Archive for ‘Books read in 2014’

January 9, 2015

2014 in books (and stats, and angst, and possibly resolutions)

Firstly, the Strange Horizons reviewers’ picks for 2014 are up here. My section is right at the end, and I recommend books by Ghalib Islam, Kuzhali Manickavel, Jenny Offill and Megan Milks. They’re all brilliant, and the highlights of a year that included some very good things. There are other things I read and loved in 2014 but they weren’t necessarily speculative; most of them I’ve written about in some form or another on this blog.

A quick count through my monthly reading posts suggests that in 2014 I read:

  • 200 books total
  • 140 books by women
  • 40 books by POC*

All of which, particularly the last, are numbers that need unpacking. I don’t feel like I read 200 books this year, and I’m pretty sure that is in large part because most of them were rereads–children’s books for the thesis, and romance novels for downtime. I’m toying with the idea of not counting rereads at all in 2015 unless they mark a huge change in how I read the book in question. Particularly since cutting out my romance novel and school story rereads might also provide a less flattering account of the number of books by women I read in any given year.

But more importantly, I’ve somehow managed to read less books by people of colour in 2014 than I did in 2013, and that is unimpressive. I have a bunch of excuses lined up: I read a couple of awards shortlists, which tend to be pretty white; much of my reading was for my thesis (though the fact that I’ve chosen to study white-men-who-wrote-series-fiction is a pretty poor defense); I read a LOT of Diana Wynne Jones; but still.

So, plans for 2015?

  • Read less. Too often I’m lazy and don’t want to waste effort on something new and go back to something I’ve read a million times before that I can race through. I can’t need this many comfort reads. Genre series fiction (across a range of genres) is a major culprit here.
  • Bow out of SFF. Recent events have made this feel necessary; I’ll still be involved with the community aspects of Strange Horizons, as well as editing some of the reviews (here and here are some great recent book club discussions I’ve participated in), but other than very occasional reviews (I thought about giving this up as well but as all editors whom I owe things know, it wouldn’t really be very different), I don’t see myself being active in the community as a whole. No cons, no reading awards shortlists or arguing about things that clearly are not going to change, significantly less twitter. I’m looking forward to the extra time this is going to give me.
  • I will read the Carnegie shortlist, probably.
  • I committed to doing the South Asian Women Writers Challenge a couple of years ago, and suspect in 2014 I failed it. In 2015 I’m planning not to.
  • Maybe write some thesis, even.

 

* Disclaimer: given that some books are by multiple authors of various genders and races, some are by authors and illustrators, and people’s race or gender identities are not obvious (“poc” and “women” may not be very useful categories at all and “queer” would probably be impossible), these numbers are of necessity only approximate.

January 7, 2015

December Reading

Late, because I went on holiday without my laptop and consequently did a reasonable amount of reading. I have left out my ritual Christmas eve reading (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a bit of The Sword in the Stone) because my feelings on these are known. I’ll be doing a round-up post about my year’s reading at some point in the next few days.

 

Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists: For work, and I really didn’t like it. It’s almost tick the boxes literary fiction: war, memory, nostalgia (thesis: the presence of nostalgia is what makes litfic litfic?), a postcoloniality that doesn’t feel very challenging, and that annoying thing where it keeps telling you what it’s doing. My students also did not like it, but for very different reasons.

Alan Garner, Elidor: Still really powerful. I happened to attend a paper on haunted technology a few days after I read it, also, which made me read the static electricity sections in a completely new light.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, T.H. White: I’ve been planning to read Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk for a while now, and thought a good way to do this would be to also read T.H. White’s The Goshawk and STW’s White biography first. I don’t know whether these are really going to affect Macdonald’s book for me, but this is a good biography of a writer who fascinates and confuses me.

T.H. White, The Goshawk: This made me cry, as it always does.

Leslye Walton, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender: I came to this after a couple of people who I trust raved about it. It’s a little bit Chocolat-era Harris, a bit Angela Carter, and is odd and lyrical and whimsical and it … did nothing for me. I’m missing something, clearly. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for someone to write the essay on Maleficent’s sheared-off wings and Ava Lavender’s climatic scene.

