Monthly Archives: April 2014

Thoughts on the #readwomen2014 Campaign

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I found this post on Freshly Pressed and thought it sufficiently important to share with you…

Pechorin's Journal

For those of you not familiar with it, #readwomen2014 is a campaign started on twitter by writer Joanna Walsh intended to get people reading more books by women.

#readwomen2014

The concept of the campaign is a simple one, female writers don’t get the same critical attention as male. That’s odd, women read more than men (proportionally and in aggregate) and they get published in much the same numbers. So if women are published equally and women read more, why are they reviewed less?

Part of the answer seems to be that a disproportionate number of professional critics are men, and men famously are much less likely to read books by women than women are books by men (which is both bizarre and frankly depressing). Another part is marketing and perception.Women’s fiction is often given “girly” covers with pastels and sometimes cute taglines. If you’re male those covers are profoundly offputting.

Equally, it’s sadly true…

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Review of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

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When I was younger, I was completely besotted by Lord Peter Wimsey. I burned through all the books and then reread them –  always a rare event for me. There are far too many good books out there in the world to waste time revisiting ones I’ve already sampled. Besides – what if the next time around, I find that the whole experience is less exciting or enjoyable? Then I’ve ruined both reading episodes… But when Himself reread this book as a treat after a particularly gruelling spell at work – I scooped it up afterwards and tucked in, convinced that Sayers is a writer of such quality, I wouldn’t regret revisiting this desperate adventure.

Can Lord Peter Wimsey prove that Harriet Vane is not guilty of murder – or find the real poisoner in time to save her from the strong poisongallows? Impossible, it seems. The Crown’s case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge’s summing up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of killing her lover. And Harriet Vane shall hang. But the jury disagrees…

And THAT is how a book blurb should read, people! We have a clear idea of exactly what the first set of problems besetting Lord Peter will be in punchy, concise language, so the reader can decide whether they like the book, or not without having at least the first half of the main plot points blurted out on the back cover.

The quality doesn’t end there. This is a joy to read. I loved the drama and Lord Peter’s reaction. I loved all the characters peopling the story and the final section, purportedly by Peter’s uncle, is just outstanding. The prose stands up very well, because Sayers doesn’t see fit to layer her book in swathes of heavy description using every multi-syllabic word she can cram onto the page. Like all great writers, she has an inborn instinct about what needs to be said and the best way to say it. Of course, this was written in the days when anyone found guilty of murder was hanged, so there is real tension in this story, as Lord Peter battles to clear Harriet’s name. It is – literally – a matter of life and death.

What I’d forgotten from my first reading, was just how much humour is also woven into the tale. I giggled aloud at some of Lord Peter’s drier comments – and the séance scene is not only gripping, but regularly tips into outright farce. As for the scenes between Lord Peter and Harriet – they crackle with intensity and this granny – who regularly rolls her eyes at the noisy snogging sessions in films – still found her heart beating faster at Lord Peter’s passionate championing of Harriet.

It is a gem of a book. Truly. As is the whole series. And if you haven’t read them, and you have ever enjoyed a crime novel, then track down Lord Peter Wimsey’s adventures. You’ll thank me if you do.
10/10

Review of Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris

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I was a firm fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series long before it got a very racy makeover by HBO in their televised version, True Blood. Read my review of Dead Reckoning here, and my review of Deadlocked here. I also enjoyed Harris’s paranormal whodunit series featuring Harper Connolly, read my review of Grave Sight here.

shakespear's landlordSo would I also appreciate this straight crime novel, introducing Lily Bard that Harris wrote pre-Sookie?  Disguising herself with short hair and baggy clothes, Lily Bard has started a new life; she’s a cleaning lady in the sleepy town of Shakespeare, where she can sweep away the secrets of her dark and violent past. However her plan to live a quiet, unobserved life begins to crumble when she discovers the dead body of her nosy landlord.

