What I Read This Month: August

And so another month comes to an end, another begins, and it is time to waffle on a bit about what I read. August was a pretty good reading month, I read some library books, a new release and a few things that have been sat unread on my shelves for years. I also reached a point where I had no idea what I wanted to read and so just thought, screw it, alphabetical order through my unread books it is...

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Full review can be found here.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

I decided at the start of the year that it was about darn time that I finally got to some more Dickens, or, you know, all of the Dickens. I'd previously read a few of his novels and enjoyed them very much but decided that reading them all, in publication order, was the way to actually get around to reading the rest. This, his third novel, was my latest read in that endeavor.

Though it took me a week and a half to get through this chunker of a book it was hugely enjoyable, the man was wordy as heck but he could write a cracker of a story. Going in, I had no idea at all what it was about, it's one of the Dickens stories that I had no prior knowledge of whatsoever, and it was a lot of fun watching the story unfold. This novel follows the adventures of the eponymous Nicholas Nickleby as he makes his way in life after the death of his father, hampered by the best efforts of his villainous uncle, Ralph.

Along the way we meet an array of fantastic characters, a real strength of Dickens is his ability to create interesting and eccentric characters in their multitudes with fantastic names to boot (Lord Verisopht was my favourite name in this one, made me laugh out loud the first time I read it). From the vile school master Squeers and the thoroughly detestable Sir Mulberry Hawk (who really needed to die in a hole), through the wonderfully funny Crummleses and Mantalinis, and to the thoroughly lovely cinnamon rolls that are the Cheeryble brothers and John Browdie, I fell in love (or hate) with them all.

This was far less episodic than the earlier Pickwick Papers, but was still a little bit so, and there are a few things that are a little too much of a convience and coincidence, but it was never to the point of it effecting my enjoyment. Overall another cracker from Mr Dickens, one of my favourites from him so far.

1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove

This has been sat on my shelf for years, picked up second hand somewhere or other, mainly because of its being written by Neil Gaiman, of whom I am a big fan. Taking the premise of a variety of Marvel comic characters in the setting of Elizabethan England, this is a fun graphic novel, with a gimmick that is so strange but works really well. I'm not really familiar with the Marvel comics, I am a fan of the movies but I was always more of a DC fan on the comics side, so it took me a little while to get in to the swing of this, it sometimes took me a minute to realise who people were or what was going on.

I really liked the explanation for the Elizabethan setting, that there was an actual reason for it in the end, the revelation of the identity of a certain someone made my jaw drop a little bit, very cleverly done. And Thor was a delight, as ever. While I liked the story, I didn’t love it, the art work was pretty good though nothing spectacular. So all in all a little bit middle of the road, but worth a read.

30 Days Of Night by Steve Niles

My one and only re-read for the month, this is the first in a series of comics about vampires, though this can very much stand on its own as a one-off. This has a very simple but kind of genius premise; a small, isolated town where the sun doesn't rise, invaded by the undead.

I absolutely love the art work in this, there is a soft focus to everything except for a few small elements which really makes the eyes, teeth, claws, blood, and flashes of light in the dark that are focused more sharply, really stand out in contrast. The impact is really effective and also rather beautiful. I also love the little details in the images, where text is occasionally added, a few hidden little jokes that really are worth taking a moment to notice, my favourite being an addition of an "etc" when Stella is firing her gun.

And speaking of Stella, I love her, she is a badass and it is glorious. The fact that our protagonists are a married couple, Stella and Eben complete equals of each other, is so fantastic, and though the story could have done with a little more substance, their relationship and our attachment to them by the end of this short graphic novel really does pack an emotional wallop.

But be aware that this is a bloody, brutal story, not for the weak of stomach. The vampires found within are monsters, there is nothing sexy about them, their faces twist grotesquely, while their fangs elongate and they drip blood. These vampires are the animalistic monsters of horror, not the sparkly boyfriend variety, they are in Barrow to rip out throats and play in the blood, but they are also more than that, with their own society and structures that come into play as the story unfolds. And I love it. A worthy addition to any graphic novel shelf.

30 Days Of Night: Dark Days by Steve Niles

The second volume, or sequel to 30 Days Of Night, continuing the story of Stella as she tries to get the world to listen to the truth of what happened in Barrow, I didn’t like this anywhere as much as the first. There was a little too much badassness… all black leather dusters and sunglasses, it just felt like a little bit too much of a leap for Stella to suddenly look like she wouldn't be out of place in The Matrix. And I could not tell the members of her gang apart at all.

Also they went down the good guy vampire route, just, no, do not like, stop. It didn't help that the "good guy" vamp went from wanting to kill and torment Stella to wanting to help her after learning one piece of information about what happened, and even worse that she went from wanting to kill him to wanting to jump his bones in about four seconds... what? Just generally Stella seemed a bit dim when it came to men, her common sense was turned down to minus seven.

