Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Gaiman leads us on an adventure through Norse mythology, as we discover the complex network of relationships and characters that make up this mythology. As he states, it is a shame that many of the supposed tales have been lost through time, and Gaiman only works with those that remain.

The Norse myths to me do speak of a cold mountainous land. One where powers struggle against each other to gain an upper hand, and giants roam the lands beyond. But it is a fully-realised world, with details filled in to make compelling tales.

Gaiman celebrates Loki’s cunning, whilst slightly mocking Thor’s excessive use of strength. And they are all very fallible. In fact the fallibility of the gods is most of what the stories are about, combined with their willingness to sacrifice each other for personal gain, and inhuman speed, strength and stamina.


Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a wonderful heroine – determined to win through in a situation and social system that doesn’t give her much of a chance. She finds her own way to escape her impoverished background, and shows real strength of character throughout.

However Rochester is so deeply flawed as a love interest that I find the ending hard to swallow. Is it not enough that Jane has achieved independent wealth and a family that love her? Why does she need to return to a man who would have made a good stepping-stone in learning who she is? An off-page incident in which he becomes dependent on her does not make compelling storytelling to me.

Of course this is probably a very modern perspective, in which moving on to a new man in your twenties is eminently possible, and Jane does very well at managing herself and not settling for an inferior option, or for a man who is in a strong position to exploit her. And she chooses for love rather than duty when it comes down to the final decision, a woman who knows what will fulfil her in the end. I just wish Rochester was a better human being.


Not in God’s Name – Jonathan Sacks

An exploration of the history of the three Abrahamic religions and their sibling-like relationship.

Aside from the inbuilt assumption that God is real, this made for fascinating reading. The history of how the three religions came into existence is told through the parables of sibling rivalry. Then we understand how theology has developed peacefully and how all the intention of peace between tribes is subverted into violence and rivalry.

Unfortunately as this was recommended to me by someone who was trying to explain where faith comes from to me, it still felt like faith as a social control method, even if it is supposed to be used for good.



Tortall: A Spy’s Guide – Tamora Pierce

Despite me doing so, this isn’t really a book to be read in a single sitting. It is a collection of “papers from George’s work” which hang together to build an image of what was going on behind the scenes in Tortall.

But there are gems of worldbuilding in here, and what fan could fail to love the tidbits of information that are sneaked out, including the backstory of why George wouldn’t let Aly do spy work. And how initial treaties with the Immortals were formed.

I also love that for the first time really since the Song of the Lioness, Jon becomes fully human again, a father who could do anything to protect his children, rather than the very distant and responsible figure he became under the Protector of the Small (although Aly knew him as a human, it was an abstract human given her separation from Tortall).

An essential read for any Tortall-world fans, but not a standalone piece of writing.


A Distant View of Everything – Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel’s charmed life continues with only a few hiccups. A new baby, Magnus, has arrived, but Grace and Jamie are so ever-present that she still continues to volunteer at her niece’s shop on top of managing the review and helping other people. Occasionally she recalls her children when out and about, but only to ring Grace and confirm that she will be a little longer.

Obviously though she does love her family, and occasionally listens to Jamie when he offers advice, but more often, blunders on obliviously getting herself into dreadful pickles. But of course in her side of Edinburgh everyone is very nice and understanding, so by the end of the book no harm has been done.

McCall Smith has obviously written himself into a bit of a loop here: unable to give Isabel’s tale a decent ending he is just dragging it out into repetitive books. They no longer stand up to rereading, but are worth picking up from the library in hope of improvement.



The Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

The first two books in this series are covered in an earlier review.

After a wait for Voyage of the Basilisk (acquired through inter-library loan), I devoured the last three books of this series. The setup for the twist in Within the Sanctuary of Wings was sufficiently obvious through that I had spotted it mid-series. Especially once Isabella married.

But whatever the lack of surprise, it is more than made up for by the fast-paced adventures, foolishness and the Victorian woman willing to risk her family life in order to make scientific discoveries. The “science” is good fun, and the weaving in of other disciplines adds depth. Regular readers may recall I was quite taken by a drive to discover a lost language, and the Temeraire series which is another non-traditional “dragon history”.

If fast-paced fantasy novels are your thing, then these are good reads, and Isabella makes a fabulous heroine, always ready to try something foolhardy and usually win out. At a fair few points I could only bring myself to keep reading in the knowledge that as the writer of her own memoir, she surely couldn’t die in this adventure.


An American in Paris – Dominion Theatre, London

An American in Paris was a few hours of irresistibly danceable tunes and swirling skirts. A mix-up of jazz-driven tap and modern ballet. It is taken from a classic musical film, but I hadn’t seen that before I went into the theatre, although I’m tempted to hire it to watch at home one night.

Despite the grim settings and back stories of many of the characters (none of whom are prepared to discuss the war they have just lived through at the start), it is about finding purpose, beauty and love as life unfolds before them, so becomes a very feel-good show

The number of dancers filling the stage, and the music also helped with this: the band were fabulous.

The greatest mystery is how the woman two seats across from me (near the front of the stalls!) managed to fall into such a deep sleep that she was snoring in both acts!


I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

This is not a book to read for the writing style, but then English is not Malala’s first, or second language. But instead it is a story to read for inspiration, about a girl who didn’t give up in the face of insurmountable opposition, and who despite coming so close to paying the ultimate price, has made leaps of progress as a result.

This was a “quick read” abridged version from the library, and I’ll look out for the full version instead because I want to read that greater depth.


The Snow Tourist – Charlie English

This was picked up from a charity shop on our summer camping trip (in the same shop my son got 6 books as they were trying to clear down their children’s shelves with a 3 for £1 deal. His favourite was an old, small-type, paperback of The House at Pooh Corner.) I picked it up to read on the next camping trip, as it had been stored on the van bookshelf. I had to leave my misgivings about the cover of this book behind, as it was clearly sketched by someone who knew nothing about the geography of the places mentioned. But once I was in the pages I just kept reading.

I should hate this. English decides to deal with mid-life maudlin by abandoning his wife and children frequently and going in hunt of snow. But then again the temptation of snow is strong, and I can see the draw to keep going back. In fact it is only my own set of responsibilities that stops me from setting off now, and I’m hoping for snow on our planned winter walking weekends, with the van winterised and ready to go if we get some within reach on a weekend that we’re free.

This book is not a specialist on any subject, but meanders through the history of colonisation, scientific discovery, sports history and meteorology. It is the richer for that, for English lacks the depth in any of these to be a specialist, but has the passion to provide an overview woven into the narrative of his travels.

One of those gems that is found one in a blue moon, or July snowfall.


A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents – Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

As a lover of both science writing and fantasy, especially that not set in pseudo-medieval worlds, this appealed to me instantly when recommended, and was promptly ordered from the library. Lady Trent is a wonderful character, a wilful daughter of the aristocracy when scientific careers are only permitted for men, and finds her own way to happiness.

There are wild dragons, but in England they are tiny insects for a young girl’s imagination to be captured. But as she grows into a woman, she has a systematic study of the sparklings rather than just a habit of watching them. But as a woman she cannot (yet) speak in the scientific societies, but instead has to carve her own, more difficult route.

These books are wonderful for their dragons, Isabella’s passion, the science and the feminist journey. I am ordering book three as soon as I’ve made a dent in my TBR pile. For some reason that one is missing from the library set, so I can’t get hold of it that way.