Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

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I discovered the Harry Potter books at some point when I was in Year Nine at school, between September 1998 and July 1999, shortly before the third one came out and Pottermania went stratospheric. I remember taking the first one in to English to do a book review – the book in question actually belonged to my sister; she was the one who pre-ordered each new book as it came along and she was the one who took them with her when she moved out. So these books are not “my childhood” as they were for so many people on the internet but I suppose they were my teen years. I now own my own set of Harry Potter books (and they all match! My sister had the first two in paperback and the rest in hardback and I love that my set match, even if they’re not the original covers) and I re-read them every year or two.

Having pledged to do more book reviews and having read the Philosopher’s Stone back in early January, let’s get started with the Chamber of Secrets. Continue reading

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Jane of Lantern Hill / Pat of Silver Bush by LM Montgomery

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When I was ten or eleven or maybe a bit older, I discovered Anne of Green Gables. I promptly discovered the rest of the series and drove my local bookshop crazy ordering them all. Many years later, my grandparents had a Golden Wedding anniversary and all the cousins came over from Canada. My grandmother had dementia by then but she and her girl cousins sang “We’ll Meet Again” as if they were teenagers. And one of the cousins brought me two books. I don’t know why – did Granny know I liked Anne of Green Gables? Probably not, and almost certainly not in the state of mind she was in. I don’t remember the cousin bringing my sister any books. She brought me Rilla of Ingleside – which I already owned – and Emily Climbs, which I didn’t. That’s the middle of the three Emily books and it was only a few short years ago that I finally read books one and three.

I was sort of vaguely aware of The Blue Castle, although I’ve never read it but until I spied it in a bookshop, I had no idea that Jane of Lantern Hill existed, and likewise with several others that I now have on my Kindle. So these are new LM Montgomery books to me as an adult and I Have Thoughts.

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Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

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I picked Mistborn: The Final Empire up because I’d recently been to the Gollancz Festival and this book was one of four given a special hardback edition to celebrate their tenth birthdays. I’d already read and loved The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (my favourite book of all time, and one I just can’t put into the right words for a blog) and The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. The fourth in that set is The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd, who turns out to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met/been shoved into a conversation with but the book itself is one I haven’t managed to convinced myself to try yet.

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The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

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I’ve read a few reviews of this book and they go one of two ways depending more or less on the age of the reviewer. Younger reviewers – teenage girls, the target demographic, love it. The worldbuilding is nothing they’ve ever seen before and the characters have such great lives and what’s going on between them all is so exciting. Adults aren’t so keen on it. There are huge gaps in the worldbuilding and the characters are all tedious rich teenagers with Rich People Problems and extravagant dresses.

I picked up The Thousandth Floor on a whim, while looking round idly for something to catch my eye and the reason this one did is that two days previously, I’d stumbled across the X-Seed 4000, the world’s tallest building to be fully envisaged. That is, the plans have been made and this thing could be built tomorrow, if we had the technology. It’s a tower two and a half miles high which could home up to a million people. In other words, it’s the tower from the book, except that I don’t think the author’s ever heard of the X-Seed 4000. The book’s set in about a century’s time and I’d like to think that by then, maybe we’d have the ability to actually built it. So I’m quite happy to go with the futuristic tower these kids live in as being a viable thing.

It’s also trying to have a touch of the Ballard about it. I read High Rise earlier in the year and there’s the same premise here. The more money you have, the higher up the tower you live. In High Rise, everyone’s rich, so it’s the mega-rich vs the plain rich. In The Thousandth Floor, it’s the mega-rich vs the really poor. The lower floor apartments are cramped and mouldy and dark and the people there live more or less in squalor. But whereas High Rise used that to almost apocalyptic effect, The Thousandth Floor… well, barely uses it at all. Some of the poorer people work at the various upmarket hotels, spas, bars and restaurants the rich people use but it’s literally only Mariel and Eris who bring up the subject at all. It’s as if these people don’t live in the same world, let alone the same building.

The kids. Well, they’re all teenagers. I’m a Senior Section leader – that’s girls in the UK aged 14-25 and I love them but the drama in their lives is so serious to them and so trivial to me. That’s what it’s like reading The Thousandth Floor. Teenagers who don’t realise that most of their teenage love life will be barely a distant memory by the time they’re twenty-five. If you’re a teenager, you’ll probably love the antics of Avery, Atlas, Leda, Eris, Cord, Rylin, Watt and co. I read it with some of the affectionate head-shaking I feel about my Rangers.

Let’s get on with the spoilers and talk about the elephant in the room.

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Gollancz Festival 2016

Two weeks ago, I went to London, to go to the Gollancz Festival, at Foyles on Charing Cross Road. Because I had to get there on Saturday morning from the Wild West, I opted to attend the Saturday afternoon panels session and, with much more trepidation, the author party in the evening.

I’ve read a few Gollancz books – Scott Lynch’s three, Joanne Harris’s The Gospel of Loki, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy plus one or two of the standalones and maybe a couple of others. I was mainly going for Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora has been my favourite book for about nine years now. I know I’ve never written a post about it. I want to and I’m going to but it’s difficult to talk about a book I love so much.

