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What I’m reading: 4-13

goblin emperorI’m considering changing things up a bit here, and one of my ideas was to start semi-regularly doing a snapshot of what I’m reading right now, rather than what I’ve finished. We’ll see how it goes–let me know what you think!

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: I am allllmost done with my reread of QoA. Having now reached the point where most of the “ow-my-feelings” moments are over, it’s mostly the happy ending, yay!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette): I don’t remember exactly where I am with this one–a little less than halfway through, I think. I’ve been reading it before bed, because it doesn’t matter that I’m tired and not in the best state for reading comprehension.

Dark North by Gillian Bradshaw: An Ethiopian auxiliary in Roman Britain. I think I started this one before and didn’t finish it, but I can’t remember why. It’s certainly not gripping me with the same excitement as my favorites of her books, but I am enjoying it and it’s a relatively quick read.

I don’t often read this many books all at the same time, but I’m kind of enjoying having different kinds of books for different situations–Queen of Attolia is perfect for lunchtime reading, for example, because I know it so well that it doesn’t matter where I stop or start.

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: Black, Bradshaw, Echols, Samatar

darkest part of the forestThe Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: This really should be its own post, if post length were an indication of how much I love a book. After not quite loving The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (I know. I’m sorry.), I am happy to say that The Darkest Part of the Forest hit all the right notes for me. Siblings trying to save each other? Scary fairies? Fairy tale tropes being played with lovingly? Awesome characters? Yes to all of these things! I also appreciated that there’s diversity on several different fronts. But mostly I just loved Hazel and Jack and Ben and the horned prince. Lovely, lovely book.

sand reckonerThe Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw: A couple of people have said how much they liked this Bradshaw book, and having read it I can totally see why. It’s a little sadder than most of her others, a little less clear-cut in terms of good vs. bad. While I’m not enamored of the male genius figures in fiction right now, I will make an exception for Bradshaw’s Archimedes, because he’s so sensitively drawn. And we do see him from other perspectives which I think helps balance that trope out. This has some of Bradshaw’s more lovely writing too. While I doubt any book will ever be quite as beloved for me as The Beacon at Alexandria, this is definitely one I can see myself re-reading.

perfect couplePerfect Couple by Jennifer Echols: I really like Jennifer Echols. When I’m in a certain mood, she’s one of the authors I always reach for. Her books are light without being thoughtless and she often draws in some social commentary. Plus, I really enjoy her characters, who always read to me as actual teens, without losing any of the romance. Perfect Couple is the second book in her latest YA series, The Superlatives. Harper is a photographer; Brody is the school quarterback. They aren’t really alike at all. But when the school votes them “Perfect Couple That Never Was,” Harper starts to wonder if they’re more similar than she thought. One of the things I appreciate about Echols’s books is the variety of experience in her characters and Perfect Couple is no exception. While the conceit of the book may stretch the bounds of believability a tad, I really didn’t care. It’s a smart, well written teen romance, and just what I needed.

stranger in olondriaA Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: I’ve been meaning to read Samatar’s debut since it came out two years ago. It’s a really engrossing book, which probably deserves more space than I can give it here. It’s about family and myth and home, about history and colonialism. But most of all it’s about books, and a relationship with books. Samatar’s language is dense and beautiful, with occasional moments of iridescent beauty. I thought for awhile about why it’s adult rather than YA, since I can easily read Jevick as in his late teens (I can’t remember how clearly his age is given). But in that nebulous “you’ll know it when you see it way,” it does seem quite clearly adult. I think there’s a lack of immediacy to the story–it’s so clearly Jevick looking back over his past–and that’s the closest I can come to saying what I mean. Regardless, it was a fascinating book, and I’m still mulling over it several days later.

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bookish posts

Favorite Authors: Gillian Bradshaw

I’m pretty picky about my historical fiction. It’s easy for a few wrong details or some jarring dialogue to jolt me out of the story. Fortunately, Gillian Bradshaw manages to combine thoroughly researched books, compelling characters, excellent dialogue, and fascinating stories and settings. While I don’t love all of her books equally, I’m struck by how well she manages to convey a feeling for time and place. When her books are at their best, they’re truly wonderful.

