Krazykiwi @ Kiwitopia

I'm a kiwi (the kind from New Zealand) who lives in Sweden. I read a lot.


I sometimes write really long reviews. And sometimes I don't.  I rate books fairly hard, something has to be pretty spectacular and a long time favourite to get a 5. But I'll try to explain why I rated what I rated.


Much books. Very review. Wow.

A Red Tale by Nicola Mar

A Red Tale - Nicola Mar

Beautifully written, but just not really for me.


There really is some lovely writing here though. Some days, for me, that's enough, but not here. I'm kind of over essentially passive MC's who don't really seem to have any agency (or when they do seem to, not doing anything with it.) 


The MC here is so busy having things happen to her, and deus ex machina helpers pop up a la Alice in Wonderland style to move the plot along, that she almost disappears into the scenery. Some kind of tabula rasa for the story to be projected against. 


If you like Kate Griffin, Catherynne M. Valente, perhaps John Crowley (and I do, all three, very much), you might give the sample of this a shot though.



Damocles by S.G. Redling

Damocles - S.G. Redling

First Contact where we, humanity, are the potentially hostile, terrifyingly alien aliens, with a tiny explorer ship making an unplanned landing on a technologically (and militarily) advanced planet. One that hasn't even thought of looking to the stars yet. You bet they will now though.


I did enjoy this, particularly the try at writing an alien race in a way that isn't just humans in a rubber suit, how a different physiology etc. might affect psychology and culture. In this respect it does very well, certainly better than many other such attempts I've read. A lot of the conflict is about trying to build a necessary trust with something you cannot even begin to understand. Redling manages to do it without falling too often into infodump land, but rather letting the differences in thinking and viewpoint tell a lot of the story.


I read this way back in March, and it's stuck with me, suggesting it might deserve a higher rating, and yet...


There's something just a little too glib about it. It's not that the heroine is a bit too Mary Sue for me, it's that everyone is just a little too... whatever they are. There's not an average person to be found in the entire book. Now that might well be because all the characters belong to the space administration of their respective planets, but still. It's kind of like trying to watch TV with the saturation turned up too high, and I longed for it all to be toned down just a little bit.


Still, this is definitely worth a shot if you liked say, Contact, or Arrival (or the Ted Chiang short that was based on - which I for one liked a lot better.) In fact, definitely if you liked Arrival, it clearly shares a lot of DNA.


So, as to the rating, it's probably me, book, not you.

A Subtle Agency by Graeme Rodaughan

A Subtle Agency: The Metaframe War: Book 1 - Graeme Rodaughan

I no longer rate or write proper reviews of books by people I know, it's a no-win situation. But I still read 'em.


So a brief note only: This reminded me a lot of Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson, both with it's rather breathless pacing and with it's worldwide, thousands of year old conspiracies.


I wouldn't recommend this to vampire novel fans looking for extreme vampire tropeism, because the vampire-ness of one side of the conflict is fairly arbitrary, and seemed not very important at all. They could as well have been aliens or supervillains, This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you like thrillers and think this looks interesting, but are not a vampire fan, then don't be put off by that.



Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns  - Mark  Lawrence

There's more than enough reviews about this book that dive deep into the protagonist's likeability or lack thereof. I'm not going to go there - if you've decided to pick this up, you probably already know most of it by now, and you have to make your own decision.


In any case: Did I enjoy it? I think I did. I certainly read it fast and can still remember it a good deal better than a lot of other books I've read. I actually found it fascinating to be rooting for a protagonist who is most definitely not a hero to be idolised, yet for everyone's best needs to succeed. I've always had a preference for grey morality (albeit, in this case, the grey is pretty dark, let's say, charcoal grey) over the righteously self-righteous. Or the evil so deeply evil it's a caricature.


Will I read on in the series? Quite likely. But this is not a binge read for me, for sure.


Would I read more by Mark Lawrence? Without a doubt.


