June Reading

Once again I’m late with this, and we’re almost halfway through the month. It will be immediately obvious that I have not been impressive in the last few weeks; not at writing about books and certainly not at reading.

 

Alethea Kontis, Enchanted: The first thing I’ve read by Alethea Kontis. This is a clever  mashup of just about every fairytale trope there is- families that come in sevens, woodcutters, princes turned into frogs, people called Jack, balls at which royal men choose their brides. It’s smart and charming but perhaps a little too busy – there’s so much plot (including hints of some really intriguing back stories) that the characters are rather shortchanged, and it all gets a bit muddled. This makes it hard to be fully invested in the romance or the more sinister aspects of the story. So charming, but a bit of a mess.

Joan Aiken, The Kingdom Under the Sea: Joan Aiken’s always good, but I’ll admit I bought this mostly for Jan Pieńkowski’s gorgeous art. This is a collection of folktales, often quite dark (in that deadpan style Aiken has). Aiken’s retellings, though good, are never quite as strange or engaging as her original work, but I enjoyed this anyway.

Sarra Manning, Adorkable: Sarra Manning’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me is one of my happy places. I like her other books for grown ups as well, but I’d never read any of her YA until this. I found myself reluctantly really liking it, after a start to the novel that really didn’t lead me to expect this. I’m going to have to read Manning’s other YA novels now.

Julia Quinn, A Night Like This: Not likely to be my favourite Quinn book. This was a fun evening’s read but Quinn’s greatest gift is her lovely frothy dialogue, and this just felt rather heavy.

Loretta Chase, Scandal Wears Satin: Not likely to be my favourite Chase book either. A weak Loretta Chase book is still a few degrees better than a strong book by most other authors, but this really isn’t turning out to be a great summer for me, Regency romance-wise. (Has a Chase hero ever been quite this annoying, or am I getting intolerant in my old age?)

Grace Burrowes, The Virtuoso and Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal: I spoke last month about Burrowes and how her male characters are unusually close for the genre. That sense of community continues through to The Virtuoso, but it’s less present in Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal. I’m not sure what it means that her female characters (since last month I’ve also read Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish) are so much more solitary than her males. Or perhaps it’s just that I’m used to female communities in literature and so it’s harder to spot? Either way, she’s one of the more interesting Regency writers I’ve encountered in the last couple of years, and I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.

Helen Oyeyemi, Mr Fox: I was very impressed with White is for Witching when I read it a year or so ago. Mr Fox is better.

Christopher Logue, All Day Permanent Red: When Logue died a few months ago I promised myself a reread of his poems based on the Iliad. Of the three volumes (War Music, Cold Calls, All Day Permanent Red), this is the one I’ve been least familiar with. That has changed in the past month; I’ve returned to it and read it over and loved it. In hunting it out I also ended up rearranging some of my books so that I know have a little Greek shelf (with all the attendant dilemmas over what belongs where) which I must somehow prevent myself from turning into an Anne Carson shrine.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities: Perhaps the best thing about my job is that occasionally I can turn rereading Calvino into legitimate work. I hadn’t read the Invisible Cities since school. There’s nothing I can say about it that won’t make me sound stupid, but I have been made happy.

Susan Cooper, Over Sea Under Stone: I don’t know why I suddenly needed to reread The Dark is Rising sequence, but I did. Over Sea Under Stone is in many ways the lightest of the series – it’s only after the genuinely menacing second book that you get a sense of the vastness of it all. I’ll be speaking more about the series next month, presumably (I finished rereading The Grey King today) but just reading it on its own, OSUS is such a good children’s book. I love the early chapters in which the children Ransomeishly explore the Grey House, and the touches of genuine terror (at night among the stones at Kemare Head, that moment where what the children thought was a tall rock turns out to be one of the enemy) are more effective than just about anything I can think of.

Mervyn Peake (illustrated), Grimm’s Household Tales: I’m a bit confused about this collection. Yes, clearly these are stories collected by the brothers Grimm, but there’s no mention of a translator, reteller or editor. Peake himself is only credited as the artist. It’s a beautiful book though, and Peake’s illustrations are less sinister than they sometimes are, but enough to remind you (if anyone even needed reminding at this point) just how weird some of the hausmärchen can be.

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