Summer reads in brief

Sneaking this in while the weather’s warm enough to pretend that it’s still summer, even if it is September. Thunderstorms are summery, right?

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors
by Neil Gaiman

This is a truly eclectic short story collection. There are tales told in poetry, in screenplay format, in one page or 30 pages. There’s comedy, reality, fantasy, science fiction, erotica; sometimes all five at once. There were stories that stunned me (“Changes”, “Babycakes”), stories that I loved unreservedly (“The wedding present”, “The goldfish pool and other stories”) and stories that were less lovable but perhaps more surprising in their inventiveness. There were stories that felt like familiar Gaiman fare, such as the stray cat that fights every night to protect its adopted family (“The price”) or a retelling of “Snow White” from the perspective of the stepmother (“Snow, glass, apples”), but there were also stories that felt very far from my previous experience of Gaiman and it gave me new love for the man discovering his wider talents.

“Memory is the great deceiver. Perhaps there are some individuals whose memories act like tape recordings, daily records of their lives complete in every detail, but I am not one of them. My memory is a patchwork of occurrences, of discontinuous events roughly sewn together: The parts I remember, I remember precisely, whilst other sections seem to have vanished completely.”

First published 1999 by Headline.

Source: Borrowed from a friend.

A Stainless Steel Rat is Born
by Harry Harrison

A month or so ago, I had just read two very serious books indeed and badly needed some light-hearted fun, so Tim recommended this by his favourite writer. It’s a boyish adventure – it’s in the future, in space. The young main character, Jim diGriz, decides that he is going to be a master criminal. This creates many a situation where he has to survive on his wits and make use of his slightly unbelievable level of skill at everything. Only once or twice is he caught out by the naivety of youth, which makes him a tad irritating. However, the book is touching in the right moments and thrilling in the right moments. So overall, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Published 1985 by Random House.

Source: Borrowed from Tim.

A Tiny Bit Marvellous
by Dawn French

This was another fun romp, although about as different from the Stainless Steel Rat as you could get. Though I dislike the term, this is solidly chick lit: it’s funny (as you might expect from Dawn French), easy and quick to read but not particularly deep or moving. It’s the story of a nuclear family – mum, dad and two teenage children. It didn’t help that I disliked most of the characters. Mo (the mother) is cold. Dora (the daughter) is the epitome of brat. Peter/Oscar (the son) is a complete drama queen, but it’s nice that there’s a gay character where it’s not a big deal to anyone that he’s gay. And the dad, well he’s barely a character at all. A plot twist near the end is fairly unbelievable. However, before that point it’s mostly pretty believable, and readable despite some irritating turns of phrase.

Published 2010 by Penguin.

Source: Bought secondhand from a charity shop.

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