Portrait of a Girl — Dörthe Binkert

I really enjoyed She Wore Only White so i followed Dörthe on Amazon and when this came up on sale for £1 i really couldn’t resist.

And what a bargain.

It’s similar in a lot of ways to She Wore Only White in that we have a true historical setting, with true historical characters, that Dörthe uses as a canvas upon which to paint her fictional story.   And also in that we have a young woman who is adrift in the world trying to find where she can belong.

All very well written with good characters, a good plot, and the perfect level of scene setting.   Dörthe does a wonderful job of taking us back in time, to Switzerland in late 19th century, and giving us a glimpse of the disparity of wealth between the local peasantry and the rich and wealthy, European elite who descend upon the valley each summer.

This is the second book that Dörthe has had translated into English and i do hope that there will be many more in the future.

Dörthe’s Page

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The Wisdom of Tea — Noriko Morishita

If you enjoy reading about Japan and its culture then this book will be very much for you.   In The Wisdom of Tea Norika tells us about her first 25 years journey learning all about Tea and in so doing gives us a wonderful view inside this part of Japanese culture that most of us would never have gotten to see.

Starting at 20 years old, Noriko is badgered into going to Tea lessons by her mother and cousin and only agrees to go so that she can go to a cafe with her cousin afterwards to hang out and be 20 year olds.   Little did she know at the time that 25 years later she would still be going to the same lessons every Saturday and writing a book about her experiences in the Tea room.

What looks from the outside to be a fairly simple thing, as Noriko takes us on her 25 year journey she makes us realise many of Tea’s facets and depths as she slowly learns that Tea is a life long learning experience that will only end when we end life itself.

After reading this book, all i can say is that if i knew where i could get Tea lessons near me i’d be signing up tomorrow.

Well worth a read for everyone interested in Japanese culture, Zen and other such things.

And if you haven’t read it already, do be sure to have a read of The Book of Tea, which further explores the history of this wonderful beverage and culture.

Noriko’s Page

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The Raven Tower — Ann Leckie

No idea how i came across this, but it sounded rather good so i added it to my wish list and when it got put on sale for only 99p, i didn’t need asking twice.

And for 99p i definitely got an incredible bargain.

I’ve no idea why this is listed in science fiction on Amazon, i’d definitely put it squarely in the grimdark fantasy section.   I suppose i may be getting my genres completely misconstrued, but i don’t think i am.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a good bit of grimdark fantasy then this should be right up your alley.   Who are the good and the bad in this and are they even aware that they are and why?   The baddies, although doing what they do for completely nefarious reasons, are actually doing the good thing; while the goodies, thinking they’re being all altruistic and everything, turn out to be on the baddies’ side.   And it’s all wound into a very well written story.

My only little winge is that Eolo’s gender thing is rather ambiguous and confusing and i think this could have been better defined.   At the end of the book i’m still not sure what gender Eolo actually is: cis, trans or otherwise.   Another character also mentions an aunt that had a gender thing going on, but again, no real information as to what.   I just completely failed to see what purpose having a main character — and another character who wasn’t part of the story whatsoever — with ambiguous genders served: other then being a poor attempt by the writer to include someone with these issues in order to get some woke cred.   Wouldn’t it be nice if we’re going to have characters with gender issues, dysphoria, trans, non-binary, etc., that they were made relevant to the story and explored further with a view to educating the ignorant masses on these issues while also helping and supporting those who have to deal with these issues in real life?   A great example of a writer that did such a thing would be Jason Segel, working with Eve Lindley, in the series Dispatches from Elsewhere: definitely a must watch before you read another book if you haven’t watched it already.

Other than my little winge this is a great book with great characters, well written and it really plays with the idea of gods and how gods get, keep and use their power over people.   We can see in our own world how a certain god has been allowed to overwhelm other gods and how this has ultimately turned the whole world into a shit hole of ecological disaster with a global plague while in a mass extinction event.   This is what happens when you worship a god whose clergy tells you that you don’t have to care about this world because said god has got something better for you when you die — just keep breeding like flies and fucking the planet up, Armageddon will soon be upon us and the pious shall have their rapture.

