First let me announce that I’m having computer problems. My A, Q, and 1 keys are working intermittently, so there will be typos in this post. Don’t judge me. Actually, you probably should judge me, because I think the problem is that my keyboard is full of cat hair.
August was a pretty good month in one way – I had a week off work so I read 22 books in the month. But it was a big disappointment in that only one of those books included dinosaurs. I’ll do better next month.
Fortunately for you, patient reader, I have chosen just 14 to review here, and the reviews are short. Let’s face it; nobody reads them anyway.
The Odyssey, Homer – 5/5 lots of blood and sex, sometimes together.
War hero Odysseus shags his way across the Greek islands for 10 years, dipping his wick into every goddess, mortal, and sea monster he encounters, desperately trying to get home to his wife to make sure she’s remained faithful to him.
When he’s not rutting, he’s crying. Oh, the crying. If Odysseus had spent his crying time rowing, he would’ve been home a week after the war.
I also have to wonder how the Trojan Horse thing really worked.
Trojan 1: “Hey, Dave. Dave! Listen. You know those Greeks that’ve been camping outside the city walls for nine years trying to kill us all?”
“Well, mate, they’re gone.”
“No, really. And get this… they’ve only left behind a giant wooden horse.”
“Yeah. Massive it is.”
“Ooh, I’d say big enough to contain about 100 Greeks.”
“Cor, that is big. Wonder how they forgot that?”
“No, Dave, I think it’s a gift. You know, ‘Sorry for trying to kill you for a decade, lols.'”
“Huh. Nice of ’em.”
“Ain’t it? Lovely. You don’t often see manners like that these days. Let’s go and inspect it.”
“Well, I don’t know, Bob. Don’t they say something about ‘beware Greeks bearing gifts?'”
“No, they haven’t invented that yet. But you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Dave.”
“You’re right, Bob. Don’t listen to me, being all ungrateful. Eh, this is nice – there’s a trapdoor in the horse’s stomach. Could really use some extra storage space.”
From inside the horse: *cough* “SHUT UP, ACHILLES, THEY’LL HEAR US!”
Dave: “What was that?”
Bob: “I dunno, probably the wind. Help me push this thing inside. Cor, it’s heavy enough for 110 Greeks to be inside!”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte – 5/5 though a sad lack of dinosaurs
A masterpiece of romance, with only one fault – there’s a perfect chance to ship the brat Adele off to boarding school, and Jane doesn’t take it?!
The Secret of Cold Hill, Peter James – 4/5 very droll, Dear Watso–HOLY FUCK IT’S ANOTHER GHOST
The first Cold Hill book was pretty darn creepy, even though the same plot has been done 100 times before. Peter James can do that.
This one took a surprising but pleasant turn and the ghosts were fucking hilarious. I loled.
The Last Séance, Agatha Christie – 5/5 She’s a MASTER
The more Christie I read, the more I appreciate her. This is a collection of supernatural short stories by the Queen of Mysteries, and they’re all worth reading.
The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware – 3/5 Meh
This is the second Ruth Ware book (the first was THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10) I’ve read and my thoughts are pretty much the same: great premise, pacing good, but the protagonist isn’t someone I enjoy spending 90k words with. The voice just grates me – the protagonists don’t seem like real, convincing people. It’s a shame because I really loved this plot. I think I’ll have to give up on Ruth Ware now.
But a kid died, so I gave it 3*s anyway.
The Spear, James Herbert – 2/5 What was this I don’t even
This was about…. like… I don’t really know? I think there were Nazi ghosts and also Nazi zombies and some kind of possessed army tank?
Yeah. I. No. I’m not sure.
It started off really well, though. Up until the tank appeared.
Someone was crucified to a door so it earned two stars at least.
Girl, EdnaO’Brien – 5/5 Pure mastery of the craft
If you’re a writer, read this book. It broke so many writing “rules” and did it for exactly the right reason and with exactly the right effect.
This is a novel told from the perspective of one of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. I really do wish the story had been novelised by a black African woman, and I hope giving 5*s doesn’t undermine the problem. But from a craft perspective, this was a masterpiece.
Dinosaurs Rediscovered, Michael J. Benton – 5/5 excellent numbers of dinosaurs
By this time in the month I was desperate for some dinosaurs, and Michael J Benton delivered me dinosaurs.
I also learned about a new species of dinosaurs and wrote my own joke:
What do you call a dinosaur that makes bad jokes on Twitter?
It’s funny. Laugh.
You can see more erudite thoughts here: https://twitter.com/AnnaKaling/status/1292924604483239938
Erebus: The Story of a Ship, Michael Palin – 3/5 one of the best books I’ve read about a ship named Erebus
I kind of lost respect for Michael Palin when I saw him in an interview waxing lyrical about how great North Korea is and how Westerners have a distorted image of it. Would that be after your tour in which you were shown select parts of the country as chosen by its chief propaganda ministers, Michael? YES, YES IT WAS.
Anyway. This book is about the ship that first went to Antarctica and then went to the Arctic and got stranded in the ice, leading to everybody on board dying one by one, with some munching of the crewmates’ corpses by those who lasted longest. Lovely stuff, 3/5.
