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September 20: The Man Booker shortlist

The shortlist of six books was announced this morning and they are all now sitting comfortably on my kindle. Will I be able to read them all before the prize winner is announced? Watch this space!

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August 31: Books

This month I read 10 books, some of which I enjoyed more than others.


I happened to be reading Out of the Ice at the end of July and it carried over into August. It was a mediocre crime novel. Not Scandi, even though it looks as if it ought to be. Set mainly in the Antarctic, and featuring an under-the-ice laboratory. A bit far-fetched for my taste, with a tacked-on child abuse thread that I thought was unnecessary.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was my August calendar challenge book, and it was terrific. Harry is the central character, and we live his lives with him. Speculative fiction, with a very clever central premise. I liked this a lot.

I’m attacking my tsundoku by means of a random letter generator. This time it was a z. Zero K refers to temperature, and the book is about a family using and coming to terms with cryogenic suspension. It was strange, in both plot and setting. I found it a bit “arty”, and a bit unsettling.

Sometimes people I follow on Twitter will mention a book. A Void was brought to my attention by an author I like. I didn’t have a copy, but I did happen to know a friendly University librarian, who let me borrow one. I found it terribly self-indulgent. The notion of writing a whole novel without using the letter e was interesting. The execution was laboured, and I found myself irritated in places where substitute words mattered (for example, in quotations from famous published works). There was a story, but I found it hard to follow, and it wasn’t concluded to my satisfaction. Unlike other reviewers. I decided not to try to write s review without the letter e.

The Bridesmaid was my local public library reading group book of the month. Ruth Rendell isn’t one of my favourite authors, and this book wasn’t one of my favourite books. It was interesting to see the story from the point of view of someone who wasn’t either the victim, the perpetrator or the police. Having said that, I didn’t feel any empathy for the narrator, or any of the other characters, for that matter, and I felt that there was a chapter missing at the end.

Grayson Perry’s book was chosen because it was a very slim paperback that would slide easily into the pocket of my overnight bag. It was interesting, if a little outdated, with some little cartoon illustrations and a bit of humour. The only non-fiction book this month.

Another random letter, this time m. I liked this one a lot. It had crime, wine, food (a lot of food, including actual recipes), and a French setting. No police, but a food magazine writer and her photographer sidekick solving a linked set of three murders. I hope there will be more in this series.

Give me an e

This book has been hyped a lot. I liked it, but it made me depressed. There were things I recognised in Eleanor, and things that didn’t ring true. I wanted to shake her at times, and I didn’t believe that her colleagues would change their opinion of her so drastically. At least there was a happyish ending.

And an f

I’d had this one on my pile for a while. A dystopian novel that doesn’t quite describe a dystopian world. The fixed period is a lifespan, the setting is an independent colony that gets re-annexed, there is a lot of scientific innovation, especially in the fields of music and sport. The narrator is one of those fixed-mindset people who perceive themselves to be hard done by when their views are not shared by everyone. This was apparently Trollope’s only foray into sci fi and he clearly found it hard work.

Smon Smon is a children’s book, but I’m not ashamed of reading it before giving it as a birthday gift to a three year old. It has an old-fashioned Eastern European look to it, and a lovely rhythmic rhyming pattern. It is a little adventure story that really needs to be read aloud.

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August 3: Calendar Reading

I started this month’s book, and couldn’t put it down.

The title is the story, really. Harry’s lives are lived out one after the other, and the world changes around him.

There are some nasty moments, and some that are familiar from reading various genres. I suppose this is SciFi, but more speculative than science, although there is some science in the story.

It was an interesting read, with a clear hero and villain, well written, without too many tropes. I liked it.

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July 22: Calendar Reading

This month’s calendar reading is The Boy From Lam Kien by Miranda July.

I had heard great things about this author, and the synopsis of the story sounded interesting, so I set out on a quest…

The story is available as a paperback

Yes. I’m not paying that sort of price for a short story. On googling, I discovered that there had been a BBC radio series read by the author:

Of course, it was unavailable.

So I bought a kindle version of the collection of short stories it was in, for a LOT less than I would have had to spend on a standalone paperback.

I started reading at the beginning, and stopped when I finished the story I’d bought the book for, about halfway in. And it was hard work getting that far. I should have just read the one story I’d wanted – it was the least objectionable of the ones I did read. I don’t often abandon a book unfinished, but occasionally it happens.

These stories are not for me, I’m afraid. There is too much very dysfunctional sex. There are dysfunctional sex workers, dysfunctional care workers, dysfunctional everything. A woman cheerfully admitting to having a fourteen year old boyfriend was the last straw for me.

I couldn’t make myself go any further.

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July 16: Reading

I have a pile of books to read (currently 46, shared between the kindle, iBooks and the wobbly pile of mixed paper-and-hardbacks on my coffee table). I also have a few on my shelves that I want to re-read. And a very long wish-list of books I don’t yet own.

I finished both my main Goodreads challenge and my personal summer challenge early, and in theory, all I have shouting “finish me!” are my two reading group books (Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and Drabble’s Pure Gold Baby).

I have scheduled reading times for book groups, so what to do the rest of the time?

