Bit later than usual, but here is what I read in May. I have a horrible suspicion that I’ve left something out.
Drew Magary, The End Specialist/ The Postmortal: The last of the six books on the Clarke award shortlist, and the one that I finished on the day the winner was announced. I wasn’t very impressed with this one – I quite enjoyed it , but it felt strangely inoffensive in the end. Perhaps I would judge it more generously if I had not read it in the context of a major awards shortlist. One expects these books to be remarkable in some way and all of the others (except perhaps Hull Zero Three) were – though in the case of the Sheri S. Tepper book I could have done with a little less remarkable. The Postmortal isn’t stylish enough to stand out as Literature, nor is it original or fully thought-out in ways that would make its sciencefictionality particularly interesting.
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars: I’d never read anything by John Green before, but I thought this was rather excellent. It’s a love story, but its protagonists are both terminally ill. I can only speak as a TAB person here, but I think Green gets a lot right. Despite the infinite potential for a plotline like this one to go wrong The Fault in Our Stars rarely falls into mawkishness, and this is its biggest strength. If this seems rather lukewarm praise, it’s worth considering how few books, presented with characters who would fit so easily into tropes, manage to make of them something like actual people.
Grace Burrowes, The Soldier: I’m a very conservative reader of the romance novel. I know exactly what sort of stories I want, and I read little else. So when I read Burrowes’ The Heir last year I was rather startled. Burrowes writes Regency Romances, but they don’t feel like anyone else’s Regency romances. In many ways they seem deeply improbable (though considering my idea of ‘authentic’ Regency behaviour is almost entirely from Georgette Heyer please feel free to ignore me) and there are occasional Americanisms that jar horribly for me (“fall” for “autumn”). What makes up for this for me is how Burrowes’ men depart from the archetype of romantic hero. She gives her men something usually provided only to women in fiction – close-knit groups of friends and family who are openly, unashamedly affectionate. In The Soldier men can cry together – in The Virtuoso, which I read yesterday, they are comfortable with tactile affection, things like resting a head on a friend’s lap. Perhaps Burrowes’ books are set in an alternate universe in which men are encouraged to have supportive, loving relationships with each other; I would not grudge such a universe the season “fall”.
Jessica Langer, Postcolonialism and Science Fiction: I’ll be reviewing this elsewhere, but I thought Langer’s book was a solid beginning for an area in which there doesn’t seem to be that much academic work, despite the obvious analogies to be made between science fiction and empire. If I have a real complaint (I had lots of tiny ones, argued out in the margins) it’s that it is broader than it is deep – for an introductory work this is probably useful, but there’s less to get one’s teeth into.
Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, Peter Duck, Winter Holiday, Pigeon Post, Coot Club, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, Secret Water: My exposure to this series was patchy as a child, and this was the first time I’d read the books (the first eight – I don’t have the rest) in order. It’s probably a good thing that I stopped there,because the next in the series appears to be the extremely racist-looking Missee Lee. But the ones I read were wonderful – I can think of very little more recent children’s fiction that is quite as interior as this- it seems to have rather gone out of fashion. ‘Perspective’ usually just gets used to mean ‘point-of-view’; here things are magnified or made smaller in accordance with how the child characters (and Ransome prefers to get inside the heads of the youngest children) see them. Looked at purely at the level of plot these are rather silly countryside holiday stories, but they really are much more than that.
Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam, Srividya Natarajan, S. Anand, Bhimayana: I wrote about this at length here. Gorgeous art, clever politics; I am very much in favour of this.
Kishwar Desai, Origins of Love: I wrote about this here. Not a very positive review.
Pamela Cox, Malory Towers continuations/St. Clare’s fillers: I’ve mentioned this before (probably in the context of Sweet Valley Confidential) but the most interesting thing to me about a sequel to something written years after the first/by a different author is how it works as a critique of the thing it is based on. Hence my interest in Pamela Cox’s riffs on Enid Blyton’s two major school series. I’ll be writing about what I found in a few days.
Jo Beverley, An Unlikely Countess: My second Jo Beverley book, and I am a bit underwhelmed. It was a pleasant, fun read but that’s about it. I know a lot of people are very enthusiastic about Beverley, so I suspect I may just be reading the wrong books. Recommendations are solicited.
Sarah Wendell, Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels: I wrote about this in last week’s column and will be linking to it as soon as it is posted on the blog. I loved Wendell’s first book, with Candy Tan, but this felt like it was going nowhere. I am unimpressed.
Daisy Rockwell, The Little Book of Terror: I reviewed this at length for the Sunday Guardian and will post a link when it’s up. Rockwell’s book is made up of her art and a few essays; it’s very slim and I am completely ignorant about Art (I know what I like! she says, defensively). And yet I spent more time editing that review down than writing it, and I didn’t say half of what I wanted to. There’s so much here.
Nicholas Blake, Thou Shell of Death and There’s Trouble Brewing: I’ll be writing about the Nigel Strangeways books elsewhere, but know that they are a delight.
Herge, Flight 714: I wrote about this (and was a bit silly) here.
Shalom Auslander: Holocaust Tips for Kids/Smite the Heathens, Charlie Brown: It’s probably cheating to include what is basically a pair of very short stories here, but I did write about it.