Sunday, 1 May 2016

April round up

I spent a few weeks of April in Chicago, for the wedding of some most excellent and fabulous people. It's been five years since I've seen them and their crowd, so we spent a couple of weeks geeking out, catching up, and getting them hitched in a very heartfelt and adorable ceremony. It was absolutely lovely, and I'm so glad I could be there for it.

We also hit up the cinema a few times (Deadpool, Star Wars), saw Blue Man Group, and uh... coped with the violent food poisoning American "pudding" gave me on what should have been my last night there. On the plus side, that meant I got to spend a few extra days with everyone. On the minus side, my poor ambulance-driving friend got so worried she almost summoned her EMT friends to give me IV fluids. So that was fun.

Naturally, I was far too busy running around seeing Chicago and mucking about with lovely people to get any reading done, so... Only three books in the two weeks or so I was there, and a couple when I got home. Shortest roundup yet, GO:

Sirens edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Stumbled across this in a thrift shop down the road from my friends' place in Chicago, shortly after I finished Snow White, Blood Red. So for 25 cents, I figured I had to buy it. It was good fun, and I was considering giving it to my friends to read after I was done... up until I read one particular story - The Eye of the Storm by Kelley Eskridge. I have fallen head over heels in love with this story for no obvious reason. Aside from the polyamory and the genderqueerness and the general explosion of LGBT+ glory all over the supposedly standard medieval fantasy setting, that is. I am only distraught that there is no novel (series, opus, canon, tie in everything) with these characters. Gyah. I kept the book. That glorious little beauty is mine, all mine.

So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane

I've been meaning to read Diane Duane for ages and not got around to any. This one, too, was in the thrift shop for 25 cents, so even though that picture above is indeed the cover I suffered through (look at it, it's hideous) I figured it was worth that much. And yes, it was good fun. I wish I'd read it fifteen years ago, when it would have captured me even more, but I still enjoyed it enough to want to read the rest of the series. Solid little middle grade fantasy.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I feel bad about this one. I borrowed my friend's copy while I was over there, and she and her sister raved about it to me, but... Manic pixie dream girl Bridge to Terabithia been there done that sigh yawn eyeroll? I found it predictable, cliched, and trying just a little too hard to be edgy. Plus I read the special anniversary edition, with preface about how the writing of it came about, and it came across, to me, with an unfortunate lack of acknowledgement of all the YA that has come before and dealt with these subjects. It's far from the first to do what it does, and just a bit more awareness of that would have helped. Sorry, guys. This one really wasn't for me.

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Slightly odd, this. It was brilliant once it got going, but took a little while (and I do mean little) to bring in Cathy, who I'd consider the main character. As soon as she was on scene, I was on board. Through Cathy, we are introduced to the Split Worlds, and the Nether which lies between them. Through Cathy, we learn just how restrictive and horrible the Nether can be. Through Cathy, we uncover more about the world and its systems, and the dastardly plots going on behind the scenes. I love her, and am heartily glad I have book two to hand...

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I felt so guilty about not liking Looking for Alaska that I figured I'd try John Green again, and happened to have this one lying around at home anyway. (I acquire books via osmosis and magic.) I thought this was better than Alaska, which was a relief. The characters were more engaging and less prone to existing purely to inspire the others (although that played a hefty part again). I still feel a bit like I've read this before in my early teens, but it bothered me a little less in this one. I can see why it's such a big hit, though.

Friday, 1 April 2016

March round up

This weekend just gone was Eastercon! I had thought I wasn't going to be able to go this year, unable to get the time off work, but what with being unexpectedly ejected from that, I suddenly find myself with a lot of spare time. So I guess there's a silver lining after all.

A tiny, tiny silver lining.

Still, Eastercon is always fun. This year's was in Manchester, at the Hilton in Deansgate. Odd building. Goes up twenty something floors and then decides it wasn't wide enough, so it sticks out a bit and goes up another twenty floors. Kind of like old medieval houses where they paid rent on the land, and acquired more space with every storey until you could shake hands with your neighbour across the street on the top floor (see: Shambles, in York).

Anyway, con! As I say, good fun. Lots of interesting panels, talks, and workshops. I can now write (draw?) circular Gallifreyan, and know more about privacy in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; historical accuracy in fantasy and romance; and the history of Daredevil as a character than I ever expected to. Aliette de Bodard was a fabulous guest of honour. The impromptu disco thrown together when there wasn't one on the schedule was really good fun, even if it was cut woefully short by the hotel's time limit.

Due to leaving early on Monday to catch a flight to Chicago, I had to be restrained in my book buying, despite some beautiful tables of secondhand stuff in the dealers' rooms. So I only bought... uh. I counted, but I don't remember right now. It was... one big canvas tote bag full. And the four I brought on the plane. A mere 20 something? Eheh.

