February Short Book Reviews

10+ books this month, and since that obviously makes too short a post, I have added features – where the book was acquired and what I thought of the cover. If I think of any more categories (or there are any suggestions which amuse me sufficiently) I may eventually be able to reduce these monthly reviews to a formulaic checklist which would at least make it more likely for me to get them out early in the month.  Next months’ review post will be shorter, with the unfortunate consequence that you won’t get to hear about Regency gentleman fighting with anacondas in Ceylon (for real! published before Pride and Prejudice! How have I gone this long without Gothic horror!) until after April.

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March short book reviews

Illustrating Children’s Books – Salisbury. Part how-to, part survey, beautifully illustrated and quite inspiring.

The Great Hunger – Cecil Woodham Smith. A compelling and illuminating history of the Irish potato famine, pulling in the history of Ireland, England, Europe and America, issues of politics, theories of trade, medical knowledge, economics, personalities, revolution and an immense, relentless and lingering tragedy. This was a more harrowing read than her The Reason Why, but an equally wide-ranging and thought-provoking book.

The Dolphin Crossing – Jill Paton Walsh. I hadn’t read this short novel for years. It is a story of two high school boys who take a boat and join the relief of Dunkirk, and is both more innocent and more moving than I remembered.

Miracle and other Christmas Stories – Connie Willis. On the one hand it was Christmas stories, and on the other – Connie Willis! The scales tipped onto the side of Connie Willis, so I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed it: ghosts and detectives and alien invasions and family newsletters and love stories and a thoughtful introduction and very useful appendices of recommended Christmas books and movies.

Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick. I’m sure I’d read this before, but surely I would have remembered the ‘disemelevatoring’. Simpler and wierder than Bladerunner.

70 Years a Showman – ‘Lord’ George Sanger. This was brilliantly entertaining – the simple, non-literary, anecdotal autobiography of a colourful character, whose career covered the span of Queen Victoria’s reign and features acrobats and magicians, peep shows and escaped lions, wolves in the streets of London, starvation and tricks and battles and pageants and parades, along with some unexpected but interesting observations on the changes in society, law, order, red tape and town planning law during a long life. This edition also had a lyrical and nostalgic introduction by Kenneth Grahame. Like many of the best books, a Lifeline booksale purchase.

The Southern Cross Story – Charles Kingsford Smith. Record setting flights! Death defying feats! Tigers in the jungle! Turkish prisons! Crash landings! Near starvation! Planes disappearing without a trace! Obviously, this was written before his disappearance, but I still tensed up whenever he flew over the Bay of Bengal. A good, interesting, surprisingly level-headed book, and the day after I started it, it was reported that the Lady Southern Cross may have been found.

Early Birds – HC Miller. A memoir of the author’s involvement in aviation from before the first world war. Full of people who have now become names, box-kites, tri-planes designed by quixotic Russian counts, sudden death, unexpected survival, mysterious scarfed socialites, back-yard aviation, daring stunts, barnstorming and cars that could only cross the Blue Ranges if you put them in reverse and pushed. Miller is much more of a raconteur than Kingsford Smith.

Avalon High – Meg Cabot. Like The Dark is Rising with !lipgloss! and !cute! !boys!. Arthurian romance in an American highschool.

Victoria and the Rogue – Meg Cabot. Few of the things I like in my regencies and most of the things I don’t like in my romances. Not my favourite Cabot.

Also: Exodus, John, Job, Luke, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians

Introducing Characters – Bellwether

Gillian has started a series of posts on on how books introduce characters – beginning with Sheri S. Tepper’s The Fresco. I have not read this book, and am still recovering from Beauty, but I now want to read this solely because of Gillian’s post on how it introduces a character without actually having anyone on stage.

Posts and discussions like this make me want to read books from new angles, so instead of doing my January Movie Reviews or the summary of Travel Journal Practices as promised or introducing you to Yorick the Impoverished, or wailing about how devastated I am at the rejection of a story (well, more a sort of “I told you so” mood of fidgety discontent because I agree with the editor, but want to submit to something else now), I am thinking about Connie Willis’ Bellwether, which I reread last month and reviewed briefly in this post.

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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?