February was a busy month. Not only was NOT OK, CUPID released, but I had to check myself every 3.4 minutes for coronavirus symptoms. The problem is that I’ve had muscle aches, fatigue, and a general feeling of malaise for about 13 years.
Somehow I found time to read 18 books. Once again, not having any social life and only one friend pays off!
I’m bang on my goal of 50/50 fiction and nonfic, with nine each. Let’s start with the nonfic this time.
This was chosen by my book club and isn’t a book I would have bought otherwise. I don’t even understand the market for most memoir, let alone whatever this was… a collection of essays on someone’s life? The ‘chapters’ aren’t linked to form a narrative and it’s basically David Sedaris telling us what he thinks about things. Occasionally funny but increasingly irritating, and it felt very self-indulgent. I did like the part where he had a tumour removed and frozen so he could feed it to a snapping turtle. That’s the kind of thing I would do.
2/5 – Did make me laugh a few times, but I can’t say much else for it.
This, however, was a re-read. Daniel Everett has lived on and off with the Piraha tribe, who live around the Amazon in Brazil, for decades. The Pirahas are one of the few tribes – maybe the only – that has largely retained its culture, language, and way of life after contact from meddling white people. I particularly love that Daniel first went to stay with the tribe as a missionary, intending to show them the error of their ways and bring them Jesus… but when the tribe (big fans of logic and proof) ask him a simple question – “Where is Jesus? Show me him.” – he realises the utter ridiculousness of what he’s doing and converts to atheism.
Bonus points for the ranty 1* reviews from Christians.
However, this book isn’t about Daniel or his spiritual journey. It’s about the Pirahas, and it’s fascinating. Daniel doesn’t have an agenda (except to show that some of his linguistic theories are proven in the Piraha language) and his presentation of the tribe is respectful, non-patronising, and honest. There’s no ‘white saviour’ here.
5/5 will probably read for a third time too.
There are three things in a blurb almost guaranteed to make me read the book: sharks, the Loch Ness Monster, and aliens. When ALIENS is on the front cover in 72-point font, I practically orgasm.
Each chapter of Aliens focuses on a different question about extra-terrestrials and is written by an expert in that field. For example, one chapter looks at how we might be able to identify signs of life in distant planets using gas spectroscopy, another at how aliens might look if we did find them, and another at the liklihood of there being life outside of Earth at all.
I assume the authors were chosen for their specialism and not for their writing prowess. A few of the chapters were excellent, some interesting, but not were just kinda dull.
2/5. Mixed bag.
My undying love for Bill Bryson was shaken by The Road to Little Dribbling, which could easily have been renamed “grumpy old tourist shouts at clouds.” Fortunately, Down Under (which is titled In A Sunburned Country in North America) was written in the 90s when he was on top of his game.
This had my creasing up with laughter constantly, and I’ve been telling everybody I know that certain earthworms in Australia can grow up to twelve feet long. TWELVE FEET.
5/5 I love you Bill
I loved Down Under so much that I had to get another Bryson immediately. The Body is still in hardback and I hate hardbacks, so I picked this travelogue of Europe. This was also hilarious, though he only spent a few days in most of the countries he visited so I’m not sure how well it serves as a travelogue. Luckily, I read Bill Bryson for the writing, and I don’t actually give a shit about the tourist features of his destinations. Unless they are twelve-foot earthworms.
4/5 I love you Bill
Giants is a kind of biography about the Orvitz family, which included seven dwarf siblings. As Hungarian Jews, they were sent to Auschwitz in 1944 but saved from the gas chambers when the infamous Dr Mengele selected them for his “experiments,” which were really more torture.
I can’t remember who told me about this book but I’m glad I read it. It was interesting, and terribly sad, and (from my uninformed point of view) was respectful of the Orvitzes and of the subject matter.
It doesn’t go into detail about Mengele’s experiments, so don’t let squeamishness put you off reading. But, of course, it’s still harrowing and does show the grim horror of the concentration camps.
3/5 because it was quite detached, though I appreciate the authors not filling in the blanks through conjecture or sensationalism. They could only include the material they had to work with.
