Category Archives: Books

Pontificating

Wow, so, hey! What a turn up for the books (pun always intended). Let’s catch you up:

I still haven’t finished Rivka’s Christmas present and her birthday is right around the corner as well. Oops! She’s super into scarves and headwrapping at the moment though so I imagine a couple of lovely layering linens will go down a treat. Or maybe that’s to throw her off the scent and I’m going to buy her books. Or make her something… Hmmm… I guess in a month we’ll find out.

I am still reading. Always reading. Not doing very well with Book Bingo. A lot of the books I have don’t fit into those categories… but I’m working on it. There’s no time limit, right? Right?

I have, however, read an amazing debut novel from Paul M M Cooper. River of Ink is a sumptuous narrative set in Sri Lanka in the thirteenth century. Cooper himself hesitates to call it ‘historical fiction’ (as you can hear for yourselves in the Papertrail podcast interview he did). I can see why: it’s very much a character piece so really the history side of it is just the window dressing. But it’s an extremely beautiful window. The story is told by Asanka the court poet. He is translating an epic saga poem for his new master. The world of Sri Lanka is exquisitely constructed – Cooper has clearly done a lot of research and I think spent time over there getting to know his locations firsthand – and the language is poetic, as you would expect, but not laboured.

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Asanka is narrating the tale to his lover, who appears in the tale as well, and his relationship with her also tells us a lot about his character. Asanka is quite set in his ways but if he considers something worthwhile he will stubbornly and doggedly pursue it. He excuses his transgressions on occasion, while being critical of others, but the strength he doesn’t know he has slowly comes to the surface. He is a reluctant hero, and he fights his war with words. Be in no doubt: it is a story of conflict and violence and death, but Cooper weaves those harsh moments deftly through the real point of the story. He clearly very much loves words and language and poetry. Hang on, do I mean Asanka or Cooper? Both. Oh, very both.

I had the joy or reading part of this book in a beautifully painted roulotte caravan and being surrounded by peacock motifs, turquoise, purples and greens while reading on a chaise longue was almost like heaven. I mean, I don’t think I can attribute that to Cooper, but hey why not.

Other than listening to some audiobook Neverwhere (narrated by Neil Gaiman himself who as you know is not always my favourite person but at least he gets to make the characters sound the way he intended them to and he doesn’t do a bad job) I have almost from nowhere discovered podcasts. I know. I’ve always been behind the curve. My friend Jim told me I should listen to Hello, From the Magic Tavern and since I always listen to Jim I did so. Fifty episodes in, I’m now trying to eke them out as I don’t want to catch up so quickly and run out of them! Waiting for a new episode every week is for losers #Netflixgeneration

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If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a comedy podcast hosted by Arnie Niekamp from Chicago. He fell through a dimensional portal in a Burger King drive-thru and landed in a magical land called Foon. He hosts the podcast (so lucky that he had the equipment with him in his car!) from a tavern called the Vermillion Minotaur and usually he co-hosts with a wizard called Usidore and a shapeshifter called Chunt. They have local guests and tell stories and Arnie is trying to get his head around life in Foon. It’s mostly improvised and they do try to trip each other up a little, but the continuity is great and they’ve really built a bizarre and wonderful world. My personal favourite episodes usually involve Mittens (the national sport of Foon) and its weird rules, Glenn Miller & Spants the travelling bards, or more recently the episode called Offices & Bosses, which is about a roleplaying game that is popular in Foon. You may not need me to tell you the premise of that. Also any time a wizard introduces themselves they do so with their full name including all nicknames and regional variations. The first time I heard Spintax the Green’s full name I could not stop laughing for a literal five minutes.

It’s rude, it’s bold and it’s hilarious. You currently have 62 episodes to get through. What are you waiting for?

Next projects… well… I’m sewing a manticore onto a cushion cover. As one does. Also trying to be more accountable to my creativeness. I was thinking about this the other day – I will always have projects on the go of one sort or another. I will write, I will stitch, I will take the vacuum apart and put it back together again (guess what I did yesterday?) or occasionally I may even draw. I need those things. But not in the same way I used to. As a teen, I wrote a lot (A LOT) of awkward angsty poetry. I wrote fanfiction. I wrote angry cathartic stories. I did some other things, too, like friendship bracelets and weird sketches and things. All that, I feel, was partly due to my latent personality being desperate for recognition.

