BooksOfTheMoon

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

By John Cleland

Rating: 3 stars

I must confess that when I picked this up (on the basis purely of a positive review I’d read), I knew it was supposed to be risqué but I was convinced that a book written in the middle 1700s couldn’t be that risqué. I was wrong. Fanny has a homosexual experience within the first dozen pages and goes on to meet and enjoy men in pretty graphic fashion fairly soon afterwards.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised, it’s not that people haven’t been having, thinking, drawing, talking and writing about sex since the start of our species, I just wasn’t expecting it in written and published form in this period.

The book is in epistolary format and can be quite frustrating at times, with lots of long, run-on sentences and nested clauses (not helped by the Gutenberg text I was reading having quite a lot of typos). I sometimes found it difficult to tease out meaning from them. But if you can work through that, it’s enjoyable enough. While not explicitly naming genitals or acts, your euphemism vocabulary will certainly grow, and it can be quite fun spotting the more outrageous metaphors.

I also like that although there’s a moral at the end where Fanny disclaims her past, it’s not a moralistic book in that nothing bad happens to her. She’s allowed to enjoy sex and still get her happy ending.

Book details

Year of publication: 1748

A Pocketful of Crows

By Joanne M. Harris

Rating: 3 stars

I started this book back in the summer, but put it down for a long period because I could see what was coming and it felt “cringe-y”. I did eventually pick it up again, and I’m glad I did. As much as anything, the writing is poetic and beautiful to read, as much as for the story.

Our protagonist is a young woman of the travelling folk, who travels in all manner of birds and beasts, not tied to anyone or anything. Until she falls in love with a young prince. An inevitable betrayal and revenge follows, but it’s the journey that it takes that is worth staying for.

Based on some of the Child ballads, the story is simple enough, and Harris’s embellishments and feminist reading make for an interesting interpretation. As I say, the writing is a pleasure to read, and helps raise the fairly simple story to something greater. Also, the art, even in my Kindle edition, is gorgeous.

Book details

Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2017

This is How You Lose the Time War

By Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

Rating: 4 stars

I read this novella immediately after finishing The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With her Mind and the contrast couldn’t be more extreme. From the short, clean prose and breathless action of the former to the leisurely pace and beautifully crafted letters of this, about the only thing the two have in common is the short chapters.

Red and Blue are agents on opposing sides of a war that rages through time. Against orders and, indeed, common sense, they strike up a correspondence that slowly turns into something more.

The time war is very much a background to the evolving relationship between Red and blue. In the early chapters they taunt each other after after thwarting the other’s plans, but the tone of the letters shifts as the backgrounds do and the reader comes to care for these two extraordinary individuals as they come to care for each other.

I loved reading this book. The language is beautiful and is something to savour. Short as it is, it took a while to read it first time round, partially because of a lack of time, and partially because I was reading it slowly. After finishing it, I went back and read it again, much more quickly, which gave me a stronger overall view of it, and the references which had passed me by the first time (as I’d forgotten the details of the earlier chapter by the time I got to the payoff later).

The two sides in the war are mostly stereotypical views of opposing SF worldviews: the technological Agency vs the Garden of bioengineering. While I would love to know more about them and the war, that’s not this book. This book is all about Red and Blue and paints them as a microcosm for the wider conflict. If you accept that, this is a very rewarding read.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529405231
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2019

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway

By Rhys Thomas

Rating: 4 stars

I must confess that this tale of a troubled young man who dresses as a superhero to avoid dealing with trauma in his past isn’t the sort of thing I would normally read. But it got a glowing review in a magazine I usually trust and I’m a sucker for a good romance.

Sam is an average guy with a nice house, some nice friends who are as equally socially awkward as he is, and a decent job. He also dresses up a few times a week to fight crime (well, help old ladies across the street, give young kids a heart to heart, and help drunks out of graves, mostly). And then Sarah walks into his life and things will change forever.

Sam is a likeable guy, probably on the spectrum and some aspects of his life hit a little too close to the mark for me personally. His awkwardness around Sarah felt completely authentic and once they did eventually get together, there’s still a lot of tension because you’re just waiting for the secrets to come out and for things to go horribly wrong.

When I were a lad, romances tended to be built up throughout the book and resolved with the couple getting together in time for the climax (so to speak). Whereas here, and possibly in modern romance more generally (like I say, it’s not usually my genre), they get together by the middle of the book, and then things fall apart. In that sense, it reminds me of the film La La Land, although it has a very different thematic ending to that film.

The characterisation of Sam is excellent, although his two friends, with the somewhat unlikely nicknames of Tango and Blotchy, are much less well served. Even Sarah feels like she could have had a better treatment. Of all people, I was surprised that Sam’s boss, Mr Okamatsu, got a lot of attention.

This is a powerful story about grief, loneliness, kindness and love. It’s a very quick read and left me with a number of emotions. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hug my nephlings.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472248145
Publisher: Wildfire
Year of publication: 2018

Defy the Stars (Constellation, #1)

By Claudia Gray

Rating: 4 stars

While I’m a fan of space opera, I tend not to read much in the way of YA or romance novels, so this was a bit of a leap for me. I’m glad I took it though, as I enjoyed it a lot. Noemi is a young fighter pilot, fighting to protect her planet from invasion by Earth. Abel is the most advanced mech ever built by Earth. When the two of them find each other on an abandoned spacecraft, they realise they need each other as they embark on a voyage through the known universe to try and protect Noemi’s home.

As I say, I don’t read a lot of YA stories, and for the first few chapters of this book, the style and tone felt a little jarring, but once I adapted to the flow of the story, I got on fine with it. Both Noemi and Abel are engaging protagonists, and the alternating POV per chapter means we get inside both their heads and get to experience both sides of the war (although, of course, it’s no spoiler to say that their differing attitudes start to converge as they spend more time with each other).

There are interesting moral questions in the background too – does Genesis have the absolute right to secede from Earth, if it means trapping millions of people in squalor? What rights does a artificial creature have, even a sentient one?

So an interesting story and a fun one. I’ll probably end up picking up the sequel to see where it ends up going.

Book details

ISBN: 9781471406362
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Year of publication: 2017

Thomas the Rhymer

By Ellen Kushner

Rating: 3 stars

Young Thomas the harper is taken in by an elderly couple to whom he returns again and again as his fortunes amongst the courts of the mighty wax and wane. One day he disappears without even his harp and they fear they’ll never see him again. But Thomas has been taken by the Queen of Elfland to be her lover and her harper, to return after seven years. And then he must make right the wrong to the woman he loves.

This is a slightly difficult book to review, as I didn’t feel much while I was reading it. There wasn’t a huge amount to the story and none of the characters really made me feel for them. I actually found the bookends around Elfland more interesting than the portion of the story therein. I suppose it felt more real, more human. The Elfland section sort of felt like nothing mattered, even once the mystery hinted at early on finally took on substance.

In tone, this book sort of reminded me of Mythago Wood, another book that I was ambivalent about. I think this sort of mythic fantasy isn’t necessarily for me. I can appreciate it but it doesn’t necessarily do anything for me. Not a fault of the book, but of the reader. I’ll probably not read much more in this vein in future.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473211629
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1990

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë

Rating: 5 stars

This is an old favourite and one that I come back to every few years. Jane is a character very dear to my heart, very different to Lizzie Bennett, yet I put them in the same place in my head. Jane may be poor, plain and friendless, but she is a strong character. Although she plays the part of subservient, demure governess, the relationship between her and Mr Rochester is anything but.

I always find the start and end of the book a bit difficult. The start because I empathise with Jane immensely, and her cry of “unjust” rings through my head as I follow her, first through the trials of Gateshead, from “master” John to the Red Room, then through Lowood school and the heartbreakingly good Helen Burns. The tail end, after she’s left Thornwood, I find hard for a different reason: the character of St John Rivers. He’s dizzyingly stern and uncompromising as a rod, but more than that, I find him intensely creepy. His domination of Jane is very different to her relationship with Rochester. It’s not just the lack of love, but the fact that he knows what he’s proposing will kill Jane quickly and it doesn’t move him. This time round, I also realised that he’s a windbag, as well as being sanctimonious. All praise to Brontë for an incredible character.

I love the various set pieces throughout the book, from the first meeting with Rochester on Hay Lane, through the bedroom fire, “portrait of a governess”, the fortune teller, the wedding right through to “Pilot knows me” and, of course, “Reader, I married him.” These are just the scenes that come to mind off the top of my head, there’s very little of the book that I dislike at all. Even the opening and tail end sections I talk about above are marvellous to enjoy and I mention them specially only because of the intense emotions they invoke: the true sign of a master storyteller.

I’ve not mentioned Bertha Mason in this review. She’s a problematic character to modern sentiments but fits the gothic and dramatic tone of the book. I believe various books have been written to tell her story and paint her more sympathetically, although I’ve not read any. I just ned to put my “product of its time” filter firmly in place (something I’ve had practice with, as a fan of Golden Age SF).

(Aside: I happened to be rereading this book when a touring theatre production of Jane Eyre came to my city. It was incredible: intense, modern, touching on all the highlights of the book, condensed into a stage play. If you have the chance, do go and see it.)

Book details

ISBN: 9780142437209
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1847

The Jane Austen Book Club

By Karen Joy Fowler

Rating: 2 stars

Six people meet, once a month, to discuss the books of Jane Austen. Life, love and relationships form and break in that time. I only noticed this book because I’d read Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves earlier this year and enjoyed it. But then I’m also a fan of Austen’s marvellous Pride and Prejudice and have read the rest of her work, so this did appeal to me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it much. I found the characters stereotyped and clichéd and difficult to relate to. I found the device of an apparent first person narrator that isn’t an individual but is possibly the whole group to be unhelpful, and needlessly showy. I didn’t think it helped the book at all.

The female members of the group really didn’t endear themselves to me in their snobbishness in choice of reading and their disdain of science fiction (my preferred genre!) even if Jocelyn did overcome this in the end, it was only as a means of connecting with her lover-to-be.. And how stereotypical to have the male character be the only one who does enjoy SF.

I was also disappointed that also most of the Austen books got some actual discussion, Pride and Prejudice, the only one I’m familiar with to any degree, got barely a couple of sentences. Still, given that the characters seemed to have awfully pretentious views about the other books, maybe that’s for the best!

It’s very possible that I’m just Not Getting the joke, and that it’s actually a book about those kinds of West Coast, well-off American women and their lives, but if it was, then it sailed right over my head and I was left with a book where I mostly didn’t like the characters and didn’t care an awful lot about what happened to them.

I’ll give it points though for the very Austen-ian ending.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141020266
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2004

All the Birds in the Sky

By Charlie Jane Anders

Rating: 3 stars

Patricia can (sometimes) talk to animals and (sometimes) leave her body. Lawrence has built a time machine that can jump you into the future by two seconds and an AI in his bedroom. These two outsiders become friends as much to protect them from loneliness and bullies at school, but life gets in the way. They encounter each other again as adults when Patricia is a powerful witch and Lawrence is a tech genius trying to live up to the role.

This is a story of love, betrayal and the apocalypse as we track Patricia and Lawrence through their journey as the world seems to be falling apart around them. It’s an odd one. You can tell that it’s a first novel, with the pacing and feel veering wildly. The first half or so is quiet and whimsical, even as it encompasses the helplessness and unfairness of childhood. I enjoyed that a lot. The second, as we catch up with our protagonists as adults, is less even. It will annoy some people, being set in the more hipster parts of San Francisco, with people going out for overpriced coffee and locally sourced, organic burritos and agonising over their lives. If that doesn’t bother you (and it doesn’t bother me that much), then trying to figure out the rules of Patricia’s magic, and trying to figure out Lawrence’s place in a larger masterplan to save the human race is enjoyable, with some good sex thrown in for good measure.

But (and you knew that was coming) the ending. The ending just sort of threw me. I suspect it’s the sort of thing some people will adore, but I must confess that it lost me. There’s a lot left unsaid and a lot left undone, and I found that unsatisfying. Most of the characters, other than the protagonists, seem to mostly exist for plot exposition too, they don’t get much in the way of development (and it felt like Lawrence’s girlfriend, Serafina, gets quite short-changed).

Anders obviously has a lot of potential. I’ve enjoyed some of her short fiction and this was a decent first novel. I’ll keep reading them, I suspect, as I’ll love to see what she’s like in full flow.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785650550
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2016

Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Rating: 5 stars

I first encountered Pride and Prejudice back in the mid-90s when the BBC produced a mini-series dramatisation that I really enjoyed. I immediately looked up the big fat volume of Austen sitting in my parents’ bookcase, devoured P&P (closely followed by the other novels) and fell in love with Eliza Bennet. Austen herself described Elizabeth Bennet: “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print”. I certainly can’t argue with that. I loved this book then, and I loved it again now, after my umpteenth reread of it since then.

Back then it was the sheer feistiness of Elizabeth and the overcoming of all the odds to beat pride and, indeed, prejudice and find love that moved me. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the marvellous writing but also the social mores of the day and if not sympathise with Lady Catherine’s view of the match between Eliza and Darcy, then at least understand it. In other contexts, such arguments as she makes to Elizabeth towards the end of the book are still made today.

Not only the protagonist, but all the cast of the book are lovingly drawn and so memorable. From the sublime – Jane and Bingley – to the ridiculous – Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins, every character springs to life in front of us.

Goodbye for now Lizzy, I’ll see you in a year or two.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140434262
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1813

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