Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: All the Horses of Iceland (Sarah Tolmie)

Such a ‘me-book’

★★★★☆ 1/2 – CALSPIE 8.93

Title: All the Horses of Iceland
Author: Sarah Tolmie
Genre:
 Fiction / Historical
First published: 2022
Edition: Paperback, published by Tordotcom

Everyone knows of the horses of Iceland, wild, and small, and free, but few have heard their story. All the Horses of Iceland tells the tale of a Norse trader, his travels through Central Asia, and the ghostly magic that followed him home to the land of fire, stone, and ice. His search for riches will take him from Helmgard, through Khazaria, to the steppes of Mongolia, where he will barter for horses and return with much, much more.

***

This is my kind of book for sure. One, it’s about horses and I love those creatures. Two, it’s kind of odd and mysterious and I am here for it.

This is only a novella and it tells its story quite calmly and unspectacularly. And yet, the idea of this man going on this incredible journey all the way to Mongolia and then brings back these horses that may end up being the ancestors of modern Icelandic horses. Well, that speaks to my imagination.

This was a joy to read and my only wish is that it was a bit longer. Still, I do love a short book every now and then and this one just worked for me.

4.5 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 8.93

  • Characters: 8
  • Ambience: 9
  • Language: 9
  • Story: 9
  • Pacing: 9
  • Interest: 9
  • Enjoyment: 9.5
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(audio) Book Thoughts: Mudlarking (Lara Maiklem)

For my love of history and the River Thames

★★★★☆ 1/4 – CALSPIE 8.36

Title: Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames
Author/Narrator: Lara Maiklem
Genre:
 Non-Fiction / History
First published: 2019
Edition: Audio book

For thousands of years human beings have been losing their possessions and dumping their rubbish in the River Thames, making it the longest and most varied archaeological site in the world. For those in the know, the muddy stretches provide a tangible link with the past, a connection to the natural world, and an oasis of calm in a chaotic city…

***

Sometimes you just need a very niche kind of non-fiction book. So niche that it’s almost cozy! Something that is someone’s hobby and you can feel their love for it with every word. This is that kind of book.

I listened to this on audio, but I will be buying a physical copy, because seeing this on my shelf will make me happy. It is just that kind of book.

I have always loved history and archeology and I do have a collector’s streak inside of me as well, which I tend to suppress. Or I channel it into books…. Hence I have too many of them. And records – I have quite a few of those as well (the vinyl kind). I do have a little box with shards of pottery, decorated shards of tile mostly. So, I do feel a kindred spirit in Lara, though I have never ‘mudlarked’. I have done a bit of beach combing, but that’s about it.

The other connection is that the author does most of her mudlarking on the Thames and I lived on the Thames in South West London near Teddington Lock (which is mentioned in the book) for five years and so I felt at home in her patch of history hunting. Although I have moved away, I still have a deep love for London.

Anyway, I listened to this very happily and I only wish it was longer and meatier on the history front, but I know that is not what this book is supposed to do. It just wets one’s appetite for it.

4.25 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE*: 8.36

  • Characters: 9
  • Ambience: 8
  • Language: 7.5
  • Story: 8.5
  • Pacing: 8
  • Interest: 9
  • Enjoyment: 8.5

*CALSPIE is designed for fiction, but I can roughly apply it to non-fiction books. I think of characters as subject. Ambience as the tone of the book. Story as the explanation. Pacing as the length and depth to which it goes into the subjects.

Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Shield Maiden (Sharon Emmerichs)

This was just fine.

★★★☆☆ 1/2 – CALSPIE 6.93

Title: Shield Maiden
Author: Sharon Emmerichs
Genre:
 Fiction / YA / Fantasy
First published: 2 February 2023 by Head of Zeus
Edition: eARC, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

Having grown up hearing tales of her uncle, the great King Beowulf, Fryda’s one desire is to become a shield maiden in her own right. Yet a terrible childhood accident has left Fryda disabled – thus, she believes, thwarting her dream of becoming a warrior-woman for good. But still, somehow, she feels an uncontrollable power begin to rise within herself.

***

The reason I wanted to read this book is because I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf last year and this novels features Beowulf years after the event. He is a side character in this and yet it made me curious, especially with Beowulf still relatively fresh in my mind.