The answer is always a random pick from my physical book pile and a random pick from my e-book “pile”. At the moment, my e-book is the latest Harry Hole, and my physical book is one of the slim Penguin classics (Kafka’s The Trial).

But – I follow authors and readers on Twitter, and they keep making recommendations. By coincidence this morning, two recommendations caught my eye: a short story by Miranda July; and a novel by Clare North that just happened to have the word “August” in the title. That set me off of course. I thought I would end up with a mix of author names and titles, but in the end, my calendar reads for the rest of the year are all title-based except for July.

I’m probably going to to do this for the whole of next year, as a sort of side quest to my main challenge.

Here they are:

No one belongs here more than you: Miranda July

The first fifteen lives of Harry August: Claire North

The Septembers of Shiraz: Dalia Sofer

October the first is too late: Fred Hoyle

Butterflies in November: Audur Ava Òlafsdóttir

December: Phil Rickman

I intend to be very disciplined and only read one of these a month. Let’s see how it goes.

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July 12: Summer Reading #6

R is for Roth

I chose a Philip Roth novel for my final book as a tribute, to mark his death this year.

Nemesis is a narrow story, with a narrator who almost doesn’t figure in the story at all. It tells the harrowing tale of one of the last polio epidemics and its effects on the lives of the Jewish population in Newark, New Jersey. Bucky Cantor seems to me to be a selfish character, always wishing that his life had taken a different turn, while turning away from what might be the best choices. He has some unlucky breaks, but in the end, isolates himself from anyone that might help him. The final chapter highlights starkly what could have been… perhaps.

This was a “short novel”, and I read it during a sleepless night. I find Roth very readable, even if I don’t much like his characters.

There are other structured reading activities still continuing – the Twitter reading group, the library reading group, but this book brings my personal 2018 “SUMMER” reading challenge to a close, much earlier than expected.

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July 11: Summer Reading #5

E is for Eliot

Every year I make myself read at least one of the “classics” that I should have read long ago. This is my “punishment reading” for the summer.

Actually, it was okay. I quite liked Dorothea, once she started to stand up for herself. I got irritated (as usual) by the various characters causing themselves trouble by not being open in their dealings. I disliked Rosamund, but she got her comeuppance, so that was all right.

Middlemarch was quite shallow, I thought. Similar to Austen books, very much about “place, face and manners”. I found it lighter than the Brontes, whose works I prefer. It was a “good read”, but not one that I expect to have any particular lasting effect. It would work very well as a TV serial.

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June 29: Summer Reading #4

M is for McDonald (again)

I seem to be getting through these rather more quickly than I expected to.

This is my second Ian McDonald of this challenge, and it is a novella, rather than a novel. It is a romance, of sorts. It is a science-fiction mystery. IT DOESN’T HAVE ALIENS! It does have time travel, and it does have a bit of gay sex. Major events and twists are foreshadowed nicely but not too obviously, and there is enough romantic angst to satisfy anyone who needs that in a story.

The blurb doesn’t quite match the book, but I’ve read enough (particularly in “genre” works) to know that is quite often the case. I chose it because it was a new work by a favourite author, not because of the blurb.

It is a lovely, lovely story.

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June 27: Library group

I joined a reading group at the library, and it turned out to be a very interesting first meeting, where we meandered from the book under discussion to other authors to politics and beyond. It was quite difficult to have a proper discussion of the book because the group leader and I were the only two who had actually finished reading it, so I’ll give my thoughts here.

It had a good opening line – probably the best I’ve read.

It was a bit of a family saga, over two generations. There was a mystery – at first only a disappearance, but eventually disclosure of a murder. Or maybe two murders. The probable murderer got his comeuppance. No police were involved.

I laughed out loud at an inappropriate moment (when the protagonist’s atheist father died). Well, he was climbing a church steeple and he got struck by lightning.

I didn’t really like the protagonist much. I didn’t like the girl he fell in love with, either. But I did like Ash, the girl he needed to fall in love with.

The ends were too neatly tied for me. Prentice got a second chance at Uni. He got a legacy and a fancy car. The murderer got what he deserved. The disappeared uncle was found (dead, sadly). The girl Prentice should have fallen for turns out to love him…

Iain Banks is an author worth reading, but not a quick read. This book was okay.

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June 20: Summer Reading #3

M is for McDonald

I haven’t read many good science fiction books recently. I’m not a lover of “space opera” or aliens, so I approached Chaga with a little trepidation.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It had some science and some politics and a setting I was unfamiliar with (Africa). I generally like McDonald’s “big” books (Brasyl etc), and while this wasn’t quite like those, it had some similarities.

It would have been good to have, say, a Nigerian reporter, rather than an African crew backing up a white incomer, and the “spunky girl reporter” trope got on my nerves. I wanted a more believable protagonist. I would have liked to see a lot more of Oksana. The “sexy scientist” boyfriend irritated me as well.

I wanted to know more about the Chaga. I wanted to know why they were making the spaceship habitable for humans. I wanted to know where they came from. I wanted more about the whales.

It puzzles me that I liked the book without liking the characters in it. I’m tempted to add the two follow-up Chaga books to my extra-long wish list (211 books at latest count), to see if it gets clearer.