2015 Reading Round-up 3 – the Books

In the past I’ve written reviews as I’ve completed books. I think I want to go back to that. However since I haven’t done that this last year, I’ll have to do one in the style of my 2014 round-up.

(most of the links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. I get a tiny amount if you follow them and eventually buy something. If you’d rather not then don’t use them and/or clear your cookies.)

All You Need is Kill – I actually did review so follow the link if you’re interested. Here I’ll just say I enjoyed it. 7/10.

Witches Abroad Terry Pratchett – re-read as part of an online book group. Pleasantly surprised as better than I had remembered. It has some excellent Granny Weatherwax moments and is a whole lot of fun. 8/10

Revival Stephen King – attracted by a new King novel that wasn’t a doorstop and slightly fooled by the cover I set out to read what I thought would be a tale of a tent-revivalist preacher with some sort of supernatural secret. In the end that was a small part of it and the real story was based on another meaning of “revival”. Overall it felt like the story was only a vehicle for King to indulge 1950s/60s nostalgia. 6/10

Who is Tom Ditto?, Danny Wallace – like his other novel Charlotte Street, this was a sort of rom-com based around a central high concept (which I won’t spoil). I was drawn in by the concept and engaged by the characters but it meandered a bit and the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I’d’ve liked. 7/10

Steelheart (Reckoners Book 1), Brandon Sanderson – story set in a world of super heroes where those with powers are the bad guys. I enjoyed it. 8/10.

Funny Girl, Nick Hornby – story of the rise to fame of a “British Lucille Ball” in the 60s. Actually it follows all the main protagonists in the making of a hit sitcom of the era – the writers, male star, producers. Readable and likeable. 8/10

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler – story about a family and some of the secrets it hides. It’s about what it means to be family and how we relate to each other and our past. It’s more than that, there’s a big “twist” I’m avoiding because honestly I didn’t know and I think it helped my enjoyed of the book. 7/10

The Sword of Rhiannon (aka The Sea-Kings of Mars), Leigh Brackett – short novella, written in the 50s in the style of classic 30s SciFi, a kind of Sword-and-Spaceship swashbuckle across ancient Mars. It was quite fun. 7/10

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke – a long novel about the re-discovery of “English magic” in the early 1800s. Actually enjoyed it a lot, despite the length. If I read it again I might avoid some of the footnotes! 8/10

City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett – fantasy set in a world which used to have gods but they have apparently died. A foreign diplomat comes to the city of Bulikov to investigate a murder. A good thriller with an interesting world. 8/10

Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury – saw this at the library and thought I should finally read this classic. It’s a book I’m glad rather than enjoyed reading. The prose style threw me. I think it’s supposed to create an other-worldly atmosphere. I did enjoy the story though. 6/10

In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume – in 1952/3 a small town in New Jersey suffered 3 air-crashes in a period of a few months. This is a fictionalised story of a few of the inhabitants of that town. I enjoyed it. 7/10

Turmabout, Thorne Smith – from a Kindle anthology of his novels, Thorne Smith is the guy who wrote the book Topper which was made into a film with Cary Grant. When I finally got around to reading one of them it was this sex-swap comedy. The premise appealed. However as well as being dated in terms of attitudes, which I’d expected, it was written with idioms and phrases which I didn’t get. Also the plot felt somewhat random. Not without some appeal but not great. 6/10

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel – a pre-, during-, post-apocalyptic novel about a world-wide plague that wipes out 95% of humanity. This was a “literary” SciFi novel and those are often dodgy but this I really enjoyed. It moves around in time a lot but I was never lost. For those keeping count I read this twice during the year. 8/10.

Love and Mr. Lewisham, H.G. Wells – I fancied reading some of Wells’ non-SciFi fiction. This was an OK read, a bit dated, but still relateable emotionally. It concerns the eponymous Mr. Lewisham and his pursuit of his rigid “Plan” for his life which become derailed when he meets and falls in love with a woman. It’s about how his attitudes change as his life circumstances do. 6/10

Space Captain Smith, Toby Frost – a SciFi spoof. Sort of “Flashman in space” (though I’ve never read the Flashman books). I felt like something lighter and this was. The tone wandered a bit as Frost chose to exploit all possibilities for spoofing, even when the genre was a bit different. Still fun and readable. 7/10

Uprooted, Naomi Novik – fantasy set in a world where the “Dragon” (a local magician) takes one girl every ten years to his castle. This is in exchange for keeping the people safe from the Wood. This was uneven for me. Parts of it were excellent, parts were tedious descriptions of magic use in far more detail than I needed. So overall 7/10.

