30 January 2005

January's Book Report

The Reed Book of Maori Mythology by A W Reed, revised by R Calman. Interesting material but a bit dry as the book is more about the structure and variations in the stories than the telling of them.

Innocents Aboard by Gene Wolfe. Short stories, mainly about ghosts and horrific things. A few really good ones, mostly just pretty good.

The Queen of the South by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Probably his worst (maybe I should say least good?) novel. Not because it's bad but because it's not that interesting. A study of drug dealers just isn't anywhere like as much fun as a study of, for example, book collectors and conspiracy (The Club Dumas), fencing and Spanish nationalism (The Fencing Master), odd Catholic plots (The Seville Communion) or treasure hunting (The Nautical Chart). Still well written, but very brutal in parts. The first few chapters are harrowing and I don't say that lightly.

How To Read A French Fry by Russ Parsons. Explanations of how some aspects of cooking work, at the level of the chemistry behind it all. Fascinating. Also, several small tips that are probably good to know, like 'never refridgerate tomatoes' and also why you should or should not do them. I think it might be worth actually buying this, as I am bound to forget all the important tips. Also has a bunch of recipes (illustrating the aspects of cooking he just explained), some of which look pretty tempting.

Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey. Travel book about a guy and his son visiting Japan to try and understand anime and other Japanese pop culture. Fun.

Underground London by Stephen Smith. A travel book about the odd stuff buried under London. Not really in depth, but a lot of neat stories. And he has managed to find some really weird things down there. Still, there are a lot of tangents in here and often the chapters promise more than is delivered. For example, his chapter on secret government tunnels under London ends up mainly being a lot of rumours because he couldn't actually get into any of them.

Rescuing The Spectacled Bear by Stephen Fry. Fun, coffee-table travel book to accompany a documentary he presented about helping out distressed Chilean bears. I particularly liked his thoughts roughing it, i.e. that he doesn't but instead likes to stay in five star hotels and drink cocktails. Unusually sensible attitude from a travel writer.

In The Earth Abides The Flame by Russell Kirkpatrick. Second volume of the "Fires of Heaven" trilogy and better than the first. He seems to be building up a bit of a Christian theological argument in there (characters discussing the argument from evil, treacherous secular characters, and so forth). A bit disturbing if he is, like C S Lewis, trying to be evangelical. Bleah. Still, treating it as pure fantasy, damn good. There's also some discussion of belief without evidence (faith) and why you should... which is a bit odd given that the Most High in that world is beginning to make his actual existence pretty obvious, if you ask me.

Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell. Very good. A bit odd, for him, as it is really a murder mystery. Of course, it's an adventure story as well. The one down side is a rather detailed (and thus gruesome) description of some hangings at Newgate in the very first chapter. But, once past that, a damn good story.

The Snow by Adam Roberts. Interesting, weird apocalypse novel. I can't say much about it without spoilage, unfortunately. Civilisation dies when it just starts snowing and doesn't stop for years. Told as a collection of documents mainly focussing on a particular character and the people she meets over the years during and following the snow. Fascinating.

The Roof of Voyaging by Garry Kilworth. Fantasy novel based on Polynesian mythology. A much easier read than the academic work on Maori mythology at the top of this list. Very good - it's nice to read a fantasy novel that draws so heavily on a less familiar set of stories. Good.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jr. Jose Marzan (Graphic novel, first book). Absolutely stunningly good comic, this one. Follows the story of the one man (and his monkey) who survive the sudden death of all male mammals in the world. This is my second time reading it through and it's at least as good as the first. It's a deeply layered comic with a lot of little things that are significant the second time. Vaughan's craftsmanship in this story is almost annoying, it's so good. But it never seems to get too pretentious or too implausible. Of course, the starting point is pretty implausible but the main characters are very believeable in their reactions to what happens. Some of the people they come up against are less so, but these are clearly there for the main people to react to. Read these comics.

Equal Rites and Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. Rereading comic novels when ill is something I do. These two, I don't rate so high but all the ones I like more I have read too recently.

Raymond Chandler by Tom Hiney. A good biography. Chandler had a shitty life, it's no surprise that his books are so cynical. It was an interesting life, though, and Hiney does a good job of making plausible connections between Chandler's life and writing.

The Lightstone by David Zindell. Another re-read. This one due to running out of books, and also because the final one in the trilogy is due out in a few months. It's a complex book, and I can never remember what happened in it, so I expect not to understand number three at all if I haven't read them recently. Good enough to be worth that work.

No comments: