January Reading

As promised, the first of a series of monthly updates listing the books I read this year. January got off to rather a slow start, but began to pick up towards the end. I have a rather terrifying deadline to meet in March, but I’m hoping I can still get some decent reading done over the coming month.


Stella Gibbons, Westwood: A longish review of this for the Sunday Guardian will be coming at some point. Lynne Truss (who, as I understand it, was a big part of the move to get this and other Gibbons books back in print) suggests that Westwood is the Persuasion to Cold Comfort Farm’s Pride and Prejudice, and it’s easy to see where she’s coming from – though surely if one wanted to get the analogy exactly right CCF would be compared to Northanger Abbey. Westwood certainly feels more mature, more wistful, and less obviously funny. Still a fine book, but I think I’ll always love Cold Comfort Farm more.

Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns): Very fluffy, very funny. I suspect it was also very hurriedly put together, judging by the amount of material that feels purely for the purpose of filling up space. Reviewed along with How to Be a Woman, here.

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman: See above.

Edmund Crispin, The Gilded Fly, Love Lies Bleeding, Buried for Pleasure: I’d read two of the Gervase Fen mysteries before; The Moving Toyshop (generally considered the best of the lot) and Holy Disorders. A bookshop I visit had six or so of the series – I bought these three and have since visited and obtained the others. Ages ago Subashini suggested that Love Lies Bleeding was perfectly tailored to my interests and this turned out to be the case; school story, murder mystery and drive-by Shakespeare geekery all in one. The others were less perfect but good fun, and Buried for Pleasure particularly pleased me on its first page with its description of a chocolate machine “rusting and overturned, like a casualty in some robot war”.

Barbara Cartland, The Rhapsody of Love: Oh dear. Dubious premise (brother and sister come to London to meet guardian; due to a legal quibble guardian is actually sexy young son of former guardian) borrowed from Heyer’s Regency Buck, nothing remotely attractive about either of the main characters, random running away to the circus, and not even the ridiculous eugenics of A Sword to the Heart to keep me entertained.

Enid Blyton, The “R” Mysteries: Part of a bit of academic research I’ve been dancing around for a while. Expect to see quite a few references to Blyton on this blog in the near future. This is (for those with imperfect memories) the series that begins with The Rockingdown Mystery, ends with The Ragamuffin Mystery, and features four children, a monkey and a hyperactive spaniel. I’ve always quite liked the “R” books, and they’re certainly more mature than a lot of Blyton’s other work. But more on that in a half-finished post that I really should get around to finishing.

Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: I’ll be writing at length on this book and linking to other people’s commentaries. But it’s been some years since I read it, and I’m astonished by how powerful it still is. I loved the book when I first read it, but I’ve tended to think of it as a less mature relative of The Owl Service and Red Shift. And while it’s probably accessible to younger readers than either of those two books, it is much more than that.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey: On the surface this novel combined a number of things I love; Austen, Regency romance, and fantasy. The central conceit of the glamour as a learned art fits well into the historical setting. And I liked the various echoes of Austen scattered through the plot – the Mrs. Bennet-ish mother, the Dashwood-ish contrasting sisters and so on. But this book is really only Austenesque with regard to setting and those particular plot points. It lacks Austen’s humour and her sense of irony and offers up in compensation only a tepid romance and a bunch of characters it’s hard to care much about. And while I know that Austen would have spelled “show” as “shew”, I can’t imagine that she’d have used it so often that one would notice and get tired of it. Beyond its premise, then, Shades of Milk and Honey left me distinctly underwhelmed.

Kuzhali Manickavel, Eating Sugar, Telling Lies: I’m not sure if it’s cheating to list here what is effectively a short story, but it’s a standalone work. I have a tendency to be a bit evangelical about Manickavel’s work. Her first collection is one of those books I’ve never owned for very long without pressing it on a friend – I’ve bought it at least five times so far, and received one copy as a gift. Eating Sugar, Telling Lies is exactly as good as Insects was. It’s dark and layered, clever, grotesque and it feels me with so much envy because I’d love to have written it.


In unrelated news, my review of Lavie Tidhar’s Cloud Permutations was published over at Strange Horizons while I was away and can be found here.

2 Comments to “January Reading”

  1. Is A Sword to the Heart the one with the woman who refuses to consummate her loveless marriage because she thinks it will cause the offspring to be ugly?

    And am I betraying my plebian taste by remembering it?

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