Saturday 4 February 2023

A couple of library books

I'm the first to admit that my library usage dropped drastically during Covid, as it did for a lot of people, but for me it hasn't really recovered. So this year I thought I'd make an effort to use the library a bit more and see if I can up the number I read, which has been pretty poor (12 to 15 a year) for several years now. 

So the next two reviews are both library books. First up, On Basilisk Station by David Weber. This book is also part of my personal challenge to read more science fiction in 2023.

Honor Harrington is a captain in the Manticoran navy. Her planet is top-dog in a system where there're wormholes that provide easy travel to other places - a sort of hub - but of course all is not well in the state of Denmark. Another planet, Haven, has armed itself to the hilt and is busy trying to increase its influence everywhere, including the primitive planet, Medusa, which is overseen by the Manticoran, Basilisk Station. And this sleepy outpost is where Honor and her new ship, Fearless, are banished after she makes a superior officer and his ship look foolish in a mock battle. When the ship normally in charge of the station returns home for a refit, Honor suddenly finds herself in charge of a system which is broken. Smuggling prevails and everyone has been turning a blind eye. Until now. Honor has no intention of letting this state of affairs continue. Can she put things right while trying to gain the confidence of her disillusioned new crew, especially her second in command? Well, this story is a lot more complicated than I've been able to explain. There's quite a lot of interstellar politics in the region, it's not always clear who's working for whom and it can get a little difficult to keep track. Plus the author, David Weber, does like to go into minute detail about pretty much 'everything', particularly all the tech. The trick is to just go with it and, as others have said in reviews, it doesn't really matter if you're not one hundred percent with it, the basic story is excellent and perfectly understandable. I liked it a lot, especially Honor who is exactly as her name suggests, 'honorable' and determined to do the right thing even if she puts some very powerful noses out of joint. I think this sub-genre is known as 'military science-fiction' which might not be exactly my thing, despite me being a huge Star Trek fan. I probably wouldn't go for anything that was 'hard' military sci-fi but this one hit just the right note for me and I enjoyed it a lot.

And next for something 'completely' different, The Pavilion in the Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith. This was a random grab from one of the library tables. I'm not even sure if it was a themed display, I just saw it there, was attracted by the cover, read that it was set in the former Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and popped it in my bag.

Bella is eight and lives with her parents on a tea plantation in Ceylon. The year is 1938. Her father, Henry, runs the plantation and her mother, Virginia, tries very hard to occupy herself in this isolated outpost of the British Empire. They hire a governess for Bella, Miss White, who has moved from Calcutta and feels that Ceylon is a real come-down, that she's far more educated than her employers, and doesn't hesitate to let them all know about it. It's an incredibly quiet life, especially for wives. Gossip keeps them going and various women find various ways to stop themselves going crazy with boredom. Bella is too young to understand the machinations of the adult world but can't help but get dragged in, leading to misunderstandings and worse. Well, I've read a fair few books by McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Isabel Dalhousie mainly, but I'm not sure I was aware of his standalone books. Which is daft but there you go. This is a very insulated world he's getting to grips with here and it seems to me he does it very well. The stultifying boredom of British lives in these regions, at that time, oozes off the page, little things assuming massive proportions, small remarks agonised over until something is made of them that isn't there. The writing is beautiful, lyrical and almost as languorous as the lives he's portraying. And also McCall Smith is one of those male authors who do women very, very well, perhaps better than he does men. What the book reminded me of very strongly was Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacot, aka Agatha Christie. Both books have a great deal of gentle introspection within their pages, allowing the reader to get right inside the head of whoever is narrating at the time. The last couple of chapters take place in Scotland when Bella is grown up and at uni. I found these immensely satisfying as we find out what really happened and finishing off the book perfectly. When I picked this book up at random in the library I had no idea what a little treat I was in for. 

So, this is my current library pile. (Click for a bigger view.)

Quite a preponderance of science fiction but only because they had some new ones when I was in there last week. The top two are to go back and I have three more reserved books to pick up soon. Hopefully I can continue with my plan to use the library more this year.


Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I didn't realise that Alexander McCall Smith had written stand alone novels too, which would be ideal for me, as I have never been able to keep up with any of his series writing, so haven't read any of his novels at all! - Adding your featured title to my 'wish list'

There are a couple of other male authors who can portray and connect well with women in their writing - Nicholas Sparks and Dean Mayes are the first two which spring to mind, although I'm sure there are many others.

I can't remember the last time I went into a library, which is shameful really, as for one thing we have plenty of libraries within driving distance and also I am the first to complain if a library is ear-marked for closure - 'use it or lose it' as the saying goes!!

