Archive for ‘Books read in 2015’

January 5, 2016

2015 in numbers and broad generalisations

Broad generalisation 1.:

Well it’s been a pretty shit year, hasn’t it? Good things happened (people I love got engaged or married, or had babies or achieved book deals or degrees), but wow, on a macro level 2015 was bad.

 

Disclaimer:

Before the numbers, the bit where I point out that the numbers are wrong. I made a decision this year to leave out rereads (I reread for comfort the way real people watch TV, and obviously my PhD work often requires me to go back to a book several times) in my reading round-ups; I made an exception for books where those rereads “mark a huge change in how I read the book in question”, but that’s an arbitrary judgement too. And obviously I read parts of books (anthologies, collections, plus there are several books this year that I didn’t finish, and that I plan to return to), short stories, literary theory (because thesis), and things on the internet (which you can partly track because of my infrequent Sunday Reading posts).

Over and above this already-wrongness, as it were, the numbers regarding authorial identity are also far from certain– people’s races and genders aren’t always going to be evident; the criteria by which we make those judgements are themselves often deeply flawed (I worry that my gender count might be erasing nonbinary authors, for example, and can’t imagine how I’d reasonably track how many queer authors I read); in any case, I haven’t figured out a reasonable way to take multiple-author or author-illustrator works into account within this framework. The best I can do is therefore to remind you at length (two paragraphs so far!) that these numbers can only ever be approximate.

 

Numbers:

All that being said, as near as I can make it out I read (about) 82 books this year. Of them, (about) 55 were authored by women, (about) 32 were authored by people of colour (of whom [about] 20 were women). Which is not perfect (what would perfect be?) but feels a lot closer to where I want to be than last year did–and though rereads are not counted, I think I did do less rereading than I did last year.

 

Shortlists:

I read two awards shortlists; the Carnegie and Little Rebels (thoughts on individual books at those links). I suspect I’ll be reading the Carnegie shortlist at least in 2016, and if I have access to the Little Rebels shortlisted books will be looking at that as well. However. Both of these shortlists, as far as I could tell at the time, were comprised entirely of white authors and illustrators. This is an issue for me–my work requires me to take an interest in contemporary UK children’s publishing, which currently appears to be so blindingly white (Broad Generalisation 2, except it unfortunately isn’t) that a couple of years of all-white shortlists aren’t treated as a crisis but as the natural order of things. Characters of colour do occasionally pop up, with very mixed results (this isn’t the place to rant about how a mostly white literary establishment is what leads to books like this and this being legitimised, but the thought of how many decent, well-meaning adults must have read them and thought “this is fine” before they ended up on the shortlist is mindboggling). So what’s a reader with a particular interest in the related topics of children’s literature in the UK and canon formation to do?  I’ve cut SFF shortlists out of my life, and that was a good choice, but children’s lit is what I work on and I can’t apply the same solution here.

What I can do, I suppose, is seek out alternatives. I’ve spoken elsewhere about my discomfort with #diversity! campaigns, and I love this Kavita Bhanot essay. But I’ve tied myself to these awards, and for as long as I continue to do so, this is a pledge that I’ll also seek out other contemporary children’s authors and books for every white British or American writer that a shortlist makes me read. And if the Crossword (or Raymond Crossword now, I’m informed) awards put out a children’s shortlist this year, I will be reading that as well.

 

My year in books and film:

The Strange Horizons year in review is up, with a couple of paragraphs from me. Here’s what I said (I have shamelessly replaced links to legit SH reviews to links to my own thoughts, but you should read the SH reviews):

It may not quite be SF, but if you have not yet read Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman), you should probably do so immediately. Other highlights of my year in fiction: Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, and Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium. I loved Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song, shortlisted for the 2015 Carnegie award, and JiHyeon Lee’s Pool, a picture book about a fantastic underwater world. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was a book I had Issues with, but when it was good was intoxicatingly so. And though almost none of the nonfiction I read was new or SF-relevant, Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice Vol. I, edited by Rasheedah Phillips, is a collection I think I’ll be coming back to over and over.