So what have I been reading, in my sudden bounteous free time?

A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

Hnnng next book now please. This series is glorious so far. So snappy, so sharp, so tightly written and diverse in characters and exciting and dangerous and beautifully magic. I love it.

Most of the Nikki Heat series by "Richard Castle" (books 2-5 at this point)

Fun to see how these parallel events in the TV show. They read like fanfic; they get the voices from the TV show right and are sneakily stuffed with in jokes as well as the standard entertaining crime novel plots. Kind of has the Lee Child effect; like book Pringles. You start with one, and somehow you just keep going until you don't have any left on hand.

Sex Criminals volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

I think this one got hyped up to me ("Oh my god you have to read it, it's amazing!") a little too much. It was fun, sure, quirky and risque, but it wasn't the greatest thing ever to happen to graphic novels. Fine, but just not perfectly for me.

Vixen by Rosie Garland

Engagingly written, presents the history and the characters in an entertaining way. However, I have major issues with the ending. Very brief, spoilery argh on Goodreads here.

Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy

Ha, this was a lot of fun. Classic fantasy with a plot that is a thin excuse for outlining five (surprise) different magic systems and how they all connect and work within the same world. This is worldbuilding-as-plot at its height, and I love it. It delighted me and my analytical side all the way through, and I'm giddy with glee to discover there are two sequels. I can only hope they are as keen to lecture me on how magic really works as this one.

Snow White, Blood Red edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Always hard to rate short story collections, but this set of grown up gruesome fairy tales was fun and inventive. Some better than others, of course, but if you like stories inspired by all those well known characters and tropes (and you don't mind occasionally veering into the erotic) then this is worth looking into. And part of a series, so you won't run short of wicked variations for quite a while.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

February round up

So. Circumstances have changed since the last post. The Harry Potter night was a huge success. Games Night at the shop was getting more people than ever. The SFF section was all tidied up and doing well, with a new reviews-and-local-events display on the wall, and I was just working on what new displays to put in place. And. Uh. I'm not working for Waterstones anymore.

You can ask me what happened, but the truth is I don't know. Mid-February one day, I was summoned to the manager's office during my lunch break and told my contract was being terminated, effective immediately. They said I didn't do anything wrong, so obviously I've spent every waking minute since trying to work out what I did. I have no idea.

It broke my heart a little (a lot). I know how lucky I was to get that job, particularly with so much input on the SFF/graphic novels/board games section. How often do you get to work with the things that really interest you, after all? Wish me luck getting anything that good again; I'll need it.

The shock of that flattened me for a while, so my reading for February took a bit of a hit until I could look at my books and stop thinking about how I'd bought them to review for work, or on this customer's recommendation, or to try out for what to recommend to that regular next.

Here's what I managed in the month:

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Wild West Arabian Nights with a fierce, determined heroine. Good fun, interesting world. I really grew to like the main characters a lot as this went on, and I was actually surprised by one of the twists, which is always nice. The setting feels bigger than just the characters we meet, with a more dangerous plot going on in the background, so I'm looking forward to book two a lot.

Shaking Hands With Death by Terry Pratchett

On point as always, with bonus heartbreak now. This one's very short, being a speech Pratchett gave (via proxy) but it's eloquent and forceful, and very, justly, angry.

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Good fun, and manages its pace surprisingly well - I was surprised when I looked back at it and considered how few scenes/locations there were for the page count - but repeated use of "orbs" and "ebon" got on my nerves a lot. Reads like a D&D campaign, which isn't a bad thing as long as that's what you're expecting. I'll probably come back for the rest later.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

It's hard to know what to say about this one. It is feminist, and it is powerful, and it is well written. I think I liked it for its otherworldly quality. But I struggled a bit with some of the plot. Not certain whether I'll come back for any sequels or not.

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Started off quite familiar and got better as it went. Still a little predictable, but fun all the same. It works from a great conceit to begin with - everyone has a twin, and only one of them is considered "perfect" and good enough for high society, but they're connected. If one dies, they both die. This twisted, glorious notion is explored and expanded throughout the book, along with hefty ideas about segregation, disability, and prejudice in many forms. Dystopian fantasy done very well.

All of Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba

Oh, the mind games in this lot. The endless, spiralling game of cat and mouse between L and Kira (and Kira and the world) is a lot of fun to watch. Death gods and magic and self righteous geniuses abound. Satisfyingly Machiavellian.

The Silver Tide by Jen Williams

A strong conclusion to the trilogy. All the action and sarcasm you'd hope for, based on the first two. Consequences from the other books, plus dinosaurs, dragons, and dark magic, gods and monsters, pirates, a dash of weird magic tech, and a touch of time travel. A properly exciting romp of swords and sorcery with a great inventive flair. I can't wait to see what Jen writes next.

Monday, 1 February 2016

January round up

I have been a very busy bookseller this last month. There's been some redecorating, events, section shuffles, and the post-Christmas tidy up. But I've still found time to cram some books down my gullet...

I'm trying to do better at keeping track of what, too. So here we go!

All five volumes of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples:

Pretty good fun. Filthy, bloody, true to its characters and building a story quickly on an intergalactic scale. On board for more.

Planetfall by Emma Newman:

Oh, wow. Yeah. Sci-fi with a soul. At times beautiful, heartbreaking, and brutal. Definitely worth the read. Really drags you into the main character and forces you to experience every agony and every fear with her. Plus, great use of 3D printing! What more could you want, right?

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan:

Nails the style (for me, anyway). Steampunky Victorian-esque travel memoir. With dragons. I do love the real madcap tales of explorers seeking out the source of the Nile or hunting for Shangri-La (while maintaining proper standards, as one must, you know) and this hits all the right notes for that. Cleverly done and very entertaining.

All the Loki: Agent of Asgard run by Al Ewing and mostly Lee Garbett:

I needed to revisit these and oops, I work in a bookshop and how did those trade paperbacks fall into my lap oh dear. This run struggled a little in the middle, where it got tied up in other concurrent stories in other Marvel comics, but when it can be its own thing and take a straight run at its own plot, it's a twisty turny glory of a yarn. I love the start, I love the end, and all the wisecracking Loki in the middle makes it worthwhile.

Starborn by Lucy Hounsom:

I think I liked this by the end. Mostly it was okay, very Eddings/Canavan/Paolini. Touches of Queen of the Tearling, Tamora Pierce... Fiesty young heroine, looming dark powers, secrets and magic and being whisked away from her little village for the fate of the world depends upon her. That kind of thing. Does that perfectly fine. Does a few things nicely differently. Falls down quite hard on the portrayal/response to sexual assault on its female characters, although these incidents are relatively minor.

The Wicked + The Divine volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie:

Oooh, now this was fun. Such crisp art. Such a great concept. I liked this a lot. It ticks quite a few boxes for me. (Mythology? Check. Androgyny? Check. Magic? Check! Mystery? Check.) Getting hold of volume 2 sharpish.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight:

Yeah. Well. I tried to like this, I really did. But I am so very done with thrillers that hinge on punishing a woman for having a sex drive. That's basically all you need to know about this one. Sex, assault, death, misplaced anger, misogyny, contrived mystery. Yawn. Can we have a new trope for this year's thrillers please?

The City by Stella Gemmell:

Very very Gemmell. Details, details, details. Covers a really big time scale. Has a large cast of named and point-of-view characters. Does pretty darn well at making said large cast relatively even in terms of gender, and varied in terms of age. The different ideologies and attitudes that brings in are also handled quite well. I enjoyed it, once I'd got my head switched into dense, deep, gritty fantasy mode rather than the light and fast I've been favouring more recently.

The Infinite Loop by Pierrick Colinet and Elsa Charretier:

Gah, gorgeous. Love the art style, and the story is a rousing defence of freedom and equality, punctuated with time travel, paradoxes, dinosaurs, and more LGBT+ inclusion than you can shake a stick at. So obviously I loved it.

The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe:

*paroxysms of glee and delight* Argh. Yes. How do I even? This book is for me, all for me. Heroic fantasy with casual splashes of sci-fi. Classic tropes that feel fresh and necessary, not just in there for the sake of it. Speed, menace, urgency, a plot that doesn't need to kick its heels and dawdle to fill the pages. I love the characters. I love the magics. I love the world already. It's rich and varied and always a little bit deeper than you think. And the exposition is handled really well. Tales that everyone knows are just dropped in casually. Tales we need to know more of may well have been held back from our main characters for decent enough reasons, so now we get to hear them in full too.

Gyah, I loved this so hard.

I also failed dismally at joining the Rosemary and Rue readalong this month, but I am in the process of reading and loving the book, so there's that at least.

And now I must away and make robes for the Harry Potter event at the shop on Thursday...

Thursday, 31 December 2015

I'm just going to work. I may be some time

Ooh, there's been a bit of quiet on here, hasn't there? Now, what happened in February/March to distract me from here?

Oh wait. That.

So uh. Hi. I work at Waterstones now.

It's been a busy few months. I curate the sci-fi/fantasy/horror/manga/graphic novel/boardgames section at Waterstones York (aka, all the good stuff). I am a horrifying recommendation monster that appears behind people innocently reading blurbs and excitedly extols the virtues of the book they're holding and also these three over here and have they seen that there's a sequel in a couple of months they should preorder...?

It's been a lot of fun.

There have been signings. So many signings.

