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2019: Week 16

Just three books this week, as I have been indisposed health wise, with neither access to a lot of reading or inclination to do much.

My calendar book for this month was an ebook from the public library. I usually do my calendar reading early in the month, but I had to wait for someone to return it before I could access it. This was extreme SF, of a type I love. Cyberspace, AI, body mods and definitely NO ALIENS.

Just two other books, both selected for me by someone with not quite the same taste as me. I really liked the Night Circus, surprisingly, as I hadn’t expected to. The David Wong Book was really odd, magic and evil etc. Not really my taste but it filled hospital time.

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2019: Week 15

Books

Lots of reading this week, including a surprising pleasure.

This was hyped as a good insight into the lives of the “canon 5” of Jack The Ripper’s victims. Sadly, the men surrounding the victims take over, with whole sections on one or other victim’s father, uncle, husband etc. I didn’t really enjoy the book.

A new take on the famous monster. This one is made up of the parts of innocent terrorism victims, searching for retribution. Interesting.

A sort of psychedelic futuristic saga. I hated this. I really dislike seeing humans shown as insects etc. Nasty.

A faithful representation of the film as a graphic novel. Beautifully drawn and with all the good stuff. Drawing in red and black only gave great impact to the story.

A neat little dystopian tale. My second graphic novel of the week. Quite chilling.

A crime tale chosen by my library reading group. I really didn’t expect to like this, but I found Jimm Juree and her friends/relatives really engaging.

A stand-alone short story I’m Jimm Juree’s world, in which we learn more about her trans sister.

Finally, a well-loved children’s book, ahead of a brand new TV animated series. I have to say, I like the animation better than the book, but I don’t have the requisite Scandinavian childhood, I guess.

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2019: Week 12

Theatre

A Hundred Words For Snow

A single-handed play stands on its actor. Gemma Barnett played a perfectly believable fifteen-year-old Rory (short for Aurora). There were some plot holes (e.g. a fifteen year old girl managing to book flights as far as Svalbard on her mother’s stolen credit card without attracting any notice), but as a rite-of-passage play, this was wonderful.

Reading

At this time in the month I would usually be writing about the Guardian Readers’ Club book of the month, but this month it is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which I read just before Xmas last year, and can’t bring myself to read again. I know it is supposed to be great literature, but ugh, aliens. So it goes.

I liked this book, and I liked Hannah’s grandfather, despite his having made a pact with the devil. The book was a little reminiscent of Good Omens, but that doesn’t hurt it, and the basic premise is different. An enjoyable read.

I was disappointed in Square Eyes. I like cyberpunk, and I like graphic novels, so this should have worked for me, but sadly, the story was just too incoherent. The drawing is lovely, but a graphic novel needs a tight story, and this just didn’t work.

Posted in books, Musical theatre, Opera

2019: Week 7

Two very different theatrical experiences this week.

Akhnaten

This was sublime. Visually, it was absolutely stunning, and the music and voices were wonderful. There wasn’t a great deal of plot, and no “songs”, obviously, this being Philip Glass, but that didn’t matter. It was a brilliant, brilliant performance.

Fiddler on the Roof

Another brilliant performance, on a much smaller scale. This was my first visit to the Menier Chocolate Factory, and I will definitely go again. “Fiddler” is full of songs, of course, and the voices were powerful. I cried at a couple of moments. This production is moving to the west end, which is great for the company, but I think the audience will lose out on the intimacy of a small space. I recommend the Chocolate Factory. Go for a meal deal. The food is themed, and great.

Reading

I am enjoying these short stories. This month’s tale is a creepy little horror about a dolls’ house. I don’t normally go for horror, but I enjoyed the shiver I got from this.

I’d had the newest Rivers of London book on pre-order for ages, but as an e-book, so I’m not sure exactly when it dropped into my kindle library. Anyway, as soon as I noticed it, I had to read it, even though I have a huge pile of physical and electronic books already. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Peter Grant’s adventures, and the quirks of Ben Aaronovitch’s writing. This time we learned the origins of Mr Punch, who has been around since the beginning of the saga. Another good one.

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2019: week 3

Another quiet week. I did a bit of knitting, and finished a jumper I started in November last year. It was a notable achievement.

Reading

Good Omens was the Guardian readers’ choice for January. It was a re-read for me, but I had largely forgotten all but the story. I didn’t find it as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected to this time around (based on other readers’ comments), but it is undeniably clever, (as you would expect from Gaiman and Pratchett) and did make me smile. I hope that the upcoming TV series does it justice.

Christina Dalcher’s Vox was scary, and all too plausible. If you like dystopian novels you’ll like this one. It is set in a slightly off-kilter present-day United States, and is like the Handmaid’s Tale in that women bear the brunt of religious fundamentalism, but unlike it (and frighteningly more believable because of this) in that there is no underlying fertility problem to act as a “reason”.

I liked The White Book by Han Kang a lot. It reads like a poetic memoir (it reminded me of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets) , but is actually literary fiction, telling the story of the narrator’s sister. (No more spoilers from me). I liked the focus on one colour, and it was interesting to see the juxtaposition of South Korea and Warsaw.

Zugzwang is a term used in chess to describe a situation where a player is forced into making a move that will cost them the game. Ronan Bennett uses it as a device in a tight novel set in pre-soviet St Petersburg. I have a soft spot (I don’t know why) for novels set in Russia, and particularly anything set between the World Wars. This one hits the spot – a chess-playing psychiatrist gets drawn into a plot to assassinate the Tsar, and finds himself in his own personal zugzwang. It can’t have a happy ending…

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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 13: The Overstory

Fourth up on my Man-Booker marathon is a story about trees, sort-of.

The book follows a diverse collection of characters and their lives as they relate to trees and the eco-system.

I liked this book, in the main, although I found myself skipping quickly through the sections dedicated to Neelay’s computer game, which bothers me in retrospect, because I feel I ought to have found that thread more interesting. Maybe I’ll reread this thread. That will be possible, because Nedlay’s thread seems to be completely separate from the rest of the book.

I have to say that I found some of the characters really unlikeable, and some of the “mystical hippy” stuff a bit irritating. There was a lot of interesting tree science, and some worrying stuff about ecology, but for me, the first section, Roots, where we met the characters, was the best.

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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.