Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Book catch-up: May/June

I've let the book reviews slide again, and I probably ought to do something about that before the next block of Who episodes comes along. Here's a quick run-down of books read in May and June.


Mistress Masham's Repose, TH White
Highly recommended by a fan friend, this book - nominally for children, but written in a pretty high style that I would imagine younger readers would find daunting - concerns a refugee colony of Lilliputians in the grounds of a decrepit stately home. A young girl is heir to the pile but has to contend with the evil schemes of her governess and the vicar, with the help of the kindly old Professor who lives in the porter's lodge. The Lilliputians provide a distraction from her miserable life, then become the object of the governess and vicar's scheming, and end up helping to win the day. Although the plot, reduced to its basic elements, is fairly straight-up kid-lit, the execution is pleasing and White includes some good thought-provoking material around the heroine's interactions with the Lilliputians.

Kraken, China Mieville
Library book. This is pretty close to being Un Lun Dun for adults. There's no parallel city here, just the unseen, magical side of London itself. Someone, somehow, steals a giant squid from the Natural History Museum, and the curator in charge of it finds himself on the run from an assortment of freaky and horrifically violent gangsters; meanwhile all the magical familiars in London are out on strike. A mixture of surreal fantasy and urban grit. A lot of commentators appear not to have liked it much; I found it enjoyable, but I certainly wouldn't rank it in Mieville's top five.

Graphic Classics: Gothic Classics, various
Library book. I'd say Edgar Allan Poe is underrepresented here, but then he does have a Graphic Classics volume all to himself. Not such a great effort, this one - it tries to condense two full novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho and Northanger Abbey, into just a few dozen pages of comic book art, and the stories suffer terribly. Some nice shorter stories, although what the hell the schmaltzy piece about doggy heaven is doing in here is beyond me.

Ghostopolis, Doug TenNapel
Library book. Another wacky TenNapel graphic novel.

Surface Detail, Iain M Banks
Another SFFANZ review book. Summary: all right, but not great.


Men and Cartoons, Jonathan Lethem
Ex-library book - short stories by an author whose novels I love. It turns out I actually have read these before, and the fact that I'd passed that earlier copy on and forgotten all about the contents should be enough of a review in itself.

Ex Machina, vol. 10, Brian K Vaughan & Tony Harris
Library book. The grand finale - Mitchell Hundred, mayor of New York and retired superhero, confronts a journalist who not only knows about the skeletons in his political closet but is also the new superpowered agent of the transdimensional monsters he has refused to serve. Epic, a worthy finale, a damn sight better than some of the middle volumes of the series, and just a little shocking at the end.

Grandville, Bryan Talbot
Grandville Mon Amour, Bryan Talbot
Library books, graphic novels. Pulp noir with animal heads. Inspired by the chimeric drawings of JJ Grandville (and quite right, too!), Talbot tells the gung-ho tales of a badger-headed police inspector in a Britain that's owned by France, uncovering political corruption and violent crime at the highest levels of government. They're entertaining enough - the brief scenes in Nutwood were good for a chuckle - but I don't feel a powerful urge to buy my own copies.

Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan
A story of adaptation and survival in a world wrecked by a kind of mental programming technology based around modulated pulses of light that turns most of the American population into zombies. In some ways it's similar to Sullivan's previous novel, Sound Mind. I enjoyed it, but not as much as Sullivan's other work - actually found it quite hum-ho in places.

Echo City, Tim Lebbon
An SFFANZ review book. I might add here that this book is about fifteen years late - it'd be a perfect fit for that 1990s wave of British city-themed fantasy I've talked about before. I probably would have been all over it if it had come out back then; as it is, eh, it's all right.


Looking back over these, I see an awful lot of lukewarm reviews. But fear not, dear reader - I'm going to be a lot more positive about July and August's books.

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