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Nov 10

What I’ve been reading – the late September / October edition

I have a love / hate relationship with this blog.  Deep down I want to be writing long, ponderous reviews about the stuff I’ve been reading.  But living in the real world, with kids and work and Fifa 14 and pod-casting taking up my time I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t have that spare 90 minutes I need to knock out a half decent review.

And anyway, it’s not like this blog attracts thousands of hits everyday.  I’m no Scalzi or Vox Day (take care with that link).  But my ego – which is very healthy – wants you to know what I’ve been reading.  So I thought I’d compromise.  Give you a  snapshot of what I’ve recently finished each month and provide you with friendly suggestions of those books you should be reading and maybe those that you should avoid.

I’ll be doing this monthly, but for now this is the late September / October edition.

Books You Should Go Out and Buy Right Now and Read!!!!!

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

It’s not genre so for some of you it will be a non-starter.  And for those sensitive about novels that deal with bad shit happening to children, this may not be for you (I’m in that category, but the quality of this book transcended any triggery moments).  The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, with its mouthful of a title, is heartwarming without being soppy and laugh out loud funny while also having tragic-you’ll-ball-your eyes-out moments.

What I really loved about it was its positive take on disability and the fact that its a story about redemption without being overly moralistic.  This is very much a story about life with all its colors and shades and hues and if it seems messy at times that’s because it’s reflecting what actually is.

If you want a feel for the novel then have a listen to Evison’s reading on this episode of Books of the Nightstand.  It was hearing this that compelled me to buy the book.

A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I’m not going to say much here coz I’ll be recommending it for a future episode of Writer and the Critic.  (Yes, we will be recording a new episode soon… ish).

Honorable Mentions But Still Very Much Recommended

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon

It’s the third novel I’ve read this year that’s done a take on alternative realities and the multiverse (and all by ‘literary’ authors).  Like the Ruth Ozeki, this is a beautifully written novel that plays fair with its central conceit until the very end were it seems to completely run out of gas – or maybe I just didn’t get it.  In anycase, at its core it asks the very disturbing question as to whether a life could be made better by the death of a child.  The character work in this book is worth the entry price.  I’ll definitely be reading more stuff by Lennon.

Insane City by Dave Barry

Unashamed fun.  And hilarious, even if some of the gags have that ‘Dad’s humour’ vibe to them.  It’s sort of a cross between the Hangover films and Meet the Fockers, but that’s selling it short.  You’ll zip through it in a day and feel happy afterwards.  The bits between the stoner friends and the multi-zillionare who has mistakenly taken dope fore the first time are priceless.  Especially the zillionare haggling to buy a pizza shop just so they’ll deliver to satiate his craving for munchies.

Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery.

Fuck this is a dark and angry book.  I wish I could do it justice with a proper review but instead read this one I prepared earlier by James Bradley.  The only reason it’s not in my ‘You Must Buy It Now and Read’ category is the bleak, unflinching ending that was even too much for me.  Again, if danger to kids is a problem for you, you might want to give this one a miss.  But if you want a book that strips away the artifice that is the American Dream and shows the primal savagery underneath then this this is the book for you.  (OK, I’m not selling it but depressing ending aside, this is an astonishing piece of writing).

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

I don’t buy the world-building entirely (the economics don’t seem believable to me), but this is a fun SF novel based on a Hugo award winning story.  This review on Strange Horizons more or less sums up my thoughts.  Could get Hugo love.

The Sounds of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Because I’m an ignorant Australian I found this novel set in Colombia before, during and after the drug wars to be enlightening.  Whether it was the style or the characters or an issue of translation for whatever reason I didn’t entirely engage with the novel.  But I’m still glad I read it.

Meh

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

There was plenty of hype about this novel when it was released earlier this year.  It even came with its own app.  However, if there was ever a book that’s style over substance this would be the one.  The novel is essentially the obsessive search for an auteur director and finding clues in his work that might link to the death of the director’s daughter.  It tickles around the fringes of genre and tries to pull off the whole paranoid / I’m not going mad shtick, but it all falls flat.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

The three codas are the best thing about this Hugo winning novel.  They’re smart and funny and lovely to read.  The extended joke that comes prior to the Codas did elicit the odd chuckle but the meta was there to service the gag rather then do anything clever or surprising.

Dying Is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann

For whatever reason I expected this book to be a different and innovative take on the urban fantasy genre but for most of its journey Dying Is My Business felt like it was treading well worn ground.  I never engaged with the view point character, Trent.  He’s died nine times in the past and yet struggles to deal with the possibility of magic.  He’s meant to be an enforcer for a Mafia king pin and yet he seems mostly incompetent (the first time we meet him he’s recovering from dying for the ninth time after tracking down a target).  And a number of the ‘plot twists’ should be obvious for anyone with basic reading comprehension.  That said, the book is not actively bad and what saves it is a couple of intriguing plot wrinkles at the end.  As those wrinkles are directly linked with Trent, and given he demonstrates actual competence toward the end of the book, I’m willing to give the sequel a go.

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