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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 141: Life & Laughing: My Story (2010) by Michael McIntyre

Michael McIntyre is such a stalwart of UK stand up that it is hard to remember that there was a time when your Newsfeed wasn’t flooded with his clips. But this memoir takes us back to his beginning, to a privileged but disjointed childhood, to his attempts at higher education and decision to pursue comedy (like his father) and his early failures at open mics and small gigs.

In his signature chatty, genial, humorously ironical style, McIntyre reveals a lot about his life — though, as with all autobiography, and all comedians, there can be no doubt that there is some exaggeration and careful excision, because that is what autobiographers (and comedians) do — and it is a very enjoyable read throughout. The story of the long wooing of his wife Kitty is adorable, his account of Edinburgh Festivals, successful and not, is fascinating, and for anyone who only associates him with arena shows and comedy road shows, it is a timely reminder that everyone starts somewhere.

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TBR DAY 141: Life & Laughing: My Story by Michael McIntyre
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Humour
PUBLISHED: 2010
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Sure, why not?

READING THE TBR, DAY 140: Star Wars: Princess Leia (2015) by Mark Waid

I’m a fairly recent convert to Star Wars, in that I’ve always liked it well enough, but The Force Awakens… er… awakened in me a new passion for the saga, as did the unexpected delights of Rogue One

This 5-issue Princess Leia mini-series does what Rogue One did for the original Star Wars movie — 1977’s A New Hope — but on the other end. Rogue One acted as a prequel, while this story acts as an immediate sequel.

Written by Mark Waid (which is why I bought this book to begin with; I love him), the story dwells on the fact that when the Death Star destroyed Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, it killed her parents and most every Alderaanian in that galaxy far, far away. The first issue is just people exhorting Leia to grieve properly, but after a harsh chat with a feisty fighter pilot and compatriot, one Evaan, the princess decides what she must do is roam the galaxy and try to gather together her remaining people.

Is she a princess or a queen, by the way? Was her Dad “King Bail”? No one ever seems to answer that question, with some “Your Majesty”-ing here, while she refers to herself as Princess Leia. This isn’t a plot hole in the story, though, since royalty in Star Wars is confusing anyway — like how Amidala was elected Queen on Naboo in the prequels.

Speaking of the prequels, Leia actually goes to Naboo here. It’s fun.

I really liked this mini-series a whole hell of a lot, and I’ll be on the lookout for more Star Wars comics in the future. Hell, I might even get into the Star Wars media tie-in novels, except that there are hundreds of those things, and oh dear.

Maybe best not.   

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TBR DAY 140: Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid, illustrated by Terry Dodson
GENRE: Marvel, Comics, Star Wars
PUBLISHED: 2015
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur, Melbourne.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 139: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (2006) by Ally Carter

It’s not like I expected much. This is a book about a secret US girl’s school that for centuries has been teaching the spies of the future, after all– an institution that has historically counted on the perennial tendency of the world at large to underestimate young women’s abilities.

It’s a cute premise, and when the book was highly recommended by the teenager who was next to me at the book stall of a local school fete, with whom I’d been chatting for a while, handing each other 50c books and seeming to share some common tastes, I figured I’d give it a shot.

But that was five years ago, and maybe I’ve just grown more curmudgeonly since then. I’m certainly not as forgiving. And when our heroine, would-be spy Cammie, teenage girls all over the place here, as she develops a crush on a local boy and imperils her future for their forbidden love and also is simultaneously a bad friend and a too-good daughter, I rolled my eyes so many times I’m surprised they didn’t spin out of my head.

Look, the book has its moments. It’s girl power as hell, and I like that a lot, but not enough to get past the wild improbability and whiny voice of the breathless Cammie. So, curiosity sated and my unspoken commitment to that long-ago fellow bookworm fulfilled, I certainly have no need to continue with the five other books (and several short stories) to which this series runs.

You’d think I wouldn’t be surprised, but I assure you, I am almost in disbelief about it. Five years ago, this book, and subsequent series, would have been my jam. Am I finally growing up? 

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TBR DAY 139: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls #1) by Ally Carter
GENRE: YA, Spies
PUBLISHED: 2006
TIME ON THE TBR: ~5 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: School fete.
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 138: Rumpole of the Bailey (1978) by John Mortimer

I’ve never seen a full episode of the venerable British courtroom TV series of this name, but when I think of it, even now, into my mind there comes a fleet image of an irascible, balding, jowly kind of man in one of those sumptuous teak-lined courtrooms of old.