This was my second Mary Roach book. I didn’t like Stiff (about corpses) at all, but so many people had said how great it was that I wanted to give Roach another try. So I bought Gulp, which is all about the alimentary canal.
Well, I just don’t like Mary Roach’s writing at all, I guess. Like the David Sedaris book, I found this and Stiff self-indulgent, as if the author was more interested in showing off than in presenting the fascinating work scientists are carrying out on corpses or on the alimentary canal. She visits people whose job it is to make pet food palatable, one of the best ‘supertasters’ in the world, and researchers curing chronic diarrhoea through, essentially, shit transplants… and is more interested in telling peurile fart jokes than in telling us about the work.
1/5. Really not for me. Will and Grace fans will probably love it.
Sync was another disappointment. The phenomena described are closely related to chaos theory, which I’m fascinated by, but this bored me out of my mind. I think maybe because the author is a mathmetician, and even though he avoided talking about any actual equation or the mechanics of maths (thanks, Steven!) he looks at synchrony and disorder in a mathematical way, and I just can’t relate to that.
1/5. Couldn’t finish it.
Simon Singh is such a good writer he wrote a book about maths that I not only enjoyed, but could actually follow (FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM). I like codes way more than I like maths and he knocked it out of the park again. I particularly loved the chapters on how Linear B and hieroglyphs were translated, even though the languages they represent were dead, and the chapters on the WWII Enigma code.
I do wish he’d covered a wider range of famous codes instead of going into so much detail on a select few, but I understand there’s a trade-off to be made.
5/5 I love you Simon
And now… fiction!
This isn’t out until 23 March but I got my hands on an advanced copy. I don’t know Allison Ashley but we’re both in a group for debut authors, and I was so in love with her cover that I asked if I could read.
Perfect Distraction is a cute romance between an oncology nurse, Lauren, and a lawyer-in-training, Andrew. Andrew’s temperature is raised every time he goes to the oncology department for lymphoma treatment, and it ain’t because he’s feverish ifyouknowwhatImean. And even though Lauren feels the same, she’s been burned in the past and she’s scared of breaking department rules and getting involved with a patient.
The hero and heroine are incredibly cute and their pun game is top notch. I also love the well-developed side characters (and I don’t just mean Emma, with the recent boob job and push-up bra).
5/5 I’m just gonna repeat: CUTE and PUNS
I struggle with unreliable narrators. I’m a simple soul and tend to believe everything I’m told, so I’m easily confused when I’m supposed to be seeing beyond what the narrator tells me. I also don’t do well with narrators who don’t speak in standard English, because I find it distracting.
Should I therefore be worried that I slipped into asylum resident Chief’s narration like a knife into room-temperature butter? He’s some kind of schizophrenic or leper or something (IDK I’m not a doctor) but I *got* him, man.
I read this almost a month ago now and I’m still not sure what I think of it. Some of the things the “hero” McMurphy advocates are troubling, and I hate the manner in which he makes his big move against Nurse Ratched. But in my view he isn’t the hero, and when I look at it like that, this was a cracking read.
5/5 If I get sectioned I’ll take this book with me.
Hoo boy. I remember really liking some Peter Robinson DCI Banks novels, though I did read them several years ago. I’m not sure if this one was a blip for Robinson or if my reading tastes have matured since then. Either way, this was pretty awful. We open with our illustrious detectives investigating… a tractor theft. I don’t know about you, but I look for tractor-related crime in all my thrillers.
The tractorless farmer mentions that his neighbouring farmer’s estranged son, who no longer lives nearby, was caught joyriding a car a year ago. Somehow, this makes him the prime suspect for stealing the tractor. I don’t know about you, but if I were a joyrider, I would definitely choose vehicles that have a maximum speed of 4mph and can’t be parked without everybody in a four-mile radius asking why the fuck you’ve brought a tractor home.
Turns out the joyrider hasn’t been seen since the day before. In an interview with his girlfriend, she mentions the joyrider sometimes does cash-in-hand jobs with a friend. This is enough to make the friend the prime suspect in joyrider’s disappearance, and for the police to get a warrant to search the friend’s home.