There were parts of this novel I really liked. I liked Fryda as a main character and the fact that she had to overcome a physical injury that left her arm barely usable seemed an interesting premise. Though a big deal was made of this at the beginning of the book, her arm suddenly did not seem much of a problem anymore. That bothered me a bit for some reason.

I quite liked the over arching plot and I did grow rather fond of Fryda and Theow as a couple, but some o the execution did not quite work for me. The relationships between the characters were a mixed bag. Some were nicely written and others just did not seem to ring true.

I wanted a bit more of the environment, their surroundings and the way these people lived. I wanted more of a sense of time and place I suppose. Much of this read as if it could have been set at any time in any place, which was a little disappointing.

I liked it, but I did not fall in love with this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 6.93

  • Characters: 7.5
  • Ambience: 6
  • Language: 7.5
  • Story: 7
  • Pacing: 6.5
  • Interest: 7
  • Enjoyment: 7
Balancing My Books · Books · Monthly Reading Wrap-Up

Balancing my Books #24: January 2023

I am very happy with where my reading has taken me this January. I needed the distraction to be honest. It hasn’t been the best start to a year, but hopefully onwards and upwards!

Anyway, the book stuff.

PHYSICAL TBR:

Start 2023: 343
1 Jan: 343
Acquired: 10
Read: 11
Balance: 342

DIGITAL TBR:

Start 2022: 175
1 Jan: 175
Acquired: 8
Read: 4
Balance: 178

So, I was supposed to buy only 5 books per month (new), but yes, I botched that rule by buying 10. To be fair one was a late arrival from 2022. Five are novels or non-fiction, with the others being poetry and one graphic novel set as well. A few of the purchases were for my goal of reading some South American classics this year. I did already read one of those and two of the poetry collections. One of them is on my February TBR. I am not too upset about it, especially since I still read more physical books than I bought, but hopefully I can resist temptation in February and bring those numbers down a chunk. I do tend to buy more books in January than any other month. However, I would be so proud of myself if I didn’t buy any in February!

As for my digital TBR, it went up a bit, but I spent a total of 3.96 on those 8 books. Four of those are NetGalley eARCS, all publishing dates nicely spread out over the coming months and four were 99p purchases. I will read at least two of those in February, possibly more. I am not sure how many I will buy/request in February. I haven’t put a limit on my digital buys, but I will still try and be a bit restrained. Last year I did not request many NetGalleys, but I just saw some good ones. I try not to request more than one per publishing month. I can do without the pressure.

Anyway, overall I am happy with my first month.

JANUARY READING REVIEW

This was a really solid reading month. I found a couple books to add to my favourites list. I did also DNF two books and I ended up unhauling four books.

Let’s see what I read first. I have added my CALSPIE scores and my 5* equivalent:

  1. The Golden Mole (Katherine Rundell) 8.36 (4.25*) e-book NG
  2. Migrations (Charlotte McConaghy) 8.86 (4.5*) paperback
  3. Snow Like Ashes (Sara Raasch) 7.71 (3.75*) paperback
  4. A Little Devil in America (Hanif Abdurraqib) 10.00 (5*) audio/paperback
  5. The Marriage Portrait (Maggie O’Farrell) 9.79 (5*) hardback
  6. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) 8.93 (4.5*) audio/ebook
  7. Armageddon’s Children (Terry Brooks) 8.79 (4.5*) paperback
  8. Sound Mind (T J Singh) 7.14 (3.5*) paperback
  9. The Visitor (Katherine Stansfield) 9.29 (4.75*) ebook
  10. The Penguin Lessons (Tom Michell) 8.79 (4.5*) audio/ebook
  11. Carmilla (J Sheridan Le Fanu) 7.93 (4*) audio/paperback
  12. Green Rider (Kristen Britain) 6.93 (3.5*) paperback
  13. A Ghost in the Throat (Doireann Ní Ghríofa) 7.57 (3.75*) audio/paperback
  14. Near to the Wild Heart (Clarice Lispector) 8.00 (4*) paperback
  15. Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms (Marcel Price) 8.50 (4.25*) paperback

The average length of book was about 300 pages. I read four books over 400 pages, which is pretty good for me, but I also read some shorter ones, as I read a few poetry books. The longest book was Green Rider at 560 pages and the shortest was Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms, which was only 82 pages.
I unhauled Snow Like Ashes, Green Rider and A Ghost in the Throat. I also DNFd and unhauled Luz by Elsa Osorio. Finally, I DNFd Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning after about 100 pages. I just couldn’t torture myself any longer.

