Books I have read and rather enjoyed

I know I’ve somewhat neglected this blog lately – only one new post since March! Bad Woodsie! *smacks hand*

This isn’t because I haven’t had anything to blog about – it’s mainly lack of time and energy. I’ve read loads of great books recently that I fully intended to review, I just can’t seem to find the time or work up the effort to write full book reviews. So, I am stealing an idea (and shamelessly, most of a title) from the rather wonderful Jen Campbell’s blog, and am planning to do some semi-regular posts containing one-paragraph reviews of recommendations of books I’ve read lately. So, here’s what I’ve read and enjoyed over the last few months:

The Fictional ManThe Fictional Man – Al Ewing

This was a book club pick that, sadly, I didn’t make it to the actual book club for! I really enjoyed this – I’m not saying it’s the best-written book I’ve ever read, but a it’s very interesting idea, well-executed. The premise of this sci-fi novel is that popular fictional characters are routinely “translated” into living human beings, grown in tubes, for the purposes of appearing in TV and film instead of actors. Then of course, once their film franchise has ended or series has been cancelled, they end up trying to make a living as normal people. The book is part noirish murder-mystery, part satire, and part philosophical examination of what it is to be human. It doesn’t completely succeed at all of those, but it’s very entertaining along the way. It’s strangely structured: starting out light-hearted and often very funny, it takes a much darker turn about half way through and turns into something much more interesting. There’s a great “story-within-a-story” device going on to, which really made the book for me.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

This was pressed on me insistently by the lovely Niamh of Leeds Book Club, and on finishing it (in a matter of days) I immediately went out and bought a copy for my sister. She read it and immediately bought copies for several of her friends too. It’s that kind of book. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it – despite not generally being a fan of the quirky rom-com genre! The Rosie Project is narrated in first person by Don Tillman, a socially inept genetics professor (it’s strongly implied, though never actually stated, that he is on the Aspergers spectrum) who has decided that he wants to get married. He just hasn’t decided on a wife yet – but believes his academically rigorous questionnaire and screening process is sure to find the perfect candidate for him. When he meets Rosie, a young woman who wants his help finding her biological father, she’s everything he doesn’t want in a wife – she smokes, drinks, is perpetually late and disorganised. But of course, things aren’t that simple… I have to admit, this book sounded like the kind of twee romance i’d usually hate – but it’s just lovely. It’s heartwarming, occasionally very moving, and often very, very funny – I did lots of giggling out loud on the train with this one! The only note of caution I’d sound is that I’m not sure it’s hugely sensitive in discussing mental health generally and Aspergers in particular – something one person has told me put them off reading it. I loved it though, and I’d like to see what Graeme Simsion writes next!

Captain of the SteppeCaptain of the Steppe – Oleg Pavlov

This was one of the books-on-subscription I got from indie publisher And Other Stories this year. It’s translated from Russian, and is a fairly bleak satire based in a Siberian prison camp “where the news arrives in bundles of last year’s papers and rations turn up rotting in their trucks”. It follows Captain Khabarov, the Captain of the title, who has decided to plant some of his potato rations in order to better feed his men. What follows is, as the book’s blurb describes it, a lesson in “the unsettling consequences of thinking for yourself under the Soviet system”. It’s a black comedy, piling ever-more tragic and farcical twists of fate, bureaucratic incompetence and malicious backstabbing onto the hapless Captain, keeping the misfortunes and bitter ironies coming right up to the very last page. It’s not the easiest read – personally, I always find it difficult keeping the names straight in Russian literature, if nothing else – but it’s well worth sticking with.

Emerald CityEmerald City – Chris Nickson

I’m a big fan of Chris Nickson’s historical crime novels set in 18th century Leeds, so was interested to read something so different from him. Emerald City is also crime, but set in the Seattle music scene in 1988. When an up-and-coming local musician dies of a heroin overdose, music journalist Laura Benton thinks there must be more to the story – but soon finds herself caught up in a more dangerous situation than she’d realised. I really enjoyed the scene-setting: Chris Nickson obviously knows Seattle very well, and his background as a music journalist himself has clearly informed his writing. His love of the scene and of the characters he portrays (I suspect many of them are inspired by people he knows, or knew) shines through, and make it a joy to read. I think I do prefer his historical books, but this was a very interesting and enjoyable departure. I know he’s writing a follow-up, so I’ll be interested to see where he takes it as a series.

World War ZWorld War Z – Max Brooks

I know, I’m so incredibly late to the party with this one! I picked this up as it was a Kindle 99p deal a while back, but never got around to reading it. I finally read it on holiday this year, and was gripped within the first couple of pages. It’s fascinating: written as a sociological history of the “zombie war”, really a historical document made up of eye-witness interviews from people who were witness to and involved in various stages of the war: from the early, disbelieved reports of the dead rising, to various countries’ initial efforts to contain the plague, to full-scale retreat and survival, to the beginnings of the fight back and the eventual “clean up” operations. It is truly a world war, too – too often this sort of thing only really focuses on the US, and perhaps a little on other Western countries. While there is a large portion of the book devoted almost entirely to the USA’s “home front” war, the book does go into equal depth on the rest of the world – and even beyond, one chapter focusing on the astronauts who were on the International Space Station when the plague hit. It’s very cleverly written, and scarily real – although I felt it was probably a bit over-optimistic in some areas! I’m told the recent film is nothing at all like the book, but I’d still quite fancy giving it a watch, if only so I can sit and snark my way through it about how the book was sooooooo much better (yes, I am the MOST fun to watch films with!)

Old Man's WarOld Man’s War – John Scalzi

I got this as part of the Humble ebook Bundle well over a year ago, and only recently got around to reading it – and was instantly sorry I’d left it so long! As a frequenter of some of the geekier corners of the internet I had heard of John Scalzi before, but never actually read any of his books. On the strength of this, I will certainly seek out more. The premise is that some years into the future, humanity has colonised the universe – but travel off-Earth is strictly controlled. The only option for most to travel to the colonies is to enlist in the Colonial Defence Force – and they exclusively recruit people aged 70+. The assumption is that the CDF has some kind of technology to reverse the ageing process – but why? And what is really going on out there in Earth’s colonies? This is a proper ripping yarn of a sci fi, filled with fascinating ideas, snappy dialogue, great action scenes and believable characters. It’s the first in a series, so I will definitely read the rest!

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