I hope you manage to fit in library books alongside all your other planned reading :)

Sue in Suffolk said...

That's one of A.Mc. Smith that I've not read - it wouldn't have appealed without you review - so now I will look it up....thank you.
"La's Orchestra saves the world" is one of his stand alone books that I have read - I seem to remember it being good although it's many years ago since I read it.

Lark said...

My current pile of library books would totally dwarf yours at the moment! Too many holds came in at once, as always. ;D I do like the sound of On Basilisk Station, and I really want to read Camino Island this year, too. What's Keeper of the Lost Citites about? It looks interesting. Happy reading!

Margot Kinberg said...

I really enjoy McCall Smith's work, Cath, so it's a real pleasure to see this one here. I have to admit, I've not read it (yet), but I do like the sound of it, and I think you're right about how well McCall Smith does women's character and voices. As for the Weber, I have to say that speculative fiction isn't really my thing. There is some that's excellent, but it really isn't my thing. I'm glad you liked this one, though.

Nan said...

Tom is currently reading a nonfiction book on India at that time:

Wonderful books I read about that time and place were by M.M. Kaye. The Sun in the Morning, Golden Afternoon, and Enchanted Evening. I am pretty sure you would love them!

TracyK said...

On Basilisk Station by David Weber sounds good, I will see where I can get a copy. (Not that I don't already have enough science fiction on my shelves.) I have read some military science fiction, and have enjoyed it. John Scalzi has a series called Old Man's War, and I have read a couple of those.

I haven't read much by Alexander McCall Smith, but I bought 3 of his books at the book sale last September so I will be trying some of his writing.

That is quite a stack of library books, how long do you have to read them? I will be interested in how you like Foundation.

Cath said...

Yvonne: No, I didn't realise AMS had written standalones either. But it is so and in fact he's just published another one, the title of which eludes me at the moment. I haven't read the two male authors you mention but there are a few men who write women well, just not that many.

I used to love going to the library but covid sort of spoilt that with all the rules and regulations. I'm only now really getting back into the swing of things but it's just me, P has stopped altogether and has no intention of starting again.

Cath said...

Sue: I'm glad I've encouraged you to try The Pavilion in the Clouds and thanks for the title of one you've read. I'll investigate that.

Cath said...

Lark: LOL... yeah I had a feeling that might be the case. Love it.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger is a YA fantasy novel about a girl who is telepathic and has been hidden among humans for reasons I don't know. :-) I shall report back when I've read it but I thought it sounded good. Can't remember where I saw it talked about though.

Cath said...

Margot: I like McCall Smith's work too although the two series of his where I've read quite a few, I have got a little tired of. I think some series have a shelf-life and I may have reached it with these. So actually, it's nice to find some standalones that enable me to keep reading him.

Cath said...

Nan: Thanks for the link to Tom's book!

I've read one of the books you mentioned, The Sun in the Morning, about her childhood in India. That was about 30 years ago and at the time there were no more I think, or Barnstaple library didn't have them, so it's time for me to get back to those as the time period is fascinating.

Cath said...

Tracy: Yes, I thought Basilick Station was a good, solid sci-fi read. Not amazing but definitely worth a look. I've seen John Scalzi recced all over the place and he's on my list to try at some stage.

McCall Smith does divide the crowd somewhat. I quite like his style but I know plenty of people who do not. I'll be interested to see which camp you fall into.

You book library books out for 3 weeks but then you can renew 3 times online, so plenty of time really.

Judith said...

Hi Cath,
I have finally replied to the comment you left for me. Sigh! Has been an overly busy time here.
I'm very interested in the Alexander McCall Smith book. In fact, this afternoon I was at a dreadful state of feeling at loose ends and not knowing what to read next. Perplexed. This does sound good, like maybe I'll go for it asap!

Cath said...

Judith: Is that the first comment or my reply to your answer with the link to the lass on YT? LOL! No worries at all.

It can be so hard trying to decide what to read next, it really can. The Pavilion in the Clouds is an interesting book that will really make you think about a number of issues, Empire, feminism, childhood. I'm still thinking about it to be honest.

Susan said...

Believe it or not, I've never actually read anything by Alexander McCall Smith. I need to! The cover of THE PAVILION IN THE CLOUDS is gorgeous and the story sounds interesting. I'll have to give Smith's books a closer look.

Good luck with all your sci-fi reading. That's a genre I mostly steer clear of, but I usually end up reading at least a few sci-f books each year. I'll be interested to see which other ones you find.

Cath said...

Susan: AMS is very prolific so there are 'plenty' to choose from to suit your taste. LOL

So far my sci-fi finds have been a bit mixed, some excellent, some not so excellent. But I shall persevere in the hope of finding brilliance.