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November 30: Reading

I read 14 books this month. As usual, in chronological order:

My calendar book for this month is Butterflies in November. This is an odd sort of “road” story. The narrator finds herself looking after her friend’s disabled son, and the two of them take a trip around Iceland ending up in a holiday home that was a lottery prize. An extremely unlikely second lottery win provides enough money for them both to be very comfortable. The narrator is pursued by exes; the boy searches for a father figure. There is a lot of weirdness, not least in the recipe for roadkill goose. I liked this book a lot, even if some of the circumstances seemed very unlikely.

Bone Lines is the Royal Institution Fiction Lab book of the month. I have already written about this book in my post about reading groups (November 12).

An addition to my small but growing graphic novels collection. Cassandra is a gallery owner who isn’t “sympatico” in the slightest. But I liked her a bit. The book is a meaty story, with a bit of crime to keep me happy. I shall look out for more by Posy Simmonds.

Another reading group book (local public library). See my post mentioned above for more on this one.

I read this on the 11th of November, to mark Armistice Day. The poem is very moving, no matter how often you read it. This edition is beautifully and horribly illustrated by Martin Impey. One to save for the next generations.

The third reading group book. This one is the Guardian online group.

Tin is a young adult book, although it wasn’t billed as one when I bought it. It is dystopian, somewhat steampunky, and definitely science fiction. There are robots. And artificial intelligence. I wasn’t overly impressed, but that may be due to the reading level.

Quicksand is the story of the aftermath of a school shooting, and the trial of the alleged perpetrator. It made me feel uncomfortable, but was cleverly constructed so as to maintain suspense. An interesting read.

I read this because I felt I ought to. I must admit that Jude wasn’t his own best friend, and I did feel sympathy, but not that much. I had been led to expect comedy, but I found this whole story tragic. Poor Jude.

I like Adam Roberts’ writing a lot. This novel is a sequel to The Real Town Murders, and features the same detective. I really like SciFiCri, and this is an excellent example of the genre. It is a new book, so no spoilers. Get your own copy, you won’t regret it.

Another dystopia. This is slightly reminiscent of Never Let Me Go, but here there is less Sci Fi, as there are no clones. I disliked the notion that women are disposable at age 50, but otherwise it felt like an uncomfortably near future. The ending was a little unexpected.

I love this book. It is one I have read again and again. I liked the TV adaptation as well, but the book is better. It is more alternate reality than Sci Fi, crime at a micro and a macro level, a detective I can like, who isn’t tropey, and a badass female cop thrown in for good measure. I’d love to read more Borlù stories.

This is described as the second in the Moscow Trilogy, but I read it after the other two, and it seems to fit more naturally as the last book. It is the story of what happened to Benya Golden after the events of Sashenka, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally, a sort of LabLit story without much of the science. I suppose it could just about be SciFi, but it feels as if this might be happening somewhere. Certainly the media furore described seems real enough. I didn’t really warm to the characters, and that is a shame.

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November 12: Reading groups

I try hard to broaden my reading, and have found that joining groups help, even if I am a virtual member.

Recently, I came across the Royal Institution’s Fiction Lab – a monthly meeting to discuss a sciency fiction book , rather than a science-fiction book. The session is headed by Jenny Rohn (author of last month’s book, Cat Zero). I can’t get to the actual meeting tonight, but I will be there in spirit and I have read this month’s book, Bone Lines. I found the book to be readable, and I liked the two strands, even if the Neolithic strand was a little reminiscent of Clan of the Cave Bear. I wasn’t convinced by the letters to Darwin,though. I wanted more science, and I felt that the anti-research theme could have been meatier, but this was an interesting look at an area of science I wasn’t familiar with, and I enjoyed reading it.

The second reading-group book was Endless Night, and was chosen by the convenor of the Guardian reading group. I hadn’t read this Agatha Christie novel before, and was surprised that there wasn’t a detective of any kind to be seen. I remember seeing a TV adaptation which was different enough to not remind me of what happened, so the book kept my attention. I don’t really like first-person narration, but other than that, the book was fairly standard Christie, twists and turns and unexpected endings.

The final group is my local library group, where we actually meet and discuss the book of the month. This month it was London Lies Beneath, which was more gripping than I expected. I liked some of the characters (the Hatch family in particular) disliked some others. I enjoyed reading about London as it used to be, and I cried at the tragedy that occurs quite late on. I felt that the few magical realism touches didn’t add much to the story, and it could have been stronger without them, and I really didn’t like the very end, but I expect others will disagree. I was very glad that Jimmy was able to find his own path.

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October 31: Reading roundup

I read twelve books this month. A little up on my average, mainly due to the Man Booker shortlist, which I have already written about, so I won’t be reviewing any of those in this post. In order of reading:

The second on the Man Booker shortlist, and the eventual winner of the prize. I didn’t think this one would win, but I am glad it did, as it turned out to be my favourite of the six.

Number three on the Man Booker shortlist.

Number four, and the most difficult to read.

Number five…

And the last one. I actually finished reading this on the day of the announcement, with a couple of hours to spare.

Reading all six, back to back, was a challenge to my brain and my pocket, and I might not do it again next year. Or I might borrow them from the library rather than buy them.

Any way, moving on…

A new addition to my small but perfectly formed collection of graphic novels. It is actually a set of linked short stories, originally published as a series of standalone comics. What you see is what you get. If you like manga and ghost stories you’ll like this. Not suitable for children.

My Calendar book for this month. Sir Fred Hoyle was a noted astrophysicist and coined the term “Big Bang“, although he didn’t subscribe to the theory, and believed solidly in the “Steady-State” universe. This book is firmly in the Science Fiction genre, but luckily for me there are no aliens or space battles, just a strange chronological quirk, and humans dealing with it. It has a very Victorian feel to it— a bit H G Wells-ish. It was ok, but the end was a bit limp, I felt.

I like Indridason’s detectives. They are always a bit “off”, and never annoyingly tropey. Flovent and Thorson are becoming favourites, particularly Thorson, who struggles with his suppressed sexuality (this is set in the forties) as well as his mixed heritage. This is only the second in this series, and it is shaping up well.

I am slowly re-working my way through Pratchetts “Watch” books, and this one seemed appropriate for the Halloween season, being set in Uberwald, where the aristocracy are vampires and werewolves. I like the Discworld novels, and have read all of them several times. I love finding new things in them—Pratchett was the master of “Easter eggs”. This time round I spotted a wonderful little Chekhov vignette, consisting of three sisters, a cherry orchard and Uncle Vanya’s trousers. Sublime.

My first foray into a new genre. LabLit.

On the surface, this book should have had everything. A female lead scientist. A mysterious feline disease epidemic that crosses into the human population. A couple of reclusive mathematicians. A government conspiracy. Bio-terrorism, etc, etc. What we get isn’t quite what was billed. Yes, there is a female lead scientist, but sadly, she is emotionally unstable and over dependent on her hunky male post-doc. The mathematicians are stereotyped as an elderly autistic professor (also usefully developing a dementia that seems to cancel out his autism somehow) and his slightly psychopathic assistant. There is only one cat. I wanted to love this book, but although it was readable, it didn’t really grab me.

This novella is one of Bassani’s Ferrara Cycle, set in northern Italy, and showing the country’s gradual slide into Fascism through the gold-rimmed lens of Dr Fadigati, whose transition from pillar of society to tragic outcast has a sense of inexorability about it. An uncomfortable read, but worthwhile.

I was a little apprehensive about this book, as I do not generally have a constitution that can cope with horror. I needn’t have worried. This was a piece of pure silliness that I highly recommend to any Sherlock fan.

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October 16: The Trench; Weeping Window; Man Booker

A busy day today. The Trench is a one-act play with puppets and live music, performed by Les Enfants Terribles.

I have seen this company’s work before, and I wasn’t disappointed. The terror of war was depicted graphically at times, and there were no happy endings for the miner hero. Lighting was used very effectively, and the actor-musicians told a difficult tale very well.

On my way home from the theatre, I passed the Imperial War Museum, where the wonderful Weeping Window poppies installation is to be housed until after Armistice Day this year. I have only seen pictures of this work before, and they do not do it justice. The installation is very beautiful, in stark contrast to the war it commemorates.

Finally today, the Man Booker prize winner was announced. I got it wrong, unsurprisingly, but the winner was the book I liked most from the shortlist, and is coincidentally about a time of trouble which we don’t quite call a war.

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October 15: Man Booker Marathon

Crikey. I did it. The final two on the shortlist, both American, both taking me out of my comfort zone.

Washington Black was a not too uncomfortable account of a slave boy’s path to emancipation. There is violence, but it isn’t dwelt on. There is hardship and fear, but that isn’t dwelt on either.

I didn’t feel that the book was deep enough, I suppose, and comeuppances seemed to come too easily.

The Mars Room seemed to be a collection of stories only loosely linked by place, and with a cliffhanger ending I didn’t care for. I didn’t find any of the characters likeable, except maybe for Conan. I don’t really understand American culture, and I rarely read contemporary American literature, so This was very much a change of genre for me.

My prediction is still for The Long Take to win the prize. We will find out tomorrow.

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October 5: Everything Under

Third in my Man Booker pile is Everything Under, a strange story roughly revolving around Sarah, who is not the narrator.

