Archive for ‘Books read in 2016’

April 2, 2016

March Reading

(Things I read in March)


Andaleeb Wajid, No Time For Goodbyes: Many words about this are available here.

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, Split: See above.

Kim Fu, For Today I Am A Boy: This is richly, gorgeously written, and yet and yet. For Today I Am A Boy is about Audrey, the child of Chinese immigrants (one of them an extra-conservative father with Ideas about masculinity), coming to terms with the fact that she’s a woman. I say this, but it’s not really true–the only time we ever see Audrey, female pronouns and all, is in the epilogue, in a fuzzy future; for the vast majority of the novel she’s going by her masculine-sounding given name (which I’m not using here for reasons). Which might be fine; the long process of someone coming to terms with (and finding ways to think about) their gender is a story, but. A pause here so you can read this Casey Plett piece. Having said all of which, there’s a section towards the end when our protagonist has befriended a young trans man and his friends, and they have all the words and the clear definitions, and Audrey resents this certainty (and perhaps my insistence on using “Audrey” here is a part of that imposition of certainty) and that feeling felt familiar and nuanced and right.

Payal Dhar and Vartika Sharma, A Helping Hand: A series of letters from an unnamed protagonist to the new kid in school, who has a prosthetic hand. For what is clearly A Book About Tolerance it manages not to be cringingly preachy, and the format leaves a lot to the imagination (what is the incident that “happened at lunch,” mentioned more than once?). I wish the title was less “lol, see, because prosthetic hand”, and I wish (as I always do with this subgenre of children’s books) that we actually got to  hear from the person in question, rather than the “normal” kid coping with this intrusion of otherness into daily life. Vartika Sharma’s illustrations are good though.

Robin Stevens, Jolly Foul Play: Who wants a couple thousand words on how the queer subplot in this book is so much less good than the queer subplot in Murder Most Unladylike and why that is? (I exempt the two people at the next table at a restaurant last Saturday; they probably heard all of this.) It is still a very good book though, and still excellent at its main characters and their feelings.

William Mayne, It: Everyone in this book is alarmingly sanguine about being haunted. I first discovered that this was probably a very thesis-relevant book about a year ago, when Nick Campbell did a conference paper on it, and I’m not sure why it has taken me this long to actually read it. It’s a very William Mayne book, in that there are landscapes and churches and dreamlike detachment, and it’s just generally gorgeous.

Sophia McDougall, Space Hostages: I like this for the reasons I liked Mars Evacuees, the first book. I also rolled my eyes at a throwaway line about the protagonist’s knowledge of Hindi, and while McDougall’s clearly trying to avoid the “Earth-kids-swoop-in-and-save-oppressed-natives” trope in scenes later in the book (by having the natives do quite a bit themselves), the odour of said trope and its history for me permeated the whole episode anyway. But apart from that. This had genuinely delightful aliens, and a ship who is finding herself (can the sequels just be about this spaceship travelling across space by herself?) and other good things.

Evelyn Smith, Val Forrest in the Fifth, Milly in the Fifth: I think I’ve said here before that I love how Evelyn Smith does character. Val Forrest herself is just another good schoolgirl, but her spoilt friend Nina is not, and the cool girl who is contemptuous of Nina is not, and the abusive boarding house lady is so impressively poisonous. I think, though, that I like Milly better–it questions lots of basic schoolgirl ethos things (though backtracks in the end by making the girl who does that questioning a fine sportswoman and Loyal To The School), again has poisonous, manipulative characters done well, and most importantly has a timid, not jolly-schoolgirl-ish heroine who likes looking at, and being fascinated by, other girls.

Amandla Stenberg , Sebastian A. Jones, Ashley A. Woods, Darrell May, Niobe: She is Life (issue 2): Everything I said about the first volume a couple of months ago still holds true–the story and the world are unfolding, slowly; the artwork continues to be very beautiful; I’m still not sure what’s going on but continue to be fascinated anyway.



March 2, 2016

February Reading

Stella Gibbons, Pure Juliet: Deserves a longer piece of writing, though it’s far (far) from being a good example of a Stella Gibbons book. Nice to have things to add to the Gauche Girl Canon though.

Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree: I am writing about this for elsewhere and will link when it is up– I liked it and am glad it won the Costa award, and books about Victorian crises of faith (and dinosaurs) are always going to win me over. But does it have the emotional depth of Cuckoo Song? (I don’t think it does.)

Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings: Okay, so big sweeping epic empire/revolution story with multiple viewpoints is probably a good thing; I like that this book is written as a history; I like that its gods are familiar and that its humans make foolish mistakes for probable reasons (that too feels like history, except maybe not the gods bit). But why is it so LONG?

Ayesha Tariq, Sarah: The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter: This is a graphic … novel, I suppose, though it’s not really; novels imply plot and progress and part of Tariq’s point is precisely a lack of those things. And so our protagonist continues to deal with unthinking sexism, attempts at arranged marriage, men who expect her to cook for them in the middle of the night, a general lack of freedom, gropey uncles. And it’s all well-observed, though full of clunky things like people earnestly telling other people “we live in a male-dominated society”. Obviously there’s no reason to assume that the target audience is roughly the same age as the protagonist, but it does feel surprisingly young–and for a book about suppressed anger, it feels rather insipid.

