HanGerg has high hopes for 2013!
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Illustration from the book A World of Pattern - Gwen White
Hello once again friends, lurkers and newcomers!
Welcome to you all, and here's to a great year, bookwise and otherwise, for each and every one of us!
Last year was great for me in many respects, but my book total was not one of them. This year I aim to give myself the goal of having a really serious attempt to reach the magic figure of 75. Along the way, I would like to try and read more authors from around the world, not just Britain and America, which is where the vast number of authors I read come from. Also, my knowledge of many of the classics is pretty woeful, as I realise when I look around at other's threads, so I am going to attempt a bit more classic literature this year. In between it will be the usual mix of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and the rest, plus a little bit of non-fiction, which I did succeed in reading slightly more than usual last year.
I hope to put together a reading list for the first few months of the year fairly soon, but for now I'll just state these lofty aims for the record.
A Game of Thrones - George R.R.Martin
The Invisible Bridge - Julie Orringer
Affinity - Sarah Waters
Blue Mars - Kim Stanely Robinson
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media - Susan J. Douglas
Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter (Re-read)
Terminal World - Alastair Reynolds
And now....let the reading begin!
1.A Feast For Crows - George R.R.Martin 5/5
2.Friedrich - Hans Peter Richter 3/5
3.Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck 3/5
4.The Arrival - Shaun Tan 5/5
5.Summer Lightning - P.G.Wodehouse 3.5/5
6.Freak the Mighty - Rodman Philbrick 4/5
7.1Q84 Book 1 - Haruki Murakami 4/5
8.Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve 4/5
9.The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern 5/5
10.Persuasion - Jane Austen 3/5
11.The Under Cover Economist - Tim Harford 2/5
12.Helliconia Spring - Brian Aldiss 3.5/5
13. The White Queen - Philippa Gregory 4/5
14. Downbelow Station - C.J. Cherryh 5/5
15. Stealing Light - Gary Gibson 3.5/5 AudioBook
16.The Sister Brothers - Patrick DeWitt 3/5
17.We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver 5/5
18.The Last Conquest - Berwick Coates 4/5
19.Small Steps - Louis Sachar 4/5
20.Billionaire Boy - David Walliams 3/5
21.The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet - David Mitchell 4/5
22. Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch 3.5/5
23. Predator's Gold - Philip Reeve 4/5
24. Dance With Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust - George R.R. Martin 3.5/5
25.The Maze Runner - James Dashner 2/5
26.Merchanter's Luck - C.J.Cherryh 4.5/5
27.The Time of the Hero - Mario Vargas Llosa 2/5
28.The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 4/5 (Re-Read)
29.Women On Top - Nancy Friday 2/5
30.The Vesuvius Club - Mark Gatiss 4/5
31.The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams 4.5/5 (Re-Read)
32.1Q84 Book 2 - Haruki Murakami 4/5
33.Wise Children - Angela Carter 5/5 (Re-Read)
34.Perdido Street Station - China Mielville 5/5
35.Lolly Willowes - Sylvia Townsend Warner 4/5
36.Larry's Party - Carol Shields 4/5
37. The Algebraist - Iain M. Banks 4.5/5
38. Great North Road - Peter F. Hamilton 4/5 AudioBook
39. Battle for Budapest - Krisztián Ungváry 3.5/5
40.Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula Le Guin 5/5
41.Heavy Time - C.J.Cherryh 3.5/5
42.Speaker For The Dead - Orson Scott Card 4/5
43.The Dark Side of the Earth - Alfred Bester 2.5/5
1.IQ84 - Haruki Murakami READ
2.Lolly Willowes - Sylvia Townsend Warner READ
3.Wise Children - Angela Carter (Re-read) READ
4.We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver READ
5.The Pendragon Legend - Antal Szerb
6.The Sister Brothers - Patrick Dewitt READ
7.The Time of the Hero - Mario Vargas Llosa READ
8.World War Z - Max Brooks
9.Downbellow Station - C.J.Cherryh READ
10.Ridley Walker - Russel Hoban
11.The White Queen - Philippa Gregory READ
12.RUR and War with the Newts - Karel Capek
13.Battle for Budapest - Krisztian Ungvary READ
14.Beginning Again - Leonard Woolf
15.A Time Of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermour
...and here is where I keep track of all the new books making their way into the house...
Books acquired in 2013
1.Helliconia Spring - Brian Aldiss Readitswapit READ
2.Fall On Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald Readitswapit
3.The Island at the End of the World - Sam Taylor Readitswapit
4.The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter
5.Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter
6.Persuasion - Jane Austen Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter READ
7.Work/Life 2 The Uppercase Directory of Illustration International Edition Magma Bookshop, Manchester
8.Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business - Mateo, Ilasco and Cho Magma Bookshop, Manchester
9.John Piper: the Mountains of Wales - Melissa Munro The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester
10.Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula Le Guin Paramount Books, Manchester READ
11.The Stone That Never Came Down - John Brunner Paramount Books, Manchester
None! Aren't I good?
12.Photo Crafts Sourcebook - Laurie Klein Blue Coat Books, Chester
13.American Folk Art Designs - Dover Publications Blue Coat Books, Chester
14.Union Street - Pat Barker British Red Cross Shop, Chorlton
15.Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch Badger Books Bookstall, Exeter READ
16.Ubik - Philip K. Dick Badger Books Bookstall, Exeter
17.Merchanter's Luck - C.J Cherryh Secondhand via Amazon READ
18.Round Ireland With A Fridge - Tony Hawks Readitswapit
19.Hearts, Hands and Voices - Ian McDonald Bookbarn
20.The Faded Sun: Kutah - C.J.Cherryh Bookbarn
21.The Vagrants - Yiyun Li Bookbarn
22.Are Men Necessary? - Maureen Dowd Bookbarn
23.Is the Future Female? - Lynne Segal Bookbarn
24.Women On Top - Nancy Friday Bookbarn READ
25.The Age of Anxiety - Sarah Dunant and Roy Porter Bookbarn
26.Paint Finishes and Effects - Peter and Paula Knott Bookbarn
27.Home Front: Storage - Tessa Shaw Bookbarn
28.Pilates + Yoga - Jill Everett Bookbarn
29.Nothing Sacred - Angela Carter The Topsham Bookshop
30.Roman Blood - Steven Saylor The Topsham Booshop
31.Typography/Basic Principles - John Lewis The Topsham Booshop
32.Gulag: A History - Anne Applebaum British Red Cross Shop, Dawlish
33.The Reality Dysfunction - Peter F. Hamilton British Red Cross Shop, Dawlish
34.Perdido Street Station - China Mieville British Red Cross Shop, Dawlish READ
35.Alone In Berlin - Hans Fallada British Red Cross Shop, Dawlish
36.The Beauty Myth - Naomi Wolf Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter
37.Woman On The Edge Of Time - Marge Piercy Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter
38.Books Do Furnish A Room - Anthony Powel Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter
39.Year Before Last - Kay Boyle Hospicecare Bookshop, Exeter
40.1Q84: Book 3 - Haruki Murakami Waterstones, Exeter READ
41.Monet by Himself - ed.Richard Kendall The Secondhand Bookshop, Dulverton
42.Watercolours from the Turner Bequest 1819-1845 - Martin Butlin The Secondhand Bookshop, Dulverton
43.Hong Kong Art 1970-1980 The Secondhand Bookshop, Dulverton
44.Virginia Woolf - Hermione Lee Ross Old Books & Prints, Ross On Wye
45.Close Company: Stories of Mothers and Daughters - ed.Christine Park and Caroline Heaton Once Read Bookshop, Crediton
46.A Model Childhood - Christa Wolf Once Read Bookshop, Crediton
47.In A Summer Season - Elizabeth Taylor Once Read Bookshop, Crediton
48.Our Spoons Came From Woolworths - Barbara Comyns Once Read Bookshop, Crediton
Before that, I'm off to the friends of my in-laws' house from the traditional food to start the new year - lencse leves - lentil soup, although this being Hungary, that's not nearly as healthy, or vegetarian as it sounds. The lentils are meant to symbolise coins, and eating it on New Year's day is meant to ensure prosperity for the coming year.
Using book titles read in 2012, answer the following questions. Feel free to borrow!
Describe yourself: The Warrior's Apprentice
Describe how you feel: : Catching Fire
Describe where you currently live: : The Dervish House
If you could go anywhere, where would you go?: : Blue Mars
Your favorite form of transportation: : The White Tiger
Your best friend is: : Mr Vertigo
You and your friends are: : A Madness of Angels
What's the weather like?: : A Storm of Swords
Your favorite meal is: : Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper
Your favorite entertainment is: : Nights at the Circus
What gift would you like to receive?: : The City and the Stars
You fear: : Fifty Shades of Grey
What is the best advice you have to give?: : No Great Mischief
Thought for the day: : The Equality Illusion
How I would like to die: : The Sense of an Ending
My soul's present condition: : Affinity
1. A Feast For Crows - George R.R.Martin 5/5
This felt to me like a return to form, being the best book since the first one in terms of storytelling, character development and writing style. He reveals at the end that this is really the first half of a book that is continued in A Dance with Dragons; or rather that is a sort of twin to this one, as several of the major characters are not featured at all in this volume - their stories will apparently be told in Dw/D, which is good because I want to find out what happens to them, but bad because I will have to wait even longer to find out what happens to the characters in this part of the story.
I still have a few quibbles with the series as a whole, one being that this is really a more sadistic and nasty sort of book than I would normally read, and it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste at times - that aspect of the story goes up even a further notch in this book, although it's mainly stuff that happens "off screen" as it were, that we are told the grisly details of afterwards. Also, he has a bit of an annoying habit of killing-off key characters "off screen" (I'm sure there's a literary equivalent to that term, but right now it's not coming to mind), which to my mind is not very dramatically satisfying. Kill them off if you must, but at least let the reader witness it first hand. Other than that, I'm hooked right in for the duration.
2.Friedrich - Hans Peter Richter ?/5 for message 3/5 for writing
This is a book that I read for work, as one of the classes I support students in is reading it as a class reader as part of a wider look at the poetry and literature surrounding the World Wars. Other classes are reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and I guess this book is this class' substitute for that, dealing as it does with the difficult and harrowing topic of the Holocaust. This book doesn't go anywhere near a concentration camp though, as it it told from the first-person point of view of a non-Jewish German boy, who has a Jewish family living upstairs. Friedrich is the name of the Jewish boy that lives upstairs and is born at the same time as our unnamed narrator, forming a bond of friendship between the boys and their families. In a series of small vignettes, that are often months if not years apart, the story charts the boys' early lives, including normal family and school activities, but also the gathering storm cloud of Anti-Semitic sentiments and increasingly actions . The book pulls no punches in its portrayal of the ugliness and sheer unreasonableness of Anti-Semitism but..... well, I have a number of issues with this book from the point of the message it is sending its reader. This response is heavily coloured by the fact that the teacher of the class that are reading this book is German, and in introducing it she happened to mention that it was a book that she read at school in Germany as a class reader. So, as I was reading it, I had that at the back of my mind all the time, and ultimately, though I'm sure it was an entirely well-intentioned book, for a German audience I think it has a potentially very dangerous message. Allow me to explain. The main character is a non-Jew, who witnesses the increasingly awful way his neighbours are treated. However, his family is not part of the hateful mob - in fact, they are good allies to them, and help them as much as they dare. They are not the only non-Jews who are kind or help them in the story. Also, those that go against them, often cite how scared they are as a reason for not helping, for example in the scene where the cleaner says she must stop cleaning for the Jewish family "because my husband used to be a Communist, so we have to be careful". Yes, other people are hateful and nasty, but not the main characters, the "normal" German family unit. To me, this can be taken as an apology for the inaction of the average German in the face of what happened in Germany in those years. There is also a key scene in the book where the narrator gets involved with a crowd that bursts into a Jewish college and he gets swept along by their hysteria and joins in the vandalism of the place. The mobs' next stop is his friends house. By then, he has come to his senses but it is too late, they have already wrought terrible damage. This seems to me to be in a nutshell, what the author is saying about the average German's culpability, and for me, it just doesn't cut it. However, perhaps I am reading too much into a children's book that, as I said, I'm sure was well intentioned in its desire to tackle this most difficult of subjects. However, I think ultimately, the most powerful document included in this book is the simple timeline in the back of the edition I read, that just states in fairly sparse language the different government laws that were passed and other key events in this period. That, more than the tale the author is trying to tell, speaks volumes about what terrible things humans are capable of.
Interesting review of Friedrich, and my gut feeling is that you are not over-reacting. The cover was giving me the pro-Nazi vibe even before I read your review. It might be an interesting book to someone looking at the question "how did the average German get swept into this," but I'd still be cautious about that. A friend of mine who was living in Germany talked about the time when a lot of the war documents became public and he said it was brutal because it showed all these people who said they weren't a part of it and had perhaps even convinced themselves that they hadn't been a part of it, had informed on neighbors, family etc. On the other hand, the book is for children and is probably not a bad place to start. - what a long sentence! I hope I'm making sense.
"The cover was giving me the pro-Nazi vibe". Yes it is an odd choice of cover isn't it? Funnily enough, I judged it the lesser of two evils compared to the other one that was available - which was just a Swastika and a Star of David sort of juxtaposed in a way that just seemed a bit....wrong. I knew either one would attract some scorn from my Jewish husband, who is very sensitive about having anything Nazi in the house, and he did look rather cross when I pulled it out of my bag. He immediately sensed something fishy in a non-Jewish writer writing a book of this kind, which I duly defended the book against, but his academic brain was way ahead of me, as he was spot on in the reservations he expressed about it just by glancing at the cover.
Oh, while I'm thinking about it, I have a query to throw out to LT in general. If you read my thread last year you'll know that I was the benefactor of quite a substantial slice of my late, great-uncle's library. Anyway, long story short, some books nobody wanted got pushed my way alongside all the lovely ones I picked out myself. I put most of them straight on the "charity shop" pile, but I was slightly tempted by a couple, and wonder what people can tell me about them. Two are collections of shorts stories by a write called V.S.Pritchett. I've never heard of him before, but a quick bit of research suggests he was considered something of a master of the short story. Anyone got any thoughts on him?
The other is Clerical Errors by Alan Isler. The reviews on LT are a bit of a mixed bunch, and as with the Pritchetts, I just can't decide if it will be my cup of tea. Anyone read either of these able to help me out?
OK, I'll be back shortly with pictures, I almost guarantee.
Have a lovely weekend Hannah.
Right, well as promised, I've finally got round to editing some of the squillions of photos I took on my 3 trips to Budapest last year. A few people seem curious about it, so here's a little selection of pictures to give you a flavour of the place. They're not necessarily the classic postcard shots of the city, as I know the city really well so I guess those kind of shots don't interest me so much. I do love the architecture though, so there's lots of buildings, plus a few other things that caught my eye....enjoy!
Caroline, a quick look at your profile convinces me you'd love Budapest. I see you are a pudding fan, and the freshly made cakes and pastries that all the excellent old coffee houses serve are to die for! Don't go in the summer though if you're a cold weather gal, it really can get face-meltingly hot. Do take your swimming costume at any time of year though, all the thermal spas are a must visit! (Really, the Budapest tourist board should pay me some commission....)
Oh, and to answer your query, the smiley faces are made of assorted pickled vegetables - in this case, whole peppers stuffed with sauerkraut. Pickled veg is a big part of many meals in Hungary, you often have it on the side of a big meaty dish kind of like a side salad, and they will pickle just about anything. This habit of making little pictures out of them is a fairly new phenomenon though, and one that really tickles me, so I had to get a photo.
I keep wanting to buy a rail card and travel round Europe on it, but sadly real life inevitably gets in the way. One of these days perhaps!
3.Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck 3/5
Another book I read for work. Steinbeck is undoubtedly a fine author, but I'm not a great fan of this particular book. I don't like the way that the character's fate is signposted pretty clearly and the inevitability of the tragic ending - it's right there in the title for heck's sake! I know Shakespeare did the same in Romeo and Juliet, but here you feel it is serving the agenda of the wider point Steinbeck is making about the fate of the common man in that place and time, and I like my stories with a little more room for growth and change than that. Some lovely descriptive passages though.
4.The Arrival - Shaun Tan 5/5
This is a book that I have LT to thank for discovering, as I first heard about it in someone's thread here, so when I saw a copy just hanging about in the library at work I knew to pounce on it. And, I'm so glad I did. A brilliantly imagined story, told entirely through the medium of pictures in a most masterful and unforgettable way. The story it tells is a wonderful one, the points it makes about relocation and dislocation are brilliantly conveyed and so imaginatively handled, and the drawing - wow!- the drawing surpasses anything I've ever seen in this sort of book before - it's utterly enchanting and beautiful and haunting and unique and marvellous. Shaun Tan is a genius and has my total admiration and envy of his amazing talent. It's also probably the only pictures only book I've ever come across that is capable of moving you to tears - which is pretty much how I was feeling by the end. Truly amazing. I want my own copy asap!
5.Summer Lightning - P.G.Wodehouse 3.5/5
This is part of a folio boxset of Wodehouse's Blandings stories that I inherited from my great uncle. I hadn't read this particular one before, and I was in the mood for something fluffy and fun, so this is what I opted for. The chief pleasure with Wodehouse is the joy of the moment by moment experience of reading the language, which much greater experts than me have long ago declared some of the finest comic writing in the English language. He really was a wizard of the written word, was old P.G. Although the usual features are here present a correct, somehow it didn't add up to one of his finer moments. He plots are all a silly nonsense of course, but his very best books have some hilariously contrived set pieces which the reader can take great pleasure in predicting just the minute before they unfold, like the unveiling of a murderer in a good crime novel. The plot of this one felt a little lacking in inspiration - with not one but two pairs of star crossed lovers both vying for Lord Emsworth's approval of their marriage to gain access to the family coffers, and with both prospective grooms hitting upon the not very original plan of stealing his pig in order to then "find" it and forever have him in their debt. It's left to the matter of Gallahad's writing of his rather sensationalist memoirs to add the spice to this story, but alas we never get to hear more than the opening few words of the red hot blackmail material that apparently is the story of Sir Gregory Parsloe and the prawns. Still sublime, but not quite the sublimest.
As for the book reviews, well, The Arrival sounds amazing.
First of all, here's supposedly the best 100 books of all time. I say supposedly because I actually think it's a rather crummy list - far too focused on old classics and very patriarchal and English language orientated. Admittedly I've only read about a quarter of the books on it, but still. I include it as an interesting starting point rather than as a list I actually approve of.
Rather better is their Fantasy, SF and Horror list, which begins here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/22/1000-novels-science-fiction-fantasy-.... My one quibble with this is that books that you would consider more purely "genre" get squeezed out in favour of books I would consider more general fiction with a few characteristics of these genres, but there are some interesting picks all the same. Lots of tempting things to put on the wishlist too!
Even more specialised is this little list of dystopia's, a sub genre I rather like, and this list has a few books on it I didn't know too much about, so I'll include it as well:
While I'm just having a "random post" moment, I wanted to issue a request for help. This is something I mentioned on Gennyt's thread, where we were discussing favourite childhood books, but I thought I will re-issue my plea here. Does anyone think they could name for me this much loved and well-remembered book from my very early childhood, which I seemingly remember everything about except the title: It was a quite large format picture book about a little monster who lives on his own in a cave by the sea. He is very lonely but ....(spoilers ahead!....) he sends out a beam of light, lighthouse style, or something like that, and lots of other monsters arrive and they have a big party. The pictures are quite dark (colour palette wise) for a children's book, I think that's one of the reasons I remember it so well. Is this ringing even a faint bell for anyone...?
Social life update! My lovely work colleague has invited me out to see a band with another of our work colleagues in - yay! Looks like the reading will have to wait....
By the way, I'm going to copy the kitschies link onto my own thread so that I don't lose it.
Your comment to Caro that "I see you're a pudding fan" had me choking on my coffee. That is a bit like commenting to the Pope "I heard you like praying"!
Shaun Tan beating out Steinbeck and Wodehouse. Well each to their own and that's what makes this place so much fun. x
I agree that the 100 Greatest Books of all time is crummy but so would anyone's but your own surely! I don't see though that it is english language biased at all especially as the Anglo-Saxons had little or nothing to do with it. 100 authors from 54 countries prepared the list for the Norwegian book club. There were only 29 titles there originally published in english and that covers UK, USA, India, Ireland and Nigeria as being represented.
And of course, I'm not saying Wodehouse and Steinbeck at their very best aren't capable of producing 5 star books. I'm sure that, in their best works, they can rival even the great Shaun Tan ; ). I guess part of the 5 stars for him is the originality, as it is actually really rare to find a book told ENTIRELY through pictures - even most children's books have some sort of text. And having set himself the tricky task of telling a story this way, he manages to succeed spectacularly at it. Also, the imaginary world he creates and the way he uses certain things within it as metaphors is really brilliant - honestly, you have to read/see it to believe it.
I do vaguely remember being slightly annoyed by it though - so many terrible things happen to the family, but they just continue being so darn nice to everyone. Somehow that didn't seem quite right. After all, they're only human. Again I think Steinbeck was using his characters to make a wider point about human charity versus human greed, but I'm not sure I like fiction that does that - gets one character to stand for something larger than just themselves to make a point about society. It was years ago though. Maybe I'd have a totally different reaction now.
I enjoyed seeing all the Steinbeck reading going on last year, but as I don't have any copies on the shelves and didn't stumble across any second hand copies during the year, I avoided joining in - but I guess I should try Grapes one day.
"I've not just been hit, I've been perforated!" He he! Wish I could take more credit for that, but glad I could point you in the right direction anyway.
6. Freak the Mighty - Rodman Philbrick 4/5
I don't want to say too much about the plot of this book, as it's one of those that the minute you start reading it, you'll guess the ending if I say too much. Suffice to say, this is a wonderfully written, moving and meaningful story about two boys whose friendship allows them to overcome their outsider status and achieve great things. That might make it sound soppy, but I don't think it is. It's aimed at a fairly young audience - about 10-13 year olds I'd say, but it has a subtlety and love for language that makes it a rewarding, if slight, read for adults as well. I only wish the story had been longer and dwelt more on the adventures they have together before the narrative action kicks into top gear. Overall though, a great book for young people, that deals with a lot of important issues around the difficulties of growing up under tough circumstances, and is guaranteed to develop empathy.
Here's a link to its page. Alas, the publishers were very finicky about the typesetting, which my husband happily had an IT expert friend on board to help with, as he was responsible for it, but they were pretty uninterested in what the cover looked like, and never asked him if he wanted a picture on the cover, which is a shame, as there were lots of good candidates, so imagine the picture below when you look at the sadly boring cover:
Foreign Devils: Exile and Host Nation in Hollywood's Golden Age - Gabor Gergely (for some reason this touchstone doesn't work, but try clicking here: http://www.librarything.com/work/13484817/book/93805751)
Gabor's much more eloquent at explaining what it's about than I am, so excuse the academia talk, but here's the blurb from the back of the book:
"Foreign Devils investigates representations of exile in Hollywood cinema from 1930 to 1956 through the films of Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Conrad Veidt. This book dispels the assumption that by virtue of its hegemonic, reactionary and exclusionary modes of representation, otherness is excluded from or obliquely alluded to in classical Hollywood cinema. This book contends that Hollywood uses European emigre actors to speak of the experience of exile and the often-futile exilic attempts at integration into the host nation."
Not wanting to boast or anything, but I think that, academic language aside, it has the potential to be of interest to a wide variety of people. If nothing else, the chapter on the original Dracula film will forever change the way you view that film, and indeed, all interpretations of the Dracula story. You can read quite a big chunk of it on its Amazon page, if this sounds like your cup of chai.
23 Very interesting how your husband reacted. I couldn't have put it into words, which I'm sure he did, but I really felt I could judge that book from the cover.
Congrats to your husband!!! The book looks fantastic - meaning the info in it, not the cover. The cover doesn't look bad, but it would be much better with Peter Lorre on it.
7. 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami 4/5
I love Haruki Murakami. When you enter the world of his novels, you enter a uniquely strange and lyrical space, where reality bends and twists and warps into some truly strange; sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying shapes. In this book you have two such worlds existing, not exactly side by side, more like in relay - the world of Tokyo circa 1984, and the world of Tokyo in the time one of the characters dubs 1Q84, the 'Q' standing for question. This is clearly different from the normal world, as in this world two moons hang in the sky, but in many other ways it is essentially the same. The many strands of this novel are too numerous to mention here, plus it would rather give the game away in some regards, as much of the novel is spent puzzling over the ways in which the various characters' lives influence each other, and what precisely is going on and why, but basically, we have two main characters - a female fitness instructor and occasional assassin called Aomane and an unpublished aspiring author and sometime Maths teacher called Tengo. Chapters following the two separate narrative arch's of these two are alternated, as gradually more connections and overlaps between them are established, some of them easily explained, some of them utterly inexplicable...
I enjoyed this book as I enjoy all Murakami's work, and I reserve my final judgement until after I have read the third and final part (this is considered two books), but I don't rate it as being amongst his greatest achievements. That's purely my subjective view - some have loved it whilst others loathed it, I see from reading the reviews. It certainly takes it time to get going, and when it does, it never quite enters the utterly beguilingly weird territory that some of his work does, which to me is kind of a bad thing - that's what I expect from him - quality weirdness the likes of which no-one else can deliver. Still a darn sight more weird than 90% of all the other fiction out there, so you might want to give it a try - this might be good entry level material for those new to Murakami, although at 800 pages and with a quite stately pace you might want to settle in for a fairly laid back journey.
Murakami: never read any of his yet. I have Norwegian Wood waiting....
I read Norwegian Wood last year and it was one of my books of the year. It is entirely lacking in the usual Murakami weirdness, which initially put me off, but it is an exceptional work. It has a lot of death and sadness in it but a lot of life and happiness too, and somehow conveys to the reader how intrinsically linked all these things are. That I would consider among his best work, although not a typical one.
Have I read any Murakami? I think I have and I think I liked it, but I haven't read more..... I'll have to go poke around.
Hmmm The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle apparently, but what I think is, is that I own it (and it somewhere) and that I have read an excerpt (the New Yorker) and many Murakami stories in the New Yorker, but that I haven't read a full novel. Obviously I must.
Well, I've managed to get very far behind again, so I plan on spending the rest of a very lazy day catching up. This week has been my half term holiday, which we have spent visiting my family and then up in Manchester, trying to sort out stuff for Mr. HanGerg's move there, which is approaching all too rapidly. We also took the opportunity to treat ourselves to a few nights in a nice hotel with a spa, and to sample some more of the city's food and drink hotspots, including an excellent dinner in a Pakistani restaurant, an equally good one in a Szechuan Chinese place, a great lunch at a Persian food cafe and probably the most delicious piece of cake I've ever had in funky modern tearoom. We were supposed to be on a bit of a post-Christmas diet but....
I also managed to do a bit of book shopping, at a shop that specialises in books on graphic design/illustration/photography etc, where I bought two books designed to help me with my career plans for when I move to Manchester, which are - vaguely speaking - to become a massively successful graphic artist. So....yeah....some help need on refining these plans, hence the books. Work/Life 2 The Uppercase Directory of Illustration International Edition (A book showcasing the work of some seriously talented graphic artists)
Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business (looks like a book full of good advice for people who want to do exactly as I am planning to do. Also has a sister book called Craft, Inc. which might be good for any of you super talented crafters if you want to start selling your work.)
Then there was one from an art gallery where I fell in love with the works of one of the exhibiting artists and just had to get the accompanying book, John Piper: the Mountains of Wales.
I also made some purchases from the substantial SF section in the first decent secondhand bookshop I have so far managed to locate in Manchester, which although I have just spent a pleasant twenty mins strolling around Manchester on Google maps, I can't find the name of. It's opposite the market bit of the Arndale centre, if any Mancunians happen to be reading... Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula Le Guin and The Stone That Never Came Down - John Brunner.