Since hitting my twenties, and since finding decent friends and a fulfilling lifestyle, that focus has shifted. I don’t have to pretend to be “normal” whatever that means. No more Suzy-Highschool. So that drive to pour my real self into stories or fabric or drawing (and the odd cringeworthy song) has become less necessary. I am who I am on the outside now. Luckily. I may have a few grey hairs but I’m also independent, employed, in a great relationship… despite being a massive nerd and weirdo. So hoorah for that! Now I get to do the projects I want to do. Make things that are pretty or that I know others will like as gifts. I get to do for fun what I used to do for sanity.

Screw the normals! Well, actually, don’t screw them, because in my experience they’re not very good at it. To mix in another metaphor: I’m not hungry for it any more. My soul isn’t starving. I can nibble, and I want a snack, but I don’t need a big banquet of brain release. I’m happier. So that’s a good thing. Less productive maybe, but I’m productive in other ways. Emotional bridges, a little bit of mindfulness, taking care of my body, just actually chilling out… all the things I couldn’t really do when I was younger. I may be growing as a person. Horrifying.

And now for bacon. And listening to podcasts.

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A Stitch in Time

This week, I have mostly been… well, I’m not really sure. I’ve not been doing much reading, I’ve done no writing, so I must have been working on Rivka’s Christmas surprise! And I have. I’m writing an update post for that soon, scheduled for after Christmas Day.

VERY EXCITING THOUGH: Katie Cross has sent me a copy of The High Priest’s Daughter and I am clearing the decks for that one. I will be tucked up early tonight so I can dive back into Antebellum and the crisis in the Central Network. I hope there are more dragons.

VERY EXCITING THING THE SECOND: A very clever chap I know has been giving me sneaky previews of his new book. E O Higgins is powering up his steam-word-processing-engine and bringing us a sequel to Conversations with Spirits (eventually).

Slow progress with all other book type things. Though I did catch a bit of Roald Dahl day last weekend. His books – particularly Matilda (guess why) and The Witches – were some of the most-read on my shelves. And as I got older, I graduated to the short story collections for more grown up readers. The macabre and twisted worlds he created, with their often grotesque inhabitants… well, there was no one like him. The Hitchhiker, Man from the South, Royal Jelly to name a few, freaked me out but kept me hooked to the very last sentence.

Rivka taught me dragonscale smocking the other week. It was a crazy Saturday smocking party in the Highlands! I think technically it’s a type of American smocking, but we know it mainly from the costume lady on Game of Thrones because she used it to make the textured scale effect on Daenerys’s blue dresses. But it looks really cool. It’s puffy, but you can iron it flat. Rivka has done more of it than me, but I might find a use for it…

So baaaasically I’ve been crafting and working. And not getting enough sleep. But I’m working on it. I have some holiday coming up in a few weeks that is going to be hectic (understatement) but productive. And then NaNoWriMo. Holy swearwords!

And now, back up to the attic…

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Jogging my memory

Currently reading: C C Humphreys, Vlad

Hey you guys! I must be back at work full time because my online presence is virtually nil! The last few weeks I have mostly been planning and prepping for winter projects. And working. And, as a shock to me let alone anyone else, doing more exercise. All I need to do now is add blogging to the routine.

I’m still working through my TBR pile, and matching it to Book Bingo. So far I have crossed off two from the bingo board:

Author from another culture: Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune

Been on the to-read pile for more than 2 years: Stephen Hunt, Secrets of the Fire Sea

book bingo

Slowly getting through Vlad. It’s hard to place for me because the late fifteenth century in the Ottoman Empire region is not something I know much about. So I have no idea how well-researched it is. But it’s a very butch read at the moment. Teen bravado and mysticism and a bit of brooding.

Coming up next will be a project post for a little bag I made for my friend’s daughter for her gym kit. Hopefully I will explain it alright and the pictures will make sense!

I’m very aware that November is looming its ugly, cold, drizzly head. And with that comes NaNoWriMo. The annual scramble to remember our logins begins soon. Last year we came back to the news that our amazing ML had passed away, and it was a sad time to be a writer in Scotland Elsewhere region. But we pulled together a great little group for write-ins in Inverness and did her proud! Rivka and I met at a write-in, and kept in touch leading to us moving in together. Last year we met, amongst others, two lovely guys that we have also kept in touch with and now count as good friends.

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Writing, though it can be a very individual pursuit, is what has brought me into contact with so many lovely and talented people. Handily, we converse through words on the Internet a lot of the time, but our little local group also has dinners and coffee and games nights. Last time we met up, we played Exploding Kittens and Articulate and laughed until we hurt. So I hope we have a similar experience this year and find another couple of weirdos to add to our wordy family. Regardless of how many words we write (though I’m sure Rivka will zoom past 50k as she always does) we still win.

