New Releases: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Friday Five: 5 Overrated Films

The Best and Worst Books of March

A few recent purchases and the always-fascinating update on reading.

First, books bought:

Mars EvacueesSophia McDougall's Mars Evacuees (signed at the launch!) and Claire North's The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.* Ok, Sophia's is a children's book, but still - look! Frontlist SF! Amazing!

The Gulf Coast of Florida. Honestly, not so fussed about Florida. I went there once as a kid and all I remember are mosquitos and this awesome, like, three-dimensional board game that involved climbing a mountain (dungeon?) with traps (monsters?!). An actual board game. That's not a metaphor for Disney World. I was really young.

Anyway, the introduction is by John D. MacDonald and yes, I will buy a massive book of photography if it comes with two whole pages by JDM. (Also, it was on eBay - so cheap.)

Speaking of JDM, I also found a copy of the Corgi edition of Planet of the Dreamers, which has a delightfully Sixties cover - something that's halfway between Jack Gaughan and David Pelham.

That same browsing session also turned up a signed copy of Stephen Marlowe's The Cawthorne Journals. Marlowe (initially the pen name of Milton Lesser, but eventually his legal name! - there's your pub quiz trivia for the day) is one of my favourite Gold Medal authors. This is largely thanks to the Chester Drum series. His other stuff... I can take it or leave it. But it is nice to find a signed (inscribed, actually) hardcover in good condition.

Tragically, as far as physical books go, that's it. There were lots of digital purchases recently, but that's merely bibliophilic methadone. May need to go shopping this weekend...

Second, an update on reading - including the best and worst of the month:

I read twenty 'books' (well, the Goodreads definition thereof) in March - 11 by women, 9 by men. The latter counts two comic books - Moon Knight #1 and Endless Wartime - and a novella. (As above - Goodreads! 'Books!')

It was an odd month: no anthologies or collections and lots of awards-inspired reading. Also, the quality of the March reading was also very, very high, something that mostly (but not entirely) correlates with the latter.

There were a few disappointments: 

Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord is something I was really looking forward, but it was a little too ethereal for me. I'm very happy to set this on the 'not for me' pile. I can definitely see why people like it, and this was only a disappointment in that I thought I would be one of them. 

Skellig by David Almond also sits on the 'not for me' pile - I reviewed it already, and it just, if you'll pardon the pun, never took flight for me. This is, as far as I can tell, one of the seminal works of contemporary UK children's literature, and here I am, grousing about the ending. I feel a little guilty about that.

The Garden of Stones by Mark Barnes was, well, hmm... a bit like getting a Bundle of Holding, printing out all the PDFs, cutting them, dipping the strips in golden syrup to make a sort of sugar-soaked paper mache and then building a castle out of it. I've been mooching through the DGLA Morningstar submissions, hoping to get a head start on the possible shortlists, and, good god. No.

But, to happier times, some fantastic books from March:

All The Truth That's In MeThe Bunker Diary, Rooftopperswere all awards reads - finalists for the Carnegie and all utterly fantastic. (The fourth Carnegie book I've read, Liar & Spy was also good, but I don't rate it quite at the same level as the other three.)

The Raven Boys and Vivian Versus the Apocalypse are two of the best fantasy and science fiction novels of 2013, respectively. I'm still a little miffed that I didn't find them until now.

Smiler's FairLeila Sales' This Song Will Save Your Life has no speculative elements at all, and is a cracking issue-based YA novel about bullying and finding yourself. My favourite protagonist of all the various YA novels I've read this year - probably because I find Elise incredibly easy to emphathise with. A character that does, says and acts exactly how I would've at that age (although she is, I hasten to add, far cooler). A realistic 'geek'! Finally!

And, Smiler's Fair. I'll review this properly and at length (and with some discretion and transparency and stuff). Epic fantasy isn't just about the size and the grandeur and the spectacle (although that's all there a-plenty), it is about adventure. And you can't get that without surprise. It doesn't matter how spectacular the road is, if you already know what's around the corner, there's no adventure to it. 

Smiler's Fair had all the stuff I love about epic fantasy, and re-interpreted and presented in a way that kept me rapt from start to finish - pardon the cliche, but 'on the edge of my seat'. The last time I read a fantasy book that made me sit up and think, "holy shit, that's not supposed to happen!" to this extent? A Game of Thrones. I think GRRM comparisons are utterly valueless nowadays (when's the last time you saw a fantasy series without one?!), but this time? It is spot on. Smiler's Fair is the epic fantasy I've been waiting for - riveting, compelling and adventurous.

Any month that turns up seven books this good is a very good month. 


*Possibly some confusion here. These lists are stuff we buy, and I don't list review copies and ARCs and stuff we get for free because, well, feels weird. That said, I did receive a review copy of Harry August. I also pre-ordered a copy of Harry August. Because if you love a book and blurb it and such, pre-ordering a copy is the logical next step. Mystery solved!

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