I was strangely not that in the mood to take many pictures of the city on this trip, so instead here is an example of the artwork I saw and fell in love with, one of fine artist, print maker and ceramicist John Piper's ink, crayon and watercolour pictures of Welsh mountains, circa about 1950:
8.Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve 4/5
This was sort of a work book, as they were reading it in one of the classes where I occasionally drop in just to check up on a student there. I enjoyed the bit of the book I read with that class, and then the student told me later how much he was enjoying it and convinced me to investigate further. I take my hat off to the teacher that choose this for her class, as it's a rip roaring adventure tale that is just the kind of thing that could make you fall in love with reading when you're young, plus it really couldn't be any more steampunky if it tried. We've got the necessary compliment of plucky but put-upon young orphans, smoothly handsome villains, people with strange pets, airships, robot assassins, top secret super weapons, oh, and mobile cities and towns. Yes, that's right. Cities on huge caterpillar tracks that roam around like super-predators and "eat" smaller and slower specimens to strip them of precious resources. "Municipal Darwinism" they call it, which I rather like. Add to that an unexpectedly moving ending, and the fact that it has since spawned several sequels and prequels and you have a near-perfect YA steampunk adventure.
I'm currently reading The Night Circus and eating it up voraciously as it is every bit as delicious as the cake I mentioned in my last post. I'll be back with a review of that shortly, I suspect.
It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.
That had me hooked from the start!
Apparently, Piper is very influenced by J.M.W. Turner, which would explain why I like him, as I am a huge Turner fan.
Window at St Mary's Church, Iffley (just outside Oxford)
Back to say, I will be investigating John Piper, thanks for bringing him to my attention.
I did indeed love The Night Circus Roni, and it is in large part thanks to you making it one of your books of the year that I was so eager to get to it, so many thanks! I'm going to be off to bed shortly so won't post my review until tomorrow probably, plus there doesn't seem that much more to say about it except "It's prefect!".
At the moment, I'm reading Jane Austen's Persuasion, partly because of my stated aim to read more classics but mainly because I have joined a not-too-serious RL book club that will be discussing it next week. I tend not to read much classic literature, and the slightly - to my modern ear - long winded style was initially holding me back, but I've sort of got into the groove now and I'm enjoying it.
9. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern 5/5
This has been beloved by pretty much everybody who's read it here on LT, and I'm certainly not going to argue. A delicious tale of a magical circus, and the two magicians who use it as their private battle ground, locked into a magical contest neither really understands or wants to be part of; creating as a result a fabulous circus that profoundly affects all those that enter it, but not always in the ways they intended...
This was such a lovely fun read, full of wondrous details, great characters and a compelling story. It is one of those books that it is a genuine sorrow to finish. It's perhaps not the most profound book one could ever read, but it earns its five stars just for sheer enjoyment.
I'm waaaay behind on everyone's threads again, and am only really checking in here to reassure everyone I'm still around. I have an upcoming exhibition, plus work's busy, friends have been visiting, plus we have another trip to Manchester to try and finally sort out the husband's accommodation (usual story - we found the perfect place, but by the time we rang to take it, it was already gone). That's planned for this weekend, so it may be a while before I can get here again. When I'll do, I'll try and post more details of my upcoming exhib, but if you are super curious, you can look up "Exeter Open Studios" on Facebook, or on the web in general, I think. And of course, come along if you are in this part of the world and so inclined! March 23rd and 24th.
Book wise, I've finished Jane Austen's Persuasion, which I read for my RL book club, and which I had pretty lukewarm feelings about. I'm now onto Helliconia Spring from my fellow school alumni Brian Aldiss, which I am enjoying despite it's strangely stiff and formal authorial voice.
OK, I'll be back soon!
10. Persuasion - Jane Austen 3/5
Hmm, yes. I've only ever read Pride and Prejudice of her other works, which I liked well enough but wouldn't heap with praise, and in many ways this book bears some similar hallmarks - so we have the long confinement due to illness of a secondary character being a catalyst for action to unfold, and the theme of men with seemingly honourable intentions being exposed as braggarts - but all done on a slightly less grand scale.
I can see what others like in her, but it just doesn't float my boat. This one verges too close to soap opera for my liking - with lots of silly people being rather superficial and unable to make decisions in their best interests because they are too blinded by their own pride. However, I find our heroine Anne Elliot just as tiresome as some of her more obviously woolly-headed relatives. They are terrible snobs and only value people who have titles or wealth, or rather ridiculously in the case of Pa Elliot, good looks. However, Anne seems to be equally in the thrall of good manners and the proper observations of social convention. Hence, her mistrust of the woman that seems to desire becoming her father's suitor - we never have her suspicions about her confirmed, which is of course that she has calculated that marriage to Anne's father will further her social position from her rather lowly status, which seems to be her chief reason for suspecting her. Plus, she seems so smug about still going to visit her old school friend who has fallen on hard times, very aware of the fact that her family would not bother visiting someone who had sunk so low, and in contrasting herself with them she seems to almost revel in her saintliness. A sanctimonious middle sister with a martyr complex - spare me! And the so-called central "romance" with the frankly rather wishy-washy Captain Wentworth, which only really becomes tangible in the final few pages, and before that is just a rather boring litany of half-overheard conversations and intuitions of his possible motives for doing this and that by Anne, all conducted without ever once TALKING to him, except in the most superficial way, well, it was dull stuff frankly. And yet, there is subtlety here, and an keen intellect clearly at work casting its eye over the social restrictions that were a woman's lot in those days, and clearly perceiving some flaws there, and in the attitudes of society in general, with its unthinking deference to wealth and status no matter how undeserved - yes, some things to interest the reader, but in the case of this reader, and this particular book, not many.
11. The Undercover Economist - Tim Harford 2/5
I have read this book over a pretty long period of time, as it's been one I just pick up every now and again, but this was another book that didn't really engage me fully. I thought I was interested in economics, but this book cleared up that misconception. What I actually like is the area of sociology that intersects with economics, and this book had it and places, but also had far too much of the kind of abstract economic theory that I find a little dull and frankly pretty befuddling. Even those bits I did understand, I was a little dubious about - I'm not sure I share the author's insistence that sweatshops are a necessary evil on the road towards greater economic prosperity for the developing world, for example. Having said all that, some of the bits I did understand were quite interesting - did you know, for example, that IBM make the cheaper version of their bestselling printer by inserting an extra circuit board in it to make it less efficient. That's an example of the principle that customers will self-identify how much they are willing to pay for a particular product, and is also why there are so many options when you go to the coffee shop, and why every shop going is so keen to get you to use those customer loyalty cards. Also, some of the bits I didn't really understand or find interesting might be more so to someone who genuinely does like economics, but like I said for the last book, that person just wasn't me.
The first one was nice, but tiny. The second was not nice, and in a dodgy part of town, as we discovered when we went there. The fourth one was even worse. Which left viewing number three. That was the one we were both excited about before we saw any of them, and the pictures hadn't exaggerated how cool it was - I've now nicknamed it the James Bond pad due to its air of sophisticated urban chicness. So obviously, we wanted to take that one, but just as we were about to drive back to the office to sign the paperwork the estate agent spoke to his colleague on the phone and suddenly announced that the terms of the lease were rental for a minimum of 12 months, not 6. This rather killed our enthusiasm, as our plan had been rent this place for 6 months, just until I could finish my current job in Exeter and move to join my husband who needs to be in Manchester two weeks ago, when we were planning to rent or even sell our current house, thus freeing up more cash to get something a little nicer. With me so far? But, this place was already really nice, and 12 months isn't a huge amount of time after all, so after a weekend of constantly changing our opinion, in the end we went for it and remotely did the equivalent of signing on the dotted line this morning.
This is pretty exciting, but I am also slightly freaking out about the flat, and whether we won't end up hating it after 12 months. It's just so unlike any place I've ever lived in before, and I'm not sure how I'll react to it. I'll do my best to describe it: imagine a sort of cheese wedge shaped space, with the door in the tip and floor to ceiling windows about 3 metres high running the entire length of the curved bit opposite, which is about 9 metres long. The entire space is open plan, apart from the bathroom which is in a sort of cube about one third of the way into the space. The side of this cube facing the windows is a small kitchen with a sort of breakfast bar in front. At the side of the cube facing the door is a pull down bed, and in the back wall behind a fair amount of storage space cleverly concealed in the wall. Add in a large, rather 80's white leather sofa in the right side of the space, and that's it! Minimalist, open plan urban living in a huge-feeling, light and airy space. Oh, and literally on the edge of the city centre, with an amazing cityscape view out of the huge windows. Sounds amazing right? And it is, but..... will it feel like living in a goldfish bowl? There are blinds that you can pull down all the windows, but I can imagine myself obsessing about the fact that they are white, and in the evening, with a light in the flat, maybe people can see in? And then, the only space where you are hidden from the windows is on the far side of the cube, where the bed is - a space of just a few metres across, or in the bathroom. I should also mention that outside of the windows, in front of the amazing city view is a car park - not so amazing to look at, and full of people coming a going and maybe looking up at the flats, and ours is on only the third floor, so still within eye line range. But I think I just have to not worry about that, as that way lies madness.
However, it's not really suitable for having people to stay as you're all in one room, and have no where to get changed, except the rather pokey bathroom, although perhaps shrewd investment in a screen might solve that. Plus a few other niggly doubts - like will sleeping in a room that big feel like trying to sleep in a cathedral - will it be cosy and safe feeling or insomnia-inducing? All these things would be worth taking a risk on for 6 months, but for 12 it might end up that we are counting down the days till we can leave. But, on the other hand, we may absolutely love it and stay for the whole time we are living in Manchester! I guess we'll just have to find out. The current plan is to move G up at the beginning of my Easter hols in two weeks, so I will post some pics of the place then so you can see what I mean, but until then any reassurance from people that have lived somewhere similar very welcome....
Lady Ruby Iron Buddha Throwing Star at your service!
Lady Never Ajiri Arrow
Ohhh I like that.
Lady Never Lemongrass Longbow...
The flat sounds amazing. I'm sure you'll soon adapt to the practical challenges involved in living in such a different kind of space, and you'll probably find that a year passes really quickly.
Lord Copeland Twinings Katana
The event was on for the whole weekend, so we basically hung out in the office, drinking far too many cups of tea and coincidently both reading a SF novel, and greeted members of the general public when they came in for a look around, and talking to them about our art if they seemed amenable. I'd got quite a few new pieces of work printed for the show, so I was really hoping to sell several, but I didn't have any luck on Saturday, not even a sniff of a sale, which left me feeling rather demoralised. Sunday dawned freezing cold and gloomy, and we had almost no visitors for the first few hours, so I was feeling seriously blue, especially given that selling my work is one of the main strands of my plan for making a living in Manchester. But then suddenly, we had a great big rush, and had more visitors than we'd had all weekend, all in a few hours, and I sold two pieces - yay! As Ben's mum said to me - that's a pretty good return when you consider lots of exhibitions are up for much longer - selling two pieces in two days is a pretty good rate, so on that basis I found it very encouraging. Lots of people were very complimentary about my work too, and engaged with it in just the way I hoped they would, so over all it was a great experience.
Next was a seriously busy final week of term at work, plus lots of seeing friends, as the husband is poised to move to Manchester so we tried to squeeze in lots of goodbyes. I also handed in my notice this week, which I was rather nervous about, but everyone was really nice about it - just the right mix of pleased for me and sorry to see me go! I still have a full term to work, but I wanted to tell them now and give them lots of time to find my replacement. So, now pretty much everyone knows about the move to Manchester, which is a relief as we were keeping it under our hats for quite a long time for several reasons. Now the only people I haven't told are, stupidly, my netball team. The thing is, I play quite a pivotal position in the team, not to mention the one that involves the most running about, so I just know they're going to be really disappointed that I'm leaving, so I've kind of put off the moment when I tell them. It's getting kind of awkward though, as I'm going to be missing a match to go to Manchester to move G in, and I've had to be really vague about where I'm going!
Right, got to dash off again, as we're going to Bristol for the bank holiday weekend to spend some time with family. Then we'll be briefly back home, packing up all the husband's stuff, and then, up to Manchester! Gulp! I'll hopefully have time to check in again before we go, and give an update on my recent reading as well, but until then, Happy Easter everyone!
Oh, and congratulations about selling those pieces at the exhibition, and the generally positive response - that must be very encouraging.
Just to address your questions about my art Roni, I make abstract photos from derelict stuff - what I call my Weird Peeling Paint Pictures (WPPP for short). I'll gladly post a few here soonish, but in the meantime, you can check out my Facebook page, entitled "Photo Abstracts" if you so wish. (Thanks for giving me the chance to plug that ; ) ). A few LTers have very kindly "Liked" it already- at least, I think they have, I don't know RL names so well - but the more the merrier!
12. Helliconia Spring - Brian Aldiss 3.5/5
The first book of Aldiss' well-regarded trilogy about a planet where each season last for hundreds of years. This first instalment, as the title suggests, documents the planet's emergence from its harsh winter and into the first stirrings of spring. This coincides with great leaps forwards in the development of the humans who live there, from an almost stone age society that has borne the very harsh winter conditions stoically but with little room for invention or playfulness that might lead to advances in their way of life. We follow several generations of one community as it and they change rapidly with the coming of warmer weather that allows them to put their energies into more than simple survival. However, unlike Earth, the humans are not the only dominant species here - there is another group, called the Phagors (like Yetis with fearsome facial horns), who are mankind's deadly enemy, and who want to have their say in the affairs of man before the cold winter weather they favour disappears for many generations. All of this is being watched over by a space ship from Earth, which beams the pictures across the vast distances of space, where a thousand years later people watch it in a similar way to how the people watch the films of the savage in Brave New World.