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms  - N.K. Jemisin

Sometimes you read a book--or I do at least--and then have no idea how you feel about it. This is one of those. So I let it sit for a month or so before reviewing, and... I think I really liked it. 


So short plot summary: Shortly after the death of her mother, Yeine is called by the grandfather she's never met, to the big city she's never been to, and told she's his heir. Which amounts to being heir to the entire world, since he's pretty much in charge of everything. The only problem is, there are two other heirs, and good old Grandad is content to sit back and let them fight it out. To the death, if necessary. Yeine, meanwhile, is a total beginner in the whole conspiracy and politics thing, and is therefore at something of a disadvantage.


The whole thing is rather complicated by the fact her family is not only in charge of pretty much the whole world, but their power largely derives from them having custody of a bunch of enslaved gods, currently being punished by their brother God over a rebellion. And this motley crew of chained but still extremely powerful beings, have plans of their own for Yeine.


Yeine herself, is a sometimes frustrating character, but generally sympathetic. She's smart and tough, but she's naive and too quick to trust--especially in a hotbed of political intrigue. Nahadoth, oldest and strongest of the chained gods is suitably enigmatic and inscrutable most of the time, and the other heirs and family members are essentially set pieces. There's the mean girl, and the drunk wastrel boy, and the overly helpful and clearly untrustworthy one, and I don't know wtf is up with the grandfather, because we really don't see very much of him.


It's dreadfully flawed in some ways. For instance, the entire thing takes place over a few short weeks, and Yeine goes from naive barbarian to epic political twistmeister pretty quickly (although not always 100% succesfully.) There's other things, but I don't want to put anyone off it, I think this is very much worth reading. 


Because, flawed it might be, but it's so very compelling. Jemisin's writing just hit me like a freight train and didn't stop. I suspect if you aren't quite so captivated by the writing, you'll have a much harder time forgiving the flaws. 


My biggest caveat: I think it should have been a standalone. Most series-starter books I like as much as I think I might have liked this one, I'm eagerly hunting down the sequels, but I have absolutely no desire to do so here. In fact, the ending is so perfectly wrapped up for me, (and clearly for the author), there really is no possible way to continue to write about these characters. So the sequels are about different ones, set in the same world, following someone who although they are a shadow over this whole book, we don't actually meet until the very last pages. And I just don't want to read about him.  That said, there's no cliffhanger, and this story is so utterly complete, I'm going to recommend this as a standalone. And then I'm going to go find something else


Jemisin has written, that isn't part of this series, and see if that freight train hits me again, or did I just luck out this time.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Before I review this, you should know two very important things. 


1. I am a total Gaiman fangirl. There are very few things he's written that I didn't love, and I look forward to a new Gaiman book more than I do to Christmas. Or my birthday. I have at least 3 copies of every Sandman book (My beloved originals carefully put away, digital copies, and the reprinted hardcovers :) 


2. I live in Viking Central. I mean literally. It's 20 minutes by boat to Birka. There are more viking ruins (if you include runestones) within 50km of where I live than the rest of Scandinavia put together. My kids learnt to read runes at school, and there is a Viking festival here every year on the beach about 5 minutes from my house, where everyone comes and literally lives viking style for an entire week (of which my favourite part is the horses and the silversmithery, because mead--actually not that good.)


In any case, despite not being born in Sweden, I know the myths inside and out, they are still considered a really important part of history and culture in this particular area, and I've sat through many (many!) a school play where my kids acted one or more of them out. And I know how deeply funny most of them are, all the little subtleties that are often lost in translation. Like how Thor is dumb as a box of hammers, and Loki is ... well just Loki.


The result is, I actually wasn't, for once, looking forward to this book with my usual joyous anticipation, I was terrified slightly worried my beloved Mr. Gaiman would get something wrong, and I'd be horribly disappointed. 


So to the actual review. You knew I'd get there eventually :)


I wasn't disappointed. Not in the slightest. 


