is stacked like this, even the strongest foundation could crumble.
This story featured surprisingly many characters for such a short piece and the climax was probably supposed to be when it all comes together and the separate storylines make sense as a whole. But the story as such failed to grab my attention and I mostly just read on because I wanted to get to the next story. The Queen of Hearts as well as some other known characters do show up but mostly to spout nonsense. And not the brilliant kind of nonsense Lewis Carroll gave us, just plain nonsense without much humor. Except for the occasional badam-tish line that made me roll my eyes rather than smile. I was hoping for some fantasy elements but even that bubble was burst. I’ll give the writer props for the idea but I think it would have needed more characterisation and depth to work. Rating: 3,5/10
Hilary Thomas – Knave
Blurb: In the city they call Wonderland, the Queen calls the shots. If she doesn’t like the way you’re playing the game, she’ll give you the axe. Permanently. Jack Knave is an investigator, a man of many talents, an occasional blade for The Crown; and he’s the best at what he does. He knows every face in the city, every move they make, every connection. Except one.When a mysterious woman shows up in town, Jack is sure she’s not just here for the tourism. But the more he digs, the less he knows. Finding the answers means getting close to her, but she’s not the only one with secrets. Somebody’s been stealing from the Queen, and it looks like Jack’s taking the fall. Alice could seal his fate with a word—or not. With no options left, and the odds stacked against him, Jack must make a desperate gamble to survive. Whether his luck holds out or he’s left out to dry, one thing’s for certain: he can’t afford to lose his head.
Jack Knave lives in the city of Wonderland and the arrival of a certain dame named Alice turns things upside down. This is Wonderland goes noir. I was surprised by how much that genre mash-up appealed to me. But an idea alone does not make a good story. Characters may have names that sound like they are from Wonderland (Jimmy Cheshire, Jack Knave, The Queen, Kingsley, Alice) but they are walking stereotypes. I don’t read noir fiction but I have seen a few movies that fit the description. There is nothing new or original about this story. There also happens to be no magic whatsoever and the big reveal (if, indeed, it is supposed to be a big reveal) was painfully predictable. All of that said, I enjoyed the story more than “House of Cards”. The prose wasn’t a revelation but easy enough to read and the plot was fast-paced and had a nice flow to it. Probably not a story I will remember for long, but enjoyable, nonetheless. Recommended with reservations. Rating: 5,5/10
C.A. Young – The World in a Thimble
Blurb: Toby Fitzsimmons hates the creepy sculpture of Alice on display in his gallery, but when it drops him into Wonderland for real, he’s not prepared for what he finds. From real living furniture to scoutmasters and cowboys to coyotes who really do go everywhere, Toby finds himself in a Wonderland that’s more deadly, and much more American, than the one he remembers reading about as a boy. At the heart of it all is the Catmistress, who rules over the city’s dark alleys and knows the secret of the Cheshire trick. In this strange new world, Toby will need all the help he can get to find his way home. Before that, though, he’ll have to find a way to keep from losing himself. Wonderland, it seems, changes everything it touches. And then there’s the thing in the sewers…
This time around, the story starts in a modern day setting with gallery owner Toby, who spends his time as a punching bag for Hambrick, a man whose collection he’s showing in said gallery. With a little help from the Alice sculpture on display, he falls into Wonderland. I was insanely happy to actually read a story that took me to Wonderland and showed me some of its marvels. There are flying coyotes (who can talk, of course), cats who know the Cheshire Trick, depressed fountains, and bottles that say “drink me”. It could have been so nice. But the writing is clumsy at best, the characters – including Toby – are very flat, and the storyline is predictable. I did enjoy the craziness of Wonderland and its inhabitants but the description dumps and the characters left me rather unimpressed. Rating: 5/10
Overall, the first story was my favorite because it hit the tone of the original most closely and, while not showing us actual Wonderland, gave well-known characters a new personality. It had atmosphere and a good plot. I liked “Knave” second best, despite its stereotypical characters and predictable plotline. At least the idea was original and the execution okay. As a collection, I didn’t love it and wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But if you love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and want to see its characters wearing new cloaks, this might be right for you.
RATING: 5/10 - Meh
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is the perfect opportunity for me to catch up on my reading. My goals for this week are achievable if I don’t start re-watching Sherlock again or get lost on the interwebs. I have a list of books prepared that I would like to get to but, you know me, my mood may change and I might end up reading completely different things. Seeing as this is my first time participating, I decided not to be too hard on myself. This is supposed to be fun.
All my progress updates will be happening here, reviews will be posted separately. This post will remain a sticky until the read-a-thon is over. New posts can be found just under this one.
Time Devoted to Reading
- Finish at least 3 new books
- Finish at least 1 of my current reads
- Read 1 anthology
- Review All The Books
- Meet new people and get tons of book recommendations
- Join in at least one challenge (I’m not good a these…)
Books to read
- Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber or Sister Mine
- Nnedi Okorafor – Akata Witch or Zahrah the Windseeker
- Catherynne M. Valente – Six-Gun Snow White (finished 15th May 2013)
- Margo Lanagan – Sea Hearts/The Brides of Rollrock Island
- Anthology: (re)Visions: Alice (finished 14th May 2013)
The Joker Pile
If, for whatever reason, I can’t get into the books listed above, these are the jokers that are also high on my to-read list. Of course I may just read whatever newest novel falls into my greedy little hands but these here are given preference.
- Patrick Ness – Monsters of Men
- Theodora Goss – The Thorn and the Blossom
- Karin Lowachee – Warchild
- Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao
- Jenni Fagan – The Panopticon
- Jean-Christophe Valtat – Aurorarama
- Anthology: Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant – Steampunk!
- Anthology: Ekaterina Sedia – Circus
Pages read: ~110
Total pages read: ~110
Books started: 1
Books continued: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 0
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber
- Various Authors – (re) Visions: Alice
I did well today. I only worked in the afternoon so I spent some of the morning reading, and I used my tube ride for reading as well. It may not have been a full 2 hours but I usually get about half an hour to an hour of reading time before bed. As for the actual books, I’m not loving the (re) Visions: Alice anthology but it’s a quick read and I’ll be done with it either today or tomorrow. Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber on the other hand is brilliant but will also take me much longer to read. It uses Jamaican patois a lot which means I read much more slowly in order not to miss anything. But so far, I am stunned and hope it will continue being this good.
Edit: Turns out I was too tired from work to read in bed. Oh well, better luck on Tuesday.
Pages read: ~125
Total pages read: ~230
Books started: 0
Books continued: 2
Total number of books I’ve read: 1
- Various Authors – (re) Visions: Alice (finished)
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (30%)
- Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice (32%)
Work was surprisingly stressful on Tuesday but I did get my two hours of reading time, plus a little audio book time on the side (not worth mentioning really, I fell asleep while listening in bed). I managed to finish my anthology for the challenge which turned out to be only okay. Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber took a highly interesting turn and by now I am completely used to the patois. The language flows beautifully!
In the evening, I couldn’t resist and continued In the Cities of Coin and Spice, which is getting better and better. If I didn’t have to work at 7am on Wednesday I would have read all night.
On the goal of making new friends and participating in challenges: I had a lot of fun with the Book Soundtrack Challenge and have already found so many wonderful new blogs that I’m swimming in recommendations.
I would call this a very successful day 2.
Pages read: ~ 185
Total pages read: ~ 415
Books started: 1
Books continued: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 2
- Catherynne M. Valente – Six-Gun Snow White (finished)
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (35%)
Today was insanely busy at work but I only had to work half the day and got enough reading time in the afternoon. I don’t know why but I picked up Six-Gun Snow White and read it in one go. My review will be up either Thursday evening or Friday (I work 10 hours on Thursday, so not sure if I’ll be able to write anything that day). But it’s a Cat Valente book so obviously it was amazing. Midnight Robber is still very good but I’m afraid my mood is pushing me in other directions at the moment. Maybe I’ll start another anthology tomorrow – it’s quite nice being able to read a short story and put the book away for a while without missing important plot parts or forgetting who the characters are.
