[reading] What have you read recently? (continued)

Really struggling with this @SimonW. Prose seems pedestrian, whole precept is hierarchical and conservative and the positing of "anarchists" as the unwashed scruffy Enemy misled by ideas of equality was never going to sit easy with me.
However I am 50% in and shall finish, but it's no Peake nor any of the excellent magic realists.

No, it isn't as good as the Gormenghast series. I must admit, something stopped me bothering with the follow-up books (the False House, Evenmere), so maybe you are right. I'm reading The Motorcycle Diaries (Ernesto "Che" Guevara) now.
 
Reading The Man Who Fell To Earth - maybe more famous as that Nick Roeg film starring David Bowie.
For me, it feels like the perspective is rather inverted - we spend more time with Newton's point of view, whereas the film necessarily gave us the outside view. As a result, Newton feels more relatable, while still feeling alien.

BTW, from the text, Bowie was practically the perfect choice for the role - even down to his slightly stilted performance.
 
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Money Shot by Christa Faust - part of the Hardcase crime series. Former porn actress is beaten up, shot and left for dead. She survives and wreaks bloody vengeance on the east european gangsters what tried to do her in, with plenty of collateral damage on the way. This is a female take on the sort of hard boiled stories Donald Westlake/Richard Stark used to do so well. Proceeds at an absolutely break neck pace and we're never far away from a beating, or a shooting or some other ghastly atrocity. The LA porn movie milieu is vividly realised and has the ring of authenticity about it. Will be reading the sequel Choke Hold before too long.
 
Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear (#4 in the Donovan series). Science fiction, but I guess the author got feedback that people liked the horror elements in earlier books, because the two main plots of the series - conflict with the resident intelligent species, the predatory 'quetzals', and political power struggles amongst the humans - have been side-lined. Instead a ship has turned up which accidentally took 10 years instead of 2 years to get to Donovan, and the survivors aboard have become a cannibalistic death cult.

For non-fiction I'm reading The Horse, The Wheel & Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony. Its a mixture of archaeology and linguistics, and is about figuring out where and when Proto-Indo-European was actually spoken and how their poetry and invention of the spoked wheel influenced many other cultures from the Atlantic coast of Europe to India.
 
The Palladium Wars by Marko Kloos (author of the Frontlines series) Setting is a single system of 6 planets, all very different. No aliens, just different human cultures. Recovering from a system-wide war started by one of the planets (Gretia), who lost (this isn't a spoiler - it's on page one!)
The planets and cultures are well described and have some interesting ideas (Rhodia has two moons and massive tides - the coastal areas are dangerous to live in.)
Ships are vertical-stacked decks but use power-intensive gravmags to offset most acceleration. Needed because most ships can pull about 7G.
Story is told from the viewpoints of several characters. 3 books, just part-way through book 2 at the moment
It wouldn't take much work to convert to a non-FTL RPG setting - I'm already toying with a short Starforged/Hostile just to use some of the detail.
 
Just finished Frankie Boyle's Meantime. Yes, that Frankie Boyle.
It's a pretty well paced murder thriller set in the Central Belt (mostly Glasgow), just after the Independence Referendum. It's grim and bleak, and of course funny if you like Frankie's acidic wit.
 
Just started Lightning Shell, the final volume in the People of Cahokia series by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neal Gear. I love the Gear's novels about pre-Columbian America, and the People of Cahokia series is awesome. It's got Games of Thrones style politics, fantastic writing and great characters, all set in the city state of Cahokia. The first in the series is People of the Morning Star.
 
Read Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy. It's aimed at teens (I think) but it's a very good read and (to me at least) beats Harry Potter hands down.
 
Recently finished And Away (Bob Mortimer's autobiography). I loved it. Now reading the Navigator Kings trilogy bt Garry Kilworth. Finished book 1 (The Roof of Voyaging). Halfway through book 2 (The Princely Flower). Based on Polynesian mythologies, it's a terrific read - far different to the general turgid fantasy crap that's out there.
 
