January Short Book Reviews

Bellwether – Connie Willis. This was a reread, aloud to my parents. It’s just a good book – small and light but entertaining and endearing, with scientist and statisticians and sheep and iced tea and 1920s haircuts. I tell people (if they ask) that it isn’t science fiction, because they won’t notice. To science fiction what What’s Up Doc is to musicology, with many laughs and a little romance.

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi. I thought I’d finished this, but I hadn’t read the last two chapters. This is an autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in Iran and Austria, with a simple, likeable style and covering an emotional range between the very humourous and the very tragic, both rendered more so by the everyday depiction of what (to me) are circumstances very difficult to imagine. My mother had never read a graphic novel, and she cried when she read this one. I laughed aloud, then cried in the bookstore.

Vanishing Acts – Jodi Picoult. Not my style – I was embarrassed to read it on the bus because it might detract from my image : ) An odd book, the settings and styles seem to belong to two different novels which don’t really mesh. The mystic elements intrude rather than complement the rest of the plot, the flowery language used in the depiction of life in gaol jarred and made the attempts at gritty realism seem insincere and unlikely, and the attempts to explore shades of grey sat oddly because it seemed so obvious which way the reader was supposed to read them (a good example of shades of grey is the characters of the adoptive parents in Juno).

The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith. Undecided, although I liked the fact that the eponymous club never actually meets. I have decided that Alexander McCall Smith’s books are a Good Thing solely on the basis of their titles, and I am happy that books called The Kalahari Typing School for Men and Morality for Beautiful Girls exist, so he gets a free pass.

The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson. My first encounter with the gonzo journalist. Still not sure what gonzo means (although I am convinced Gonzo comes from Tatooine), but I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would and from my limited experience with journalist the volume of rum consumed rings about right.

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot. A reread before consigning the books to Karen. Meg Cabot is very light, but with a hyperactive humour that I enjoy, and The Princess Diaries is a well plotted, enjoyable novel with a story that seems like it was just waiting to be written. The later books hold up (mostly because of Lily and the characters’ many Top 10 Lists), but I don’t like them as much, because they start to become Issues books and part of the charm of The Princess Diaries is that the central issue is one which most people are unlikely to every have to deal with directly – I appreciate outrageous premises, a great glorious What If at the centre of the fiction.

The Morning Gift – Eva Ibbotson. I like Eva Ibbotson. I used several of her fantasy novels (The Secret of Platform 13, etc) in my honours thesis, but only discovered her adult, non-fantasy novels last year. I bought A Song For Summer at a Lifeline Booksale and was very impressed and entertained (and also suspect the book was written around the word defenstration). I lent that to my mother and sister, the precedents manager, another solicitor, and two friends. In America, I bought The Secret Countess (a.k.a. The Countess Downstairs) and it has also done the rounds. I am banned from buying The Star of Kazan because the precedents manager wants to buy it and lend it to me. And then I was delighted to find my little sister, whose tastes in books rarely overlap mine, had bought The Morning Gift. I was third in line. It is not my favourite (that remains in order of reading) but it has the same marvelous light humour, an insight into the situation of the exile, endearing secondary characters, admirable main characters, handsome archaeology professors, musicians and communities being rebuilt. The good end happily and the bad get what they deserve. I wish someone would make miniseries of these novels.

March of the Wooden Soldiers (Fables Vol. 4). The lands of legend and fairytale have been overrun by the mysterious Adversary, and the refugees maintain a community in exile in the middle of New York: Fabletown, where the mayor is King Cole, his deputy is Snow White (my favourite graphic novel heroine at the moment, and the prettiest) and Bigby (as in B.B. Wolf), in human form, is the police department (and shares much of Vime’s appeal). In this volume, the forces of the Adversary reach our world, and there is blood in the streets. I remembered how much I liked this series when I saw how the version of Robin Hood in the battle in the first episode acted exactly like Robin Hood should – cocky and cheeky and arrogant and ultimately bested by Britomart and getting a taste of his own medicine. The losses were heartrending, the characters further developed, and one major relationship outed with a minimum of fanfare.

They’re a Wierd Mob – Nino Culotta. This novel was published in the early ’60s and is the story of Nino Culotta’s arrival in Australia as an Italian journalist, his inability to understand Australian (although his English is excellent), his employment as a brickie’s labourer, his many misunderstandings, friendships and eventual settlement as an Australian with an Australian wife who tries to eat spaghetti with a spoon. I read it out loud to my father and we both enjoyed it a great deal. It’s the Sydney of his childhood and my history lessons, and an Australia that is recognisable but vastly altered (for one thing, non-canned spaghetti is no longer considered an exotic dish!)

Also: Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Questions? Comments? Disagreements? Serious objections to my style of review?

15 thoughts on “January Short Book Reviews

  1. I like the short reviews but that might be because it also allows you talk about so many different types of books in one spot! Yay to Bellwether, Persepolis and Cabot! I think I also like McCall Smith’s titles and ideas more than the actual stories themselves.

    Fables…I have a niggling suspicion that I have heard good things about this series and forgot about them. Sound interesting.

    I love Eva Ibbotson, and thought I had read The Morning Gift, but upon buying a copy discovered, to my delight, that I hadn’t read it! It was lovely. Have you read Magic Flutes yet? That’s one of my favourite Ibbotson romances.

  2. /Karen/ – RE Persepolis: Because I read those parts in the bookstore first : )

    Emmaco – I agree about McCall Smith (and do you whether he is catalogued under M or S?).

    I’m enjoying Fables a lot so far – the way the ideas, which would be cool if the characters were cardboard, gradually become damaged, wonderful people to care about: Snow and Bigby and Boy Blue, especially.

    I haven’t read Magic Flutes, but I will!

  3. It’s like walking into that lolly shop in Harry Potter, reading people write admiringly about books you love, and then pointing out things that you really, really want to read.

    Handsome archaeology professors sound very interesting. I love reading the McCall titles, but haven’t managed a book of his yet. Ibbotson makes me want to go out immediately and eat pastries. I can’t wait for you to lend me that and Fabes and Persepolis, and possibly some Cabot when Karen’s finished with them. I keep forgetting to buy Bellweather and Firewatch by Connie Willis, who is Brilliant.

    Everybody: the next Obernewtyn book is out! “The Stone Key” by Isobelle Carmody.

  4. Aimee:

    Handsome archaeology professors are always interesting. See: Bringing up Baby, Wives and Daughters, Indiana Jones, What’s Up Doc, etc (drawing the definition broadly here).

    Alas, you will have to lay your hand on the Princess Diaries elsewhere (perhaps your school library?) because they are not returning to Qld unless Karen really, really takes offense at them. I do have All American Girl, but I think you read that?

    Have you thought of starting a Flickr account for photos etc? I’ve upgraded to a pro account, but the basic account is free (you can leave comments there then :)

  5. The next Obernewtyn book?! I had given up on seeing one! I’m not sure I quite remember the story so far either (I think I started reading these in 1992!)

    Surely McCall Smith would be filed under S? It’s not a hyphenated name so think you would go for the last one…

  6. I need to brush up on my Carmody or risk being left out of this conversation!

    I agree, Emma, except that it feels like it should be a hyphenated name because the McCall is also a surname. It wouldn’t bother me if it were “Alexander Paul Smith”. Actually, it shouldn’t bother me at all since my middle name is a surname… One of those little things that stick in my mind.

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