As every day, I have been visiting lots of other blogs today. It’s amazing and wonderful how many different kinds of readers come together in this challenge. There are people who read tons of classics, a few SFF readers like yours truly, romance readers, fans of historical fiction, crime and thriller readers, and lots of YA fans. But the sheer diversity of book titles and genres makes me happy.
Pages read: ~ 30
Total pages read: ~ 445
Books continued: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 2
- Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice (35%)
I had a 10 hour work day today so now (Thursday evening) I’m pretty much dead. I’ll go take a shower now and read a few pages in bed if I can. I knew this day would be a failure in terms of reading challenges but work is work.
EDIT: I did read for half an hour or so in bed and – as usual with Valente’s books – could have continued all night. But work has taken its toll and my eyes were falling asleep. But only one more work day, then it’s weekend and I’ll be able to catch up on my lost reading time today.
Pages read: ~ 115
Total pages read: ~ 560
Books continued: 2
Total number of books I’ve read: 2
- Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice (46%)
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (54%)
I was lucky. Working longer yesterday (and in general) paid off – I got to leave work at 2pm today and spent half the afternoon sleeping and reading. Midnight Robber seems to be one of those books that, once put away, don’t appeal to me very much anymore, but as soon I as pick it up again I’m so intrigued that I ask myself what the problem was.
There isn’t much to say about In the Cities of Coin and Spice because it continues as brilliantly as it started. Yes, some stories are more heartbreaking than others, but I could never pick a favorite. It’s wonderful that characters from In the Night Garden reappear or at least we find out what became of them. I still have no idea how this book might end.
My Bout of Books Friday went really well and I can’t tell you how glad I am that it’s finally weekend. I’m pretty sure I’ll finish my Hopkinson book and, since I just bought a new (and quite short) novel, I may go rogue and read that one too, even thought it’s not even on the joker pile.
Pages read: ~ 80
Total pages read: ~ 640
Books continued: 2
Total number of books I’ve read: 2
- Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice (50%)
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (70%)
Here I thought I would finish another book today. But life happens and this was our first opportunity this week to do some necessary shopping. That took up all morning and then my boyfriend put on the pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica, which felt like 3 hours long but was so good I couldn’t not watch it. And there you go. My first free day of the week and I didn’t read nearly as much as on the busier days. But hey, there is still Sunday and because Monday is a holiday, I tought I’ll continue the challenge inofficially until then.
I almost forgot to mention that I participated in the Twitter chat. What an insane amount of fun! This was my first Twitter chat ever and it was chaotic and hectic and awesome. Chatting with the other participants and seeing their answers was so much fun. I seriously needed to pee but didn’t want to leave the computer screen out of sight for fear of missing the end of the chat. That’s how much I enjoyed it.
Pages read: ~ 198
Total pages read: ~ 835
Books started: 1
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
- Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (finished)
- Margo Lanagan – Sea Hearts/The Brides of Rollrock Island (25%)
I finished my Nalo Hopkinson book and it just kept getting better towards the end. Can’t wait to read more by this fantastic author. On a side note, I also can’t believe how long it took me to discover her, same as Cat Valente and Margo Lanagan. Why isn’t everybody talking about these amazing women? They write stories that boggle the mind in how beautiful and original and rich they are.
Margo Lanagan stole my heart with Tender Morsels and while I am not quite as enchanted with Sea Hearts so far, it is still a very gripping read. What’s more, it features a fat protagonist who feels worthless and is constantly tormented by her sisters and schoolfriends. I love how this story, in the first quarter already, shows us that a girl who is not considered beautiful by the people of her village, even her own family, can be amazing in somebody’s eyes. I will take Misskaella over the perfect princesses most YA offers any day!