Karthika Nair and Joelle Jolivet, The Honey Hunter: This is gorgeous. I read the earlier version; it seems in the wake of the Sunderbans oil spill the authors are reworking the book. And that is fascinating in itself.

Janice Pariat, Seahorse: A thing that Pariat succeeds in capturing both here and in her earlier Boats on Land is this sort of hazy, adolescent-ish atmosphere that I find really compelling. I have other thoughts about this book–its use of the DU English syllabus (did Nem only do the third year modernism paper though?), its use of myth, its cast of multiple bisexual characters; I liked it a lot, in short.

Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran, Mayil Will Not Be Quiet: I suspect other people have spoken about this book in great detail, and I haven’t got much to add, but it is SO good.

Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran, Nirmala and Normala: Will write about this at length soon. It is hilarious, but surely there has to be a happy medium between literally living a movie-star life and having to settle for a Chetan Bhagat-reading engineer?

Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: My grandfather died a couple of weeks ago, and this was one of the things I turned to (other things: poetry, though not complete books’ worth of it, some Terry Pratchett, which features heavily in my January reading). It’s quiet and truthful and I love it.

Judith McNaught, Almost Heaven: I was on a plane, it was okay.

Himanjali Sankar, Talking of Muskaan: I am not really in a position to review this, as Himanjali’s a friend and former colleague, but I did write a column about it and Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt, which I’ll be putting here on the blog soon.

Payal Dhar, Slightly Burnt: (see above)

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird: I love Oyeyemi’s work, but I did not love this. Of the three main characters Boy was the only one that really worked for me (the first part of the book, narrated only by her, is excellent); the climax is massively problematic (a character is revealed to be transgender; Boy does not react well, which might be understandable, but the real problem is in the book’s portrayal of this character–his transition is a response to rape, and his belief in his own masculinity becomes an enchantment that needs breaking.), but also structurally throws the book off balance to me. I’ll be discussing this at length elsewhere, but it was deeply disappointing.

Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor: Partly because of the column, partly because of other things, I rarely read genre fiction that isn’t doing something unusual or spectacular, but I’d heard good things of this particular book. I genuinely enjoyed it- towards the end I was worriedly checking how many pages were left because I was having a good time and didn’t want it to end.

Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel: You know how when you’re a teenager and discover Foucault’s Pendulum and the world is full of all this cool stuff and you want to know all of it and talk about all of it? That is this book. It’s me at sixteen, it’s every quiz-attending, funda-loving boy I ever had a crush on, and I suspect what it would have benefited most by would be a cynical friend to occasionally ground it a bit. Some of the art is gorgeous, though.

December 5, 2014

November Reading

Mostly for work, as is probably obvious.

 

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway: A reread for work, and another of those books that I have a very intense memory of reading when I was younger (I loved it then, I love it now), so that a reread now makes it very clear how differently (how much better) I read now. Perhaps it is also time to revisit To The Lighthouse.

Ghalib Islam, Fire in the Unnameable Country: Years ago my best friend spent ages trying to read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and failing because she was enjoying the first few pages so much that she couldn’t move on from them. I felt a bit like that about Ghalib Islam’s book. It took me months to read, a bit at a time, but I loved it. It’s also the subject of December’s Strange Horizons book club, so more detailed thoughts will be available there in a few weeks.

William Mayne, A Grass Rope: With a group of people who research children’s lit I’ve been reading through the former recipients of the Carnegie medal, one book per decade. I insisted on A Grass Rope because I love it and have complex feelings about it; most people did not feel about it as I did. They were wrong, obviously.

Mhairi McFarlane, It’s Not Me, It’s You: I enjoyed McFarlane’s first two books so got this pretty much the moment it came out. It’s a romance, and it’s partly set in Newcastle, and there’s a comic-within-the-story, so it really ought to be all the things that I like. Except that I found the scene-setting of the Newcastle bits awkward (yes, tell me again about how you had dinner at Rasa and exactly what you ordered) and the comic stuff didn’t feel like it added much, and a dog died. Still, it managed to be nuanced and realistic about break-ups, and often funny, and involved a heist sequence and so made for a good afternoon.

Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners: For work, and often gorgeous.

Douglas Gresham and Pauline Baynes, The Official Narnia Cookbook: I did a column on this and should probably put it here soon.

Lucy Boston, A Stranger at Green Knowe: For the abovementioned Carnegie reading project. I love The Children of Green Knowe, as readers of this blog are probably aware. I loved large parts of this as well–despite the sometimes clumsy depiction of the main character, an orphaned refugee from China. There’s a surprising amount Boston gets right in simply giving us the quiet, believable perspective of a non-white character (even if she imposes a name upon him that is clearly not his own), but perhaps the best way to talk about how awful it is to be a refugee is not to compare that situation to a gorilla in a really awful zoo. It is still less bad at writing about non-white characters than The Child’s Elephant, so well done the 1960s..

Manuela Draeger (trans. Brian Evenson), In the Time of the Blue Ball: Glorious. I wrote a column about this which will also be on the blog soon.

Eloisa James, Desperate Duchesses, An Affair Before Christmas, Duchess By Night, When the Duke Returns, This Duchess of Mine, A Duke of Her Own: During the Courtney Milan accidental book club, the book’s lack of  sexy chess (chess is central to The Duchess War) was raised, and Tansy Rayner Roberts recommended this series as one that contained such a thing. In the event I found the sexy chess itself a bit disappointing (they abandon it for actual sex; anyone could do that, I wanted to know who won the game) but the series itself was enjoyable. I normally like Eloisa James, I’m not sure why I hadn’t read these before.

Romilly and Katherine John, Death By Request: Also the subject of a column, which will be up here soon. I picked this up at Barter Books because it was part of the Hogarth crime series that has in the past contained things I like. I was surprised by it, and that is a good thing.

 

November 2, 2014

October Reading

October 2014 really could have been better. But it did involve some quite good books, which are the only thing in its favour.

 

Rick Riordan, The Blood of Olympus: At this point I have trouble keeping the plots of these books straight in my head, but they are generally enjoyable and satisfying and nice in ways that not enough things are.

Susan Scarlett, Pirouette: I have a couple of thoughts on this, probably best left for a future column. It is not among the better Streatfeild/Scarlett books I’ve read.

Courtney Milan, The Duchess War: A friend and I exchanged a couple of casual text messages about Courtney Milan and the next thing I knew I was involved in a large twitter book club reading (in my case and that of some others rereading) the first book in this series. I stand by my belief that Milan has grown into a better writer as the series has progressed; but I’m willing to test this by reading all the books again, obviously.

Meena Kandasamy, The Gypsy Goddess: Review to come.

Monica Byrne, The Girl in the Road: For various reasons that don’t belong in a reading round-up I’m hesitant to write much about this book. But I am genuinely impressed by it, I’d love to see more of Byrne, and I’ll be disappointed if this doesn’t show up on the Clarke shortlist next year.

Deirdre Sullivan, Improper Order: Sequel to Prim Improper, which I wrote briefly about a couple of months ago, and which made me very happy. This series is managing to be very funny and sweet and also to deal with bereavement in ways that give it its full due; it’s a difficult balancing act and yet it is clearly working.

Garth Nix, Clariel: I’m not sure Clariel is good; from a genre perspective it’s fascinating. I have about half a review’s worth of scribbled notes that should probably be turned into something more substantial.

Angela Thirkell, Pomfret Towers: The last book by Thirkell that I read was charming but made me uncomfortable on many levels–and not in good ways. This is far more to my taste; Thirkell’s still ruthless with her characters’ flaws, but the book as a whole is far kinder, far less snobbish, and less obsessed with people’s antecedents (High Rising’s treatment of its Jewish and Irish characters was a huge part of my discomfort with it) than the earlier one. Plus the shy, awkward main character is the sort-of heroine and doesn’t end up with the handsome heir to the title.

