9 January 2018: Jinian Footseer by Sheri S. Tepper

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Where I got it: Originally part of my husband’s book collection; now I consider all our books to be mine 😉 It’s one of a long and complicated series, and I definitely suggest starting at the beginning if possible with King’s Blood Four.

Genre: Classical high fantasy in a very, very high-magic setting, but (spoilers!) there are some hints as the story develops that it’s actually a lost-colony science-fantasy.

Synopsis: Jinian, a girl of noble birth, lives in a feudal manor house with her almost entirely unpleasant family. The only people who pay her any positive attention are a coven of women from the village, led by the elderly Murzemire. However she lives a reasonably happy, if solitary, life until she is promised as wife to a foreign king in a political power-play (political power-plays are, it seems, the entire basis and raison d’être of this world’s society). She manages to make a deal whereby she will be sent to a prestigious school in a big city for some years pending the marriage, but she is kidnapped just before she is meant to leave. This catalyses her epic journey which takes her into the great Forest of Chimmerdong, where she discovers she has a quest to save the forest – and possibly even to find the Daylight Bell…

Rating: 🦅🐭🦑🐰🐹 🐗🐉 7/10 assorted flitchhawks, bunwits, gobblemoles, d’bor wives…

Read it if: you’ve read at least King’s Blood Four and its two immediate sequels, or else if the “mystery” type of fantasy appeals to you, where you land in medias res and you have to figure out the world from scratch. The worldbuilding is absolutely top-notch, and the magic system(s) are fascinating.

Don’t read it if: you don’t love being plunged head-first into a wildly unfamiliar world where you have to figure out from the start what the heck is going on and what all these unfamiliar words mean. I do tend to enjoy this, but even for me it was a bit much at times. I couldn’t tell, with many details of the setting, whether they were intended to be mysterious or whether I was supposed to know about them from previous books.

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8 January 2018: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

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Where I got it: At some kind of book sale table in a mall somewhere. This is the only L’Engle book I have, and one of only two I’ve read along with A Swiftly Tilting Planet – which in no way detracts from my excitement about the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time movie! (This is the direct chronological sequel to A Wrinkle in Time). I really want all her books, and one day will figure out a way to acquire them.

Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, leaning heavily towards the fantasy side of the genre, but it hangs its cosmic spiritual themes on interesting nuggets of fact from the weirder side of science. Mitochondrial disorders, for example, are quite real, but farandolae are purely fictional. I suppose it’s a children’s book, but everyone should read it.

Synopsis: Meg Murry’s younger brother Charles Wallace is seriously ill with a mysterious disorder of the mitochondria, and their father has been called away to Washington D.C. to help investigate a phenomenon that appears to be causing rips in space. Can something so small and something so large have anything to do with each other? Since this is Madeleine L’Engle, of course they can! Meg is joined by a group of companions from various scales of existence. They are transported to Metron Ariston where size is of no importance, and where they have to battle the forces of evil for the life of Meg’s brother and, ultimately, the entire universe.

Rating: 🌴🌴🌴🌴🌴 🌴🌴🌴 8/10 mature farandolae.

Read it if: you’re a human, or a farandola, or even one of the cherubim (one exception given below, though.)

Don’t read it if: you’re the type of atheist who gets annoyed by spiritual themes in fiction, especially when they’re all mixed up with scientific ones.

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Making trouble for myself

Several books behind at the moment (already!) due to my unfortunate bad-habit-two-for-one-combo of perfectionism and procrastination – you know how the tagline of this blog says “a whole lot of very silly reviews”? And how in “The Rules” it says I reserve the right to write nothing but one weird association or impression, and that I don’t do content warnings?

…And then I went and wrote seven massive effortposts with EVERY THOUGHT I had about the books, including anything I thought might bother sensitive readers, and now I’ve created a precedent that I feel I have to live up to, and the next book I read was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, and I love it and there’s so much I want to say about it and the one after that is an awesome fantasy that I have weird feelings about and there’s so much I want to say about that one too…

Yeah. So I want to catch up by doing some short, low-effort reviews, but that means books I don’t really care about, which means not the ones I’ve just read, which means I need to do a good few more effortposts and then try to find some books that I’m not going to have THOUGHTS about, to allow me to catch up on the posts.

Oh, and: I’m not happy with the blog theme, which is currently Libretto. The font size options are too limited; I have to choose between too big and too small, and I don’t really like the large caps at the beginning of text posts. If anyone has a recommendation for a theme that they enjoy using, please let me know!

7 January 2018: The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones

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Where I got it: I picked this one up from the book table at the art gallery where I help out. (In other news, I’m at home again.) I’d always heard good things about Diana Wynne Jones; I’m particularly intrigued by Howl’s Moving Castle since it was adapted into such an important anime by Miyazaki. This is the first and only DWJ book I’ve managed to get hold of so far.

Genre: Definitely a children’s book, not even young-adult, but none the worse for that. It’s a fantasy of the “mundane-world-plus-magical-item” type, with a strong theme of family.

Synopsis: Siblings Caspar, Johnny and Gwinny have a terrible problem – an ill-tempered Ogre of a new stepfather, not to mention his two horrendously posh ex-boarding-school sons Douglas and Malcolm. It’s altogether too crowded in their little house, and to make matters worse the Ogre roars and rages any time someone makes even the slightest noise! Worst of all, their mother is starting to look tired and harassed. It’s at this point that the Ogre presents Johnny and Malcolm with a pair of rather unusual chemistry sets… Utter chaos ensues, but is there any magic that can help their family get along?

Rating: ⚗⚗⚗⚗⚗ ⚗⚗⚗ 8/10 dodgy-looking flasks.

Read it if: you’re looking for a wild ride of a kids’ book that’s ultimately heartwarming, and is also smart and funny enough for adults to enjoy.

Don’t read it if: you’ve grown out of fairy tales and haven’t yet grown into them again (paraphrasing C. S. Lewis). Or if you hate fun.

Read more – spoilers ahead!

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6 January 2018: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Where I got this: …yeah. The twist this time is that I bought it for my mother-in-law several Christmases ago, because it was the Current Big Thing and looked interesting. Also, I love female Victorian-era explorers and botanists!

Genre: Forget what you think you know about Elizabeth Gilbert: this isn’t Eat, Pray, Love. The woman is a novelist first and foremost; she was one before her forays into memoir and will be one long afterwards. The Signature of All Things is a fictional biography; period drama; adventure; sort of steampunkish but without the sci-fi/fantasy elements of steampunk. It’s a fictional tale of science without being science fiction, that doesn’t hesitate to grapple with existential questions of materialism versus spirituality.

Synopsis: Prodigiously talented botanist Alma Whittaker, tied to her wealthy father’s Pennsylvania estate by the promise she made to her dying mother never to leave him alone, turns to bryology – the study of mosses – a miniature world ignored at the time by most scientists but full of surprises and insights for the close and patient observer. It seems at one point that this will be her whole life, until her peaceful existence is interrupted by a disastrous marriage that eventually sends her to the ends of the earth in search of answers. Answers she finds, in the end, along with a single moment of release for her long-frustrated sexuality, and also a flash of insight that leads to her involvement in the most important biological discovery of the time – and of all time.

Rating: 🌱🌱🌱🌱🌱 🌱🌱 7/10 sprigs of moss.

Read it if: you like big, sweeping period dramas and family sagas, spiced with exotic plants and a good dash of well-researched biology.

Don’t read it if: you’re looking for a true story: it reads like one, but the reason this brilliant woman scientist is left out of the male-dominated mainstream narrative is because she’s a fictional character. Also, if you are offended by masturbation you’re likely to have a problem with this book.

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5 January 2018: The Navigator by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos

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Where I got this: Tell you what, I’ll let you know when I get home and stop borrowing the in-laws’ books. I’d never read this one before, though I have read some others in the same series.

Genre: Indiana Jones-style archaeological adventure by way of Dan Brown, with extra maritime swashbuckling on the side. This is only one of an enormous loosely-connected series of books centred on NUMA,  a fictional government agency (think NASA, but for the sea) invented by Cussler (but escaping the page in the form of this non-profit organisation, founded of course by Clive Cussler).

Synopsis: Ethiopian/Italian anti-smuggling agent for UNESCO, Carina Mechadi, along with NUMA operatives Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala, have to retrieve an ancient statue known as The Navigator, stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 invasion of Baghdad. In accordance with to the venerable traditions of the genre, the artefact isn’t an end in itself but a pawn in international politics, as it may hold clues to pre-Columbian Phoenician contact with the Americas, King Solomon’s gold mines, and possibly even the Ark of the Covenant. Their nemesis is Viktor Baltazar, a mysterious billionaire who wants the Ark for reasons of his own. There’s a romance, naturally. There are pirates. There are secret codes. There are evil henchmen. There is a submersible that looks like a Corvette. And yes, the US Founding Fathers are involved.

Rating: 🗿🗿🗿🗿🗿 5/10 ancient statues.

Read it if: you’re looking for a globe-trotting maritime adventure starring larger-than-life characters who are experts at pretty much everything, with archaeological bits and fights with satisfactorily evil baddies.

Don’t read it if: you can’t suspend disbelief when it comes to completely egregious inaccuracies about the ancient world, because there are a lot of them in this book.

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4 January 2018: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

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Where I got this: In-laws… did you guess? This is the first book so far that I’d never read before. I haven’t even seen the movie, believe it or not.

Genre: Turns out, reading a book every day isn’t so hard, but writing a brilliantly witty blog post (*cough*) every day, is. So I tried to save time by picking the shortest book I could find. At just under 100 pages it’s technically a novella, and in this edition is published together with three of Capote’s short stories: House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar, and A Christmas Memory. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is best understood as a character study.

Synopsis: The unnamed narrator – an aspiring writer dubbed “Fred” after her brother by the main character – lives in the apartment above a girl named Holly Golightly in a New York brownstone. They become friends and he gradually begins to get pulled into her complicated life and to learn bits and pieces about her complicated self. Eventually a thing happens (but that would be a spoiler).

Rating: 🐎🐎🐎🐎🐎 🐎🐎 7/10 horses (Holly really doesn’t care about jewellery).

Read it if: you’re interested in people and their motivations, even if only a tiny bit.

Don’t read it if: incredibly casual use of true-to-period (the book is set during WWII but it really isn’t a war story, only one awful war thing happens…) racist and homophobic language is going to bother you.

Read more – spoilers ahead!

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