Well, this is a strange book, and I'm really not sure what I think of it. There are certainly some fascinating ideas here, and Aldiss has clearly given the idea of how a planet and its flora and fauna could develop with such an extreme seasonal cycle lots of thought (he apparently spent some time consulting with leading scientists to make this aspect of the book super plausible). There's also lots of interesting ideas thrown in for good measure, like how the economy alters and grows in the community from being a basic hunter gatherer society to one with money and a network of traders, craftsmen and sellers. Alongside that, there is a sort of fledgling women's rights movement where the women want to be free from the yoke of purely manual labour and want the right to educate themselves, which the men are very contemptuous of, although not above taking the advice of when they come up with some ingenious solutions to some of the community's problems. Add to that a host of other minor themes, including the downright bizarre religious beliefs of both the humans and the Phagors, which both rely to some extent on consulting ones ancestors, either by talking to their mummified remains or entering the netherworld where they exist as mightily dissatisfied spirits that seem to begrudge their own living relatives their lives. These dissatisfied spirits are a part of what I didn't like about the book, which is how sort of...grubby and sordid everything feels in this world. There's barely a single likeable character and nobody in it seems to do anything out of anything other than self interest, and it gets a bit wearing after a while, so that what should be a really entertaining alternative world narrative just becomes a bit of an depressing slog. But all done very matter-of-factly, so you don't feel that that is the point the author is trying to make about the human condition - or maybe it is, but he just takes it as a given that that's what humans are like and works from there. There's enough interesting ideas here to keep me reading the rest of the series, but whether I enjoy them may be another matter.
I expect you'll find the second book to be more of the same, but the third something else. Helliconia Winter felt like a weak ending to me, but I'll be interested to hear your take.
Ok, onto the next:
13. The White Queen - Philippa Gregory 4/5
This book actually slightly surpassed my expectations, which were set a little lower by the stupid chick-lit-y cover that the publishers in their wisdom, gave this edition. It was actually a much more intelligent and historically accurate book (I'm far from an expert, but Gregory's credentials are founded on her being a historian before she was a novelist) than it first appears, and I enjoyed it a lot.
It tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a woman from a relatively modest background, and a widow with two young sons as the story opens, who manages to beguile and marry the young King Edward IV. This causes quite a flutter at court, as her family, and indeed her dead husband, were known supporters of the previous King, who has been deposed by her new husband in the ongoing "War of the Roses" that is the backdrop to the whole story. Also, it seems that his powerful sponsors had it in mind to wed their young king to some strategically important ally in the form of a French princess or similar, so when he announces that he has secretly wed the daughter of an enemy house...well, they manage to make themselves a fair few enemies, not least of which is the King's own mother. But Elizabeth, as she tells it in her own first person narrative, is just as cunning and ruthless as those that circle the court, and with her mother - a skilful courtier to the last Queen and a bit of a witch on the side - as an ally, she is confident she and Edward can overcome the challenges to his thrown that inevitably lie ahead.....
A fascinating portrayal of a character I had never really heard about before - she is mainly defined by the fate of her two sons by Edward - the infamous "Princes In The Tower". This book is so thick with intrigue and double crossing that the thing that it reminded me of more than anything else was an instalment of the Songs Of Ice and Fire series of George. R. R. Martin, who has acknowledged this period of British history as inspiration, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, but not being much of a historian I assumed that all the ruthlessness in Martin's vision was exaggerated. This book made me realise that the historical reality was every bit as treacherous. There are lots of gaps in the historical accounts of Woodville's life, which Gregory has used as the springboard for her own inventions, but if you are hoping that the reinterpreting of the past will stretch to providing an answer to the riddle of who did kill the princes, then you will be disappointed. She clearly has her theories, and these are hinted at, but she leaves this Elizabeth, like the real one, not knowing the fate of her sons. I think there is another volume of this story to come, which I shall certainly be looking out for, as this was an expert telling of a fascinating tale.
Hmm, Roni I'm intrigued by this idea. Why in your youth? Because you are less patient with so-so books now? Or is it my suggestion of slight sordidness that keeps you away ; )
OK, let me tell you about the wonderful, lovely, amazing book that I read whilst I was away:
14. Downbellow Station - C.J.Cherryh 5/5
I'd had this one on the wishlist for a while before finally getting hold of it fairly recently. I also read my first Cherryh's last year when a group of us did the Pride of Chanur series. I was glad I had read those first, as I knew what to expect in terms of the Cherryh style, which is to not give the reader too many helping hands in following the action - you either go with all the complicated exposition about how her spaceships work or you get left behind. Once you realise this and resolve to just get on with it you fare far better in her fictional world I think, so I was glad for already being well schooled in that. I think that might be the issue some had with the book when reviewing it on the page here, where it seems to have just as many negative reviews as positive. Others claimed it moved at a slow pace, or was just setting the scene for later books in her long running series. I was aware of the series, but this is the first book I've read from it, and I think it works as a stand alone story, and personally, I think it was near perfect - the best SF I've read in eons, and probably the best book I've read so far this year full stop.
Our story centres around the space station of Pell - long neutral in the rumbling war between the forces of Earth and the distant colonies that are struggling of independence. Pell is also the name of the planet that the station orbits, which has a small established colony of humans on it, as well as lots of friendly locals in the form of the utterly delightful Hisa, just about the most loveable alien species I've yet encountered - but not in a fluffy cutesy way, in a well thought out, consistent and sophisticated way. Who could fail to be charmed by a species that have no concept of wages, aggression or war, who enjoy larking about twice as much as working, and greet humans they like with the simple greeting "Love You" followed by a big hug. Just what would happen to the lovely Hisa and their beautiful world if the mean men got let loose on it was a constant source of suspense for me throughout the story. Suspense also comes in the form of the incredibly tense situation on the station once some refugees fleeing the conflict in others parts of the galaxy are dumped on Pell. Maybe it's because I'm a claustrophobe, but I could just so vividly imagine what it must feel like to be trapped on a space station, with a finite amount of space, and a finite amount of air and supplies, with some seriously traumatised refugees who have already lost everything and might decide at any moment that rioting might be the way to get back some of what was taken from them.... Add into this pressure cooker a rogue fleet of nominally Earth-loyal warships fighting an unwinnable guerrilla war against a ruthless opponent, some ambitious characters that see their opportunity in secretly making sure Pell doesn't remain neutral for very much longer, a mind-wiped former enemy agent, plus a whole host of good guys and gals to root for amidst the broader palette of all human life as it might exist on a huge space station, and you get a piece of sublime space opera, and something more too; a meditation on what qualities make us human, those that we should foster and those that we should battle to overcome as much as we can. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Any recommendations of where to travel to next in Cherryh's cannon much appreciated.
Cyteen (3 books in all)
Forty Thousand in Gehenna
15.Stealing Light - Gary Gibson 3.5/5 Audiobook
I went to visit one of my closest friends a few months ago, and her husband, who is a big SF fan, made me the gift of some of his Audible collection onto my smartphone, including the series of which this is the first book. I had never heard of the author before, and really had no idea what to expect. So, over the course of the last few weeks this book has been my entertainment on the journey to and from work. The journey doesn't take me that long, so it has taken me quite a while to get through its 14 hour running time.
The story is quite a fun space opera about a "machine head", a soldier of the future who has been given brain implants that allow her to interact with complex machinery like spaceships far better than normal humans. Except, being a machine head was all the rage when she first had the implants put in, less so now she and hundreds like her had their implants hacked in a key battle of a recent war, making them fire on unarmed innocents they were supposed to be protecting. Fleeing this disaster, plus several others that seem to follow in her wake, Dakota Merrick ends up working for the very group whose people she killed in that fateful conflict. They would have to be desperate to hire a machine head, and they are, as they have uncovered something that could have universe shaking implications...
The story was always involving, if a little on the ridiculous side at times (there are some quite silly sex scenes in zero gravity, for example), and I couldn't decide if I like the narrator or not. Her solution to portraying all the different alien races or human groups was to give them all different national accents, so our heroine sounds Scottish, her old lover that she visits to call in a favour is French, the Fish-like Shaol, the current head honchos of the universe, sound Japanese, and the combat-loving and rather chauvinistic Freeholders that Dakota ends up working for all sound like variations on a Texan drawl. Hmm, that's the kind of stuff my husband the academic would have a field day with! It was all in the name of good fun though, so I enjoyed the ride. I have the next two books in the series loaded up and ready to go, but I've switched to something else for my daily walks to work for now.
16.The Sister Brothers - Patrick Dewitt 3/5
I'm beginning to think that books that are nominated for the Booker prize and I just don't get on. This feels typical of the kind of book that gets on that shortlist that I just don't like - well written but rather hollow and ultimately quite forgettable. I always seem to find myself asking, "So what?" with this kind of book. Maybe I shouldn't, maybe I should just shrug my shoulders and go along for the ride, but I get left with the feeling that all this sharp intellectualism is meant to be leading you somewhere, but I'll be darned if I can see where.
The knitty gritty of our narrative is this; Eli is our first person narrator, and along with his brother Charlie he makes up the infamous pairing of "The Sister Brothers", a duo of hitmen for hire in the pay of a shadowy figure known only as "The Commodore". This book is essentially a road trip, as the brothers set out on a long journey to complete their latest bit of murder at the Commodore's behest. Along the way they have many encounters with other people they meet on the road, many of which end in the other people's violent deaths, for crimes such as; not lending a shovel or asking too much money for a service rendered. Many of the encounters have a strange, otherworldly aspect to them, or an unresolved sense of mysterious or tragic events happening just out of the reader's view. And despite their murderous ways, the brothers are actually rather likeable in some regards - they have a strong brotherly bond and can be rather comical. Eli is especially likeable, with a memorable narrator's voice that tells the story of the brothers adventures, both harrowing and humorous, with an equally bemused tone. If I'm making it sound better than a three star read, in some ways it is, but I personally don't think the narrative really goes anywhere, and I find the whole final section of the book rather baffling in what it is trying to achieve. I also feel like I am already beginning to forget large chunks of it, and alas, I fear the things that will linger the longest are the scenes of nasty casual violence, which aren't overdone, but are all the more affecting for being related to us so matter-of-factly by our likeable murderer narrator. Others have really liked this, so don't be put off if any of this sounds intriguing, but it wasn't for me.
I did like the one reviewer who said, "a straight forward 'find the macguffin' plot".
Well, I'm still behind on my reviews, and I haven't been very active on LT at all recently. Work is one big reason, plus lots of other commitments, all keeping me super busy in real life. So, my apologies if I don't get here to visit your thread very often in the next few weeks. I'll keep trying to post the odd thing here, and I have started editing my photos from my last Manchester trip, which I am planning to share with you all soon, plus some of my arty shots. Just please be patient with me, and hopefully I'll find some more time for LT life soon!
Yay, Heather, another Cherryh fan in the making.
And echoing Lucy's no worries about lack of time for LT life.
OK, I'm falling really far behind on my reviews now, so I'm going to have a crack at getting a little more up to date.
17. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver 5/5
I once read a review of the film Rosemary's Baby, that memorably described it as "Almost as much of a health risk to the newly pregnant as 60 cigarettes and a crate of vodka". We Need To Talk About Kevin is just about as fatal to those making decisions about starting a family, although it's not your physical health that's likely to be at risk, but more like your psychological. As it happens, I am just such a person - probably why the subject matter intrigued me so much. There was the odd moment when I was tempted to put it down and just walk away, to read it at an emotionally more comfortable moment, but in the end it was just too compelling. It's perhaps because this book feels so close to the bone for me that I rate it so highly, but it is also wonderfully written as well, and could probably touch any number of raw nerves for any number of people I think. It is principally a book about motherhood though - and the collective unease I'm sure many mothers feel, about what it means to be a good mother, what they must sacrifice to fulfil those obligations, is it forgivable to resent those obligations sometimes, and what impact will all that tumult of emotions have on their child's life?
I think the plot is pretty well known, but briefly, for those that don't know, this book is a series of letters that Eva, our first person narrator, is writing to her estranged husband. They unpick in minute detail, all the events that have lead Eva to where she is now; an emotional wreck and social pariah, in the aftermath of her son's murderous rampage at his local school. At times she is self-pitying, and often comes across as selfish, but at others she is able to gaze at herself very unflinchingly as she dissects all the possible things that could have lead her son to do what he did, and to try and answer the obvious question; Was any of it my fault?. The book's genius lies in the fact that we are made aware several times that we have unreliable narrator on that most subjective of phenomena; family life, with all its petty unresolved grievances and thoughtless gestures. Sure, her husband comes across as a selfish jerk sometimes, but then Eva is clearly in the wrong on a number of occasions too. Who, ultimately, do you side with? And Kevin himself - no-one could call him a likeable boy - in fact, he has got to be one of the most loathsome and creepy villains I've come across in quite some time. But can you swallow the idea, that Eva seems to subscribe to a lot of the time, that from the moment he was born, he was nothing but a malign and evil presence in their lives? That even as a baby he was timing his cries to drive his mother as crazy as possible?
Shriver seems to derive some satisfaction from the fact that she has divided opinion into very black and white camps - either it's all Eva's fault, or Kevin is just pure evil. I think that the book, like life, is not quite as neat and tidy as that - there is plenty of grey in between, and I think the answer ultimately lies somewhere there. Having said that - for me, there is one killer piece of evidence that rather points to Eva's failings as a mother that puts me slightly in the "It's at least 60% the parent's fault" camp. Note that word though: parents. The debate about how much responsibility the father should bear is examined to some extent, but because he was always "for" Kevin, whereas Eva was against him in almost every respect, and because his voice is one that is absent from this story, the emphasis has been thrust back onto the failings of the mother. This book taps into that very female guilt about feeling the need to shoulder the lions share of the parental burden, but is also subtle and insightful enough to see how that was ultimately one of the family's failings. One of those books that will haunt you. Not easy reading, but stunningly good.
Arriving very late to your thread here!
I love your Budapest photos. I was there about 7 years ago and hope to visit again later this year. Apart from that, what a great and informative thread you have here! I'll be stopping in again. : )
Welcome Charles, and thank you for your kind words. Newcomers welcome at any time of year. I look forward to swapping lots of book related chat, plus hearing about your trip to Budapest. I should be going there again sometime in the summer, so hopefully I will have lots of up-to-date recommendations to pass on!
OK, back to the book reviews!
18. The Last Conquest - Berwick Coates 4/5
Before I review this, I must declare a connection to the author. He is a history teacher from my old school, and indeed still works there years later as a school archivist. I know this because the husband was taught by him (unfortunately, I never had the pleasure - it sounds like he was one of those teachers you never forget), and they bonded over a love of P.G.Wodehouse and movies from the 40s and 50s, and still keep in touch to this day. So, that's why we come to own a copy - he had shared with us the news that at the age of 70-something he had finally realised a long held ambition, and got one of his works of fiction accepted for publication (he has already been published for his non-fiction historical works), and so G loyally pre-ordered a copy on Amazon. It's a bit of a first for me, reading a published book written by someone I know, and I guess it makes me rather biased - I kept thinking "Gosh, Mr Coates, aren't you clever!" and similar things, so the necessary reviewer's distance from the work it not in full effect here. Even so, I think I can heartily recommend it to fans of historical fiction.
The subject of the story is that most famous of battles - The Battle of Hastings. Despite its name and date being one of the few pieces of historical fact that pretty much every single person in the British Isles reliably knows, I am probably not alone in feeling that, before I read this book I knew very little about it, including why it was so darn important. I feel I am quite a lot better informed now, but perhaps surprisingly for a historian turned fictional author, I don't feel like we get an absolute wealth of historical detail. Rather, the book's strength lies in its development of its central, entirely fictitious characters, from whose viewpoint we see the action, so we have Ralph the scout, and his rather hapless but keen apprentice Gilbert as the main characters on the Norman side. Plus, rather thrillingly, also on the Norman side, we have Sandor, the Hungarian master of horses. Perhaps it's just me being fanciful, but I like to imagine that the Hungarian character is at least partly a nod towards my husband, but as of yet, I don't have the author's confirmation of this. Perhaps strangely, the Saxon side is not so well represented - we have a local family that are menaced by the Norman invaders that have landed on their doorstep, which includes Edward, King Harold's master of hounds. He is eager for the coming battle, having missed the big fight with the also recently invaded Vikings, that keeps the Saxon army absent from the storyline for at least the first half of the book. The bits featuring the interactions between his family and the Normans occasionally feel a little too tightly focused on individual story lines, when there is so much history unfolding on all sides, and Harold's role in the story is fairly minimal in the build up to the battle, which seems a shame as he was obviously a fascinating man in his own right. But, he does get more prominence once the actual fighting starts, and you do get to see why everyone has been referring to him as a great military commander after all. This part of the book really has to be good, after billing the battle as "The most important battle ever fought on English soil", and luckily it doesn't disappoint, giving you a very vivid sense of the epic scale and the terrible individual moments of agony at the same time. Clever Mr Coates has apparently already been signed up for another instalment or two in this story, and I for one will be very interested to see where he takes us next.
A newspaper article I was reading mentioned in passing a huge second hand bookshop - one of, if not the biggest in the UK apparently, and it's quite near my current base of operations. It's called Bookbarn and it's between Bristol and Bath. Actually, I was planning to go and see my brother up in Bristol next weekend, before carrying on to Manchester to see the husband, so I might have to make this a stopping point on the way! Here's a little more info about it: http://www.bookbarninternational.co.uk. If I do go, I'll make sure I take some pictures and provide everyone with a full report!
Okay, the Bookbarn has just been added to my itinerary for when we visit the UK layer this year! : D
The Last Conquest looks not only like an excellent read, but as a good way to revisit an old fascination. Into the Someday Swamp it goes, and thanks for the recommendation!
So, in the first one you can see the bed, which can fold away, and opposite that you can see the top of the back "wall", which is actually a wardrobe and lots of other storage space. Then you can see the kitchen and nice little breakfast bar, and then the sweep of the windows. Then there's me, raising a glass to the new place, although at the time I had a terrible cold, so I think it was more like a sip. One unforeseen downside of the flat - the street light that shines right in the window, even when the blinds are down, although my husband is such a city boy he actually kind of likes it. Finally, the view from the balcony. Obviously, the car parks all around aren't the most beautiful view, but at least we aren't eye to eye with other people in flats nearby, plus the skyline's pretty good.
#142 Wow - ultra modern! What is the octagonal shaped wall in the first photo - is that the wardrobe?
#143 And lovely snaps of the city. I'm quite untravelled when it comes to British cities (probably comes of living near London for most of my life) and I've never been to Manchester....
Glad you like the flat. It is very modern, but very liveable in, despite my initial reservations. The one thing I'm going to miss is my lovely little garden - I've just spent several blissful hours out in my Exeter garden, reading, pottering about, hanging up washing and eventually, when the sun STILL kept some of its lovely heat, eating my dinner!
The "pod" as I call it, is the really clever bit of the flat. On one side it is the fold down bed, the kitchen on the other. On the side completely unseen in that shot it is a utility and storage cupboard, for the washing machine, boiler, ironing board etc. Then the door you can see leads to a nice compact bathroom. The weirdest feature is that little hatch you can see towards the front. As far as I can work out, that is for handing champagne cocktails to your beloved whilst they have a bath (at least, that's my explanation and I'm sticking to it...)
Ok, so I'm seriously far behind on my reviews now. They might just have to be one line ones when they eventually appear, although after another hectic week away over half term (well, I say away - in my second home I guess is now nearer the truth), I should now be around a lot more as life settles down once again into a routine of me being in Exeter whilst husband cuts a swathe through the academic world (not to mention the pubs), of Manchester!
Maybe it is so a person in the bath can chat with the person who is cooking? I like the idea of the champagne.
How did I mix you up with Heather? I think it is more on the order of putting my glasses in the freezer, just one of those absent-minded moments where I think I am writing one thing but actually I am writing something else. I've done things like that all my life, which generally makes me extra careful when I write, but things do get away from me here, where I try to be 'casual'! It's amazing it doesn't happen more often.
Here's the sort of thing I mean, although I think our piles will have to be a whole lot bigger!
I like both his Sci-Fi and non SF stuff, although for me it was as a SF author that he really captured my imagination. I think he is the author I must credit with starting the whole Sci-Fi ball rolling for me, as I picked up one of his books with the extra "M" after enjoying several of the "non M" titles. I often think about what the future holds for mankind in a way framed by his "Culture" novels, and I have to say, that makes me vaguely hopeful, despite the fact we're talking about several thousand years into the future, and even though shocking cruelty does populate his fictional worlds. Ultimately I think his work was very moral, and hopeful, and it certainly re-shaped the way I look at the world in countless ways.
Goodbye to a great author.
"Was it good?" I hear you cry. Well, the million books is probably no exaggeration, and most of them are £1, so what's not to like? On the other hand, it isn't quite the earthly paradise I was hoping for. There are a few reasons for this. One is, although there are probably a million books there, I would imagine that roughly half of these are not accessible by the general public, as they are just in rows waiting to be sorted by staff - like the ones in the picture above - looks really tempting, doesn't it? But that bit's only for staff. Of the books that are for punters, about 1/4 are awaiting sorting by the staff, so they are not in any kind of order at all. You might find some absolute treasure here, but it would take you a good day to go through it thoroughly (some people's idea of heaven, I'm sure, but I had a long drive ahead of me, so...) Also, these books may cost more than £1, which made me figure out the second bit of what was bugging me about the place - they also have a big online side to their business, which sells books for more than £1, so what ends up for sale here is obviously what they deem to be the uninteresting end of the stockpile, for whatever reason. This was especially noticeable in sections like the Art book section, and sadly for me, the Sci Fi and Fantasy section. However, all that aside, hundreds of thousands of books! All £1!! Hard to argue with the rightness of that at the end of the day. I'm sure I'll be back.
No doubt you are curious to know what I got, and I consider myself to have got out very lightly with "just" 10 books. They were:
1.Hearts, Hands and Voices - Ian McDonald
2.The Faded Sun: Kutah - C.J.Cherryh
3.The Vagrants - Yiyun Li
4.Are Men Necessary? - Maureen Dowd
5.Is the Future Female? - Lynne Segal
6.Women On Top - Nancy Friday
7.The Age of Anxiety - Sarah Dunant and Roy Porter
8.Paint Finishes and Effects - Peter and Paula Knott
9.Home Front: Storage - Tessa Shaw
10.Pilates + Yoga - Jill Everett
19.Small Steps - Louis Sachar 4/5
This is the sequel to the excellent Holes, which I read last year. It's another sublime bit of YA fiction that will have you gripped by its perfectly paced story. This one does not continue the story of the main characters from the last book, but rather takes one of the minor characters from the last story and gives him a continuing story arch of his own. So we have here Armpit, an African American teenager that everyone except the boss of the gardening company he works for and the little girl who lives next door, seems to regard with suspicion and hostility without actually bothering to get to know him first. Also from Holes we have X Ray, another ex Camp Green Lake-er who seems to be determined to drag Armpit off the straight and narrow. Meanwhile, living a completely different kind of life, but facing problems of her own, is young pop sensation Kaira, who is about to perform in Armpit's home town...
This is another great read from a master storyteller, with a cheering central message and some great characters. It's not quite the perfection that Holes was, but it was still a very enjoyable read.
20. Billionaire Boy - David Walliams 3/5
I selected this book as a possible to read with a boy I do a little catch-up reading with. He didn't want to read it, and I was a little disappointed, so I decided I'd read it by myself. For the non-Brits it's worth taking a moment to explain who David Walliams is, as he's perhaps not your most likely children's book author. He is a quite high profile light entertainer that is quickly attaining the status of national treasure, although the show where he first came to prominence, "Little Britain" was actually quite edgy - involving as it did, sketches such as the finger-gnawingly unbearable one where Walliams plays a twenty-something man who has got the aggressively sexual hots for his blissfully unaware best mate's Granny. I have never actually managed to watch a whole sketch of that particular skit as it's just so excruciating, but a few hit TV shows and some high profile endurance swims for charity later, Walliams has become the kind of entertainer most Grannies declare to be "a very nice young man", and he is doing fantastically well for himself. So, him becoming a children's author might seem to have a certain novelty value to it, a bit like when Madonna tried her hand at the job. However, it seems he is rather more committed to his trade than that, and I rather fancy that he wants to pick up the mantle of Roald Dahl, as there are so many obvious nods to him in this work, from the jokey - "aren't all adults rather ridiculous?" tone, to the language, the plot, even the illustrations. However, he has a long way to go before he can reliably reproduce the Dahl magic formula in quite the way he is attempting. He is still quite young though, and he does seem to have a good ear of the comedic, so I wouldn't bet against him achieving Dahl-esque heights of absurdity in the future. Let me leave you with an extract from his list of VERY RUDE words, as a little taster: "Puttock, Knunter, Mingmong, Furp, Fedger, Nadgers, Blimblam, Coobdrizz, Trunt, Klootzak, Bullmunter, Whizzplop, Moozer, Dangle Spangles, Boola Boola, Oddplops, Pumpum, Poot Puddle, Nockynooters..."
OK, more later....
I was aware that Banks was ill, but not that it was so so so bad. I am oddly shocked to think that there won't be any more of his novels.
Glad to see you got some Cherryh in your haul :-) I think I'd read somewhere that they have computers in the shop that you can use to search their catalogue and thought this included the books they sold online? Is that true?
#153 I enjoyed Holes so I'll have to look out for Small Steps.
Yet more Lt neglect. This time, a trip to France to attend the wedding of one of the husband's oldest friends was, at least partly, to blame. Today, in between alternating between watching the Glastonbury music festival (which looks amazing this year - loads of bands I love, plus several I have newly discovered I like) and Wimbledon, I have been slowly updating my books read and books bought stats. After a slow start to the year book-buying wise, the visit to Bookbarn seems to have opened the floodgates, and I have since bought loads of books, which is silly as I'm moving house soon and won't have enough room for the ones I've already got, but then when has logic ever got anything to do with it? The recent purchases are too numerous to mention, but some of the more intriguing ones would be:
Woman On The Edge Of Time - Marge Piercy (a sort of feminist dystopia about a woman in a mental hospital that gets transported into the future. Sounds promising.)
Year Before Last - Kay Boyle (a Virago Modern classic. I always look out for these now, as I know so many other people here really rate them, but I feel like I'm groping in the dark a bit. Might love it, might hate it - we'll see.)
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville (I've been toying with trying Mieville for a while now, as he has quite a cult following and I keep seeing his books around, so now I have the chance to give this one a try.)
OK, now let's crack on with some reviews, because I'm really behind.
21.The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet - David Mitchell 4/5
Well, this feels like an age ago already, and the finer details are beginning to fade a little, but I remember enjoying it. What starts out as an initially slightly unpromising tale of a Dutch clerk on the tiny Dutch trading island just of the coast of isolationist Japan in 1799, opens out into a wider ranging story with a multi-stranded narrative that takes in many aspects of the contrasting civilisations of the time. One of the plot lines is especially involving and suspenseful and makes up for the moments where the momentum sags a little. Not quite the jaw dropping achievement of Cloud Atlas, but still the work of a supremely talented storyteller.
22.Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch 3.5/5
I was looking forward to this urban fantasy about a trainee policeman who finds himself the newest recruit in Scotland Yard's magic division after having the surprising experience of interviewing a ghost at the scene of a puzzling murder. However, I was perhaps a teensy bit disappointed, maybe partly because I recently read the first two books in Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift series, which is similar in many respects, and for me is just slightly superior. However, this one had enough good things going for it to make me want to keep my eye our for the sequels, which should be fairly easy to spot thanks to the very inventive and distinctive cover art.
OK, a couple more reviews and then I'm up to date for now!
23.Predator's Gold - Philip Reeve 4/5
The second in the series begun by Mortal Engines, and a book that introduces us to a host of new characters and settings, and generally adds to the scope of this unique fantasy world in a way that deepens and enriches it, but keeps it as steampunky as a steam powered blunderbuss! Good YA fun!
24.A Dance With Dragons: Part 1 Dreams and Dust - George R.R. Martin 3.5/5
Well here I am, all caught up, and now impatiently waiting for the next one to be published, like I once did with a series about a certain wizard. However, unlike in that instance, I don't think I'll be queuing outside the bookshop at midnight for the next instalment. This one feels to me like the weakest one yet, partly because of the strange format, where this is the mirror part to the last book, with only half the characters in. Strangely, it felt more annoying here, as I wanted to see how the characters we weren't seeing would react to events in this one, instead of getting on with all the stuff I knew they were doing. Also, this one feels a bit like marking time rather than moving the story forward. If this books has a theme, it can be summed up, rather irreverently perhaps, as "It sucks to be....". So Daenary's and Jon Snow's contribution is "It sucks to be in charge", Tyrion's "It sucks to be a dwarf", Davros "It sucks to be the bringer of bad news", and a certain other character, "It sucks to be the torture plaything of a psychopathic monster." Bran's is the only storyline that makes any real forward progress, but it is going in a really quite strange direction, and it's increasingly hard to see how he's going to tie this, and several others strands, back into the main story. Still enjoyable, but perhaps just beginning to try the patience a little.
Ok, so just a quick word about my latest long absence. I entered the final stages of my time at work, and I really wanted to wrap the year up on a high note, so I have been pouring a lot of my time and energy into making that as special as possible. I have really grown ridiculously fond of many of the students I have worked with this year; collectively the nicest group of young people it has ever been my pleasure to work with. I understand now what people mean when they say they feel "humbled" to be able to work with particular people or groups, I have had that experience time and again this year. So, there has been barbecues and parties, a photography project and subsequent exhibition, and just general good times : )
Yesterday was the last day of work, and coincidentally my last ever netball match with my team, so it was a real day of farewells. All that is left to do now is start the process of packing up the house and putting it on the market, and then a final visit to North Devon to take our leave of my family, and then we will be on our way to Manchester! Wow! It feels like a new chapter of my life is poised to start, and although there's lots of uncertainty about where that will lead, it is generally a very exciting time!
Ok, book reviews to follow, but G is here and gently reminding me I have RL duties to attend to, so I will be back later....
25. The Maze Runner - James Dashner 2/5
This YA dystopia bills itself as being another in the style of The Hunger Games, but for me it isn't nearly as compelling, well written or memorable. It shares a storyline about a group of young people being forced to compete in a bizarre game of which they have little understanding, whilst being observed by those on the outside, but there the similarities end. In this game, or rather puzzle, for they are indeed trapped in the centre of a maze and searching for a way out, we join the action as the newest recruit joins the other boys already inside. Thanks to a clunky plot device, none of them can remember their lives outside of the maze, and in an effort to maintain a flimsy feeling of suspense a little longer, no-one in this new world feels like telling the newcomer much about his current predicament until they are good and ready. Some very clunky dialogue doesn't help proceedings much. However, the story is occasionally diverting and the end hints at more excitement to come, so I'm not entirely ruling out revisiting the series, but I'm certainly not rushing out to track down the next book either.
26.Mechanter's Luck - C.J.Cherryh 4.5/5
After reading and loving Downbellow Station a few months ago, reading this just confirmed that I am falling in love with Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe and can't wait to get my hands on all the rest of the novels in the sequence. Another superlative slice of high tension space opera, rooted in the real-feeling motivations of expertly realised characters. It all just feels so VIVID, I take my hat off to her in sheer admiration at her storytelling prowess.
27.The Time of the Hero - Mario Vargas Llosa 2/5
This book apparently caused quite a furore in the author's native Peru when it was first published, as the military academy at the heart of the fiction is held up to be a squalid and awful institution the blights the life of pretty much everyone connected to it. Llosa apparently attended one of these institutions himself as a young man, so people obviously thought this was a thinly veiled attack on the real place, and felt so strongly about that, that copies of the book were apparently burned in the street. Guess they really loved their military academies in Peru, although this book does succeed spectacularly in making you wonder why, as it does make them seem like truly dreadful places.
As a piece of fiction that is enjoyable to read the book succeeds less well, I think. I had previously read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter which is an incredibly exuberent and funny novel, but this is all rather bleak, not to mention confusing in its complicated narrative shifts of perspective that make it rather unclear which character you are following at any given moment. Not my cup of tea, though obviously the work of a talented writer.
OK, I'll be back soon to go and have a stab at catching up with everyone's threads!
I couldn't get anywhere with The Maze Runner and sent it on its merry way with a book trading group I belong to.
I enjoyed your review on The Time of the Hero too. I haven't read much Vargas Llosa and like what I have read, but I can see that he could write a book that is too bleak. Bleak enough to burn? ??? He isn't too kind to the military in general, but I'm surprised he achieved book-burning status.
I could tell you were very disapproving on the book stacking idea, and I love how you already have a spot all picked out for some bookcases!! I'm still not sure what the solution will be, but remember, it's only until next April - then the books should certainly be re-housed, probably in some custom designed bookcases from a very esteemed firm of Budapest architects. So don't feel too sorry for them! ; )
168: Hi Lucy! Yep, Cherryh is definitely hitting the spot right now!
169: Hi Katie! I can imagine "the kids" might like The Maze Runner because there is lots of sulky teenage behaviour and feuding and so on, and a world where teenagers are left to fend for themselves; no adults telling them what to do, which I guess is appealing. But, as a more experienced reader, the cracks in terms of dialogue and character are a bit more evident.
I think the thing that outraged people about the Vargas Llosa book was that is portrayed the young men in the academy of having this really sordid secret life inside the place, which the senior officers and those in charge know nothing about, and even when some of the more troubling aspects of it are brought to their attention, their first instinct is to protect their own reputation and cover up as much as possible - so the whole structure and running of these places is rotten and corrupt. I don't know how much truth there is in this portrayal, but I can see how it could be very troubling to people that believe in the structure and discipline that these sorts of places are meant to impart.
OK, so I'm in the mood for something light and fun, so I'm treating myself to a rare re-read; starting again from scratch that fabulous Sci Fi comedy series The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Right, after a hard morning of cleaning the house from top to bottom so that the estate agent can come and take pictures, I feel I've earnt some down time, so I'm going to take aforementioned book to the garden...
28.The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 4/5 (Re-Read)
So here they all are, the old gang. Arthur Dent with his air of eternal perplexity, Ford Prefect and his towel, Marvin the world's most miserable robot, the Vogons and their terrible poetry,the poor sperm whale, the bowl of petunias, the nation of planet builders and of course, the number 42. All present and correct and great fun. The funny little asides about patently ridiculous nonsense are still my favourite bits, but what strikes me on this re-read (I think this is probably my third, but all spaced out over several years) is how well paced and exciting the plot is; the nonsense actually conceals at its heart a well conceived storyline that pulls you along at a dizzying speed on this most ludicrous of journeys. Only four because I think Douglas attains higher peaks of comedic perfection in later instalments, and if this first book has a flaw it's that I think that the characters of Arthur and Ford are a little too alike at this juncture - I keep getting the two of them muddled up. But, as always, great, great fun. I'll pick the second up shortly I'm sure, but I'll have a little change of pace with something else first, so as to appreciate it all the more.
Have a lovely Sunday.
Hannah, I will report back as this was one that J took on holiday (although not one that he has got around to as yet).
I'm not sure if it's really "entry level" SF, as there is lots of very complicated exposition involving "jumping" spaceships from one end of the galaxy to the other, but the characters and the stories are engrossing. The Hani are a great alien race, but the complexity of their home culture takes a little while to become fully apparent, and it's great peeling back all the layers. At first, all we know is that the crew are all female, as they are the only gender from their species that is allowed into space....and it kind of develops from there. The Kif are brilliant bad guys too. Add into the mix a human fugitive who stows away with the Hani, and you have the makings of great space opera!
I was trying to think what SF I would recommend to a "newbie". Perhaps some of Ian McDonald's near future stories, which take current trends in technology and societies and tease them into interesting futuristic shapes. The two I've read so far are River of Gods which is set in India and involves cleverer than human computer intelligences (and several scenes at a cricket match as an added bonus), and The Dervish House set in Istanbul and featuring some really awesome nano-technology and robots.
Hi Rhian! I welcome J's thoughts on The Maze Runner. I'm interested to see if he felt the flaws I felt, or whether the story "spoke" to him enough to let him overlook them.
The Skype idea sounds great and I'm so glad that your colleague got your job. I dare not disapprove of your book plans--stacks will be great (maybe, perhaps, perchance, quizá, vielleicht). ;-)
176: Actually, there is something charming about the covers. I did spend a lot of time looking at how the artist had portrayed the Kif, and that other species who run the space stations whose name eludes me. The artist had clearly paid a lot of attention to the writer's description, and had really captured them very well. I'm not so sure about the Hani and Tully though. I think the artist didn't know how to reconcile the idea of the crew being grizzled, battle scarred and tough AND female, although just casting my mind back to other SF covers of my acquaintance, I think they wouldn't be alone in finding that a challenge. Actually, that reminds me of this cover that I saw here on LT for one of the Chanur books, featuring a very male-looking Hani rescuing a helpless human female in distress - either this was a very clever reversal of the real story of the book, or the artist just made a lot of very patriarchal assumptions!
Here it is:
That cover, though .... no. As in no. Really, no.
Its only merit is that it provoked an entertaining series of comments at Good Show Sir, a blog featuring awful science fiction covers.
To be fair, the cover appears to have been created for a different novel. One whose plot the artwork fits more closely, I assume, than it fits the Chanur series. It could hardly fit less. To be completely fair, none of that justifies everything else about this awful cover.
Royalties on this image were somewhere south of Whelan's I shouldn't wonder, which probably explains its appearance here.
29.Women on Top - Nancy Friday 2/5
This was a book I'd picked up during my visit to the huge book warehouse, "Bookbarn", but it was a book I had sort of been on the look-out for anyway. It's basically a book of women writing down their totally uncensored sexual fantasies. It is a follow up to a book the author wrote in the 70's called My Secret Garden which I haven't read. She claims that the publishing of this book was a bit of a watershed moment in that it showed many women that they were not alone in having sexual fantasies, and led to a general relaxing of inhibitions across the developed world. I'll just have to take her word for that I guess. The reason for this book was that there had been a bit of a sexual revolution since then and that it was time to write another. It was published in 1991. Working on the basis of a new book being due every time the sexual landscape changes, I should think we are long overdue another instalment, as many of the issues Friday talks about here feel a bit dated, what with all the wall-to-wall sexual possibilities the internet has now made it possible to have access to at the click of a button. However, that is not the main problem with the book. They are manifold, and it's kind of hard to know where to start.
Firstly, the sexual fantasies have been arranged by theme; sample titles "Angry Women/ Sadistic Fantasies" and " "Look At Me!" The Power of the Exhibitionist", and for each theme we have some pontificating by the author on what they reveal about the psyche of the modern woman. There is the odd interesting observation in all that jumble, but there is also a lot of nonsense. Her approach just doesn't seem very rigorous for one thing, as she makes sweepings claims about what this says about this and that, but as she at one stage points out, the women that have written to her aren't exactly a representative sample; after all, THEY have written to HER, usually as a result of reading her previous book, so they have already self-identified as women with a receptiveness to the message she is sending. And it a bit of a weird message, I think. I assume she spells it out more explicitly in other books, as it really isn't explained very clearly here, but her central thesis seems to be a sub-Freudian mish-mash of ideas about how Mother is the central figure in defining all women's sexual identity. This can be by giving you a feeling of shame at your earliest expressions of sexual behaviour, or in giving you a role model of feminine desirability and sexuality. Lots of the women who write to her seems happy to buy into this model, but it just doesn't work for me. At one point she comments approvingly on a poem that a man has sent her, which is all about him seeing his lover's mother's face where her genitals should be, which just strikes me as breathtakingly misogynistic, but apparently fits in with her model of female sexuality quite nicely.
This isn't the only time she shows some rather troubling attitudes to sex and gender; I'm paraphrasing but she says at one point something like "you won't see any women with great legs boycotting a burlesque bar", and at another "it's unsurprising that, with all the exhibitionist women around, giving off signals of sexual availability with their dress and behaviour, some men mis-read the signals sometimes." The first strikes me as anti-feminist twaddle and the second as the worst kind of apology for rapists line of argument. Which is weird, as elsewhere she takes a much more pro-feminist stance in much of what she says. Which makes the whole thing just seem, well...confused.
As for the actual fantasies themselves, well, they are certainly not lacking in variety, apart from in their use of language, which gets rather wearing at times, with all its tiresome use of the usual explicit terminology, interspersed with the odd unintentionally hilarious metaphor, "his love rod", and "my throbbing button", all that kind of silliness. Anyway, the point about the fantasies is, they are pretty warts and all, if you'll excuse the phrase. So, where some are quite racy and a bit of a turn on, just as many are bizarre, or disturbing or downright morally reprehensible. So, to conclude, this is neither a sexy book of saucy fantasies, and nor is it a book of quality intellectual engagement with the idea of women's sexuality in the modern era.
Ok, one more review and then I'm up to date. I don't know why, but these reviews have felt a bit like a chore lately. I think maybe my thoughts are all a bit scattered to the wind with all the moving malarky, so marshalling them can be a bit of a problem.
30.The Vesuvius Club - Mark Gatiss 4/5
Gatiss calls this "a bit of fluff" on the title page, and he's not wrong, but it is a very fun piece of fluff, that bowls along at a pretty rip roaring pace, full of camp humour and saucy larks as well as the odd moment of creepy suspense and real excitement. This is the first book of his I've read, but I'm sure many will be familiar with his writing for TV, the inky black comedy of "The League of Gentlemen", and more recently episodes of "Sherlock" and "Dr. Who", as well as a turn as Mycroft in the former. Gatiss is clearly a bit of a fan of the gothic, and we have some of that here, in this Oscar Wilde-esque tale of an Edwardian era portrait painter who leads a double life as one of his majesty's premier secret agents. From this rather silly and implausible set up we romp through a far fetched plot of attending lavish parties and romancing well to do ladies (not to mention doing some rather rude things in the bushes with less well-bred persons of both genders), solving mysterious puzzles in exotic locales, exonerating a friend framed for a murder, oh and saving the world from the devilish plottings of a deranged mastermind. Add to this a weird secret society posing as an upper class sex club, opium addicted zombie manservants, some eccentric scientists and a few red herrings, and you have a very fun but rather silly mystery novel.