Gaiman takes some very fragmented, and occasionally contradictory stories, and manages to weave them into a coherent and totally readable saga, beginning with the creation myth and ending with Ragnarök, and detouring into all the funniest and most fun stories in between. While each story stands well enough alone, there's a master storyteller steering the whole thing along a red thread of narrative.


And of course it includes my absolute favourite stories. Including my two favourite stories: The one where Loki is the mother of Odin's horse and the one where Thor cross dresses as a bride. And people think the Marvel universe is so daring for having a female Thor. The vikings have been there done that, 1500 years ago :)


So, despite all the buildup, that's my actual review: It's great.


If you love the norse myths already, this is a perfect little compendium of the best of them, all in one little package - and if you don't, it's also a perfect little compendium to get to know them from.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap - Laura Ruby

This is a fabulous book. It seems to be marketed as Magical Realism, but I think it slips over the boundary into Fantasy, and if that borderland is a place you like to hang out in, as I do, then this is perfect.


The heart of the tale is about belonging and about being an outsider, and how you can sometimes be both at once.


It's got a beautifully drawn relationship between two brothers, one who gave up all his dreams to care for the other when their feckless mother took off for a new boyfriend in Oregon, and the other who can't seem to quite fit in with anyone at all, including the big brother he idolises.


There's a scary villain (who maybe isn't evil, although certainly bad) and a beautiful maiden (who isn't entirely a passive damsel in distress waiting to be saved), and beasts and a horse who is a literal night mare, but not a nightmare.


The writing is lyrical, but not dense, in fact it's eminently readable. Although it took me 2 months to get around to writing the review about it, it's easy as pie to write because the book has stuck with me, and in fact writing this has made me want to go read it again. And I read it in a day the first time!


No book is perfect, and there are flaws. They don't matter. For instance, one of the characters is from Poland, and the Poland of the book may have been the Poland of the 1940's, but almost hilariously isn't the modern technologically up to date country of modern times. It jars, a little... but then it doesn't matter, because it's entirely beside the point and the plot.


I don't read YA as a rule, but I'm very very glad I read this one.

Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

Burning Paradise - Robert Charles Wilson

Imagine you are an orphan, your parents part of a small but worldwide group investigating an alien presence that appears to be manipulating humanity for unknown reasons, and they were murdered in order to keep that knowledge secret.


You may have the means and opportunity to destroy the entity responsible - would you?


Now imagine that other than your parents and their group, the alien presence has been essentially benevolent. It's been subtly adjusting humanity by manipulating our communications to make us more peaceful since the dawn of radiocommunications. An inflammatory word missing from a news report here. The news anchor given a sympathetic mien there. Nothing dramatic in isolation for the majority, but a totality that has resulted in no major wars since The Great War of 1914-1918. The world carries on as usual otherwise.


Would you still attempt to destroy it, knowing the consequences?


This is the big idea at the centre of this novel, and it's certainly a "big idea", but the story itself is centred on it's characters, primarily the main character Cassie, 19 years old and on the run with her younger brother. I very much liked the big idea here: How can an act of revenge take precedence over the fate of the world? Under what extenuating circumstances could that be justified?


I also liked the writing. Robert Charles Wilson writes like a modern thriller writer, there's a sort of no-nonsense sense of urgency, a get to the pointless and general lack of fluff that suits me. I find his books fairly fast and easy reads.


Unfortunately I wasn't overly enamoured of the lead character, and I found her a little too passive for a lot of the time. Odd considering the first couple of chapters revolve around her jumping into action, going on the run when she realises her own life and that of her young brother are in danger, but once she's met up with an ally or two, she just lets go of the reins and lets others decide what's going on, and what happens next. Even more, she doesn't seem to have much of an opinion about any of what's going on, taking everything she's told on faith and not questioning it. So by the end of the book when she suddenly decides to pick up those reins again and the entire fate of the world is resting on her shoulders, it's a little hard to believe.


Still, it's not a bad book at all.

