Not very many books this month.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This book opens with an absolutely brilliant thing: a young man walking with his friends and doing a coin trick in his pocket, where nobody can see it. It's one of those things that make me think, oh I wish I had thought of that. It's the sort of detail that only works in a book and in real life, and there's so much fun that you can dig out of it.
The basic bones of the story might be familiar: a young man discovers that he can actually do magic, real magic, and he goes off to boarding school to learn it. He makes friends, and finds out that a fictional world really exists on the wrong side of the water in a fountain. But Quentin is an overachieving and dissatisfied high school senior; the magical school is a bizarrely insular university; and there are really bad things in the world that magic doesn't help at all. I think the last bit is why I felt unsatisfied when I finished the book. Quentin is so discontented by everything that it made me want to punch him in the nose, but his ridiculous expectations drive the story and they infected me so that nothing was enough. I felt like I gorged on detail and fascinating, caustic relationships... but I was still hungry.
Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry
I thought that this was going to be funny. It wasn't. There were some funny things in it (Brulightly is completely bizarre), but it's actually kind of crushing. It's really good though, and I'm glad I read it. The art is perfect for a noir: grey and full of rain, odd faces brought in at strange angles, still and frozen snippets of rooms, and a slippery feeling that makes it seem like the truth is always shifting around.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
I love this book. I've read it more times than several, though it's been a while since the last time. I copied my friend, Kat, and read it while on a plane. I couldn't believe that I had run out of pages by the time I landed. (my copy has a much less attractive cover, one that reminds me of some weird spiritual book about brightly colored spirits that dance on triangular feet)
That Mad Ache by Francoise Sagan, translated by Douglas Hofstadter
This is Hofstadter's translation of La Chamade, and I thought it was an interesting and infuriating novel. It's about people who can't figure out how to be happy, or how to love each other, and it's absolutely claustrophobic because you get trapped inside their self-absorbtion with them. It's like drowning inside another, really irritating, person's skin.
This edition is interesting because it has an extended essay on translation by Hofstadter in the back.
Nation by Terry Pratchett
I always like his books. Even the ones that are not my favourite book of the last six months are still books that I'm happy while reading. I didn't fall in love with this one, but I thought it was very sharp, and sometimes it made me uncomfortable while still being funny and an adventure in the company of sensible young people who are actually heroes. Also, there is a shipwreck, and exotic island, and a tribe of cannibals.
Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
This book frightens me. It's also one of the things that I like best of everything that he has done. The story has all kinds of space in it, so I fill it in with my own memories and all the things that scare me about people who I think I know, but don't. And there are weird shadows and details that change shapes while you read. Dave McKean's art is genius.
Troll's Eye View edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
I'm really picky about fairytale retellings, mostly because I think that the good fairy tales are so entrenched in our minds that it's hard to make a retelling compelling enough to be better than starting from scratch. That's just a personal prejudice though. Some of the stories in here are very good, but my favourite is "A Delicate Architechture" by Catherynne M. Valente. It reminded me of E.T.A Hoffmann's Nutcracker, and it took me a while to figure out that it was a "Hansel and Gretel" story.