Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 21

A long time ago, I went to the theatre to see what I thought was going to be Oscar Wilde’s version of Salomé. It turned out to be something quite different. This week, I managed to get to see the right one.

I was a little disconcerted to find myself bounced out of my originally-booked seat in favour of a gold helium balloon, but I don’t think I was alone. There were a lot of balloons, and I never really “got” what they were for.

I enjoyed the play. Lazarus are always a bit edgy, and this was no different. I was surprised how well a male Salomé worked, but I shouldn’t have been, really.

Notable reading this week:

The best pure science fiction book I have read for a while. This book is filled with terrific, unsettling art, and a post-apocalyptic road story. I loved it.

The Royal Institution Fiction Lab book for May was a wonderful surprise. The mingling of urban wildlife monitoring with the psychology of PTSD made much more sense than it ought to, and I really liked both protagonists. I recommend this book highly.

I tried really hard to read American Tabloid, but in the end I was beaten a few chapters in. Not by the style that apparently makes Ellroy difficult to read for some people, but by the casual misogyny and racism that permeates the book. I know it is “of its time”, but I just couldn’t get past the language to the story. I notice that the comments on the group posts are largely from men. I don’t think I have seen any praise for this book from women…

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2019: Week 15


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.

Posted in Art, books, photography, Uncategorized

2019: Week 10

Quite windy and damp this week. Not the best weather for me to venture out in, but I managed a trip to Greenwich.

The Mask of Youth

Mat Collishaw’s installation is brilliantly disturbing, and like other “animatronic” works, it uses motion sensors to track nearby movement, turning to stare freakily into the eyes of its audience. It is displayed very cleverly in the Queen’s House, gazing at its own portrait and itself in a mirror. This will only be on display for another week or so, so hurry if you want to see it.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition

Since I was in Greenwich, it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity to see this. At £10, though, the exhibition was overpriced, especially as it was padded out with photographs from previous years, which made it harder to pick out the current year’s winners. (The poster shows the overall winner- I have to say it wouldn’t have been my choice). This yearly exhibition used to be housed in the Old Royal Observatory at the top of the hill, a much better, and more appropriate, venue than the National Maritime Museum.


Two from my pile of physical books, both Xmas gifts.

The Legacy was a nasty little Scandi noir, the first in a series that I probably won’t continue with. It was fine. Yrsa Sig is a good writer, and it did keep me guessing until the end, which rarely happens. I didn’t like the murder methods in this, and I wonder what sort of brain can think up something so particularly nasty. I didn’t like the womanising cop either.

Old Man’s War is a hard SF tale, slightly reminiscent of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but with a much better deal for the female and LGBT characters, as I expect from Scalzi. I’m not exactly a “spaceships and aliens” buff any more, but this was interesting enough to make me consider buying the next in the series.

Christopher Spencer ( aka @ColdwarSteve) has produced a book that so completely matches my own rage at what my country is doing to itself that I had to buy it. This man should be nominated for the Turner Prize for his photomontage work.

Tangerine is my library reading group book for March. I admit my heart sank when I saw the cover, but once I started reading, I found I couldn’t put this one down. Poor Alice.

Posted in books

2019: Week 5

Too cold to go out much. We even had a tiny bit of snow.

My calendar read for February is called “February“. This is a collection of Boris Pasternak’s poetry, in Russian Cyrillic and also translated into English. I really wish I could read Russian, or that there was at least a version in phonetic spelling, so that I could get a feel for the rhythm of the verses. I could see from the Russian that there is a definite rhyme pattern for each poem, but couldn’t understand it at all. The English versions are carefully constructed to rhyme in what looks like the same sort of pattern, but the verse is very bland- not nearly what I would expect from such a lauded poet. I fear the poetry suffered badly in translation.

Random reading

Three books this week:

The Embalmer was a pulp crime novel, full of tropes, and I guessed the killer within pages of beginning. Not great literature by any means, and with enough spelling errors to irritate even the least bothered among us. Zandri needs a better editor.

Revenge Can Be Sweet surprised me by being quite enjoyable, and I may get others in the series. The setting is unusual for me (music) and the first-person narration would normally irritate me but didn’t in this book.

Red is a play script, but still worth reading as a book. I have seen this play, and it was excellent. It tells the story of why Rothko’s “Four Seasons” paintings didn’t find their way into the restaurant they were named for.

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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.


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…

Posted in books

2019 Week 2

Another stay-at-home week. Did a lot of reading:

A baby step towards increasing my non-fiction reading. I am a fan of Beatles music, and wish they had made more. This book is very light on text and heavy on what look like not-quite-good-enough-to-print-in-the-paper pictures from press photographers. It’s a collector’s item for avid Beatles fans, but it doesn’t “spark enough joy” to stay on my shelf.

This is the January recommendation of the Short Story Club. It had its funny moments, but the denouement was a little unpleasant. Pure Becket, of course, and both Dante and the lobster make appearances.

I have had this book on pre-order for a long time. It is as much a memoir as a cook book, and gives a readable description of a young woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and her sort-of recovery through food. I thought it might make a good gift for someone I know, but the ingredients Ella uses are on the expensive side, so it probably won’t. There are one or two very good chicken recipes that I will try.

