Books

Book review: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)

What Should I Read Next put me on to the first novel in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, Soulless. If you add steampunk, quirky detective novels, Jane Austen, Mills & Boon, hunky paranormal creatures and adverbs together, Soulless is the entertaining result. It’s definitely something to read if you need to be cheered up, if you’re menstruating, or if you bloody well feel like it and don’t have to justify your literary choices to anyone.

Soulless follows the life of Alexia Tarabotti. Alexia suffers from a great many things: a shitty family, a large nose, a hot temper, a worthy adversary, and not having a soul (in that order). Her placid spinster existence is upturned when she kills a vampire at a party. Forces are conspiring, and Alexia and the vexing and super attractive Lord Conall Maccon seem to be at heart of it…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit Books (2009)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.91/5)
The best feature of the book: It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a fun, spicy read.
The worst feature of the book: It swaps common sense for sexy scene setting.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of.
You’ll like this if… This is one for fans of paranormal romance, romance, hot paranormal creatures, or some combination of the above.

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Books

Book review: Fever by Deon Meyer

I remember reading Meyer’s first book when I was in high school and being entirely unimpressed with it. Say what you want, sex scenes are always going to be awkward when they’re written in Afrikaans, and now, ten plus years later, I can still remember the line, “Dit gly binne.” This put me off Meyer and I hadn’t touched a book of his until Fever.

Enter my New Year’s resolution to read more, a random recommendation on a Facebook book group, and my love for the post-Apocalyptic genre, and here we are.

I’m glad I gave the author a shot because damn. People, and apparently, bizarrely, King himself, compare Fever to The Stand, but it knocks The Stand’s socks off and keeps going. Of course it has its flaws, but the narrative is so engaging, the premise so well fleshed out, I was more than ready to forgive Meyer his being an old white guy writing about a middle-aged white guy. Fever is one of those books that make you excited to read. It reminds you what good writing can do and what a cool experience good storytelling is.

Fever, the English translation of the original Koors, follows the lives of a father and son as they try to pick up the pieces of civilisation in their own unique ways after a virus wipes out ninety percent of the world’s population. Trials and tribulations – and a deeper conspiracy – abound as they set up a new town. Can Amanzi, the Place of Light, keep human darkness at bay?

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Fever
Author: Deon Meyer
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2017)
Rating: 4.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.26/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s just plain good. And it’s South African, which was refreshing.
The worst feature of the book: a) You’re either going to love or hate the plot twist at the end of the book. The novel has been billed as a standalone, but there are a lot of questions left unanswered in favour of that plot twist, so I’d be curious to see if Meyer returns to Amanzi at some point. b) Some of the pseudo-academic jargon is irritating. I don’t know if this is true of the original Afrikaans, but the language is not gender-inclusive, which is noticeable because the ones using it are supposed to be academics, and there’s this whole thing about gender-inclusive/gender-neutral language in academia.
Trigger warnings: Men being assholes to women, but nothing graphic.
You’ll like this if… Is post-Apocalyptic fiction your jam? Boy do I have good news for you!

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Books

Book review: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London #7)

Depression etc kept me from reading Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch as soon as I got it back in November of last year, but when I finally started it, I finished it in one afternoon, so I do feel I’ve redeemed my RoL fandom. Aaronovitch has delivered another fun installment of his Rivers of London series, full of the wit, irreverence, and adventure that has become his trademark. No dull, weary or wary slog, these books; they’re quite fresh-faced in tone for all that he’s on the seventh novel of the series, and that’s not including the comics, short stories, and novellas.

But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t signs of strain showing in the narrative, so while I really enjoyed the book – it’s a lot like catching up with old friends, these longer series – there are some issues that niggle. Overall the book’s climax and denouement felt unsatisfactory, rushed and a bit half-arsed, which is a pity because Lies Sleeping resolved some other loose ends (that came up in the previous books) in a tidy way.