Not having been aware the series was based on a book, I snapped this one up as soon as I saw it, only to discover that, actually, the book (and its sequels) are based on the TV show and not the other way around. And, moreover, that they are written by the show’s creator, which makes them some of the more legit media tie-in novels ever released.

It does make some sense of the episodic format of the novel, of course, as four cases are laid before us by barrister Horace Rumpole, in the form of reminiscences from his long and storied career. But they are cases from Rumpole’s later career, as his glory days are behind him and he finds himself scrambling for work, and has even been reduced to taking a divorce case. 

Of course, the book reveals some pretty problematic attitudes, as much due to its 1970s pedigree as to Rumpole’s position of educated privilege, but it is well-written and amusing and even quite thrilling in places, where Rumpole’s unexpected legal brilliance triumphs.

Indeed, I liked it enough that I may very well hunt up the TV show (it has to be streaming somewhere, surely?), and will keep my eyes out for more of the books starring this most unlikely of legal eagles and his terrifying wife, whom he refers to as She Who Must Be Obeyed.

And then, towards the end, he even throws in a reference to She by H. Rider Haggard, to give the phrase proper attribution, which I have to admit was really bugging me. Very nice, Mr. Mortimer! Very nice indeed. 

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TBR DAY 138: Rumpole of the Bailey (Rumpole #1) by John Martin
GENRE: Humour, General Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1978
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes…

READING THE TBR, DAY 137: Norse Mythology (2017) by Neil Gaiman

I have long been crazy about Greek Mythology, but no other pantheon or religion, whether ancient or modern, has captured my imagination so thoroughly as the Olympian gods. 

However, in recent years I have become quite enamoured of Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, which treats with the Norse gods and which runs parallel to his Percy Jackson glories, so between that and their appearance (as villains) in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series and the Marvel version of Thor and the fact that they were the omnipotent aliens in Stargate SG-1 — plus the fact that this retelling of some of their stories is brought to us by Neil freaking Gaiman — obviously this book was of interest to me.

Probably that last part would have been sufficient, actually,

Gaiman, of course, has an easy writing style, is effortlessly humourous, and has a real way with the supernatural and inexplicable, so his careful reconstruction of some of the more adventuresome Norse tales is expectedly delightful. Some of it I’d heard of, some came as a complete surprise, but all of it gripped, as it has for centuries past, and I sped through this book so fast that time just disappeared and it got dark outside and I didn’t even notice.

Even in his introduction, Gaiman enlightens and entertains, especially when he points out that there are so many tales of so many Norse gods — in particular, many Norse goddesses — that have disappeared from memory, and so all we are left with is their names and their responsibilities, but little else. “We have lost so much,” he writes. And just those five words brought tears to my eyes. 

We have. But at least future generations will have these brutal, bizarre, beautifully-told versions of this long-dead religion to hold on to, to compare to modern religions, and to awaken their understanding of our constant need for meaning and explanation in the face of uncertainty. Which is all religion is, of course.

Ancient myths remind us of that. Also, there’s Ragnarok, and I am very into apocalyptic tales just now. And the Norse myth version is among the earliest, and is probably the coolest, of them all. 

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TBR DAY 137: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
GENRE: Mythology
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Dymocks.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 136: Stage Fright (1984) by Ann M. Martin

Like most 80s children — especially girls aged between 7 – 10 — I was obsessed with Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club books. Those young entrepreneurs were barely out of primary school but they ran their own business and Claudia had a phone in her room, and in the four original members (and then two new additions), there was such a diversity of personality and style that choosing your favourite was basically an early BuzzFeed Sex and the City and/or Hogwarts House quiz.

(I’m Mary-Anne all the way.)

It is only much, much more recently that I have discovered than Martin wrote books that were not babysitting-related, and as they have come in my way over the years, I have snapped them up and read them, full of childhood nostalgia and a touch of regret that I didn’t get to read them back then. This is my latest Martin acquisition, the standalone tale of the painfully shy Sara who is forced into taking a speaking role in her class play, but that is also about friendship and having big dreams and, weirdly, Alec Guinness.  

I have to say, the mother in this book infuriated me, even as an adult, her level of unfairness and unkindness towards her socially awkward daughter just unforgivable. The Dad’s cool, though, which does tend to be a hallmark of tween books marketed to girls (excepting Mary Anne’s mother in the BSC, who was actually pretty dope), which I totally understand, but also wish was not that way. The poor mums in middle grade and teenage fiction! They’re either dead or dreary or deadbeats. It’s a worrisome trend that has gone on for far too long.