Absinthe is an interesting exercise in not judging a book by its cover. It is not terribly thrilling. There is far too much talking and not enough action, although when there is action it is efficiently executed. The main character has the same name as the author. (In the notes, the author refers to a story about why he used his own name, but doesn’t actually tell us the story as that is “reserved for his live audiences” when he is on tour. Hmm.) In this book we have an older “maverick” detective (sigh) who has to work under a younger female supervisor he doesn’t respect (sigh). There is very little mention of absinthe.

I loved American Hippo. It is an AU western, that might have just happened if a real-life political plan had come to fruition. I loved the characterisation: the wonderful French conwoman who can’t squeeze into an armchair and yet manages to “pass” absolutely when the group need a white man to take a plot point forward. Hero, the protagonist’s true love whose gender is never referred to and who uses “they” as their personal pronoun, and no one ever questions it. The heavily pregnant lesbian assassin. The hippos! This will be a book I read again and again. Brilliant.

Posted in books, Uncategorized

December 31: Reading roundup

First of all, this month’s reading. Books with numbers in the titles are from my advent calendar (see December 1st for more on this).

The latest (and possibly last) in the Fractured Europe series. I have enjoyed all of these, and this one ties up some loose ends. It’s new this year, so no spoilers.

One of my advent calendar titles, and the first one I was interested in enough to download after reading the free sample. I studied Skinner’s theories of determinism in another life, and was interested to see how he envisioned a utopian society. The novel was readable, but ultimately unsatisfying. I found I didn’t particularly care about the protagonists, and I was left with questions (e.g. the remarked-upon but unexplained lack of workers in some workshops).

This book had been on my “to read” pile for a while, so I added it to my advent calendar for day 3. I wanted to like this, but in the end, the aliens spoiled it for me (as they often do). I liked the first part. A female scientist in revolutionary China, some exciting science, a bit of espionage…. It was stacking up well, and then, signals from deep space. Sigh. I have a particular aversion to badly-written aliens, but maybe it was a translation effect in this case. This book has very good reviews, so don’t let me put you off.

I loved this book. Read it.

I have had this on my list of books I thought I ought to read but had never got round to. I’m glad I finally got round to it.

Ann Veronica is the Royal Institution Fiction Lab book for December. I found it to be a bit of a grind. I don’t think Wells wrote women very well, and the science here was well-camouflaged amongst the “adventures” of our heroine. I wish she hadn’t settled for being a wife and mother in the end. Not a favourite.

This book didn’t live up to its hype for me. I found the resurrections confusing and the mystery was tied up too quickly at the end. Lots of good reviews, though, so don’t let me put you off.

This was a stand-alone short story, so price per word was pretty expensive, but it was worth it. A perfect little Christmas present to myself. Science Fiction, Dystopia, Christmas and Miéville’s excellent writing. Loved it.

This was definitely “of its time”. I bought it because I was draw in by the ghastliness of the cover, and the chance to read Japanese Science Fiction from the “golden age”. I wish I hadn’t.

The profits from this book go to Trauma Response Network, a charity that helps people suffering from PTSD.

I re-read this every Christmas. I always find something in it to make me smile.

This was chosen as the Guardian Book Club Book this month, so I had another go at it, paying particular attention to the computer game strand that I had glossed over in my first reading. I’m still not sure why that particular strand is in the book. It could have easily stood alone as a short story, or even a novella, but it doesn’t mesh at all well with the rest of the book.

The first of my new Christmas books (thanks Bex). I like these coppers, and it was interesting to read about “wobbling” (distance endurance racing over an indoor track), a sport I had never heard of before. The historical details were accurate and the setting was a place I know and had visited in my youth. I will definitely read more in this series.

The last of my ordinary calendar books for this year. I was out of one of my comfort zone with this, as it turned out to be full on horror, with apparitions, ghostly monks and black candles. There was a lot of rock music, which was a saving grace, but there was also some real nastiness. It needs a strong stomach, but I have to admit that it gripped me and I read to the end.

So, to round off the year, some statistics:

Amongst others, I read:

One utopian and ten dystopian novels.

Two “Lab Lit” novels

Six “classics”

Five “war” books

Three poetry works

Nine graphic novels

Two horror novels

Four ghost stories

One play script

One cookery book

Twenty five Science Fiction novels (19% of my reading for the year. Of that, 20% was SciFiCri).

Thirty eight crime novels (29%), of which 13% was SciFiCri and only 11% was Scandi Crime – normally much higher. Five of my Pratchett re-reads (City Watch novels)are included here.

6% of my reading this year had specifically LGBT themes and/or main characters. There was even less depiction of disability and only two books dealt specifically with mental health. That doesn’t seem very much. A target for next year seems in order here.

I only read three non-fiction works this year (four, if I include the play script “Stitchers”). Another target, methinks.

I did much more “literary” reading this year, much of it contemporary, but it is clear what my favourite genres are.

I am not ashamed.

Posted in books, Uncategorized

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.

Posted in books

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.

Posted in books

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.