I missed many of the films I wanted to watch, but of those I saw I loved Mad Max: Fury Road and will defend Jupiter Ascending to the death. Avengers: Age of Ultron, meanwhile, convinced me that tolerating the MCU is no longer just artistically/intellectually lazy, but morally abhorrent as well. But perhaps the best pieces of SFF I watched this year were the utopian alternate universes (our world, if our world was good) of Magic Mike XXL and Paddington. One of the virtues of SF is its ability to help us conceive of alternate presents—I suggest that these films did just that in a year when they were sorely needed.

Other favourites: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Danez Smith’s [insert] boy, Uday Prakash’s The Girl with the Golden Parasol, Leela Gandhi’s Affective Communities, Robin Stevens’s Arsenic For Tea. I’m incredibly grateful to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted for giving me a sort of reading experience I very rarely have nowadays. Moviewise, other than the big films I mention above, I loved Girlhood, identified a bit too closely with parts of Appropriate Behaviour, really enjoyed Carol and … I sat through Hard to be a God; that’s got to count for something, right?

Obviously I’m not entirely serious above when I claim Magic Mike XXL as a form of science fiction. But if art is about helping us find ways to navigate the world (Broad Generalisation 3 but let’s assume for the space of this post that it is), and if one of the reasons SFF is important is that it has such scope to do this (Broad Generalisation 4 but see above) the books and films I value most at a time like this (do I need to explain the hundreds of reasons the world is currently bad? are there people existing and moving about in the world thinking “well, that was a fun year! bring on 2016!”?), the ones that feel most radical, are the ones that offer some sense of that.

In May I wrote, of Gill Lewis’s Scarlet Ibis (which subsequently won the Little Rebels award):

There’s a magical moment towards the end of the book in which Scarlet’s new school friends think that she has done something terrible, but then they verify her story (well done, responsible kids!), ascertain that she’s doing something they find morally okay, and then stand by her in solidarity and give her what help they can. There are no mean girls here. Whether they are random employees of the local zoo, interfering but kindly neighbours, teenage boys who have just had a foster sister thrust upon them or primary school students, every person in this world is fundamentally decent; it is possible to ask for help and receive it. As a fantasy fan and a children’s literature fan I end up being presented a lot of literature that insists on confronting the grimdarkness of the world by reproducing it endlessly, and to me Scarlet Ibis felt radical in its goodness. This isn’t escapism, it’s imagining a world as it could be.

There’s something of this sense about Magic Mike XXL, as incongruous as these titles may look together, not just in the men’s attitudes towards women but towards each other as well. None of these worlds are entirely free of badness (Paddington, for example, has imperialism and UKIP), but their niceness still feels central to what I value in them. I don’t fully understand yet how to hold on to this position and also to the importance (moral, transformative, cathartic) of anger; I don’t want to defang us or to suggest that we sit here exchanging platitudes about the importance of kindness while the world burns. If I’ve got a resolution for 2016 (and for my thirties) it’s to be more uncompromising, if anything. And yet.

Or I could have just quoted Kate Schapira, here: “I read more and more not to escape in the often derogatory way that word is used, but to slip the limits on my own habitual knowledge of what is possible, to think of ways of living and, yes, even dying that I could not have thought of on my own.” That.

January 2, 2016

December Reading

I had grand plans, once term ended, to do nothing BUT read and get through a book a day. That didn’t happen (I was lazy, there was a cat, there was someone I’d rather talk to, the cat pushed a Georgette Heyer book off a box and it wasn’t even a Heyer I like much but), but I did manage to read a few things. Here they are; a post with reading statistics and general thoughts on literature and film in 2015 will follow in the next day or so, when I have the headspace for such a thing.

