What have I been reading? A selection.
I’m in agreement with the theory that all writers should read all the time, but Wild Card needed a lot of me in November and December, and my reading habits had to change. I couldn’t afford to be kept awake at night wondering about the plot details of someone else’s book. So what did I chose? I find books about travel help me to wind down and switch off at night, and I’ll pass on a couple of recommendations at the end.
And once I finished Wild Card on the 22nd, I needed to read something completely different. I’ll start with that:
Desprite Measures by Deborah Jay is, on the surface, a light hearted urban fantasy set in and around Inverness, in Scotland. But like nearby Loch Ness, which looms in the shadowy corners of the tale, the surface of the lake doesn’t always show the depths. In this, the story has the feel of a certain kind of fairy tale or myth.
Cassie Lake is an immortal elemental, a water sprite. She is capable of holding a human appearance, and lives a dual life, human by day and water elemental by night. She has a selkie (Were-seal) lover, friends and a job. A comfortable life, that only exists before page 1 of the book, where we find her trapped by a human magician in a bubble that he squeezes smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, also trapped in the same bubble is another elemental, the equal and opposite fire sprite. If they touch, ‘bye-bye Scotland’. A grand wee setup.
We go on from there, stirring a couple of covens, a druid and some familiars into a tale that reveals the magician’s purpose and greed. We get a cameo performance by a vampire, what might be a fairy or an elf, and also what might be a devil or an angel. Good is sort of triumphant and some massive hooks are left in for the next of what’s planned to be a five part series.
It’s well done, with a light touch, appealing characters, and scenes that made me yell ‘Noooo!!! Cassie, don’t do that’ without making me think she was a twit / TSTL. The world building is well constructed and consistent. The villain has an ambiguity during the story which Jay disassembles at the end. I’m not sure about that, but I certainly didn’t expect it, and I can understand it in light of the moral quandary of the denouement and Cassie’s internal journey.
All of which just makes it another book. It’s the subtexts that raise it.
A concern with the environment is woven through the book, and provides the structural support for the main plot line, but the real twister is Cassie’s journey. Acting human has started to develop Cassie’s soul. As an elemental, she doesn’t expect to have one. Others certainly don’t. And with the soul, of course, comes pain and grief as well as love.
To reveal more would be to give spoilers, and I won’t do that.
I’ll copy the core of this review to Amazon and Goodreads and I’ll probably give it a five there, as that’s what it’s closest to. In my scoring, it’s difficult for book 1 of a series to get a five until I’ve seen book 2. I want the mythic quality to come out, I want to see that underlying fairy tale, even if it means that the series may not be a Disney HEA. Fairy tales have a taste of blood and iron, which is just beneath the surface in Desprite Measures. I’m looking forward to book 2.
I’m recommending, but not rating these. Either you like travel writing or you don’t, and you’ll get enough of a flavor reading the sample chapters on Amazon.
The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither by Isabella Bird
This is a free book, the travelogue of an adventurous woman exploring the Far East in 1883. I got it for the chapters where she describes Saigon, and it’s part of my research for Bian’s Tale. I haven’t finished it – I prefer to dip in and out. She was a sharp-eyed observer and remarkably unbiased and non-judgmental. She covers the peoples and the plants with mentions of the animals as well.
Amazing lady. I’d recommend it just to honor her spirit and bravery, but it’s also informative.
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
This is a famous book, one of Oprah Winfrey’s selection. It tells the story of one woman’s walk along the Pacific Crest Trail (I want to do this!), and her spiritual journey on the way. That sounds naff as we say in the UK, but it isn’t- the spiritual element stays largely in the ‘show’ and little in the ‘tell’. It has peaks and troughs to match the trail, laughter and tears. I’m lightened every time I recall the scene at the beginning where she struggles into the backpack for the first time and it’s like she’s put a VW Beetle on her back. She falls over and waves her arms like a turtle.
It’s not all sweetness and light. She had an addiction, she broke up her marriage and she had fallen into the sort of self-destructive, self-pitying mental trap that I would never stand for in a fictional heroine. Her lack of condemnation for her earlier self made this a difficult book for me.
This was a re-read.
Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew Sykes
I loved this. Here’s the link to my Amazon review.