Heartless (Parasol Protectorate, #4)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

After a wobbly couple of middle books, this fourth volume of Alexia’s adventures is back on firmer ground. This time, a ghost warns the Maccons of a threat to the queen, which sends Alexia off investigating (including into her husband’s past), while avoiding multiple attempts on her life, due to an ongoing vampiric fear over her baby, and dealing with the tribulations of being eight months pregnant.

The incident where Conall had thrown his wife out has been papered over and quietly forgotten and the two are as much in love as they ever were. I still don’t entirely believe that such a major breach of trust could have been forgiven and forgotten so thoroughly, but I guess that’s love.

This book keeps the sharper Ivy Tunstall that we had in the last one, and we finally have the formal creation of the Parasol Protectorate, even if it’s only as a sort of joke. We also deal with the fallout of Lord Maccon having to have made former drone Biffy into a werewolf and have a somewhat ill and distracted Genevieve, which causes Alexia more than a degree of worry.

There’s a lot of plot to juggle here, which Carriger manages well. Jokes at the expense of the Scots are limited to references to visible knees, although there’s a lot of waddling and other references to Alexia’s infant-inconvenience, as she calls it. Not that it seems to stop her, she gets into an awful physical situations for someone so pregnant.

This was a lot of fun and has set up some interesting changes in the in-world status quo. I look forward to the next, and final, book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356500096
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2011

War: Tales of Conflict and Strife

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 3 stars

This book brings together Dahl’s wartime memoir, Going Solo, and several short stories he wrote about the experience of war. I must confess that although I’ve read Going Solo before, it wasn’t familiar at all when I came to re-read it. It was an interesting memoir of a very different time when young men would go out from Britain to work in the Empire, and obediently lined up when called for duty in war.

The stories are possibly more interesting. Going Solo is written in quite a light-touch way, with little emotion. The stories are where Dahl lets his feelings about war out and especially the last two, Someone Like You and The Soldier, both about the effects of war on those who fight it, are very affecting.

Book details

ISBN: 9781405933193
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year of publication: 2017

No Destination: An Autobiography

By Satish Kumar

Rating: 2 stars

I stuck this book on my wishlist after hearing about the author’s peace walk around the world on Radio 4 as it sounded pretty interesting and I wanted to find out more. The early part of Kumar’s life was pretty interesting and I was hooked probably up until he settled in Britain. Hearing about how he was trying to learn Welsh and raise a family were less interesting. However, I think the problem is that I fundamentally disagree with Kumar’s basic philosophy on life. Despite some good points about using fewer resources, his philosophy is what I would call woo. He’s happy using homoeopathy and crystals and all that jazz, and that distracts from his other points.

In saying that, I’m also fundamentally in favour of our high-technology civilisation and understand that things like intensive farming are a requirement for that. Indeed, the green revolution that underpins it is what is keeping most of the world fed today. I’m happy that he’s content with a simple life, milking his cow and lots of manual labour, but frankly that sort of life sounds like hell to me.

He also seems to have a very idealised view of country life and while I agree with him that closing country schools in the name of “efficiency” is a terrible idea, I disagree with his implication that it must be the only way. Centralisation has its benefits, meaning that, at its best, wider ranges of subjects and more and better teachers can be found than would be available in a small community.

On the positive side, the book is well written and mostly engaging. The writing style is the simple and careful style of someone for whom English isn’t his first language, making the book very easy to read. The only exception to this is the last (real – there’s another chapter after it, but since it consists of a single page, I don’t think it counts) chapter, where he stops talking about his life and starts talking about the principals of his beliefs. This was quite dry, academic and somewhat pompous in tone, very unlike what had gone before.

So an interesting read by someone who has a very different outlook on life to myself but worth it for the chapters on his early life in India and the peace march.

Book details

ISBN: 9781870098892
Publisher: UIT Cambridge Ltd.
Year of publication: 1992

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram

By Iain Banks

Rating: 4 stars

Let me say at the outset that I know nothing about whisky, and, indeed, am teetotal. However, this book, ostensibly about that liquor, is not really anything of the sort. Banks is invited to travel his native Scotland “in search of the perfect dram”. And so we set off, touring distilleries, with lengthy detours to discuss Great Wee Roads (GWRs) and his passion for cars and driving, generally; anecdotes from his past (including the infamous urban climbing at the Brighton WorldCon, which I had always thought took place in Glasgow); ramblings about the second Gulf War; and a general enthusiasm for Scotland.

This is probably the closest that Banks ever came to writing his memoires or to autobiography, and it’s a pleasure to read. I didn’t know Banks, but I met him a few times, and had the pleasure of buying him a drink at a wee con once. The book reads exactly as I remember him talking. Excited, enthusiastic and full of joie de vivre. I’m still astonished and shocked that a man so full of life died so suddenly when so (comparatively) young.

So don’t read this as a guide to whisky. Read it for a mighty enthusiasm about it, and enjoy the ride around Scotland in the company of some of Bankie’s pals, in his fun cars as you’re laughing down a GWR somewhere in the Highlands.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099460275
Publisher: Arrow
Year of publication: 2003

Adventures With the Wife in Space: Living With Doctor Who

By Neil Perryman

Rating: 4 stars

I can’t remember where I first discovered Adventures with the Wife in Space, one fan’s rewatching of Classic Who from the beginning with his non-fan wife, but I quickly became hooked, always being pleased when a new episode popped up in my RSS reader. In no small part was this due to ‘the wife’, Sue, whose witty, insightful, often furniture-themed comments were a delight to read. I count myself a fan (even a Whovian), although my knowledge is patchy (although I did read a lot of the Target novelisations as a child) but haven’t seen nearly as many stories as Sue has. And she has my undying respect for sitting through the ‘recons’, something that I’ve never managed.

When I heard that the Perrymans were turning the blog into a book, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. There’ a lot of material in there, and I imagined a lot would have to be cut out to bring it to book length. However, that’s not what this is. Although there are snippets from the blog here, it’s more a memoir of Neil and Doctor Who, as well as the story of the blog.

To be honest, the first section of the book is probably the least interesting to me, which tells of Neil’s childhood and early memories of Doctor Who. In the book, as with the blog, it’s Sue who is the main attraction. She has a chapter to herself where she tells us how she met Neil, but it’s her interruptions throughout the rest of the book, and in the excerpts from the blog, that provide much of the humour and pleasure of the book.

Now, I know I’ll never watch the entire series from beginning to end (especially not the bloody recons!), but I certainly want to go back and re-read the blog from the start.

Book details

ISBN: 9780571298105
Publisher: Faber Faber
Year of publication: 2013

Memoirs Of A Dutiful Daughter

By Simone de Beauvoir

Rating: 4 stars

The first volume of Beauvoir’s autobiography spans her early life until her graduation from the Sorbonne. She goes into a lot of detail and puts us into her head very well, although part of this is the head of a teenage girl which was sometimes teeth-grinding. From very early on, Beauvoir is shown to be a very intelligent person with a tendency to analyse everything around her and she is very good at also showing us the sort of world she grew up and and the mindset of her class and her attempts to rebel against that.

Although she goes into detail for large parts of her life, she fails to do so for a part in her late teens when she starts seriously rebelling against society, drinking and associating with dodgy characters. But it seems to me that that she failed to go into the reasons for that in the same meticulous detail as as she covered the rest of her early life.

Definitely worth reading if you’re interested in Beauvoir’s philosophy and why she wrote and thought what she did.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140087550
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1958

The Complete Persepolis (Persepolis, #1-4)

By Marjane Satrapi

Rating: 2 stars

An autobiography in graphic-novel form, this was a rather odd book. The author is Iranian and the great-granddaughter of the last emperor and the book tells the story of living during the Islamic Revolution and the odd schizophrenic society that developed after it, as well as her time in Austria for four years.

I wasn’t hugely impressed by this. I don’t think the graphic novel format worked and that normal prose would have told her story better. It just didn’t add anything to the telling, and it also meant that each incident (the focus of a chapter) had to be told in sketch form (no pun intended) rather than in any great depth. An interesting experiment, but I don’t think it worked. I also didn’t feel much sympathy for the author for a good chunk of it either.

Book details

ISBN: 9780375714832
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Year of publication: 2003

Give Me Ten Seconds

By John Sergeant

Rating: 3 stars

John Sergeant has had an interesting life. He was in the crowd during Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, he was in a comedy series written by Alan Bennett and, of course, he’s spent most of his life as a journalist and reporter. His dry wit shines through and he writes well. His anecdotes, both political and non-political, are interesting and entertaining and his commentary on political matters is definitely worth reading. Shame it was let down by a rubbish last sentence.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330484909
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of publication: 2001

Moab Is My Washpot (Memoir #1)

By Stephen Fry

Rating: 2 stars

I wondered for a lot of this book why it seemed so familiar before it dawned on me: it looks like Fry plundered large parts of his own life for his novel The Liar. In fact, he did it so well, you almost wonder why he bothered with this autobiography. Although it’s as well written and full of the wonder of language as you would expect from Fry, much of it comes across as pretentious and somewhat self-pitying, or rather, pitying his younger self, since this book covers the first 20 or so years of his life. And he certainly did go off the rails a bit, culminating with a spell in prison.

One thing that I liked about this book was its wonderful conversational (or possibly monologue) tone. He would start a point and then get distracted and spend two pages off on a tangent before remembering that he had a point and getting back to it. This is something that could have easily been “fixed” at the editing stage, but I’m glad they left it in, since it does add colour to the book.

Worth reading for the new light it shines on the author but be prepared for lots of public school twaddle.

Book details

ISBN: 9781569472026
Publisher: Soho Press
Year of publication: 1997

Boy and Going Solo (Roald Dahl’s Autobiography, #1-#2)

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 4 stars

Roald Dahl led an interesting early life, and these two books tell the story well. Boy tells the story of Dahl’s childhood, until he leaves school, and Going Solo takes it from there until the end of his active service in the second world war. Both worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141311418
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 1984

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