I have carried two books over into February, both of which I hope to finish today.

BOOK OF THE MONTH

I had two standouts. My favourite book of the month was A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib. It was so, so good. I always love Hanif’s writing, so it wasn’t a surprise.

My honourable mention is The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s historical fiction and I pretty much loved it from start to finish.

***

How was your January reading? Please link your wrap-up post if you did one!

Books · TBR

February TBR

TBR number two! Can’t believe January is almost over already.

I have two books on the go. I am 85% into Shield Maiden by Sharon Emmerichs, which is a NetGalley eARC and I have just over an hour left in Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. I am not sure whether I will finish either of them today, but they are not included in my February TBR. I will start on my Feb TBR once I have finished those, which will most likely be tomorrow anyway.

I used my board halfway through January to set my Feb TBR, but ended up finishing my January TBR early and already read two of the books that had been on my TBR for Feb. I know, I am so efficient *sarcasm at work*, so I added two more rolls to make an even ten again. So, what were the prompts that came up?

1. Seasonal or Year TBR: so, a book that was on a longer term TBR. Always good when this one comes up. I decided to go with The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb for this one. It is on my Winter TBR and I can’t wait to continue with The Liveship Traders trilogy! (paperback)

2. Translated book: I actually took Amazon up on their First Reads offer for the first time this month and I found a couple of books that looked good. For this prompt I have decided to go with The Fires by Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir. It’s translated from the Icelandic and just sounds like a book I would really enjoy. I don’t think I have read an Icelandic book before, so that’s exciting! (eBook)

3. Black or white spine: For this one I have decided to with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson. I have a white edition. I may listen to this one on audio. I am not sure whether this one will be for me, but I am going to find out! (paperback/audio)

4. Sci-Fi: Now I don’t have a ton of sci-fi on my shelves, but it is a genre I’d like to delve into a bit more. Again, Amazon had a book that fitted this prompt that sounded good to me. The book is Meru by S B Divya. Just the tagline “One woman and her pilot are about to change the future of the species in an epic space opera about aspiration, compassion, and redemption” was enough for me. I hope I will love it! (eBook)

5. Published 2000-2015: I have decided to go with The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon for this one. I have been meaning to read it for a good while. I have the paperback, but I think I will listen to the audio book for this one.

6. Middle Grade: I am going with Coraline by Neil Gaiman for this one. I’ve had it on my shelf or a while and I wanted a shorter book to balance out some of the bigger books I am reading this month. (paperback)

7. Standalone: I was going to go with a different book, but I ended up going with All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie. It is a novel that is on my Winter TBR and I prefer to read it when it’s still actually winter. If I read it next month it may start edging towards spring. I feel it’s time. This is another shorter book. (paperback)

8. Cover with a structure on it: I had a few options, but I have put Specters by Radwa Ashour on my TBR. It is a book I bought this month and it would be nice to not let it linger. It’s translated from Arabic and I think it’s set in Egypt and centres around two women, both professors. It sounds super interesting to me. (paperback)

9. Middle Grade: TBC. My second middle grade this month. I am not sure what to go with yet. It depends on how my other reads go, so I will leave this one blank for now.

10. Bought 2017/2018: Always good when a prompt like this comes up and I go back and check what books I bought in those years that I haven’t read yet. I decided to go with an e-book and I felt like some fantasy kind of fare. I put The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky on my priority list a few weeks ago and this seems like the perfect excuse to read it. It’s been lingering on my Kindle since 2017!

***

Do you have any specific reading plans or are you winging it in February?

Happy reading!

Books · Poetry · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(poetry) Book Thoughts: Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms (Marcel ‘Fable the Poet’ Price)

Give me more poetry like this!

★★★★☆ 1/4 – CALSPIE 8.50

Title: Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms
Author: Marcel ‘Fable the Poet’ Price
Genre: Poetry
First published: 2016
Edition: paperback, published independently

I picked this one up as it was blurbed by Hanif Abdurraqib, one of my favourite writers/poets. Did I need any more reason? No, I clearly didn’t, but it did made me realise once again how much I love poetry and what a great way it is to connect to different experiences and that is so valuable to me.

These poems pack an oddly gentle, but precise punch. They express frustration about many things, but also express a sadness at the state of the present. The pharmaceutical culture in America, racial identity, mental health. There is also a poem about grief that got me close to a tear! The subjects were heavy. but oddly the poems themselves did not feel that heavy to me. They felt honest and raw and questioned a lot of aspects of (specifically) American society that SHOULD be questioned.