31.The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams 4.5/5
I had a less clear recollection about what happened in this instalment than the previous one, which was a good thing in many regards. The plot perhaps meanders along a bit more than in the last book, but what is impressive in this one is the sheer range of brilliant ideas Adams manages to cram in; the machine that shows you your place in the universe, the rock band with a PA system that looks like the Manhattan skyline, the planet that uses a sort of reverse ark to get rid of all its management consultants, telephone sanitisers and hairdressers, (a bit harsh on the hairdressers, as anyone who has felt the transformative affect a good haircut can have will attest), and of course, the titular restaurant. This is funny stuff, but like the best SF, there are also some provocative and interesting ideas here, which keeps the whole thing bowling along very nicely. I really can't remember much about what happens next, so as soon as I am back in the house that contains my books (currently on an extended stay up in the new house, partly to stay out of the way of estate agents showing people around the old one - eek!), I shall make a start on the next book.
I'm also trying, vainly, to keep a track of my reading and buying here before I get too far behind and too muddled. I have weirdly, been buying lots of books lately, even though I know they will probably have to go straight into storage. But I did buy three cracking art books, from a secondhand bookshop I only very rarely go to, which always has a very good selection in that department. It's in Dulverton, on the edge of Exmoor, which I mention as I know many folk like to visit that part of the world.
I also have a biography of Virginia Woolf that I'm looking forward to getting my teeth into when things have calmed down a bit, and I got three more Viragos: Elizabeth Taylor, Christa Wolf and Barbara Comyns are the names, if they mean anything to anyone.
I am de-stressing by doing a lot of reading, and have a couple five star reads to report on when I have a bit more time: Wise Children - Angela Carter, a re-read that I liked even more than the first time round, and Perdido Street Station - China Mievile, my first Mieville, but definitely not my last, because PSS was stunning! OK, back to the land of boxes I go....
So, just to fill you in a little on RL developments, I am sitting writing this is a Budapest cafe that rather defies description - I'll perhaps see if I can post a pic at some point, but for now imagine a Greek bathhouse crossed with an antique furniture warehouse crossed with an insane surrealist artist's workshop (ahh, how I love Budapest!). I have been here for two weeks (the city, not just this cafe), and will remain here for about the same again, as hubby gets on with some research in the national film institute archives, and I take photos, meet with artist and designer friends, reconnect with old friends and hang out with my two little nephews. In short: Life is Good! Back on the home front, the moving to Manchester has become living in Manchester, and as I get to know the city more and more I feel increasingly confident that going there was a great step for both of us personally, career wise, everything wise.
My vague plans of an arty career are crystallising into something that, I'm just beginning to dare to hope, might actually be a realistic venture, as I have applied for, and got places at, four, yes FOUR art and design fairs in the North West area between now and Christmas. I have also applied for studio and shop space in the Manchester Craft and Design centre, although that's only a long shot, even without getting that I am relatively hopeful that I have enough options to make being an artist a viable career choice. Eek! I never thought that would be the case, but I'm beginning to find out that once you dare to start living your dreams, all kinds of strange things can happen. (Oooh, that sounded very motivational speakery didn't it? I apologise. Put it down to overexcitement.) Of course, it still remains to be seen if I can make enough sales at these art fairs to justify all the fuss, but this is just phase one of a plan that will eventually involve selling others work (hence all the meetings with artists here), possibly in my own little gallery style space. So, there you go. Consider yourself fully updated! Any advice about any of the above, gratefully received!
Ok, so what with all the recent changes and excitements, reading has taken a bit of a backseat, but I am already behind on reviews, so I will dutifully try to get back up to date, if just with brief reviews and thoughts. First, a quick stop for breath, and possibly, another excellent coffee (they really do make amazing coffee everywhere in BP - puts 99% of all UK coffee shops to shame). Ok, back soon!
Ok, so, finally, some book reviews:
32. 1Q84: Book 3 - Haruki Murakami 4/5
Gosh, this feels like an age ago now that I read this. Well, the plot is very dense and anyway I might give away some spoilers from the first book if I say too much, as that one ended on a bit of a cliff hanger. But, I will say that Murakami wraps things up here entirely to my satisfaction, if not perhaps everyone else's. As I mentioned before, I am a fan and I like his weirdness. So, some of the strange events in the books are explained, many are left entirely unexplained, but that's Murakami. Either you like bizarre, surreal, possibly allegorical other-worldliness or you don't. I personally love it, and enjoyed this a lot.
33.Wise Children - Angela Carter 5/5 (Re-read)
Another of my favourite authors. I read most of her works when I first discovered her as a teenager, and I am gradually working my way through re-reads of them all now, as her books are dense with meaning and symbolism, some of which may have sailed right over my younger head, I suspect. I remember really liking this first time round, but I absolutely LOVED it on this reading. This, sadly, was actually Carter's last novel, before her early death just a few years later. This is an atypical novel for her, dispensing with her usual magical realism, at least on the surface, and it hints that had she lived, her books may have taken an interesting new direction. It is also an incredibly upbeat, raucous, joyful and optimistic book; a book about old age and taking stock of a life well lived, which at the same time suggests that it's never too late to change or have new vistas of possibility open up before you.
The plot involves the memoirs of Dora Chance, one of the twin "Chance Sisters" who are stars of the music hall scene and have lived a riotous life both on and off the stage. They are the bastard children of the greatest Shakespearean actor of their age, Melchior Hazard, who has never publicly acknowledged them, leaving his twin brother Peregrine, their uncle to officially stand in that role. And there in a nutshell you have the main themes; the theatre and the world of make-believe and artifice, of things not being as they seem, Shakespeare and twins. These devices and ideas crop up time and again in a narrative so contrived that even the most sunny and optimistic of souls would have to say that it is getting all a bit too much by the end, but isn't that what the world of the music hall and even the Shakespearean comedy are all about? Plus, it's all done with such verve, bawdy humour and charm only a real grump would refuse to get swept along. Plus, for my money, Carter is one of the finest writers of a beautifully weighted and searingly insightful sentence to be found anywhere. One of my favourites this year, or any other year, I think.
OK, more soon, but I'll post this before it gets lost in an internet black hole somewhere....
34.Perdido Street Station - China Miéville 5/5
Oh my. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from Miéville, but this has absolutely surpassed it in every sense by about a million miles. Just.....awesome. Such a brilliantly realised and utterly strange world, so full of mystery, wonder and terror. Also, great characters, some uniquely terrifying baddies, and goodies come to that (the Weaver is a particular delight; a kind of multi-dimensional artist/giant spider who is basically a good guy but thinks nothing of slowly deconstructing a human being one small part at a time if he can see the logic in it). Honestly, honestly, mind blowing. And not for the faint of heart, despite it's awesomeness; it still leaves a little residual pulse of anxiety in my mind when I think back to it, as there are some psychological horror aspects that are quite unnerving. Also, some may - and do, from looking at the reviews - quibble with the ending as things don't get resolved in a particularly satisfying way, and it's kind of hard to see why, but the other elements of the story are just so alarmingly good that it had to be a 5. I NEED some more Miéville in my life, as soon as possible!
35.Lolly Willowes - Sylvia Townsend Warner 4/5
Well, after several months of acquiring Virago Modern Classics, I've finally read one of them, and I enjoyed it a great deal, despite it being a very atypical kind of book for me, being published a relatively long time ago (1926), and having a rather unusual subject matter. Simply put, the story is one of a youngish spinster who turns her back on urban life and goes to live in the country to find some meaning, which she does, by becoming a witch.
It's hard for me to know whether the unusualness of this story is to do with when it was written, or, as I suspect, it is just the work of a rather unusual author. It has an almost magical realist quality to it, in the way it details her transformation from rather dull, dutiful but unfulfilled urban auntie to wild women of the downs style witchery. At first the witchcraft is rather ambiguously treated so that the reader is unsure whether Lolly's spin on things is simply her own personal reading of everyday happenings, or if she truly is descending into becoming a practitioner of the dark arts, but by the end the author leaves us with little room for doubt which interpretation we should take. I think that's kind of a shame actually, I would've quite liked to be left to make up my own mind. However, there is a meaningful BIG SPEECH at the end for which the reveal was perhaps necessary.
The slight otherworldly strangeness of the story comes from the lightness with which this turning towards devilry and bad deeds is treated. There's a particularly comical scene where Lolly comes back to her simple rented room in the country to discover a little hungry kitten. The description of how it capers incredibly cutely around her feet is intercut with her musings on how it is a familiar that has been sent to her by the devil.
Of course, there is more to this story than meets the eye, as her turning to witchcraft can be seen as a metaphor for all women of her type's yearning towards the kind of unbridled freedom that society at that time was simply not arranged in a way to grant them. The novel works well in this regard, as we have already seen how her life until that point has been governed by the actions and whims of her male relatives, who treat her, as an unmarried women out of her teens, as nothing more than a burden that must be stoically allowed for, albeit in a rather careless, presumptuous way, that never takes into account her wishes. She receives equally thoughtless attention from the married women with whom she interacts - brilliantly shown in the scene where the arrangements for her moving to live with her brother's family are arranged between her and her sister-in-law; who we see is at the same time musing about how she will move bits of furniture around in the house to cope with the changed circumstances; Lolly's moving in being of little more importance to her. Overall, a strange but enjoyable book.
Right, I'm going to push on and do one more, and then I'm all up to date! Phew! I had told myself I would just do a very quick, one line review of each book, but me and brevity just don't go well together!
36.Larry's Party - Carol Shields 4/5
This is my second Carol Shields novel, my first being Unless, and the reason I picked up both was that I happened to catch an interview and mini documentary piece about her on TV several years ago. I was struck with how decent and kind she seemed, as well as how matter of fact and brave she was when talking about the cancer that was to later claim her life (as I only found out much later was the case). So, long story short, I like her. And that made me think I would like her books, which by and large, I do. The same decency and down to earth-ness of people coping with sometimes difficult life situations in sensible ways that I got from her, I get from her books as well, and I find it pretty nourishing. I couldn't tell exactly what I like about Larry's Party apart from that. The whole book sort of charts the titular character's life from young adulthood into middle age though a series of thematic chapters titles things like "Larry's Family", "Larry's Friends", "Larry in Love" etc, that sometimes repeat themselves in a probably deliberate way, going over already traced ground the way that the mazes Larry designs for a living invite you to do. So, clever structure maybe would be one thing I like.
Larry himself? Sure, he seems like a basically decent guy, although given that the whole book is almost unceasingly about him, I don't really feel like I knew him that intimately really. I just like the idea that a female author has taken on the task of writing a book entirely about a male narrative point of view. There may be other examples that LT folk know about, but in my experience it's a fairly rare thing to happen, and an interesting one.
So, does Larry lead an interesting life? Not really. He figures out what his driving passion in life is (mazes), and manages to build a career for himself from it, from fairly lowly beginnings (a theme that obviously is appealing to me right now!), but apart from that he lives a life a lot like many other people's. Normal, decent, full of problems but also moments of happiness and occasionally, disaster. Nothing too spectacular, like the book itself, but somehow, a satisfying read from a quietly inspirational source.
I have been wowed by both the Mieville's I've read - Perdido is waiting in the wings!
Angela Carter sounds so interesting: I think I first heard of her from Thomas C. Forster in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and your enthusiastic review of Wise Children adds promise. I must read something by her soon: since you're familiar with her works, where would you recommend a person begin?
Lolly Willowes sounds interesting. Into the Someday Swamp with it!
Regarding Angela Carter, it's really a long time since I read most of them, and as I recall, her earlier works can be hard going, so I would recommend perhaps Nights at the Circus which has many of the same themes as Wise Children, but with the added fun of some magical realist elements. However, if you like short stories, her collection The Bloody Chamber is really what I think of as classic Carter; sinister yet sensuous re-imaginings of fairy tales, which are beautifully written and cleverly twisted into new shapes.
Despite this being a busy month far from the usual routine, I have managed to cram some reading in, so I can report on a finished book at last:
36. The Algebraist - Iain M. Banks 4.5/5
I've had this one on the shelf for several years (in fact, it would probably qualify as a "Wallflower" in Lucy's vernacular), and I guess I'd kind of been saving it up, as I love Banks' SF, and I don't have many left to go until I've read them all. I decided now was the time to dust it off and give it a read after the sad news of his passing a few months ago, and so the principal feeling I had when finishing it was one of sadness, to think that such a brilliant imagination will not be creating any more new vistas for us to explore.
This book is full of marvels, from the gas giant planet Nasqueron and the extremely long-lived and rather charmingly eccentric aliens that inhabit it, to the eerie ships belonging to a species that travel around being galactic undertakers, and the consciousness that takes the form of a giant cloud a light year wide. The plot is full of McGuffins which only become apparent right at the very end, and some reviewing it have complained of a slight leisurely pace, not to mention a more than strictly necessary amount of nasty torture, but these are all pretty much Banks hallmarks, and as such, I enjoyed them all (apart from the torture, I could do with less of that, but in this case I thought he was quite restrained by his own standards).
What on the surface is a pretty urgent plot about a nasty dictator coming to invade a star system turns into a much more wide ranging and ultimately more meaningful story about connecting with alien species and systems of control, manipulation and belief. It's not one of his "Culture" novels, but rather this book seems to be about events that might eventually lead towards that almost-utopia, although it is clear that civilisation still has a lot of growing up to do. The how and the why of civilisations developing, as well as the more micro scale choices that individuals make, is what I think Banks like to explore, and this book is a very fine example of that.
