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So, what to say about The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, which was intended to be one of my reads for Carl’s Once Upon a Time III challenge but which I miserably failed to complete on time? Well, before getting into the meat of the plot, it’s worth recording that this is one of the best examples of steam-punk that I have read, and it’s a good introduction to that genre if you have never tried it before.
We are in Jackals, a pseudo-Victorian society with a parliamentary democracy of sorts, a nominal king (who has his arms amputated when he inherits the throne so that he can never take up weapons against his people) and an extensive secret police. We have two young people: Molly, who is an orphan in the Poor House and towards the beginning of the book is taken to work in a local bawdy-house; and Oliver, who is shunned by his local community because of the time he spent within the Feymist, from where people return dangerously changed, if indeed they return at all. A separate series of violent deaths lead these two to go on the run supported by a motley crew of helpers, before their paths cross as a mysterious, ancient evil foments rebellion, threatens civilization as they know it, and all the usual society-in-peril-waiting-to-be-saved-by-an-ordinary-person-with-a-hidden-secret stuff
This is a really good adventure story with a remarkably well-imagined world as its setting. Some of the other species (if that’s the right word) that Molly and Oliver come across are absolutely fascinating, my particular favourites being the Steammen, sentient machines with astonishing abilities and a well-developed society of their own. There is an extensive cast of characters but these are so well-drawn that there is little danger that a reader will get confused over who’s who, and the plot comes together well without those obvious coincidences that sometimes get in the way of a good tale.
I absolutely loved this; another one of those books that I got so wrapped up in that I nearly forgot to get off the train at the right station, and when I got to the last third of the book where things really get moving I basically gave up all thoughts of doing anything else and spent a happy Sunday morning polishing the thing off.
I can really recommend this, and am looking forward to reading the next book in the sequence, though not quite yet….
This week’s Weekly Geeks topic was suggested by Sheri of A Novel Menagerie. She writes: “Reading Challenges: a help or a hurt? Do you find that the reading challenges keep you organized and goal-oriented? Or, do you find that as you near the end of a challenge that you’ve failed because you fell short of your original goals? As a result of some reading challenges, I’ve picked up books that I would have otherwise never heard of or picked up; that, frankly, I have loved. Have you experienced the same with challenges? If so, which ones? Do you have favorite reading challenges?” As we pass the halfway point of 2009, how are you doing with your reading challenges? Did you participate in any challenges this year?
Well, if you read my last post you will know that I certainly failed Once Upon a Time III, and I had already given up on Becky’s Arthurian Challenge, but am still technically involved in the following:
- The 2nd Canadian Book Challenge – well that’s not going to happen, finishes at the beginning of July and I haven’t read any of the 13 books on my list
- Non-Fiction Five Challenge – I have hopes of completing this one though haven’t actually started yet….
- The Dream King Challenge – doing well with this one, just a graphic novel to read
- 100 Shots of Short – have stalled a bit here but have high hopes of getting started again soon
- Art History Reading Challenge – only one read but at least this runs until the end of the year
Not a great track record (I did better last year). I think the problem is that I love the idea of challenges because of the thematic nature but there is a time limit for each one and I know that if I’m under pressure then reading is the first thing to get hit. It’s also the case that a bit of me begins to rebel at the idea that I must read a particular book or selection of books when I just want to pick up anything I fancy.
So I guess what I’m saying is that they are a great idea but I sign up for too many and crack under the pressure….
Less of a wash-up and more of a wash-out I’m afraid as I failed miserably with Carl’s challenge this year due to pressure of work and other stuff which got in the way of my grand reading plan.
I did actually read one of the other books on my list, The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, but that was after the challenge was over; I still have to write my review of that one which will be posted in a day or so.
So not a great result but never mind, there’s always next year…….
Where we make you think a little bit before you blog!
2. The end of the world is tomorrow and you are out of milk – do you go buy some? Nope, black coffee seems appropriate for the end of the world as we know it (but I feel fine)
3. Have you ever picked up the phone and called someone that you hadn’t talked to in years? But why haven’t they called me?
4. Whats on your computer desktop background? Torchwood Children of Earth official BBC wallpaper
5. What was the very first movie you saw in a movie theater? The Lady & The Tramp, I think, though legend has it that when I was very small I had to be removed from a screening of Thunderbirds Are Go! because it was too loud and made me cry.
6. If you had to take a 10th grade science test, do you think you would pass? Lord, no!
7. Describe heaven. Is a place on earth? Is actually a house full of books and music that I can spend as much of my time in, preferably with comfy sofas, Tiffany lamps and an air of Victoriana. Not that I want to be too prescriptive, you understand.
8. Has a place that you lived ever been infested with some sort of insect or rodent? Not that I know of, I would have freaked out.
