Tagged: Fantasy

re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
March: Myths, Magic, Aliens and Killer Ants

This year’s March bookshelf was filled with surprises (both pleasant and nasty), some disappointments, a cast of weird creatures and a bit of a song and dance. From dead semi-goddesses to talking war cats, from magicians travelling between worlds to plant-based alien TV executives, this is certainly a mixed bag of books. And mostly wonderful.


The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

“It’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness.”

After reading this book I love Margaret Atwood more than ever. She basically takes Homer’s Iliad and lets Penelope tell her version from the underworld, thousands of years later, to set the record straight. Penelope’s down-to-earth, delightfully no-nonsense style is at the same time hilarious and tragic, describing her father’s attempt to drown her as a child, her arranged marriage, the long years of waiting for Odysseus and her loneliness among the hostile members of his court, the struggle of fighting off the suitors trying to wriggle their way into her husband’s, and earning nothing but suspicion and scorn for remaining faithful all these years. If you think Odysseus had a hard time, try being a woman in his story. A particularly morbid and wonderful device in Atwood’s storytelling is the chorus line of Penelope’s twelve dead teenage maids, who were cruelly murdered for no apparent reason after Odysseus’ return, and share their version of events here in a number of interludes, from mournful poems to naughty songs and anthropological lectures analysing their own significance. Basically, this is a wickedly clever celebration of feminism and womanhood told by the master of her genre with a ton of wit and soul.
Pens: ELEVEN out of 5!

Continue reading

re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
January: Crime, Charms and Cyberspace

A new year, a new bookshelf and already I’m behind on the reviews. I blame a busy January…that, and my new Netflix subscription. So here it is: the January 2016 bookshelf. Remind me to read more again.


Neuromancer (Sprawl #1) by William Gibson
This was my secret Santa gift last year, chosen by the combined powers of my book-loving team members. I have to admit Gibson’s style took some getting used to. I always struggle a bit to get my head around sci-fi and cyberspace, so this cyberspace sci-fi thriller, in combination with Gibson’s way of throwing in off-hand concepts without elaborating, challenged me for a while before I started to enjoy it. But once I realised that not getting it had nothing to do with my lack of sci-fi knowledge, and that I was just supposed to go with it regardless of what made sense and what didn’t, it ended up being quite a fun ride. And although this is the kind of book where you don’t really care what happens to any of the characters – we’re all doomed anyway – I really enjoyed this trip through futuristic cityscapes, weird space communities and creepy cyber avenues.
Pens: 4 out of 5

Charmed Life (Crestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones
This book came to me through a colleague who rediscovered it years and years after reading it in school. It’s a wonderful children’s book about two orphans, teenage girl Gewndolen who has a strong potential for magic and her little brother cat, who has no magic at all. When they come to live in the castle of the powerful enchanter Crestomanci (whose collection of extravagant dressing gowns has given me a new life goal), Gwendolen is banned from using her powers, causing the rebellious teen witch to conjure up a storm that threatens the lives of the siblings and the foundations of the world they live in, and Cat makes an incredible discovery about his own powers. This is a beautiful story about finding one’s own strength when faced with adversity, filled with colourful characters and all those wonderful little details that make your imagination fly and bring a magical world to life. Another one of the many books I wish I’d read as a child.
Pens: 4 out of 5

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell #1) by Laurie R. King
I’m a fan of Doyle and I don’t generally like people messing with the original Sherlock Holmes – the BBC series being the only exception so far. So when a friend sent me a surprise parcel full of books about Sherlock Holmes and a female sidekick, that were not written by Doyle, I was veeery sceptical. But that friend gives good book recommendations so I gave the first volume a chance. And actually, Laurie R. King has done something very clever with this. Far from being a sidekick, Mary Russell actually takes the lead in her universe. As a highly intelligent, educated, feminist, cross-dressing and generally pretty badass young woman, she’s more than a match to an older, wiser Holmes, who may have retired to the countryside to keep bees, but nevertheless stays true to the original character. And when Holmes takes 15-year-old Russell on as an apprentice (detective, not beekeeper), the cases soon start rolling in. Yes, it’s different from the original. It’s more modern, more witty, probably not as technical in the crime-solving, but adding a very enjoyable personal dimension to the character and the world of Sherlock Holmes. And Mary Russell very quickly earned herself a spot among my favourite book heroines. I’m so signed up for the next 13 books…
Pens: 4 out of 5

re:View – The 2015 Bookshelf
November: A world of wonders

I can’t believe I’d never read His Dark Materials. It’s one of those books that, reading them as an adult, makes you think, ‘If only I’d had that in my childhood; I’d have had a friend for life!’ This trilogy finally came to me by recommendation of a colleague and fellow bookworm, who basically ordered me to read it immediately when she found out I didn’t know anything by Pullman. So I did, and I found a new favourite.