I did have difficulty finding the rhythms in the words sometimes, but YouTube came up trumps and I found some of the poems in spoken word and that really helped me find the rhythm as well as a bit more connection to the poet himself.

I would definitely recommend this one.

4.25 out of 5 stars

Little Timmy starts about 2m in. Definitely worth a watch and listen!
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Near to the Wild Heart (Clarice Lispector)

Such a mesmerizing use of language

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 8.00

Title: Near to the Wild Heart (Perto do Coração Selvagem)
Author: Clarice Lispector
Translator: Alison Entrekin (from Portuguese)
Genre:
 Fiction / Modern Classic / South American Literature / Literary Fiction
First published: 1943
Edition: Paperback, published by Penguin Modern Classics in 2014

This novel tells the story of Joana, from her wild, creative childhood, as the ‘little egg’ who writes poems for her father, through her marriage to the faithless Otávio and on to her decision to make her own way in the world. As Joana, endlessly mutable, moves through different emotional states, different inner lives and different truths, this impressionistic, dreamlike and fiercely intelligent novel asks if any of us ever really know who we are.

***

Language can dance and swirl, drifting in and out of making sense, and that is kind of how I feel about this novel from the 1940s.

I very much enjoyed the kind of dreamlike stream-of-consciousness type narrative and from the first page it was clear that if you need a plot, this is not that kind of book. Instead, the author’s words are lyrical and have this odd dreamlike quality. They almost dance on the page and though they make sense in the overall narrative, paragraph by paragraph they can be a bit baffling. I kind of enjoy that, but sometimes it was a bit much.

Despite being under 200 pages, this not a novel you can read in one sitting. It takes quite a bit of reading and I found spending too much time with Joana a little claustrophobic. Even after almost 200 pages of mostly being in her mind, following her jumbled thoughts, I still don’t feel like I quite understand her. Joana is someone who never quite seems to know what she wants, despite vaguely knowing what she doesn’t want. I understood bits of her and sometimes I liked her, sometimes I could even relate to her, but at other times I thought she was selfish and found her really quite obnoxious. I guess there is beauty in exactly that.

I don’t think I have ever quite read a novel like this. This was the author’s debut novel and I am very curious to dive into some of her other work. I really enjoyed this one. I think. Possibly? It’s complicated, ok!

4 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 8.00

  • Characters: 8
  • Ambience: 8
  • Language: 9
  • Story: 7.5
  • Pacing: 7
  • Interest: 8
  • Enjoyment: 8.5
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: A Ghost in the Throat (Doireann ní Ghríofa)

I missed a little bit of connection in the end

★★★☆☆ 3/4 – CALSPIE 7.56

Title: A Ghost in the Throat
Author: Doireann ní Ghríofa
Narrator: Siobhán McSweeney
Genre:
 Non-Fiction / Memoir / Essays / Biography
First published: 2020
Edition: Paperback, published by Tramp Press in 2020

In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with its parallels with her own life, and sets out to track down the rest of the story. A devastating and timeless tale about one woman freeing her voice by reaching into the past and finding another’s.

***

It took me a while to compile my thoughts on this one as I feel quite conflicted. On one hand there was the writing, which I really liked and also the research into Eibhlín Dubh Ni Choniall, which I found really interesting, but there were also passages where I completely lost interest.

It started out really engaging and I was hanging onto every word for the first third of the book, but after that I found my attention waver more often than it should. I no longer felt as connected to the author and I just did not find it as interesting.

Still, there were passages where she was able to pull me back in, especially when she talks about her research into this female poet, whose prose the author is painstakingly translating from Irish to English. her almost obsessive connection to this poet is the most interesting aspect of this book for me. The more personal bits were sometimes interesting, but sometimes felt superfluous.

I did like how it focused on the female narrative, emphasizing how it is exactly that female narrative often gets left out history. There is no deying the writing is beautiful and poignant and I really enjoyed the narration of the audio book. Especially hearing the old poems by Eibhlín Dubh in their original Irish form was a nice touch.

I am happy I read this one and I am sure I will think about it in the future, but it is not one I am likely to read again.