Still, there was some pretty cool stuff. I did like some of the direction that the story went, how Stella wrote 30 Days Of Night as a piece of non-fiction and was trying to get the story out, how she was taking the fight to the vampires, she's still a badass, if less of a realistic one. The house blowing up at the end was awesome, and new antagonist Lilith was fairly interesting, and it was nice to see the return of a character or two and where they went after the first story. Probably not one I'll re-read though.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I have wanted to read this for quite some time and finally picked up a copy from Foyles while in London in July (on that fateful day I went to see Aladdin), not able to resist getting it from a bookshop in Charing Cross Road. This is a non-fiction book made up of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, an American with a love of antiquarian books, and Frank Doel and the other staff of Marks & Co, a bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road.

This was friggin adorable, I now want to go and befriend random bookseller people. This is the stuff that stories are made of, two people who never met but who share a connection because of books, forming a bond across an ocean through a correspondence that lasted twenty years. It was such fun to read through the letters, watching the friendship slowly form as the formality slips away, as Helene cracks jokes and sends presents of rationed items (this started while Britain was still under rationing), so easy to breeze through, I read this in an afternoon. But there is some bitter in with the sweet, as all things must come to an end, and it is a bit of a gut punch when some things do.

Included in this edition was also The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street, chronicling Helene's eventual visit to London after the publication and success of 84 Charing Cross Road, through her diary entries. This was another charming story, her love and enthusiasm for the city is intoxicating and infectious, but then London is a wonderfully enchanting place, hard not to fall in love with. There are some more laughs, a few tears, and a fun adventure to be had, with some new and endearing people to meet. Though a little slower to read than the first half, being slightly more substantially written than letters, this is just as entertaining, just as delightful, and just as much a book lover's dream.

A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking

Science, heck yeah! I am a nerd. Like, really. Maths was more my thing than science but still, it is all fascinating. This is of course one of the most famous science books in existence, written by the ridiculously brainy Stephen Hawking, attempting to explain some of the basics of our understanding of big sciency things in a way that a layman can understand. And for the most part, he did a pretty good job.

I understood a lot more of this than I thought I would. Of course there are things that I was already at least vaguely familiar with, I know what gravity is, what the Big Bang was, what red shift is, I knew that E=mc². But then there are a few parts that made me feel a complete blithering dunderhead, where things started to just go, whoosh, over my head. I know and understand what imaginary numbers are but when he started on about imaginary time my brain just went, huh? Fire bad, tree pretty...

Written with wit, historical context, and an ability to keep you interested, this was definitely worth a read and one I will certainly have to return to some day, when hopefully I'll understand even more.

Mr Briggs' Hat by Kate Colquhoun

I'd been quite interested in reading this one for some time, I do like a bit of non-fiction and historical crime is pretty fascinating. This is the true story of the first murder committed on the British railways, of Mr Thomas Briggs, whose empty train compartment was discovered on the night of 9th July 1864, containing an awful lot of blood, and somebody else's hat.

Colquhoun paints a vivid picture of Victorian England; of the blanket of fog that was ever present over London; of the cramped, isolated, locked boxes that were the train compartments; of the eager police force still in its infancy; and the media frenzy that ran rampant with no regard for its impact in creating bias. Written almost like fiction, this was a breeze to fly though, but it ended up being just a little disappointing. The crime itself, the main draw for my little bloodthirsty heart, was rather less sensational than I was expecting, only really of note because of where it took place, and though a chase ensued across the ocean and the media had a field-day, the actual investigation was fairly straightforward.

The book's strength for me lies in the questions it raises, about guilt, the justice system, reasonable doubt, and capital punishment, which was just starting to fall out of favour, though it wouldn't be abolished in Britain for another hundred years. It was quite fascinating, and a little horrifying, to get a glimpse at how police work and criminal conviction was done at the time, long before fingerprinting and DNA, when every tiny lead took time and man-power that they didn't really have to spare, and where, even more than today, people were tried and convicted in the press. As we are presented with the evidence we see that there were questions left unanswered, leads uninvestigated, and even witness statements outright ignored. We can't know for sure if the right man was caught, but we do know that this murder changed the railways forever, leading to regulations that increased passenger safety and undoubtedly saved lives, a fitting legacy for poor Thomas Briggs and his missing hat.

The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye

At the christening of Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne, the seventh daughter born to the King and Queen, all of the fairies in attendance grant her extraordinary gifts. But then Crustacea, the most powerful of all, grants her a different kind of gift, that of ordinariness. And so Princess Amy, as she becomes known, grows up unlike her six stunningly beautiful and talented sisters, quite ordinary, brown hair, freckles, clumsiness and all, not at all what a princess is supposed to be, at least according to everyone else. With her marriage prospects looking grimmer by the day (nobody wants to marry a brunette with freckles, gasp, the horror) the kingdom hatches a plan to trick a prince into marrying her, all it'll take is importing a dragon to ravage the land!