His Dark Materials (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman

In a time a little bit like ours and yet very different, young orphan Lyra Belacqua and her reluctant companion Will Parry get tangled up in a great adventure that leads them across a multiverse of different worlds, where they find themselves cast into the central roles in the final fight between good and evil. (That’s the extremely condensed version – to go into any greater detail in the plot would mean spoilers, and you absolutely have to experience for yourself just how magnificently this story evolves!)

Pullman sets his re-imagining of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost in a series of worlds populated with all sorts of wonders, where humans carry their soul on the outside in the shape of a daemon, where animals talk, armoured bears roam the lands and clans of witches rule the skies. While the story in itself is all kinds of wonderful – a breathtaking adventure of two children facing the forces of heaven and earth – it’s the characters who truly create the magic. Lyra, a smart and brave pre-teen with a mind very much of her own, and her daemon Pantalaimon have a bond that makes your heart ache with love, while her budding relationship with Will has all the bittersweet glory of innocent young love. The creatures they meet and the battles they fight on their long journey across the multiverse help to create a rich and utterly credible alternative reality in which you can completely lose yourself. (It’s one of these realities – much like Pratchett’s Discworld – that has been brought to life by the author to the point where, at least in my mind, it really and truly exists.)

Pullan also weaves an astonishing number of philosophical issues into his narrative – from questions surrounding the concepts of God, good and evil and life after death to the struggles between science and religion and the theory of parallel universe and alternative civilisations. And underneath all these big ideas there’s a beautiful story of growing up, going out into the world, discovering love and finding your place in life. I honestly don’t think a children’s book could be more wonderful than this.

Pens: 5 out of 5, and a place on my special shelf of favourite books!

re:View – The 2015 Bookshelf
August + September: slow progress

The 2015 bookshelf continues to grow slowly. I haven’t really had a lot of time to read over the summer as I spent my time raising six kittens. More on that later. First, it’s time to catch up on some reviewing while I still remember what I’ve read. My summer reading has been quite random so no major themes going on this time…


Carpet Diem: Or…How to Save the World by Accident by Justin Lee Anderson
The first book I ever picked up because the author followed me on Twitter. Good promotion strategy, really. I guess he found me because I tweet about books, fantasy, Pratchett and Gaiman. This book tries to position itself as “a spiritual successor to Good Omens”. Well, let’s start with a reality check: It’s not Good Omens, nor does it play int he league of Gaiman and Pratchett in terms of depth, literary achievement or legacy. And just the fact that it has an angel and a demon bitch-fighting over who wins the apocalypse doesn’t quite make it a successor to the great classic. However, it is a bloody good, funny fantasy novel that sees a cast of absolutely loveable characters going on a mad adventure to save the world. I like that kind of stuff, so I breezed through this thoroughly enjoyable book in a matter of days. And I sincerely hope there will be a sequel. I just don’t agree with the publisher pushing it from the Good Omens angle, but then that’s a sales strategy and has no impact on my rating of the book itself. (And as someone whose life was changed by reading Good Omens, I am really hard to please on that front…)
Pens: 4 out of 5

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
I don’t tend to pick up over-hyped books, but a friend recommended this one (and I mean by putting the actual book into my hands) so I gave it a go. Turns out the hype is justified – this is a wonderful, sad but uplifting story about life and death and getting a second chance long after you’ve given up hoping for it. Harold Fry is one of the most loveable characters I’ve ever met in a book and with every step he takes on his impossible walk across the length of England, you feel more empathy with him, until his journey pretty much becomes your own. I laughed and cried and cried some more, and closed the book with a smile and the feeling that people maybe aren’t all as bad as I like to think. What more could you want from a book…
Pens: 4 out of 5

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The anticipated, the dreaded, the devastating final book of Discworld. I know a lot of people who haven’t been able – for various reasons – to read this yet, so I’ll keep it spoiler free. Whether Pratchett wrote this book knowing it would be his last or not, I don’t know. But I can see him tying up a lot of loose ends, as well as opening new doors – which will now lead to the forever unknown as his daughter has announced the series will not continue. When Pratchett passed away this year and it was revealed that he’d left behind a manuscript for another Tiffany Aching book, I felt immensely comforted, because she was one of the characters who got me hooked on Discworld in the first place and her storyline will always have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. However, when the book arrived, it turned out that the end was bittersweet. While I don’t agree with the direction Pratchett decided to take with the characters in The Shepherd’s Crown, I can also see that it was necessary and how the circle has been closed. But that doesn’t mean I will ever get over it. And neither will I get over the fact that this most gifted of storytellers is no longer among us, because he clearly had so many stories left to tell.
Pens: 4 out of 5