Harris has certainly given us a feisty, troubled heroine in Lily. While the novel has provided a murder victim and the puzzle of who exactly has done it – the engine that drives this book forward is Lily’s journey. While being caught up in this adventure, her arid, rigidly controlled life suddenly acquires a lot more complications – and excitement. And some of that excitement is enjoyable, while some of it isn’t…

But for all of this to work, we need to care about Lily – and Harris excels in giving us enjoyably angst-ridden heroines who we can care about. I find it fascinating how much writers reveal about themselves – and while I don’t know whether Harris is a clean freak or not, she seems to admire women who are. Whenever Sookie’s life gets way too much for her to handle, she resorts to cleaning the house from top to bottom. I just wish that I, too, responded to Life’s hiccups by wanting to tidy drawers and scrub surfaces, instead of curling into a ball under the duvet and reaching for another book… And here is Lily – who has been hanging onto her sanity by her fingernails, courtesy of her self-defence classes and the day job where she goes into dirty, untidy dwellings and blasts through them, putting everything in order, again.

So is Lily Bard just another Sookie Stackhouse without the gift/curse of reading other people’s thoughts? No. While there are similarities – they are both young women who have major issues to overcome – there are also important differences. Lily is far chippier and less caring of what other people think – and far more prone to sudden bursts of violence.  However, no matter how engrossing the main protagonist and first person narrator is in crime fiction, the dealbreaker has to be the plot and the unravelling of the murder mystery. And as far as that is concerned, Harris delivers the goods – while establishing Lily Bard as a sufficiently engrossing character to carry a series, she also provides us with an entertaining murder mystery. I didn’t guess the murderer until Lily solved the case, and the book was so satisfactorily wrapped up, Himself rushed out and ordered the rest of the books in the series. As a solid fan of her writing, I am delighted to have come across Lily Bard and her adventures and if you enjoy crime mysteries featuring spiky female protagonists, then give it a go – and whatever you do, don’t judge Charlaine Harris the writer by all the shenanigans that go on in True Blood.
8/10

Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn

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I enjoyed reading Dave Higgins review of Dylan S. Hearn’s book Second Chance, so thought I would share with you…

Davetopia

Second Chance by Dylan S. HearnAlthough both ecology and neuroscience are at the heart of the world Hearn creates they do not dominate the novel, making this very definitely a character-driven thriller.

When extremes of weather began to disrupt infrastructure and displace populations even in industrialised nations, the United Nations finally agreed a global solution to climate change. Sustainable power, cutting-edge technology, and open government now allow humanity to retain its comforts without destroying its future.

Struggling to hold onto the Delegate seat she has just won, Stephanie Vaughn throws her weight behind the investigation of a missing student. When lack of progress prevents the popular boost she expected, she must accept covert assistance from Randall, her ex-boyfriend, a data analyst for the cloning company at the heart of humanity’s new society. But Randall’s motives for finding the student are equally tainted: before she disappeared she had begun to question the cloning process; the longer…

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Review of The Long War – Book 2 of The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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I recently read The Long Earth – see my review of it, here. And was sufficiently intrigued to hunt down the sequel. Would the story take off?

The Long Earth is open. Humanity now spreads across untold worlds linked by fleets of airships encouraging exploration, trade and the long warculture. But while mankind may be shaping the Long Earth, the Long Earth is, in turn, shaping mankind – and a collision of crises is looming. More than a million steps from our original Datum Earth a new America has emerged – a young nation that resents answering to the Datum government.  And the trolls – those graceful, hive-mind humanoids whose song once suffused the Long Earth – are, in the face of man’s inexorable advance, beginning to fall silent… and to disappear. It was Joshua Valienté who, with the omniscient being known as Lobsang, first explored these multiple worlds all those years ago. And it is to Joshua that the Long Earth now turns for help. Because there is the very real threat of war…
…a war unlike any fought before.

And there’s the blurb. Which quite niftily sets out the backstory before plunging us into the current action – a smoothly accomplished process as you’d expect with two such experienced authors at the helm. I have to say, the premise of The Long Earth has really stuck with me since I read the book, which took me slightly by surprise. I have the memory of a goldfish and frequently completely forget a book once I’ve finished it – even if I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Not so this one. It might have something to do with the slightly breathless Oh my goodness, look at this! tone in which the journey of exploration is undertaken across the multitudes of Earths, harking back to early science fiction exploration stories.