As, indeed, have I, about this perky little kids’ tale I clearly should have read back in 1989 at the latest, and not thirty years later, overthinking the hell out of it.

But, hey. It’s what I do.

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TBR DAY 136: Stage Fright by Ann M. Martin
GENRE: Chidren’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1984
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes…

READING THE TBR, DAY 135: Rotherweird (2017) by Andrew Caldecott

Rotherweird is weird indeed. Usually, I love weird, but this one just didn’t quite connect with me. It has that literary fantasy vibe, making it the kind of book that would make literati reviewers declare it above its genre roots, or worthy despite its fantastical trappings, and I hate that.

Rotherweird is a town out of time and step, an odd island of governmental independence in the modern UK, exempt from taxes and oversight from its nominal rulers. Founded as a home for exceptional children in the reign of Queen Mary, mad and superstitious, it is now, centuries later, lost in its own ignorance of its history, because reasons.

Arriving at the school is the awkward Jonah Oblong, would-be poet and reluctant teacher, but there are so many other characters thrown at us — it is a cast of thousands, it seems at times — that this interesting premise is mostly ignored. Instead, we focus on the smooth and evil Sir Venables, the new lord of the manor who will not take no for an answer, and various citizenry of differing levels of likability and honourableness and interest. Eventually there is an Other Place, a magical realm of bizarre creatures, but by that point in this way-too-long book, I wasn’t really interested anymore.

Oh, the book is well-written, contains some excellent turns of phrase, and ratchets up the tension pretty effectively throughout. But I just got bored pretty early on — it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, in that regard, another acclaimed literary fantasy I found interminable and overrated — and even when the book reached something of a cliffhangery crescendo, I found I had no interest in assaying Book 2.

This is happening more and more, and I love it. I used to be a straight-up completist, compelled to continue with whatever series or trilogy I had begun unless I really hated the first installment. Now, my threshhold is love — if I really loved the first book, I will continue with the series. Otherwise, nope. Next!

If nothing else, this new ruthlessness is certainly helping to clear out this TBR pile of mine at a rapid rate, since I bought the first sequel to this one already, and came very close to buying Book 3 the other day. Happily, I stopped myself, and now I can cross them all off my list forever.

So, goodbye, Rotherweird! I’d say good luck, but it turns out don’t care what happens to you at all.   

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TBR DAY 135: Rotherweird (Rotherweird #1) by Andrew Caldecott
GENRE: Fantasy, Literary Fantasy, Alternate History
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Hill of Content, Melbourne.
KEEP: No…

READING THE TBR, DAY 134: Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants (2013) by The Oatmeal

When three different friends in the course of one single week mentioned that the artwork on the popular party game Exploding Kittens — which I had just bought and was taking about with me everywhere — was clearly done with The Oatmeal, I cannot tell you how out of the loop I felt. Oh, it’s very often that I don’t know all the cool stuff that is cool, but web comics are usually my strong suit, so it was something of a surprise that I had never heard of a cartoonist so notable that his art was immediately recognizable to so many disparate people.

The next week I spied this book in a book window, and paid a premium to buy it, because it seemed like fate.

I’ve just now read it and… well… The Oatmeal just isn’t my thing. Which I guess I should have figured out when a friend bought the NSFW version of Exploding Kittens and I found the pictures just that bit too vulgar for my finicky liking.

Oh, the cartoons are occasionally witty. Occasionally clever. Often poignant, and sometimes even quite moving. But more often than not, the pieces in this collection are icky and vaguely misogynistic and, like, bleak. I didn’t enjoy it.

Which I guess I could have established by just looking it up online, and not paying more than $20 for the privilege. After all, that’s pretty much what the internet is for.

Oh, well. Live and learn.  

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TBR DAY 134: Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants by The Oatmeal, aka Matthew Inman
GENRE: Humour, Comics
PUBLISHED: 2013
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Metropolis Bookshop, Melbourne.
KEEP: Sure!

READING THE TBR, DAY 133: One Second After (2009) by William R. Forstchenm For

Full of the kind of conservative rhetoric and survivalist preaching you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic book featuring a Foreword by champion Republican evildoer Newt Gingrich, this is nevertheless the compelling story of a world gone made after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse), caused by three atmospheric nuclear detonations, sends the US back to a pre-Industrial Revolution footing, and sends most of the population mad.

