Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Some books - January 2014

My favourite three books read in January (intended as something I'll do every month, but who wants to bet it grinds to a halt round about March?)

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Sometimes a book is all about the characters or the plot or the clever way in which everyone speaks.  Sometimes it's about the puzzle or the twist or even the macguffin.  And sometimes it's about the ending.

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore is about the ending.  After 250 pages of confident, flowing prose, this glorious novel - ostensibly part Name of the Rose and part Big Bang Theory - ends on the most unexpected of beats, but is all the more perfect for that.  I'll say no more for fear of spoilers, but I loved the final dozen pages more than any ending in a book for ages.

There's a brilliant geek pride on display throughout, too.  Sure, some of the characters - like those in another US sitcom, Friends - are just a wee bit too good at their geek ninja skills, and the fetishisation of Google in particular is slightly vomit inducing, but these are fairly minor complaints about a book which made me grin more than once and which as, at its core, those two most fascinating of obscure pleasures - the history of printing and mega cool places in which to store books.

Recommended to me by Scott, and recommended by me to everyone else.

The Ship that Flew - Hilda Lewis

Another lovely ending, though this one is more bittersweet than happy.  A small boy buys a toy boat which can swell to any size, and travel to any point in time and space. Cue a series of adventures with his brother and two sisters, as they fly to England in the middle ages, meet with Robin Hood, and dodge dubious foreign and home grown bad guys!  The whole story comes together towards the end, and then, like Susan dodging the Last Battle, the children are all grown up and too mature for toy boats…

Written and published in the 30s, I'm forced to agree with the bookseller who pencilled 'Children's Classic - nice edition' inside my copy (which was a present from Paul, incidentally - he accuses me of occasionally forgetting books he bought me this book or that, especially when I happen to recommend the same books to him a few months later ;)

The Company of Friends - Jack Trevor Story

The best writer post-war Sexton Blake ever produced, Jack Trevor Story is an author I discovered via his Albert Argyle trilogy last year.  Witty, seemingly effortless prose (though with a touch of the sort of poorly thought out sexism so beloved of writers who learned their craft in the 50s and 60s), wrapped round a clever plot and peopled by a cast of engaging characters - throw in Blake, Tinker, Paula Dane and the rest and you're surely into a winner.

And so it proved.  Probably the best late Blake I've read.

Other books read this month:

Boys and Girls Forever - Alison Lurie
The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle
Brainrack - Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
Midnight Folk (abridged) - John Masefield
The Sherlock Holmes Handbook - Ransom Riggs
The Christmas Ghost Stories of Laurence Gordon Clark (separate review to follow)