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Month: July 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 211: Bookworm (2018) by Lucy Mangan

I related to this book so hard it could easily be my own memoir of childhood reading. Oh, I didn’t read exactly the same books as Lucy Mangan, and I didn’t feel the same as she did about others, but this account of her early life spent between the pages of a dizzying array of children’s fiction, and her adult perceptions of those books now, just sang to me as I don’t think any other memoir ever has.

Mangan is wry and clever and self-deprecatory and amusing, and this book did so much to make me appreciate not only children’s books as a whole — she seeds a lot of research about the history of the genre, from its early, prosy religious instructional works to the powerhouse bestsellers of today — but the ones I read myself that it made me want to do nothing so much as return to those enchanted worlds, and explore some of the others that I missed out on, but that Mangan recommends so enthusiastically.

This is a must-read book for every lifelong bookworm.

She’s wrong about Twilight, though.


TBR DAY 211: Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
GENRE: Non-Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~9 months.  
PURCHASED FROM: Christmas gift.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 210: Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) by Diana Wynne Jones

It is among my greatest shames that I do not like Studio Ghibli films. From Princess Mononoke to Ponyo to Porco Rosso, these Japanese animated features are considered masterpieces of the anime art, but for all that I have been steadily exploring that fertile playground over the past few years (hi, Tristan, my partner in weekly anime nights!), I still have not been able to work up the least enthusiasm for these .

Howl’s Moving Castle is yet another Ghibli film that I abhor, written and directed by the much-vaunted Hayao Miyazaki — in fact, I hate it so much I have never managed to get to the end of it, despite trying multiple times. So when I saw the book upon which it is (it turns out, loosely) based, I belatedly realized there was a way to find out what happened in the end without inflicting any more of that histrionic nonsense upon myself.

Told with great simplicity and no little wit, this very fairy tale-esque adventure sees a lovely young girl magicked into an old woman and forced to infiltrate a crotchety wizard’s ambulatory home in order to, perhaps, have the spell undone. We treat with family and friendship and not judging books by covers and abuse of power, and yes, there is a moving castle, which is kind of a dilapidated Hogwarts on chicken legs.

I really wish I hadn’t seen the anime so I could have imagined all of that for myself. 


TBR DAY 171: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Already Read Bookshop, North Fitzroy.
KEEP: No, I’ll pass this on to an interested child of some kind.

READING THE TBR, DAY 209: The Diary of Adam and Eve (1906) 06by Mark Twain

Mark Twain is, of course, famously amusing, and this slim volume — which brings together two short stories written in the early 1900s, towards the end of the genius satirist’s life — is possibly his most hilarious work. To me, anyway. I am always up for a Biblical satire, and this one is top quality.

Eve is curious, lonely and determined to understand the world around her. She is also quite smitten with Adam, but he refuses to speak to her. For his part, Adam is fed up with this creature who keeps following him around insisting she is made from his rib. (He is certain he still has all of his original parts.) Eve comes up with names for things that Adam finds objectionable, but he can’t or won’t come up with alternatives. She talks all the time, and he finds her annoying — but then he comes to miss her when she isn’t around.

I really loved this look at Early — some might contend first — Man. And it makes me want to go and tackle all the Twain I have been putting off these many decades.



TBR DAY 209: The Diary of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain
GENRE: Humour
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 208: My Father’s Dragon (1948) by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Last year, Netflix announced a forthcoming television adaptation of this American children’s classic, and the very next day I saw it on the shelf of a local secondhand bookstore. Never one to ignore a fortuitous coincidence, I bought it immediately… and, as always, left it far too long unread.

I feel like the most important detail to know about this book is that there really isn’t much dragon in it. It’s more about the journey to the dragon, to rescue the dragon, who is at the mercy of a lion, for no very understandable reason. The story is told by the son of the hero, Elmer Elevator, and he does not for a moment doubt the veracity of this childhood tale, and so we don’t either. We believe the talkative and sage alley cat who tells Elmer about the captive dragon, Elmer’s solo childhood rescue mission to Wild Island and the chatty lion who is fooled by Aesop’s Fable-style tricks.   

It’s all very cute and, unlike with many other American childhood classics — Love You Forever, The Giving Tree… ugh. Terrible. —  I very much wish I had encountered this one when I was of an age to be utterly enchanted, rather than just… find it cute.


TBR DAY 208: My Father’s Dragon (My Father’s Dragon #1) by Ruth Stiles Gannett
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year. 
PURCHASED FROM: Already Read Bookshop.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 207: Is it Just Me? (2012) by Miranda Hart

Miranda Hart is a very funny comedian whose plummy accent contrasts delightfully with her slightly sophomoric silliness, but who can also bring some quality observational satire to her sets — and, of course, which she brought to her popular eponymous sitcom. 

I loved that sitcom, and so of course bought this book not long after its release — and, as usual, am reading it a mere six or so years later. I am speedy like that.