 

Deirdre Sullivan, PrImperfect: I’ve written briefly about the first two books in this series before–I’d been saving this third and final one since I bought it a few months ago. My feelings about it are pretty much the same as they were about the earlier books; it’s pretty good at mental health, at people being quite imperfect and finding ways to love each other, at poor romantic choices (you can do so much better than Robb With Two Bees!); this particular book is interspersed with extracts from Prim’s late mother’s diary and they’re not used to structure the book so much as they are to deepen and complicate Prim’s own life and relationships.Also, there’s Steve the Goblin, who was so familiar that I cringed.

Altaf Tyrewala, Engglishhh: Fictional Dispatches from a Hyperreal Nation: I’ll admit to approaching this with a little bit of But Is It Genre? about me. It’s … not, entirely, though I think one could claim the title story and a couple of the others. What it is is Tyrewala’s continued chronicling of Bombay and some well-deserved trolling of Indian literary circles. Uneven, as are all anthologies; “The Watchman” and “Thirteenth Floor” I particularly appreciated, as well as (for less admirable reasons) particular episodes of the “MmYum’s” section.

Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, Jane, the Fox, and Me: Long-time readers of this blog are presumably aware that I’ve enjoyed Arsenault’s work before. This book is a graphic … short story, really, about Helene, who no longer has any friends, who is teased for being overweight, and who is reading Jane Eyre. It’s gorgeously illustrated, it’s about teenage feelings and body dysphoria and one of my favourite books. Why am I underwhelmed? (But I’m underwhelmed.)

Courtney Milan, Once Upon a Marquess: Oh dear. I started to write about the many reasons this to dislike this book, and trying to explain the major one, and it took up so much space that it is now in a separate post, to be described at length. I’ll link to it when it’s up. For now: I was not a fan.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise: I liked this a lot, and yet I worry that talking about the things that I liked about it might sound like damning with faint praise. It would have been so easy for its city to feel less lived in, its musical choices to feel more self-conscious, its structure (skipping between the past and present) to feel too structured. I liked how its treatment of magic as essentially a teenage phase positioned it as definitely from an adult perspective, while still validating and embracing teenage-ness (and the fine tradition of teenage girls dabbling in magic and things going Horribly Wrong). I liked that Meche did not magically become more tractable, family relationships didn’t always become magically easier and fonder with increased perspective/understanding, and that after all this it is still able to be a fantasy about being pursued by the (now) gorgeous man you loved in school.

Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World: I read this book twice this year; once from May to November, in little bits (it’s a novella, so this is even slower than you’re thinking it is) and then again, in a day, in December. It’s one I’m hoping to read again, and write about at some length–it does things with borders, with genre, with language (and translator Lisa Dillman has clearly done an incredible job). Definitely one of my favourite things this year.

C.H.B Kitchin, Crime at Christmas: Seasonal, golden-age-y, it was alright.

Anne Digby, Me, Jill Shepherd, and the School Camp Adventure: I didn’t know about this series, by Anne Digby (who wrote the Trebizon books) until I came across this one. It opens with the heroine writing a Geography exam and, due to lack of time, cramming all the information she has into one final sentence. I mention this because I had just finished marking a set of essays where this was a common issue (though “lack of time” can hardly have been the excuse there), and so it hit a sore spot. (Reader, I winced.) But grammar and syntax are worthwhile angles from which to approach this book–you might reasonably suppose, from the title, that the story is about the narrator, her friend Jill Robinson, and a school camp adventure. It is not. It is about the narrator, whose name is Jill Robinson, and a school camp adventure. Why title the series thus unless to make a point about grammar? The book itself was fine, I suppose.

Celeste Rita Baker, Back, Belly & Side: Like Suba (here), I found this collection a bit uneven, moving between stories that are brilliant and stories that felt to me rather inconsequential. But the stories that are good are SO good. Like Sofia Samatar (here), I found that my favourite story was the wonderful “Single Entry“.

