Tag Archives: reviewing

Pratchett’s Women: Slash! Stab! A Lesson in Practical Queening.

Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett, is the best kind of fantasy novel.

For me, the best possible thing that fantasy as a genre can do is to say something important about our world and history, ideally while also commenting in some way on the traditions of the genre itself, and being a damn good read. Add to that a whole bunch of female characters who happen to be the central drivers of the plot and…

Oh, yes. Lords and Ladies is that good.

In some ways, this book is the last third of an unofficial trilogy (with Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad) featuring the original trio of Pratchett’s witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. In other ways, it’s the beginning of an unofficial trilogy (with Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum) about the mortality and power of Granny Weatherwax, with bonus Nanny Ogg at every turn (she doesn’t just steal scenes, she gets them drunk and makes them blush with dirty jokes) and the growing pains of Agnes “Perdita” Nitt.

But this is also, like so many of Pratchett’s best books, a book about stories. In this case, having taken on Shakespeare and fairy tales, he looks at the role of women in English folk songs and folklore. This is a story about cold iron and fairy glamour; of midsummer rituals and blood in the snow and dodgy jokes about morris dancers and maypoles. It’s a story about how practicality trumps romance every time, if you’re lucky.

Most of all, while it has much to say about witches and wives and mothers, this is a story about queens.

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Batgirl #1, Stormwatch #1, JLI #1 [DC Reboot Reviews]

I have to learn that holidays or no holidays, Fridays are a write-off for me. I get nothing but the smallest tasks done, and while it’s a good day for catching up on all the stuff I don’t manage to finish while I’m writing novels through the week, I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

So today I child-wrangled, and I got up my Friday links post, and that was pretty much it. But in amongst the visitors & child-wrangling, I managed to make this a comics day. I listened to the latest episode of Panel2Panel, featuring a great discussion on the (temporary) deaths of superheroes – I especially loved what Grant had to say about the importance of legacy heroes and how this gets sabotaged every time they bring back some old guy from the grave. And it’s nice to hear Kitty’s POV because I know so little about Marvel – I had no idea that Marvel don’t have the same legacy tradition with newbies taking over the suits and hero names of their seniors!

I also listened to How I Got My Boyfriend Into Comics who also had an excellent main topic, this one being Supergirl vs. Superboy. I got all nostalgic for the Superboy comics I read when they first came out in the mid-90’s, with his leather jacket and stupid hair and Hawaii. Awwww, Superboy with no name, I did rather love you.

Raeli joined my comics party by discovering the Tiny Titans comics I got her on the iPad, and devouring them. It was a little scary. Tiny Titans are brilliant – the concept is pretty much Muppet Babies or Torchwood Babieez done with the Teen Titans characters and a few other guest stars like Batgirl. Each issue has a bunch of stories featuring various characters, some only a page long and others 6-8 pages. It’s cute and smart and unscary, and perfect for my six year old. She even read one of them to Jem as a bedtime story. I gained some cool Mum points for being able to identify Terra and Raven, and I remain kind of glad she hasn’t asked me why there are two Wonder Girls. I kind of love that their approach to DC canon is to just include everyone and am looking forward to the all Batgirls issue next month!

My favourite story of the Tiny Titans is in issue #1 (which is either 99 cents or free on the iPad) and features Cassie Wonder Girl deciding her new superhero costume is jeans and a t-shirt. This leads to some of the other kids wondering, how would Wonder Woman look if her costume was jeans and a t-shirt? (answer: kind of awesome) That’s basically the level it’s at, but did I mention adorable?

Now on to the grown up stuff! SPOILERS for Issue #1 of Batgirl, Stormwatch and Justice League International below.

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The Demon’s Surrender, by Sarah Rees Brennan

On Saturday, I read a book. I read, and read. I begged my daughter to let me read instead of being Mission Control to her game of Super Sisters, I did the occasional household chore and then ran back to my book straight after. I ate lunch while reading. I left my family to their own devices, went and lay on my bed and read until I was done.

This, needless to say, is a rare event in our household. Once upon a time, reading all Saturday afternoon was a normal thing for me, but that was before I became a mother of two. My reading is usually snatched in ten minute intervals, between larger and more immediate demands on my time.

But this was The Demon’s Surrender.

When my honey lifted an eyebrow at my complete immersion in the book, I said firmly, “I have been waiting for this book for FOURTEEN MONTHS” and he nodded gravely and left me to it. Wonderful man.

