Storm Front – The Dresden Files 1 – Jim Butcher

I’ve been aware of the Dresden Files before, but had never felt particularly pulled to them, until I read a Butcher short story a few weeks ago. I ordered it in the library reservation system, although have been disappointed to be unable to order Fool Moon (book 2) so Abe books has come to the rescue.

The Dresden Files is a take on the sterotypical consulting detective theme, with the additional twist of said detective being a practicing wizard in modern-day Chicago. Gritty and real, unlucky in love and hopeless at actually paying his rent, Harry Dresden is a hero it is easy to feel drawn to. He has the wit, the insight and the abilities to get through a fiendishly unlucky set of circumstances when all he really wants to do is pay (last month’s) rent.

The writing is compelling, drawing me into this world where so much criminality is down to other-worldly forces. The dark side of human nature is battled against as day becomes night, but we know all along that Dresden is somehow going to solve the case. For starters there are another 15 books for him to appear in!

As I mentioned at the start, I loved this enough to buy book 2, and am glad I have the whole series ahead of me.

The Man who Rained – Ali Shaw

The cover of this set the tone nicely – is a nice “chick lit” with a fable woven beneath it. Elsa is taking the normal “running away” approach to life, and settles  in a small town. But of course it is not an ordinary small town, and it takes a few chapters before we discover how unusual it is.

This is hardly deep literature, but covers both the bright and dark sides of the human spirit. We see displays of love and of jealousy, of loyalty and a brutal mob.  The human side alone is powerful. Then the magic is imaginative, running with the idea of spirits (mischievous or otherwise) which have local powers.

I loved how Shaw drew all the threads together for the ending, giving very satisfying conclusions to all the parallel subplots running through the novel.

Dangerous Women Part III – Edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Dangerous Women is a collection of fast-paced stories centred around women. They vary in style and quality, and although one (by Melinda Snodgrass) I abandoned, it has also led me to reserve the first of the Desden Files novels to read. The Butcher story was typical, of the collection, a women who against the odds manages to use her wits and femininity to escape from dangerous enemies and end up ahead by the end of the story.

The editors don’t make an entry into this collection, outside a short introduction by Dozois, which I would imagine anyone picking this up for the George R. R. Martin name on the front would find a disappointment. However anyone who remains disappointed as the short stores unpack would be missing in taste. By the end I was only sorry that there were only seven stories, and I’m fairly likely to pick up the other parts of the Dangerous Women series.

Fludd – Hilary Mantel (Audiobook)

Hilary Mantel is one of those authors whose work I keep feeling like I should read, but then being too overwhelmed by the degree of seriousness to start. So I went for the audiobook solution, listening as I commuted for a fortnight.

Fludd is set in 1950s Lancashire, up in the Pennines. For those who don’t live in this area, it might be surprising that these are several villages and small towns that are very much Catholic, here in the cradle of methodism and in a country that has been officially protestant since the turn of the 17th Century. So the idea of this insular community, with an equal distrust of Yorkshiremen and Protestants seems very lifelike to me. Then we have the named characters, from a priest who has lost his faith, a nun who isn’t quite sure what she is doing and a bishop who wan’t to modernise this parish.

This novel is about the changing of times, faith and human nature. As a new arrival, Fludd challenges the existing community, sowing new thoughts and ideas. And then there are the small miracles that occur in his presence.

However despite all this, I couldn’t enjoy the climax the book finished at. It could so easily have gone somewhere else in those last couple of chapters, and made a larger point. Of course it is possible that the whole point was the individuality of the divine, and that deeper meaning needs another reading to solidify.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The premise of this book, that Death is telling a story is often forgotten throughout this book, only reaching in when Death touches Liesel’s life directly. Otherwise we see the world as a generic third-party narrator, following Liesel directly.

But it is a compelling tale, speaking of bravery, learning and compassion in a small town during the rise of Nazi Germany. Leisel relearns love and friendship in her foster home, as well as poverty and cruelty. And throughout the common theme is the stealing of books, and what that give to her.

Whilst the cover and the description did not make me pick this up with any degree of urgency, once I was a chapter in I needed to keep reading to find out Liesel’s fate.

A Whole Life – Robert Seethaler

This has been on the bookshelf for ages – it was actually chosen by my son to give to my husband for Christmas. But it looked interesting so once he’d read it it was snagged into my “to read” pile. Not a compelling plot, but a slow reflection on life and the changes that took place through the twentieth century.

I read this whilst on a ski holiday in the Alps, drinking in the worms-eye view on the sweeping change that came with the development of cable cars and ski holidays, and ultimately year-round tourism. Plus the depth of grief, along with the sense of space in the mountains, which drive the development of Egger’s character.

I have ordered this in the original German to read in that as well.

The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman – Audiobook

This was a treasure found on the library’s eAudiobook collection: a full cast recording of a Gaiman short story. I hadn’t read this before, and it is a good twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy story.

We don’t have a Prince Charming, and there are a couple more twists that make this particularly delicious. I also appreciated the decision to make the spell into a “plague” that spreads throughout a kingdom, turning the sleeping spell into something much more menacing. This combines with Gaiman’s usually dark imaginings as the story develops to create a compelling story which had me clinging to every word.

The cast did a good job, I always knew who was speaking and they set the tone well as we journeyed.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Man Booker 2016 Tidy-up

I again took advantage of The Book People Man Booker shortlist pack as soon as the list was released, but then my September/October was busier than I expected, so I only managed to read three before the winner was announced (then the winner as it wasn’t one I’d done). I also failed to do most of my reviews at the time, so to tidy up for the end of 2016, I have some quick summaries below.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

This was a heavy read, about loss in the face of political change, love and family ties. It is also about how music can transcend these things: and how sometimes it can’t. Despite the serious nature of the subject matter I couldn’t stop turning the pages, lost in the worlds of Kai, Sparrow and Zhuli. The writing was good, it led to deep thinking and overall was a good read.

All That Man Is – David Szalay

I only read the first hundred pages of this. It was so tedious in its “plot” mostly about young men wandering every advantage they have and making the worst of themselves. Its gone to the charity shop.

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy

 I did manage to review this one. In summary: a page-turning read, but not really worth of the Booker.

The Sellout – Paul Beatty

This one didn’t particularly call to me from the shelves, so I only read it after it won. I can see why it was the one the judges agreed on; and feels very appropriate given the year we have just had. Because of the format of the writing, it was harder to follow: but that will also have been why it stood out to the judges.

Overall

I would have given the prize to Do Not Say We have Nothing: which is a suitably deep book whilst also being good to read.

Mother of Eden – Chris Beckett

Mother of Eden follows on from Dark Eden, but the characters in the former have now passed into mythology. Instead we are facing another round of social change and world development as different communities via for resources, space and ownership of their creator history.

Its set with a young woman who has barely been exposed to this wider world moving out to become part of a less innocent community, and the change this triggers across all of humanity.

Without revealing what happens, it is a story of politics, intrigue, dreams and sexism. It explores what we know against what we think we know, and how myths can be started and spread. Plus there is suspense and a battle between different factions.

Well worth reading if you enjoy far-future science fiction.

Bitch Lit edited by Maya Chowdhry & Mary Sharratt

Bitch Lit is a collection of stories about female anti-heroes, which was included in a Manchester Geek Girls conference pack. Given this I was hoping for something less romantically-focused than this collection. There were very few stories which would have passed the Bechdel test, and a few of those that did were about lesbian relationships.

For all that though, it was good to have a collection that focussed on the female perspective, and many of the stories were well-written and compelling.

My favourite tale was Forklift Trucks by Michelle Green, which talked to the pettiness of some office environments, and how we all dream of behaving outside the very restricted norms. It also helped that this one didn’t have a strong romantic theme! On reading her mini-bio at the back, I discovered she is local to me, based in Manchester.

Overall, not what I expected from this book, but still a good strong collection.