Samit Basu and Sunaina Coelho. The Adventures of Stoob: Testing Times: I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Ranjit Lal, The Tigers of Taboo Valley: See above.

Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse: Reading this in the context of other recent things, I’m astonished no one’s ever written a substantive piece comparing it to Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. The bare bones of the stories—children in a secluded valley trying to come to terms with horrible events in their histories; particular interpersonal relationships that keep going wrong, generation after generation, in a cycle that needs to be broken—are close to identical, though their resolutions, and their tones, could not be more different. I was a little disappointed by Goudge’s book, though; though there are glimpses of wider, deeper tragedy and joy, they are only glimpses for me (meanwhile the idealised valley itself felt rather too bucolic). Kari Sperring writes here about Goudge’s work and liminality, and I wish I had a stronger sense of that in this particular book.

Shabnam Minwalla, The Strange Haunting of Model High School: I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Geeta Dharmarajan and Ludmilla Chakrabarty, On the tip of a pin was …: see above.

Sowmya Rajendran and Satwik Gade, Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why: see above

William Mayne, The Member for the Marsh: Lovely in mood and character, and everyone just matter-of-factly enters into each other’s own particular games and interests, and there’s a dragon but not really, and a dog has probably died, but is mourned and moved on from. It’s good, but A Swarm in May was published the year before it, and A Grass Rope the year after and in that context it is very much Lesser Mayne.

Robin Stevens, The Case of the Blue Violet: I don’t know that this counts as a “book” (it’s very short, probably under 5000 words) but I bought it separately and it exists as a unique entity in my kindle library, so there we are. It’s enjoyable, though easily solved; I was more interested in the extract from the next book which made up about a third of this. [Note: there’s an older Wells and Wong short story here.]

Katherine Woodfine, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow: Over the past year I’ve seen this book recommended several times to readers who like Robin Stevens’s series—the commonality, presumably, being “Edwardians + mystery!” It is actually completely different, and does completely different things—rather than the interiority, the humour, and the complex characterisation of Stevens’s books Woodfine gives us a much more straightforward adventure story in a really sumptuous, visual setting. Both authors are intertextual, though in different ways; Woodfine has a major character with a deep devotion to Boy’s Own adventures of the sort that we’re reading. Plus her protagonist’s background is very A Little Princess; a wealthy young woman whose dead father’s fortune was made in the (by now former) empire (in South Africa) has been mysteriously denied her inheritance and is forced to work. Presumably we’re going to discover more over the course of the later book/s in the series. For now, this was enjoyable, if rather superficial.

Snigdha Poonam, Lady Singham’s Mission Against Love: Only a separate “book” for the reasons the Robin Stevens book mentioned above is one; though if anything, this is longer. It was one of the runners up for the Bodley Head essay prize, published in its own little ebook (as were the other runner up and the winner). I love Snigdha Poonam’s writing–it’s observant and restrained and generous–and I’m looking forward to the book of which I’m told this is a modified extract.

Anil Menon and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, Manikantan Has Enough: Available in its entirety here. What I like about this is that in a small space it really effectively dramatises a particular childhood frustration (i.e. a frustration you don’t admit to as an adult); people keep nagging at you and going on and on and on and also there are elephants and pakodas and Periyar, of which I have fond memories.



February 1, 2016

January Reading

Look at all the books I read this month! …

… a regency romance and a comic. Putting words into my eyes is currently not a thing I enjoy at all. I’m taking some time off in February, and am hoping I’ll magically find myself inhaling and wanting to talk about books as a result.


Loretta Chase, Dukes Prefer Blondes: Hm. I’m not a big fan of the Dressmakers series–Chase is always going to be a good writer, but what I value most in her is her humour, and these books are relatively short on that. This was a nice evening’s read, but I can’t imagine wanting to return to it as I would many of her other books. It’s also rather suggestive of the limitations (boundaries? Limitations sounds inherently negative) of the form; the minute you discover that the un-titled, not-rich hero has a titled cousin, you just know he’s going to inherit the dukedom, even if the title hadn’t (why that title? it’s a poor title) pretty much told you this anyway.

Woods NiobeSebastian A. Jones, Amandla Stenberg, Ashley A. Woods, Darrell May, Hyoung Taek Nam, Joshua Cozine, Niobe: She Is Life #1:  I don’t read comics enough until they’re pressed on me by friends who know what I’ll like, and when I do they’re usually a) in trade form and b) things for which I already have some context. So it’s possible that my general sense that I have no idea what is happening in this story is normal for people who start reading new series in single issues that are so short that there’s not much time to find out. I’m only really reading it because the thought of Amandla Stenberg doing a fantasy comic intrigued me. However.

I’ve written elsewhere, I think, of how often reading fantasy in India in the 90s was a process full of gaps; you’d start a series in medias res, would quite likely never read the next (or the last) book, and if your interest in fantasy is in estrangement and being unsettled (and not in the Learning All The Things And Filling In All The Gaps) this is a great initiation into the genre. Reading Niobe reminded me very much of that feeling–it’s proper epic fantasy; there are a lot of people (and gods?) with important ancestries and destinies being very angry about things I don’t understand yet, but I am entirely sucked in, am planning to read Jones’s The Untamed (which, I understand, is set in this world and to which this is a sort of sequel), and am looking forward to the next issue (which I’m told will be out at the end of the month). Plus Ashley A. Woods’s art is gorgeous.