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June 11: Summer Reading #2

U is for Udall.

Strangely, I seem to have chosen another ghost story. Of course, I didn’t know it was a ghost story until about halfway through.

This book was okay. Not brilliant, but not bad. I felt sorry for all the characters, but not enough to cry for them, not even little Millie.

I wanted Jonah to get over himself, and I was oddly irritated by the central not-really-a-character, Audrey.

I wanted more of Kew, more of the paper birds.

I wouldn’t put this on my read-again list, but I don’t feel the time spent on it was wasted.

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June 5: Summer Reading #1

The first of my six summer books is coincidentally the fiftieth of my fifty-book challenge.

I wish I could say I liked this book, but to be truthful, I didn’t. The style is clever, but I found it irritating after the first couple of chapters.

I understand the concept of the bardo. And it seems to me that Saunders is using this ghost story as a way of marking Lincoln’s transition into an abolitionist. It feels clunky and patchworky, though.

There was one thing I really didn’t like. The notion that children had to be punished in order to allow adults to make penance did not sit comfortably with me at all.

Altogether, I thought there was too much bardo and not enough Lincoln.

I’m never sure what makes a Booker winner. Some I have loved. Others I have hated. This one doesn’t fall into either category for me, which says something in itself.

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May 31: Summer Reading Challenge

I did this last year, and it made me read some books I might otherwise not have chosen.

The way I planned to do it was to choose six books by author surname, corresponding to the six letters of the word SUMMER. I would first draw from my “books I own but haven’t read yet” pile; then from my wishlist of books that: I like the look of; I feel I ought to read; have been recommended etc. Finally, if necessary, I would search the internet for “author whose surname begins with U” (it’s always going to be U that’s a problem, let’s face it).

Last year I had to go searching out in the wide world for a “U”, and it gave me the odd but likeable “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg” by Dubravka Ugrešić. This year, I only had to go as far as my wish list.

So, this year’s challenge:

Between June 1st (start of meteorological summer) and August 27th (August Bank Holiday, which I consider to be the end of summer) I will attempt to read the following six books, in order.

S: George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo. I chose this because it won the Man Booker prize, and when I have read Booker winners before (Midnight’s Children, Life of Pi) they have stayed with me longer than I expected them to. I don’t think of myself as a “literature” reader. I gravitate towards crime and SF. But I make myself step out of my comfort zone every so often. I think it does me good.

U: Tor Udall. A Thousand Paper Birds. This is also literary fiction, with, I am promised, a bit of magical realism. There is a threat of romance (not my genre), but what sold me on this was the lure of origami. This was the only U author on my wishlist, and so I didn’t have many other choices(!). We’ll see how it goes.

M: Ian McDonald. Chaga. I have read a number of McDonald’s books (River of Gods, Brasyl, The Dervish House, spring to mind) and I like the idea of setting SF in a slightly “off” familiar location. I decided to go back to an early work for this first “M”

M: Ian McDonald. Time Was. The same “M”(not necessary, but I thought it would be fun), but bang up to date with this one. Time travel. Hmm…

E: George Eliot. Middlemarch. Every so often, I make myself read something I should have read when I was at school. This is it for this summer.

R: Philip Roth. Nemesis. Reading this in tribute.

The challenge starts tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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May 28: Nightfall Berlin

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I have been looking forward to reading this for a long time (I pre-ordered it ages ago). I wasn’t disappointed. Tom Fox has taken his place among my favourite protagonists, beside Renko, Koralev, Pekkala…

The story was tighter than the last Fox book (Moskva), and better for it. I like that the backstory is emerging slowly, and I really like that he isn’t forever hopping in and out of beds.

I really liked Fox’s son Charlie, and hope to see more of him in the future.

Altogether, I really liked this. Five stars.

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May 10: The Man Who Laughs

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Back in January, I saw the musical The Grinning Man, based on a novel by Victor Hugo. I enjoyed the show very much, and that led me to read the book, which I found to be very difficult, full of description of the British aristocracy and with a much crueler ending than I had expected.

A few days ago, I came across a graphic novel version of the book, which rendered the story as much more readable, but kept the darkness and the unhappy ending.

