One Summer: America 1927

By Bill Bryson

Rating: 4 stars

In this book, Bryson’s aim is to show us how much went on in the summer of 1927, and his thesis is that this was an astonishing summer for America, where world-changing events all collided. It makes for a very entertaining read, but I’m not entirely sure that I agree that 1927 was as extraordinary a summer as he makes out. I’m sure that cases could be made for other years, other seasons and other countries, but this is the year that Bryson has chosen and I’m happy go with him on the trip through it. Starting from June of that year, he picks a couple of major players, Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth, and winds the rest of the narrative around them. That’s not to say that they dominate the book, but Bryson uses them as touchstones and jumping off points to discuss other events.

Something that this book does get across is just how different a world that America of 1927 was. This is a world before television, where even radio is only just emerging as a medium. Prohibition is in full swing and eugenics is a respected science. There were literally thousands of newspapers and millions would turn out to see a man who had flown an aeroplane across the Atlantic ocean.

Bryson also touches on the somewhat random nature of celebrity and notoriety as he describes the vast amount of newspaper attention given to the sash weight murder case, which was dull and obvious compared to other crimes of the era, but seemed to completely grip the nation.

Babe Ruth is one of the two principal protagonists of the narrative, and while I was interested in the earlier segments, describing his youth and personal life, the latter segments are mostly breathless recitals of numbers, apparently related to baseball. As someone who has little interest in sport and no knowledge of baseball, this left me a little cold. It’s a good thing, then, that the other principal of the book, Charles Lindbergh, has a more interesting story.

Bryson writes with a light touch and witty, engaging style that makes this book easy to read (excepting the sporting numbers) and it succeeds as a narrative history covering a single summer in a single country. Its importance for me lies in the fact that that country was America and this book goes some way to describing events that made America the confident leader of the world that it became during the 20th century.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552772563
Publisher: Black Swan
Year of publication: 2013

The Fantastical Feats of Finn MacCoul

By Norah Montgomerie

Rating: 3 stars

Despite being a native of Ireland, I know very little of Irish mythology. I know of the existence of Finn MacCoul (or Finn MacCool as I know him) and the story of the Giant’s Causeway but beyond that, I don’t know any of his stories, so seeing this volume lying on a friend’s bookshelf was fortunate.

Mythology definitely has its own rhythm and flow. The stories often follow a pattern, which can suggest some slowness on the part of the king of the Fian as he’s caught by the same lure more than once. There’s a lot of repetition within the stories as well, possibly as an aide memoir to the bard or storyteller, but which can be trying to the modern reader. I also feel that there’s probably a lot of context that I’m missing when reading these, so more and more detailed explanatory notes would have been nice.

This volume is taken entirely from Scottish folk tales of Finn, rather than the extensive Irish catalogue, hence the Giant’s Causeway story is missing, but there’s still a lot of stories here.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841588179
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 2009

Star Rider

By Doris Piserchia

Rating: 3 stars

This is the story of Jade of the Galaxy. Jade is a jak, a distant descendent of Humanity who can skip between the stars with her mount. Jade is young, but a chance encounter leads her to the mythical planet of Doubleluck, which all the jaks in the galaxy are looking for and that sets her and her mount, Hinx, off on a series of adventures and reveal just how special that Jade is.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to like this book to start with. It throws you in at the deep end, with lots of jargon, and takes its time about explaining it, but I did grow to like Jade. She’s an intelligent and active young woman. When she is captured (as happens often in the book), she doesn’t wait to be rescued, but deals with the situation herself.

The other races and characters that Jade interacts with are interesting as well, especially the gibs – a different descendent branch of humanity to the jaks, albeit with similar powers, if not as developed.

This is a nice coming of age tale, as Jade learns something from every encounter, grows up substantially and steps up to face her destiny full in the face.

Book details

ISBN: 9780704340718
Publisher: The Women's Press Ltd
Year of publication: 1974

The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files, #5)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

“Don’t be silly, there’s no such thing as vampires!” That is the recurring refrain of this book. Of course there are vampires, and Bob Howard has to deal with a nest that has emerged in a leading investment bank in the City, on top of struggling with his marriage, dealing with management cargo-cult of Google and a slightly psychotic ex-girlfriend.

Goodness me, this was certainly a bit of a challenging book. I enjoyed the light-touch humour and tongue-in-cheek Lovecraft of the early the Laundry novels, but they have certainly been growing grim of late. This one lulls you into a false sense of security and then whams you in the last few chapters, leaving you bruised, yet also desperate for the next one, given what happened at the climax of this one.

There’s still lots to like here, with Pete, the vicar who Bob drafts in for some research in the The Apocalypse Codex, becoming more of a player, as well as Alex, the vampire banker who kicks off the whole affair but is probably one of the more sympathetic characters in the book.

But, I do have to wonder if it’s time to give up on the Laundry. Horror has never been my favourite genre and these days, as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN draws ever closer, Bob’s memoirs are definitely more horrific than humorous.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502533
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2014

Quicker Than the Eye

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 4 stars

This collection is from the later part of Bradbury’s life, with the stories all being from the 1990s. There is a mix of SF and non-SF stories, but all share the wonderfully lyrical writing that I find so appealing.

This wasn’t the strongest Bradbury collection that I’ve read, but there are still some great stories here. In terms of SF, Another Fine Mess is both a slightly creepy ghost story and a warm tribute to Laurel and Hardy. That Woman on the Lawn is another ghost story, this time with a different spin; and The Witch Door tells of two women in two intolerant time periods and what connects them.

The non-SF stuff that I liked include the awfully sweet Remember Sascha?, about a couple who talk to their unborn child; The Finnegan is a Holmes-esque story about either a serial killer or a giant spider; and probably my favourite story in the collection: The Very Gentle Murders. This is a laugh out loud funny story of an elderly couple and their increasingly outrageous attempts to kill each other off. I found At the End of the Ninth Year mostly quite whimsical and funny, except for the way that the husband behaved towards his wife, and the child-like ‘go to your room’ aspect of it, which felt a little creepy.

A nice collection, then, but not one of Bradbury’s best (the wonderful R is for Rocket is still probably my favourite of his SF collections).

Book details

ISBN: 9780380973804
Publisher: New York: Avon Books
Year of publication: 1996

Powered by WordPress