Lies Sleeping picks up Peter’s story as he, the Folly and the Met pursue Faceless Man Martin Chorley and turncoat Lesley May. It’s a cat and mouse game, with Chorley seemingly two steps ahead of them the whole time. He has a plan to put London’s most restless spirit to rest for his own cause, and Peter et al try their best to intervene…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Lies Sleeping
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz (2018)
Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.32/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s a quick, easy read; funny, non-depressing even when depressing, full of interesting stuff about London. The characters all feel like family at this point.
The worst feature of the book: At one point Peter remarks that if you had no idea what he was talking about, you’d best go back and do some reading. Annoying. Old characters and settings are rarely described in Lies Sleeping. I think the practice in multi-book series is to briefly describe things like this for the benefit of new readers who don’t start the series with the first book, but it’s also useful for long-time readers who haven’t committed every single detail to longterm memory. The plot could have done with more finesse. The climax could have been more climactic.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of slavery and implied sexual assault.
You’ll like this if… This is one for fans and stans of urban fantasy,

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Books

Book review: The Ironic Christian’s Companion by Patrick Henry

 

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In the unlikely event of a gun being put to my head in order to discover my true and final opinion on Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, I still wouldn’t be able to offer an answer without some sort of qualifier. Did I like the book? I did; Henry is clever and I appreciated many of his insights; one or two of them made me sit back and go, “Huh” in an impressed way. Is it a good book? Sure, but I don’t think it will be to everyone’s tastes. Would I recommend this book? Maybe, depending on who was asking for the recommendation. Do I like Patrick Henry? Eh, I’m not sure; there’s more than a little self-importance there, tempered with (what I’m hoping is) genuine reform. You see? It’s complicated.

I picked up the book on sale; that and the title was the deciding factor for the purchase. I’m vain enough to think of myself as an “ironic” Christian (someone who is Christian but not as Christian as the obviously stupid people who are also Christian, in essence). The book is a series of ten essays, all loosely connected to the theme of being a Christian who has doubts and reservations about their religion, if not always their faith.

Henry’s writing is an interesting mix of memoir, theology and academia, with keen insights and the patience to let you discover them for yourself.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the marks of God’s grace in the world
Author: Patrick Henry
Publisher: Riverhead Books (1999)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.41/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s eminently quotable.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on navel gazing at times.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of suicide (Henry’s father killed himself).
You’ll like this if… You, like me, are stupid enough to think your faith is “ironic”.

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Books, Writing

Book review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

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I’m happy to report that after years of living as a “late returns” fugitive, I’ve been granted amnesty (literally: South African libraries have a national, annual “book amnesty” week at the end of every March) and I’m now able to partake of the hushed, thoughtful aisles of my local library again. Gilbert’s Big Magic is one of the first books I picked up post-exile.

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have picked a book I feel more ambivalent about if I’d tried, however.

Big Magic is one author’s attempt to quantify the creative process. Gilbert writes about the lessons she’s learned during her many years of writing and publishing. The book feels like chatting with a particularly warm, slightly ditzy and self-centred pal, coffee in hand and an afternoon to while away. It has that same strange paradox of painful self-awareness and painful self-ignorance that characterised the only other book I’ve ever read of hers, Eat Pray Love.

On one hand, Gilbert’s insight into the creative mind feels very genuine. She’s someone who has worked at her craft and has clearly spent a lot of time trying to understand why she (and creative people in general) do things the way they do. It’s from this place that she tries to give guidance. And she’s roguishly charming about it, of course.

On the other hand, I spent the majority of my time reading Big Magic thinking that she isn’t nearly as aware of her privilege as she believes she is. Her advice often veers from innocent into the downright naive. It’s condescending to hear someone who has achieved so much commercial success warn others against its improbability, for instance. She’s someone who’s encountered one or two locked doors and equates her experience with someone who faces a hallway of them.

Overall, one of those “take what resonates and leave the rest” books.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2015)
Rating: 2.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.9/5)
The best feature of the book: It recounts some amusing anecdotes and has a few charming turns of phrase.
The worst feature of the book: Not everyone is going to be taken with Gilbert’s spiritualisation (even deification?) of creativity and inspiration.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of other than white middle-classness.
You’ll like this if… If you’re a fan of her work I’m sure you’ll love this book; many ardent fans gush to that effect on Goodreads. If you dislike her you’ll inevitably dislike the book, as the acidic reviews on Goodreads can testify. There doesn’t really appear to be much of a middle ground.

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