Friday, 3 July 2015

Reading round-up: June

June 2015 books

Music for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai - 9/10. Full review / Buy the book
I loved this collection of stories; one of them - 'The November Story' - is PERFECT, many of the others are brilliant, it's almost impossible to sum them up in a single sentence, and Rebecca Makkai is amazing at creating worlds with just a few sentences. Music and wartime are indeed significant themes here, but art and love are equally prominent. I wasn't as keen on some of the shortest stories, and thought they could easily have been cut altogether - but that was almost totally cancelled out by the sheer brilliance of the best ones.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll - 9/10. Full review / Buy the book
Something I read a lot (creepy/spooky/uncanny short stories) in a format I hardly read at all (a graphic novel). Beautifully illustrated, this just gets better as it goes along, and made me want to read more and more by the author. Enthusiastically recommended.

The Followers by Rebecca Wait - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This is the story of Stephanie and Judith, a mother and daughter who join a religious cult. Interest is added by the fact that this group, the Ark, exists in the present day, and not in some desert outpost but on the moors of northern England. The Followers is incredibly readable, but I was disappointed that it didn't go further into some characters' histories; it sets up this fascinating world but then you only get to hear about what happens to a couple of people involved in it. I know that's a bit of a daft criticism. I think the bottom line is: I really liked the idea of this story but it wasn't executed in the way I'd hoped.

The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott - 10/10. Buy the ebook
I really need to review this. It's hard to describe, though - it's basically a study of how 'networked life', ie 24/7 connection to the internet and social media and the ability to constantly communicate across almost all physical borders, has transformed the human experience, and what that means for us. But it's a sprawling sort of book that goes in loads of different directions, rather than presenting a single argument. If this sounds a bit incoherent, it sometimes can be, yet Scott's writing is so beautiful it barely matters. It's an academic thesis written like a novel. Pop culture references are woven in very naturally and nothing about it feels gimmicky. I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but this really grabbed me.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler - 10/10. Buy the book
I haven't written a proper review of this either - you know how great books can be more difficult to write about than the average or bad ones... Darkness at Noon is a dramatised version of real events, an obvious but unnamed simulacrum of Stalinist Russia, with Rubashov, formerly a senior member of the Party, suddenly arrested and imprisoned for invented crimes. Driven not by character or plot but by ideas, it depicts Rubashov's state of mind and thought process as his incarceration forces him to contemplate the part he has played in building a dictatorship, and his disillusionment with the political philosophy he has imposed on others. It's perhaps a weird thing to say about a book with such sombre themes, but it felt like such a relief to read something like this - it's such a powerful and intelligent novel, and it reminded me why 'classics' are worth reading.

The Disappearance of Signora Giulia by Piero Chiara - 5/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
A noirish Italian mystery originally published in 1940, this has a simple but intriguing premise - the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of an apparently content woman, a case that's a dead end until an intruder appears at her daughter's home years later - that it never quite delivers on. The characters are shallow cut-outs, and I was further irritated by inconsistencies in the narrative. This is part of the Pushkin Vertigo imprint, and I'm really hoping it's the exception rather than the rule, as I'm keen on reading at least a few of the other books they're publishing.

The Harvestman by Alison Moore - 8/10. Buy the book
Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers by Elizabeth Stott - 7/10. Buy the book
The Home by Tom Fletcher - 6/10. Buy the book
All three of these are chapbooks from Nightjar Press; I reviewed them together in this post.

A good month, because I liked almost everything I read, and I think at least four of these will end up on my best-of-the-year list. I haven't felt much love for reviewing, blogging or Twitter, though; but after spending a bit of time thinking about it, I'm not quite ready to give up on this blog just yet. July resolution: post more often.

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