Favorite books by Gillian Bradshaw
1.The Beacon at Alexandria
2. Island of Ghosts
3. Imperial Purple
4. The Bearkeeper’s Daughter
5. Cleopatra’s Heir

All of my Gillian Bradshaw reviews
The Beacon at Alexandria(2013)
London in Chains (2013)
Island of Ghosts, and Hawk of May
Kingdom of Summer, briefly (2013)
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, briefly (2014)
Imperial Purple, briefly (2014)
The Wolf Hunt (2014)
Alchemy of Fire (2014)
Cleopatra’s Heir, briefly (2014)
Render Unto Caesar, briefly (2014)

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading

adventures of superhero girlAdventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks: I really enjoy Faith Erin Hicks’ work. Although Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong remains my favorite of her books to date, Adventures of Superhero Girl is a marvelous, wry take on the life of a superhero. Superhero Girl has a roommate and struggles with family life. She doesn’t have a tragic backstory and she suffers from comparisons to her older brother Kevin. All in all, great fun and my only complaint is that there’s not more.

biggest flirtsBiggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols: I’ve been a bit hit-or-miss with Echols’ most recent books, but definitely enjoyed Biggest Flirts, which starts off a new series. In some ways it felt like a very setting-up-the-series book, in the sense that it focused quite a bit on the other characters at the high school, but as usual I appreciated the fact that Echols depicts a wide variety of personal backgrounds, both cultural and socio-economic. And perhaps most importantly, I liked Will and Tia as a couple, and bought into their relationship.

those who hunt the nightThose Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly: First in the James Asher series. Victorian professor/ex spy who is blackmailed into helping a vampire solve a series of murders. It sounds a bit weird, but it’s a lovely book, with characters who felt both of-their-time and fresh enough to hold modern sympathies. Hambly’s take on vampires is a cautious but sympathetic one; they are shown, perhaps more than in any other vampire book I can think of, as real people albeit not exactly human anymore. Hambly somehow prevents the plot from devolving into melodrama, which it easily could have. All in all, a great beginning to a series I definitely intend to finish.

alchemy of fireAlchemy of Fire by Gillian Bradshaw: I’m still reading through Gillian Bradshaw’s backlist. Alchemy of Fire takes place in 7th century Constantinople. While I liked the main characters, Bradshaw’s research shows a little more here than usual. There are lots of details about perfume making, and about the invention of the so-called Greek fire. Where the emphasis is usually on character development, here the weight of the details is a little too strong, I think.

landlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell: Oh, Landline. Oh, how I wanted to like you. But I didn’t. Partly, this read as much more adult literary fiction than Rowell’s other books, and I am not a huge fan of that genre. Partly, I never bought the present-day transformation, or the characters as real people versus quirky traits thrown together. So yeah–this one did not work for me. Guess I’ll just go re-read Fangirl.

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: Fantasy and science fiction

story of owenThe Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston: I really enjoyed this one; it’s best for the kind of reader who likes books that take their time, with plenty of attention to details of world and character. It’s fresh, unexpectedly funny, and a bit heart-wrenching. I very much liked how Johnston resists the easy and cliched in favor of a more interesting take on dragon, relationships, and friends. Plus, there’s a Canadian setting, and what I swear is a Doctor Who joke.

destroyerDestroyer by C.J. Cherryh: Reading the cover copy for this one stressed me out–no joke! And the next one looks EVEN WORSE. As a reading experience, this one was a bit frustrating, because we were so close to getting some closure with the whole Barb thing–so close to seeing her as a real person, as opposed to Bren’s biased view of her. But it didn’t quite happen. Maybe it will? I am more hopeful than I was, anyway. And the political stuff and new understanding of the atevi world view is all really fascinating and well-done. I wonder, just as a question of process, if Cherryh understands more about the atevi than she lets on, or whether she writes herself into it.

wolf huntThe Wolf Hunt by Gillian Bradshaw: I’ve been thinking for a few years that someone really needs to write some YA retellings of the Lais of Marie de France. Well, there’s one out there, Wolfborn, as well as this adult book by Bradshaw, which could probably be a cross-over. Both are using the Bisclavret story, which is certainly one of the more dramatic ones. Bradshaw is, of course, a wonderful writer of historical fiction, and she deals well with the fantastic elements of the story (I’m sure the biology is iffy, but I don’t personally tend to notice these things). Eline is not at all sympathetic, but the main characters attempt to deal with her with sympathy and kindness. All in all, this isn’t one I loved, but I did appreciate it.