Salman Rushdie, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights: Are Djinn having a moment? There was the Helene Wecker book a couple of years ago, there’s Solaris’s forthcoming Djinnthology which I look forward to with more trepidation than anticipation, and now there’s Rushdie, turning the philosophical disagreements between Ibn Rushd and Al-Ghazali into a massive supernatural war that spans centuries, with Djinn playing a starring role–though contributing little to the debate. Perfectly fine (though lightweight) in the sections when random supernatural events are exploding into the world, weak and annoying when the whole thing (and nothing about this book suggests a particularly deep theological engagement) is suborned into a trite religion vs rationality debate.

Rasheedah Phillips (ed), Black Quantum Futurism Theory & Practice Vol. I: I should not list this here, probably, because I haven’t finished reading it (I have read most of the individual essays), but then I’m not sure what that would mean in this context. That “practice” in the title is relevant here–I suspect I’m going to be returning to this book constantly over the next few years, and it already feels central to my sense of how I want to think about, and write about SF.

December 5, 2015

November Reading

Plus the previous month’s  list of stuff I was reading slowly, with a couple of new things added to it.

 

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: I’d been reading this on and off for months as an ebook, and it was as good as everyone said (which is spectacularly good); and then I saw the paperback and there is something about the quality of the paper and obviously I had to read it all and it’s glorious.

JiHyeon Lee, Pool: Reviewed here; and beautiful.

Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam, Love in the Anthropocene: I’m … not sure yet what to make of this; I’m underwhelmed; and the book’s foreword and afterword both suggest I’m doing it an injustice. I need more time.

Monica Byrne, The Girl in the Road: A reread, for a Strange Horizons book club which you can find here. On a second read I find I’m still a fan of the sheer energy of the book as well as the refreshing, relatable dickishness of Meena. I also find myself a little more sceptical of things that said energy had previously encouraged me to ignore. The book club was great fun, as ever; and addressed a few questions I don’t see addressed often enough regarding the role of non-white/western critics. I wish we’d had time to get into the gender politics of the book (and particularly the depiction of the one trans character, as I have … reservations) , so I’m hoping someone asks a question in the comments to allow us to get into it.

Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta/The Sun Also Rises: This was work, does work count? It is about dicks and animal cruelty and sads; but I like it better than other Hemingway things.

Daljit Nagra, Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!: Obviously my choice to read this was a politically motivated one. I did write a positively unhinged thing about the machine in question and Tipu Sultan’s legacy, and why the Kohinoor diamond is the Elder Wand and why we should send the royal family into space, but I’m not sure the world is ready for it.

Maria Negroni, Dark Museum: There are short stories that are longer than this book; it’s practically a pamphlet. And yet it’s rich and dense and I am the second owner of this copy (a reviewer we sent it to said she couldn’t take it on at the moment so I’m having a go) and between us we’ve practically underlined and annotated the whole thing.

Joy Chant, Red Moon and Black Mountain: I read this because it’s a British portal fantasy published during the period in which I am academically interested; and also because Erin has spoken well of it. I think it may require a separate post. I don’t know that I can include in my actual thesis, which is very focused (for good reason) on the British children’s fantasy canon–this book has rather faded from memory and I’m not even sure it’s children’s literature, though I could make a decent argument for it. But it’s fascinating; plus I sometimes forget how much I enjoy a certain sort of high fantasy and this was certainly of that sort. .

 

 

November 2, 2015

October Reading

Books I finished in October:

Uday Prakash (trans. Jason Grunebaum), The Girl with the Golden Parasol: I wrote about this for a column, and then added a whole bunch of gushing about all the columns I didn’t write here. It’s a good book, Prakash is a wonderful writer, Grunebaum’s a good translator.

 

Only one book, though.

I’m reading (slowly) W.E.B. Dubois’s Dark Princess, which is reminding me of his genius at nonfiction if it’s not doing much for my opinion of his fiction, Celeste Rita Baker’s Back, Belly and Side, and Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam’s Love in the Anthropocene, along with (theoretically) the other books I said I was reading a couple of monthly round-up posts ago (except in practice I haven’t touched them). I’m hoping to spend Christmas reading under a blanket and maybe getting through some of the TBR pile, if I’m not working. On current form, I expect instead to spend the whole time staring blankly into space.

