Days of Blood and Starlight

There is no way of getting around it. This is a love story. You see, once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love and imagined a new way of living and so far that dream has caused both of them nothing but pain. At least that was how Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended and in Days of Blood and Starlight that feeling continues.

Not so strangely in the US this is released through Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and I’d place it, if labels are important to you, in that YA category. Though saying that if you’ve read the first book then you’ll know what to expect and the labelling will be irrelevant.

Please though don’t let the YA/love-story elements  put you off the idea of reading it but read Daughter of Smoke and Bone first. Laini Taylor is telling a big story through the relationship of Karou, currently almost human, who is trapped into rebuilding an army (by placing saved souls in newly formed bodies) and Akiva, an angel, who along with the rest his kind, has the sole mission of destroying Karou’s race.

In Daughter of Smoke and Bone there was a stalemate of opposing armies (Angels vs Chimera) with neither side gaining ground which was then shattered and we deal with the aftermath here. Laini Taylor isolates her two main characters and shows the conflict from their opposing sides but they both have their own internal conflicts, not only in their personal relationships, but the role they play in the war.

And for a story which has two heavy threads Taylor has a light touch with both giving you enough of each to keep you wanting to know more rather than wanting to stick with one or other. Saying that though the plotting and the conveniences in events aren’t so smooth. But somehow that doesn’t matter because if you’ve made it this far and become reinvested in their plight you’re happy to follow along even wishing some scenes would end before anything too horrible happens (Taylor on the whole doesn’t pull back on those).

I like Taylor’s take on angels being the more horrible of the two and that the ‘beasts’ are mostly defending themselves though that view is harder to stomach with some the events now gathering little sympathy in their retaliation .

But each time we see Karou and Akiva representing a different way. It’s not a spoiler to say that things get worse and not better throughout Days of Blood and Starlight and part of me missed the sense of fun that was strong element in the first book, mostly it is missing because Karou doesn’t spend time with her friends, though the scenes where they do make an appearance brings back that lightness before again being swallowed up again by the dark.

 

Overall, rather than turning sickly sweet Laini Taylor takes us to a darker place than the original in this sequel but at the same time giving hopes that everything is not doomed just before raising the stakes at the last minute.

Luckily Dreams of Gods and Monsters is out in a few days so I don’t have long to wait to see how it all ends.

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When Rupert Sethleigh’s body is found one morning, laid out in the village butcher shop but minus its head, the inhabitants of Wandles Parva aren’t particularly upset. Sethleigh was a blackmailing moneylender and when the peerless detective and renowned psycholanalyst Mrs Bradley begins her investigation she finds no shortage of suspects. It soon transpires that most of the village seem to have been wandering about Manor Woods, home of the mysterious druidic stone on which Sethleigh’s blood is found splashed, on the night he was murdered, but can she eliminate the red herrings and catch the real killer?

Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley is a wondrous creation. She’s gnarled, rich and wickedly humoured. She’s also interfering. These qualities makes her a perfect candidate of a detective. And like Christie or Doyle Mitchell was quite prolific.

To give you an idea Vintage have already published 13 books featuring this devilish detective and and this month are going to be releasing 20 more (4 normal paperbacks with 16 as print on demand and all are available as ebooks). They’ve been coming out quite sporadically up until now with Vintage choosing their favourites before filling in some gaps.

This is to explain why I’m now reading Mrs Bradley’s second appearance (my next read is the first  the series Speedy Death) but from the ones I’ve read so far it doesn’t seem to matter what order you read them in as Mrs Bradley doesn’t have any development but is more a mechanism to let the other characters kill each other and then nose around until she finds the murderer.

I read this one in two parts. The first half I read last year (around Halloween) but I picked it back up a few days ago and devoured the rest. Partly what I struggled with in the first half is the habit Mitchell has of dropping you into a scene with lots of dialogue but not grounding you in the scene by having the characters give some context to the scene.

It’s not something I struggled with from reading her other books and I think Mitchell got lots of  opportunities to practice her technique. But maybe it was me as well as I was much more comfortable with the cast of characters and what was being described when I picked it up again. Maybe it just took some time to get up to speed? As for the murder itself as it says in the blurb it looks quite simple but pinning it down takes Mrs Bradley some time.