Kuzhali Manickavel, Things We Found During the Autopsy: I’d read many of these before in the various venues in which they appeared, but a new collection is a lovesome thing. Manickavel is still weird, and still funny, but it’s the overwhelming sense of anger transmuted into bitter laughter that has made them so powerful to me this time.

Jenny Boully, Not Merely Because of the Unknown that was Coming Towards Them: A short piece on this soon, which I’ll be expanding from the column. I’ve been wanting to read this for three years now, and it is gorgeous.

Patricia McKillip, Ombria in Shadow: Read in order to follow the discussion at the Strange Horizons book club. I’ve loved the few things by McKillip I’ve read in the past and I loved this. More thoughts at that link, and for those who’d like to follow future book discussions, next month’s book is Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman.

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre: A reread, for work-related reasons. I don’t think I’d read it properly since my first year at university, ten years ago, and it was fascinating to see how much I’d changed as a reader in that time. Still great.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Also a reread, also for work. I don’t think I’m ever really going to be a fan.

 

 

October 6, 2014

September Reading

At least September was a better month for reading than August.

 

Nitasha Kaul, Residue: Review forthcoming, but I really did not think much of this.

Diana Wynne Jones, Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad’s Fate, The Pinhoe Egg, Mixed Magics, The Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week: I helped organise, then attended and presented a paper at, a conference on Diana Wynne Jones. It was exhausting and I rather assumed I’d be quite happy not to think about DWJ for a good few months after. Naturally, in the week or so following, I reread all the Chrestomanci books, and out of order. All still great, but now I’m having all these thoughts about The Pinhoe Egg and it turns out I could probably think about DWJ forever.

Ava Chin, Eating Wildly: Review here. I enjoyed this.

Jared Shurin (ed), Irregularity: Review forthcoming. Mixed feelings, but there’s that Adam Roberts story and it is perfect, and there are E.J. Swift and James Smythe being pretty good at this writing thing too.

Susan Scarlett, Peter and Paul: I’m still failing to work out what this reminded me of. Weirdly moralistic, considering that Scarlett was a pseudonym of Noel Streatfeild. But I suppose that’s genre appropriate, and I did genuinely enjoy it.

E. Nesbit, The Story of The Treasure-Seekers, The Wouldbegoods: Always charmed by these, love Nesbit forever, etc. Perhaps I can make time to reread the Psammead books soon as well.

Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Sylvester, Pistols for Two, The Foundling, The Corinthian, The Nonesuch, The Talisman Ring: I was exhausted and sick and retreated into Heyer. Where is the Talisman Ring caper movie we deserve?

Bernardine Evaristo, The Emperor’s Babe: I’ll have a piece on this on the blog in a day or so. The book is excellent, obviously.

Sophie Hannah, The Monogram Murders: This seems to have got some good reviews, which suggests that I am failing at reading it because I thought it was dreadful; inconsistent in voice, weak of plot, and generally poor on multiple levels.

Courtney Milan, Talk Sweetly To Me: I’ll have a piece on this on the blog soon also. It is not as perfect a thing as The Suffragette Scandal (but what could be?) but I enjoyed it anyway.

Deirdre Sullivan, Prim Improper: I bought this because the author is a) funny on twitter and b) compared to Anna Carey (who is great), and read it on a sick day and it was exactly what I needed. Just very kind and funny about adolescence and other people and rats and death.

 

September 10, 2014

August Reading

… which sounds entirely different from what it is meant to signify: the books I read in August.

There were not many of them; between conventions in London and conference-planning in Newcastle the only time I read at all was on trains. But I did manage to read a few things.

 

Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm: I’ve seen some positive reviews of this book that treat its portrayal of the publishing industry and its books within the book as revelatory, and I feel like I might be missing something? I did genuinely enjoy it though.

Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm, The Year of the Griffin, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: I was involved in a Diana Wynne Jones conference that was to take place at the beginning of September (that it is now over is the only reason I’m able to post this thing now). I reread The Tough Guide and Dark Lord of Derkholm for my own paper, The Year of the Griffin because having reread DLoD I thought I might as well (and also it’s just good), Howl’s Moving Castle because I was moderating a panel about the adaptation to film (and would also be seeing the film for the first time in a long while). I feel that the proper response to weeks of thinking about the conference ought to be to not want to think about Jones for a while. Instead, I find myself contemplating a complete reread.

Rainbow Rowell, Landline: I wrote about this here.

Nick Harkaway, Tigerman: Tigerman offers so much to unpack and play with that it’s the sort of thing that critics ought to love. And so much of it looks so obvious and over-drawn, and then the whole is salvaged by quiet, individual moments that have quite a lot of emotional power. I’ll be discussing this elsewhere at length, but for now I’m very glad it exists.

Bhajju Shyam, The London Jungle Book: I wrote about this here.

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, The Last Battle: I have reached the Narnia and Postcolonialism bit of my thesis and there is far too much to work with.

Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck: I needed Heyer, because I was exhausted with moving, and this was all there was. It’s very far from being my favourite of her works, and I’d forgotten how irritating the main characters are. The Beau Brummel cameo is still great though.

 

August 3, 2014

July Reading

 

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Jean of Storms: Which I read in June, but failed to include in my monthly reading round-up for that month. So it is here, and it is weird, and here is a column that is sort of about it.

Robin Stevens, Murder Most Unladylike: I loved this. It loves its genres, and it gets what it means to sit uncomfortably within them and it’s funny and its characters are real and it felt like a hug. Column here.

Kate Zambreno, Green Girl: I should probably write about this at some point. But as I read it I kept having to go back and read Suba so really she should be the one writing about it and the internet should nag her about this forthwith.

Garth Nix, Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen: Still deeply satisfying. I spent the first couple of books finding the emphasis on bloodlines a bit too bad-fantasy-cliche, and then Sam becomes a Wallmaker (spoiler? whoops?) and I was a lot less annoyed. Why isn’t this a movie/tv series?

Saba Imtiaz, Karachi, You’re Killing Me!: This was a lot of fun. I wrote about it here.

Gladys Mitchell, Laurels Are Poison: I was surprised recently to find that Mitchell was writing well into the 1980s. This one was published in 1942, Tom Brown’s Body (the only other one of hers I’ve read) in 1949, and those years feel late for both of them. All the class and racial politics you’d expect (woo), but also a relationship to the genre itself that feels a lot older.

Rokeya Sekhawat Hosein and Durga Bai, Sultana’s Dream: Also read in June and not included in that month’s reading round up. I’ve read the story before, several times (and here is a thing where I talk about it) which is why I was in a position to notice what a difference Durga Bai’s illustrations made to how I read it. This is the reissued Tara Books edition, and it is beautiful.

Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal: All you really need to know about The Suffragette Scandal is that one of its protagonists spends most of the book telling the woman he’s falling in love with everything that’s wrong with him–to warn her off, or to prepare her– to know that I was going to drown myself in it. I think I have a long piece of writing about this book in me somewhere; how it feels like the series has come full circle since The Duchess War, how personal its relationships felt to me, how it achieves that thing where it can be accurate about depressing historical realities and also be like fuck you these characters are starting their own egalitarian commune. And that’s before the feminism bits, and the women writing stuff bits and the queer relationship that is a side-plot, and the queer relationship that isn’t a side-plot because everyone just takes for granted that it exists so it doesn’t need to be a plot at all, and real and adopted families and the central metaphor that is taken from Shakesville and I was drained by the end of it but in the best possible way.

Frances Hardinge, A Face Like Glass: For at least a couple of years now people have been demanding that I read Frances Hardinge and I have been collecting her books (Cuckoo Song and Gullstruck Island are the only ones I don’t have) and failing to sit down and read them. I have finally made a start, and A Face Like Glass is a bit Mervyn Peake and a bit Diana Wynne Jones and a bit Joan Aiken and I thought it was really good. Many of the people recommending her work to me aren’t huge children’s lit readers and I did wonder if Hardinge could really be as good as they claimed or if the hype was in part the result of a lack of familiarity with other good writing in the genre. Turns out she’s great, if not (maybe) uniquely so.

Linda Grant, I Murdered My Library: Should write a longer thing on this soon, but I really enjoyed it.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon: Yes, okay, I read my way through all the Peter-and-Harriet books last August. But I was at a secondhand book market and there was a copy of Strong Poison and what else was I going to do, realistically?

Jane Green, Jemima J.: As a romance-loving fat girl I feel I should have more intelligent things to say about this than that I didn’t like it very much. I didn’t.

Nikesh Shukla, Meatspace: Underwhelming, and yet. I have a lot of questions about it, that may end up being a column soon.

Stephanie Laurens, The Curious Case of Lady Latimer’s Shoes: Insufficient murder. This sub-series of books has done the romance thing, and brought its various protagonists together, and they all seem to be managing their personal lives quite well, and these later books’ attempts to connect said personal lives to the plot just feel forced. Surely at this point we can move on to fun, historical murder mysteries?

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian: For the next few months I get to read about Narnia and call it work. This is a thing with which I am entirely okay.

 

 

July 1, 2014

June Reading

Not the most productive month, readingwise. Perhaps I’ll read some Hugo-nominated short fiction in July?

 

Rebecca Stead, Liar and Spy: Part of my attempt to read through the Carnegie shortlist. This was my favourite book on the list by a considerable margin; Stead may be an actual genius.

Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures: I enjoyed this, but coming after the brilliant KJF story (I wrote about both here) it felt rather insipid.

Susan Cooper, Ghost Hawk: No.

Michael Faber, Under the Skin: I read this a couple of months after watching the film and should probably write more about it at some point. For now, a column here.

Stephanie Laurens, The Masterful Mr. Montague: There is a murderer, there are Cynsters and Cynster-adjacent people, an attractive, competent woman finds love. I’ll have forgotten the plot of this by next month, but I enjoyed it.

Theresa Romain, To Charm a Naughty Countess: Why must genre titles be this way? Again, a book I enjoyed (virginal man with anxiety issues, beautiful, poised woman who has loved him forever, science and irrigation and science) but that I’ll forget quite soon.

Julie Berry, All the Truth That’s In Me: This was often gorgeous, and I’m glad it was on the Carnegie shortlist.

William Sutcliffe, The Wall: About as horrifying as it needed to be, but far less nuanced than I’d have liked.

Loretta Chase, Vixen in Velvet: A thing I thought particularly interesting about this: the plot apparently has our hero and heroine make a bet over her makeover of another woman, with the stakes being a Botticelli painting (if she wins) and two weeks of her time (if he wins). Which is the sort of thing historical romances occasionally do; but unless I misread one particular scene entirely, this one had its hero declare that this time spent together is just supposed to involve general getting-to-know-one-another activities. Meanwhile the made-over woman (his cousin) does get her man, but not through her improved looks. This is interesting because we have here two well-worn genre tropes made … not particularly feminist, but certainly less regressive. I’m not, however, a huge fan of this particular subseries; it’s enjoyable, but nowhere near some of Chase’s best work.

Megan Milks, Kill Marguerite: I’ll be writing about this at length, but it’s the sort of book that feels to me like coming home, if home is also really gross and kind of nauseating. It’s so good.

 

 

 

 

June 4, 2014

May Reading

A certain amount of reading seems to have got itself done this month, I don’t know how. Not enough (never enough!), but then it has been a busy time.  

 

Evelyn Smith, Seven Sisters At Queen Anne’s: You know how in a lot of classic school stories the new girl travels to the school and is different and has to learn the ways of the school and it all ends well? Here, the new girl doesn’t change much, and nor does the school, and everyone still manages to quite like and respect one another. And it’s smart and funny and I would like to read more Evelyn Smith please.

 

Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation: Gorgeous, and likely to be one of the best things I read this year. Column here.

 

Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon: I ended up really liking this despite (because of?) its messiness. Column here.

 

Sarra Manning, The Worst Girlfriend in the World: My track record with Manning is that she either leaves me a feels-y mess (You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me) or leaves me entirely unmoved (Adorkable). This book did neither of those; it did make me happy because it’s a book about female friendship where love interests are either entirely secondary or entirely ridiculous.

 

Sophia McDougall, Mars Evacuees: I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books about Issues this month—lots of death and war and trauma. Mars Evacuees is also set during a war and it never forgets that, or neglects to take seriously the fact that people are at risk of death—and one of the ways in which it treats these issues more seriously than a lot of the other things I’ve been reading is that it sees actual people caught up in them. And yet it’s also funny and warm and warming. It’s not perfect, but it is very, very good and made me very happy.

 

Kathryn Allan (ed), Disability in Science Fiction: I have a review of this up at Strange Horizons, here.

 

Sara Levine, Treasure Island!!!: Last week’s column, here.

 

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Child’s Elephant: I’m part of a Carnegie shadowing group (the award winner is announced later this month) and so read this for that. I was not impressed.

 

Karen Joy Fowler, The Science of Herself: PM Press have put out an e-chapbook containing “The Science of Herself” (a story about Mary Anning), “The Pelican Bar” (which I’d already read) along with another short story, an essay titled “The Motherhood Statement” and an interview. I was between Carnegie books and thought I’d read the first story, and naturally sat and read the whole book instead, including the story I’d already read. I hadn’t known, or had forgotten, that the title story was about Mary Anning—this was a day or so after the google doodle in her honour. This was an even better tribute, and I should have something longer on it soon.

 

Kevin Brooks, The Bunker Diary: Another of the Carnegie shortlisted books. I’ll be writing about this at greater length soon; I’m not sure it works, but I am sure that I respect it.

 

Anne Fine, Blood Family: Also on the Carnegie list, and will also be written about soon. I was not exactly blown away.

 

Katherine Rundell, Rooftoppers: Another Carnegie book. Treads a precarious line between charming and twee and sometimes slips, but is also sometimes great. I don’t know if it’s the SF fan in me that demands more worldbuilding, better fleshing out of this particular iteration of oppressive state and secret lives of vagabonds, but its lack of substance did annoy me at times. On the other hand, it would make the most wonderful Disney movie.

May 6, 2014

April Reading (and recent movies)

Things I read this last month:

 

Deji Bryce Olukotun, Nigerians in Space: I’m reviewing this elsewhere, but I’d love more people to read it and for there to be a larger conversation about it, particularly among science fiction fans, for whom the question of who can imagine the future and in what terms has felt particularly relevant recently.

 

Phillip Mann, The Disestablishment of Paradise: I’d read two of the books on the Clarke Award shortlist, and thought it would be a good idea to read the other four. This was one of the weaker books on the list, full of gender essentialism and uncomfortable prose. I’d have liked it to be a lot better than it was.

 

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice: Also on the Clarke shortlist, and the eventual winner. I’d have had to read this eventually, but I wish I’d come to it earlier. It’s good, and I enjoyed it, but after months of hearing about how revolutionary it was in its approach to gender and to colonialism, I found myself looking for more than I found.

 

Christopher Priest, The Adjacent: This was certainly a Christopher Priest book. Not my favourite of his work (but still good); I may have done it an injustice by rushing through it in time for the award to be announced. I’d like to come back to it at some point. For now: if you’re an alternate-history Islamic republic, why are you italicising “burqa”?

 

Ramez Naam, Nexus: I could probably have dealt with the lazy gender and race stereotypes, the dubious science, the accidental (lol, whoops!) sexual assault at the beginning, and the army of Chinese clones who all look alike (no really) if there had been any basic competence to the text itself. Nexus isn’t a bad novel, it’s a novel that has no conception of what narrative prose does. Also everything Dan Hartland says here; his disgust heals my own.

 

Karen Russell, Sleep Donation: I think I may need a reread of this before any proper commentary can happen. It’s very Karen Russell, which is a good thing.

 

Anita Nair, Idris, Keeper of the Light: Historical fiction set in coastal India pre-British rule, from the perspective of a traveller from Africa? I really wanted this to be good. I was disappointed. A review should be published in The Hindustan Times in the near future.

 

Dorothea Moore, A Runaway Princess or H.R.H. Smith at School, Brenda of Beech House: Is there an entire subgenre of school stories in which Ruritanian royals go to boarding school after reading many school stories? EBD’s The Princess of the Chalet School is still the best of these, but I did like the two Moore stories (particularly Brenda).

Evelyn Smith, The Small Sixth Form: I assumed from the title that this was a sequel to The First Fifth Form, which I read last year and enjoyed. It was not a sequel, but it was great anyway. Some of Robin’s early exchanges with her new classmates have an almost Vance-ish feel to them, the sensible, straight-thinking newcomer facing an onslaught of wit and fancy and wordplay. As the book progresses it settles down into a more ordinary (and still very good) school story, but those earlier scenes are unlike anything I’ve read in the genre, and they’re wonderful.

 

M.C. Beaton, Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham: The kindle edition was cheap. I’m not a huge fan of this series—I like that Agatha’s an unlikeable middle-aged woman, but that’s really the only thing about them that really appeals to me, and it makes it hard to see them as more than a vaguely pleasant distraction on an evening off.

 

Suniti Namjoshi, The Mothers of Maya Diip: I wrote about this here.

 

Manil Suri, City of Devi: I did a column on this, and it will be on the blog soon.

 

And because I’ve been doing such a terrible job of writing about movies, here (very briefly) are some things I’ve watched over the last couple of months also:

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: I kept thinking I’d write about this at length and now it’s been out ages and I’m not sure I have anything new to say. It is good? And comes a little too close to undermining its own premises? And made me feel things? I have thoughts about its portrayal of Black Widow that probably do need addressing at some point.

 

Under the Skin: Gorgeous, with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a while. But I’m reading the book and I have some reservations about the directions this adaptation chose to take, both in regard to the gendering of its protagonist and in its refusal to provide me visuals of space llamas with prehensile tails. I will be writing about it at length eventually. Someday. Probably.

 

Only Lovers Left Alive: Lovely and funny and dark and quiet and beautiful. There was wine, and it made me giggly, but I think I’d have laughed through this anyway. I’d like to watch it again before attempting any further thought, though.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel: As tends to happen to me with Wes Anderson films I loved every moment of this while I was watching it, immediately ceased to have feelings about it once I’d left the theatre, and subsequently missed the large quantities of online conversation about it and I am okay with this.

 

A Story of Children and Film: This was lovely; Mark Cousins having thoughts on children in film, tied (loosely) together by his own niece and nephew and their reaction to the camera. As with all such collections (or canons, though I don’t think Cousins is trying to do that) there was a certain amount of indignant “but what about?” on behalf of things one loved that had been left out. But it was smart, and charming and I don’t even mind that much that it left most of my anarchic school story films out.

 

Transcendence: I’ll be writing more about this. It was mostly very bad, redeemed only by the prettiness of its cinematography and of many of its actors.

 

300: Rise of an Empire: The film in which we discover that the evil camp brown people from the first movie a) hate us for our freedom (“us” because I don’t think it ever imagines that a “them” would be watching) b) are not smart enough to be a threat unless led by an evil white person. Said EWP is Eva Green, whose backstory is one of rape and sworn vengeance and who wears a lot of leather in her quest for said vengeance. It is not a movie with many redeeming qualities. It is quite pretty, I suppose. At one point during a battle at sea a horse gallops from one barge to another. And there is the least sexy sex scene any of us had ever seen. And Eva Green dies just as Lena Headey boards the ship on which she is, so that not only is there no chance of this movie ever passing the Bechdel test (hollow laugh), but it almost feels as if that fact is being thrown in the audience’s face.

 

Drinking Buddies: Pleasant, and Olivia Wilde’s face is very nice, and she and guy-from-New-Girl turned me into my father and I spent much of the film wondering if it was really so hard to comb your hair and make your bed.

 

Super 8: I realise I was supposed to be thinking about E.T., but I was thinking about Home Movies instead and that made it better. This is very much a Spielberg tribute movie, and it comes with all the flaws of such a thing, but it (and its film-within-a-film) made me happy.

 

We Are The Best: I WATCHED THIS TODAY AND I WANT TO ADOPT EVERYONE.