The Tiny Wife, Andrew Kaufman – I think you either enjoy Kaufman’s little flights of fancy and not quite allegories, or you don’t. Fortunately I do.  My favourite of his is The Waterproof Bible but this is fun, short and has some nice illustrations. I particularly liked the bit about the woman who found God. He was under the sofa. 8/10

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch – this was a re-read of the PC Grant books which was supposed to go straight on to reading the ones I haven’t yet read. However I only managed to complete this one. Very much enjoyed it though. See original review 9/10

The Internet is Not the Answer, Andrew Keen – a non-fiction book! It’s a sort of antidote to the sometimes utopian idea that the internet (and related technologies) will solve all our problems. Keen argues that far from doing that they make some things (e.g. wealth inequality) worse. However he doesn’t really have any alternative answers so that was a bit frustrating. The one take away I had is that Amazon is large but in comparison to revenues it has tiny profits, Facebook is an order of magnitude bigger and Google is just huge. 7/10

Time and Time Again, Ben Elton – haven’t read an Elton book in a while. I used to be quite the fan but this is the first of his I’ve read in the era of my blogging. Story is that a ex-special forces soldier in the near future gets sent back in time to prevent the First World War from happening. I enjoyed this quite a bit. The period obviously fascinates Elton as does the way history inter-connects (he has fun with the possible consequences of a world without WWI). Enjoyed it. 8/10

The Stainless Steel Rat, Harry Harrison – I was reminded of these books from when I read them in my youth. I decided to re-read and got through the first 4 (in publication order, the collection has them in chronological order of the character). 8/10 for the first and 7/10 for the other 3. A lot of the enjoyment was nostalgia but hey I’ll take it.

Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman – story about a brilliant high-school pupil who starts behaving strangely. It covers the merging of his real world with an imaginary one created by his mental illness. I admired this more than liked it. It does manage to convey how it might feel to suffer from some of the issues the main character has, perhaps that was a little too close to home for me? It was short enough that I was able to power through. 7/10

How to be Good, Nick Hornby – I’d set this aside to read back when I was doing my re-read project. I decided to read it on a whim when I was enjoying my new found I-can-read-what-I-like spirit. I enjoyed it but it confirmed it space on my list of Hornby’s merely good books. Given that it was contemporary at the turn of the 21st century there were also some details that seemed odd or quaint in today’s terms (similar to how I felt re-reading My Lengendary Girlfriend) 6/10

Touch, Claire North – I enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and saw this at the library so thought I’d give it a go. Actually I listened to most of it via audiobook on my drive north to see my parents over Xmas. I have to say it took an effort to finish it. The story concerns “ghosts” who are people who can takeover other people’s bodies by touch. They no longer have bodies of their own so they move from one host to another. Sometimes it’s a quick stay, very quick if used as a vector to another more suitable body, and sometimes they live a significant portion of a host’s life for them. I liked the idea and to a point the execution but it felt like it went on longer than it needed to. A lot of the switching felt like an excuse for a travelogue. 6/10

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s Series), Jodi Taylor – St. Mary’s is an “historical research” institute. What that means to the outside world is they somehow come up with more historical evidence and information than has hitherto been found. What it is in fact is a group of historians and technicians using time-travel to find out more about the past. This is the first of many stories in this world. It has its Harry Potter style learning section. It has, of course, a trip back to the Jurassic to see dinosaurs. It also has a thriller-ish story of outside forces that mean harm to St. Mary’s. I felt like this would be a fun romp like Space Captain Smith, and it was in places. However it’s also quite dark in places. Danger is real, people actually die and very difficult issues are dealt with. But it is worth reading. 7/10

Next, and finally, the return of the “Melissa” awards.

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