Are you following? No, me either, but basically the whole premise is completely unbelievable. Then there’s something about an illegal abattoir and a van and IDK.
Plus, DCI Banks has turned into a sad loser who spends his evenings on his own, drinking and thinking about lonely he is. I don’t appreciate Robinson writing about me without credit.
1/5 though still the best thriller about the theft of slow farm equipment that I’ve ever read
You might have seen my recent interview with Anita Kushwaha. I didn’t have time to finish the book before that went up, but I did in February and I’m so glad! I love this kind of story where we have multiple protagonists living separate lives and all the threads come together in the end.
This is a beautiful story about women: expectations of femininity, female responsibility, family expectations, and the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. But please don’t think it’s an “issues” book that wants to lecture you about the patriarchy or whatever. It isn’t and it doesn’t. It’s just a beautiful and heart-wrenching story, and each of the women it features is well-developed. I wanted good things for all of them.
5/5 Just beautiful!
This was VERY well-written and I will definitely read more Heidi Perks. The plot, however, fell down a bit.
Charlotte has taken her children, plus her friend Harriet’s daughter, to a school fete. All fine, until she realises Harriet’s daughter has gone missing. I thought this was a great premise – can you imagine how unbelievably guilty you would feel at losing another woman’s child? How the hell could you ever face her again?
But pretty soon, the story morphs into something else. Charlotte becomes a minor character and the book focuses on Harriet and her marriage to Brian, which you sense quite soon is pretty troubled. Unfortunately, Charlotte was a much more interesting and lively character than Harriet, who is pretty passive and quiet, and I wished we had stayed with Charlotte as our main character.
The book was also structured weirdly, jumping back and forth between the days following the abduction and two weeks in the future when Charlotte is being interviewed by the police. That would be fine but then the big climax is all about a certain character being in danger, and we already know from the police interviews that the character is alive and well.
I also guessed about 1/3 in who had taken the child.
3/5 Loved the writing but not the story.
I bought a Peter James ‘boxset’ of DCI Grace books. He’s one of my favourite authors and never lets me down. Plus, not a single tractor theft so far.
I skipped the first in the series, Dead Simple, because I read it last year (fantastic book – guy is buried alive as part of a stag party prank, and while the prankers drive away congratulating themselves on how funny it is, they all die in an accident and their friend is left six foot under with nobody in the world knowing where he is).
In Looking Good Dead, Tom picks up a CD that another passenger accidentally leaves behind on a train. On the CD is a video of a woman being murdered. The murderers evidently know he’s seen it and begin to send threats, which only get more sinister when Tom goes to the police…
In Not Dead Enough, the people that Brian loves are being picked off one by one, and all the evidence points to him as the murderer. So why does he seem to be telling the truth when he claims he knows nothing about it? And why is there conflicting evidence that shows him sixty miles away at the time of the murders? Is this a case of mistaken identity, or something even more clever…
In Dead Man’s Footsteps a skeleton is found in a storm drain, Abby is hiding from a terrifying predator she’s stolen a fortune from, Ronnie has a meeting in the World Trade Centre in September 11, 2001, and a corpse is found in the boot of a submerged car in Australia. DCI Grace discovers all these events are linked, and a murderer is at the centre.
You see why I love this series, right? The premises are always super intriguing and boy, James really knows how to keep you turning those pages.
But man, he needs to stop writing sex scenes. Right now. If I read once more about DCI Grace’s girlfriend’s “tangled pubes” or dialogue like, “Oh Roy, you are so, so gorgeous!” or anybody, and I mean anybody, licking inside a belly button, I will vomit on a corpse. Luckily, these scenes of the direst dialogue in the world are easily skipped and the characters return to talking like normal human beings when they have clothes on.
5/5 I love you Peter, but only with your clothes on
Probably my ultimate childhood favourite, and I re-read it all the time. Three orphans all adopted by the same explorer and cared for by the formidable but maternal Nana. Pauline, the golden-haired blue-eyed eldest, destined for the stage. Petrova, serious and methodical, who reads car manuals in her spare time. And red-headed Posy, who lives, breathes, and thinks ballet.
This might be a deep-seated inspiration for the book I’m writing now.
What have you been reading in February?