So that’s what I’m up to. Preparing to clear the decks for Katie Cross again – her next book, The High Priest’s Daughter, comes out in TEN FREAKIN’ DAYS on 15th September and she has once again kindly allowed me to have an ARC. I’m excited but with it being really tense now… ooooh. What next? How will it end?

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An end of trilogy coming up soon – Rivka has just about finished Coven so the end of the Last Ancient series is approaching… I think at the end of the month? Then she has A Kiss from the Grave on the cards for a spooky Hallowe’en release. It’s a horror story with possession and demons and apparently you won’t sleep with the lights off for a while. In case you missed it, here’s the book trailer. 100% real, no CGI effects!

Now onto the next job: putting the kettle on! Stay hip and happening, you crazy cats.

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Review – Mildred’s Resistance

**DISCLAIMER** I was sent this book because I was super-excited about it on Twitter.

**DOUBLE DISCLAIMER** I just realised I can embed GIFs. I’m not sorry.

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Mildred’s Resistance is the prequel for Katie Cross’s YA Network series. The plot takes us back to the youth of the current High Priestess – Mildred – and explains how the actions of her generation have shaped and influenced the plots of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening. Most of the story takes place in and around Chatham Castle, the seat of power, and the people who work there. As it’s a prequel, if you’ve read Miss Mabel’s, you sort of know where it’s going. But just like when you see a documentary about events leading up to a war, or an assassination, it’s the journey and all those turning-point-moments that make it so interesting.

What I love about this story is the little touches that give depth to the characters: Evelyn is always in the middle of a drama, and serves herself the biggest slice of cake to compensate; Mildred crops her hair in order to feel like herself; half the cabinet are alcoholics… the little actions build into the big actions. The little check points along the way may leave you frustrated because it’s so clear how a character could have taken a different path but they sabotage themselves a lot.

Evelyn starts out a bit like Gwendoline Mary from the Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton. She is spoiled and treated well so she gets arrogant and obnoxious. But the tragedy of her childhood is a weakness that runs through her and drives her actions more than she thinks. Even when it’s on the surface, and she’s talking about her plans to “lead the poor” (i.e. oppress the poor), what it really comes down to is her abandonment issues. May (the grandmother of the Miss Mabel who runs the school in Bianca’s time) twists that fear for her own purposes, and gives her an outlet for it, but really, Evelyn is just a scared girl lashing out because she never grieved properly for her parents.

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Mildred has a similar start in life, but since her mother doesn’t know the High Priestess, she has to go and be poor somewhere else, with her brother. The differences in the way they grow up show all too clearly how divergent your path can get dependent on tiny choices and decisions, and your own personality and drive. Mildred finds magic difficult. She has to study harder and work longer than Evelyn and Stella, and even then it’s hit or miss. But she keeps going. She doesn’t blame external sources for her problems. Isadora, the Watcher who interviews the girls for what school they’ll go to, rejects Mildred from May’s school and sends her to another. She is separated from Stella and Evelyn who both go to May. And you’ll see how that turns out. Evelyn, the other hand, takes all obstacles as personal insults, or deliberate actions against her (egged on by May). Anyone who tries to check her is obviously jealous.

There are a few “aha!” moments for people who have read the other books in the series, as you realise who people are (including one near the end!!!) but you wouldn’t suffer if you hadn’t read them. This is an excellent prequel that you could read before you start the main series without anything being spoiled, or later to fill in the background to the world. What I like about the world in general is that people have ordinary names. There’s a tendency in fantasy – even fantasy with mainly human characters – for names to go down the extreme-sports thunder spectrum. I like that in the Network, ordinary people with ordinary names are the people who are doing the things. Some of the names are old-fashioned, but they’re not elfy-magic names. I’m sure you know what I mean.

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What I appreciate about all the Network books is that most of the characters are female. They still cover the range of motivation and emotion and personality that a typical male-driven fantasy would do, but wouldn’t you know it, the women still manage to carry the story! The male characters are important, and they are still fleshed out, but it is all about the building tension between Mildred and Evelyn. Neither of them shy away from a fight, or from doing the dirty work, but Cross also allows them to be vulnerable without losing integrity. The mainly female cast almost slips by unnoticed, until you think about it, because all the characters are people not just fantasy stereotypes. This would be excellent for any book, but I think for a YA book it’s important. While that might not be the point, and of course you have to write the story, it’s always great that as a by-product you get kickass ladies leading the way.

I very much enjoyed this book and am now even more excited about the next – The High Priest’s Daughter – which hopefully won’t be too far away either!

Mildred’s Resistance is released on 15th July! That’s next week!

More information can be found on Katie’s website, and you can find her on Twitter, here.

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Vacate your mind, but not your bookshelf

Currently just finished: The Magicians

Alright, guys and gals, it’s round-up time.

I’m still working on my master list, and have just crossed another off. I need to cheat a little though, because I just got my ARC of Mildred’s Resistance by Katie Cross, and I’m really looking forward to diving into that! Katie wrote me a really sweet message as well, just to butter me up a little 😉 It’s the prequel to the Network series (Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening) ahead of the third main timeline book set for this autumn!) and will give the back story for Mildred and Evelyn… two witches who were once best friends… BUT THEN. *thunderclap*

I also roped myself into a book challenge.

book bingo

I’m hoping that doing this bingo card will help me tear through some of my list over the summer, too. Found via Katie who found it via My Little Book Blog who found it via Savidge Reads who did it last year with Books on the Night Stand. You can make your own here. There are loads of prompts – hopefully it’ll help me clear the decks a little.

I’m on summer break now from work, so I’ll have plenty of time for reading. Haha. Hahahahaha. And all the sewing. And anything else I want to do. Plus holidays with the girls I lived with at uni and seeing family. It’s going to be back to work time before I know it! I’m still going to try keeping up with photo blogs for Rivka’s Christmas craft present, and I’ll schedule some posts ready for December and January (the crazy organisation!) as obviously I can’t say what it is or share it now or it’ll ruin the surprise. But soon… sooooooooon…

Ooh, it’s clouding up! Hopefully time for another storm. It’s been crazy hot here north of the Wall, and while summer is welcome (and it’s a lot easier to cope with now I’m not at work and restricted to things like clothing choices and professional language) it has been ridiculous. A good cloud burst will do us all good. That might have been thunder I just heard! Or a tractor. It’s hard to tell round here.

So I just finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I ripped through it, and I kinda like it. It’s a mix of The Catcher in the Rye and The Chronicles of Narnia, which don’t feel like they should gel. And on places they don’t, but that’s sort of the point of the book. I think? I would recommend it though if only because you’ll spend hours trying to work out the rules of Welters – a sort of magicians’ chess with the players as pieces. There’s a sequel, grumble, not that I’m at liberty to get it yet. Grumble.

Try not to melt, you guys. Be like this otter.

MjvGBan

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy – Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love…

Holy effing cow. I love this trilogy. Well, I loved 99% of this trilogy, and that’s pretty good. Laini Taylor has created this behemoth of a story that just keeps on humming. I actually don’t know where to start.

WELL, if you’ve never even picked up one of these books, let me give you a brief window (it probably won’t be brief). We start with Karou, the mysterious girl with blue hair and a weird night-time occupation: she is an artist and a thief and she has a very strange adopted family. No, I need to go further back than that.

We start with Eretz, a world apart from ours but reachable through hidden portals. Eretz is at war with itself. The seraphim and the chimaera are determined to destroy each other, and though the seraphim have the numerical advantage, the chimaera have a seemingly immortal force. These species hate each other. They are all expected to kill on sight. So what happens if a seraph and a chimaera …don’t?

I honestly don’t know how to cover everything I want to say about these books. The prose flows and ebbs with the pace of the story. It breathes as you breathe, it gasps as you gasp. The style is somehow poetic and direct. It never feels pretentious but there are a lot of flourishes. It matches the feel of the world: there is Karou, eccentric, wild and vulnerable racing down the tough cobbled alleyways of Prague. There is hot sand and the hazy perfume of the Kasbah, there is the temple of Ellai in Loramendi the city of the chimaera. Brimstone’s workshop. All these places get woven together and yet all feel natural. The exotic real world settings like the Moroccan desert and the medieval charm of Prague help to segue into Eretz and the world of the chimaera without it being too jarring. For me, a little homebird in Scotland, anyway. It wouldn’t have been so seamless if the main action were set in New York, or Paris. Being able to incorporate different cultures and languages into the story helps to blend the real and the hyper-real. The magic and the mundane layer over each other. It’s a bit Indiana Jones (the good ones). They are also pretty hefty stages. The seraphim and the chimaera are not subtle creations. They need a bold canvas.

The characters that are created are so fragile and human. Karou and Akiva are so similar in some ways that it almost tears them apart forever. They feel envy and fear and make assumptions but are too proud to talk it out. They are almost brave enough… but then the fear comes back and they daren’t risk it. But they can’t stay away from each other. They circle closer and away… closer and closer and away… and hurt each other and love each other and hurt each other again. It never becomes melodramatic, but it is painful in places. If you’ve ever been in relationship limbo, you will relate to their situation, if not the context. In order to survive as species, they need each other and their followers need them. But they’re not supposed to love each other. Balancing their duties and their emotions makes for a bumpy ride.

On the other hand, I love the development of Mik and Zuzana’s romance. It might be a bit immature and fairytale, but we have to remember that Karou and Zuzana are seventeen at the start of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou gets the benefit of all Madrigal’s life experience, but Zuzana doesn’t. Mik and Zuze playing “prince and damsel” is so sweet and uncomplicated in comparison to Karou and Akiva. They’re still main players with their own agency; they don’t exist just to be a counterpoint, but it’s nice that in the background of this life-and-death chaos, there are two people who just fully and unapologetically adore each other.

As I said at the beginning, I love 99% of this trilogy. The slow unravelling of the war and the concepts of identity and self-agency are gripping, and the drama and danger – and romance – that accompany them fizz with intent and a desperation to squeeze everything from the experience. I was more than halfway through each book before I realised it. That has to be a good sign. I needed desperately to know what was going to happen. What was going to be the next trap or the next salvation or the next obstacle? A hundred more pages later…

The latter half of Dreams of Gods and Monsters is where it started to run out of steam, for me. The ending felt anti-climactic. It felt a bit lost. It’s not the way I would have done it. I don’t feel utterly betrayed and let down by the series; it’s an ending that works, but to me it isn’t the best ending. All of a sudden it ran out of pages. I got to the end without realising it was the end. I was expecting one more chapter. But it wasn’t there. It is definitely a five star read, and it will be re-read many times, and lent out and thrust upon people, and considered, but… *sigh* It was so close to perfection. The last few chapters just seemed a bit cobbled together. It’s hard, from such an intense timeframe, to cover the passage of time and come back a while later without it feeling that way, and the characters didn’t suddenly change motivation or anything. It just didn’t play out with the strength that I was expecting. I can’t explain more without spoiling 1800 pages of work.

I see that there is a film potentially in the works, and also that Laini Taylor is already working on a new series. I am very much looking forward to both.

Follow Laini Taylor on Twitter here.

Buy Daughter of Smoke and Bone from Amazon UK here.

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Wednesday

Currently reading: Dreams of Gods and Monsters – Laini Taylor

I’ve been reorganising the site a little. And a new tab up there at the top is a list of all the books I own that I’ve not yet read. I’m trying to get through some backlog before buying more. Ha. I already have my beady eyes on a few little things… So far, though, I have resisted. But my birthday is coming up… hint… hint? I’ll be crossing books off as I read them, and if I post reviews I’ll link them there. I won’t review all of them, but no doubt there will be some I can’t help blabbering about. I’ll try to do a ‘currently reading’ at the top of blog posts if I remember.

My current read will be getting a review. No question. I stared at the shelves when I got home from work last night and didn’t really feel like reading anything (gasp!) so it was sort of grudgingly that I picked up DOGAM. Don’t get me wrong, I was aching to read it, and it is surpassing my wildest dreams so far, but I just didn’t feel up to engaging with any text yesterday. I was two hundred pages in before I realised it had happened. So now I’m back at work and itching to get home because I want so much to do all the reading. All together now… #What a difference a day makes… Twenty-four little hours….

Otherwise, I’ve given myself a new deadline. Scary. I’m going on holiday with some girls from uni at the end of July, and I’m going to try to get the Once Bitten draft done, and a little tidied before I go. So they can read it. I’m not talking super-edited. But readable. They were there when it was begun. They’re in it (currently, but likely to face the chop as there’s too much beginning to the story) and they have been waiting six years to see how it ends. *shrug* So that’s a thing. Then I can get back to the slightly more grown-up projects. Like the steampunk vampire murder… um… or the sci-fi interdimensional bubbles thing… um… oh crap and the fey folk thing… *sigh* Get in line, already!

Finally, Katie Cross has been in touch that the ARCs for Mildred’s Resistance are starting to come through, so I’ll be hopping up and down by the letterbox in a couple of weeks waiting for that. And then the full third book The High Priest’s Daughter to follow in the autumn!! I am one lucky lady. If you don’t know why that’s exciting, take a look at Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and you’ll see what I mean.

And just to get you grooving, a bit of Wednesday on a Wednesday.

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