There were four panels of three authors – as listed:

Utopia vs Conflict
Ezekiel Boone, Al Robertson & Jon Wallace

The Comfort Zone: Leave or Remain
Alex Lamb, Miles Cameron & Christopher Priest

Don’t Make Me Laugh
Stephen Deas, Tom Lloyd & Simon Morden

Does Anyone Need a Wee?
Ben Aaronovitch, Ed Cox, Joanne Harris & Scott Lynch

I can’t remember everything – most of it, in fact. I wasn’t taking notes. Most of the authors came across as bright, smart, friendly people, people I liked, even if I didn’t like or had no interest in their books. We were given goodie bags which contained, amongst other things, samplers of new Gollancz books. I read Boone’s The Hatching which I enjoyed but it’s horror, monster horror, and I can’t and won’t read the full book. One about dragon-riding, I couldn’t even finish the sampler. I’ve read Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London which I thought was ok but it didn’t grab me in the way it seems to have grabbed a lot of people. But all the authors seemed nice – surprising number working other jobs as well as writing. I guess I thought once you’d got a full-size novel published, that became your full time job, especially if you’d published a few but evidently not necessarily.

Scott Lynch forewent the mic (“I’m American, we make our own”), Christopher Priest kept not paying attention to the questions in a hilarious way, Joanne Harris started off with no idea what she was going to talk about and Ben Aaronovitch is just generally fantastic. I did enjoy the last panel most – surprise surprise, that was the one I went to see. Logistics in fantasy and worldbuilding, or worldbuilding vs story.

Miles Cameroon answered a question by asking who in the audience was a writer or an aspiring writer. Three quarters of us, it turns out. I don’t really feel like I belong in those numbers – SF/F fans can be somewhat elitist and I often feel I don’t fit but also I can’t and will not write science fiction or fantasy. Other than very short stories if I’m in the right frame of mind, I can’t write fiction at all. It’s not my thing. My writing projects are I Am A Polar Bear and the Arctic travelogue. A novel remains a very distant and probably unachievable daydream.

I got my battered nine-year-old copy of TLOLL signed by Scott. He had the longest queue of all the authors – it held up the party. (And I was quietly pleased to see how many of the books he was given to sign were brand new, unread and picked up from the table as the signing began. New fans are good but now it was my turn to feel elitist because I’d already read and loved them, and here’s a battered and much-read book to prove it).

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The party didn’t go quite so well. I’m not a person who’s any good at mingling with strangers. I had a glass of something sweet and fuzzy and nearly wine-colour and I sat on the floor at the back, as did another two girls, warily watching proceedings.

The Gollancz folk are great. First Gillian Redfearn, Publishing Director herself, came to squat in front of me to make sure I was ok and comfortable and had a drink and tried to encourage me to come and talk to people in yellow lanyards, before taking to the stage with Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Tom Lloyd to interview them about their special tenth anniversary editions.I came close to watch that. And then I wandered and looked at people and got more drinks and then I was seized by another lovely Gollancz lady whose name I didn’t get, who dragged me off to find whichever author I wanted to chat to. (None of them. What can I say except “I really liked your book!” or “”I’ve never read your book or heard of you”? I did enjoy spotting Stephen Baxter – ten years ago, my friend Nigel spent an entire car journey from the valleys of South Wales to Canterbury telling me every detail of the story of the Xeelee Sequence. I’ve still never read any of it.

This lovely lady dragged me over to Tom Lloyd, joined in his chat and once he was settled into talking to someone and I was standing nervously beside him, she hopped off to mingle with someone else. I like Tom a lot, he seemed like what my dad might call “a good chap” but… I’d never heard of him, never heard of his books, never read the books. Even if I was a chatty person who’s naturally good at talking to strangers, what can I say to him?

I decided my best bet was to lurk next to the book table, read the backs of them, add some of them to my mental reading list and hope that it would soon be over. But then there was a lady next to me, asking me about them and I found myself trying to explain the books I’d read and the books I’d heard of. I sort of wondered if she was a mole, a Gollancz person without a Gollancz lanyard, partner of one of the authors. But she wasn’t, she was just a friendly Kiwi, accompanying her husband to an event she didn’t have much interest in herself, pulling me over to talk to her husband and another stray friend they’d made.

It finished at 8.30pm promptly, to my relief, despite everyone’s efforts to involve me. I’d been on my feet, with my knees more or less locked for nearly four hours and it hurt to hop down several flights of stairs, glad to be away, back into the dark of London.

How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton

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I was on Brownsea Island this weekend, where Scouts and Guides were born, and I spied this book at the gift shop by the jetty. I’d been thinking about it only that morning on the way down to the ferry, defending Guides in my head against imaginary people protesting that “Guides is for goodie-goodies” on the basis that Guides was started by the rebels and the non-conformists who caused scandal in society and on the basis that they did a lot during the war. Seeing the book that very day, I had to buy it.

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Katy by Jacqueline Wilson

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Jacqueline Wilson’s Katy is a retelling of Susan Coolidge’s 1872 classic What Katy Did, which has been read by a surprisingly small number of people talking about Katy. But I have read it. I first read it when I was much littler. My copy of What Katy Did at School (formerly my mother’s copy) is now missing the first twenty pages or so and the remaining pages are no longer attached to the cover but my copy of What Katy Did Next is in pretty good condition. I’ve even read Clover, although I remember absolutely nothing about it. My point is, I’m familiar with the Katy Carr from 1872.

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Score! by Jilly Cooper

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I read this book when I was probably a bit too young. I don’t even know where it came from. It’s definitely not my dad’s sort of thing, my mum’s not a big reader and this is quite a chunky book, so I can’t see her reading it. But maybe she picked it up in a charity shop to read on holiday and then never actually read it. Continue reading