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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I do try to use the version of the cover that I actually read but in this case, the only picture I can find of it is the size of a postage stamp and it has someone – Anne? Di? Rilla? – looking decidedly grumpy on it.
Enid Blyton is total comfort reading for me, even at thirty. They’re still likely to be the books I pull out when I’m not feeling well, when I don’t have the ability to concentrate on anything more grown-up but want to read nonetheless.
Back in the summer, I discovered Joe Abercrombie’s new Shattered Sea trilogy entirely by accident, in the very week that the second installment, Half the World was published in paperback, which means that I devoured the first two books almost in one sitting. A week or two later, Half A War was published – but in hardback, and I have so many mismatched sets of books that I was adamant, no matter how desperate I was to read the third book, I was more desperate to have it match the other two. For that, I had to wait until March.
I’ve finally read it. It’s not a disappointment. It’s far from a disappointment. However, taking into account that I did enjoy Half A War, I still recognise Half the World as a better book. In trilogies, the middle book is generally the weakest, the one that’s mostly just plodding from the brilliant beginning to the climactic ending. Joe Abercrombie is odd because in both his trilogies, The First Law (which I loved so much that I ordered the third book from a terrible motel on the outskirts of Paris in the hope that it would be waiting for me when I got home) and now the Shattered Sea, the middle book is the best. The first book in both trilogies has a bit of a feeling of having to set the scene and introduce the characters and give some exposition and do the general admin for furthering enjoyment of the trilogy – but not in quite such an appallingly unreadable way as I’ve just made them sound. Both are very good, very solid books. Why would you go onto books two and three if they weren’t? And the last book, of course, has to have the big finale and tie up the loose ends, it’s got plenty it needs to achieve. But the middle book, that one gets to have the fun and provide the meat of the story and Joe Abercrombie has done that pretty well in both trilogies.
But let’s get down to Half A War. So, so many spoilers lurk beneath.
I feel sort of awkward mentioning this one because everyone reads it for the one and only reason that it was actually written by JK Rowling.
So I feel like I need to clarify that 1) I’ve never read, and am not particularly interested in reading, The Casual Vacancy 2) the news that JK Rowling had secretly written a crime novel elicited little more than a shrug from me.
I was in Frankfurt in December 2014, armed with a not-brilliant kids’ fantasy series when I spied The Cuckoo’s Calling, in English, in a bookshop under the station and I was immediately filled with an urge to read it. I don’t know why, when I’d never been interested before, maybe because of the gorgeous jewel-toned cover or the unexpectedness of finding an English book in Germany or because I was tired of the books I’d brought. I resisted – English-language books abroad cost an absolute fortune. English-language books bought abroad on the Kindle app on my phone, on the other hand…