Month: February 2015

Monthly Review – February 2015

Posted February 28, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 4 Comments

The Paying GuestsWhere has the month gone? I cannot believe that February is over already; time just moves too fast. I feel like this month has been a very busy month with work and life but I cannot really work out what occupied so much of my time. Having said that, in my reading life, I was very happy with February. While I have been making this the year of reading more books in translations and some re-reading, my wife has challenged herself to read a book by an author from every country in the world. This is fantastic challenge that might take her years to complete but it also reminds me that there are some gaps in my reading. On BookTube, there is a lot going around about reading more diversely, and while I have noticed some trending problems, it has let me evaluate my reading. I have never read a book by a non-binary author. I do not know of any non-binary authors, so do not know where to begin and finally I need to read more books from South America. I may do the reading diversely tag on my BookTube channel just so I have a document of this.

I have not done too much towards my challenge in February, my goal is to do at least one re-read and one book in translation a month and I did achieve that. I had one re-read and two books in translation; I feel like most of my rereads will be books in translation but I am okay with that, I finished The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (translated by Hugh Aplin) which I started in January and I enjoyed this book so much more the second time around, there is so much going on and it is hard to articulate everything I want to say about it but I will try to do that sometime soon. I even read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin) and this is the first time I have read this book but I can see why people often pick this as their favourite from this author. I am currently reading two books in translation at the moment, The Whispering City by Sara Moliner (translated by Mara Faye Lethem) which is a book from Spain and Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (translated by Edith Grossman) which is from Peru, but I still have not worked out what I am re-reading in March.

I started off very slow in February and I got to a point where Goodreads were telling me I had fallen behind on my reading goal already. However one of the advantages of reading multiple books at a time is that sometimes all the books being read finish at the same time and I was able to get back on track. I have mentioned three books already but I also read another six books. The first book I read this month was Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch which is the fourth book in the Peter Grant series and I am trying to resist the urge to move onto the next book; I want to read it but then I will have to wait months for book six.

My local indie bookshop hosts a book club and it has returned and this month we discussed Deeper Water by Jessie Cole, which I had to race through to get it read before the meet up. This is an interesting novel that explores the culture clash between the city and rural Australia and while I had issues with it I still enjoyed reading this one. I also picked up Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald to compare with Tender Is The Night, which I read last month. I need to do some research into this book because I feel like F. Scott Fitzgerald may have white washed it a little to make himself appear like a nicer person. Finally after that I picked up my first Rose Tremain, which was a collection of short stories called The American Lover and shows off Tremain’s writing skills and character development, so much so I need to check out a novel by this author. Also I dived into Wolf in White Van which explored isolation and depression in a really interesting way and I read Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. This book was amazing. It was my first Baldwin novel and I have so much I want to say about this book but I am unsure how to express these feelings. Finally I read The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which seems to be getting mixed reviews but I really enjoyed; still sorting out my thoughts but I cannot wait to talk about this one with others.

I feel like I say this every month but I have no plans for March (reading wise) apart from what I am currently reading, which is The Whispering City, Red April and The World According to Garp by John Irving. I do have some books reserved at the library, The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol, Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard, Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley and The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell, so these books may make an appearance in my reading month. I would love to know what you have read in February and if you have any reading plans for March.

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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Posted February 27, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Book of the Month, Historical Fiction / 8 Comments

The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersTitle: The Paying Guests (Goodreads)
Author: Sarah Waters
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 576
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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The Paying Guests is something a little different for Sarah Waters; set in 1922 London, it is a period of history I don’t expect from this author. The novel tells the story an impoverished widow and her spinster daughter who are struggling to keep their large Camberwell villa after the loss of her husband and sons due to the war. They take in a modern young couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber to help make ends meet. True to Sarah Waters form, The Paying Guest is full of tension and mystery, but there was something missing.

Granted I have only read Tipping the Velvet (I really should read Fingersmith) but what I know and expect from Waters is something set in the 1800’s. Needless to say this was an enjoyable novel, exploring the differences in classes and the effects of World War I on the people in London. This period of time is an interesting one; the results of the war and the modernisation of London make for an interesting backdrop.

What I think Sarah Waters does best is create incredibly complex characters and The Paying Guests in no exception. Told from the point of view of Frances Wray, all the characters within the novel slowly take form, as secrets and new facts are revealed about them. This is an effective way to build a character and allows them to grow with small reveals that are both expected and unexpected.

The main focus of this novel is the blossoming romance between Frances and Lilian, this is expected from Waters and where she really excels. The idea of forbidden love is a heavy theme, not just because a lesbian relationship would be taboo but also the fact that Lilian was stuck in a marriage she wasn’t happy with. This allows the reader to explore the concepts of love and relationships in interesting ways; should we be encouraging the relationship between Frances and Lilian when one is married?

As I said earlier, I still think there was something missing in this novel. There is a gothic element that runs through The Paying Guests which starts off well, with all the secrets that slowly began to be revealed. However this stopped working for me when the plot became too predictable. I’m not opposed to a predictable plot; the focus on the character development was effective enough. The problem was the whole gothic aspect became clunky and the basic plot didn’t allow this theme to really go anywhere and just left me wanting more.

Comparing this novel with Tipping the Velvet is probably a little unfair; this is a completely different type of book. Having read one great Sarah Waters book, I expected a little more. I like the way Sarah Waters writes characters and captures a time period; I would have liked to see her do more with a gothic theme. Somehow The Paying Guests was on track to being another great novel by Waters but for me, it fell a little short. Maybe someone new to Sarah Waters would enjoy this one more, as it gives a little tamer introduction to what this author does best. Having said that, I’m still excited to read everything written by Waters; she is a great author.


Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Posted February 25, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Fantasy / 4 Comments

Whispers Under Ground by Ben AaronovitchTitle: Whispers Under Ground (Goodreads)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Peter Grant #3
Narrator: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Published: Orion, 2012
Pages: 303
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Audiobook

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When a body is found stabbed to death at the far end of Baker Street tube station, it seems like an ordinary murder. The victim is an exchange student at Central St. Martins named James Gallagher and his father is an American senator. The Folly have been called in to assist with the investigation and it is quickly discovers that there is a supernatural component to this crime. This case leads Peter Grant into the secret underground that lies underneath the streets of London.

Peter Grant is back in the third book in the series, still a sorcerer’s apprentice to Inspector Nightingale. The Folly, which is the police department that specialises in the supernatural has grown to three, as Lesley May officially joins the team. Yet again this is a natural progression in the series, Peter doesn’t know many spells and still struggles with his form but he has grown as a police officer, a wizard and a person. What I enjoyed about Whispers Under Ground is the character Dr Abdul Haqq Walid is explored in greater detail. He is a world renowned gastroenterologist and cryptopathologist who works with the Folly and is investigating how magic effects the world. This allows Ben Aaronovitch to build his world a bit more and explores the effects of magic.

While this is an urban fantasy series, it follows the tropes found in a police procedural and Peter Grant never just relies on his magical abilities but rather sticks to his strengths, which he learned from his training. There is a lot of investigational work within the series and sometimes I worry that the police procedural elements will over power the urban fantasy or humour, however Aaronovitch gets the balance right.

If you have not read the series, I would highly recommend it mainly because of the character development, in particular Peter Grant and Nightingale. Peter Grant is a biracial character (his mother is from Sierra Leone and I am pretty sure his father is white) and his heritage and life play a big part in shaping him. This also allows Ben Aaronovitch to play a little with racism but I feel like he handles the whole subject well. Inspector Nightingale is a prim and proper Englishman and the last officially sanctioned English Wizard, having gone to a now defunct private school for wizardry allows for plenty of Harry Potter jokes.

This is a fun series that I am completely immersed in; when I finished Whispers Under Ground I didn’t want to leave the world. I started Broken Homes (which is book four) straight away, which is unusual for me but I needed to know what happened next. For fans of urban fantasy, police procedurals and British humour, I highly recommend the Peter Grant series, I do not think you will be disappointed.


Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

Posted February 22, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Horror, Science Fiction / 4 Comments

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: Acceptance (Goodreads)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy #3
Published: Fourth Estate, 2014
Pages: 341
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Acceptance is the final instalment of the Southern Reach trilogy. It is winter in Area X and a new team is about to embark on a new expedition. The plan is to press deeper into the area and explore unexplored terrain. Will they finally find out the secrets behind Area X? What will Southern Reach do? And what is with this lighthouse?

Yet once again I am stuck trying to work out just what to say about this book, much like the other two novels in the series. I really don’t know what I can say without giving spoilers but I also have committed myself to write some kind of review with everything I read. Area X is a mysterious ecosystem; it is an environment that is untouched or corrupted by humans and yet Southern Reach is determined to discover the secrets behind this mystery.

Within Annihilation the readers are introduced to Area X and we are allowed to explore this new world, but there were so many questions being raised without many answers given. I loved this about Annihilation; I was thrilled by everything in this novel and I knew I had to read the series to find out the answers. Authority explored the mystery behind the governing organisation Southern Reach; while I didn’t enjoy the book as much I was interested in find out more about bureaucracy.

After both Annihilation and Authority, there were still a lot of questions to be answered and Acceptance felt more like a novel to tie everything up. There is a new expedition and there is still some excitement to be found in the final instalment, but for me it was a letdown. I got my answers, but I wasn’t satisfied and in the end I just felt like everything wrapped up too neatly.

The Southern Reach trilogy is a thrilling science fiction series that plays with ideas of environment and bureaucracy. The world that Jeff VanderMeer has created is immersive and wonderfully crafted. These books are short and don’t take long to read. While I had my issues here, I am still glad to have worked my way through this trilogy and am interested in trying to more of Jeff VanderMeer’s novels.


The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Posted February 20, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeTitle: The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Goodreads)
Author: Jill Lepore
Narrator: Jill Lepore
Published: Scribner, 2014
Pages: 432
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman is the story behind Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston. The life of Marston is a fascinating and unconventional one, full of contradictions and this book really explores this in a bit more detail. The idea of Wonder Woman grew from the Amazons in Greek mythology and the feminist movement. Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941 and is now one of the most recognisable superhero’s to grace the comic book pages. Despite this fact, there has not been a major motion picture about Wonder Woman yet, The Lego Movie (2014) has been her first and only film appearance to date.

American psychologist, lawyer and the inventor of the Lie Detector, William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman under the pen name Charles Moulton, but it is his life that seems to be the biggest influence on this caped crusader. Wonder Woman is a powerful feminist and this may have been a little problematic for the movement. First of all, Marston’s Wonder Woman was a powerful woman but she lost her powers when bound by a man. This could be considered a symbol of the oppressive nature of a male dominated society however the frequency use pointed to his a fixation of bondage and submission.

Originally William Moulton Marston called his character Suprema and she stated that she was a “tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are, [combining] all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. This in itself shows the problems facing the creation of Wonder Woman and Marston was very controlling of his creation and the vision he had for her. While on the surface Marston was promoting the feminist movement, his personal life contradicted his ideals; living with two women, his wife and his mistress, he expected them to fulfil all there wifely duties at home while his wife was the main source of income for the majority of their lives.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an interesting micro-history that explores the life of William Moulton Marston and Wonder Woman. While some of what is revealed within this book is nothing new, Jill Lepore does a good job of bringing feminist history into the world of pop-culture. There is so much worth talking about here and this book asks the question, should Wonder Woman be recognised as a feminist icon? Well worth checking out if you are a fan of this superhero or are just interested in the history behind her.


Among Others by Jo Walton

Posted February 3, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Fantasy / 4 Comments

Among Others by Jo WaltonTitle: Among Others (Goodreads)
Author: Jo Walton
Published: Tor, 2011
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

After tragically losing her sister, Mori has to learn to deal with this great loss. She fled to her estranged father who then put her into a well-respected all-girls boarding school. Mori is left alone trying to deal with grief, a new school and her own teenage angst. Among Others is written in a series of diary entries exploring Mori’s coming of age.

While I found it extremely difficult to give a plot overview of this book, it might be easier to just say this is a book about book with a fantasy element to it. The tragic loss of a twin sister would be a difficult subject to write about and Jo Walton has combined some auto-biographical elements within the novel. Mori feels lost and she turns to books to bring her comfort and escapism, she is a fan of science fiction novels and slowly she begins to find the therapeutic value to reading.

Being set in 1979 allows the book to explore the older science fiction novels that I love without going into some of the modern stuff. What I loved about sci-fi novels of the 60s and 70s is there were strong psychological and sociological themes throughout the narratives. I found great joy when books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Man in the High Castle and Slaughterhouse-Five were mentioned. There was something about reading a fantasy novel about reading science fiction that really tickled my fancy.

The fantasy elements were only a very small fragment of the book and I began to question if this really was a fantasy novel. I would call this book magical realism but the mention of fairies, elves, etc. probably does make it a fantasy novel. These fantastical elements played an interesting part in the book, and I began to question that this world actually existed. However for Mori, it existed and it was her way to hold onto her sister and deal with her death. She treated this world almost like a secret that was for her only and it allowed her to deal with her loss. When she held on to this world too tightly she feels whole again but she also can see how damaging it will become.

This was a fascinating look at grief and since it was a book about the joys of books and reading, I was hooked. It was a bit of a slow burn but I enjoyed the slow pacing and journey. About half way through, I felt myself losing a little interest but then Mori joined a book club and I was right back in. Among Others is a quiet and tender book about life, loss and most importantly books which makes it well worth reading.