UPDATE: Aaaaaand we’re done. Bout of Books has been the most fun read-a-thon/challenge I have participated in and there is no question I will join the next time (unless I’m on holiday during that week). I have read 3 books that were high on my pile and even discovered a new and wonderful author. Even though I didn’t read a full 2 hours every day, I tried to make up for it on days that were less busy work-wise. Altogether I would declare this read-a-thon a success – not only did I meet tons of like-minded people (whose blogs I am now following) and participate in a hilarious twitter chat, but I believe I am also completely out of my reading slump. Yep, you may call me a Bout of Books fan from now on.
Yes. This is happening.
I have only ever participated in one read-a-thon (Dewey’s 24-hour read-a-thon) and my experience was okay. Nothing I would do again. But. Bout of Books turns it up to 11 and declares an entire week a read-a-thon. I do have a job and am completely useless without my 8 hours of sleep, but next week, I have three short work days plus the weekend. Since I was ill all of last week I didn’t get much reading done (couch, TV, blanket, tea, sleep – not good for reading goals). So I have decided to join in and see how it goes.
For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, here’s what this is:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 13th and runs through Sunday, May 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 7.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team
If you’re interested and want to join in the fun, go here and sign up. Happy reading!
I picked this book up for two reasons. One, the Book Smugglers have a major love affair with Frances Hardinge’s books. And, two, I trust children’s books much more at the moment than I do YA. I never thought I could shy away from an entire genre but the pile of crap that is being published lately is disturbing. I am sticking with adult books and, to get my dose of whimsy, books for younger kids. Thanks to Ana and Thea for the recommendation – this was a blast.
Published by: Macmillan, 2005
ebook: 448 pages
Series: Fly by Night #1
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: “But names are important!”, the nursemaid protested.
A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution. Mosca Mye has spent her childhood in a miserable hamlet, after her father was banished there for writing inflammatory books about freedom. Now he is dead and Mosca is on the run, heading for the city of Mandelion. There she finds herself living by her wits among cut-throat highwaymen, spies and smugglers. With peril at every turn, Mosca uncovers a dark plot to terrorize the people of Mandelion, and soon merry mayhem leads to murder . . .
With an unforgettable cast of characters and an inspiring message at its heart – sometimes the power of words can change the world
It’s going to be very difficult to talk about this novel without rehashing the entire plot. So I will only give you the basics. Mosca Mye runs away from home, with only her trusted goose from hell, Saracen, by her side. Her journey will take her to the rather unsuccessful conman Eponymous Clent, and later into the city of Mandelion. There, conspiracies are brewing under the surface, an illegal printing press has the Stationers Guild up in arms, and Mosca manages to get herself right into the center of the political intrigue.
Which leads me to the first two things that impressed me. First of all, Frances Hardinge manages to put a quite complicated political situation in a children’s book and make it accessible despite its intricacies. Sure, I can hear the outcry of certain parents (the same ones who cried out about Cat Valente’s Fairyland books) that this may be too difficult for a child to understand, but I’ve always been of the opinion that people can only grow when they are confronted with something new. And children spend most of their time discovering things they don’t understand. Yet. That said, it did take me a while to understand how the political factions are connected to each other. The Guilds – Stationers, Locksmiths, Watermen – each came to life after a while and I came to see a bigger picture.
The second thing that made me adore this story was the author’s phenomenal imagination. There is very little 18th century England in this novel, most of it is pure made-up brilliance. Be it the religion – one with numerous gods, shrines, and giving children a name befitting the Beloved under which they were born – the city of Mandelion, where coffee houses are found on boats and can float down the river at a moment’s notice, or the politics governing that city. Mosca is born under Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butterchurns (see why I love this?) and is thusly named Mosca – fly in Spanish. I found it stunning and refreshing and was reminded a little bit of the Flora Segunda books. Every page offers something new to the greedy reader and these things can range from downright hilarious, to scary, to surprising. You will look for boring moments in vain.