There are echoes of Greek tragedy, echoes of English folk tales and a sad look at the scourge of the modern elderly. There’s a bit of fantasy, a little bit of magical realism, a bit of superstition…

There are issues around gender, which I think in one case is laboured and in another not nuanced enough, but kudos to Daisy Johnson for at least getting them out there. I worried about the cling film though.

What I really wanted to know was why Sarah did what she did. That thing that set it all in motion. And I still want to know.

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October 3: Milkman

I am working my way through the Man Booker shortlist, hoping to have finished them all before the winner is announced.

Milkman is a good book. It is readable, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for, and empathy with, the narrator.

This book made me anxious, in the medical sense. I found myself expecting, and dreading the inevitable moment when the narrator gets into the van (I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler). I hated the mother, and it took a while for me to realise that it was because of certain conversations I had had in my youth, which were echoed in the mother’s too-easy dismissal of her husband’s pain and her daughter’s innocence. I was shocked to find myself glad that certain people came to certain ends.

As I said before, this is a good book, and it is an uncomfortable read while not being a difficult read.

My early punt on the winner still stands, but this book is certainly worthy of being on the shortlist.

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October 1: September’s books

I got through nine books in September. Some of them I enjoyed more than others.

Chronologically:

My library reading group book. The librarian gave us all a long list of available titles and asked us to tick off any that we thought would be good for future reads. I just ticked off all the titles I hadn’t read, on the grounds that I’m using the group to widen my reading (among other reasons for attending). Anyway, she chose this for September, told everyone it was from my list, evoking several heavy sighs and sarcastic “thankyous”. With 800-odd pages of tiny print, it does look a bit daunting – so much so, that the group collectively decided to run this book over two months. Reader, it took me two days. As always, I found some of the characters a bit irritating, but I really enjoyed the book overall. I don’t need to detail the plot here, but there is one trope I dislike, and that I see a lot in “classic” novels, that of older guardian-like man marrying generations-younger woman from poor circumstances. It feels a bit icky, somehow.

An attack on my “to read” pile gave me this, which was readable, quite enjoyable, but with some silliness. It is basically the story of an odd little ménage à trois. Alice meets Jove on a cruise and becomes his lover. Alice is a physicist, Jove is a renowned expert on time travel. So far, so good. I hoped there might be a bit of Sci-Fi, but there isn’t. Eventually, Alice meets Jove’s wife Stella, and becomes her lover too, in a separate arrangement, which then becomes the main relationship, with a very upset Jove neatly sidelined. The silliest thing in the book is Stella’s diamond, swallowed by her pregnant mother and somehow becoming embedded in the base of her foetal spine ( no, I don’t know how, either, and it isn’t explained).

I have read a couple of Winterson’s books- Christmas Days, which I erroneously bought as a cookery book, and The Gap of Time, one of the Hogarth series of reimagined Shakespeares (in this case, the retold story is the Winter’s Tale). I haven’t read her most famous book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but it is on my wishlist.

This novella was a very nice “extra” to Lock In, a Sci-Fi-Cri novel that I liked a lot when I read it back in January. It details the background to Haden’s Syndrome, which is central to the novel, and could be read before or after. I’m glad I read the novel first, but that’s because I really like good Science Fiction, and Scalzi writes good stuff.

I would call Yesterday SciFiCri, because of the very clever centrality of memory-diaries to the plot. It is certainly “alternate reality”. Otherwise, it is a fairly straightforward crime novel, told from multiple points of view. I would like to see more of Hans, the detective. There are a lot of holes in the world-building, (some of them are quite exasperating), and the mechanism of transfer between short and long term memories isn’t really explored. Quite readable, quite enjoyable, and with a reasonable twist.

A classic. I bought the Steadman-illlustrated hardback as a gift for someone, but had to re-read it first. This edition contains a couple of nice essays by Orwell, as well as the wonderful illustrations. I almost don’t want to give it away.

This was my September calendar book, and it was a wonderful story of a Jewish family in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. This is really worth reading, and I am not going to write more in case I spoil it for anyone. I recommend this one.

How long have I had this on pre-order? So long I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s here, and read immediately, of course. I like Strike, and I’m glad that Robin is sorting herself out. I think this is a bit longer than it needs to be, but it will transfer well to TV, as the other Strike novels have. I enjoyed it.

This is another book I have bought as a gift. I found it odd, until I realised that it was written to be turned into dance. Here is the trailer for Raven Girl , the ballet based on the book.

The Man Booker shortlist was announced on September 20th. I bought all six, planning to read them before October 16th, when the winner will be announced. So far, I have managed one. The Long Take calls itself a poem, but I didn’t think it was poetry, really. It was very readable, and a strong story of PTSD and the toll it takes. I am taking an early punt and predicting that this will win the prize.

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August 31: Books

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

Chronologically:

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.