The cast of characters here is entertaining with their personalities all quite different. Mitchell is great at exploring motivations and giving them layers of problems and interest so that no character feels like a cardboard walk-on. And when I got to the end I was annoyed in a good way as Mitchell manages to keeps you on your toes. Mrs Bradley is no goody two-shoes and the ending proves it.

As a book which is 84 years old you may think it would have dated but it doesn’t really. It doesn’t have modern obsessions with gore, flawed detectives, and its glamour is understated rather than gaudy. It feels classical if that makes sense.

I honestly can’t wait to see where Mitchell places Mrs Bradley next.

Alms Vol I

A review in 200 words or fewer:

This is an example of judging a book by a cover and trusting Vintage Classics.  I’m glad I did as between the comic-book art covers of Alm For Oblivion Volume 1 are four short interconnected novels.

It opens with The Rich Pay Late: Jude Holdbrook has a proposal for his business partner, Donald Salinger, for their advert distributor business to buy a magazine called ‘Strix’ so they can grow their empire. We follow how Jude persuades Donald and how successful they are at this endeavour.

It delves into the lives of the rich and privileged. Simon Raven is quick witted, great with dialogue and able to turn scenes on a pin. It’s like reading a scandal unfolding. I got invested in the characters and their dramas and their various connections. Raven gives all of them a nice story arc and the ending is satisfying and ties things off nicely with people getting what they, more or less, deserve.

All this was unexpected as I usually need a murder or man with a sword or a nice spaceship to keep me interested. This had purely Raven to keep me going.

I liked it a lot.

Anyone have any similar works they’d recommend?

grass.jpg

Should we read older SF? Gollancz seems to think so. Their SF Masterworks line has, for the last 14 years, highlighted SF classics and kept them in print. This series of posts is here to try to do two things. One to expand this authors’ knowledge of classical SF, especially eighties SF, and secondly to ask the question are classics worth reading?

So far on my short journey in the SF Masterworks Challenge  I’ve encountered a man who changed himself, another man who changed himself and the world, aliens who want to change everyone and so it was time for something different. I wasn’t exactly expecting horse-riding but that’s what I got. Well, at least that’s what I thought I had for the first 40 pages of Grass.

Now female authors and SF come in for a hard time, Sheri S. Tepper is one of a handful of women writers that that make up the SF Masterworks list (though there are many deserving authors out there), and, honestly, starting with a hunting analogy may put off people, that includes me btw.  With the threat of a deadly plague wiping out humanity across the universe and seemingly Grass being left untouched I couldn’t understand why we were spending so much time focusing on a quasi-fox-hunt.

But the third chapter takes the reader away from Grass to Terra or more accurately Sanctity (being the ruling religion of most of humanity) and at that point things, for me at least, got more interesting.

The whole book starts to slowly open up and moves away from a story that would have had a smaller audience into one that that grows in scope to draw in social hierarchy, identity, immortality, morality, wrong assumptions, reality, religious rule and ancient civilisations to name a few things.

Let’s start with assumptions: the whole point of the beginning is to set ‘norms’ in place for the reader – the aristocracy of Grass, known as the bons to the commoners of the planet, go on hunts and for the most part that is all they seem to do. There is something odd about the arrangement. The native mounts and hounds appear when needed and they have foxen to chase but how has something so English translated to an alien planet and its creatures so easily?

Well, it doesn’t, but the reader nor those that have been sent from Sanctity know the truth yet and I’m not doing to spoil it too much because part of the enjoyment for me was seeing Grass unfold and seeing my narrow views and those of some of the characters unfurl.

The bons of Grass don’t give free access to roam around – visitors are limited to Commoner Town and commoners limited to there or the villages on the bons’ states. No one goes roaming freely on Grass. Well, they can but they’re unlikely to ever come back and the only way to travel is aircar, unless you’re on a hunt.

This restriction seems natural as they don’t want the various grasses destroyed. Everything seems normal to those on Grass, at least from bons’ point of view. But when we get to experience other views, mainly via Marjorie Westriding-Yrarier,  we discover that things aren’t what they seem.

And Tepper excels at looking below the surface and showing us what we’ve assumed was reality. She also looks at the fear that religion places on those under them and the fear of losing control. And being in control is one the themes of Grass or more precisely letting people think they control you is.

Grass rightly has a place as a SF Masterwork so trust that the set-up is positioning you to have your assumptions challenged.