If this aspect of The Long Earth grated, then don’t bother with The Long War – that genuine sense of wonder that these days is so often muted by the need to funnel the action and backdrop through one or two protagonists, is just as evident. And the multiple storylines continue squirrelling off in a variety of different directions. Normally, this type of book annoys the heck out of me – and it isn’t just that both Pratchett and Baxter can write. So can George R.R. Martin, but A Song of Ice and Fire series lost me at A Storm of Swords, although I’d been struggling before that – and these days I wouldn’t have reached that point. These days, if a book and I don’t bond reasonably fast – I’m done. But as I zipped through The Long War, I waited for the scattered storylines… the large cast of characters… the fact that I don’t find any of them all that likeable – with the exception of Sister Agnes – to chew away at my pleasure. And none of it did. Though I found myself reflecting that the word Mankind is a real misnomer – as a species, we’re not kind at all. Certainly not to anything willing, compliant and useful, like the trolls. Certainly not to our environment… In fact, the idea of the Long Earth throws up all sorts of interesting moral issues, as well as a sobering insight into the fragility of Life’s perch on the planet’s surface.

It doesn’t hurt that there are flashes of humour in amongst all the excitement and conflict caused by having literally thousands of new worlds pitch up on the doorstep – some of them had me laughing out loud. If you devoured early Heinlein, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells in great greedy gulps, then I’m guessing you’ll find this series right up your street – and even if you didn’t, I’m still recommending it on the grounds that in amongst the sprawling plot and cast of eccentrics, there is a plenty of food for thought.
9/10

A Stillness of Chimes

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Thought you might like to read this solidly well-rounded review from prolific blogger Ionia Martin

readful things blog

A Stillness of Chimes A Stillness of Chimes by Meg Moseley

When Laura Gantt returns to Georgia to handle her late mother’s estate, she hears a startling rumor—that her father staged his drowning years ago and has recently been spotted roaming the mountains.

With the help of her former high school sweetheart, Laura searches for the truth. But will what they find destroy their rekindled feelings?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book started out intriguing and that initial interest stayed with me until the end. Mostly, this is a mystery with strong family ties. I liked the way the author kept the flow of her story going by using events from the past and the present intertwined.

The characters are easy to get to know and like and I thought the Christian angle of this book was present but not overtly in your face, so if you like reading less “religious”…

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Review of The Enchantment Emporium – Book 1 in the Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff

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Anyone who enjoys science fiction and fantasy will be aware of Tanya Huff – Himself absolutely loves her Confederation series, while I was blown away by The Blood series – see my review of her book, First Blood, here. So when I came across The Enchantment Emporium, I scooped it up.

Alysha Gale is twenty-four, unemployed, and tired of her family meddling in her life personally and magically. So when a letter arrives from her missing grandmother, bequeathing her a junk shop on the other side of Canada, Allie jumps at the chance to escape.  But she arrives at the Enchantment Emporium to find trouble brewing. With dragons circling the town and a sorcerer wreaking havoc, even calling in the family may not save the day…

enchantment emporiumWell, this is fun! I loved the whole idea – including the Gale family tendency to interbreed to strengthen their magical bloodline, and the fact that it takes a different direction depending on gender. As Huff doesn’t go into any major detail about the uninhibited sexual exploits within the family, the fact that a normal major taboo is crossed due to a magical imperative just underlines the sense of ‘other’. I would have been a lot less comfortable with this aspect if she’d chosen to provide a lot of gratuitous detail around said exploits – but she doesn’t. It was particularly enjoyable to read a punchy, urban fantasy where the power lies with the elderly females – the infamous ‘aunties’. As someone who finds herself rapidly approaching the same role within my own family faaar too quickly, it was gratifying to read of women of a certain age who were a significant force to be reckoned with.

As for Alysha, herself – Huff has depicted a feisty, enjoyable heroine who is busy trying to find her feet within a powerful family without cutting herself off from their support or love. Again, refreshing to read. So many protagonists, male and female, don’t seem to have much in the way of family ties, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in whatever arcane adventures that come their way without having to consider anyone near and dear to them. Her reaction to the rapidly escalating troubles surrounding the Emporium makes for a riveting read – I should have put the book down and caught up on much-needed sleep. Instead I kept going into the small hours…

This is Huff at the top of her game. Sharp, enjoyable fiction that whips along at a fair clip, but nevertheless still manages to deliver some curved balls along the way. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Wild Ways – and when I get my hands on it, it’s going right to the top of my teetering To Be Read pile. This level of reading pleasure doesn’t get put on hold.
9/10

Book Review: The Dream Master, Roger Zelazny (1966)

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Another excellent and knowlegeable review by Joachim Boaz – along with a collection of covers that were used on ‘The Dream Master’.

Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations

THDRMMSTR1966

(Kelly Freas’ cover for the 1966 edition)

4/5 (Good)

Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master (1966)—expanded from the Nebula Award winning novella “He Who Shapes” (1965)—revolves around the Freudian notion of the centrality of dreams and importance of decoding dreams for psychoanalytical treatment.  Susan Parman, in Dream and Culture (1990), points out that Freud was initially focused on “treating ‘abnormal’ patients” but soon “expanded his theory of psychoanalysis to explain puzzling events in ‘normal’ behavior” including dreams.  Freud’s influential work The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) argued that the “dream expresses the secret wishes of the soul” where the dreamscape is the “arena” in which good and bad forces are engaged in a struggle.  Thus, the dream is a message that must be deciphered by an “allegorical

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Why the Fuss About Frozen?

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Olaf-In-Frozen-Movie-HD-WallpaperAs a doting Granny, who uses the box in the corner of the lounge to recover from the delight of having the grandchildren to stay, I generally snuggle up on the settee alongside them to watch. So over the years I’ve seen a fair spread of animated films on offer – and am frankly scratching my head over Frozen’s runaway success.

So it had a heroine… And? So have a whole bunch of others – Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Belle in Beauty in the Beast, Rapunzel in Tangled, Cinderella… Snow White… But – this heroine is different I heard them rave on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. She isn’t spending her time mooning over some soppy Prince – she’s on a mission to find her sister because it is all about the relationship between her and her sister. Oh really? I felt that strand of the plotline was very much on the edge of what was actually going on within the film. For starters, the real story should have revolved around Elsa, the older sister – the one with the curse, rather than the ditsy younger sister. Watching Anna, scratching at a closed door, whining to be let in had me fidgeting and looking at my watch. Whereas Merida, the feisty Scottish princess in Brave is so much more enjoyable, opinionated and headstrong – and she isn’t flirting with some fur-clad hunk half the film, either.

I also thought there were far too many songs in Frozen and most of them were drearily tuneless. But where I really felt let down, was bravethe absence of originality in the themes. The sister fall out over a man – so much for teaching our youngsters that lurve isn’t the lynchpin of their existence… While Brave examines the relationship between mother and daughter in a far more meaningful manner and we see how Merida compensates after an early close encounter with danger, by proving that she is as fearless and skilled as her father. While her mother, knowing that the price for being a princess is being married off to secure alliances, is trying to mould her headstrong daughter into being an efficient housekeeper and dutiful wife… And may I add – there isn’t much talk about lurve, but a lot about duty and doing what is expected of a princess.

As for the comedy – Frozen comes up with an idiotic snowman whose slapstick capers had the four year old giggling – but the older children weren’t particularly amused. Compare that to the sharply funny dialogue between Carl and Russell in Up, or the bear’s frantic blundering in the castle in Brave. The humour in both films is sharpened by the constant threat, but at no time did I feel that Frozen moved into top gear and that the stakes really mattered. Both Brave and Up moved me to tears at times and also had me laughing aloud, while Frozen did neither. So… maybe it’s just me who was totally underwhelmed by the biggest grossing animated film in history. I’d like to hear from anyone else who has watched this film – what do you think?