I will never catch up on reviews

…if I don’t do a bunch of short ones all at once. Thus:

The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon

I checked this out on Gavin’s recommendation and because I love Alexander the Great. Your claims that he was a psychotic alcoholic have no effect on me because in my mind he is exactly the way Mary Renault writes him in Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy. The Golden Mean is about Aristotle when he comes to Macedon to tutor young Alexander. Though Lyon was clearly influenced by Mary Renault’s books, she gives a more nuanced picture of Alexander, showing a brilliant but disturbed young man who provides real heads for plays and mutilates the bodies of soldiers he has killed. Lyon uses modern language, with much swearing, and although that could have come across as stilted, it, er, it doesn’t. Hooray. Also, check out Ms. Lyon’s list of ten very good books about the ancient world.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, Galen Beckett

Advertised as Jane Austen with magic, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent completely failed to satisfy me. Other reviewers have noted that the book’s three sections are dramatically different in tone, the first being quite Jane Austen and the second quite Turn of the Screwy, and the third more straight fantasy. This bugged me, and I didn’t care for the characters anyway, and the world-building felt lazy. So, not a success. This was for the RIP Challenge.

The Fall of Rome, Martha Southgate

Big yes to this one. I have been wanting to read it for ages, on Eva’s recommendation, and it didn’t disappoint me. Latin teacher Jerome Washington has been the only black faculty member at a Connecticut boarding school for boys throughout most of his career. His ideas about decorum and racial equality are sharply challenged with the arrival of Jana Hensen, a longtime teacher in the Cleveland inner city, and Rashid Bryson, a young black student trying to get away from a family tragedy. Beautiful, complicated racial and family dynamics and lovely writing, multiple narrators, Latin, and a boarding school setting. I wish Martha Southgate had written fifteen more books besides this one, instead of only two. Behold this quotation, which I think is great:

“Racial integration?” He nodded. “What about it?”

“Well, I’m not against it, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here, right? But there’s some problems with it that I just want to talk to people about. How this place isn’t really integrated enough. We – I mean people like me – are just here to round out somebody else’s experience. That’s what it feels like, anyway.”

American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and the American Prison System, Sasha Abramsky

The American prison system is awful. It’s just awful in every way, what with the insanely punitive mandatory minimum sentences, and the poorly-trained guards, and the lack of care for the mentally ill, and the shortage of educational programs, and the–look, just everything. It’s awful. Sasha Abramsky is a careful, clear writer, and I defy you to read this book and not feel furious at the end of it.

Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Alan Moore is just not for me. When I read his books, I think of how much in sympathy I am with his views, and how important a writer of graphic novels he is, but I do not think, Wow, this is an enjoyable read. I more think, Wow, this is rather a slog. Wish I could be reading something more awesome. Now and then an image or a plot element will catch my eye and please me greatly, but these never last long enough to make my reading truly enjoyable. I also found the conclusion deeply unsatisfying: just a big info-dump of cackling villainy. I was fascinated, as I always am, with the way the 1980s seem to have been predicated on the assumption that nuclear war with Russia was imminent. And then the Berlin Wall came down! Miraculous! This was for the Graphic Novels Challenge, which I have already been awesome at this year but I cannot stop being awesome at it because graphic novels are worthwhile! Even when they are not my particular cup of tea.

Glimpses, Lynn Flewelling

Glimpses is a collection of Nightrunner short stories, with lots of fan art. It was sent to me as an e-book by Reece Notley of Three Crow Press, for which much thanks. These are stories that fill in the gaps in Seregil’s and Alec’s history: how Seregil came to be Nysander’s student, a small glimpse of Alec’s life with his father, and like that. If you are a fan of the Nightrunner series, and do not mind lots of graphic sex (I admit I can be slightly squeamish this way), you should check this out. To me, the nosy girl who wants to know exactly how everything went down, this short story collection is an excellent addition to the Nightrunner world. Lynn Flewelling has a light, amusing way of writing, and I always enjoy spending time with her characters. But if you are a stranger to the series, do yourself a favor and read Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness first.

Several books at once

Ack, I am so behind on reviews.  I am working on a project that requires a lot of attention (fortunately I can work on it while still watching classic Doctor Who), which is the excuse I’m using for my negligence.  Feel free to be distracted from this by a picture of my beautiful hat:

Hatty hat 007

Gerald Morris’s The Squire’s Tale and The Quest of the Fair Unknown

Essentially, Gerald Morris writes very sweet retellings of King Arthur legends from various sources, making fun of impractical chivalry rules and having Gawain be the coolest knight of all the knights.  Instead of Lancelot, who starts out really lame and gets much less lame as time goes on.  Every time he writes a new one, I’m afraid he’s going to have Mordred show up, which finally did happen in The Quest for the Fair Unknown (or maybe it happened before?  I haven’t been reading his new books faithfully because they have insufficient Gawain & Terence in them), and now I am far too worried to read any future books in case Arthur dies.  DO NOT WANT.  (The ostrich approach to literature.)  Oh, and Gerald Morris’s books are for children, and rereading them as an adult I find they are a smidge simplistic.  Still charming though and if I have children I will assuredly procure these books for them.

Gerald Morris’s early books (including The Squire’s Tale) are better than his later ones.  This is because he started with all the best stories.  The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady is best of all, because it is Sir Gawain & the Green Knight.  And who doesn’t love that story?  So The Quest of the Fair Unknown, you know, it had moments that were really fun, but none as good as those early stories that were all about Gawain and Terence.  However, the covers I am linking to are all pretty and matchy, and they make me want to buy all of Gerald Morris’s books at once.

P.S. It is possible that part of the reason I am writing these half-assed reviews is that I am addicted to TVTropes.org.  Don’t go to that website.  I am not even going to provide a link to it.  I am telling you that if you enter you won’t be able to get out again.  Hey, did you see my hat (above)?

Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, and The Golden Mean

Did you ever read these books?  Essentially these two people Griffin and Sabine, are mentally connected.  Sabine can see the pictures that Griffin draws, and one day she writes to him.  They write each other angsty letters about the power of love and how much they miss each other; they overcome a bunch of obstacles and eventually find each other and have major reunion snuggles.

Which I realize doesn’t sound all that great.  If you were to accuse these books of being short on plot, you would be correct.

But.  But but but!  Here is why it is that great!  Because the letters are there, in the book!  Griffin and Sabine are both artists, so they create beautiful postcards and envelopes, which are eye candy for me, and sometimes you get to take the letters out of the envelopes.

And yes, okay, mostly the letters themselves are not thrilling (it gets more interesting when they introduce a villain character), but you get to TAKE THEM OUT OF THE ENVELOPES.  It is like The Jolly Postman for adults.  With darker, edgier art.  And did I mention that there are actual letters that you can physically take out of the envelopes?  Envelopes containing removable letters?  GLORIOUS.

Speaking of glorious, did you see my hat?  Wasn’t it good?