In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, John Gribbin – 1/5 they didn’t even find the cat
Like any intelligent person, I thought I was getting a cute mystery story about a missing cat and an eccentric but lovable owner called Shrodinger. NO. The protagonists didn’t even bother LOOKING for the cat, let alone finding it. They didn’t put up a single poster. Not even an ad on Craigslist. Instead they kept banging on about something called physics which is something to do with electrics?
Such a disappointment.
The Things That Nobody Knows, William Harston – 1/5 no
The 502nd thing you should know is this book isn’t worth your time. I expected the mysteries to be skimmed over at the highest level possible – the book includes an arbitrary 501 of them, so they get roughly half a page each – but I at least thought the author would focus on the most interesting aspects of the mysteries. No. Dull as fuck. And they didn’t even include “Why did Will and Grace manage to attract any viewers?”
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer – 3/5 fascinating but sadly padded
“Fascinating but sadly padded” is also my Tinder bio, but that’s beside the point.
Into the Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, a young American man who walked into the wilds of Alaska seeking to become one with the land and instead became one with the air. Because he died.
It’s really a biography of Chris’ life, and it’s an interesting life. He had a standard white middle-class upbringing but somehow developed a unique outlook on life, becoming obsessed with the idea of going back to nature and… stuff. It wasn’t a very well-thought-out philosophy, but at least he lived (and died) by his beliefs.
Krakauer is a cracking writer and this is a fascinating read. It’s just a shame that it’s so padded – already a slim book at around 200 pages, I imagine he felt he had to (or was told to) increase the word count, and padded it out with irrelevant details about people in Chris’ life and about his own experiences in “the wild.”
It would’ve been a 5* without the padding. Which is just what my last partner said about me.
Talking With Psychopaths, Christopher Berry-Dee – 1/5 WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK
After some reflection I have toned down my review from the original, which was rather harsh. So, polite version:
WHAT THE FUCK WAS THIS.
The writer is on glue, the copy editor was a chimp trained in Russian, and the acquiring editor hopefully now has a restraining order stopping them from coming within 20 miles of a publishing contract ever again.
I’ve read better prose written on the walls of a public toilet in Glasgow. Including the bits written in shit.
The Planets, Andrew Cohen and Prof Brian Cox – 2/5 too much narrative distance between protagonists; 2.8 billion miles at times
It’s hard to pull off an ensemble novel, especially one with nine main characters and around 200 billion side characters. Cohen and Cox don’t quite pull it off, and the narrative is rather uneven; meek and grey Mercury gets a few unsinpired pages whereas showy Saturn with all her frills and stunning azure wardrobe gets a lavish description spanning many chapters.
I personally like more character development than constant references to how “hot” or “inviting” a planet is to other humans.
The plot was a little flat as well – not much happened. I guess it’s one of those literary novels I just don’t get.
7 thoughts on “August Roundup: What have I been reading?”
I’m retiring my “what I read this month” posts until I can at least hit double figures.
*hangs head in shame*
I’m deeply disappointed by Schrodinger’s Cat though. What a misleading title!
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Huge disappointment. The worst thing is they hinted the cat was trapped in a box with a NUCLEAR DEVICE and then they just skipped over that plot point without telling us whether it lived or died?!
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What?? That’s terrible writing. Everyone knows that if there’s a nuclear device on the mantlepiece in Act One it has to go off in Act Three.
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I come across literary novels like The Planets too, and I know people rave about them, but I just don’t get them. They should really consider adding dragons.
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Or dinosaurs. You can’t go wrong with either.
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These are excellent reviews. You should include review writer on your curriculum vitae. You know that piece of paper where you write up past jobs and your skills in different color fonts to attract the eye of the recruiter.
Your review of The Odyssey is outstanding, almost a classic in itself. You might have mentioned Penelope, weaving and unweaving some stupid piece of cloth while waiting for that wick dipper to get from shagging sorceresses and anything female. But your analysis of the trojan Horse makes up for the lack of detail on Penelope.
I don’t read horror, so I can’t comment on your reviews of horror books and of childrearing. I have been wanting to read more Agatha Christie (or watch more BBC, either way) and I agree that she is one of the greatest mystery writers ever. Even if she is British.
How do we know that there aren’t dinosaurs on other planets? I think this is an area of work that is sadly neglected, and would definitely add interest to books about planets. Are the Dinosaurs of Jupiter behind the plot to demote Pluto’s status as a planet? We definitely need more research.
I have been reading cosy mysteries and romances in the last month. The heros and heroines are sometimes annoying, but at least the books don’t have too many racists or horrible Trump supporting people (also known as sexist, power grabbing misers and psychopaths in any place or time period). Thank you for being you, Anna. You are a great writer even when having problems with A, Q and 1. You should contact Sesame Street about these problematic letters and numbers. They need to get on the case before children think that aardvark is spelled as rdvrk. That works in Finland, but American aardvarks get upset.
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I like Penelope. She’s a 40-something woman with like 100 young men after her, and she strings them along for a YEAR. My kind of woman.