The only reason I haven’t mentioned the characters yet is because the abovementioned two points stand out so much they had to come first. But Mosca Mye definitely deserves to be noticed, not only because she is a plucky heroine with her heart in the right place and her body often in the wrong place and the wrongest of tiems, but also because she is a girl I wholeheartedly want my own children to love and look up to. Mosca doesn’t always do what’s right, but she always does what she believes to be the right thing. She is not perfect. Living in the swampy town of Chough has made her eyebrows almost seethrough, her face is often described as ferrety and her looks don’t even figure into the plot at all. What a refreshing notion – and one I see much better done in Middle Grade fiction than YA, for some reason. While the side characters don’t show up a whole lot, they each have personality and a distinct voice that made it easy for me to know who was talking, even without the “xyz said”. Eponymous Clent especially has grown on me with his flowery speech and the big words he uses.
While this wilde adventure is over and Mosca is mostly unscathed (come on, that’s not a spoiler), there is a sequel to Fly by Night which I will be reading quite soon. After all, there is some unfinished business to take care of and I have a hunch that Mosca won’t be far from it when things culminate…
And after all, it was Mosca who said:
THE GOOD: Great characters having a wonderful adventure in a wildly imaginative world. Politics, intrigues, and ideas that will challenge kids to think for themselves. A heroine that is lovable and concerned with things other than boys and her looks. Yay.
THE BAD: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the political intrigue may be a bit over their head. Honestly, I think even without understand all the details, kids will still enjoy this story for the fun adventure that it is.
BONUS: Saracen, the goose. Unstoppable.
THE VERDICT: 7,5/10 – Very good.
April is the cruellest month… this year, that is a little bit true. Mid-month, I found myself in a reading slump where I picked up book after book, read a few pages, but couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm to continue any of them. Then I realised I still have a bunch of Cat Valente books on my TBR. And the month was saved!
Books read: 9
Thereof comics: 4
Pages read: 1493
Series started: The Orphan’s Tales
Series continued: The Codex Alera
Series finished: -
This was a very pleasant surprise. Having watched All The Seasons of 30 Rock with my boyfriend, I wanted to find out more about Tina Fey. This audiobook was a lot of fun and gave a little insight into the comedienne’s life. Since she reads it herself, there is the extra bonus of hearing her voice tell embarrassing stories, doing her Sarah Palin impersonation, and generally being funny. Recommended for fans of Tina Fey’s or people who enjoy a few hours of hilarious memoir.
A charming and witty retelling of the Senegalese folktale “Ansige Karamba, the Glutton”. I enjoyed the actual retelling (the first few chapters) a lot more than the rest of the book, and I honestly don’t think I will remember the story for very long. But it was wonderfully refreshing to read a fantasy story with a non-medieval-Europe setting, with a protagonist who is a woman of color, and to recognise gods from African folklore. When I found out this book featured Anansi, I was already sold.