 

October 3, 2015

September Reading

Not many books, but some good books.

 

Aliette De Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings: I have a whole separate post that I’m not sure what to do with about reviews/responses to this book and The Present Moment in Genre; this is probably not the place for it. Suffice it to say (for now) that I disagree with, for example, Mahvesh Murad in this review (chosen in part because I edited it, and in part because talking to Mahvesh about the book helped me clarify my own ideas to myself) that this is “more importantly … also a story about imperialism, about displacement and belonging,” but that I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism of the book. A thing I do criticise about the book is the pacing, which feels off to me at the beginning. But I really enjoyed the haunting/murder mystery when it got going, and I am very glad of the moment towards the end when Philippe is allowed some proper  Plague On All Your Houses anger.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season: I’m less able to do the balanced “I liked this, I didn’t like this” with The Fifth Season. It starts out dizzyingly, intoxicatingly good, sometimes lives up to that through the rest of the book, often is unflinching and nauseating, sometimes is only quite good (which itself is infuriating, considering what it is when it’s at its best), there’s a lot of playing with perspective and style. There are things it does brilliantly, there are other things I really wish it didn’t do at all, and when I attempted to rant about it to a friend I found myself arguing against the novel as a form, which says something about the book, probably. Also, I have a fondness for inexplicable obelisks as an SFFnal trope.

John Gordon, The Giant Under the Snow: Work, and enjoyable. It pleases me that the protagonist is called Jonk, and that it (like so many surprisingly powerful books from its era) feels so oddly rough and unfinished. Also, the leather men things are terrifying.

Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown (and also a Spirits Abroad reread): Reviews of both forthcoming (in different publications, no less!); I genuinely enjoyed them both.

Phillipa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden: Work, still enjoyable, I’d forgotten how central the sibling relationship was to the whole.

Mavis Doriel Hay, Death on the Cherwell: 1930s crime novel set in a fictional women’s college in Oxford. It is no Gaudy Night and its murder is very solveable; on the other hand, it is funny, and has idiotically plucky undergrads (of both genders) amateur-detecting, and refusing to actually buy books in Blackwells when they could just sit there and, like, read them, and boys nagging their friends to buy their self-pubbed poetry chapbooks, and in short I was charmed.

September 3, 2015

August Reading

Leaving out rereads for comfort and things I’m rereading for the nth time for my thesis, this is the sum of my reading  in August. I am also working my way very slowly through Jessie Greengrass’s An Account of The Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It, John Gordon’s The Giant Under the Snow, and Annie Zaidi’s edited anthology Unbound, but reading has been very, very slow.

 

Penelope Lively, The House at Norham Gardens: I love the feel of this book–the prose, the quiet interiority of it, everything. What I don’t like about it (and I don’t know to what extent this is the result of reading it for work rather than for itself) is its sense of aboutness–it feels very much a book About Memory and About PostImperial Britain in ways that  reduce its potential to be more than those things. But again, possibly this is more my fault (or the fault of the context in which I’m reading) than the book’s. It is still gorgeous, though.

Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown: I was worried about reading this one because Raising Steam was terrible, in nails-down-chalkboard ways of jarringly bad. The Shepherd’s Crown is certainly far, far better than that– and a good Last Book in the ways it attempts to tie things up, marry existing plot threads, and generally create an impression of things ending (and things beginning). And it’s about old men and women and happy deaths in ways that could easily feel manipulative but (to me) did not. What I’m not sure about is whether it’s a good Discworld book, and whether, considering that its final act is a version of the final acts of the last two , possibly three, Tiffany Aching books, it counts as a good book in this sub-series. But I’m glad I could enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

August 3, 2015

July Reading

I’m still having trouble reading actual books; at the moment I have, unfinished, Indra Das’s The Devourers, Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceeding the End of the World, Andrea Hairston’s Lonely Stardust, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Sarah Tolmie’s NoFood, and B. Catling’s The Vorrh; and these are all things I want to read, and some of them I love already and yet. It’s probably the largest number of books I’ve ever had on the go at once, and it’s getting a bit embarrassing.