3.75 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 7.57

  • Characters: 8
  • Ambience: 7.5
  • Language: 9
  • Story: 7
  • Pacing: 7
  • Interest: 7.5
  • Enjoyment: 7
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Green Rider (Kristen Britain)

I missed a sense of urgency

★★★☆☆ 1/2 – CALSPIE 6.93

Title: Green Rider (Green Rider #1)
Author: Kristen Britain
Genre:
 Fiction / Fantasy / Young Adult
First published: 1998
Edition: Paperback, published by Gollancz in 2011

As Karigan G’ladheon trudged through the forest, using her long walk home to contemplate her depressing future – and the expulsion it was bound to hold – a horse burst through the woodland and charged straight for her. The rider was slumped over his mount’s neck with two arrows embedded in his back. Wherever his horse was taking him, he would be dead before they got there. There’s nothing Karigan can do, as the young man lies dying on the road. He had sworn to carry out his mission as a Green Rider – one of the legendary messengers of the king – and he has a life or death message that must reach King Zachary. Karigan may be unable to save him, but she can deliver his message. He makes her swear to it, to keep it secret and, with his last breath, he warns her to ‘beware the shadow man …’

***

This story had so much going for it and somehow it kind of missed the mark for me. That is not to say I did not enjoy the read – it was fine – but little things kept bugging me and taking me out of the story.

Soon after starting this novel, I found echoes to Tolkien. Not necessarily in the plot itself, though there were elements, but mainly in the voice of the author. The ‘let it shine light in the darkness when all hope is lost’ kind of vibes, or whatever the exact line is that Galadriel speaks. However, unlike in Tolkien, I never feel that these kind of words really pay off.

Karigan is given a quest, or it is bestowed upon her – she had little choice, as heroes seldomly do – and yet there is so little sense of urgency to her. Also, if I was her I would have been so curious about what was going on, but she just kind of wasn’t and I had trouble understanding that. That is not to say the characters were bad, because they weren’t as a whole and I liked Karigan as a main character. There were just some things that did not make sense to me.

Some plot points were not really resolved, but I presume they may be dealt with in later books in the series, which I will not be reading.

I enjoyed this book for what it was, but I am happy to leave it here. I am unhauling this one, even if I love the cover!

3.5 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 6.93

  • Characters: 7.5
  • Ambience: 7.5
  • Language: 7
  • Story: 6
  • Pacing: 6.5
  • Interest: 7
  • Enjoyment: 7

Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Carmilla (J Sheridan Le Fanu)

An eerie and easy classic to read

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 7.93

Title: Carmilla
Author: J Sheridan Le Fanu
Narrator: 
Rose Leslie, Phoebe Fox, David Tennant, etc (dramatised)
Genre:
 Classic / Horror
First published: 1872
Edition: Audio & Paperback, published by The House of Promegranate Press

In an isolated castle deep in the Austrian forest, Laura leads a solitary life with only her ailing father for company. Until one moonlit night, a horse-drawn carriage crashes into view, carrying an unexpected guest – the beautiful Carmilla. So begins a feverish friendship between Laura and her mysterious, entrancing companion. But as Carmilla becomes increasingly strange and volatile, prone to eerie nocturnal wanderings, Laura finds herself tormented by nightmares and growing weaker by the day…

***

I was hesitant to pick this audio book, as it was a dramatization and I was worried it would stray too far from the source material, but I liked the voice actors a lot and it was free with my Audible subscription, so I took the gamble.

On comparison to the paperback I own, which I read large bits of to compare, for the most part it was the same, but there was more dialogue in the audio plus the ending was a little more dramatic (just a bit more after the final sentence of the book, which is there pretty much word for word). So I will judge the ending in the paperback rather than the audio, though the little that the audio added kind of made it more compelling!

For a classic it was very easy to follow. It is not dense at all and quite eerie as it should be! You pretty much know from the beginning what is going on and you’re just waiting for the characters to catch on. In that respect it is not a edge-of-your-seat kind of story and there is mystery to it.

Dracula is the most well-known vampire story from this time, but this one pre-dates it and is much easier to read I think. It’s a good short horror story that would make a great Halloween read.

I enjoyed the audio, though it was a bit overacted at times and the sound effects were a bit grating at times, but the story itself I enjoyed quite a bit.

4 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 7.93

  • Characters: 8
  • Ambience: 8.5
  • Language: 8
  • Story: 8
  • Pacing: 7.5
  • Interest: 7.5
  • Enjoyment: 8