Unseemly Science – Rod Duncan

Stored as Fantasy in the library, this is fabulous Steam Punk. Not only that, but a mystery in a misogynistic society where nearly all the main players are women, who don’t spend their time mooning over men.

Set in the East Midlands, during an era when it is somewhat colder than it is in real life, to such an extent that I ended up searching for Rod Duncan to find out where he lives. Its Leicester, so I assume he was deliberately economical with reality.

Elizabeth and Julie make compelling heroines, facing a complex criminal and political network which they have to unpick, making this a compelling page-turner of a novel. Even the antagonists are fully-formed characters with backstory, which I love.

It wasn’t obvious from the cover, but I gradually realised it is a sequel, and is in fact Volume II of “The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire”. I hate it when that happens, I like to start series from the beginning. But it was good, so I’ll look for Volume I, even though I know what the outcome is. The library catalogue is down today though, so I will do it another day.

My favourite reading spot

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With the chaos of family life, I have managed to carve out my own spot as a library in the guest bedroom. But it was lacking coziness, and I had a desire to learn to quilt. Then, in the library (where else) I spotted “The Little Book of Simple Quilting”. I now have the warmest snuggliest quilt, in just my style on my reading sofa.

Of course, this isn’t helping the the blogging guilt-pile of books that I’ve finished but not yet reviewed..

Blogging guilt pile

The Perils of Morning Coffee – Alexander McCall Smith, read by Karlyn Stephen

This is another case of the library service’s initiatives doing what they aimed to – the little lad is doing the summer reading scheme at the library, and one “stamp” is to borrow an audiobook. So we went on the library’s audiobook download site, to find him a story, and I found an Isabel Dalhousie novella on the front page.

I was very impressed with how easy it was to borrow, download, and move to my music player (in MP3 format). This left me to listen at my own pace during train journeys.

This is just a novella, coming in at under 2 hours, so even shorter than the usual Alexander McCall Smith fare. But Isabel still undergoes some character development, and it places a new lens on her, as she confronts her own expectations, and considers how to handle friendships. She is required to confront her own nature, with and without Jamie’s support.

Resolutions were aspirational, Isabel knew, honesty required one to acknowledge that.

And of course, some poetry is interwoven throughout, and the neatness of the opening and ending being tied together with the same metaphor is one I appreciated.

Having enjoyed this, I have another McCall Smith novella, along with another audiobook reserved through the library service.

You Made Me Late Again! Pam Ayres

Sometimes a bit of light nonsense verse is just what is needed. In You Made Me Late Again, Ayres takes a humorous look at everyday life and how a woman’s place changes through life.

Its a lovely comfortable world, where the worst that happens is

Some lowlife has flashed a knife, and made off with your cauli!

Such wry observations of life draw a smile and the elegant use of language made this a lovely little collection, and has added Ayres to my list of comedians to look out for.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

Like a lot of my generation, I read every Harry Potter as it came out. I can tell you where I read each one, from the first I “borrowed” from my little brother aged 11, cycling to the local town on release day to buy The Prisoner of Azkaban, through to a group of friends driving to the supermarket to pick up all our copies of The Deathly Hollows (and snacks) just after midnight, and spending the whole morning curled up in someone’s parents’ lounge, all of us devouring it with equal enthusiasm.

With Harry Potter framing much of my teenage years, of course I picked up a copy of The Cursed Child. There are spoilers below the cut.

Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne”

How To Talk To Girls At Parties – Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá

I hadn’t been aware of this graphic novel’s release until I found myself sat knitting at a train table with someone who pulled it out of their bag to read on the journey. Of course we had a chat, and he told me that he’d found it in his local library, on the same network as my local. So I did the sensible thing and was straight onto the library website to request it when I got home.

So there is nothing quite like Sunday morning in bed than a devouring a graphic novel by one of my favourite authors with a cup of tea. This was perfect, setting up a separate world which can be trivially stepped into, and which is difficult to escape from afterwards.

Like many things in Gaiman’s writings, the fantastic is terrifyingly everyday, and very believably easy for anyone to innocently step into.We start with traditionally naive teenage boys, and swiftly move into something much darker.

The artwork was perfectly otherworld, depicting Gaiman’s imaginings as they depart from, and return to, the everyday world. I have now requested “Two Brothers” by Moon and Bá to read some of their own distinct work.

Loved it.

What have you been thrilled to discover recently?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick

The title of this is a classic. But I had always interpreted it as the sort of dream that happens when asleep, so the reality of this was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect an actual electric sheep, more an abstract concept.

As I went through though, the gradual reveal of the reality of android, or “andy” life on earth actually led me to sympathise with them a great deal, although the ending was what it had to be.

This is not only a key work in science fiction, but also well-written and executed. It is of course of its time, but that is manageable. The only thing to be worked past is that it is set in 1992. And of course, we have all sorts of high tech, but no mobile phones.

I struggle to say more about this than has already been said, but it is a good read.

The Testament of Mary – Colm Tóibín

Tóibín has approached the life of Jesus from a new angle, that of his mother Mary. As his mother she is far more interested in her son’s safety than in him being the saviour, and in how his friends lead him astray than what he is responsible for.

I’m never quite sure about men writing novels aiming to capture such a female experience as motherhood, but Tóibín does well. His Mary is emotional without being overly sentimental, and strong in her own way. But she still frames herself against the (absent) men in her story. Women are not a frame, and he doesn’t quite get that concept. Of course the point is the gospel, in which the character herself is not the point, but she does not focus purely on her child.

There is little new here. Of course the story is known, and the concept of it as a tragedy is also unexpected. So there ends up being little new here except a minor reframing. It doesn’t explain why this was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Pals – Chorley Little Theatre

Pals was written by artistic director Mark Jones, specifically for Chorley Little Theatre. It is very much feels set in the textile industrial background of Chorley, although no place names (or even pub names!) were mentioned explicitly.

It is a look on the front of the Great War, of course, and the stories that came out of that. But more than that, it is a story about life, and men’s friendships. How shared work and a quick drink after developed bonds, where gradually the truths about family and love become clear. But then also friendship between a history student and an elderly man. A friendship with a rocky start, but finally a chance for Bill to tell the tale of his life.

I love that we don’t just see Bill in those key minutes where everything changes, but we also see the human side before and after. What was there, what was lost, and what little was saved. There were few dry eyes in the house by the end, which speaks volumes for the strength of both the writing and the acting.

Mr Darwin’s Gardener – Kristina Carlson

Mr Darwin’s Gardener is not, as one might imagine, written somewhere safely in a rural English county. It is instead a translation from Finnish. A good translation as it happens, but not what I expected from the title.

Also I didn’t really think the link to Darwin was needed at all. We never see him, he is just a device to explain Thomas’s atheism, which seemed unnecessary. In fact, given that this novel is trying to explore the beginnings of the decline of Christianity in rural England, it almost weakened the premise.

As a small exploration of human nature, it works perfectly. Firstly we see the ability of community and gossips to image the worst, and to react in a mob-like manner. But then people work out their own way to succeed despite this backdrop, and in some ways the community ties provide strength to those within it, and consider Darwin’s household part of their own.

Have you recently read something that didn’t turn out to be what you expected?