Archive for the 'moosifer jones’ reads' Category

Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran

Sunday, 26 January 2014

It’s taken me a while to pin this one down: why did I enjoy Moranthology, a set of essays by Caitlin Moran?
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Was it the fangirly glee about Sherlock, the righteous ire about politics, or the alarmingly plausible late night conversations with her husband. In the end, the best way to illuminate why this book is worth reading is that Caitlin Moran loves libraries.

On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate ‘need’ for ‘stuff’.

The whole essay resonates so strongly. The idea that, as a teenager, you might come to believe you’ve read every book on the shelves of your local library. That you can order up some dream of a book through inter-library loan. For free. Well, for a minor fee for the inter library loan but still…

Unlike Caitlin, on her Midlands estate, I grew up surrounded by books. I tried to mentally count the number of bookcases we had at home the other day, and failed because I’d keep remembering another one. But once a week, I’d head down to my local library and max out my card with books. Ones I wanted to read again, ones I wanted to take a risk on, ones we didn’t have in the house and I couldn’t afford to buy. You can imagine my delight at discovering my card actually let me take out eight books at once rather than the four I thought I was allowed.

As an art student in a freezing bedsit, the heaters you could sit on in Exeter Central Library were an added bonus, as were their huge collection of vinyl and plays and screenplays and heavy books on modernist art…

There are essays in this collection I disagree with, or that made me snort with laughter, or whatever. But I’d recommend reading it for the essay on libraries alone.

You can always borrow it from one…

The Victorian Detective, by Alan Moss and Keith Skinner

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Another off the Christmas book pile, this time diving into non-fiction for a look at the Victorian Detective.

Sherlocks3

No, not that one.

Instead The Victorian Detective is a slim non-fiction volume looking at the rise of the police detective in Victorian Britain. There’s no doubt Alan Moss and Keith Skinner’s book is well-researched and fully sourced. The problem comes in if you’ve already read The Suspicion of Mr Whicher, which covers the same ground through the prism of a single case.

In attempting to avoid the grisly “true crime” style, this book skims over the cases themselves in favour of, well, HR updates on which station a detective is based in. Overall, it felt rather too dry.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker

Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Christmas pile always brings much reading. Here it is:
Bookpile

First off the pile, so fast I’d read three chapters by Christmas lunchtime, was Longbourn by Jo Baker. This tells the story of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of Sarah, the head housemaid.

Except, wonderfully, it doesn’t. This tells the story of Sarah, and of her romances and follies, and the mistakes others make around her. That she happens to be a maid at Longbourn and subject to the whims and fancies of the Bennett girls is merely her lot in life.

Baker doesn’t attempt to copy Austen’s style, which made me instantly delighted. Her protagonists are different people, with a different way of speaking and thinking, so Sarah’s voice is – as it should be – totally different. The novel reminded me of both Wide Sargasso Sea, with its inversion of authorial focus, and the work of Sarah Waters, in the voice the author takes.

Of course, it helps if you know Pride and Prejudice. Unlike Death Comes to Pemberley, none of Austen’s characters are twisted to fit the narrative. Instead we get a different side to them. Mr Bennett loses some of the sympathy he normally gets, and Mrs Bennett gains some. Darcy becomes a force of nature and Wickham, well, none of the servants trust him.

Structurally, it’s split into three volumes, echoing the structure of early novels. I did feel the third volume, which goes into flashbacks by multiple characters, started rather more weakly than the other two but the narrative drive returns when we return to Sarah’s perspective.

This is a novel about choices, or lack of them. About making the best of your lot in life, or of throwing aside the rules. Of risking everything for romantic ideas rather or securing your future. It’s the perfect reflection of Austen’s novel and I recommend it.

The Rampage of Haruhi Suzimiya

Monday, 30 April 2012

A quick note on this for any new blog readers: Haruhi Suzimiya is a Japanese schoolgirl unaware of her ability to alter reality. She runs a school club, the SOS Brigade, whose members are secretly dedicated to preventing her unconscious desires rewriting the world.