What utter and complete trash. Bad writing paired with a terrible, terrible romance between an old man and a teenage girl. And of course the girl is oh-so-special but never has to work for anything in her life. Having blue hair and being pretty is enough. Oh yes, everybody in this book is so beautiful, the author spends pages upon pages telling us. The only good thing about this was the world-building in the beginning. It could have been something. But apparently, publishers don’t care very much about quality anymore. Just give the hordes of Twilight fans more of the same. Let them eat
Comic writer and artist Léo continues his Worlds of Aldebaran saga in this second cycle of comic books. We join old characters – first and foremost Kim, my personal favorite – and meet a ton of new ones. The art and world-building done through it were wonderful, the planet Betelgeuse offering a rich flora and fauna to lose yourself in. Plotwise, there were flaws, but nothing bad enough to stop reading. What almost did stop me was the characters and the representation of women. Now, I have no problems with comics showing naked people, in fact I think it is only natural that when somebody takes a shower (even in a comic book) they take off their clothes. But it seemed a bit forced in these books. There was endless talk about boob size and fake woman angst. Every man falls in love with Kim, for no reason that I could see (other than her being awesome) after having known her for a day or two. Sex in fiction is great, when done well. Here it just felt like the writer got carried away and wanted to draw more breasts and have men whisper into Kim’s ears how they can barely contain themselves… [insert eye rolling here]
John Crowley – Engine Summer 6,5/10
I am still not sure I understood this book. Complex in its language, it takes you on a trip through a post-apocalyptic world with its own mythology and cultures. Personally, the “poetic” language got on my nerves a little and felt forced and overdone. Since the characters were kept (deliberatley?) distant from the reader, I had a hard time working up enough empathy to care about the things happening to them. This is a very strange little book that wasn’t much improved even by its twist-ending. On the other hand, it let me explore another type of science fiction that has little to do with space ships or badly portrayed dystopias.
The worst in the Codex Alera series so far. Butcher still writes riveting action sequences and keeps me on the edge of my seat, but he got lazy with his characters, relying on their personalities being established already. Some of them act completely out of characters, others are reduced to caricatures of their former selves (Kitai!). I also had problems with the pacing and plotting. The jumps between viewpoint characters seemed erratic and killed the suspense of certain plotlines. Princep’s Fury left me with an overwhelming feeling of meh.
BOOKS I’M DRAGGING INTO MAY:
Frances Hardinge – Fly by Night
So far, incredibly charming and original. Mosca is a clever and lovable heroine, the world she lives in is unlike anything I’ve read before, and the tone reminds me a bit of the Flora Segunda books, which I have shown a lot of love here on the blog. Frances Hardinge is definitely worth a read and I am once again happy that there are still good books for you people being published.
Catherynne M. Valente – The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden
Oh Cat Valente, I can always rely on you. If I start describing how enchanted I am by this book, I will surely get carried away. Just this much then: I love the complicated, incricate structure. It shows that the author trust us readers to be smart enough to keep up and draw their own conclusions. The cast of characters is vast and diverse and I don’t think I have ever read a book that shows so much love for each of them. Be they monsters or men, three-breasted women or enchanted geese, firebirds or a tree who is also a girl, they each have a story to tell and they are each incredibly well-drawn. Yeah… expect another gushing fangirl review soon.
Kaye Chazan, Amanda Ching, Hilary Thomas, C.A. Young – (re)Visions: Alice
This is a short anthology of stories about Alice in Wonderland. I have read the first story and liked it, and am now halfway through the second one. These are wonderful when I have little time to sink into a book – on the subway, waiting for the bus, etc. – and can only snatch up a few pages at a time. So far, it is a recommendation, but I don’t know what the last two stories have in store for me.
I finished the penultimate instalment of the Codex Alera a few days ago. The fact that I didn’t immediately write down my thoughts goes to show that I was quite underwhelmed this time around. Having come this far, I will obviously listen to the last book in the series, but just to put it into perspective: Had this been a standalone novel or the first in a series, I wouldn’t feel the need to read anything else by Butcher. SPOILERS for books 1-4 ahead…
Published by: Penguin Audio, 2008
Audiobook: 17 h 46 min
Paperback: 640 pages
Series: Codex Alera #5
My rating: 6/10
First sentence: Raucus had cut his teeth in battle at fourteen years of age.
Tavi of Calderon, now recognized as Princeps Gaius Octavian and heir to the crown, has achieved a fragile alliance with Alera’s oldest foes, the savage Canim. But when Tavi and his legions guide the Canim safely to their lands, his worst fears are realized.The dreaded Vord—the enemy of Aleran and Cane alike—have spent the last three years laying waste to the Canim homeland. And when the Alerans are cut off from their ships, they find themselves with no choice but to fight shoulder to shoulder if they are to survive.For a thousand years, Alera and her furies have withstood every enemy, and survived every foe.The thousand years are over…
Jim Butcher returns to his well-established characters pretty much where he left them off in Captain’s Fury. Once again, the foe threatening the kingdom of Alera is the Vord, that alien species which seems to adapt to any circumstances and grow more terrifying the more they are defied. Pretty early on, I knew I wouldn’t love this book. Tavi’s storyline takes place entirely out of Alera – first we follow him on a sea voyage drawn out for no good reason and slowing down the plot any time the point of view switched to Tavi. Isana, Amara, Bernard, and Ehren may be up to interesting things of their own – Isana trying to make peace with the Icemen in the north, Amara and Bernard on a dangerous mission for the First Lord, and Ehren just genearlly having his hands in a bit of everything. But the pacing was so off in this volume that I could rarely work up interest in any plotline.
Tavi’s storyline was by far the weakest, although it did have its moments of edge-of-your-seat action (we know Jim Butcher is good at writing those). Amara’s story being the most nuanced in that it is about more than travelling and looking at the Vord destroy everything (althout a fair bit of that, too), still wasn’t up to par. Obviously, this book benefits from me already having enjoyed the volumes that came before, and the author’s laziness in character development was balanced out by my memories of who the characters are. I don’t mind authors who let their readers do part of the work in creating a vibrant world and characters that feel real. But this is not that kind of create-a-world-together, it’s the kind of I-already-told-you-who-Isana-is-now-I-don’t-feel-like-giving-her-depth-anymore. The ladies especially suffered from this laziness. Kitai rarely has anything better to say than that she worries about Tavi, Isana is the strawman peacemaker, willing to sacrifice everything for her country – remember her opinion in the former books? She didn’t seem to give much of a fuck about politics, it was her loved ones and her quiet live she cared about. If the author had show us what had brought about this change, I would have been fine with it. This way it is just inconsistent.
This is not only true of the female characters. Some of the most interesting male side characters also lose all their depth. And I can’t even tell you in favor of what! Because there isn’t enough quick-succession action or complex politics to justify that lack of love for your characters, Mr. Butcher. Altogether, the book seemed like an unnecessary instalment in the series, where the author relied too heavily on the work done in previous books, and offered very little that was new or pushed the actual plot forward.
Having let the book “settle” for almost a week and looking back at its entirety, it just feels like a big mess. Plotstrings, characters, and world-building all seem to me extremely confused. The Canim, for example, have been established as a people who rely on hierarchy and demonstration of power, almost like a pack of wolves (because obviously). Their actions have always seemed consistent within that set of rules so far, but now even they acted out of character, being too trusting or, at times, just plain stupid. The Icemen didn’t even merit being properly introduced as anything other than “those barbarians in the north”. They are humanized to some degree but, let’s face it, they are not really written as people, just another stand-in threat that needs to heroically be resolved.
Needless to say, this was not my favorite book in the series. But Butcher continues to write in a way that is gripping and intriguing, at least when it comes to action. He seriously let his characters drift and unlike the other novels in the series, this one does not offer a proper ending. Some of those random plot-threads are semi-resolved, everything else is still chaos, literally and figuratively. Alera is struggling against an overwhelming enemy and any structure goes down the drain, and I was struggling to keep interested in (fictional) peoples’ lives who didn’t read at all like the characters I had come to know and love.
THE GOOD: Good, thrilling action and fight scenes.
THE BAD: Confused on so many levels: plot threads, character development, politics, and world-building.
THE VERDICT: As a standalone, I would not recommend this. But having almost finished the series, I won’t stop here now. My hope is high that Butcher got back to old form in the last book and delivers a well-plottet story peopled with lovable characters again. Fingers crossed…
RATING: 6/10 – Okay
The Codex Alera: