The Spectacular Now – Tim Tharp

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sjhigbee:

Here’s a really interesting review on a book – Toni found she had really bonded with the book AFTER she’d finished reading it… Have you had that experience? And which books have fallen into that category?

Originally posted on Toni's Book Blog:

First Published: 1st of November 2008
Length: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

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Summary:

This National Book Award Finalist is now a major motion picture — one of the most buzzed-about films at Sundance 2013, starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

SUTTER KEELY. HE’S the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.

Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a…

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Review of The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove

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I’ve been promising myself this treat for a while – though what with one thing and another, I simply didn’t get around to it. But based on the other offerings in this intriguing godpunk series – see my review of the Age of Aztec here, and my review of The Age of Ra here – I was in for a thoroughly enjoyable read. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, this isn’t a series where you need to read these books in any particular order. The only common theme is that they are about a pantheon of gods – each story is set in a completely different world with unrelated, disparate protagonists.

age of odinGideon Coxall was a good soldier but bad at everything else, until a roadside explosive device leaves him with one deaf ear and a British Army half-pension. So when he hears about the Valhalla Project, it’s like a dream come true. They’re recruiting former service personnel for excellent pay, no questions asked, to take part in unspecified combat operations. The last thing Gid expects is to find himself fighting alongside ancient Viking gods. The world is in the grip of one of the worst winters it has ever known, and Ragnarők – the fabled final conflict of the Sagas – is looming.

Gideon bounces off the page right the start. His sarcastic commentary on the ashes of his life after his terrible accident pulled me in and had me fiercely on his side – which is just as well, because as the story progresses he does some unpleasant things. Of course he does – this is war. And Lovegrove isn’t going to provide us with all the military excitement through some prism that sanitises the bloody brutality of it all. Be warned – Lovegrove also isn’t afraid of killing off main characters.

However, I learnt several books ago, if you relax into the journey and trust this author, he doesn’t disappoint or let you down. And once more, he majorly delivered. This world of the Norse gods has Odin, haunted by past mistakes and grittedly determined not to let the forces ranged against this diminished version of Valhalla get the better of them. I loved that Odin’s pragmatic attitude means they now use mechanical means instead of some of the dire beasts of the past. So the Valkyries swoop across the snowscape on souped-up snowmobiles, and the fabled eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, is replaced by a huge helicopter. It doesn’t mean that all magical creatures are gone, though. The Jotun, the ice giants, are all too evident in this world, as are trolls and packs of ravenous wolves.

Lovegrove weaves a tale of desperate odds and savage encounters – not dissimilar to the flavour of the old Norse legends, themselves. And it is this echo of the original myths that makes Lovegrove’s godpunk such a joy. His style allows readers to easily access his stories on the level of joyous adventure – but there are also tongue-in-cheek allusions and humorous extras for those who know the gods and their stories well enough. As you may have gathered, I’m something of a fan – and this book has only increased my  appreciation of this author. In my opinion, he’s one of the sharpest, best writers in speculative fiction we have. Don’t take my word for it – go and track down one of his books and see for yourself…

10/10

Femininity and Detectives

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sjhigbee:

This is an interesting issue B.D. Hesse has raised in this article – and it doesn’t only crop up in detective fiction… Those of us who enjoy a spot of spec fict will also recognise similar problems…

Originally posted on bdhesse:

I was sitting outside of a classroom earlier today listening to the most interesting discussion. The class was talking about detective fiction and female tropes within them. They discusses the idea of the damsel in distress, and how logic and rationality are considered male characteristics.

The bit that I found the most interesting was the idea that novels that change the narrative around doesn’t actually change the gender characterizations. The example given was The Girl Who Plays With Fire. They mentioned that, despite a strong, rational female character, the gender tropes are still the same. Lisbeth is not seen as a female portraying feminine behaviours, she is a female who is acting like a male. On the other side of it, they discussed The Baskerville Hound. That is a Sherlock Holmes novel where the men become more afraid and irrational. The class discussed how the men weren’t taking a…

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Review of Darkening Skies – Book 2 of The Hadrumal Crisis by Juliet E. McKenna

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So we were on our way to Fantasycon 2014 and as we were arriving a day early, which book would I take with me to tuck into, before all those new offerings tempted us once more to wallow in our book addiction? It was a no-brainer – a collapsing TBR pile uncovered this offering I’d intended to read during the Christmas break…

darkening skiesIn Halferan, Captain Corrain is hailed as a hero, but he knows all praise would turn to anger if the Calalhrians knew the truth. The wizard who supposedly saved them has merely claimed the corsair island for his own, and no one knows what his next move will be. Corrain has good reason to fear the worst, as he confides in Lady Zurenne. He knows he can trust her, now that still more perilous secrets bind them together. But what will the Archmage do now, once he discovers Corrain’s part in the mess? And what of his claim as Baron Corrain to secure Halferan? Will the Parliament ratify his title – or will the widowed Zurenne find her family and holding once more at the mercy of greedy neighbours?

That is, more or less, the blurb on the back of the book. While it is the second book in this series, it could also be described as the fourteenth book as all her books are sited in the same wonderfully complex, vibrant world – see my review of Dangerous Waters here. Again, we have a variety of viewpoints – Lady Zurenne, Captain Corrain and the mage Jileth feature heavily – while poor desperate Hosh, left behind to the mercy of the corsairs while his comrades managed to escape, particularly tugged at my heartstrings.

As ever, McKenna’s clever, nuanced writing drew me in and wouldn’t let go until the tale was over. She wasn’t on the Worldbuilding panels at Fantasycon 2014 (see my writeup here) but she easily could have been, given her books are a masterclass in how to denote the political and social norms in differing societies without holding up the action or boring the reader. It’s a far trickier feat to pull off than McKenna makes it look…

I particularly like her magic system. There is a price to pay for having such power, which will regularly kill the unwary or untrained magic-user, and the ability is far more widespread in the general population than is officially recognised. However, when the likes of the Aldabreshi brutally murder anyone showing the smallest sign of magical talent, it won’t be a surprise to learn that those with magical ability tend to completely supress that aspect of their personality. Even the magical community of Hadrumal are at pains to keep any scrying into Aldabreshi affairs secret for fear of retribution – for all their power, mages can still be torn apart by a mob…

It was a treat to watch Corrain continue to mature and adapt in the light of his experiences. His tendency to act first and think later has cost him dearly in the series so far – and it was enjoyable and interesting to see him develop. Whereas Jileth paid a high price for her intervention during the first book – and is still counting the cost at the start of this volume. As ever, mage politics features heavily in the story – and I enjoyed the twists McKenna introduced that kept me engrossed. If you are a Robin Hobb fan and enjoy intelligent, well-crafted fantasy that doesn’t revert to elves and goblins, then track down McKenna’s writing – each series is standalone – I’m betting you won’t be able to resist a return visit…
9/10

Living With a Book Addict: Where Do You Read?

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sjhigbee:

…anywhere I can manage to read without hurting someone/being rude… Which doesn’t leave as many places to read as I’d like. What about you? Where do YOU read?

Originally posted on Reflections of a Book Addict:

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Our Deck!

I know it’s been a while since my last post, so hello there! For those of you whom I have not acquainted myself with yet, I’m Todd, Kim’s husband and chronicler of life with someone (cough) who is addicted to reading. Yes, it has its ups and downs, and I aim to tell you all about them (with a healthy side of humor) here. Today my aim is a little more physical, rather than emotional or intellectual: where do you read?

It seems an innocuous enough question on its face. “Well that’s easy,” you might say, “I always read on the couch” or “I always read in bed.” Sure, this is boring and vanilla, and I’m sure it’s perfectly true. But, when you come to think of it, you probably read in many more places than just at home on the couch. Planes, trains, car trips, and white…

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Review of Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

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I read Wolf Hall and was blown away by the quality of the writing, depth of characterisation and vivid worldbuilding – see my review here. Would I enjoy the sequel as much?

bring up the bodiesBring Up the Bodies unlocks the darkly glittering court of Henry VIII, where Thomas Cromwell is now chief minister. With Henry captivated by plain Jane Seymour and rumours of Anne Boleyn’s faithlessness whispered by all, Cromwell knows what he must do to secure his position. But the bloody theatre of the queen’s final days will leave no one unscathed…

I called this a sequel, but Mantel has written this in such a way that it stands alone and prior knowledge of Wolf Hall is completely unnecessary. Although I suppose if you come to Bring Up the Bodies without accessing Cromwell’s earlier life, you may find the present tense and confusion between his internal dialogue and spoken words a slight obstacle before you completely relax into this book. This time around, it didn’t remotely bother me – I already knew that Mantel was far too adroit a technician to mishandle fundamentals like tense and viewpoint.

Once more, I was impressed at the speed and ease with which I was drawn into this hectic, cagey world of Henry VIII’s court. I studied this period of history at O level, A level and as a major component of my History degree – in addition I also played Margaret in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons at the Brownsea Island Open Air Theatre longer ago than I care to remember. So I’m not going to be seduced by any ‘shocking’ twists in this cat’s cradle of political and romantic intrigue – I already thoroughly know who the main players are and how it’s all going to end. And yet, Mantel still had me beguiled by Anne’s mood swings as she tries to produce the much-needed male heir in the face of Henry’s increasing intolerance for her smart mouth and sharp-edged brilliance.

Mantel’s depiction of Thomas Cromwell is mesmerising. He is wearier, more cynical and bitterly aware of just how precarious his position is – and still determined to see certain people in Henry’s court suffer for a particular insulting piece of court buffoonery at Wolsey’s expense just after his fall from grace. Despite seeing the world through our protagonist’s intelligent viewpoint, there were times when I shivered at Cromwell’s cold determination to be revenged on those who so publically disrespected his former patron – and recalled that in most accounts of this period, Cromwell is depicted as the main villain of the piece. A role he is only too well aware he is playing – and why. Henry needs someone to blame for his more unpopular policies when he is busy being ‘good king Hal’. Anyone who is in any doubt about his ruthlessness, however, can ponder at his personal decision to mark Catherine of Aragon’s death by wearing yellow in celebration, or his determined pursuit of Jane Seymour even as Anne is languishing in prison.

It is fascinating watching events unfold through the prism of Cromwell’s viewpoint – and feel the jolt as the list of names of those reputed to have shared Anne’s bed grows ever longer… It is a testament to Mantel’s writing that for the first time in a very long while, I shared Cromwell’s sense of horror when the fragile Tudor dynasty teeters, thanks to a faithless queen. As the book came to an end, I was sorry to leave the brutal, knife-edged world Cromwell inhabits – and delighted to realise that Mantel is intending to write the next instalment in this complicated character’s life.

If you have ever enjoyed any of the many fictionalised accounts about Henry VIII’s reign, then track down both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Both are a tour de force and thoroughly deserving of the Man Booker prize – and if I was asked to choose between them, then it would have to be Bring Up the Bodies – for the sheer brilliance in braiding the historical facts amongst the created characterisation of Cromwell. For once, the hyperbole splashed across the cover is merited when the Sunday Telegraph critic declares, ‘This ongoing story of Henry VIII’s right-hand man is the finest piece of historical fiction I have ever read.’ Which neatly sums up exactly how I also felt about this particular book.
10/10

Review: The Bone Clocks

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sjhigbee:

Hm… Haven’t yet got hold of this one – and Ryan’s review encourages me to do so.

Originally posted on The Avid Reader - Books, Books, Books!:

The Bone Clocks
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Our most lusted-after gong, the Brittan Prize, has—scandalously—eluded his grasp so far, but many believe that 2015 could finally be his year.” Alas, as the nearly-prophetic David Mitchell transcribes, this year, just shy of 2015, is not his year, either. Mere days ago that prize eluded him once more.

The week has been bitter-sweet, though. Three days into sales and Mitchell’s THE BONE CLOCKS has been seizing top rankings from New York’s finest newspaper. Rightfully so, performing better than his self-created reflective characters. Congrats, Sir Mitchell.

I’m sour mostly because in both CLOUD ATLAS and now in THE BONE CLOCKS the character authors are my favorite. They seem to connect me with near- intimacy to the genius author’s mind. Yes, pieces of Mitchell lie scattered about: a stammer mention, a reference to Tom Hanks, but the most provocative…

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Shoot for the Moon Challenge – August Roundup

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This is the insane soaring goal setting cooked up between Mhairi Simpson and myself in the depths of December. moonThe theory is that even if we miss, we’ll still be better off than if we’d been sensible more timid. So at the end of August – is anything going to plan? At all?

Breathing Space juddered to a complete halt during August. Busy with the course notes, madly loom-banding for yet another challenge (a grannying one), and with family commitments swallowing up chunks of time, the novel writing didn’t happen. Whether I can easily get back into Jezell’s world after my initial struggles to get going remains to be seen.
Challenge – to have the first daft of Breathing Space completed by the end of September. Not a chance in hell. I’ll be lucky to get it completed by the end of October.

• I set this challenge in the firm belief that I wouldn’t achieve it – and am still on course to complete it with ease… The one that doesn’t really matter *sigh…*
Challenge – to write and publish 100 book reviews on my blog during 2014. I wrote 5 reviews in August, bringing my yearly total to 81 so far.

• I completed my course handouts for this coming term – just as well as we start back in a fortnight. It took a bit longer than usual due to a very busy start to the month. I still have the lesson plans to write, but hopefully that won’t take more than a couple of days concentrated work.
Challenge – to have written at least two sets of course notes for the next academic year by the end of the summer break. Nope. But I have got this coming term’s notes written.

• Nope. Total failure. Nuff said…
Challenge – submit all my unsold short fiction and poetry.

A really frustrating month writingwise. Although all sorts of good things happened as a wife and granny (we got to see Kate Bush in concert on the opening night, for instance…). I wrote 5,000 words in book reviews and blogs this month and 6,500 words on my Creative Writing course, taking my monthly writing total to a paltry 11,500 words and my yearly total so far to just under 195,000.

The only good news about August’s dismal showing is that it can only get better…

My Fantasycon 2014

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100_3342We drove up on Thursday, knowing it was going to be something of a trek from the south coast up to York. Himself didn’t want to go on the train and he sold the notion of driving all the way by pointing out that we’d be able to bring back a whole lot more books if we took the car – but the truth is, he HATES being a passenger as he is a train driver.

The Royal York Hotel is a large 19th century sprawling building with generous-sized bedrooms, a friendly staff and plenty of character. But it is also expensive – even the con rates were steep and far too many of our writing friends were staying elsewhere. We only managed to afford it by saving frantically and making this break our main holiday of the year.

Friday 5th September
We managed to fit in a trip to the Jorvik Centre in the morning before the Fantasycon fun began and attended the Opening 100_3385Ceremony, hosted by Lee Harris. It was deftly done, with the guests of honour being introduced – awesome novelists Kate Elliott, Charlaine Harris, screen writer Toby Whithouse and cover artist Larry Rostant. They all gave a short talk – I could have listened to Charlaine Harris all night as her soft Southern accent is the aural equivalent to strawberries and cream – with just the right mix of humour and ‘this-is-what-I-do’. Lee concluded by whetting our appetites for pleasures to come.

I’d planned to catch the 4 pm Rejectamentalist Manifesto panel, but got sidetracked in the bar catching up with friends – Alex Bardy, Susan Bartholomew, Justin Newland and meeting the very funny K.T. Davies and her husband Alex for the first time. I couldn’t make her book launch, but managed to get hold of her new book Breed – Fox Spirit books are always worth a look.

Paul Cornell and his wife hosted an entertaining version of the TV quiz Pointless at 5 pm, which was great fun. Many thanks to everyone who helped organise it – it must have involved a HUGE amount of effort organising the 100 geeks who answered all the questions in advance…

I took part in the Poetry Round Robin, organised and hosted by Allen Ashley. As ever, the standard was impressive and I had the bad luck to have to follow Tina Rath, whose performance of her humorous and creepy offerings is always one of the high spots of the evening. Many thanks to Allen for his work in ensuring that poetry is always represented at Fantasycon – there was a range of interesting, thought provoking poems.

My only regret is that I missed a large chunk of the Karoke Evening – the standout performance I did witness was Lee Harris performing ‘Hotel California’, complete with air guitar rendition.

Saturday 6th September
Himself’s birthday – so I took him to the Dealer’s Room and bought him one or three books… We ended up taking 42 home with us.

100_3390We attended The Pen vs the Sword panel, where Adrian Tchaikvosky, Juliet McKenna, Fran Terminiello and Clifford Beal discussed how real fight scenes used to work and were good enough to demonstrate their points as they all have experienced re-enactments or are expert in various fighting techniques. As we were all keen for more when time ran out, they adjourned to the bar and were good enough to continue demonstrating how various fights would pan out. Very entertaining and informative and one of my personal high spots of the whole conference. I now know what muscle memory is…

How To Get Noticed moderated by Allen Ashley was another good ‘un. Nazia Khatun, Sophie Colder and Ruth Tross gave us an insight as to how librarians, book sellers and publicists approach spreading the word about new books, while Graeme Reynolds spoke with impressive authority on how to use Amazon’s ranking algorithms to get your self- published books maximum visibility.

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s my Sister was an intriguing panel about the dearth – or otherwise – of strong, supportive relationships between women in SFF. Unfortunately, the moderator badly let down panel members by neglecting to structure the discussion – at all. While some of the panel members coped well with this tactic, it left Charlaine Harris – clearly reluctant to leap into the conversational melee – sitting quietly. Which was frustrating, as I know she has depicted a number of interesting, supportive female relationships in all her writing, particularly the Sookie Stackhouse series.

SFF and Politics was the complete opposite – Lizzie Barrett kept this one running with apt, directed questions to the panel of Jaine Fenn, Foz Meadows, Catherine Hill and Adrian Tchaikovsky. The result was a fascinating discussion about why the fantasy default is some faux early Medieval period and whether science fiction politics is as really as liberal and left as is often assumed… This one could easily have gone on for another hour, I felt.

After attending a reading of Susan Bartholomew’s latest book, Himself and I rushed off to the Mass Signing. Hm. Why can’t my favourite authors have piles of their books on the table in front of them, so I can buy them and then get them to sign them?? And I cannot be the only one who finds this a problem – con attendees voted with their feet. There were only a trickle of keen readers wandering around the room, and many writers who were at the conference did not attend the mass signing.

We had a leisurely meal in the hotel with Mhairi Simpson, Susan Bartholomew, Fran Terminiello and Roy Gray, then while Himself had to admit defeat and crawl off to bed before he fell over (something to do with working alternate night and day shifts…) I went off to the disco and flung myself around the floor with reckless abandon – just like everyone else there. Once you unchain authors from their keyboards, they tend to let the freedom go to their heads. Or in this case, their feet… I finally staggered off, a tad warm, to bed just before 1 am.

Sunday 7th September
I was really looking forward to the Worldbuilding Workshop with Kate Elliott and Tom Pollack – and it didn’t disappoint. This was another high point in a con where the panels were consistently good. Kate is an excellent communicator and I’m a real fan of her subtle effective worlds and between them, she and Tom kept up a stream of suggestions and ideas that had me scribbling madly. They sparked off each other, as only colleagues who trust and respect each other can and I walked out of the room buzzing with ideas and excitement. And a promise to myself to get hold of one of Tom Pollack’s books…

The final panel of this con was again on worldbuilding – this time with Camille Lofters moderating with Tiffani Angus, Foz Meadows, Kate Elliott and Peter Higgins contributing. I had thought to attend the panel on editing, but was so fired up by the worldbuilding ideas, changed my mind. It was an excellent discussion, well handled by Camille and ranged across a wide spread of topics. Among other things, I took away from both sessions Kate Elliott’s golden rule: to constantly challenge my assumptions of what is normal. So if I decide to exclude or ringfence an ideology or group of people, it is a conscious choice, not an accidental consequence of unquestioning prejudice.

And that was the end of our con. I’d attended the banquet and Awards Ceremony a few years ago down in Brighton, when it was 100_3411ferociously hot. The food was mediocre, the room was stifling and the PA wasn’t working properly so I couldn’t hear what was going on. So I refuse to repeat the experience. Instead, we’d promised to go on the river cruise just ten minutes away from the hotel – which we did. A lovely, laidback end to a thoroughly enjoyable, if rather more low-key Fantasycon than some of the more recent ones.

Any grizzles? We had to write our own names on the badges this year, instead of having them printed. And it was often difficult to decipher the felt-tipped scrawl of the person I was talking to. So, please – next year could we have a return to the printed badges? But other than that, no. It was great. Many, many thanks to the army of helpers who made Fantasycon 2014 such a success, especially the sainted Red Cloaks who were unfailingly helpful throughout the whole event. See you next year!

Book Review: Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

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sjhigbee:

Once again, Joachim has unearthed a gem I’m going to HAVE to track down… And I LOVE the covers!

Originally posted on Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations:

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1973 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Naomi Mitchison’s first science fiction novel, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962), is a brilliant episodic rumination on the nature of non-violent interaction with alien species that challenge (and transform) conceptions of ourselves and others.  Although R. S. Lonati’s cover for the 1964 Four Square edition suggests a pulp adventure—replete with flashy spaceships, explosions, and traditional adventure—Memoirs is cut from an altogether different cloth.

The first sentence of the novel narrows in on Mitchison’s central themes:

“I think about my friends and the fathers of my children.  I think about my children, and I think less about my four dear normals than I think about Viola.  And I think about Ariel.  And the other.  I wonder sometimes how old  would be if I counted the years of time blackout during exploration (5).”

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