I picked up Mörk Borg on a whim, mainly thanks to a discussion on the WTF Discord (Wizard Thief Fighter) about what the best system to run the Ultra Violet Grasslands with was. Troika! had mixed reviews as either too random or really good. I liked CY_BORG, so I decided to explore it’s predecessor. Overall, I like it, but it does feel lighter than the cyberpunk version. I’m not certain that it has enough for what I want, but it would be easily hackable. I shall have to ponder some more before I make a choice.

Overall, I like Mörk Borg; I think that it would make a good one or couple of shot game engine. I think that there’s more longevity it CY_BORG though. I‘m not certain about whether I’ll review it; much of the engine matches that I’ve covered before and the background is very nicely light and dark.
 
Having only one good eye means I’m finding it difficult to read. So I’ve started listening to audiobooks via Audible. The first “purchase” I made was the Dalek Collection, featuring five Target novelisations read by various actors connected to the series. The bundle contained The Daleks Invasion of Earth, Mission to the Unknown, The Mutation of Time, Death to the Daleks, and Genesis of the Daleks. I have to say it was delightful to hear Jon Culshaw read the latter two, just for his impersonations of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.

Now I’m listening to the Definitive Sherlock Holmes Collection read by Steven Fry and I just love listen to him doing all the voices and accents. Brilliant!
 
Brink by Dan Abner and INJ Culbard. Space noir, and for me, the best thing to come out of 2000AD in a long while. I'm currently reading vol 5.

You can pick up all five volumes for less than a tenner on Humble Bundle right now. (That's where I got vols 4 and 5 - I'd already had 1-3).
 
On holiday I read:
Four Rebus novels by Rankin.
I am now up to date at book 24.
Having said I would never read Rebus again I have to say I quite enjoyed them, although the shifting nature of Malcolm Fox from nice to nasty whilst still ok ish was a bit unsettling.
 
Been catching up on some review giveaways, plus some old favourites and some crime fiction.

First of all, the crime.

Tried a prequel novella to Rachel McLean’s Dorset Crime series because I come from the area they are set in. While the premise is interesting, I found the writing didn’t work in short form - first person introspection and short chapters made for rather a choppy read. I might give one of the full length books a try. The main issue is that they are an on-going KU series which means the latest book won’t be available to me unless the author is planning to sell epubs on her forthcoming webstore. The Dorset setting was very well done, although 20 minutes from Winfrith to Blandford Forum is pushing it unless the blues and twos are going.

Ruth Downie’s Medicus Ruso series. A legionary medical officer gets mixed up in crime. I got 7 of the 8 books in a Big Deal last year, and the first in a monthly deal a few months before. I used to own a couple in hardcopy but it was #1 and #3 so I never got into the series. 6 of the books are set in Britannia, 1 in Gaul and another in Rome. Ruso does come across as a bit oblivious in places (unless it’s a medical problem). I can see there being legionary medical facilities but how much it’s like sick parade in barracks in the modern army is open to interpretation. An OK but light read; I’d classify them as holiday reading.

Old favourites: a couple from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen and A Civil Campaign. No reason, except I felt like some light fiction after a bit of heavy going on some review copies. I also took the opportunity to complete the series with The Flowers of Vashnoi.

Review copies:

The Bridge by J S Breukelaar
A very strange but compelling multi-layered story. Rather dark in tone, it is highly visceral without descending to schlock.

On one level, it’s about surviving a misogynistic cult that makes android women via genetic engineering and computer implantation. On another level, it’s a campus serial killer story. On yet another level it’s about the twin-bond colliding with witchcraft colliding with mythology. It’s about revenge and remaking yourself.

Recommended.

The Thorns Remain by JJA Harwood
Finally read this one. A historical fantasy set in the aftermath of the Great War, Moira Jean Kinross lives with her widowed mother in a small estate village in Scotland. Mrs Kinross is the village nurse, and has her hands full with the Spanish Flu. Moira and her friends inadvertantly awake one of the Fair Folk who takes Moira’s friends to dance underhill, and Moira must find a way to rescue them before Beltane comes and the tithe must be paid.

The story has echoes of Tam Lin and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but is very much darker in tone. Although set post-WWI, I actually didn’t get much sense of the period; in some ways the story could have been set much earlier without much difference.