I review books all the time, and I was expecting to be able to review this one sensibly, but it turns out I have no ability to distance myself enough from my sheer crazy fan love of this series to be thoughtful and articulate. I’m more – “wheeee, all the right people in the tree, K – I – S – S – I – N -G!” because, baby, all my ships came home to roost, every single one of them.

Brennan has created a very fast-paced, entertaining series of YA urban fantasy with an elegantly simple magical system at its centre (you’re either part of the Goblin Market, or you’re a Magician, and by the way? Demons are scary), and a whole lot of horrible, angsty things happening to cute, witty people with knives. Like if Buffy was British, but better.

She has also done some extremely clever things, sneaked in amongst all the distracting banter and hot boys taking their shirts off. At first look, constructing a trilogy in which each volume has a different point of view character, sounds nuts. But in fact, it was the perfect choice for this story. With each point of view change, we get different ways of seeing the various characters, and the world looks slightly different. It’s a way to delve into different corners of the story, quite intensely. The danger of course is that if you don’t like one protagonist, you aren’t likely to wait around for the next book to come out. There are plenty of readers who didn’t engage with Nick, the teenage sociopath who narrated The Demon’s Lexicon, and plenty more who objected to the shift of POV to Mae, a girl with pink hair who has kissed more than one boy, in The Demon’s Covenant. There were even some who were concerned to hear that Sin, a minor character in both those books, was lined up to narrate Book Three.

Ahem. Some spoilers abound below. But I am quite restrained, honest.
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Galactic Suburbia Presents: Joanna Russ Spoilerific Book Club

Our Joanna Russ special episode of Galactic Suburbia is up! Grab it from iTunes, [EDIT: or by direct download from our new website on Podbean]


How To Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ

The Female Man, by Joanna Russ

“When it Changed,” by Joanna Russ

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia @ gmail.com – we’d love to hear your stories of discovering and rediscovering Joanna Russ.

Follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Uncommon Criminals, by Ally Carter

There are two very important points about heist stories which are reiterated throughout this second volume of the ‘Heist Society’ series. Firstly, heist stories are about family, usually the kind of family which is assembled from a group of misfits rather than actual blood relatives. This allows them to be stories about love and trust, even as the protagonists themselves are deeply untrustworthy. Secondly, heist stories are usually all about the boys.

What I really like about Carter’s books, apart from her being the author of some of the best fun, escapist (and yet smart) YA stories since Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, is that she takes stories that are normally all about men, and gives them to girls instead. The Gallagher Girls took the world of James Bond, the Bourne Identity, etc. and asked the question, where would those spies send their daughters to school? The Heist Society series likewise asks about the youngest generation of a traditionally male occupation, but this time it’s the con men, jewel thieves and catburglars whose kids are having their own adventures.

From The Italian Job to Ocean’s Eleven, and even TV series Hustle, heist stories generally are about a team of guys, with maybe one token woman (who is hot). Ally Carter’s Heist Society isn’t quite as girl-centric a story as the Gallagher Girls, but she has a great, complex heroine as her protagonist, and deals very well with the moral ambiguities of the criminal life, as well as indulging in the very appealing idea of your family and your team being stronger than the sum of its parts.

I very much liked the antagonist set up in this story, a woman of a different generation who knows all of Kat’s family secrets and all the cons in the book – and the way that she and Kat used each other’s assumptions and preconceptions against each other. It’s a very entertaining dance, and one tinged with potential heartbreak every step of the way, as Kat moves out from the shadow of her family, determined to bring down this ghost from her uncles’ past.

Also, this one is about emeralds. Got to love a pair of sparkly, incredibly valuable, possibly cursed emeralds.

There was frustratingly little progress in the main romance of this series – though I was intrigued to see Carter bring back the elements of what looked like yet another love triangle, only to throw her hands up and pretty much admit that there’s only one horse in this race. Which is absolutely true, and JUST FINE thank you, and could they please get on with it? Sigh. One of these days I will actually wait until a series is finished before I start reading it…

No, I won’t.

The only trouble with all of Ally Carter’s books is after waiting ages for the latest volume to be released, I read them so fast that they barely touch the sides. Still, it’s lovely to have some books for teenage girls which are fluffy, witty and action-packed, without in any way being about princesses.

Agathon 2. The Secret Adversary (1922)

Tansy and Kathryn have taken the challenge to read every book written by Agatha Christie, in order of publication and we’re blogging as we go along. We’re calling it the Agathon! As a warning, there may be spoilers, though the massive ones will be signposted.