Most of the reading I did manage to do this month was work-related (and most of it rereads); hence the distinctly mid-century-British-ness of this list. Still.

 

Mary Norton, The Borrowers, The Borrowers Afield: I have so many things I want to say about these books, particularly the first. Some of them aren’t even about empire, though it’s more littered with imperial detritus than I could have imagined. Will possibly be writing more, but after the last few months of struggling to write, perhaps it’s best not to even suggest it.

Rupa Gulab, Daddy Come Lately: Middle-Grade-ish book about a child who learns that her parents are divorced, that her dad’s moving back to town, that her mother has been keeping the fact of her existence secret. It’s all rather melodramatic, and there are things it does well, but (in a future column, maybe) there are several things about it that make me roll my eyes.

Robin Stevens, First Class Murder: The most recent Wells and Wong book (I wish the publisher would make up their minds whether these were the Wells and Wong mysteries or Murder Most Unladylike mysteries; they’ve been very inconsistent)–and a locked room (cabin) murder on the Orient Express. It’s set shortly after the publication of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which Daisy Wells has of course read, and so this is more directly intertextual than even the first book in the series. It’s lacking some of the weight that the first two have–both those earlier books switch easily between  charming golden-age pastiche and actual human feeling, this was mostly just the former. Which still made it an utter joy to read.

Monica Dickens, The House At World’s End: I saw that this was a 1970 book about a family having adventures in a huge house and thought it was more relevant to my work than it turned out to be. Not the waste of  time it might have been, though, because there’s a lot about this that I really liked–the slight off-kilter-ness of the family (I described it as Nesbittish, early on) and of the language, the earnest, know-it-all girl with badly thought out ideas, the weird lack of consequences to any of the children’s actions, the sudden, occasional reminder that these children are grieving and badly supervised. I don’t know if I have the time to hunt down and read the rest of the series at this point, but maybe omeday.

T.H. White, Mistress Masham’s Repose: This is good, and it is funny and biting and honest and has these moments that just are T.H. White–like the throwaway detail of the vicar who always chooses the nastiest cake at teatime. It’s also annoyingly hard not to reduce to allegory.

Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe: I think I love this a bit less than last time I read it, though it’s still very good.

E.E. Cowper, Camilla’s Castle: Felt a bit inconsequential. Run down castle in almost-Ruritanian space, large family fallen on hard times (and equipped with at least one very precocious child), smuggling, English girls who have honour, foreigners who don’t (but are at least relatively upper-class)–it takes all the tropes of its genre and … doesn’t do very much with them.

Joan Aiken, The Five-Minute Marriage: You know (if you’ve been here longer than five minutes) that I love Aiken, and that I love regencies. And yet, having read one of Aiken’s Austen-sequels and chosen to steer well clear of the others, I know that there are areas of her work I’m better off not reading. I just can’t decide whether this original romance is one of them. I find romances featuring sardonic misogynists (you don’t understand, a woman hurt him once!), gentlewomen who have to (horrors) earn their living despite being obviously better than the working classes, and fake marriages all very satisfying and comforting as romance tropes, however deplorable they may be in real life and the book provides all of these, alongside attempted murder and duels on slippery roofs (do they not know about terraces? complained my friend Dala). And yet it’s leaden, there’s no humour or even charm, and this is a genre where at least one of those things is necessary. It’s no Heyer, is what I’m saying. It’s not even bad Heyer, I mean Regency Buck is better. And yet, I needed a comforting regency romance and I suppose I got one, so I’m not going to condemn it entirely.

James Tiptree Jr, The Starry Rift: I’ll be discussing this as part of a Strange Horizons book club next month. But unrelated to anything I might say there: I’ve discovered that  “The Only Neat Thing To Do” was published in the month of my birth. I’m always particularly fond of books that are the same age as me (the other stories, and the book as a whole, were published the year after, but I’m claiming this one anyway).

July 5, 2015

June Reading

June was not a good month.  I started many books and did not finish them; my house and body broke; I did not have room in my head for reading.

 

 

Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous With Rama: I hadn’t read this since my teens, when I dutifully read my way through (part of) the SF canon. I’d forgotten almost everything about it except the rather clumsy “we are now referring to a historical parallel!” moments that felt like they must be directed at an audience that existed in the book’s present, since surely a 1970s one couldn’t be that spectacularly ignorant of the last couple of centuries’ history. I’d forgotten (or not realised) how dry it was, in the best of ways. I reread it for this, and this time I liked it a lot.

Frances Hardinge, Cuckoo Song: This was very, very good and I wrote about it here.

Sally Gardner and David Roberts, Tinder: This was quite good and I wrote about it at the link above.

 

June 2, 2015

May Reading

Books! Carnegie books, other books. In addition to these I’m partway through Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World and Indra Das’s The Devourers, but May has gone by alarmingly quickly.

 

Geraldine McCaughrean, The Middle of Nowhere: (Read as part of this year’s Carnegie shadowing) The early parts of this book would make for a fantastic horror movie. There are bits and pieces in the later parts that would also make for good things. As a whole, it’s underwhelming, rather dull, and I find its treatment of history’s good and bad actors trite.

Tanya Landman, Buffalo Soldier: (Also part of the Carnegie shadowing project).This is a lot better than it might have been, considering the horrors we were subjected to last year. I was never really gripped though, and I find the later parts of the book abrupt and rather disappointing (and I’m talking about this elsewhere, I know, but I WISH I was seeing more books where characters’ political opinions were a bit less about their personal feelings for individuals and more … political).

Jenny Offill and Chris Applehans, Sparky!: Jenny Offill wrote a children’s book! About a sloth! Called Sparky! That does nothing because it is a sloth! I knew, vaguely, that Offill had written children’s books, but I’d never come across any and am used to thinking of her in the context of Dept. of Speculation (the Literary World’s narrative of her seems broadly to be that she wrote her first book, then spent a few years silent, then produced her second in 2014), so this still came as a big surprise to me. Sparky! is great–it’s dryly funny and has a genuine warmth to it but is also filled with long silences, and Applehans (whose work I’d also never come across before)’s illustrations remind me a little bit of Jon Klassen. So good.

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals (vol I): I’ve been hearing how great this series is for a long, long time now, and I’ve had this first volume for months. Okay. You were all right. It is very good.

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer: I wrote about this here, and it is gorgeous.

P.G. Wodehouse, Sam the Sudden: It’s getting rarer and rarer to find an entire Wodehouse novel that I haven’t read, but the Everyman reissues over the past few years have made it slightly more possible. I picked this one up at a book fair last month, read it on a sick day recently, and it’s very definitely Lesser Wodehouse; charming, impulsive young man is less charming than usual, beautiful, sensible girl next door is also less so than usual (though for once it’s nice to have a Wodehouse heroine object to having the hero rush in and paw at her?), &c. Set against that are some excellent Soapy and Mrs Molloy and Chimp Adair moments, and also lots of Lord Tilbury, the Rupert Murdoch of the Wodehouse world. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not exactly a classic.

Elizabeth Laird, The Fastest Boy in the World: Another Carnegie book that I was wary of because last years shortlist was so awful at the one book set in Africa. This one’s about a boy who likes to run, in Ethiopia, and it manages to take Mysterious Relatives Concealing Something, Granddad’s Secret Past, Ethiopian history, deaths in the family, and running and somehow turn the whole into something quite inconsequential and low-stakes. Which is an achievement of a sort, I suppose.

Naomi Novik, Uprooted: I’m writing about this elsewhere, and I’m still a bit confused about what makes it so good. Because it is. It’s patchy, and unashamedly trope-y and there are sections (the forest bits in particular) where I couldn’t help but think of other authors whose prose would be more suited to this in my head but it is so satisfying, and so good at women caring about (and being angry at) one another, and at protecting people who need it, and other kind, real things. And it is a book that gets that sometimes you want your teenage heroine to be not pretty but have special powers and eventually a relationship with a grumpy older wizard. Satisfying, as I say. Possibly even fulfilling.