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: 2-21-14

And-All-the-StarsAnd All the Stars by Andrea K Host: Several blogging friends have been praising Host’s books for a few years now and I finally got around to reading one. And All the Stars is marvelous–diverse, thoughtful sci-fi, which takes a somewhat improbable scenario and makes it real and human.

The Bearkeeper’s Daughter by Gillian Bradshaw: Historical fiction about Justinian and Theodora, with the focus on a probably-not-real son of Theodora’s. I liked the way Bradshaw weaves in the court history and politics while also keeping a very human and down-to-earth focus on John and his struggles.

Imperial Purple by Gillian Bradshaw: There’s a similar setting and ethos to this one, which looks at the end of Theodosius II’s reign. I found that having the main characters being regular people caught up in larger events gave me more of a sense of everyday lives, as well as being a perspective you don’t always see in historical fiction.

Pride of ChanurThe Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh: Rachel Neumeier told me to read the Chanur books, so I did. 🙂 I loved the way Cherryh keeps the narrative entirely from Pyanfar’s point-of-view, making it far more effective than splitting the story between characters. Perhaps because of that, I did feel a slight distance from the characters, more so than with the Foreigner books. Nevertheless, I am definitely invested enough to read the rest!

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bookish posts reviews

Gillian Bradshaw

I’ve read four books by Gillian Bradshaw so far: The Beacon at Alexandria, London in Chains, Island of Ghosts, and Hawk of May. I expect I’ll eventually read her whole backlist, if I can get my hands on it. She’s exactly the kind of historical fiction writer that I not only enjoy but respect, and those are rare enough that I’m always very glad to find another. Most of her books are Classical era, although London in Chains is English Civil War.

So, The Beacon at Alexandria is the first I read, and I loved it. There’s so much depth and complexity, and I really liked and connected with Charis. I was also quite impressed by the way Bradshaw treated St. Athanasius the Great–initially my heart sunk a little bit, because I am burned on people writing about early Christianity. But her portrayal was full of respect and even love for him. In fact, he holds the book together in some ways, and he definitely got some of the loveliest writing.

Then I read London in Chains, which didn’t impress me nearly as much, although it’s hard to see how it would. It probably doesn’t help that, at least in fiction, I tend to be a bit of a Royalist, and London in Chains definitely came across as pro-Revolutionary. However, I very very much liked the way Bradshaw treated Lucy, her main character, and her backstory. I’m trying to avoid spoiling it, so being intentionally vague here. It’s a subject I’ve never seen really looked at in historical fiction, though, despite being very real and present. Moreover, Bradshaw handles it, I thought, deftly, making Lucy’s struggle real without letting it take over her whole character.

Island of Ghosts was the next one I read, which was wonderful–I loved the barbarian look at Roman Britain. Bradshaw does a nice job of getting into Ariantes’ head and character, and of showing him as both part of and apart from his culture. He’s also a kind of character that I very much like: good people who make the best of rotten circumstances. Plus, there’s a quiet but very satisfying romance, and lots of political intrigue.

I just finished Hawk of May, the first of Bradshaw’s Arthurian trilogy, last night. These are her first published books, and in some ways it shows. I loved the take on Gwalchmai and Arthur, and the rest of the characters–and I am picky about my Arthurian retellings.* All of the marvelous complexity in her other books is there. But the sense of the everyday isn’t, and it seems (which I hadn’t realized until I thought about this book) that is essential for me to form an emotional attachment to a story. At any rate, I appreciated it without really loving it. I will probably finish the trilogy, just because. I’m also adding it to my historical fantasy page–yay!

* As a complete side note, it was really weird reading about a Medraut that wasn’t EWein’s, especially at first.