BlueEyedBoy – Joanne Harris

I am more used to Harris’s magical realism, but this crime mystery novel is way outside this genre. I love the style it is told in: the protaganist’s blog posts and discussions in the comments. It reminds me of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a book which I didn’t keep, but found a good strong read.

The setting is of course as grim and gritty as is expected in this style of book, and in the absence of magic we instead have synaesthesia, because Harris can never have characters who are entirely normal human beings. As the characters are built, we get the feeling of the rug being shifted under us, with nothing ever quite fitting the picture I already had. But despite knowing a twist must be coming, the one taken was not what I expected.

A disturbing but satisfying read.

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The Secret People – John Wyndham

The Secret People is a scifi classic with a setup reministent of Blyton (plus extramarital passion). We have a rich boy with a private jet who manages to crash it in the most inconvenient place possible. But then we take a swift turn into the underworld and discover “The Secret People”.

I loved the main concepts of this: environmental changes and evolution of races of peoples. It also considers zenophobia and true fears. Everything hangs together well on the two central characters and their investigation of this world. My only quibble is that the ending could have been improved above the current one!

The Clothing of Books – Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a lovely little essay I borrowed in ebook format from the library. It examines how little influence most authors have on their book jackets, and yet how much what is on the book jacket influences reader perceptions.

The opening is not on books but on real clothing, and how we choose it to present who we are to the world. She then explores her experience as a normal author, and how covers change between translations.  One little gem was how Virginia Wolfe’s first edition covers were designed by her sister following conversation between them.

I love this look at this aspect of perception of books, and the irony as I was reading this as an eBook, chosen based on the library service’s tagging of it, so with the cover having such little impact on my reading experience!

Daughter of Eden – Chris Beckett

The third, and feels like the final, book in Beckett’s Eden series. Daughter of Eden takes place so far into Eden’s future that the earlier characters have firmly passed into mythology. He also still has something to say about human nature,and our need to believe in something. Through the characters he introduces he frames religious wars as the ridiculous ideas that they are,

But no one else looked at it that way. How can you ask if the story is true or not, if you’re in the story yourself?

I find it interesting that for the last two books he has focussed on female characters, with the surrounding male characters being two-dimensional at best. The women avoid the nurturing trap as well, and instead are powerful characters who have ambitions and leadership skills, despite the way that the society created on Eden has limited them. And the importance of the relationships between those women is central to this world.

I liked how the story was brought full circle without taking the easy escape. Of course Earth would eventually return, but how that was resolved was imaginative.

My Man Jeeves – P. G. Wodehouse

I hadn’t actually read any Jeeves books before so felt I should give one a try. The stories are all pretty amusing, but after just one book I felt they were all very “samey”. Wodehouse has a plot and he’s sticking with it.

It is exactly the parody I was hoping for. Of course everyone knows who Jeeves is!

I’ll probably keep a Jeeves in reserve on my ereader for lazy evenings on the train when I don’t want to tackle a heavier book, and it was  lot of fun, but not something I need to read urgently.

Night and Day – Virginia Woolf

Night and Day is one of Woolf’s early novels, examining the lives, burdens and choices a set of people in their twenties make under the constraints of their family circumstances and temprements.

There are five major characters, and the text moves between their thoughts as well as external discriptions through changes of scene. This can be disorienting at first, but is very well-written and enables the reader to understand views on both sides of the argument.

The main themes of the book are the hunt for a place in life and passion, as the characters realise who they are and what they want from life. I found it very telling that a pivotal character, Mary, remained single and was forging a successful life as a campainger first for women’s sufferage and then later for an unspecified cause. Her freedom and the flexibility the more conservative figures manage to carve for themselves is a good example of a happy ending not having to be marriage.

I did find Ralph Denham’s behaviour problematic though, it was clearly borderline stalking behaviour, not to mention a bad example of “if he treats you badly its because he likes you” in tandom with the developing of a relationship based on mutual respect and common goals.