9. When you were a youngin’, did you hide in the clothes racks at department stores? Yes.
10. Is there anything in your vehicle that is broken? Don’t have a vehicle.
11. What is something in your house that people would be surprise to find? My collection of Tarot decks.
12. Do you agree with the death penalty? No
13. Whats your favorite type of bear? Polar
14. Where was the last place you went? Work
15. What if that person knocking at your door earlier was an adult selling candy bars… would you buy one? It would depend on how good looking he was………
I’ve been reading a little of the Journal of Joyce Carol Oates each morning over breakfast before heading out to work (which is probably why it’s taken me so long to finish it….) but it has been a very rewarding experience getting inside the mind of one of my absolutely favourite authors. Reading journals and letters certainly satisfies something deeply inquisitive in my nature, and although I know published works like this do leave a lot of stuff out, I am still learning more than I would otherwise about someone I admire hugely. I still don’t know how she finds the time to teach, write so prolifically and have what seems to be a contented life, but I’m very, very glad that she does.
I’ve also started book buying again despite my resolution in January to cut back. I suppose I’m not buying quite as many as I used to, but given how many books there are in this house that I haven’t got round to reading then any new purchases are probably a bad idea. Anyway, the newest additions are:
Music for Torchingby AM Homes – an incendiary novel, apparently; read some of her other stuff an found it challenging and interesting so thought I would give this one a go;
Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker – the beginnings of WWII, the end of civilization, unusual structure for a non-fiction work about the war;
Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates – a new collection of short stories.
I’ve also been inspired by reading the Journal to buy a couple more Joyce Carol Oates to add to the ever-growing pile….
This week we will answer some crazy questions brought to you by Kimber, the number 3000 and the color grape ape.
1. Are your ears dirty? No
2. Would you rather be stung by a scorpion or bit by a snake? (Don’t say either…no one wants to be in pain, that’s the point. Pick one.) Snake
~smoked pot before doing these questions? Shouldn’t condone illegal behaviour
~drank liquid courage? Always a good response to any stressful situation in my view
~begged Berleen to do them (she’s better at them anyhow)? Can’t comment
~just piss off! I could have done better! I would never be so rude…
So, given my well-known tendency to examine other people’s bookcases whenever I get the opportunity, it was probably inevitable that I would buy Snoop as soon as I saw it; especially with the subtitle “What Your Stuff Says About You”.
Sam Gosling is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, and he specialises in studying the differences in personality and how we all form impressions of other people in our day to day lives. And one of the ways he studied this is by training students in snooping and setting them loose in the bedrooms of a sample of college students to see what they could work out about them. If that makes sense. I suppose bedrooms are apparently one of the best places to look because they tend to be private spaces where we let our guard down, so to speak. Work spaces are also a good hunting ground, but you need to be aware of any company policies on displaying personal stuff before you get too carried away.
This is an interesting read; there’s a particularly intriguing section on stereotypes and why they are not always a bad thing – we normally see them in a negative light but they can have some validity as long as we don’t rely on them too much. Though having been on the receiving end of one too many interpretations of what it is to be Scottish, I might reserve judgement.
The great pleasure for me in this book are the case studies that Gosling uses to illustrate his points, and how important it is to look at context before reaching conclusions and not be swayed by things that may be out of place. For example, one of his students wrongly identified a room as belonging to a woman based on a pair of high heels lying on the floor. This other things in the room to be interpreted in a particular way; in fact the shoes had been left behind by the occupant’s girlfriend.
The big message I took away from Snoop is that it’s almost impossible to fake a personality. There are lots of things that you can do to give a particular impression to someone else but the things that you don’t see in yourself will almost always give you away; all those things that we do unconsciously and therefore can’t adapt or amend. As someone who has difficulty throwing things away I was pleased to see a good explanation of the difference between a collector and a hoarder which I will save for the next time the Book God suggests I might want to clear out my study…..
Having said all that, I suspect that there isn’t much in here that anyone who has studied psychology a bit wouldn’t be aware of. I’m just not one of those people.
So I’m still going to check those bookcases; but I just might rummage in your medicine cabinet as well…..
So this is a bit of a stop-gap post; things are still very busy at work and that means I haven’t been reading very much. It’ s on the cards that I won’t complete the Once Upon a Time III challenge as I still haven’t finished my second book with only a couple of days to go before it closes.
But there are some things worth recording:
- Finally a National Treasure is given his due – arise Sir Christopher Lee!
- Andy Murray won at Queen’s Club – roll on Wimbledon
- New stamps with designs by Dave McKean have been issued, with background supplied by one Neil Gaiman– and I got my set this morning (so I’m outed as a stamp collector)
But most importantly, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to a preview of the first episode of the new Torchwood series, Children of Earth. It was absolutely fabulous, and was followed by a discussion panel with John Barrowman and Eve Myles from the cast, the director Euros Lyn and Russell T Davies himself. A fantastic experience, but no spoilers here, I’ll review the whole series over at the Screen God once it’s been broadcast. But believe me, it’s going to be worth watching.
And I promise there will be some book reviews soon.