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Here are the first tales of the albino sorcerer-prince Elric: lord of the Dreaming City, last Emperor of Melniboné, traitor, kinslayer. Doomed to wander the multiverse, battered by the whims of Law and Chaos, in thrall to his soul-eating sword, Stormbringer, Elric lies at the heart of Michael Moorcock’s extraordinary mythology of the Eternal Champion

I’d better start with a confession. The only work of Moorcock I’ve read, Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, I didn’t love. I just didn’t see it as a Who story as it contained too much Moorcock mythology that I didn’t connect with but  this new project I may change my mind and I’m tempted to read it again after I’ve understood him better and read the 1033 page The Cornelius Quartet, which contains the same (or similar) character of  Captain Cornelius.

Before entering The Michael Moorcock Collection (so called as Gollancz is trying to bring a vast amount of his work to print over a short space of time)  I needed to ask where to start? I tend to start at the beginning if it’s a series and if it isn’t a series well It’s not so hard with a debut author, or an author that has a couple of books as your options as limited, when you get to an author with a larger back catalogue, say Margaret Attwood, it’s trickier, but when you’re talking Michael Moorcock, now, that’s a different thing entirely. There are lots of entry points. Gollancz even wrote a ‘Reading List’ post after a little gentle persuasion. I could have started with Corum, I have The Cornelius Quartet, but Elric ‘the eternal champion’ was the character I most wanted to break:

Elric: An obvious one, this – Moorcock’s most famous creation, the albino prince with a melancholy air and a soul-sucking sword is one of the cornerstones of modern fantasy. Every anti-hero, every complicated loner, is built on Elric. Our new editions tell Elric’s story in the order in which it occurred (in fiction, not in publication), so the best place to start is probably Elric of Melniboné and other stories. There’s an argument for starting with Elric: Stormbringer! which contains perhaps the most famous of the Elric novels, but that isn’t out until March 2014.

So, I’m reading Elric in story order and this collection contains; Return of the Thin White Duke by Alan Moore, Putting a Tag on It, Master of Chaos, Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer, And so the Emperor Received His Education…: Elric of Melniboné, Aspects of Fantasy (I), Eric of Melniboné: Introduction to the 1986 Graphic Adaptation, El Cid and Elric: Under the Influence.

I could go thorough the stories one by one but that’s unfair to the flavour of this volume as it acts of an introduction to Elric, describes his beginnings and delves into the history of Melniboné and it makes me wonder if it was the right choice?

It wasn’t a bad choice but is a little disjointed if you’re looking for a pure escapist experience. Partly it’s because of the comic book script. It shows Moorcock has spent a lot of effort giving Elric a solid foundation. They tell the story of how Elric became King winning the throne from his cousin through as series of challenges in the dream realms but you’re not sure how dreamlike those experience are as they have connections to the present.

What does come across is that Moorcock wants to explore further than, say, the setting of middle-earth, which is on one plane of existence. Here we know that there are other dimensions and there are beings of Chaos and an eternal battle for balance being waged. Another this is that Chaos isn’t presented as something black. It isn’t exactly good but it’s not ‘evil’. So things have the potential be to get vert interesting.

To be honest I’m just not sure yet what to make of him as a hero or what ‘real’ adventures are going to be but I’m hoping that will change as Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl is a 224 page continuous adventure for the Pearl at the Heart of the World. And from the glimpses in Elric of Melniboné it has the potential to be quite an adventure.

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Should we read older SF? Gollancz seems to think so. Their SF Masterworks line has, for the last 14 years, highlighted SF classics and kept them in print. This series of posts is here to try to do two things. One to expand this authors’ knowledge of classical SF, especially eighties SF, and secondly to ask the question are classics worth reading?

I’ll put you out of your misery before we start it definitely deserves that title. Lots of people have been commenting whilst I’ve been reading that it’s one of their favourite SF novels and I can see why.

It hasn’t dated for a start and the SF elements are vague enough that the reader can see them as either some futuristic invention or an extension of currently available technology. Though the central element is scientific but not technological.

The central concept is that humans have discovered they can Jaunte. That is they can disappear from one place to arrive in another in moments. There are limitations jaunting. Without knowing the co-ordinates of your destination jaunting usually leads to death plus there is are limits to distances with each person having their own range in which they can travel.

Bester does a strong job of leading the reader into the concept of jaunting from its discovery to its mass use. He also introduces us to Gully Folye who manages to survive in deep space, alone, for 170 days. When he finally manages to escape he brings with him a grudge and a secret that could change the world.

