Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

The Summer Book

The Summer Book - Thomas Teal, Tove Jansson

A person can find anything if he takes the time, that is, if he can afford to look. And while he’s looking, he’s free, and he finds things he never expected.

This book is brilliant. It's the story of 6-year-old Sophia and her grandmother and the summer they spend together on an island - they go exploring, they play and cheat at cards, they pick their new neighbour's lock. Sophia and her gran are absolutely fab.


Every chapter is a different short story, full of warmth and allegorical depth. 


I think I will need to read Jansson's other books, too. 

“It’s funny about love,” Sophia said. “The more you love someone, the less he likes you back.”

“That’s very true,” Grandmother observed. “And so what do you do?”

“You go on loving,” said Sophia threateningly. “You love harder and harder.”

Her grandmother sighed and said nothing.

Reading progress update: I've read 44 out of 380 pages.

A Talent for Murder: A Novel - Andrew Wilson

Ok, this is probably the one book that I am starting with the most anticipation and the most hesitation I have felt towards any book in a while. 


I don't like fan-fiction and I'm particular about historical fiction, even more so when it is about a person or event that I am familiar with. 


A Talent for Murder is both. It is a fictionalised biography of Agatha Christie that is also a mystery about what happened during the eleven days she was missing in 1926. 


I'm also excited. Andrew Wilson is a skilled biographer of Patricia Highsmith, another favourite of mine. He is also a fan of her thrillers. 


So far, I'm excited to say that all that reading Highsmith seems to have rubbed off a little, and that is probably the best scenario I could have wished for. The beginning of the book was a littered with scenes that resembled elements of both The Man in the Brown Suit and Strangers on a Train


I hope Wilson manages to keep this up.


Incidentally, I'm not impressed by the title, A Talent for Murder. It seems to be a copy of Nicola Upson's An Expert in Murder, which essentially following the same story idea but is a fictionalised murder mystery based on Christie's fellow crime writer Josephine Tey.


Yeah, not keen on the copy-cat idea here, and I'm sure I'll be even less impressed if Wilson follows the same formula.

So, we'll see.

Geek Love

Geek Love - Katherine Dunn

DNF @ 60 pages. 


Some books just aren't for me. This is one of them.

No rating, no regrets, but no more time spent on this one either. 

Reading progress update: I've read 167 out of 414 pages.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo - Tom Reiss

Parts of this are fascinating, but the play by play descriptions of military campaigns are really not.


Oh, and the revolutionary Jacobins were ... nuts.

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Simply. Loved. It.


What is more, there are lots of references to Yoko Ono's musical work, in particular one track that I happen to have at home as a '45, so I took the opportunity to re-listen to some of these gems, which I have not done in quite a while. Such fun.


Reading progress update: I've read 65%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Ok, this has slowed down a bit. Not sure if I needed all the background to the previous Grand Prix events. I get why they complete the picture but for me, they have been the least enjoyable parts of the books so far. 


At least, we are now at the event itself. 

Reading progress update: I've read 37%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Oort St. Ultraviolet, deeply apologetic creator of the maddening earworm that was the current West Cornwall Pasty Company jingle, “Live and Let Pie,” somewhat reluctantly handed over his bespoke Kuu & Co. oversize, overear, oversensitive headphones in the limited edition Phantom Pearl color scheme.

Oh, no. One of my favourite songs will never be the same hereafter...

Reading progress update: I've read 30%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

This still has all the potential of a 5-star read:

“We are representatives of Her Majesty’s government and the office of the Prime Minister and Homo sapiens sapiens, goddammit,” spluttered the agents, half out of their seats though the car was still hurtling along. “We should be allowed to choose our own representatives. Our own warriors!”

“I am sorry, dear boys. But this is not a war. It is not about you, nor are you a part of it. Every child in the galaxy learns the truth about politics at their mother’s proboscis. For lo, does not Goguenar’s Third Unkillable Fact tell us:

‘Though any species on any dumb gobworld may develop sentience (the poor bastards), no government ever does’?

Think on it, Mr. Brown. Mr. Price.”

Only meters from the Whitehall car park, Decibel Jones and the roadrunner dissolved into a very pretty swirl of magenta steam that smelled largely of fish and disdain.


Reading progress update: I've read 25%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

“Is that really it?” Dess interrupted halfway through. “We just sing better than one other beastie and we get to live?”