Brian Conaghan, When Mr Dog Bites: Another Carnegie book (only two left! she gasped, relieved). This one has more meat to it than some of the others and for that reason alone I quite enjoyed reading it. Unfortunately this meant it also managed to do many more things to annoy me than they, merely being dull, did.

John Conway, C. M. Kosemen and Darren Naish, All Yesterdays: Dinosaurs! I really enjoyed this, and will be putting my column about it up soon.

 

 

May 6, 2015

April Reading

April involved quite a bit of thesis work and I fear most of my reading is very obviously an escape from that. I also read the whole of one children’s book shortlist and started on another.

 

E.M. Channon, Expelled from St. Madern’s: This is the weirdest school story. There’s a central mystery, a dark, seemingly omnipotent bully, and the whole thing turns into a story of obsessive love that is treated quite matter of factly by the people in the book’s universe. I’m not sure what to make of it, and yet I like it very much. (It shows up in this column, but gets less space than it deserves.)

Eloisa James, Three Weeks With Lady X, Four Nights with The Duke: Enjoyable, not particularly memorable. The second does rather set up the necessity of a sequel (which I will read) because it leaves an attractive supporting character unattached and that’s how these things work.

Sarah Crossan, Apple and Rain: Read as part of my Carnegie shadowing project. It made for a pleasant few hours’ reading, but is rather lightweight and felt so familiar (I’ll be blogging about this eventually) that I’m really not convinced it’s award-worthy.

Kei Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion: I’m trying to read recent collections of poetry at least semi-regularly, though I’m terrible at expressing how I think about them. Miller’s book didn’t exactly disappoint me (and I think disappointment would be an unfair reaction to have towards it in any case), but it looked like something I would love and I bounced off it a little instead. I might need to return to this in another season.

Sarah Hall, The Wolf Border: Yes, Good. I’m still processing my own thoughts on what this book makes of landscape and family and motherhood and presumably at some point I’ll have something more coherent–I’ve got some notes for a short piece linking what Adam Roberts has called the strange pastoral, and this book, and the most recent Ishiguro, and climate change and national identity, and perhaps that will be written soon. For now, Good.

Geeta Dharamarajan and Wen Hsu, How to Weigh an Elephant: Still very cute, and part of this column on elephants and feminist children’s books.

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit: Terribly misleading. Column forthcoming.

Anne Booth, Girl With a White Dog: Read as part of a Little Rebels prize shadowing project. More here.

Bernard Ashley, Nadine Dreams of Home: Also part of the Little Rebels shadowing.

Mel Elliott, Pearl Power: See above.

Chris Haughton, Shh, We Have a Plan: See above.

Craig Pomranz and Margaret Chamberlain, Made by Raffi: See above.

Jessica Shepherd, Grandma: See above.

Joan Lingard, Trouble on Cable Street: See above.

Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis: See above.

Anne Gracie, The Perfect Rake/Waltz/Stranger/Kiss series: I blame Keguro for my need for historical romance this month. Inoffensive regencies for the most part–The Perfect Waltz does the annoying thing where there’s an attempt to comment on things like the prevalence of child labour at the time, and therefore the book has to rely on our willingness to think its hero, also an employer of children, is palatable because he’s less exploitative than others. The Perfect Kiss has its protagonists have sex for the first time in a forest pond, which sounds very unhygienic.

Carla Kelly, Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career: Contains Shakespeare geeks, a protagonist who crossdresses so she can go to the library and do research (see, these are the adventure stories I want), women who are genuinely furious about sexism and how it renders them and their choices irrelevant–presumably these are why the friend who recommended it to me did so in the first place. But it undoes some of that work later on, and I’m not sure why this isn’t a straight up romantic comedy (think Heyer or one of the better Julia Quinn books) because surely that form would suit it better.