I’ve just finished reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks. This is of course part of my project to reread various Banks novels. This is the last of his science fiction Culture novels that I had planned to read, but it is a brilliant one.
As I’ve said before, all of the books in the Culture series are standalone. This one takes place 800 years after the Idrian-Culture war which was a plot point of the first Culture novel, Consider Phlebus. During the war two stars were destroyed by the Culture, and now the light from those “ancient mistakes” has reached the Culture orbital of Masaq’ (one of the Culture’s many man- (or machine-) made homeworlds.
More recently the Culture has also made an error, interfering in the politics of the Chelgrian world, leading to a disastrous civil war. Two Chel feature as characters in the book. One is the exiled composer Ziller, who has made his home on Masaq’ and is composing a symphony to celebrate the appearance of the supernovae. The other Chel is Quilan, a grieving soldier who has been sent to Masaq’ ostensibly to ask Ziller to return home, but really his memory has been wiped and he is carrying out a secret mission of vengeance against the Culture.
As I said, I think it’s a brilliant book, certainly one of my favourite Culture novels. It has all of Banks’ usual excellent plotting, interesting characters and a fabulous unreliable narrator, as we figure out what is really going on along with Quilan as his memories return to him.
I also really like that it’s another book which shows the Culture from the outside, through Ziller and Quilan with their very different views, and Kabe, another alien, but acting as ambassador for the two of them on behalf of the Culture. The Minds are also well characterised here, with the Orbital Hub Mind being a former Ship Mind from the war; the Minds are a brilliant take on AIs, something Banks has done fabulously well throughout the Culture series.
So overall, I really liked the book. It’s an excellent Culture novel, and an excellent hard science fiction novel or space opera novel or whatever you prefer to call it. I really enjoyed reading it, and I think it very much complements the other Culture novels that I have read this year. It’s a great series overall, and I would highly recommend that all SF fans read some Iain M. Banks.
I am a bit of a sucker when I go round the supermarket, so I ended up buying these new squash things. I like Robinsons squash anyway, and I was intrigued by these, which are mini pouches which you squeeze to add the concentrate to water. They seem like they would be handy, for example adding to a water bottle at work rather than buying a big bottle of squash.
I tried the orange and peach flavour and the summer fruits flavour. They recommend adding one squeeze of juice but I did two and it was still really weak. Also I had to stir it with a spoon because, as you can see from the picture, the juice all settled at the bottom of the glass. Doing it in a water bottle which you could shake would probably be better.
The summer fruits one was okay, not much different from the regular summer fruits which is what I usually drink when I get squash. But next time I will try to make it stronger. I really didn’t like the orange and peach one though, it was a really bright yellow colour and just looked and tasted wrong somehow. So anyway, that’s my take on these things. I should really stop impulse buying weird stuff in the supermarket!
I was in the mood for some YA contemporary so I picked up this one on my Kindle, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. I’d seen it positively reviewed in a few places, so I thought it sounded interesting.
The book is set in a small Southern town, and the main character is a teenage boy Cullen, who is desperate to escape his boring hometown. Over the summer before his last year of high school, the town becomes obsessed with the potential sighting of a rare woodpecker, previously thought to be extinct. However Cullen has more important things on his mind as his beloved younger brother Gabriel has disappeared.
I have to say that based on the hype, I was pretty disappointed with the book. It wasn’t terrible, I enjoyed it enough to read it all, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what had happened to Gabriel. But other than that I did not really connect with the character of Cullen (in fact I really didn’t like him at all) and the plot and philosophy of the book were also uninspiring.
I didn’t hate the book, it’s just that I thought it would be a lot better than it was. I think I would have actually liked it more if it was longer and delved deeper into the topics it was exploring, instead it just seemed to take on some heavy topics like grief and religion but only give them a shallow treatment without much resolution. Overall it was not a terrible book, I enjoyed reading it for the most part, but it was definitely a bit disappointing.
This is just a quick review of Vicious by VE Schwab, which I read for my book group. I’ve said before that I don’t particularly like stories about superpowers and that sort of thing, and unfortunately that held true here. I will say that the book wasn’t all bad, and it was a nice twist on the superpowers themes. However it just wasn’t my thing, I couldn’t get into the story or connect with the characters. If you like this sort of genre then I’d say it is worth checking out, but I personally did not enjoy it.
I finished reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. This is the story of Ruby Lennox, narrated from her conception onwards and telling the story of her complex family life. In between the chapters of Ruby’s narration are other chapters which give further details of the lives of Ruby’s various relatives in the past. Themes include the effect of World War I and World War II on the different generations of her family, and the trends in her family of women being unhappily married, children dying young, and relatives disappearing without notice. I liked the book, Atkinson writes character-driven stories brilliantly, and manages to make small family dramas compelling, even when it’s not my usual plot choice. But I will say that her books are so depressing, all her characters are miserable, and there is only so much I can take of reading about abusive parents and infidelity and depressed characters who make stupid life decisions. I’m not saying it’s bad, as it was a very well written book, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Atkinson’s other books that I’ve read. I will read more of her novels in the future, but I will wait awhile because I will need to be in the right mood for something grim.
This is my recent book haul. As per this post, I decided to pick up a few SF and contemporary novels. I will be reading these next month. I also have a fantasy trilogy on the way in the post, which I will probably be reading before I get to any of these. But I am notoriously bad at planning my reading in advance, so nothing is set in stone. All of these look good and I am excited to start them.
Two rather different books that I am currently reading. I am working through Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks as part of my project to reread his books. But it is a signed copy so I don’t want to get it bashed up carrying it in my bag to and from work every day. So I am just reading that at home, and during the day I am reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. This copy is already fairly scruffy as it belongs to my Mum and has been read by both my parents and my sister already. Mum lent it to me as I enjoyed Life After Life and Case Histories, both read my Mum’s recommendation too. I’m not very good at reading multiple things at once, but I will see how this goes.