I liked it.

A Pale Light in the Black by K B Wagers
I rather liked this. A thriller set in space and on Earth, the NeoG are a cross between the Coastguard and a police force. The daughter of a wealthy but dysfunctional family joins the force rather than her family’s traditional service in the Navy; the family are famous for developing a life-extension treatment. The crew of a NeoG Interceptor stumble on a smuggling ring apparently smuggling countfeit life extension…

A bit rough round the edges; I was reading an eARC but the bones of the story were there and all hung together. Some of the scene transitions were a bit abrupt, and I found the plethora of nicknames a bit confusing.

Recommended.

Speculate: A Collection of Microlit by Eugen Bacon
I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s very pretty writing, but seems ultimately very pointless. Basically, each piece is a page of two antiphonal paragraphs which sort of connect to each other; one seems to respond to the other.

There’s not much commonality between the pieces, bar the Australian setting. I guess they could be considered prose poetry; it does come across as rather poetic.

To be read in small doses; more than 2 or 3 at once tends to be a bit cloying.

Update: Finally finished. My overall take is that it seems too much of a slog to read; really it should be read maybe one piece a day, maybe 2, one in the morning, one in the evening, but makes it take too long. I would not recommend reading the pieces back-to-back; they need time to settle in your mind as individual prose poems.

Fragments: Special Edition by Jake Kerr
I’m not sure if this is the same as or an expanded edition of Biographical Fragments, but it appears to have the same premise.

This is a post-apocalyptic novella, comprising a biography of Julian Prince, and some short stories set after the apocalypse happens. Part depressing, part hopeful, I’m not entirely convinced by the premise. From what I can gather, it was supposed to become a novel, but that doesn’t appear to have happened.

An OK read, but ultimately too depressing.

Ariadne, I Love You by J Ashley-Smith
Finally cracked this open.

Rather dark in tone - but enjoyable all the same. Set in the Australian outback, a faded singer is getting away from it all prior to a come-back concert. Something is lurking in the darkness…

A frisson of a story. Recommended.

Neoreaction a Basilisk by Philip Sandifer
Ugh, horrible. Did not finish - I got bored halfway through Chapter 1 and bailed out partway through Chapter 2.

It’s actually one of himself’s books from KickStarter and appears to be some kind of philosophical discussion based on web forums and blog sites of some kind of self-styled pundit.

Pretentious and boring.

The Double-Edged Sword by Ian Whates
A sharp-edged fantasy novella featuring a cynical hero who has seen it all before. It can be construed as an example of ‘age and treachery beat youth and beauty’.

Very enjoyable - more, please!

Knuckles and Tales by Nancy A Collins
I was expecting this to be more in the vein of her comic book fiction, but was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a more than acceptable anthology of Southern Gothic fiction based on Collins’ roots in the Deep South.

Enjoyable and not too schlocky.

Silver Moon: A Wolves of Wolf's Point Novel by Catherine Lundoff
An interesting take on werewolves: post-menopausal women who go through ‘the change’ literally and become the protectors of a small mountain town.

Unfortunately, I found the plot rather pedestrian and mildly incoherent. I also felt it was a bit ‘New-agey’ and the LGBT subplot felt as though it was added to make the book more marketable.

Boring.

The Werewolf's Kiss, The Werewolf's Touch, The Werewolf's Sin by Cheri Scotch
I’d read and owned the first book in the series some years ago, but eventually disposed of it when I moved and (at that point) hadn’t tracked down the remaining 2 books.

Set in New Orleans, the series is a mixture of werewolves and voodoo. There are 2 types of werewolf: those of the line of Lycaon who revel in their bestial nature, and those of the line of Apollonius of Tyana who kill in the service of justice. It is the second type who serve as voudoun’s executioners.

It is an interesting premise and works well; and is competently handled, and, thank goodness isn’t remotely smutty.

Recommended.

By Blood We Live by John Joseph Adams
An anthology of vampire stories. Not bad, easy enough to dip in and out, but suffers from the usual problem of multi-author anthologies in that there’s always going to authors and stories you just don’t warm to.

