2015 Book Challenge – #22 – The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas David Mitchell, not Mitchell and Webb David Mitchell, although I like him too and I’m particularly impressed at his marrying Victoria Coren) was mentioned in the article that promoted me to read The End of Mr Y. Apparently “Mitchell has an untroubled relationship with the devices he borrows from genre science fiction and fantasy”, and I think I’m OK with that.

The book passes from 1984 – just a little out of my memory, past us and into the future, where I enjjoyed the unforced use of futuristic slang. “I’ll device him”. “These slates are threaded”.
In contrast to the traditional “Yer a wizard, Harry” early-book revelations of what is going on, The Bone Clocks gradually lets us see things that are happening, switching points of view to allow us to piece things together as we go, with no promise that our current protagonist will discover the secret themselves (or even necessarily survive).
The end is, er, well, not necessarily the best in the world, but I enjoyed the journey so I don’t mind so much. A deus ex machina is tolerable if you’ve known all along that there are deuses around.

2015 Book Challenge – #21 – The End of Mr Y

The End of Mr Y by Scarlettt Thomas was another Twittter recommendation, like Station Eleven
“What happens when a terrific novelist misses her big shot?” asked the tweet. A terrific novelist, you say? I’ll have a look at this. The article describes the book almost in horror-story terms, ” the narrator… discovers a copy of a famously rare, cursed book by the Victorian writer who’s the subject of her thesis, a work reputed to kill everyone who reads it”.
Slate books tweet
The result is not a horror story but a nice real-world-based fantasy story, and one in which the characters all have desires and interests and thoughts and features beyond “I am a person who has just got caught up in a fantasy story”.
Once I’m finished with my challenge I intend to seek out more by this author. The article almost warns against reading her next book, saying “You can see why Thomas might want to write a novel like this. It’s harder to see why masses of people would want to read it, especially if they have been primed for thrills by the mind-blowing escapades of The End of Mr. Y.”, but I am just as interested in the way she builds characters as the way she builds magic.


2015 Book Challenge #20 – The Bell Jar

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Things I knew about The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath before reading it

  1. It’s by Sylvia Plath
  2. If you want to fake someone’s suicide,  put a copy of this book on their bedside table with bits underlined
  3. She was married to Ted Hughes
  4. She killed herself (head in oven?)
  5. She left out bread and jam for the kids when she killed herself
  6. Gwyneth Paltrow cycled an old-fashioned bike near the library here I was revising while pretending to be Sylvia Plath

Things I did not know

  1. Where/when it was set
  2. Anything about what happens
  3. Whether the character actually does kill herself

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. It is quite describey, and Plath uses a lot of adjective phrases. I’m not sure of the precise term for them, but the first page alone has “google-eyed” and “country-wet” and “mirage-grey”. Too many of these drive me mad (see Suite Francaise and the pre-war parts of Birdsong) but in this case it added a tangible feel to the descriptions without making me impatient for action.

I would have happily read some more of the story of a college-aged girl in the 50s (?) who has a summer internship on a magazine, even without the rest.

I liked that there was no attempt to explain WHY she felt as she did. She just did. That’s what mental illness is like sometimes. It’s not always caused by a childhood trauma. It’s sometimes just how things are.

2015 Book Challenge – #19 – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

This was recommended by a colleague, who neglected at first to mention that the author is FASCINATING.

First, the book.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James TipTree Jr is a collection of SF short stories from the 70s (ish).

I am not usually a fan of short stories – I find the format very tiring as I need to adjust to a new world anew characters every few pages. My preference for a book is that if I like it I want it long, I want lots of that one book so I can get the maximum benefit out of my effort in getting into it. That’s probably why I like a long series (e.g. Wheel of Time), and why I enjoyed the doorstopper The Pillars of the Earth.

So I found this book a bit difficult, but in most cases it was worthwhile. The stories often deal with sex, gender, violence, and the state of being human. The colleague who recommended it, on hearing that I was actually reading, commented “they are a bit depressing”. It’s true. And the nature of the stories makes it entirely unsurprising to me that James Tiptree Jr was a woman. (go look her up). Apparently many other writers of the time were very surprised.

So, recommended but not “easy”. Only if you are in the mood to feel challenged (and a little disgusted, in a few cases).

The Artisan Gin Maker’s Kit – review

This is in the same “homemade” camp as sloe gin – I’m obviously not distilling my own spirit, just flavouring some existing booze.

gin kitThis is the box, I got it for my birthday

gin kit contents

Contents: vodka, empty bottle, funnel, tea strainer, and two little tins. One has juniper berries, the other has “aromatics”. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to pick and choose my aromatics, and that the individual dried flowers and seeds were not named.Cardamom was definitely involved. Possibly fennel seeds. Some flower petals. And some other stuff.


gin kit step 1

I put the juniper berries in, shook the bottle, waited a bit (maybe longer than I was supposed to), then added the other seeds and flowers and things.

gin kit step 2Filtered through the tea strainer into the bottle, this is much yellower than most gin.

Side note – how many other people were disappointed on discovering that Bombay Sapphire was in a blue bottle and not actually blue?

gin kit testing

This definitely tastes of gin. Quite strongly fragranced, with mainly spices. One for people who like a robust gin.

Verdict: This is a good gift. You don’t “get your money’s worth” in terms of ingredients, but the box and setup and giftyness makes it nice. And I do have some nice gin now.

One thing I’d change: Split the aromatics into a couple of tins and let people choose to infuse them for different amounts of time to vary the flavour.

Make it yourself: You could get a bottle of generic vodka, a selection of seeds and flowers (juniper mandatory, everything else optional), a tea strainer, a funnel, and a pretty bottle and put into a nice gift bag. It would basically work just as well.



2015 Book Challenge – #18 – The Versions of Us

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett, was recommended by a friend who actually knows the author. This is her first book, and my friend’s excitement was quite infectious. I was excited too when I saw an advert on the tube.

If I were pitching this, I would say this is part Sliding Doors, part One Day, and part Life After Life. The lives of two people (and many of their friends and family) and how they progress over 60-odd years, through three variations on one starting point.

I liked: seeing how experience changes people, poignant descriptions of relationships, that there is no “good version” of the world (each had positives and negatives), the Cambridge references in the early years.

I disliked: characters thinking “I feel like I should know you” – as far as I’m concerned that’s not how multiple universe work, no more books to read by this author (yet!).


2015 Book Challenge – #17 – Station Eleven

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel, was recommended on Twitter. Actually it wasn’t even directly recommended, I just overhead a conversation and had to join in.

How could I resist?

How could I resist?

Station Eleven is not set on a station of any kind. It’s set slightly before, and 20 years after, a flu epidemic has killed 99% of the world’s population. The station of the title is one in a science fiction comic that we see coming in to being, passing from hand to hand, and linking some of our characters in unintended ways.

I love a bit of post-apocalypse, and I like it when we know how the apocalypse came about – or at least that we try to find out about it. If the story is set after-the-end in our world I always feel a little disappointed if we don’t get a glimpse of how it happened.

The links between the people we know “now” and the people we see “then” start off tenuous and then become more entwined.

I don’t want to say any more other than that if you like this sort of thing even a bit, you should read it. If you know anyone who likes this sort of thing, and they are aged 12 or over, they should read it. (in terms of suitability it’s less violent or sexual than the Gone series by Michael Grant, which is definitely deliberately aimed at kids).