“Yes. Does it seem barbaric to you? Sixty-seven percent of your population used that word.” “No, it makes sense to me. It’s perfect.”


Decibel shrugged. “Life is stupid and beautiful that way.”

The Esca smiled; for the Esca can and do smile. All its feathers flushed an excited shade of cobalt. He had said something good, then. Somehow, the world’s luckiest fuckup had done something right for once, though God and all his angels knew what. He’d only said what he meant, which was, when you thought about it, a minor superpower, because so few people ever did. The blue creature danced coquettishly toward him on those impossible, dumb legs that couldn’t hold up a plastic garden flamingo, let alone this living, breathing version.

So, the name "Esca" ... is that described somewhere and I missed it again (reading this before bedtime was not the best idea - this book really requires a lot of attention) or is it Valente's random invention or is there something in it being "ESC" + "A(lien)"?


The previous chapter also outlined the "rules, guidelines, regulations of the Metagalactic Grand Prix as agreed to by everybody left standing after the Battle of Vlimeux", which I have added behind the spoiler:



1. The Grand Prix shall occur once per Standard Alunizar Year, which is hereby defined by how long it takes Aluno Secundus to drag its business around its morbidly obese star, get tired, have a nap, wake up cranky, yell at everyone for existing, turn around, go back around the other way, get lost, start crying, feel sorry for itself and give up on the whole business, and finally try to finish the rest of its orbit all in one go the night before it’s due, which is to say, far longer than a year by almost anyone else’s annoyed wristwatch.


2. All species currently accepted as sentient must compete.


3. All species applying for recognition as intelligent, self-aware (not a huge barrel of dicks), and generally worth the time it takes to get to 

their shitty planet, wherever that may be, must compete.


4. One song per species.


5. Special effects and stagecraft of all kinds are encouraged; however, no harm must come to the audience, the audience’s families, or the linear timelines of any active spectators.


6. Please dress accordingly–that is, in the traditional costume of your people. But make it cool, all right? Give it a little showmanship. Make an effort. If you do not comply, your representatives will be sentenced to not less than six years of hard labor. We’re not trying to run the trains on time in Drabtown here.


7. Please provide a written translation of your lyrics to the umpire. And no trying to show off by singing in Alunzish! Stay in your linguistic lane. Your accent will always be terrible.


8. New compositions only! No sloppy seconds.


9. Judging will be conducted in two phases: by audience acclamation, and a considered vote by a panel consisting of the representatives of the Great Octave, the new applicant’s chaperone species, and an old computer from Kogu the Belligerent’s house on Planet Yoomp.


10. At no time may anyone cast a vote for their own species, as this is selfish and boring and ruins it for everyone—looking at you, Alunizar.


11. Offensive verses must confine bloodshed to the staging area.


12. In the event that an applicant species comes in last, their solar system shall be unobtrusively quarantined for a period of not less than 50,000 years, their cultures summarily and wholly Binned, their homeworld mined responsibly for resources, and after a careful genetic reseeding of the biosphere, their civilization precision-incinerated from orbit so we can all sleep at night. Every effort will be made to spare unoffending flora and fauna. The planet’s biological processes will be allowed to start over without interference, older, wiser, more experienced, and able to learn from its mistakes. Any new species arising from said ecological matrix may reapply in the future without prejudice.


13. In the event that an applicant planet defeats at least one species of proven sentience and achieves some rank other than miserably dead last (so to speak), they shall be welcomed with open arms, spores, antennae, tentacles, wings, or other preferred appendages into the Untidy Lounge Room of the Extended Galactic Family.


14. In the event that a sentient species finishes in last place, they shall all go home and have a hard think about where they’ve gone wrong in life and promise never to do it again.


15. The final scoreboard shall determine the proportional distribution of all communally held Galactic Resources for the next cycle. (See attached documents for a full explication of said resources.) As this is kind of a big deal and has been, historically, the source of every war other than this one, see Rules 10, 17, and 18.


16. The undersigned, all their descendants, and any subsequently discovered civilizations we decide we can stand to talk to at parties, unto the heat-death of the universe or the next bout of belligerent stupidity makes all this maximally moot, whichever comes first, solemnly swear to play fair, listen with open minds, vote their feelings, not their ambitions, and not stack the roster with too many rookies all at once, so that everybody gets a really solid chance at not being vaporized if they don’t deserve to be.


