The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

By Mark Twain

Rating: 4 stars

This is a book that I’ve never actually read before but I’m glad that I finally got around to it. It’s a gentle adventure story of the eponymous Tom and his friends and the pleasures and pains of childhood in the American South. Tom is well-drawn and easy to sympathise with with a freedom that children today can only dream about. Having read it now, I enjoyed it, but I think that if I’d read it when I was a child I’d probably have loved it.

It’s very obviously a product of its time in its treatment of black people, with Tom and his friends reflecting the opinions of the time — something that I’m not entirely sure how I would have dealt with if I had read it when I was younger. I believe that Twain addresses this later in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which should really also be on my to-read list.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140350036
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1875

Buttercups and Daisies

By Compton Mackenzie

Rating: 4 stars

Mr Robert Waterall gets it into his head to buy a ‘place in the country’ and this book chronicles the exploits of him and his family as they cope with country life and people.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a gentle comedy by the author of Whisky Galore in which the climax of the book is a public meeting regarding the name of the new village that Waterall has moved to. The Waterall family are well-painted, each with their own quirks from the pompous head of the household to the ‘affected’ younger daughter Phyllis (according to her brothers, who are forever mocking her). The other residents of the new area are just as strange and slightly grotesque, insofar as a gentle English comedy can be. Fun, self-mocking and whimsical, it’s a book to enjoy while sitting in the sun with a nice drink of something at your side.

Book details

ISBN: 9780862991951
Publisher: Alan Sutton

Empire Star

By Samuel R. Delany

Rating: 4 stars

Comet Jo is a teenager on an single-produce asteroid who dreams of the stars. When an organic spaceship bearing a special jewel crashes near him, he’s entrusted with a message that must reach the Empire Star to free a slave race upon whom interstellar civilisation depends, and his journey to a wider universe begins.

I felt this book to be quite disjointed in places but about half-way through realised that this was because of a somewhat unreliable narrator. That and the somewhat Ouroboros-nature of the story make it difficult to keep track of what’s going on at times, but it’s worth it. There’s a strong coming-of-age story here, and the central idea that modes of thinking are ‘plex’ (as in simplex, complex and multiplex) and that these can be learned, is good. Jo starts off as a simplex kid, with narrow ‘small-town’ horizons, but by the end, his thinking has widened and becoming multiplex, enabling him to analyse more complicated situations. This is a very short book, at just over 100 pages, but it packs a lot of ideas into that space. Enjoyable stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553234251
Publisher: Bantam Books, Inc.
Year of publication: 1966

Mortal Engines (Mortal Engines Quartet, #1)

By Philip Reeve

Rating: 5 stars

In a post-apocalyptic future, cities have become mobile and survive in a twisted form of Municipal Darwinism, with towns eating villages and cities eating towns, ripping them apart and incorporating their human and material resources into themselves. The most ancient City of them all, London, has returned from its hiding places to the great Hunting Ground in a mad dash east. Apprentice Historian Tom Natsworthy and the murderous Hester Shaw are hurled from the city and must survive in the wilderness and discover the secret at the heart of London’s Guild of Engineers.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a riveting tale with lots of strong characters and a feeling that that none of the protagonists are necessarily safe, but it still packs a punch when someone does die. The world-building is rich and the descriptions are excellent, particularly those of London, in its new mobile form (well, I say ‘new’, although the novel is set over a thousand years after the creation of the Traction Cities). This is the first in a quartet of novels set in the same world, but I’m not entirely sure that I’d want to read the others, since the climax of this one was so poignant.

Book details

ISBN: 9781407110912
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of publication: 2001


By Theodore Sturgeon

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of six short stories by the master of post-Humanism, although none of these stories really touch on that subject. The stories include comedy (Derm Fool), ghost stories (The Haunt) and SF as well as a non-genre story (How to Kill Aunty) which is mostly whimsical, with a twist at the end. The best stories are probably the most touching – The World Well Lost about a spacer crew taking two lovers back to their homeworld to stand trial and The Pod and the Barrier about the cranks who try to break through a barrier in space that has foiled the best minds of Humanity. Both are touching and beautifully written, and the former is somewhat heartbreaking as well. An enjoyable collection.

Book details

ISBN: 9780722182161
Publisher: Corgi Books
Year of publication: 1966

A Walk in the Woods

By Bill Bryson

Rating: 4 stars

Written when Bryson and his family were back in the States, this book charts his attempts, with his friend Katz (last mentioned in Neither Here Nor There) to walk the Appalachian Trail, a hiking route that stretches along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States, taking in over two thousand miles.

I really enjoyed this book. I had approached it with some trepidation since a friend had said that she didn’t like it, despite being a Bryson fan, but I found it funny, informative and entertaining. Unlike Neither Here Nor There, I felt that Bryson enjoyed his journey, despite his moaning, and any anger he had was directed at the mismanagement of nature by the US authorities, and which is slowly being wiped out by industrialisation, mismanagement and plain inattention. A great read.

Book details

Publisher: Black Swan
Year of publication: 1998

A Messiah at the End of Time (Dancers at the End of Time, #5)

By Michael Moorcock

Rating: 3 stars

This is one of Moorcock’s Legends From the End of Time series in which Miss Mavis Ming is caught up in a plot between her protector and a visitor from space. It was a fun book with quite a lyrical style and humorously grotesque characters. I can find Moorcock hit and miss but I’ve read some others in the End of Time series and have enjoyed it. Fun and easy to read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780441136643
Publisher: Ace Books
Year of publication: 1977

The Night Watch (Watch, #1)

By Sergei Lukyanenko

Rating: 4 stars

The Others walk among us. Born human but with magical powers and able to enter the Twilight, a shadowy parallel world superimposed upon our own. Each Other pledges allegiance to the Light or the Dark, in the eternal battle of Good against Evil. Anton is a young Other in the Moscow Night Watch who gets involved in things well above his head when a pair of vampires try feeding on someone who turns out to be an unfledged Other with a destiny.

I really liked this book. The film that was based on it only tackles the first of the three stories that it tells, all concerning Anton and the Night Watch – the group of Light Others who police the Truce between Light and Dark in conjunction with their Dark Others in the Day Watch.

I liked the idea that the great battle between Good and Evil has come down to the level of politics and the Truce enforces what is almost a bureaucracy where each act of good entitles a similar-level act of evil to be done as well, and vice versa. Rather than fighting mighty battles, the great magicians in charge of the Watches now use politics and cunning to try and find loopholes in the treaty and they don’t care which of their pawns have to be sacrificed for that.

The book sets up traditional massive fantasy battles, only to swipe them from under your nose, leaving you feeling a bit short-changed until you think about it some more and realise that what’s just happened is even more horrific or huge in its scale.

Well worth reading, and I’m certainly going to look for the rest of the books in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099489924
Publisher: Arrow
Year of publication: 1998

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