Throughout, Hart delivers many a sharply pointed judgment but there is also a lot of her familiar, always delightful, self-deprecation as she bemoans what it is to be an adult, and looks back on her Enid Blyton series-worthy years at an English girl’s boarding school. She recounts embarrassing incidents and delivers a bunch of her signature bubbly asides, and you positively hear her voice in her prose, which is not something always accomplished in a memoir, especially a memoir of a comedian.

In short, this book is very funny. Just like Miranda. 


TBR DAY 207: Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart
GENRE: Humour
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 6 years.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 206: Maulever Hall (1963) by Jane Aitken Hodge

About a quarter of the way into this book, I knew exactly where it was going. Our heroine has amnesia, and there is much mystery as to where she came from, who she is, why she was running away and who is the little boy she had with her, but who does not seem to be hers? When I tell you that she does not regain her memory until the novel’s overblown conclusion, hundreds of pages later, and that in the meantime she is proposed to multiple times by no less than three men, becomes engaged (halfway through the book!), is told that she is already married, survives multiple attempts on her life, and relies on the kindness of so many strangers she should be dead many times over even without the assassin on her trail, you will scarce credit it, nor should you.

The ending is even more nutty, in which our dismayingly foolish heroine a) believes a proven liar again, b) puts herself in harm’s way again and c) gives her psychopathic would-be murderer exactly what he always wanted, simply because he only decided to murder her and a child for the sake of love.  

This book is ridiculous.

Of course, Gothic fiction is ridiculous; it’s supposed to be outlandish and near-farcical. It’s also supposed to be creepy, though this one misses that mark almost entirely. I haven’t read a lot of Gothics — most of my experience is drawn from Northanger Abbey and Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow, both of which are gentle but merciless parodies of the genre — but I have read enough to know that this attempt is… less than stellar. 

Speaking of Heyer, I originally bought this book because Jane Aiken Hodge was her first biographer, and while that effort was not nearly as successful as Jennifer Kloester’s more recent chronicle of that elusive genius, I nevertheless was very curious about the quality of Hodge’s own historical fiction, and kind of ashamed of myself that I hadn’t even known such existed, let alone had read it.

If this is any indication of her general standard, though, I really haven’t been missing much.  


TBR DAY 206: Maulever Hall by Joan Aiken Hodge
GENRE: Gothic Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
KEEP: Maybe, but only for Heyerian reasons.

READING THE TBR, DAY 205: Mystery Men (2011) by David Liss

“Introducing Marvel’s all-new, never-before-seen heroes of the 1930s!” So begins the blurb of this comic, and is the reason that I bought it. I didn’t quite understand how there were these long-lost characters from the 30s that had gone unseen for so many decades, especially since Marvel Comics was not even founded until 1939, which proved to me, yet again, that I am not nearly as smart as I sometimes think I am.

Because of course these are not characters from the 1930s. They are characters set in the 1930s.

In my defense, that is a very deceptive sentence.

The adventure depicted in this pulp-esque noir-ish mini-series follows a fairly typical dark thriller plot that could easily have been written in the time in which it is set — there’s an innocent man framed for murder, corrupt politicians, organized crime run riot and people wearing hats. The Lindbergh baby makes an appearance, and a few other hallmarks of the era, and it’s all pretty oppressive and bleak, because damn, the 30s were, apparently. It wasn’t called the Depression for nothing.

Our superheroes — five in all — are conflicted and suffering from every societal issue of the time, from racism to sexism to daddy issues (okay, so those are pretty timeless issues, unfortunately), and also must battle against monsters, because yeah. When you think noir, obviously the supernatural is the next thought that comes to mind.

I really enjoyed the Aviatrix (whose sister was murdered, and who is the possessor of a pair of Falcon-style mechanical wings for no apparent reason) as a nascent superheroine, and the Surgeon’s dark and creepy one-liners genuinely made me wonder if he was being set up as our villain instead. (“When I’m finished cutting away, they won’t recognize you.”) I always hate an innocent-patsy-on-the-run tale, so that wasn’t my favourite, but that aspect of the story did add events a certain tension throughout.

And the art — which is fantastic — made up for a lot.

In short, this is a pretty fun pulpy ride, enough so that I kind of wish the aforementioned superheroes, along with the equally troubled Operator, Revenant and Achilles, really had been created in the 1930s, after all. I would have loved to see the reboot. 


TBR DAY 205: Mystery Men by David Liss; illustrated by Patrick Zircher
GENRE: Marvel, Comics, Superheroes
TIME ON THE TBR: ~6 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Why not?

READING THE TBR, DAY 204: Nanny Returns (2009) by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

As someone who has worked with children a lot over the years, there was a good deal in 2002’s The Nanny Diaries that really resonated with me. I mention no names, as that would be unprofessional and unseemly, but I’ll not deny that there was a lot that was familiar about Nan’s interactions with assorted disinterested yet jealous parents and their somewhat spoilt but very lonely offspring. 

This sequel is of a similar quality — in that, it’s unspectacular, yet has a certain appeal — and describes life for Nan ten years later, when her former charge, Grayer X (see: no names), reenters her life demanding to know how she could have left him like that. (Er… it was her job, and she got fired, bud. You think she should have abducted you?) Then Grayer needs Nan’s help to lie to the boarding school he wants his little brother to go to, to get him away from their crazy Mom, and Nan just… does it? Even though now she is a consultant at the ritzy Manhattan school that Grayer happens to attend, and definitely no one’s nanny anymore? There are scandals, there are petty rivalries, there are way too many school board meetings, and it’s all very Upper East Side privilege as written by those who haven’t much experienced Upper East Side privilege.

It’s all a bit ludicrous, but then, I watched six seasons of Gossip Girl, and this book is certainly no worse than that, all Bergdorf’s and multi-million-dollar converted lofts and kids who summer in St. Barts or whatever. Nan isn’t that great, and her husband Ryan — whom I remember she called HH in the first book, though I can’t remember what that stood for — is worse, campaigning to knock her up but absent so much for his work that it is clear she would be doing the bulk of the parenting, when she isn’t even sure she wants kids, and as for Grayer, he’s a Poor Little Rich Boy, and Nan is not helping him at all by basically indulging his every whim. But for all the book’s deficiencies, I raced through it in a state of frenzy, dying to see what would happen next and always happy to renew an acquaintanceship with a barely-recalled characters from the first one.

I really hope there won’t be a third one, though.


TBR DAY 206: Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years.  
KEEP: Probably not.

READING THE TBR, DAY 203: An Apple for the Creature (2012), edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

Thirteen short stories, most of them tied into existing Urban Fantasy series, loosely tied together with the (often even looser-ly applied) topic of education make up this often entertaining, sometimes tiresome, collection.

The highlight for me was definitely Ilona Andrews’s “Magic Tests,” in which teen Julie is forced by her guardian Kate Daniels to attend a private school for the magically gifted, where she uncovers a deadly mystery. (Because Kate Daniels is her guardian.)  There’s a perfectly serviceable Sookie Stackhouse story from Charlaine Harris — not a favourite, but okay — and a decent entry into Faith Hunter’s Skinwalker series. I always enjoy Amber Benson’s Calliope Jones stories, and this was… another one of those, slightly snarky, kinda silly, mostly a good time.

I also really enjoyed the tech-meets-magic thriller that was “Spellcaster 2.0” by Jonathan Maberry, who is an author I had never read before, but will be checking out his back list now. (Great. More books.)

The other stories were… fine.

Anthologies are like that, right? Gold sifted from among the dross — and what is precious to some will be insignificant to others. The awesomeness of Julie’s story, though. Surely everyone can agree on that one.


TBR DAY 203: An Apple for the Creature, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner
GENRE: Urban Fantasy, Short Stories
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  

READING THE TBR, DAY 202: Tears in Rain (2011) by Rosa Montero

For all my love of science fiction, I have never been particularly drawn to cyberpunk as a subgenre. Of course, I have read Neuromancer and Johnny MnemonicSnowcrash and Altered Carbon among other such, not to mention a bunch of applicable Philip K. Dick. I’ve seen every iteration of Blade Runner that exists on film (and that is a lot). But I think there is something about its generally bleak vision of the future — that technology and progress will overtake us so implacably that we will be powerless to prevent society’s inevitable descent into cybernetics, dehumanization and, above all, loneliness — that makes me unutterably sad.

This novel echoes those themes in spades, but also gives it all a Spanish flair — it is set in New Madrid in the too-near future — while also giving us a face-tattooed artificial life form as our detective heroine, who rejoices under the unlikely moniker of Bruna Husky.

Bruna — who is more usually referred to as “the detective” and “the rep”, which is kind of annoying, to be honest — is employed to get to the bottom of a suspicious death, and before long she gets drawn into a far-reaching conspiracy against her race (“rep” is short for “replicant”, and yes, the title is indeed a reference to Blade Runner; it is even mentioned in the text) and the very controlling government. There are aliens in this world, and a barely-sentient, very cute pet-type creature who speaks,  but all of this is thrown at us as though it’s really no big deal. Maybe it isn’t.

The book is perhaps a tad overlong, and Bruna’s investigative skills aren’t exactly top notch, her method being distinctly of the “crash around until someone tries to kill me” school of detection, but the book held my attention throughout, and I liked its contemplation of what makes us individuals, what makes us human, and how important our memories are to our sense of self. Despite myself, and her, I even liked Bruna, debilitating drug addiction and frank sexual encounters and all.

Bruna Husky #2 was translated into English and released in 2016, but the third in the series, released last year, does not yet have an English version. I’ll wait.


TBR DAY 202: Tears in Rain (Bruna Husky #1) by Rosa Montero
GENRE: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Spanish Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Yep!