The Rampage of Haruhi Suzimiya
Nagaru Tanigawa
(Little Brown, 2011)

The next volume of Haruhi Suzimiya short stories is a mixed bag.

The first story, Endless Eight, made me groan. Anyone who has watched season 2 of the anime will understand the fear at “Summer’s almost over…”. Thankfully, the short story doesn’t have the same structure and was a lot more enjoyable than I expected. The big problem was with my own over-awareness of the plot. Suzimiya wants to have a fun-filled summer holiday, and the rest of the SOS brigade have to make it happen.

The next story, Day of Sagittarius 3, was my least favourite. I struggle to engage with stories that involve descriptions of battles – either actual ones or cyberfights – and this was no different. There’s too little emotional content, and too much dry description.

The final story, Snowy Mountain Syndrome, is exactly what I want in Haruhi. Mirroring their summer expedition to a Remote Island, the Brigade go to a ski lodge and get caught in a blizzard. This story delighted for several reasons, one of which is that it was the only one not yet adapted into anime. It was the most playful, and saucy, and made me remember why I started reading Haruhi to start with.

Notes on a Scandal

Thursday, 26 April 2012

When I was tidying up last week I found this overlooked book that should have been in the review roundup.

Notes on a Scandal
Zoe Heller
(Penguin, 2004)

A teacher, Barbara Covett, gets drawn in when a colleague, Sheba Hart, is accused of having sex with a pupil.

This novella is in the first person singular, and is delightfully creepy. The waspish comments of the narrator, a frustrated history teacher approaching retirement, are entertainingly prim. The range of teachers at an inner city comprehensive are recognizable stereotypes that she precisely lampoons.

As the plot unfurls, Barbara’s obsession with ‘protecting’ Sheba becomes more unhealthy than Sheba’s madness in having an affair with a pupil. Her desperate desire for a special friend mirrors that of the teenage girls she teaches, although she would never demean herself with such a comparison. The hints of a backstory, involving a private school in Scotland and a previous scandal that meant Barbara had to move to a North London comprehensive, evoke The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. In another echo, Sheba doesn’t realise who betrays her.

The prose is crisp, sharply capturing a neat, waspish and thoroughly nasty mind. It makes you collude with Barbara by drawing you in with wit and humour at the start. So when the cracks start, the disgust you feel is all the stronger for having liked her.

Thoroughly recommended.

Book reviews in short form

Friday, 13 April 2012

I have realised I will not get time to write reviews on the backlog of books I’ve read in the last six months. The 200 word review idea should have helped, but it still needed time I rarely have. So here are extra short reviews of everything I’ve got stacked in the ‘to be reviewed’ pile…

  • In London’s By-Ways by Walter Jerrold, illustrated by E W Haslehust
    Found in a charity shop, this is a pre-WW2 book that rambles around inner London. The text is OK, if prone to overlong sentences, but I bought it for the delightful colour illustrations by Haslehust.

  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
    It’s great to read a contemporary American novel that has a proper ending, although the penultimate chapter seems out of kilter with the world created in the rest of the book.

  • The Pride of the Peacock/Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
    Two enjoyable romantic romps, of which Mistress of Mellyn was the better. It benefitted from the Cornish setting with its hints of Daphne Du Maurier and Winston Graham.

  • Rivers of London/Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
    I really want to do these two books justice with a proper review. Magical police procedurals with a heavy dose of London pyschogeography, jokes and no nice reset switches. The end of Rivers of London is proper nasty. Really, just go and buy them now.

  • Call the Midwife/Shadows of the Workhouse/Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth
    Sticking with London, I read these over Easter. There’s an occasional reactionary tone that can be a jolt if you’ve seen the jolly Sunday night TV adaptation. But Shadows of the Workhouse left me in floods of tears at some of what happened to toddlers before the Welfare State existed.

Five authors doesn’t look like much, but it was nine books, plus things like Midnight’s Children and Death Comes to Pemberley. Phew.

Also, now they are reviewed I can sort them into the donate/shelve piles and move them off my dresser.


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