Kathryn’s post here.

2 – The Secret Adversary (1922)
Featuring: Tommy and Tuppence, Inspector Japp (mentioned)

I think it’s fascinating that Agatha Christie is now best known as a writer of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot murder mysteries, and here we are at book two at the Agathon and it’s a spy novel!

‘The Secret Adversary’ opens with childhood chums Tommy Beresford and Tuppence (Prudence) Cowell running into each other in London. World War I is over and there is a dearth of jobs for both ex-VAD women, like Tuppence, and ex-Army men like Tommy. They decide to form a joint venture the “The Young Adventurers, Ltd.”, and hijnks ensue, as they are become embroiled in finding a missing American girl and tracking down a spy ring that is threatening to bring down the British Government. Even though I had already read it before, I found it quite exciting.

Is it a good spy novel? Well, given what I’ve read of John le Carre and Frederick Forsythe (who to be fair did write about the Cold War, whereas this is between WWI and WWII), I’m not sure it’s a particularly accurate one. Other than Mr Brown, the villians are cardboard cutouts -there’s a Russian and a German and a man from The Union (gasp!), and an Irishman from Sinn Fein. I have no idea how it actually relates to the politics of the time, but it comes over as a bit simplified. However, the level of detail in the political, erm, plot, contrasts signficantly against those parts of the novel that are rendered in lovely detail, such as the very detailed and specific description of how Tuppence went about posing as a maid for Rita Vandermeyer (and her qualifications for doing so). And, at the heart of this very jolly spy book, there is a murder and a mystery and Christie weaves these both into the story very well (though perhaps with a few less red-herring-y clues as in a Poirot novel). I also have to note that I *love* that this is a spy book where eating is important! Tommy and Tuppence are continually sitting down to buns or a good lunch of sole (particularly once they are ensconced at the Ritz).

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Smart Women Saying Smart Things

I have been gathering a pile of interesting links for blog posts all week, many of them linking to each other and building upon each other in a fascinating conversation about writing, reviewing and gender.

Reviewing and Writing as Women’s Work

Nicola Griffiths on how the gendered gaze affects our perceptions of how “hard” or “soft” science fiction actually is (and how sexual it is).

Madeleine Robins on the insidious, internalised cultural pressures of “nice girls don’t brag or draw attention to themselves” and how that works against promoting your own books as an author.

Sherwood Smith on the gender imbalance in SF reviewing and how Important Books tend to be those on Manly Subjects of Manliness and yet books about/by women mysteriously turn out to be Not Important, and isn’t that an odd coincidence? Also, how important it is to realise that if your literary tastes differ from the accepted standards of what is Good, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with you. In closing, in response to Madeleine Robins’ post, she also points out that the mythical women who don’t push themselves forward enough (and are therefore responsible for people not realising women can write good books) tend to be highly criticised by society when they actually do push themselves forward. Yes, still.

Owlectomy on how a gendered perspective of a novel’s subject can absolutely mess with your instincts about whether it is worthy of an award, and it can screw with you even if you are a woman and a feminist. Her description of the Joanna Russ Fairy is epic and must become a staple of critical language:

And the Joanna Russ fairy said, “If you think that family and love and grief are not inherently important topics, you might as well put some zombies in your Pride and Prejudice and be done with it.”

Juliet McKenna on how insidious Default/Lazy Sexism can be, and how easily people slip into the idea that fantasy is a genre for and about men.

Timmi Duchamp at Aqueduct on reviewing as a woman, reviewing marginal and mainstream work, and why we need more diverse critical voices.

Miscellaneous but Still Awesome

A powerful essay by Farah Mendlesohn about the work of Diana Wynne Jones, her literary influence, and why she was so terribly important as a writer. (not all that unrelated to the previous section, now I come to think of it)

Nisi Shawl on Race, Still – essential reading for anyone in the genre. And yep, this one’s not all that unrelated either.

Diana Peterfreund announces that Errant, the medieval-awesome-women-with-unicorns novelette that was one of my favourite pieces of short fiction last year, is available as an e-book. If you didn’t get hold of the antho it was originally in (Kiss Me Deadly) then I can recommend this one very highly.

Image found thanks to Ragnell – I have seen this fantastic cosplay group around the web all over the place but this is the first time I saw so many of them in one image. It may well be the awesomest thing I have seen in many months.