Katharine‘s love of mathematics in the face of a literary family also made me smile. Everyone has to rebel, even if they start with a small matter. And of course rebelling to mathematics is inherently a good idea.

She had come out into the winter’s night, which was mild enough, not so much to look with scientific eyes upon the starts, as to shake herself free from certain purely terrestrial discontents. Much as a literary person in like circumstances would begin, absent-mindedly, pulling out volume after volume, so she stepped into the garden in order to have the starts at hand even though she did not look at them.

Daddy-Long-Legs – Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs

This is an early 20th Century novel aimed at “college girls”, which would be a standard young adult market today. On the surface, it is an enjoyable charming set of letters which read quickly and paint a picture of a girl who is escaping a fairly grim background in an orphanage with a generous benefactor who is sponsoring her through college.

I have a fondness for books told entirely through letters, the pace at which they go and the difficulty in conveying information which happens in the gaps. I also like writing them, there’s something special about sending a nice handwritten letter. And even more special to receive one.

The “but” which follows involves spoilers…

But the twist at the end in which she accepts a proposal of marriage from her wealthy benefactor makes the whole book an uncomfortable read. Her deciding to take a wealthy husband rather than become a renowned author in her own right is problematic enough. The fact that this husband is her benefactor to whom she feels greatly indebted and who has controlled her social interactions and limited her contact with other potential suitors over the previous four years is deeply uncomfortable.

This book is of course a product of its time, in which marriages between equals were not the norm, and does make attempts to promote women’s suffrage. That doesn’t make the promotion of such an imbalanced relationship sit any more comfortably, the power is far too firmly on one side in every respect and this isn’t even recognised.

Little Fuzzy – H. Beam Piper

Little Fuzzy is a fairly short science fiction story about a newly discovered species on a colonised planet. The majority of the book then revolves around the debate as to whether the species “Fuzzy” are sapient, and thus deserving of protection under Terran law, or not.

This is probably worth reading for the mental image of the Fuzzies alone, they are described and behave in such a way so as to be incredibly cute. There is then a look at how they could effect a major company’s profits, and how that employees of that company might behave in order to protect their own status and livelihoods.

Spoilers in the next paragraph!!!

The dilemma was well developed, with it being debatable for most of the book whether the Fuzzies were sapient or just highly intelligent monkeys. I therefore felt that the ending in which it is discovered that the Fuzzies do speak, just at an inaudible pitch, and letting them use a cigarette lighter to fill the basic legal test of “speaks and lights fires” was disappointing. I would much rather have seen the sapience beings whose only speech was “yeek” being discussed, as this was what was set up through the first 80% of the book.

The ending clearly sets up another book, and I will be searching the second-hand bookshops for this as it is too recent to be on Gutenburg.

Fallen Angels – Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Michael Flynn

Fallen Angels tells a story of a distopian future where mankind on Earth has declared war on science. This doesn’t stop the science fiction fan community (fandom) from wanting to help two fallen spacemen return to their home in orbit.

A future which seems utopian in some ways to those who long for “simpler times” has been achieved by the greens, but as an Ice Age begins they blame it on the isolated inhabitants of the orbital stations “stealing” the atmosphere.

When two residents of these habitats are shot do onto the new glaciers, there is a race across the USA by the technophile fandom to rescue them and return them to orbit before the authorities are able to catch up.

A page-turner which tells a story which mocks the anti-science movement whilst telling a story of those who dream high enough and work hard enough can achieve anything.

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third Sherlock Holmes story, in which Holmes and Watson are presented with a baffling mystery which is half murder and half horror story.

The book opens with a simple puzzle over who has left a stick in the apartment which Holmes and Watson share and Watson practising his own deductive skills. As the background of the case unfolds the challenge for Holmes becomes apparent, and Watson is given his first responsibility to travel to Dartmoor with Henry Baskerville and guard him from harm.

This does not disappoint as a detective story. The red herrings and unclear motives allow the true culprit to be revealed only in the last few pages, and I found the book difficult to put down until all the loose ends had been tied.

This book came from Project Gutenburg as a legal free ebook.