I recently read STW's The True Heart which is also an odd blending of the realistic and something for which "magic realism" isn't quite the right term. On one level it's the straightforward story of a young orphan going into service at a farm in the late 19th century, on another it's a fairy-tale about the vaniquishing of monsters and a quest for love. Strange but interesting! :)
In a tangentially related matter, whenever I follow touchstones to put books on my wish list, LT seems to be doing funny things these days. Sometimes the list of books that comes up bares not resemblance to the title I've put in, sometimes when the book's page does come up, all I've got is the blank cover, even though the page also features as alternatives a proper cover. Anyone else having this problem, or know how to fix it?
I have to say, so far I am finding it quite addictive, I just feel like I have so much to talk about, and it's nice to have an outlet for all my ups and downs as I embark on this new career.
I still haven't tried anything by STW but I want to. Same for Angela Carter. So many authors...
Hi Lucy. Yes, I think I can say reasonably confidently that you would like The Algebraist. I'm not sure how much Banks you've read... he can be a bit of an acquired taste, but what the heck, if it's just laying about waiting to be read, go for it I say!
38. Great North Road - Peter F. Hamilton 4/5
Only my second completed audio book since my friend gave me access to his stash of Sci-Fi audio, but this book is the reason why - it's a beast! As a "dead trees" book we're talking a thousand plus pages, and as an audio book it's in excess of 36 hours. So, on reflection, perhaps not the best choice for my daily 20 minute walk to work, as evidenced by the fact that I finished that job 4 months ago and only just finished the book! So, was it all worth it? Well, I'm not going to argue that it couldn't have lost about 10 hours with a bit of judicious trimming, but by and large I think it was. The plot is rather interesting, a sort of cross between a near future police procedural and an alien world thriller. It is pretty "hard" SF, so there's quite long explanations of how all the future police's clever gadgets work, but when you're listening to it, you can go into a sort of meditative trance for any bits that fail to grab you. Also, the narrator was very good at the myriad accents he had to attempt, although perhaps unfairly I was a little disappointed with his female characters - he manages to make even the supposedly tough and no-nonsense ones sound girlish and coquettish. But the fact that one of the main characters is a woman, and a fierce, tough one with a fascinating backstory that only gets revealed in small increments, is one of my favourite things about the story. Worth it if you have a serious amount of time to devote to an audio story.
39. Battle For Budapest - Krisztián Ungváry 3.5/5
This is a book the husband bought for "work", but as I only know snippets about recent Hungarian history I decided to give it a go as a bit of recreational reading. I don't think you can say "light" reading, as there are many horrors related in these pages. The siege of Budapest by the Red Army was one of the very longest and bloodiest of the entire war. It became clear quite early on in the siege that the Germans and their Hungarian allies were hopelessly outnumbered and out equipped, and soon their supply routes were cut off, so there was no chance of the situation improving. But, this was a city siege, where the defenders have the upper hand of plenty of cover and local knowledge, so the resulting fighting ended up dragging on for months. The Germans desperately wanted to "break out" of the trap that was being closed around them, but German high command, especially Hitler, quickly saw this was an unwinable fight and just wanted to extract maximum damage to their enemies from their already abandoned men. The Red Army was spurred forward by the wrath of Stalin, who had designs to grab as much territory as he could in those last days of the war. Stuck between them were the Hungarian soldiers, treated as underlings rather than allies by the Germans, and stuck in an impossible position between a brutal ally and a possibly even worse "liberator". Most poignant of all is the fact that the previous Hungarian government had been trying to broker a deal whereby they surrendered to the Allies, but then a group of fascist fanatics called "The Arrow Cross" seized power in a coup and put all such notions off the agenda, thereby sealing Budapest's fate. This bunch of local extremists actually managed to shock the Germans when it came to whole scale murder and mistreatment of the Jewish population of the city, to an extent that beggars belief. Case in point: Szálasi, the Arrow Cross prime minister, refused aid for the starving inhabitants of the city from the International Red Cross, because one of the caveats of getting it was that it would also be distributed in the Jewish ghetto.
Military history is not a genre of book that I read often, so it's hard to know exactly how good an example of the genre this is. In many ways it feels like a book of two halves. The first is about the fighting that lead to the Soviets taking the city. This bit is full of hideously confusing maps of troop strengths and manoeuvres, which really looks at the battles more on the macro scale. This bit was less interesting for me, although it did add a touch of piquancy to my recent visit to Budapest (I started reading this before I left), to think to myself "This was where a nest of German machine gunners held out for four hours against enemy fire from that hospital wing over there" and suchlike. The second half of the book concentrates more on the individual tragedies of soldiers and civilians caught up in the fighting, with some first person accounts liberally woven into the story. Much of this stuff was absolutely fascinating, and heartbreaking. It's hard not to feel incredibly sorry for the average citizen of the time, who having endured weeks of awful suffering during the siege, had to then endure, if anything, worse treatment when the Soviets arrived, with mass rapes, looting and shipping off to gulags for seemingly random reasons, all being very much the order of the day.
The writer dares make an observation that very few in Hungary today will openly say, that this terrible suffering after the siege ended has right up until the present day stopped Hungarians from examining too closely their behaviour during the rest of the war, from their role as German allies in the first place, to the widespread - at best - ambivalence, at worst very enthusiastic aiding and abetting of the mass slaughter of the Hungarian Jews. This is an urgent question for Hungarians, where widespread anti-Semitism is still a very visible fact of modern life, as there is a far right party in parliament that is openly anti-Semitic, and actually has its own military wing. They aspire to be a modern day Arrow Cross, and this book makes you realise just how terrible a thing that is.
Elsewhere though, I would have liked more detail. This book is translated from the Hungarian, and in some ways I think it was written for a domestic audience, as little is explained about the Arrow Cross coup and the ceasefire plans before it, as these are details that would be well known to Hungarians, but for an international audience it is all new information. Overall though, and for me a least, a fascinating if highly distressing read.
The Hungarian Arrow Cross of WW II
Today's Magyar Garda, the military wing of the far right parliamentary party, Jobbik
I ran right over to your blog and have been so enjoying it! Bookmarked. Lots of thoughtful stuff to mull over.
So, probably most people on LT knew this already, but I have just discovered something very special…
40. Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula Le Guin 5+/5
Wow. I would give this a 6/5 if that was possible. I absolutely LOVED it. Not much else to say really. Superior fantasy, with more than its fair share of the very opposite; universal truths about good and evil, the nature of the self and of mortality. Nominally for younger readers I guess, but magical enough to enrapture readers of any age. I don't really know what else to say except, if you haven't read it, you really, really should. Amazing.
Of course, I thought I had been clever and got all three stories in one volume, but I was at a friends house the other day, and happened to glimpse on his shelves the Earthsea Quartet Doh! Plus, some digging here shows there are also some short stories. Joy! I will track them all down as soon as I can. Something to live very long in the memory, and to cherish.
I have since bought a print rack to display my unframed pictures in, as this is perhaps a little untidy.
And the print stall looks fabulous!
Hi Heather! Interesting you only talk of three; there is a fourth, isn't there? Are you like me, and just have the trilogy? And thanks for the print stall praise. The second time I set it up, this last weekend, it looked much tidier, as I had bought a print rack in the meantime. But that Art Fair was a bit of a bust - no one came to the venue, so there ya go. Hoping for much better next weekend - I have two highly promising art fairs to go to, one on Saturday(Lancaster) and one on Sunday (Liverpool), so fingers crossed!
I think I liked Tehanu and The Other Wind when I first read them but the general opinion seems to be they're not as good. It's been a while so I can't really remember!
So, I have a bit of advice to ask American LTers, especially my fellow SF fans. The husband is in the US at the moment, in Boston and latterly New York. He has already raided some bookshops for some prime specimens in his favourite genre of crime, and I really wanted to tell him to look out for some American authored SF that it's not so easy to get in the UK. Two that I already know about are C.J.Cherryh and Louis McMaster Bujold, as I have already experienced problems with getting these authors in the UK. Can anyone think of any others that I might enjoy, and which might be easier to pick up in person in the US? Thanks!
Liaden books: Partners in Necessity Agent of Change, Carpe Diem, Plan B, I Dare! are the core books.
Moon science fiction: Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, Winning Colors is one series. Trading in Danger, Marque and Reprisal, Engaging the Enemy, Command Decision, Victory Conditions is another. There are a couple of other series, but these two are particularly accessible.
Moon fantasy: The Deed of Paksenarrion is an omnibus edition of the original trilogy. You should read it before investing in the sequel series of 5 books, not all out yet.
Your booth looks very nice, Hannah - I love it that both you and Roni are going into these independent ventures of late.
I'm utterly immersed in Liaden these days - makes it hard to get-anything-done in this season of imperative busyness. The spousal unit is getting terribly anxious that I won't remember to get him anything. The problem is that we both love buying gifts for the LD and so she ends up inundated and I think he gets jealous!
I don't have an LD on my own, but I know I find it hard to buy for my "spousal unit", even though I know him better than anyone. However, I think I've done well this year, by pure chance I stumbled across this: https://www.artfinder.com/product/hitched-black/. Think he's gonna love it!
(The same artist does a literary London map, for those that like that kind of thing, who might want to click here: https://www.artfinder.com/product/literary-london-map-white/)
Both remind me of the cover of Rivers of London by Stephen Walter (I know this by checking back at what Rhian so helpfully posted a few months ago), which is why I clicked on the link in the first place, so I have LT to thank for helping me solve the perennially tricky problem of what to get G for Christmas!
I presume you've read Under the frog. I also read a memoir Castles Burning by Magda Denes which was an interesting read about Budapest during the war.
I read the paper copy of Great North Road when it first came out and really enjoyed it? I have listened to a couple of peter Hamilton's scifi on audio and really enjoyed them. I have to backtrack from time to time as I do zone out. I get through them at a reasonable rate as I listen while at the gym and also when preparing dinner. Alastair Reynolds is also a good listening experience. I think it's the same narrator. I also loved listening to Snowcrash
Editing to remove all the typos that my iPad insists on making on my behalf!
I have indeed read Under the Frog and I enjoyed it a lot. I have Wishlisted the other book you mentioned. Last year I read The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer and can recommend it wholeheartedly as an excellent read on the topic of Jews in Hungary during World War II.
I'm quite keen to try some more Peter Hamilton Sf, and I have a book of his on the TBR pile, although it's another beast. Brevity really doesn't seem to be his thing. I must read some more Alistair Reynolds too, that's on the pile as well…. Hmm, it might be time to start make some reading goals for 2014 soon, I guess!
As for the -15 C I did notice yesterday that Posey's pads look a bit stressed - they'll toughen up as the winter goes, I think, but for now less than - 6 C (20 F) I'll limit our outing time. The good thing is that with this new snow I can ski, which is wayyyyyy more effort, so I am 'done' sooner! But -15 is actually too cold to enjoy being out at all. Sadly. Today I think all we are going to get is about -8 C. But we have plans to be BAAAAD and we are going to a matinee of the Hobbit.
Well, reading has slowed to a trickle, but I have squeezed in one more read to add to the rather paltry total for 2013:
41. Heavy Time - C.J.Cherryh 3.5/5
My third in Cherryh's Alliance/Union series, and I enjoyed it, as I'm sure I'll enjoy anything by her, as I think she's a fantastic writer and I love her style, but this is the weakest of the ones I've read so far. It involves independent miners being squeezed by the large mining company they work for. It's principally a novel about worker's rights and labour relations and negotiations, albeit one set on a spaceship. I like the manoeuvring and deal making side of it, but I could do with a bit more of the mystery and excitement that other parts of the book promise but only deliver intermittently. But, good characters, and as ever, Cherryh's knack for making everything feel so vivid and believable keep this ticking along nicely enough.
Right, well I'm off the Hungary for Christmas on Monday, and may or may not get much time for updates after that, so I'll take this opportunity to wish all my LT friends a very Merry Christmas, and an exceedingly Happy New Year! I look forward to sharing more lovely reading adventures with you all in 2014!
Merry Christmas to you!
Hi Faith! A very Merry Christmas to you too, m'dear! See you on the other side...
42.Speaker For The Dead - Orson Scott Card 4/5
The second book in the trilogy that began with Ender's Game, a great military SF book I read and enjoyed hugely a few years ago. I went and saw the rather underwhelming film version recently, which did at least serve to remind me that I'd had this second book hanging around on my TBR pile for a while now. It is a very different novel from the first book, which is explained by an introductory note by the author that I went back and read after I had finished the story, which explains how he had the idea for this book, and then decided to use the character of Ender from a short story he had previously written to tie the narrative together, and then, after a few false starts, decided to publish Ender's Game as a novel, with a much expanded storyline that fleshes out Ender's character and sets up the events of this book at the end. This novel is much more philosophical in tone, and is interested in ideas about explaining the actions of others by trying to develop an insight into shared cultural practices as well as the singular motivations of individuals following their own personal, often obscured motivations. If that sounds a bit ponderous, it's really not, it's quite the page turner, as the reader races to discover, along with Ender, why a seemingly friendly alien species would brutally murder the two men tasked with being their only contact with the human race. Is it possible that the act had a different significance when viewed through their eyes? The story has rather more threads than that, and it's a bit of a balancing act keeping them all developing equally well, but OSC just about succeeds, and leaves something of a cliffhanger at the end that will have me tracking down the final part pretty early in 2014.
43.The Dark Side of the Earth - Alfred Bester 2.5/5
A rather slight collection of short stories from one of the masters of 60s SF, whose The Stars My Destination has got the rank up there as one of the best SF novels I have ever read. However, Bester has one huge flaw, that becomes more and more apparent the more stuff of his you read. He has such a crummy attitude to women, it isn't true. Not misognistic exactly, just so, so, so condescending. So even though these stories are set hundreds of years into the future, all the female characters are either drop dead gorgeous sex kittens, secretaries, or occassionally mousey domestic scientists. It really is most distracting, and completely ruins whatever good, if slightly goofy ideas, there might be in this collection.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2014!!