Ann’s Page

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The Longest Shard — Kathleen McClure

If you like really good steampunk with really good characters navigating a really good world then The Fortune Chronicles by Kathleen McClure will be right up your alley.

Every one of the Fortune books i’ve read so far has left me really glad i bought it and always leaves me eagerly awaiting more.   Kathleen is one of those writers who, once she’s got you started in a book, just ain’t gonna let you go until the last page.   It’s just non-stop, gritty, character driven stuff with great world building that will keep you up late reading when you should be getting some sleep.

The Longest Shard is a really well written, fast paced novella giving us more of Gideon Quinn’s back story before the main books.

Seriously folks, if you like steampunk give Kathleen, Fortune and Gideon Quinn a chance, you won’t regret it.

Kathleen’s Page

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The Cat and The City — Nick Bradley

There are parts of this book that totally felt like Nick has taken Ghostwritten and number9dream, put them both in a mixing bowl, threw a calico cat in and stirred them all together.   Which is not a bad thing as they’re both excellent reads, and, as it turns out, so is The Cat and the City.   Although, having said that, Nick does have his own writing style and the underlying theme of the story is completely different.

This is one of those reviews where i feel i can’t say as much as i’d like to say without giving away the book’s ending, which is a bit annoying, both for me and, i imagine, anyone wanting a review.   So i’ll just do my best without ruining it for anyone: i’m sure if anyone wants to have it ruined by reading a more in depth review they’ll soon find one somewhere on the internet.

At first this is what appears to be a collection of short stories, however, each is interconnected by a calico cat and various characters that keep appearing around various parts of Tokyo. Slowly, over time, a back story begins to coalesce.

I wouldn’t put this down as an easy read because you do have to keep track of some of the characters who randomly appear — and their relationships — add to this that most of the characters have Japanese names and it becomes a bit of a challenge.   Then there’s the Japanese terminology that is peppered throughout, for which most of us will need to stop occasionally and use “Look Up”.   All in all it is quite a challenge but it is well worth the investment if you have the sort of mind that likes reading books that require you to make a bit of effort.   If, however, you like your stories spoon fed to you by mother at bedtime then i would probably not bother as you’ll probably just end up getting totally lost, confused, annoyed and ultimately blame a really good book for your own failings.

One could ask why is all this chaos necessary?   I would suggest that it’s meant to portray Tokyo and it’s metropolitan area of 37,468,000 people, all passing on the streets, trains, taxis, etc.; pretending to ignore each other while obviously being continually affected, being extremely polite while ultimately suffering inside, and being so distant from each other while being so very near.

Anyway, like the two David Mitchell books, mentioned above, i really enjoyed it and if you do make the effort i’m sure you will to as it’s a great story spread out all over one of the world’s greatest cities.

Nick’s Page

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Citizen — Claudia Rankine

A rather different way of saying the things that need to be said, containing a mixed bag of poetry, prose, vignettes, etc., detailing what it’s like to be perpetually on the receiving end of racism, from micro-agressions to extremely overt racism.

Maybe, instead of forcing children to read Shakespeare and Dickens at school, we should be encouraging them to read books like this and encouraging them to engage in constructive dialogue with each other about the issues raised and the experiences of those on the receiving end of racism and other bigotry.   Racist is not something people are born, it’s something people are taught, and its very clearly up to schools and educators to start stepping up and making much more effort with the young minds in their care.

In the UK “Citizenship” and “Relationship” education is not on the curriculum until after 11 years of age: this is far, far too late.   How our societies are peopled — our citizens — and how we relate to those other citizens within our societies should be permanently on the curriculum from the very first day of school, not be left in the hands of young people’s peers, bad television, bad websites, and ignorant parents who read nothing but vile, tabloid drivel.   A child who has been nurtured badly up to the age of 11 is highly unlikely to respond to positive nuturing by over-worked, underpaid, stressed-out teachers after the age of 11.

Claudia’s Page

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Star Maker — William Olaf Stapledon

I managed to get 31% into this and then just had to give up trying.   I really couldn’t manage any more of it.

Imagine that William’s favourite book is Gulliver’s Travels and he decides to have a go at writing a sci-fi version of it having read Brave New World just before starting.   I think that pretty much sums up the first 31%.

The problem is that while Gulliver’s Travels and Brave New World are both very good books, both are very well written and keep the reader’s attention, Star Maker is tedious, dull and plodding: at least that’s how i found it to be.   I can imagine for its time it was very exciting, but sadly some books just don’t age well and i think this is one of them.

I don’t feel that it’s bad enough to warrant a place on “The Deleted” page, so it will get a reprieve and stay in my Amazon lists for now and i may give it another go at some future date when i’m feeling a lot better about life and stuff.

William’s Page

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Crome Yellow — Aldous Huxley

I was in my 20’s when i last read this, somewhere between 25 and 30 years ago, and i still think it’s a very good book.

There is, however, a problem with this book: Aldous was very clearly a product of Victorian England and his use of words really reflect this, especially in his early writing, and there are the very occasional racial words/comments used — which i counted twice.

It’s a very awkward place to find oneself, caught between two cultures.   By my standards the use of such language is completely unacceptable, yet, having read a few Victorian books and also post Victorian books, like this, written by those who were educated by Victorians, it is clear that the use of such language was, very much, the standard of the day.

Do we now throw the babies out with the bath water?   Admittedly, by contemporary standards, the bathwater we are dealing with is now considered untreated sewage, but in it’s day it was considered fit for drinking.   I certainly don’t feel that Aldous was, in anyway, being racist and derogatory, but simply using the words and cliches of his day.

As to the rest of the book it is very clearly a satire and critique of England in the early 1920’s and it’s very clear that Aldous was not supporting of many views expressed in this book, but laying bare the thinking and ideas of his day.   If you are interested you can read much more about this on it’s Wiki page.

The interesting thing for me is that just over 5 years ago i spent 3 years living at one of England’s great houses and its huge estate, including parklands, shrubberies, woods, Italian gardens, ponds, lakes, etc., and it certainly made reading about Crome a whole different experience.   Sadly, to be honest, the upper classes, and their sycophants, haven’t really changed much from the attitudes and behaviour satirised and parodied within Crome Yellow.

This book is also, very much, the forerunner to Brave New World, and i would suggest a must read for fans of that book.

Aldous’ Page

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The Lollipop Shoes — Joanne Harris

Book two of the Chocolat series.   I really enjoyed Chocolat. so this is another one of those sequels in the unenviable position of having a lot to live up to.   Did it?   Well, it didn’t do too bad a job.

I would say my only real criticism of it was that it went on for far too long.   Chocolat was a mere 359 pages whereas The Lollipop Shoes is 594 pages, and while reading it one gets the feeling that it could have been trimmed down a fair bit and the story would have benefited.

As i say, that’s my only real criticism.

I certainly enjoyed knowing that there are two further books in this tetralogy, as one can’t be certain how this is going to end.   Is Vianne going to be left high and dry with the further two books dedicated to her fighting back, or is Vianne going to triumph here and now and we’ll move on to some other tale in the next book?   We’re also not even sure who is going to be Vianne at the end of this book as it’s mostly about identity theft and Vianne becoming the target of an identity thieving witch: can chocolate witchery save the day again?

At the end, the only real judgement one can pass on this book is: am i going to read Peaches for Monsieur le Curé?   Not straight away.   As i said, this went on for a bit too long and i have a few other books i’ve been looking forward to reading, but Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is queued up on my Kindle ready to be read at some time in the not too distant future.

Joanne’s Page

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The Strange Case of the New Golden Gate — Robin Sloan

I really enjoyed Annabel Scheme and also everything else that Robin has written, so i went into this with very high expectations: sadly, i don’t think it reached them.

While it’s not a bad book and is quite an ok read, it just all felt a bit rushed.

Yes, i know, it was written as a serial article for a newspaper and maybe Robin was hobbled with some level of word count, or maybe Robin was in a rush to get on with other things: i’ve no idea.   What i do have an idea about is that this book just isn’t as good as the original Annabel Scheme book.

But, hey ho, it’s enough to keep us Robin Sloan fans happy for a while and you can at least read it for free in it’s original form at the newspaper’s website.

In the meantime, we keep our fingers crossed for a full length novel coming from Robin soon.

Robin’s Page

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