Heirs of Grace by Tim Pratt

Heirs of Grace - Tim Pratt, Leslie Hull

Samsung Kindle freebie of the month (more about that below).


This is not high literature, but on a snowy morning at home with a cold, and wrapped up in a blanket and the cats, it was just the right kind of Christmas candy and I enjoyed it. It might be a case of "Right book at the right moment", but I think if you're a contemporary UF fan, this is well worth a shot, particularly as it's a) a standalone and b) there's a pretty good chance you can get it free until the end of the December 2016 (I wrote "the month" there, but that's no use if you're reading this a year from now.)


The opening line is a pretty good insta-taste of the writing:


My new life was off to a bumpy start even before Trey got eaten by the mirror.


The bones of the plot is nothing we haven't seen before: Young woman discovers she is the inheritor of a massive amount of power, and has to figure out by herself how to deal with it. 


What's great:

  • Bekah is 24?25? non-white (she's not actually sure what she is, as she's adopted, and it is partly cleared up in the book.), not entirely heterosexual, non-virginal, non-neurotic and definitely no damsel in distress. She is brave and kind, and in charge of her own life, and enjoying it. She's also not perfect, her innate kindness and self-reliance puts her in danger a few times, but she generally gets herself out of it again, or at least gives it a shot. And yet, despite being a thoroughly modern miss with agency and self-esteem, she actually asks for help from people who can help her, when possible, and accepts help when it's offered if it makes sense to do so.
  • Sure she's been given a big dose of magical inheritance, but not on a plate. For most of the book, the main problem is she knows about it but she can't find it (it's literally been put in a physical form and then lost). And when she does find it, she can't figure out how to access it. And when she does finally get there, she gets to decide if it's what she really wants or not, taking it on isn't the only option.
  • It's a standalone. As much as I liked this little world and the fact that it's obviously not the end of the world for the characters, it feels like this story is told and wrapped up, and it's nice to just have a standalone book now and then.
  • The ending is quite unexpected. Mostly in a good way (The epilogues could have been tightened up a bit though.). There's a great deal of kindness and gentleness in this book, which is funny considering it's also got monsters getting their innards made outards by double-barrelled shotguns, etc. It just doesn't lead at all where you think it's going to.
  • There's a lot of really witty banter, and occasionally fabulously funny dialogue, but actually very little snark. I love snark, heck, I am more or less made of snark IRL, but non-stop all the snark you can read is a little much. It was kind of fun to see this style of writing done without it.


What's not:

  • The love interest is a bit of a sap. A terribly charming, cute and sweet sap, but he's basically Bekah's puppy. In part that's a plot point and there is a reason, but only in part,
  • There are a couple of places where she's just a little too persuasive. And they're both huge plot points. As in, she talks her way out of situations, or talks other characters into things, that just don't quite seem plausible. 
  • There are the usual problems of male authors writing inside a female POV character's heads. That said, they are remarkably, refreshingly few, which is great but makes them a little more jarring than usual when they do happen.
  • That ending really is a bit too pat. Despite being in character for Bekah, and the fact I actually liked it a great deal, in the end everyone gets off a little light.
  • There's a lot of really witty banter. Even snarkless, and as much as I enjoyed it, there's maybe a little TOO much. There's a few places where it's a bit much and one where I thought to myself "Really? You're making jokes already? Five minutes ago you had your neck broken and then you got stabbed. It's ok to be serious and contemplative now and then." Right before the characters made a joke at each other about how they were already making jokes at each other. Maybe reading this all in one sitting isn't ideal. It was originally released as a 6 part Kindle serial, and while it works well as a novel, the parts are self-contained, not cliffhangery, and just about the right size for a helping.


About that Samsung freebie thing:

I've written about this before, but a reminder now and then doesn't hurt.


