Here is what I read in April.
Tove Jansson, Tales from Moomin Valley, Moominpappa at Sea, Comet in Moominland: I continue to reread the Moomin books, they continue to be warming, complex, human things.
Sophie Kinsella, I’ve Got Your Number: I had to read one of the Shopaholic books a few years ago for a class, but had never read anything else by Kinsella. This was charming and fluffy and exactly what I needed on the day I read it. A bit too content with some of the cliches of the romance novel, but then it is a romance novel, so.
Jack Vance, Lyonesse: The Green Pearl and Madouc: I reread the first Lyonesse book, Suldrun’s Garden, in March. I also randomly yelled at people on the internet and called them philistines for describing Vance’s work as less than perfect. Someone has to keep reminding people how great these books are, and I’m willing for it to be me.
Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Dimsie Moves Up Again and Dimsie Intervenes: I read a Dimsie book last month and thought it was rather more self-aware and funny than I remembered. That must have been something of a one-off, because I saw no signs of that here. Despite this, these are some of the better traditional school stories. Someday I really must read the full set.
Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again: I wrote about this for a column. I have little to add to what I said there- Lai’s book is just really, really good.
Lavie Tidhar and Paul McCaffrey, Going to the Moon: Lavie Tidhar writes a children’s book and it is adorable. Jimmy has tourette’s syndrome and coprolalia and someday he hopes to travel to the moon. Most of this is gorgeous – I love the way in which the unacceptable words Jimmy occasionally uses are highlighted in the text; this simultaneously makes them stand out and makes them not a part of the narrative, not real words (because words aren’t just sounds – they’re meanings that are meant and here we segue into a discussion of Embassytown?). Plus I rather like the paradox of the children’s book that most children would never be given to read because of all the swearing. My one concern is the equation of coprolalia with Tourette’s; from the little I know about it quite a small number of those with Tourette’s also have coprolalia, yet it tends to be the aspect of the syndrome that gets discussed and written about the most. For obvious reasons I suppose. Which isn’t to suggest that coprolalia should never be depicted, just a concern about imbalance.
Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island: For a piece on shipwreck fiction. Though Verne’s characters are really balloon-wrecked. I loved this; the Nemo backstory, the improbable competence of everyone (let’s build a foundry! let’s make blasting powder! let us train this ourangutan to be our servant and dress him in a comical white suit!); that this is one of Verne’s more realistic stories says a lot.
Johann Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson: Pineapples.
Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up: Another one for the column. I wrote about this here.
Jo Beverley, A Scandalous Countess: My first Jo Beverley book. I’ll be reading more; my love for interlocking series of regencies has ensured this. It wasn’t Loretta Chase-ishly brilliant, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Sheri S Tepper, The Waters Rising: Next time I attempt to read the whole of the Clarke award shortlist I will try not to schedule a trip to another city for the same week. Tepper’s book took me longer to get through than all of the other three (I’d already read Mieville’s and Rogers’ books) combined. I tried to make sense of it here. I failed.
Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three: When I’d finished Hull Zero Three I described it on twitter as “competent”. Maureen asked if I was “praising with faint damn”, and in a way she was right. Competent may not sound like high praise, and there’s nothing particularly innovative or special about Hull Zero Three. But there’s a pleasure in seeing a thing done well, and I think this book is. It’s not overlong, it manages (particularly in its early stages) to conjure up a claustrophobic feeling that is exactly right for the story. I don’t think it could ever have won the Clarke, but I enjoyed it far more than some of the other books on the shortlist.
Charles Stross, Rule 34: This, on the other hand, was a more serious contender for the Clarke award. I could imagine it winning the award, but I also absolutely hated it. I hope to get into why in a future post, about it’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of bone-deep dislike for a book. Clearly a book with many positive attributes, as other reviewers have pointed out. But I don’t think I’ll be reading Stross again unless I commit to reading other shortlists.
Madeline Miller, Song of Achilles: I wrote about this for this weekend’s column, so will link to it when I can post it on the blog. But I thought very well of Miller’s retelling of the Patroclus-Achilles relationship. I worry that the novel isn’t quite the right form for something like this and there are sections that simply don’t work, but on the whole this is lovely. I was a little underwhelmed by this year’s Orange Prize shortlist, so it’s nice to have something to champion.