Tuesday, 22 June 2010

June Reading

Katherine has been working hard rewriting her Genghis Khan novel, but still found time to read a few books this month. Starting with the spooky…

Crybbe – Phil Rickman
This book is set in the border country between England and Wales, where Katherine used to live. The town of Crybbe is fictional but could be any small market town of the area cut off from the rest of the world by lack of transport links, with the result that the locals view anybody from more than twenty miles away as a foreigner. In addition to this, Crybbe is overshadowed by a strange hill with a curse that sucks the life out of its residents. When millionaire music tycoon Max Goff buys Crybbe Court and tries to turn the town into a New Age centre by reinstating the old standing stones, he wakes a vengeful ghost in the shape of Black Michael, a previous sheriff infamous for his dark experiments that involved hanging innocent people to feed the power of the ley lines. Against this supernatural backdrop, local radio journalist Fay and author Joe (who wrote a book about the power of the border country) fight to untangle the mystery to save their families and themselves from Crybbe’s curse.

This is a horror novel, so there are plenty of grisly murders and ghostly scenes, but the Muse enjoyed the interesting cast of characters and the atmosphere of the familiar setting (the border country is a bit like the enchanted mists!). Phil Rickman’s books are a bit like an English version of Stephen King’s... fast paced, spooky, and a good read for all fans of the supernatural, particularly if you live in the UK and like to read books with settings other than America.

Glitter rating: 4

Next up is a re-read, which the Muse has Kath Langrish of Steel Thistles to thank for its inclusion here.

Beauty – Sheri S Tepper
This book is the journal of Beauty, daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, a 14th century kingdom where the world of Faery is not far away and magic still works. Beauty is half fairy (from her mother, who vanished after the famous christening where Beauty is cursed to prick her finger on a spindle and fall into an enchanted sleep on her sixteenth birthday). But Beauty is no fool and sidesteps the curse. When the castle falls asleep around her, she hacks her way out through the rapidly growing enchanted hedge and encounters some time travellers from the 21st century who are making a documentary about magic. Surprised by her appearance, they kidnap her and take her to the future, where all beauty has been used up to feed the starving millions and magic is dead.

Time travelling with her new friends back to the 20th century, where the last glimmer of beauty survives, Beauty is attacked by one of them and raped. Pregnant, she escapes with the help of her cloak of invisibility, a pair of seven league boots and her faithful cat Grumpkin, and travels through various worlds – real and imaginary – trying to find her fairy mother and also the way back to Westfaire to rescue her friend Beloved, who was struck down by the curse in her place. On the way, she gives birth to a daughter Ella (who becomes Cinderella) and meets her granddaughter Snowdrop (Snow White), all the while growing older herself so that she must take the role of fairy godmother in the later tales.

This book won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel back when it was first published in 1991, and has dated only slightly. It is both a fairytale for our time, and also a novel about beauty and how it fades and dies and is born again. It is definitely a book that requires reading more than once to fully appreciate the deeper layers of the story, and the Muse thinks different parts of Beauty’s journey will appeal to different readers, depending on how old you are when you read it. (Katherine first read this one 20 years ago, when she was in her twenties, so says it was interesting to come back to it as a more mature reader!)

Glitter Rating: 4.5 (not quite 5 since there is a slightly boring bit in the middle)

You and Your Money – Alvin Hall
This is a non fiction book, written by finance guru Alvin Hall of the popular TV show “Your Money or Your Life”, for all those who have ever felt confused, anxious, or guilty about their finances… which is most of you humans, it seems! The easy to read chapters with accompanying questionnaires about the financial aspects of your parents, your siblings, your career, etc. help you to explore your relationship with money. Essentially, it asks the old question: are you willing to sell your soul to the devil for large amounts of cash? I think you all know where the Muse stands on that one (though Katherine says unicorns don’t have bills to pay, so it’s fine for me to talk…)

Glitter Rating: 4.5 (not quite 5, since it doesn’t have a chapter on where to get hold of money in the first place?)

And finally…
Unfollow – Nicholas Royle
This one is a short story from the British Fantasy Society Yearbook 2009, clearly written with the new generation of bloggers in mind. The lonely narrator posts his cat’s kills online and begins a cyber relationship with someone called “taxigirl” who claims to be a taxidermist. He posts her dead birds and becomes obsessed with her online profile, only to find that one day she meets a real man and “unfollows” him. Set against a backdrop of a street where all the neighbours follow each other up and down without ever really knowing anyone, it gives us a brief and bleak sketch the 21st century, which is interesting when compared to the more detailed tapestry woven by Sheri Tepper’s Beauty.

What have you been reading this month? Let the Muse know.

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