One interesting facet to this particular post-apocalypse, and one you don’t often see, is that the population level remains the same even as technology and comfort and communication break down, which means that it really is a very much worse case scenario. According to this version of events, it will take a week for food riots to break out and starvation will be imminent in only a couple of months and those dependent on life-saving drugs will be dead within the same amount of time. It will take less than a season for cannibalism to take over the population, and satanic cults to rise, and for disease to run rampant and for anarchy to let itself loose on the world.

And for America to be invaded by Mexico and China.

And all of this will happen because “we” weren’t prepared, and because “our enemies” — most likely from the Middle East and North Korea, though the real culprits are never confirmed — know our weaknesses and because people are too fat and happy and contented and take too many prescription mood stabilizers and watch too many movies. A lot of the book is just our hero, Army vet and military scholar John Matherson, thinking outraged thoughts about how no one ever took the threat seriously — yeah, because it’s not a serious threat — and how in the good old days, people were better.

Also, man-made climate change isn’t real. Obviously.

For all my philosophical objections to the book, however, I found it compulsively readable, and was gripped by both the destruction of society as they knew it — so quickly! — and also the formation of a new world order, as conventions broke down and old taboos became luxuries the good people of Black Rock, North Carolina simply could not afford. There were some deaths that literally had me weeping, even though I hated so much of this book’s underlying bile, and I came to care for John, despite our vast political differences. Because people on the other side can still be decent people, of course.

Every now and then, I think it’s important to read a book that challenges you and also humanizes diametrically opposed points of view, because living in a liberal bubble can be just as dangerous as being blind to, you know, science and facts and the fact that trickle down economics does not work.

The fact that I got to fulfill this mission and spend some time in a post-apocalyptic world — one of my favourite (hopefully) fictional locales of late — is just a bonus.

Not sure I’m going to go out of my way to track down the other two books in this trilogy, however. I feel like, in reading this blood-soaked manifesto, I’ve been fair and balanced enough for now.

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TBR DAY 133: One Second After (After #1) by William R. Forstchen
GENRE: Post-Apocalypse, Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2009
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Possibly…

READING THE TBR, DAY 132: The Machine Stops (1909) by E. M. Forster

Is that a science fiction book by E. M. Forster?  That was the first incredulous thought that hit me when I noticed this little gem in the window of one of my favourite second hand bookshops. Of course, the cover didn’t give away all that much, but the clock and the title implied some kind of time travel, and I so wanted to know more. If the author of A Room with a View and A Passage to India and Howards freaking End wrote sci-fi, why did I not know about it? Was it a posthumous release, like the queer classic Maurice? Did he hide it away in shame during his multi-Nobel-nominated lifetime?

It turned out that while yes, 1909’s The Machine Stops, is indeed sci-fi, it is more dystopian/apocalyptic than timey wimey, and also, at 12 000 or so words, it is a novelette, which is not a length of story much seen nowadays. The narrative moves briskly, as we encounter a future world in which humanity has given all its autonomy over to The Machine, an artificial intelligence designed to cater to every whim and desire (except freedom) and the consternation of the worldwide populace when the machine fulfills the promise of the title and ceases to function.

We are told the story through the lens of Vashti, a music scholar — most everyone is now a scholar, now that the Machine takes care of everything else — who is reluctantly persuaded to visit her son, who lives on the other side of the world. People in this future live below ground (we assume there was a surface catastrophe that drove them there), but she sees roving bands of outcast humans as she flies across the planet, and pities them their Machineless existences. Vashti’s son Kuno wanted to see his mother because he, too, has been to the surface, but without permission, and has realized that the Machine’s control of them all is stifling humanity, and making them helpless, slaves to the system. 

Vashti disowns him. But he’s right, of course, as the later breakdown of the Machine illustrates.

There are so many themes explored in this short work, it is quite remarkable, and so much technology that is proposed, and has now come to pass. Skype, the internet, digital home assistants, apps and labour-saving devices… Forster was a true visionary, and it is a shame that he never wrote a full-length genre novel. (Then again, he only wrote six, which is always hard to believe.) I’ve learned that some of his other short stories are SF, though, I will be searching them all out immediately.

This is also one of the first literary examples of a machine-based dystopia, which is truly phenomenal. It is a crying shame that this genius is not more widely known, and celebrated.

It should be.

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TBR DAY 132: The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster
GENRE: Science Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1909
TIME ON THE TBR: ~4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Alice’s Bookshop.
KEEP: Sure.