This was an adorable little read, I would have loved this as a kid. Who wants to be a perfect princess, wafting about looking pretty while waiting to marry a perfectly boring prince? I certainly didn't. Climbing trees and befriending squirrels is way more fun, and Amy certainly thinks so too. This princess may be ordinary but she isn't boring, she's kind and helpful and hardworking, happy to sacrifice her life of luxury for the good of the people, and to work for her living when she needs to, doing hard work for little pay but not shying away from it, taking pride in it.

I loved that this looked at being ordinary as a strength, not a weakness, something that we really should be teaching children rather than the opposite. Sure, sometimes people are extraordinary, but most of the time most people are just ordinary, and that is perfectly fine. Though this is still a fairy tale through and through, with a happily ever after ending, it is just subversive enough to stand out. There was a touch of romance and it was pretty obvious what the twist would be, but even that was adorable, this was just all round a charming little read, one that I'd certainly give to any little girl who isn't the perfect princess either.

Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh

Still in the mood for some classic children's fantasy adventure goodness, I picked this one up. This is the story of Rosemary, a young girl who decides to help out her financially struggling mother by secretly offering her services as a cleaner during her summer holidays. Having bought a broom at the market from a strange old woman, who threw in a beautiful black cat in the bargain, she discovers to her delight that it is a magical witch's broom, and that while holding it she can her the cat speak. He is Carbonel, kidnapped cat royalty, and he needs her help to break the curse upon him.

I'd never heard of this until I spotted it randomly and picked it up, intrigued by the lovely cover illustration of a little girl on a flying broom with a black cat, I am after all a sucker for a cat. Carbonel is a really cute story, another that I would have loved as a child, full of adventures as Rosemary, Carbonel and their new friend John, try to track down the various items needed to release him so he can go back and save his people from the sinister ginger cat who has taken over in his absence. This reminded me a little of Enid Blyton, a compliment since I adored her books as a child, and I think this would be a sure fire hit for the same audience. Super adorable, talking cats, flying brooms, magic spells, wacky but very English adventures, what is not to love?

Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Full review can be found here.

The Man Who Couldn't Stop by David Adam

Another I picked up on a complete whim when I spotted it at the library, this is a non-fiction account of Adam's personal struggle with OCD, with an overview of the history and treatment of the condition thrown in for good measure. I do not suffer from OCD, though I am autistic and so share some traits with it, but I know a few people who do and so I wanted to learn more about it.

This was a very personal look at Adam's experience with his condition, centered around an irrational fear of catching HIV in incredibly unlikely and even impossible ways, something that turns out to be surprisingly prevalent a fixation among suffers, but also a look at the science behind it, what might be the cause of the obsessive thoughts, and how it might be treated. Unlike the general perception, OCD is far more about obsessional thoughts than actions, irrational and often horrifying thoughts that most people have but can dismiss without incident become insurmontable for those with OCD, taking over every waking moment, a constant voice in the back of the mind saying "but what if...".

OCD is still treated like a punchline, a throwaway remark when someone likes things to be orderly or is finickity about cleanliness, but the condition is a lot more than that, and a lot more impactful than we give it credit for. This book makes it very clear that this perception is both wrong and damaging, leaving many people unaware that this is what they have while many others dismiss the suffering of those living with it. This is one of the most common mental illnesses but is still shrouded in secrecy and jest, something that needs to change.

The Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

Well this was a weird one. More of an illustrated short story than a novel or novella, this is a fairy tale written by Niffenegger for the purpose of being made into a ballet. The story of a policeman who falls in love with a raven (see, weird), and the lengths their half-raven, half-human daughter goes to to fulfill her desire to fly. Seriously, this was so weird.

But weird can be good. I did really like the subversiveness of the story, the mad scientist and the quiet boy who loves the girl from afar not filling quite the roles they traditionally would have, the raven girl determining her own destiny and making decisions about her own life and body with full autonomy. The illustrations were of the weird but oddly beautiful variety, at times grotesque, at times stunning, they fit the story to a tee and I often found myself just pouring over them rather than turning the pages.

So yeah, weird. If you enjoy a bit of weird, a bit of modern fairy tale, and can deal with humans falling in love with birds, who I can't quite decide if they were bird sized or giant human-size birds, then this might be one to check out. I would love to see the ballet, it was probably absolutely stunning. Weird, but stunning.

Total Books: 13
Total Pages: 3,655
Average Rating: 

No comments:

Post a Comment