I say grudge but that really does understate the feelings that Gully has. He has nothing left apart from revenge. And through his quest we get to see and meet a future that has a potential war between inner and outer planets, a place where where you live doesn’t have to be even close to where you work, where there are still people of obscene wealth and power, and you see that we can still be as base as we are now.

I am impressed with Bester after reading The Stars My Destination though in order to justify my feelings towards Gully I really did need to think of him of having a really big screw loose. Even after all the challenges and changes he goes though in order to enact his revenge fantasy he doesn’t alter course even when he seems to have everything else going for him.

But he’s forgiven for his behaviour and his methods. Drifting alone in space is going to drive you mad.

The thing that impressed me is that Bester manages to keep a few cards close to his chest which really do change the game when he puts them into play and it makes you wonder if Gully knew at the beginning what he does at the end if he’d actually take the same journey.

Saying that I don’t see Gully as a sympathetic character and many of his actions made me uncomfortable but how much of Gully reflects to the attitudes of the time of writing and how much is unique to Gully I’m not willing to bet.

The Stars My Destination has stood the test of time and Gully Foyle is a character who has a journey and a tale to tell. He’s also a good example of what you can do when you can focus. You can literally change yourself.

Well worth reading.

This review was originally posted on The SF and Fantasy Masterworks Reading Project Blog

Mitchell come away death vintage uk

 

Sir Rudri Hopkinson, an eccentric amateur archaeologist, is determined to recreate ancient rituals at the temple of Eleusis in Greece in the hope of summoning the goddess Demeter. He gathers together a motley collection of people to assist in the experiment, including a rival scholar, a handsome but cruel photographer and a trio of mischievous children. But when one of the group disappears, and a severed head turns up in a box of snakes, the superlative detective and psychoanalyst Mrs Bradley is called upon to investigate… 

There is a little story that that goes with this book. I bought it and I started reading it the same day (a week Saturday just gone) even though I have Tom Brown’s Body, Death and the Maiden, Death at the Opera and The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop already. I bought them an age ago (probably around the last review I wrote of When Last I Died) and they’ve been patiently waiting.  Buying a new one though meant that I didn’t have to choose. I just got cracking.

This time we find Mrs Bradley having a holiday, sort of. It’s not really a holiday as she’s in Greece accompanying the eccentric Sir Hopkinson on his pilgrimage to call on the gods and having the role of matriarch to the group that accompanies him. And for that it’s a quite a leisurely tale. The murder comes  quite late so it’s more about guessing who it’s going to be and why. It does keep you wondering  as you follow the group on their travels.

What did strike me is that Mrs Bradley is quite amoral at times; hiding things that other detectives probably wouldn’t . She doesn’t have the ‘helping police’ thing that you get with her contemporaries. It would spoil it to explain further but it makes her quite refreshing when she keep secrets that others would probably reveal.

It is a story about the interactions of the different characters and how those tensions and connections play out while waiting for the severed head to turn up. So I’d say it was more like a domestic drama with a death thrown in towards the end. And lots of drama there is – secret weddings, affairs, jealousy, visitations, madness, disappearing snakes, oh and the murder.

As it feels more like a drama than a mystery story it lacks a certain tension but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless. It is fascinating if you have a liking of ancient history. It’s a little jolly around a few ancient sites and a little bit of a history lesson thrown in.

In December Vintage are releasing another twentyish books in the Mrs Bradley Mysteries series making the total releases into the thirties – so about half of the 66 written – and from the three I’ve read so far Gladys Mitchell likes to mix up her formula and from that I’m not sure you know what you’ll get next. But you know what? I think Mrs Bradley is a character to keep reading where ever Gladys takes her.

 

When Last I  Died

When Mrs Bradley’s grandson finds an old diary in her rented cottage it attracts the interest of this most unconventional of detectives, for the book’s now deceased owner was once suspected of the murders of both her aunt and cousin. Does the missing diary finally reveal what happened to old Aunt Flora? Is the case of Bella Foxley really closed? And what happened to the boys from the local reformatory who went missing at the same time? As events unfold, Mrs. Bradley faces one of her most difficult cases to date, one that will keep readers guessing until the very end…

When Last I Died is the 2nd re-release from Vintage Books of titles from Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley Mysteries series. It’s rare for a publisher to shine their spotlights on works that have faded from view though some works seem to keep finding the light over and over again with a little help, whatever happened behind the scenes I’m glad I got chance start my exploration of Mitchell’s work.