There have been parties.

There have been games.

There have been costumes.

And there have been conventions upon conventions and dear heavens so many books. So many.

I have taken time off, too. I went and sailed a ship to France and back for a week.

Not kidding.

But it has been hectic, and I haven't been writing much. I managed 50k for NaNoWriMo but I'm only happy with about 10k of it and it encompassed six different novels in the end. I need to get back to the writing properly, somehow. In between everything and everything else, and all the other stuff.

Been reading a heck of a lot, though, particularly for work. I have a whiteboard in the sci-fi section (and tweeted on the Waterstones York account) where people can (and do, surprisingly) vote for what I should read next, and I've been getting through at least one book a week since March.

So during 2016 I'll try to update this place a bit more regularly with those, at least. Read some spectacular stuff during 2015. Some new, some old, some I really should have read sooner...

Top 10 20? Why not. Alphabetised because I work in a bookshop okay:

One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey
Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb
The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Anvil of Ice by Michael Scott Rohan
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Vicious by V. E. Schwab
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

Honourable mentions:
Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Yeah. I enjoyed a lot of books this year. Also read a couple that I will actively discourage anyone from reading, but that seems a bit mean to single them out here.

Films and TV have been pretty awesome this year too. Predictably, I loved all the Marvel stuff, and Star Wars, and all the magnificent geekery made available to us lucky things.

My favourite glorious geek media from this year might still be Mad Max though...

Yeah, I shaved my head for that. Cosplay commitment, baby.

Oh, and uh. I have a girlfriend now. She's awesome. We're swapping geek culture at the moment and now I love FullMetal Alchemist and she loves Loki, so that's all going well. Also contributing to the hectic busy, but that's okay.

Lots of shiny to look forward to in 2016. Here's hoping it's a good one for all of us!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Your name will also go on the list

In real life, I spend a lot of time chatting and hanging out with the people I met through NaNoWriMo. They're a pretty cool bunch who put up with my weird ways, and some of us swap short stories and the like for feedback.

We've also challenged each other with random short story titles (usually deriving from accidental turns of phrase promptly stripped of all context, often varying wildly in spelling) every now and again, which has created a couple of rather good stories in response. Mostly the title doesn't stay the same for the final version, but it's a good starting point/prompt.

In any case, thanks to a full on title war at the last cafe meetup, we now have a List. Some are terrible, some are decent, some are merely in jokes. I expect there to be more as time goes by. And we needed somewhere to put them all. So hi!

Your Stories, Should You Choose To Accept Them:

Lavender and the Random Acolyte
Chilli and the Lighthouse Family
Liquid Gravity
The Happy Cupcake of Depravity
The Judas Locket
Penguins of the Mind
The Grump-Bucket
As My Hand Moves Slowly to My Pocket
Spirit Familiars for the Socially Maladjusted
Protected by Lore
The Scorned Glass
Reflections of a Stormy Sky
Has My Head Stopped Spinning Yet
The Amber Glow
In The Nicest Possible Way
Not Yet
A Tea Flooded Drought
The Tear-Filled Pool
Tempus Fugitive
Assassins and Jelly Tots
Amethyst Deceiver
Pavlova's Dogs
Ribbons of Death
Gustave and the House of Magic

More to come, I'm sure. Suggestions welcome! And I'll add more links whenever anyone else takes one on.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Has my head stopped spinning yet?

Whoo-ee, it's been a busy few months. I think I've been to... technically three cons since the last update, making five this year, and then, of course, there was NaNoWriMo (during the course of which I wrote 40k on one novel, then ditched it and wrote 50k of Dryden 2.0 in the last 8 days instead, clocking in a couple of 10k+ days, and a grand total of over 90k for the month, which is the most I've ever done in that sort of time frame. Check that awesome graph!).

And then I got a job at Waterstone's. Just a Christmas temp, for now, but of course it's extremely busy already and I am rather enjoying myself getting to be excited about books all day long. I really should stop clapping and cheering when customers who go off on an epic quest to find one specific book return to me at the till waving it triumphantly in the air, though.

In any case, that's what I've been up to and why the blog has vanished a little! I was all set to do a Fantasycon write up (probably still should; I have lots of notes and had a lot of fun) but was in the process of writing a short story (more like novella, and the most wonderful writing experience I've had in years) over the con anyway, and from then on life sort of hasn't stopped.

But! NaNo is over now, and I shall try to do some catch up here (and on my emails, which have been a bit neglected in all the hectic rush; sorry about that, patient people).

Oh, and Hanith is now out and about in very exclusive printed form; the British Fantasy Society journal finally landed at the very end of November, and I am at the moment rather pleased with how he turned out. I only have the one copy myself, so it's being passed around friends who want to see, but it's reassuring and encouraging to have him in print now.