What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor
This book came through as a free review copy from NetGalley at a moment when I needed something light and sweet, and for that kind of mood it is spot-on. It reminded me a lot of Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in that it’s mainly told from the perspective of a little boy who tackles the big problems of a grow-up world. Milo is an absolutely adorable little boy who wont’ let his difficult family life and debilitating eye condition prevent him from uncovering a misuse scandal in the local retirement home while helping a Syrian refugee and sorting out his mother’s love life. It’s one of those innocent, feel-good stories for a Sunday afernoon when the world just needs to be put right.
Pens: 3 out of 5

re:View: A Bookshelf special – the complete Discworld reviews, in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett

My first Terry Pratchett book was The Wee Free Men.

[In fact, reading back through my reviews I just realised that this is a fact I’ve mis-remembered for years. My first Discworld book was The Truth. But somehow, even though I enjoyed it, it didn’t stick; maybe I wasn’t ready. When I read The Wee Free Men some time later, however, that stuck – so much so that it made me read the entire series and actually became my first Discworld book in my memory. So we’ll go with the heart over logic version for the sake of this article.]

A good friend had been recommending Pratchett’s young adult books for years, and when I couldn’t get round to reading them she eventually just bought me two as a present. That’s a very effective way to force me to read a book as I can’t leave books lying around unread for long, or give them away without at least checking them out.

So I read The Wee Free Men, and then I immediately read A Hat Full of Sky. And so began the biggest reading journey of my life. Straight after those two, I read the remaining Tiffany Aching books. Then I read every Discworld book involving the witches. Then I moved on to the Death storyline. Then I went back to the beginning and read all the remaining books in chronological order.

Four years later I had made my way through 40 Discworld books and my world was changed forever.

Terry Pratchett, by Paul Kidby

Terry Pratchett passed earlier this week and in his memory I wanted to make something. You know, paint a picture, build a statue – whatever. But I’m no good at drawing or sculpting or building things. I do all right with words, though. So these are my reviews of all the Discworld, and an account of most of my reading journey of the past five years, collected here as a tribute to the man who created this beautiful world and shared it with everyone willing to open their minds.

Continue reading

re:View – The 2015 Bookshelf
January: a journey to other worlds

New year, new bookshelf! After finally picking up The Handmaid’s Tale I fancied some more alternative reality kind of stuff, so my reading journey throughout January took me from dystopian to prehistoric to post-apocalyptic worlds…and back again. Also as a new feature this year I’m trying to do Bookshelf on a monthly basis. I’ve still got quite a bit of otherworldly reading lined up so expect a similar theme for February.

As well as the books below I also read Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has certainly been my book of the month and is, quite possibly, already my favourite book of the year. It’s so good it has earned its own dedicated review post. Check it out here – I really can’t recommend this book enough.


Continue reading

re:View – The 2014 Bookshelf VI

Just to tie up the loose ends, here’s the last of the 2014 Bookshelf – books new and old by some of my favourite authors. While some of these guys never fail to impress (Ellroy, Pratchett, I’m looking at you!) others didn’t exactly blow me away this year.

I’m currently reading Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation but this will be one for next year’s shelf. Which means my Goodreads challenge closes at 106% or 55 of 52 books.


Continue reading

re:View – The 2014 Bookshelf IV: The last leg of the Discworld-a-thon

Level up: After four years I’ve finally finished my Discworld marathon. There has been a lot of Discworld reading going on this year, so I’ve decided to bunch them all into one big, final super-Discworld review before I move on to new adventures – that is, the zillion other books that have been piling up on my shelf for the past six months.

Get ready for time-travelling monks, vampires, werewolves, talking rats and cunning cats, dragon-powered spaceships, coppers, crooks, AUSTRALIANS (except they’re not really Australians because Terry Pratchett is good at this diplomacy thing), public services and new technology.


Oh, a note: These are in chronological order but with some novels missing as I started reading some of them out of order before I went back to the beginning and did the rest properly…

Continue reading

re:View – The 2014 Bookshelf III

My dear bookworms, I just realised what an absolute ton of books I still need to review from this year – and there’s not that much year left.

This shelf brings you tattoos, a bit of terror and a whole lot of urban and other fantasy. Yes, I have finally gotten into the urban fantasy thing, courtesy of Ben Aaronovitch’s brilliant London-based wizard detective series. (Move aside, Harry Dresden – these guys have the accent.)


As before, I’m ditching the Amazon links. Explore your local bookshop.

PS: I need more Goodreads friends. Hint, hint.

Continue reading