Every month Amazon and Samsung give a choice of four books for free. To see the offers, you have to install the Samsung for Kindle app from the Galaxy/Samsung store - it's otherwise identical to the normal Kindle app, other than offering you free books every month. I have that app on my phone, even though I mostly read the books on my tablet or PC, once you've chosen the book it's yours and in your library just like any other purchase, and you can sync it to your other devices as normal, so all you need is one Samsung device that has access to the Galaxy app store, and you're good to go, even if that device isn't one you'd read a book on.


So far, I've been pretty impressed with the ones I've read - this one was pretty good, one of them (600 Hours of Edward) turned out to be one of my favourite books this year. This month the selection was this book, what looked like a PNR, a suspense thriller looking thing, and something else I forgot - there's usually a bit of a range of genre, most months I find something worth grabbing.

(show spoiler)
The Letter - Sandra Owens

Not sure where I picked this up, I suspect it was a kindle freebie. In any case, having recently started wandering around in historical romancelandia (with somewhat hit and miss results), and since it had such rave reviews, I gave it a read.


Good grief do I regret that.


This book opens with a letter from a villain (clearly twirling his mustache and cackling to himself in glee) to the supposed hero, detailing a decade of abuse heaped upon the woman the "hero" was to have married and her child. It does not improve from there one little bit.




Right off the top of my head issues:


  • When the best character in a romance novel is a three legged cat who falls over a lot, or an imaginary bunny, the book is in trouble. When those characters don't even show up until the last few chapters, trouble doesn't even begin to describe it.
  • The child is supposedly 10 years old, speaks like a 14 year old, and acts like a 4 year old. I think it's supposed to be cute, it's not.
  • There is another woman, obviously also a victim of a hinky relationship, although that's not apparent until late in the book. The heroine notices this, unlike anyone else, and offers some support and the "hero" (yes I'm going to scare-quote that every single time) tells her to butt the hell out. What a prince Duke.
  • Fairly near the end, the "hero" at one point laments that the ten years of sadistic abuse has "cost him his chance at an obedient wife." If it had been a paperback, it would have gotten thrown at the wall at that point.


I could probably come up with a bunch more completely off the wall reasons to intensely dislike this book, but I honestly don't want to think about it anymore. In any case, I was considering how to write this review, when I discovered someone had more or less written it for me, so go boogenhagen's review on Goodreads for a more in-depth and only slightly less disgusted discussion of it's many failures.

So Bob Dylan

Interesting and out of the box choice, but I have to agree with the Nobel Committee bringing up the rich tradition of poetry being an oral (and aural) art from antiquity. We no longer listen to Homer and Sappho and hear Beowulf sung to us, but we still read them.


It's a choice that must have been helped along by the equally rich Swedish (or actually, Nordic) history of having a very blurred line between what is a song and what is a poem. From the Viking-era skalds, the poetic sagas like the Eddas, through post-Viking royal chroniclers who kept records of the early Swedish Kings in poetic form through the 11th to 13th centuries,Bellman in the 1700's (often set to music right through the current day), all the way to artists such as Cornelis Vreeswijk, more or less a contemporary of Dylan's, or Lars Winnberbäck producing bitter and barbed social commentary in poetry-masquerading-as-pop-song. Or from another tack, pop band Mando Diao having a monster summer hit in Sweden a couple of years ago by setting a poem by beloved Swedish Poet Gustav Fröding to music.


So yeah, a surprising and unexpected choice, but a very very Swedish one.


(I'd post videos for all the above, but they're all in Swedish. So have some Dylan instead :) (It's Alright Ma, I'm only Bleeding)

Type matters

I'm a total typography nerd, one of my early jobs was copy-editor at a newspaper (I know, hard to believe, my posts are shockingly riddled with typos and errors, but it's true!) and one of my favourite things to do was watch the page designers put together the days editions.


Anyway, I was helping daughter run down sources for a school project, and we came across these two wee short documentaries.