Why? Because I enjoyed The Saltmarsh Murders but loved When Last I Died even more.

Why? As there is a difference in the narration. The first was narrated by the curate of the sleepy village who was good but only seeing Mrs Bradley from the outside. The narrator in this one is exterior to the action and follows around Mrs Bradley’s actions and internal thoughts, so we get to know Mrs Bradley a litte more intimately.

I have to say as a character she’s fab. She’s nosey, steely, insightful and intelligent without giving over to arrogance. She’s also very curious, and it’s that curiousity which is raised when her grandson finds an old diary in a rented cottage. The book’s owner is now deceased and was once suspected of the murders of both her aunt and cousin. But the contents raises more questions than it answers. Does it reveal what actually happended to Aunt Flora? Is the case of Bella Foxley really closed? And what happened to the boys from the local refectory who went missing that same time?

And it really is a mystery, one that keeps both the reader and Mrs Bradley guessing. My only slight reluctance in the story comes, I guess, from Mrs Bradley pushing at a case that is dead and buried and she doesn’t seem to get enough resistance to her questioning as one might expect.. but then this is a novel from 1941 and she is grandee of society so it doesn’t feel too odd. That was my only doubt.

A great device used by Mitchell is the diary which is reprinted, and which on first glance is heartfelt and absorbing but Mrs Bradley feels differently and she sticks her nose in to find out more about the events. It definitely wrong footed me. 

It’s a short novel at 208 pages, but it’s packed with twists, turns and surprises like all good mysteries should be. And in this case the truth of the matter is much stranger than the fiction that surrounds it.

This review was first published on MyFavouriteBooks

Blood Music

Should we read older SF? Gollancz seems to think so. Their SF Masterworks line has, for the last 14 years, highlighted SF classics and kept them in print. This series of posts is here to try to do two things. One to expand this authors’ knowledge of classical SF, especially eighties SF, and secondly to ask the question are classics worth reading?

Blood Music is the story of Virgil Ulman, who works at a genetics research lab. As his colleagues work away on a biological chip Virgil has been recoding cells to do something quite different. His abandonment of research ethics leads to trouble from his employer resulting in the suspension of his research but not before he injects himself with the results of his experiment. Virgil is the catalyst but his invention gets centre stage.

‘I will never understand men, as long as I live and breathe,’ his mother said, pouring another cup of thick black coffee. ‘Always tinkering, always getting into trouble.’ p43

Let’s start with the power of genetics. The first 100 pages deals with Virgil’s transformation. He’s the host of his experiment but Greg Bear looks at the effect of his transformation of those around him as well as the effect on himself. It doesn’t seem sensible to inject yourself with genetically altered material without an idea of the outcome though this is exactly what Virgil does. In the present we have several genetic modified crops, gene therapy so it’s not by any means implausible to alter genes but we’ve not quite caused the alterations that occur in Blood Music. To be fair to Virgil he just thinks he’s storing them for later retrieval. It shows how naive he is.

For the first section it appears that Virgil is both Dr Frankenstein and his monster. But he’s not a monster as such. His body and health vastly improve and you’d be forgiven that he’s created a new form of superhuman. You’d also be wrong as in the second half everything changes.

While the focus is on Virgil we get to see him gain a girlfriend. And it’s that relationship which is a bit unhealthy, if not creepy. Actually all his interpersonal relationships are a little odd. I’m not sure if Bear meant to give us a warning about scientists working alone in a lab with obsessions focused only on their work but he has.

A tension between Virgil and his friend, a doctor, shows another side to our scientist, but reinforces that he is difficult and demanding. And through Edward we get one of the most dramatic moments of the book. The trouble is that if feels like Bear is treading water up until that moment because he wants to explore the implications of the experiment being out in the wild but he can’t do that until a big reveal. It’s his girlfriend I felt most sorry for, which shows that Bear can create some interest in characters but it’s not his strength. Or at least it didn’t feel like he’d created rounded ones that would have lasted too far outside this story.

After Virgil’s experiment is released things become less plausible but fascinating and it also gives a strong indication of the atmosphere in the eighties between Russia and America and perhaps Bears views on that. We move away from Virgil’s point of view and it’s replaced by those of another scientist but one we’ve already met, a girl who is all alone and Virgil’s mother who gains some twin companions. These three give different interactions with the experiment’s growing reach.