A worthy addition to my graphic novels shelf.

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May 7: H(A)PPY

I really wanted to like this book.

I bought a hardback because I’d been warned that not all the graphic stuff would show up in an e-book version, and now it is taking up precious space in my actual physical environment.

It is clever. It won the Goldsmiths prize last year (which “celebrates qualities of creative daring…and rewards fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel”). Perhaps it’s too clever for me?

I didn’t like the protagonist. I didn’t understand the Paraguay references. I wasn’t overly impressed with the pseudo-mathematical artwork, and I have to say the changing colour of the font got on my nerves. I did understand that. I just think it was overdone.

The book blurb sold it as post-apocalyptic dystopia, but it seemed to me to be set mostly in the protagonist’s head. A bit of backstory would have been useful.

I give this three stars for the concept, but less than that for the execution.

I know a lot of people like this book, so make your own judgement.

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April 10: The Temptation of Forgiveness

Whenever I get a new Donna Leon, I know I will pick it up and not put it down until I have finished it. Even after 27 Brunetti novels, I still enjoy reading about him and his Venice.

This book had slightly less of Venice, slightly less of Venetian food, a lot less of sidekick Vianello. To compensate, there was more of Commissario Claudia Griffoni and rather too much hacking from Elettra Zorzi.

The story was not as crusadingly “eco” as the last couple have been. Not so anti-tourist, either. There was a nasty little thread of exploitation of the elderly, and the problem of drugs in children was left unresolved, but that is fairly standard Leon.

I detect a glimmer of weakness in Brunetti. He relies far too much on Elettra, who surely should not be given so much access to investigative work. I foresee trouble, especially since she seems to have got away with something major in this story. Griffoni also seems to be losing some respect for him. We’ll see what happens in the next one.

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March 27: The City and the City

I reread this book in advance of the TV series (starting next week, watch this space), and am happy to say I love it just as much as I did on first reading it. Tyador Borlú is one of my favourite detectives, and Beszel and Ul Qoma together make a fascinating setting. I am really looking forward to the TV version, and can’t wait to see how they do the magic which will clearly be required. I have heard that the Ul Qoma partner is to be a woman, rather than the man China Miéville wrote, and I hope this is to match more closely to the many recent “international noir” series rather than to add romance or sexual tension where it isn’t necessary. I like Borlú because he isn’t full of tropes. He doesn’t drink, he isn’t unhappy in love, he isn’t depressed… I hope they let him stay that way.

Whatever happens with the TV series, I will continue to love this book.

2009/10 Winner of: Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clark, Locus, World Fantasy and Kitschies Red Tentacle awards

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February 18: Reading Challenge

Just a catch -up. Categories are difficult, as I seem to read quite a lot of crossovers of genre. My best attempt is here. I’m almost halfway to my goal and it’s only February.

So far this year, I have only read one real stinker of a book, and it is by Wilbur Smith, who ought to have been ashamed of himself for writing such trash.

I revisited some old favourites. Notably, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness (an interesting take on gender which sadly sidesteps the issue of male power in relationships), 1969/70 Hugo and Nebula award winner; and the first three of Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books (the rest are on my to-read list), which feature the wonderfully human Sam Vimes.

I have mentioned my growing enjoyment of graphic novels in other posts, so I won’t go into them here, apart from mentioning that six of my 21 books so far are in that format. Quite a big proportion, hugely outweighing the proportion that are classics.

The biggest proportion is crime, and if I include all the crossovers, half of all my reading so far this year is crime. I always thought of myself as a sci-fi buff, but maybe I need to rethink that.

Crime fiction

4

Thriller

1

Science Fiction

1

Fantasy crime

3

Classic novel

1

Historical novel

1

SciFi Crime

2

AU crime graphic novel

5

Historical graphic novel

1

Poetry SciFi novel

1

Psychological thriller

1

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February 4: The Death of Stalin

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This is the book that inspired the recent and quite brilliant film. It is a worthy addition to my graphic novels shelf, being clever, believable and well drawn. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this story, and chuckled quietly to myself. It is very slightly subtler than the film, and didn’t give me so many laugh-out-loud moments, but it did make me appreciate the characters more.