I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately but now I am really in the mood for some science fiction. So I am spending the afternoon browsing Amazon and finding lots of great SF type novels that I want to read. I have an Amazon gift certificate so I may end up getting a bunch of new books, which is fair enough as my TBR pile is fairly small at the moment, mostly things I am rereading actually. I do have a big fantasy trilogy on order from Waterstones which is due to arrive this week and which I want to read as soon as it gets here. But I think next month I may take a short break from fantasy and read some SF and some contemporary fiction instead.
This weekend I read The Girl with all the Gifts by MR Carey. This was picked by my book group for this fortnight, and although it is not my usual cup of tea, I was interested to give it a go as I had heard good things about it. It’s essentially a zombie novel, which is not something I usually enjoy, but this one has a twist to it. I won’t go into the plot too much, as I think this is one of those books which is better to read without preconceptions or spoilers. But I will say that I really enjoyed the novel, more than I expected to, and I thought it was a great unique take on an old genre. It’s a novel that I’d recommend to a variety of readers, and I am glad I read it despite my doubts.
I’ve just finished The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, third and most recent title in his Gentleman Bastards series. This one picks up where the previous book ended, with Locke poisoned and dying. Help comes from an unlikely source as a Karthain bondsmagi saves his life, and in return hires Locke and Jean to help her rig an election. Interspersed with that plot there is a flashback plot to the teenage years of Locke and Jean, featuring the exploits of the rest of the gang, Calo, Galdo, and Sabetha.
I really liked the book. The election rigging plot wasn’t quite as good as the cons and heists of previous books, but I liked the flashback plot and getting to spend more time with the old gang, and finally meeting Sabetha. The only thing I didn’t love about the book was the angsty teenage romance between Locke and Sabetha, it was a bit tiresome at times. But other than that I really enjoyed the book. I love this series and I am looking forward to the next instalment.
This weekend I read The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. Last year I read his novel The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which I really enjoyed as an entertaining and funny story. So I was keen to read his newest book, but slightly wary that it would be too similar to his first book, which was wonderfully unique.
The story revolves around Nombeko, a black South African girl from the Soweto township, born during apartheid. Through a series of accidents she ends up working as a cleaner for an engineer working on creating an atomic bomb. Later she and the atomic bomb end up in Sweden, where she meets two identical twins who are both called Holger, one of whom wishes to overthrow the King of Sweden.
Much like the first book, the story features larger-than-life characters, some appearances of real historical figures, jumps through time to reveal the characters’ back stories, and various unlikely events and accidents and coincidences that move the plot forward. That’s not a bad thing, it all very well written, it just seems very similar to the earlier book.
However this book does have its own plot and characters, even if it is very similar in style, and I did enjoy it. I didn’t like it quite as much as The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which is one I would certainly recommend, but I did enjoy the book and it was a good, entertaining weekend read.
So Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy authors. I’ve written before about how much I loved the Mistborn trilogy, Elantris and Warbreaker. The next book of his that I had to read was Steelheart. I was a bit wary about this one as it’s not like his usual fantasy, but I was given a free copy so I decided to give it a try.
The book is set in a near-future version of our own world, where an event called the Calamity led to some people developing super powers. These people are called Epics, and rather than acting like superheroes as would be expected, they all turn out to be evil villains who fight each other to take over the country. The story is set is Newcago, a future version of Chicago which was turned to steel by the Epic called Steelheart, who now rules the city.
The main character of the book is David, who was a young boy when Steelheart came to power. He saw his father killed by Steelheart, but he also saw Steelheart injured by his father, despite supposedly being invulnerable. Ten years on, David wants to kill Steelheart in revenge for what he has done to his father and the people of the city. To accomplish this he tries to join a resistance group called the Reckoners, who are the only people fighting back against Steelheart.
For the most part I liked the book. There were some drawbacks, mainly that I am not a big fan of this sort of genre, the super powers and all of that, it just wasn’t my thing. I also thought the book was more YA than I expected, it definitely seemed toned down and less well developed than Brandon Sanderson’s other books. Finally, I am never a big fan of first person narration, and I found the main character’s narration to be a bit annoying at times.
But I don’t want to seem too negative, as I said, I did like the book, it had a good plot, I enjoyed reading it, and I will no doubt pick up the sequels when they are published. It just was nowhere near as good as the other Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read, and I will definitely be going back to his regular fantasy books next.
So after seeing Neil Gaiman at the Usher Hall last week, I decided to reread American Gods, which is probably my favourite of Neil Gaiman’s novels, and indeed one of my favourite books. I’ve read it a few times before, and the last time that I reread it I ended up writing this post about how I was having trouble reviewing it. Basically I felt that couldn’t adequately sum up what the book was about and what I liked about it. I guess that’s still true, it’s one of the few books that I am just really attached to, and I can’t really explain why that is. But anyway I love the book, I was glad I reread it, and I would recommend it, even if I can’t say why!
I have had a terrible and exhausting week so far, and it is only Wednesday.
First I had a problem with my eye, which resulted in a rapid referral to the eye hospital and a day spent waiting around for various tests. That’s still unresolved and I now need to wait for an MRI scan, which is obviously causing a lot of worry.
Then today I had not one but two job interviews. I hate my job and desperately need to find something new, but I am generally rubbish at job interviews as I get too nervous. So that just added to the stress and anxiety I am dealing with.
I am really tired and haven’t done much reading this week as I have been going to bed early plus I’ve had trouble with my vision because of my eye. So I may not post much for the rest of the week, I will just be trying to relax and rest as much as possible.