Looking for something to read?

Looking for something to read? Here’s a few books I’ve read lately. And look – they’re not all fantasy novels!!

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

 I bet we’ve all received one of those Christmas letters that makes the writer’s life and family sound disgustingly perfect. The main character of this book, Angela Gillespie, has been writing them for 33 years, but this year she lets off steam. Instead of the usual picture-perfect image, she tells it like it is, complete with worries about all four of her children, her fears for her marriage, and her imaginings on what her life might have been like if she’d married someone else entirely.

She never means to send it, but of course fate intervenes and the damning email gets circulated to all the usual recipients. The whole family starts falling apart, and just when it seems things couldn’t possibly get worse — of course, they do.

The relationships between the characters are well done and feel very natural, although the three adult daughters act a lot more like teenagers than supposedly mature women. But their different problems and stories are all interesting, and once the tables are turned and they have to help Angela instead of the other way around they manage to pull together and create a happy ending for everybody.

An enjoyable read, and nice to have a woman in her fifties as the protagonist for a change. Young love is all very well, but it’s not the only flavour around.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

 

If you haven’t read Book 1, it’s called Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot in some parts of the world), and I highly recommend it. It got this urban fantasy/police procedural series off to a flying start.

Broken Homes is the fourth book about the adventures of London police constables (and apprentice magicians) Peter Grant and Lesley Mai. I enjoyed the previous books in this series more than this one. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention as I read, but whole chunks of the plot didn’t seem to have much relevance to the story. There is a long section at a rather menacing night fair on the banks of the Thames, for instance. All sorts of magical types are wandering around, but nothing seems to come of it.

As usual, the worldbuilding is detailed and convincing but the story doesn’t pick up pace until about halfway through. The last section was tense and thrilling, and it ended on a truly shocking cliffhanger, one that I never saw coming. It makes me nervous about what will happen to Peter and Lesley in Book 5 …

Dead Famous by Ben Elton

 

I’ve read this one before, but it’s still fun to reread. It’s a highly entertaining comment on society’s current infatuation with reality TV, and features a “Big Brother”-type show with the addition of a real on-screen murder. At least half the housemates have a motive, so the curmudgeonly old detective assigned to the case has a tough job ahead of him. It’s a clever whodunnit, and the final scene where the detective reveals the murderer with some prime-time television theatrics of his own is great fun.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

 

And just to prove that I occasionally read Serious Fiction, we come to Burial Rites (my book club made me do it!). If you like a happy ending, this is not the book for you. This is the story of the final days of the last woman to be hanged in Iceland, and it doesn’t get much grimmer than that. Not only is the subject matter dark, but the hardscrabble lives of all the characters and the bitter climate of Iceland only add to the general feeling of misery that pervades the book.

However, it is beautifully written, and it’s worth reading just for that. Kent brings this harsh world alive in all its icy beauty, and she digs deep into the lives of her characters, illuminating both the flaws and the virtues that make them human. Not a cheerful read, but a good one.

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet …

For a beautiful burst of colour, check out Matt’s Japanese flower blanket. So gorgeous! I’m making a scarf with this pattern, but so far  my scarf is only six flowers long, so it could be a long while before I get to wear it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to admire his.

Elizabeth Bear on how to move past that stage where your writing is getting “rave rejections”, ie I loved this but …

Seth Godin muses on the end of bookstores: Basically, people have too many other amusements to bother with reading, especially when so many have suffered under well-meaning but dull education programs that make reading a chore. “More than once, friends have said, ‘you should be really pleased, I even finished your new book.’ My guess is that no one says that to Laurence Fishburne about his new movie.”

Had to laugh at that, and it’s a valid point, but I don’t believe you can therefore assume reading is dead – only that there might be many more readers if education didn’t insist on foisting “worthy” books on kids. But judging by the kind of books my girls are assigned (eg Uglies by Scott Westerfeld), things have changed a lot even since I was at school, and the future of reading seems pretty healthy.

Ad fail

Dear advertising agency,

You know that radio ad you produced where the smart alec voice-over lady begins, “You wouldn’t read the end of a book first, so why make a decision without seeing our beautiful range blah blah blah”?

That ad doesn’t have the effect you think it does.

Every time I hear Smartypants Lady say “You wouldn’t read the end of a book first” in that ho ho ho, we’re all adults here way, I want to shout at the radio, “HA!! Shows how much you know, lady!”. I’m too busy arguing with her to take in the rest of the sentence, or even notice what the ad is for. And I don’t think that’s what “talkback radio” is supposed to mean.

What kind of a boring universe do you come from, ad people? I thought you were meant to be creative types. Do you really think nobody ever peeks? Have you never been so caught up in a character’s dramas that you are simply compelled to flip ahead to make sure he or she makes it to the end of the book alive?

Those numbers at the bottom of each page? Some of us take those as a suggested reading order only. And those of us with freakishly tiny attention spans develop evil habits of turning big chunks of pages at a time, reading a bit, then skipping another big chunk in our efforts to get to the end and find out what happens. Later, when our curiosity is not so urgent, we go back and read the bits we skipped. Or not.

Of course, people who do that tend to end up with tottering piles of books around the house that never seem to get finished, as discussed in my post about the bookmark that had been there so long it changed colour. Which is a whole ’nother problem. Certainly not something I would recommend. Ahem.

Nevertheless, your insistence that reasonable people would never contemplate reading out of order makes me want to rush out and commit reckless acts of non-sequential reading just to spite you. I know, I’m mature like that. But come on, I can’t be the only person who gets so caught up in a book they can’t resist leaping ahead. Maybe you’re just reading the wrong kind of books.

And you know what else? I’ve even heard there are people who read the last page before they buy the book. Just to make sure there’s a Happily Ever After before they waste their money and emotional investment. Shocking, isn’t it? Can you believe that?

Oh, right. I guess not.

But you might want to rethink that ad. It sure ain’t working for this little black duck. And who knows how many other people are driving around Sydney yelling at their radios?

Yours sincerely,
Crazy Lady Who Yells At Radios