Books read in June 2013

I had this idea that I’d be less busy after Continuum, but it turns out I was mistaken.  Still, I found time for some books last month!

The Bling Ring Nancy Jo Sales True crime
Good Man Friday Barbara Hambly Historical crime
Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch Fantasy
Mad Men, Women and Children: Essays on gender and generation Heather Marcovitch and Nancy Batty (eds) Television
Moon Over Soho Ben Aaronovitch Fantasy
Whispers Under Ground Ben Aaronovitch Fantasy
Melbourne Sophie Cunningham Memoir
The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman History
The Sea and Summer George Turner


The Bling Ring is an expansion of this rather great Vanity Fair article about a group of Los Angeles teens who burgled a number of celebrities.  The book has a lot more information — and more hilarious encounters with Alexis Neiers, thief and reality TV star — but is also quite a frustrating read.  A lot of Sales’ journalism essentially boils down to, “What’s wrong with kids today?”, and her answers here are depressingly facile.  Lady Gaga and Britney Spears are what’s wrong with kids today, apparently.

Good Man Friday is the latest in Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of colour who investigates crime in antebellum New Orleans.  There comes a point in every series where the author starts moving their characters out of their established settings.  Here, January goes to Washington to deal with bank fraud, a missing mathematician, and the laws that forbid legislators to even discuss slavery.

I enjoyed this, although I have no concept at all of what Washington looked like in this stage of its history, so I spent a lot of time feeling geographically dislocated.  But it was great to spend more time with January’s sister, Dominique, her white lover and his wife.  It’s an awkward extended family, but an entertaining one.  I hope the next book returns to New Orleans and Rose, though, because January’s wife has been on the sidelines for a few books, and I miss her.

Rivers of LondonMoon over Soho and Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch are a series about a young London cop who finds himself transferred to the Met’s magical department after one of his witnesses turns out to be a ghost.  It’s not amazingly well-plotted — the second book is terribly predictable — but Peter Grant is a lively, entertaining narrator, and I really love the world Aaronovitch has drawn — full of people of all races and backgrounds (the hero himself is of mixed race), working class people, river goddesses, and some rather elderly magicians who are slowly coming to terms with the twenty-first century.

The series has been optioned for television, and I really can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Mad Men, Women and Children: Essays on gender and generation does exactly what it says on the tin.  It’s an academic text — the ebook was $40! — but quite readable.  My favourite chapter was one of the early ones, putting Peggy in the context of mid-20th century popular fiction about career women. There was a certain amount of repetition in all the commentary on Betty, and you could have a fun drinking game where you do a shot every time someone cites Betty Friedan.

Disappointingly, it was published too early to cover seasons 5 and 6, so there’s nothing about Dawn and very little about Megan.  This is a shame, because aside from being interesting characters in their own rights, their plotlines rebut some of the assumptions made about Carla and Betty.

I had been looking forward to The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History for months.  I don’t know why I find a freak weather pattern so interesting, but it had a considerable effect on the social history of the surrounding years.  There’s also a song about it!

Sadly, the book was quite disappointing.  There were lots of fairly abstract descriptions of weather patterns, which I couldn’t get my head around, and the social history was disjointed and unengaging.  And decidedly Euro- and UScentric.  Australia is mentioned twice, South America once, and there are three pages in the afterword dedicated to the effect of the weather patterns on Asia.

Finally, I have a lot to say about The Sea and Summer by George Turner, a classic Australian science fiction novel, but I’m saving it for a special occasion.

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