Agathon 1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

Kathryn and I have taken the challenge to read every book written by Agatha Christie, in order of publication and we’re blogging as we go along. We’re calling it the Agathon! You can find Kathryn’s post over here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. As a warning, there may be spoilers, though they will be signposted.

1 – The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
Featuring: Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp

TANSY SAYS: Wow, I was not expecting the first person narrator. It’s all very Watson and Holmes, isn’t it? I rather loved Hastings, silly rabbit that he is, and the way we get to see Poirot through his eyes. Also his tendency to fall in love with unattainable women and accidentally propose to entirely different women! It’s all a bit Dorothy Sayers, really. Is that heresy?

I knew nothing about Hastings going into this – I’ve never read a book with him as narrator before and it’s funny to see Poirot as part of this odd partnership. Also, I’m a little taken aback to see Poirot described as so VERY old, retired already… goodness. Doesn’t he have another 50 years of crime solving to go?

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The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, by Kim Newman

I fell hard in love with The Man From the Diogenes Club, by Kim Newman, some years ago. This collection of short stories was based around the premise that Mycroft Holmes’ gentleman’s club was a secret society of crimefighters, dealing with bizarre and unclassifiable crimes through history. The original collection centred mostly around the 70’s, and took its inspiration from any number of cult TV shows of the era.

Cat Sparks, a fellow fan of 1970’s cult TV, remembered my adoration and got hold of a copy of the next book in the series for me, from World Fantasy, complete with the author’s autograph. Thanks largely to my two year phase of reading little but YA, I failed to read it until now. I’d liked the first one so much that I had got quite paranoid about chancing the follow up. But there’s a third now, so time to read the second!

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Super Bumper Catchy Uppy Review Post 2010

I’ve actually got to the point where it BUGS ME if I like a book and for one reason or another, don’t get around to reviewing it on my blog. Sometimes I don’t have time, or I can’t figure out what to say, or what I have to say is too big, or I just read too many awesome books in the one fortnight and some get lost along the way. Or I talked about it on Galactic Suburbia and lost impetus to write my thoughts down. There are also the books that I feel odd or uncomfortable about reviewing, because they’re written by friends (weirdly sometimes I do feel okay about doing this and sometimes not, and it has nothing to do with the degree of friendship) or because there’s some other perceived conflict of interest – there are some TPP books where I have contributed more editorial input than others, and of course there are anthologies in which a story of my own appears.

And there are the ones I just forgot about at the time. And the ones I finished really close to the end of the year, when all my blogging mojo was directed at Ace and the baseball bat.

Part of me wants to go, “REALLY? You REALLY can’t let it go? You’re going to actually feel guilty about not reviewing a small handful of awesome books that people probably know about anyway, rather than feeling proud about the zillions you have reviewed?”

To which I reply, “Okay, you’re obviously a part of me that does not know me very well AT ALL.”

Here then is a super post of a bunch of books I meant to review in 2010 but didn’t, so I can move on into 2011 with a clear conscience. Or something.

Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook, The Writer’s Tale: the Final Chapter
I very much resented having to buy this book a second time, even if the extra amount added to the paperback was totally worth the price. I now have TWO copies on my shelves, and who’s going to want my hardback of the first half? It was, sadly, completely worth it. A fascinating behind the scenes look at the creative genius (and it has to be said, creative flukitude) of Russell T Davies, it’s a very candid correspondence and one of the best books I’ve ever read as far as capturing what it’s like to be a writer. All writerly spouses should read it, regardless of their interest or lack thereof in Doctor Who!

Helen Merrick, The Secret Feminist Cabal
A fascinating, crunchy examination of the history of fan culture, which happens to have an awful lot in it about women, attitudes to women, feminism, and attitudes to feminism. Awesome stuff.

Clayton Hickman (ed), The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who
One of two very well-chosen Christmas presents I bought myself! I’ve never bothered with the annuals or any of the tie in books about New Who, because they seem to mostly be aimed at kids – this was totally aimed at kids, but luckily the kids in question were mostly TWELVE YEAR OLD ME so I enjoyed it very much as a lazy Christmas read. Far closer to a Doctor Who Magazine Special than some boring old annual, this was full of cool bits and pieces, Moffatt quotes, cast interviews, making of features, and extras. The Brian Aldiss story was a bit of boring old tripe that didn’t capture the character voices at all, but the rest of the book was tip-top. My favourite bit was the collection of Churchill diary entries with mentions of all the Doctors who have crossed his path over his lifetime, which was genuinely funny and sweet.

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