Archive for April 1st, 2010

April 1, 2010

March Reading (II)

Other things I read in March:

Jaclyn Dolamore – Magic Under Glass: Nimira is a “trouser girl” and dancer who is hired by a sexy, mysterious man to sing with his clockwork pianist which may or may not be haunted. There are politics, fairies and racism; love happens; there are Jane Eyre references. These things are all good. But I raced through the 200-ish pages suspiciously easily. Stuff happens too fast – it feels like one minute Nimira is trying to figure out how to communicate with the automaton, and the next they’re In Love; one moment supernatural forces threaten and the next they’ve gone away. I feel like Dolamore iss going for ‘delicate’, and runs the risk of veering too close to ‘insubstantial’. There are points where this book is absolutely wonderful, such as the more bittersweet moments when Errin comes to terms with the implications of his situation. But I find myself frustrated at how good it could have been if the plot had just been given a little longer to develop.

Paro Anand – School Ahead!: I speed read this at work so really haven’t got much to say about it, Rather a nice collection of short stories about school, I thought – it could have been less obvious about having A Moral in a couple of places, but there was this one story about running that made me really miss it.

Roald Dahl – Matilda: A reread; I was looking for a specific scene and ended up reading the whole thing in the process. Dahl’s short fiction is amazing, but I hadn’t read his children’s novels in quite a while. Matilda is still good, which is a relief.

Victoria Alexander – The Lady In Question: I mentioned reading a couple of books by this author last month. Clearly I cannot resist the lure of long series about families – the protagonist of this one is the twin sister of the protagonist of The Pursuit of Marriage. This one has spies – why am I reading so many regency romances with heroes involved in British intelligence? This book caused me serious worry. There is a hidden notebook that is crucial to the plot and we do not know where it is. At some point in the book the heroine notices a random slit in her mattress and thinks nothing of it. At this point the reader (me) is thinking this may be the hiding place. The mattress is never referred to again, the notebook is found elsewhere, and I’m left wondering whether this is just something the author forgot to address or she’s being clever and playing with the reader’s expectations. Romance novels are my comfort reads. I expect to understand what’s going on, and I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that in this case I am not sure.

Kathleen O’Reilly – Touched By Fire: This was rather weird. The hero is the son of a criminal who raped his mother, though no one knows this but himself and his father. He’s had a traumatic childhood with a father who keeps telling him that his evil blood will revolt against him and he won’t be able to resist his violent sexual urges. So when he meets the female protagonist he is a) very fucked up indeed and b) a virgin c) obsessed with dragons and how to tame them, don’t ask. Also, there is gambling (not that interesting) and social stigma (likewise, next to the magnitude of the hero’s issues) and child prostitution and an orphanage. And did I mention dragons? The heroine is honestly the least memorable thing about this book. The rest is fantastic.

Charles Butler - Four British Fantasists: Butler examines the role of place and history in the children’s writing of Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Penelope Lively and Susan Cooper. I will admit I skimmed the Penelope Lively bits as I’ve read nothing by her (which must be remedied), but Butler’s commentary on the books I am familiar with is interesting and assured. I think he stumbles a bit in the discussion of Garner and appropriation in Strandloper (I fumed about this for a while) but it’s a thoughtful, interesting work of criticism on the whole.

April 1, 2010

March Reading (I)

I cannot see any sort of pattern to my reading habits of this past month. That might be a good thing, I think? In addition to the things on this list I’ve started and stopped Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl twice – it’s very good as far as I’ve read it, but I’m somehow just not in the mood for it. Maybe April.

Laura Miller – The Magician’s Book: Apparently Miller loved the Narnia books as a child, broke away from them when she discovered all the religiousity, and (this is the bit the book chronicles) grew back into them as an adult, finding new reasons to love them. It’s part memoir, part biography and part litcrit, and it’s (mostly) really good; the early chapters about children reading (and about Miller discovering fantasy) are especially worth reading. She occasionally tries a little too hard to make Lewis likeable (or maybe I’m just less forgiving) but on the whole it’s a really enjoyable book.

Adam Roberts – Yellow Blue Tibia: Some of my thoughts on this book are here. Briefly, very smart, somewhat problematic book that pushed all my squee-buttons and made me very happy.

Bryan Lee O’Malley – Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life & Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: A friend recently discovered I hadn’t read the Scott Pilgrim books and was horrified. So I borrowed and read the first two. I’m sure I’m missing out on at least half the references since I’m neither a gamer nor a music geek, but so far these books have been filled with moments of sheer, joyful badassery that I can’t not love. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Sidin Vadukut – Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin “Einstein” Varghese: I bought this in February but hadn’t had time to read it till March. I’ve been reading Sidin’s blog on and off for years now, and he is extremely funny. Never having worked in the kind of corporate environment he describes (my own workplace, and I suspect most publishing houses, are nothing like it) the office life he describes is completely alien to me. That he still manages to make it funny and relatable is pretty impressive. My problem with the book, though, is with the protagonist. Robin is an incompetent oaf and that is funny, sure. But also, there is nothing about him that I find vaguely tolerable, and I think I needed that to stay engaged with the book. Reading about his long series of failures is amusing enough (and Sidin said at the launch that he might be causing a diplomatic incident in a later book) but after a point I think I’d have preferred to read of his violent removal from the world of the living.

Arnab Ray - May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss: Another blogger-turned-author book, though very different from Sidin’s. I’m only an occasional reader of the blog (the film posts are frequently hilarious) and clearly not the target audience. Which is probably the reason this really didn’t work for me – beyond a blog-length post the humour becomes rather laboured and repetitive – perhaps if you read one essay a day.

Georgette Heyer – False Colours: Reread. False Colours is very much a comfort read for me. It involves True Love, there are no real villains, there are wacky hijinks involving impersonation, irascible grandmothers with hearts of gold, and the like. I’m amazed that no one has made Heyer movies; many of the books (including this one) would translate to screen very well.

Liz Carlyle – Beauty Like The Night: A romance novel involving a governess (improbably well-read in psychology, for a regency period woman) who is hired to teach the daughter of her former lover. The child in question has been traumatised by various events in the past and refuses to speak. The sections with the kid in them were unusual and well done; the rest was pretty typical. Better than a lot of things, but you could still cut out the entire romance plot and have a decent book. And Byron wrote lots and well, why must we always come back to “She Walks in Beauty”?

Paul Murray – Skippy Dies: I finished this at the beginning of the month and I still haven’t collected my thoughts on it together in any coherent way that would lead to an actual review (here’s the Patrick Ness review though). It’s early days yet, but I very much doubt I’ll be reading anything that could top this book this year. Skippy Dies is a school story featuring drugs, aliens, druids, string theory and seances. It is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while – Murray’s prose just dances. I’m wary of describing writers as being like other writers (and Irish writers as being like other Irish writers in particular because it taps into so many annoying stereotypes) but if you’re a fan of Flann O’Brien or Robert McLiam Wilson you should probably know that this book exists. It’s also emotionally draining. I was exhausted at the end, but in the best possible way. If you’re in England or Ireland and haven’t obtained this yet, there’s really no excuse for you.

Manohar Shyam Joshi – The Perplexity of Hariya Hercules: Talked about this here.