Bear is asking what if we altered our biology via genes? What if we made something intelligent? What would they do when they interact with us?

We’re now tipping into spoiler territory but the experiment has two effects; billions more observations taking place over a finite area and America’s plight causes hysteria around the globe. The implication, at least at first, is that without America the world would turn into chaos. I’m not sure that’s strictly true. But then we have the question of observation and how observing the universe can cause it to stiffen as observed things aren’t as free to change.

Blood Music is a novel of ideas and for that it is well worth reading. The science may feel a little old and dated though it still raises some valid and interesting questions. The structure is a little bit more problematic. It’s a novella expanded to a short novel and it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not that it’s padded but it spends time in odd ways while before it feels its time to move on. For example the thread with the mother could have been told in one page but there needed to be a journey. But that then took focus away from the scientist and the girl.

Greg Bear makes you wonder how easily the world can change through the power of science and imagination. So does that make it a classic and should it be kept in print? It is a novel of its time and is standing up quite well. It’s a concept that still feels plausible though the worldwide consequences could be a little different now.

The next novel in the SF Masterworks Project is Grass by Sheri S. Tepper  and will be posted towards the end of August.

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Synopsis

Bernadette Fox is notorious.

To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she’s his hilarious, volatile, talented, troubled wife.

To fellow mothers at the school gate, she’s a menace.

To design experts, she’s a revolutionary architect.

And to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, quite simply, mum.

Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee must take a trip to the end of the earth to find her.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis 

Before I dive into Where’d You Go Bernadette this might be good time to talk a little about the Women’s Prize for Fiction and fiction written by women. OK, it’s probably not but I’m going to do it anyway.

There a three books on this years shortlist that I really wanted to read: this one, Life After Life and oddly the winner, May We Be Forgiven. And from the longlist I’d also have gone for Gone Girl, and The Marlowe Papers. What attracted me to them?  The author (Kate Aktinson), other people (Simon and Gone Girl),  the  quality and reader buzz (Life After Life), x factor (May We Be Forgiven), the world needs more good prose poetry (The Marlowe Papers)… 

What I’m saying is that no book had the same reason for me wanting to read it but one thing that didn’t enter my head was I can’t read this because a women wrote it. I understand there are people out there who do? I can’t even comprehend that.

I’d say that women and men do write differently, and you can debate that with me if you like, but neither is better at it than the other. There are stories by both sexes that appeal to both sexes and some books that will appeal to one sex over the other. And sometimes you won’t know if a book is going to appeal to you until you try it.

And that brings me back to Where’d You Go Bernadette. I thought from the blurb that this would be my kind of book as I  was hooked by the mystery element. And there is a mystery. But there is also a family drama, disputes with neighbours, and a holiday.  The mystery is a consequence of the drama of the other elements rather than the centre of the of book.

The thing you immediately notice is that it’s made of up of a patchwork of personal reports, emails, faxes, letters and a few other things -  basically all the different ways that people communicate though throughout the focus is Bernadette but the voice is centred around her daughter Bee.

And as I was reading it I forgot I was waiting for the mysterious disappearance and when it happened,  well, it was a surprise.

In fact, the whole book was a wonderful surprise partly because it is a fantasy, at least to me as I don’t live in Seattle in an expensive house, with a husband that is very high up in Microsoft with a genius daughter but I was completely enchanted. Part of that is the snark that Bernadette unleashes, it’s the actions of her ludicrous neighbour and Bernadette’s interactions with those around her and it’s partly how well Maria Semple has planned everything. She needs to as there are all these different sources and view points that need to hang together for the bigger picture to become clear.

As it is also a family drama Semple does a very good job of not completely demonising any character completely, even the husband is seen in his entirety. But it’s Bernadette that takes most of our attention. And she’s not really what you first think. Or at least how she got to be where she is isn’t what you might think it is.

But Semple is skilled at releasing the right information at the right time through the various ‘evidence’ presented though accurate is sometimes hideously biased just like real life.

Summary

I laughed and I cried though I only cried once. There is a strong message about feeling trapped and trapping yourself and hiding from the world and what happens when you go through the motions in life. And this is what makes it a strong book, yes it’s funny but the characters all have identifiable problems even if they do take place in a fantasy location that most of us will never experience directly.

I highly recommend it and I can see why it made this year’s shortlist.