Riley Parra Season One by Geonn Cannon
Did not finish. An episodic police procedural set in an urban fantasy world. I found it rather banal; the anti-heroine is a mildly dirty lesbian cop in an un-named city which is a nexus in the fight between good and evil. The writing was pedestrian and I didn’t warm to any of the characters. It came across as a box-ticking exercise.

The Ulysses Quicksilver Short Story Collection by Jonathan Green
An anthology of steampunk-romps let down by the bad writing. It would have been mildly amusing if I hadn’t been jarred out of immersion by the author believing the banks of the Thames had beachcombers. Ugh, no.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Pretty meh. A Mary-Sue heroine and some shaky world-building did nothing for the story. This is one series I won’t be bothering with.

The House of Daniel: A Novel of Wild Magic, the… by Harry Turtledove
Despite being a fan of Harry Turtledove’s alternate histories, especially of the fantasy versions, I was not impressed by this one. Too much baseball and travel, not enough of the fantasy. I thought the story was going to take off after Jack’s dream at Almagordo, but no, more baseball and travel ensued.

Not recommended unless baseball is your thing.

The London Particular: A Newbury & Hobbes I… by George Mann
More to my taste, and more in keeping with the steampunk vibe (in my opinion). A somewhat Grand Guignol theatre of horrors, but not gross-out, it was lifted by being an investigation rather than focussing on the horrors. Recommended

The Visionary Pageant by Paul Di Filippo
A mash-up of Lovecraft and Dunsany, apparently written in Gernsbackian style. I didn’t particularly warm to it; I found the writing style somewhat off-putting. Apart from that, a reasonable story, and less nihilistic than most Lovecraft. An OK read.

The Golden Rule by Juliet E McKenna
A fun steampunk romp set in the run-up to Queen Victoria’s Jubilee procession. Nefarious goings-on are afoot in the London Docklands where somebody is trying to stir up race riots in order to force the withdrawal of the Indian Cavalry from the procession. An Oriental mastermind (society not criminal!), an alliance of East Africans, Indians, Lascars and Chinese help Constable David Price foil the dastardly plot. Fun!

How Grim Was My Valley by John Llewellyn Probert
An interesting read, despite being a bit on the sclock side of horror fiction for my tastes. I really prefer horror to be psychological rather than anatomical (the latter being too much like a former job of mine). Still, the grimdark Welsh setting moved it from the butcher’s shop and into Gothick territory, especially the decaying mansions used as settings for some of the stories. The portmanteau structure meant it was easy to drop in and out; I think as a single novel this would have been a ‘did not finish’. The stories were quite Bensonian in places with Lovecraftian overtones. Recommended if you like your horror on the cerebral side.

Sweep of the Heart by Ilona Andrews
Another instalment in the Innkeeper Chronicles.

While it did move the plot along, I found it dragged a bit. The Spouse Selection - which seemed to be at least 75% of the plot - I found overly complex and hard to keep all the aliens and proposed spouses separate. Actual story arc seemed to bracket this and felt like something of an afterthought. To my mind, it could have done with serious pruning and less focus on the happy-ever-after aspects of the plot.

A fun light read, but so-so overall.
 
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Some more reading:

Wings Unseen by Rebecca Gomez Farrell
An OK read.

I found the writing to be somewhat overblown and the word choices odd in places - e.g. stymied a laugh rather than stifled a laugh. The world building was tolerable although I found the multiplicity of barely described races did nothing to add to the world. Plot-wise, it was a fairly typical quest and prophecy which took some time to get going.

It’s not something I would have chosen myself; I got given it along with book 2 in the series.

Wings Unfurled by Rebecca Gomez Farrell
Did not finish.

What do you do when you have saved the day? Go out and save the day again. Meh.

The writing style - clunky and mildly pretentious - distracts from the plot, the world building comes across as incoherent, and the story was boring to the point I didn’t care about the characters. It reads like the author’s first language is not English, and could use the services of a good editor. I still have no sense of the various communities in the world; the differences seem to be physical as well as social, but the author appears to be bending over backwards to avoid being accused of covert racism, so it’s all very vague.