The first is a wee movie about the old Fleet Street presses for the Telegraph in London, used right up until the 80's, which is really cool. It runs about 6 minutes


The other is a 20 minute documentary from Penguin that talks to lots of their type designers about fonts, type design, book design, etc. It's a bit cheesy, but I enjoyed it.


Gone Wild by Ever McCormick

Gone Wild - Ever McCormick

Not awful little romance book, but it could have been so much better. (I hate to say it, but this is the kind of book that's a perfect example of a self-published novel that might have been spectacular if it'd had some love from a developmental editor.) 


Anyway. I really wanted to like this book. The hero is a total doll, and not the typical alpha asshole everyone likes to write about anymore. He tries to boss the heroine around, but she stands up for herself and he backs off, and they (this is really unusual) talk about things. Not all the things, since there's not much romance novel plot available if the MC's are actually communicating well, but most of the things :)


The problem, specifically, the timeline is entirely out of whack and frankly unbelievable. I'm not only talking about instaluuurve (although there's some of that going on too) but the background and previous events just don't entirely fit together. There are only three possibilities:

  1. After being betrayed by her boyfriend (not a spoiler, it's in the blurb), Ina stayed with him for several weeks before breaking up with him, which is out of character and contrary to the text.
  2. The entire thing took two weeks (this is simply impossible, but seems to be the case), see spoiler below.
  3. They were all still living in dorm rooms at college despite having graduated and at least one person has a fancy PR firm job. Yeah, don't think so.


This is where I think a firm editorial hand would have figured out how to either clarify the situation (if I'm misunderstanding it) or fix the inconsistencies, which are so big they totally took me out of the story.


I'm talking, graduating college, finding a job, getting an ultimatum at that job, coming up with a solution in the form of an advertising campaign and getting that advertising campaign in print, in posters, out in the real world all in the space of what seems to be two weeks. While in the middle of a break up. And the "two weeks" part is mentioned specifically, several times. Another character has had time to send out multiple job applications to very big firms (large corporate HR offices do NOT move quickly) and get rejected from all of them. Like every PR firm in the country. In two weeks.

(show spoiler)


There's also a subplot towards the end involving a third party that tries to turn a fairly sweet little "finding yourself" romance into a romantic suspense, and just didn't entirely work (but could have, because it'd been set up very well earlier in the book.


Anyway, I liked this for the most part, and I'd be willing to give the author another shot, for sure. It was just disappointing, so close but not quite there.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

There's really not much to say about this that other reviewers haven't said sooner and better. And I'm an unabashed Claire North/Kate Griffin fangirl, so perhaps I'm an easy target for her particular brand of literary magic, but in any case, this was spectacularly good.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher (Audiobook narrated by James Marsters)

Storm Front  - Jim Butcher, James Marsters

I just noticed my re-listen dates on this audiobook are both at the end of August. Apparently I get in the mood for this at the end of Summer (I think that's when I originally read the paperback too.)


Storywise, the same as the paperback obviously, nothing to add there. It's far from perfect, but sets up a great world. James Marsters is perfect for Harry he has exactly the right ratio of swagger to self-deprecation, but I get the feeling this was one of his first narrations (I could go look that up but I'm having an attack of lazy.) Sometimes his phrasing is a bit weird, and he has an annoying dialectal pronunciation of the word height that grates on me for irrational reasons involving an ex boyfriend.


Luckily he improves at the same rate Butcher's writing does as the series continues (and the word height doesn't actually appear enough times to make me rip my headphones off in frustration.) So overall, a good start to the series.

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine - Daryl Gregory

My note on this is that it was recommended to me via Bookaneer's Review. So that only took me two years to get around to reading it, and I'm kicking myself. Hard.


I'd review it, but seriously, just go read what she said. My review would just be superfluous over hers anyway :)


Suffice to say, I just went and grabbed another Daryl Gregory book (Pandemonium) immediately after finishing this novella, and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up with a couple or three more over the next few days.

Currently reading

Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey, Jefferson Mays
Progress: 15%
Tiassa by Steven Brust