Thursday, October 30, 2014

Threats of Sky and Sea by Jennifer Ellision

Threats of Sky and Sea
Threats of Sky and Sea by Jennifer Ellision
My rating:         Fantasy
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Bree lives with her father in an unassuming country inn, far from the politics of Egria and the machinations of the royal court. Such things have nothing to do with her: her skills involve watering down beer and fending off drunken advances. So although she knows it's trouble when she happens upon a small group of elementals in the woods, she doesn't imagine that her life is about to change beyond recognition.

Elementals can call on the powers of an element, but whichever of the four talents you have, your fate is the same: the king commands you to join his army, to assist him in conquering the world. So far as I can tell, this is all he has ever cared about.

Bree is a great character, really down-to-earth, and so it's a shock to her when it turns out her father is a nobleman in hiding. Their journey back to the king's palace takes a substantial portion of the book, but once they're there, she manages to make some solid friends as well as the inevitable enemies. Caden, the crown prince, is much nicer than his father, but in a pleasing diversion from tradition the spark of attraction between him and Bree is kept to a minimum, as they're both preoccupied with loftier goals.

A solid start to a very promising series.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Novels by Liesel Schmidt

Coming Home To You
Coming Home To You by Liesel Schmidt
My rating:         Fiction
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Zoë is struggling to move on with her life after tragically losing her fiancé Paul. After a friend suggests she should move out of her apartment to shake off her old life, she's eventually persuaded to take a short-term house-sitting job for a change of scenery. 

Living in Neil's house while he's serving overseas, Zoë starts to build a picture of the man whose belongings surround her, and she even begins to write him letters.

This novel is really difficult to classify. Although you might find the book shelved with romantic novels, the romance is almost incidental. This is a story of Zoë's grief, her process of healing, and the way she gradually begins to open up to the world again -- yet that makes it sound like a heavy, serious read, which it isn't, really. It's sweet and funny and sad in equal measure, and ends on a beautifully hopeful note.

A charming debut, and I'll certainly look forwards to more from this author.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Humans Like To Cry by Michael Trimble

Why Humans Like To Cry
Why Humans Like To Cry: Tragedy, Evolution & The Brain by Michael Trimble
My rating:         Genre
Source: Publisher (direct)

Why do we cry? And why is emotional crying a distinctly human characteristic?

Trimble takes on such questions by way of a stroll through neuroscience, physiology, psychology, evolutionary science, and occasional asides into culture. The scope is vast, but this is a pocket-sized volume, not a weighty tome, and it's written quite conversationally.

There were a lot of interesting facts along the way, both more and less relevant to the central thesis. I was particularly intrigued to learn that emotional tears have a physically different composition to tears caused by an environmental irritant.

I felt like the book could have been improved by gathering feedback from a broader cross-section of the non-specialist readership it's aimed at. As a reader with experience in (some of) the fields covered, I still found I was occasionally lost, while at other times the level of detail added little to the overarching narrative.

In general, I had the sense that this (already fairly short) book would have found a better home in an anthology of related topics, correspondingly trimmed to essay-length. But it was an enjoyable essay, nevertheless.