17. Any violators of Rule 16 shall be subject to the gentle ministrations of Rule 12.


18. The winner shall compel their government to pick up everyone else’s drink tab, as well as put us all up and pay for the catering when we do this whole thing over again next year, no take-backsies, no changing mobile numbers, no pleading planetary austerity—take out a loan from the Intergalactic Happy Friendship Bank like everyone else, you skinflint.


19. Try your best and have fun!


After the Corking Incident at the thirtieth Grand Prix on the Utorak homeworld of Otozh, the subsequent trial, surprise exoneration, and politico-musical ascendency of the perpetrators—Igneous Lagom Opt, Aukafall Avatar 0, and the Entity Known as Monad—

a twentieth rule was added. At the time, the change was so controversial that protesters threatened to blow the thirty-first Grand Prix out of the sky if the Octave adopted it. However, with the launch of the Keshet Holistic Live Total Timeline Broadcast, the effects of Rule 20 proved so unreasonably, voyeuristically, nail-bitingly fun to watch from home that the protesters got completely addicted to viewing parties, and it became the galaxy’s favorite guilty pleasure and fundamentally changed the way the game was played, spectated, and won.


20. If a performer fails to show up on the night, they shall be automatically disqualified, ranked last, and their share of communal Galactic Resources forfeited for the year. Do try not to actually kill anyone. It’s a dreadful bother to clean up the mess.

(show spoiler)


Reading progress update: I've read 10%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

"They landed, if it could be called a landing, in everyone’s lounge rooms at once at two in the afternoon on a Thursday in late April. One minute the entire planet was planet-ing along, making the best of things, frying eggs or watching Countdown or playing repetitive endorphin-slurping games or whatnot on various devices, and the next there was a seven-foot-tall ultramarine half-flamingo, half-anglerfish thing standing awkwardly on the good rug.

Crystal-crusted bones showed through its feathery chest, and a wet, gelatinous jade flower wobbled on its head like an old woman headed off to church. It stared at every person in the world, intimately and individually, out of big, dark, fringed eyes sparkling with points of pale light, eyes as full of unnameable yearning and vulnerability as any Disney princess’s.

Those not in possession of lounge rooms encountered the newcomer in whatever places were most familiar and intimate to them. Anyone at work had quite a surprise waiting in the break room. Some, absorbed in accounts payable or receivable, absentmindedly hung their suit jackets up on its towering hat rack of a head; its long greenish-ivory neck flushed pink with embarrassment. A slender, glassy proboscis arced up from the center of its avian skull until the weight of the round luminous lamp at its tip bent the whole thing down quail-style between those trusting eyes, where it flickered nervously, its fragile-looking legs poised like a ballet dancer about to give the Giselle of her life. But every Homo sapiens sapiens in the biosphere, at that moment, came face-to-face with the feathered beyond."


*gulps* Tomorrow is Thursday. And we're getting to the latter part of April.


Should I be reading this so close to bedtime?

Reading progress update: I've read 8%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

"The story of the galaxy is the story of a single person in it. A cover version, overproduced, remastered, with the volume cranked up way past eleven and into the infinite."

That's rather nice.

Reading progress update: I've read 4%.

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

Life is beautiful and life is stupid. This is, in fact, widely regarded as a universal rule not less inviolable than the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Uncertainty Principle, and No Post on Sundays. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of all-annihilating flames to help you follow along. This book is that disco ball.
Cue the music. Cue the lights.


Lillelara and I have started the long-awaited new book by Catherynne M. Valente as a buddy read. Long-awaited because the title and subtitle "Space Opera - In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Sing" sounds way too hilarious to pass up on. 


If the first few pages are anything to go by, this will be a very quotable book, so there may be lots of update posts spamming your feeds. 


Also, am I the only one thinking it is time to plan the annual party for the Eurovision Song Contest?

The History of Bees

The History of Bees - Maja Lunde

Three stories: one set in England of the 1850s, one set in the US in 2007, and one in China in 2098. 


All of these stories have common themes - bees and the relationships between parents and children. 


There was a lot of promise in the beginning of the book, which described a world in which bees had become extinct and the pollination of plants had to be carried out by people in back-breaking labour instead. The descriptions of this potential future were harrowing - food shortages, oppression, everything you could want in a dystopian setting. yet, there was some humanity also in Tao's struggle to find out what happened to her son. 


The other two stories were less interesting. They also dealt with bees and the illusions that parents may have with respect to what is best for their children, but at about the half-way point in the book, both stories became a little predictable and stagnant.


Still, this was not a bad read for a debut novel. But it just wasn't enough to make me rush out to find more by the author anytime soon either. 


Btw, there is not actually that much about the history of bees per se in the book. Just as a point of note.

Die Känguru Trilogie

Die Känguru-Chroniken: Ansichten eines vorlauten Beuteltiers von Kling. Marc-Uwe (2009) Taschenbuch - Marc-Uwe Kling Das Känguru-Manifest von Kling. Marc-Uwe (2011) Taschenbuch - Marc-Uwe Kling Die Känguru-Offenbarung - Marc-Uwe Kling

Was fuer eine brilliante und spassige Reihe. Es hat zwar etwas gedauert bis ich mich mit dem Känguru angefreundet hatte, aber schon am Ende des ersten Buches (Die Känguru-Chroniken) wollte ich wieder ein Teil der WG von Marc-Uwe und dem Känguru sein. 


Teile 2 und 3 habe ich kurz vor und waehrend eines Aufenthaltes in Berlin angehoert, was das ganze ja noch etwas witziger gemacht hat, auch wenn meine stille Hoffnung, dem K. beim Flanieren zu begegnen, ja leider unerfuellt blieben. 


Ich werde das K. vermissen.


Tip: Unbedingt als Hoerbuch "lesen". Kling liest die Buecher selbst und es wirkt in gesprochener Form einfach viel besser als im Buch.




I don't believe this series has been translated into English, and to be honest, I doubt it would work as a lot of the humour and satire is based on puns and German media and politics. 


However, I loved this series about a communist kangaroo who used to be a member of the Viet Cong and who moves in with the author out of the blue - well, after it is wanted by the police and has to go into hiding. Not much hiding, tho. Marc-Uwe and the K. get up to all sorts of tricks to protest against the system and add a little bit of anarchy to city life in Berlin - like correcting graffiti, getting into trouble with youths, setting up various schemes to avoid gainful employment, setting up a youth club, and finally facing their arch-nemesis: the penguin from across the hall. 


This all sounds very cute, but underlying these stories is a biting satire of city life in Germany, which touches on issues such as immigration, the value of productivity, right-wing politics, the question of identity, history and much more. All is rolled up in a hodge-podge of references to and reworkings of various classic quotes, books, and films. 


I loved it. 

Post-Vacation Book Haul



I got back from the trip to Berlin this lunchtime and have lots of updates of books to post but spent most of today either sleeping or unpacking / doing laundry. 

So, updates and pictures are likely to follow later this week. 


As a first installment, here's what I did settle on picking up at the airport on the way back:



I have really high hopes for both books:


I picked up the audiobook of The Silk Roads a while back when it was on special offer, but this is a book I really want as a paper copy. A colleague of mine recommended it and I found the enthusiasm with which she told about the book rather catching. 


The second one, A Talent for Murder, is a slightly different temptation: I really don't like the idea of a fictional re-working of Christie's disappearance that much - there is a lot of potential to get things wrong, especially with respect to her actual biography and works.

BUT... Andrew Wilson is a biographer. He wrote a very good (imo) biography of Patricia Highsmith, and I appreciated how he seemed to stick to facts and steer clear of dramatising events in Highsmith's life. 

So, I am rather intrigued about his treatment of the story of Christie's "lost days". 

Love, Nina

Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life - Nina Stibbe

I picked up this book because I watched the series based on it on Netflix the other week and really liked it - probably because of the cast (Helena Bonham Carter played Mary-Kay Wilmers).


The book, however, was a different story. For some reason the story works on tv, but in epistolary novel format reads like a mildly amusing but gratingly inconsequential run down of stories that try to re-imagine Willy Russell's Educating Rita (but set in London) with added name-dropping of the London literati. 


I'll give Stibbe's other books a miss.

Currently reading

A Talent for Murder: A Novel by Andrew Wilson
Progress: 83/380pages
The Love Boat and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Constant Liberal: The Life and Work of Phyllis Bottome by Pam Hirsch
Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist by Sharman Apt Russell
Progress: 25/256pages
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 39%