For what it’s worth, the story appears to be more wandering around piecing together an ancient prophecy while being menaced by attacks of magical beasts from a different dimension. It was OK in the first book as there was only one menace, but here there are multiple menaces and it was hard to keep them straight. Add in what seems to be the start of a theomachy, and the story goes downhill.

I was well pleased to drop out and read some John Wyndham short stories and start a new Lindsey Davis. I don’t think I’ll go back to this one; it’s too much work for so little enjoyment.


Jizzle by John Wyndham
A re-read of a book I’ve owned in paper for many years (it’s falling apart…)

An anthology of short stories by an author it’s a pleasure to read; decent writing and well-crafted plot all contribute to an enjoyable reading experience. 2 of the stories are favourites of mine - Chinese Puzzle and Confidence Trick.

They do read very much of their time - the book was originally published in 1954, so the stories would have been written before then, but this does not detract. I am reminded of the writing style of Neville Shute and the story craft of Jane Aiken. In many ways, the stories come across as magical realism rather than science fiction.

Recommended.

And the new Flavia Alba has dropped today! Guess what I’m reading now…
 
Catching up before starting on Subject Alpha:

Fatal Legacy, by Lindsay Davis (Flavia Albia 11)

On the face of it, it’s a simple case: provide proof that the bridegroom was born free before the marriage takes place. The only problem is that the will detailing which household slaves are to be manumitted is missing, as is the executor. Flavia Albia wonders whether it’s best to provide a suitable forgery, but decides to try and find the will and the executor first. Digging into the family background uncovers deadly emnities and unexpected complexities between the two families.

Very much lighter in tone than the previous instalment, and the usual cracking good read.

The Stephen series by Roberta Gellis: Bond of Blood, Knight’s Honor and The Sword and The Swan

These are set during ‘The Anarchy’ - the earlier English Civil War during the reign of King Stephen, not the War of the Roses or the later period commonly known as the English Civil War. They are also pretty true to period, so make uncomfortable reading with the general brutality and treatment of women and the lower classes, especially the non-free serfs. If you are expecting a book that panders to twentieth century sensibilities especially relating to romance, these are books you should not read.

These books cover three marriages in an age where the modern concept of romantic love was largely unknown or the province of the troubadours. Marriages were made to cement alliances, consolidate property or for the man’s gain. Women had very little to say in who they would marry - that was arranged by their parents with the approval of their overlord. Frequently the first time bride and groom met was at the altar. Often there was a significant age difference; the wife may well be the second or third wife, earlier wives dying from disease or in child birth. Women were also chattels; initially of their father or male guardian, after marriage, of their husband. Their lives and property were literally in their male relative’s hands; they were expected to obey and were subject to physical brutality if they did not. The marriage bed was the same - once wed, they could not deny the use of their body - at that time, the concept of marital rape was not thought of; rape was when a man took a woman by force that he was not married to.

In the 1st and 3rd books, the story starts (more or less) with the woman being married to the man with no choice in the matter and little notice. The second book the woman was sufficiently indulged by her father that his choice of husband was approved by her. Either way, the stories are about husband and wife getting to know each other and making accommodation to end with a good marriage, if not what we would consider a good marriage by today’s standards.

The 3 books are sequential and although they are self-contained, the later books reference characters in the earlier books, especially in relation to the political background and family alliances, so it is best to read them in order. All 3 deal with the misunderstandings inherent when 2 people don’t know each other at all and how they are resolved to come to a liveable, if not amicable, living arrangement.

Recommended for their open-eyed historiocity, and sparing application of modern romance tropes. Be warned that if you are expecting a sanitised view of medieval life, you won’t be getting it - these knights in shining armour stink to high heaven, beat their womenfolk, servants and serfs, indulge in non-consensual sex at best, rape at worst, pillage their enemies property and generally behave like misogynist pigs.

The Dragon and the Rose, by Roberta Gellis

A stand-alone historical romance dealing with the life of Henry Tudor up to the coronation as queen of his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. Much less misogynistic than the Stephen series. It follows the standard trope of the evil nature of Richard III, although the author acknowledges this is mostly Tudor propaganda. The book is about the growing love between Henry and Elizabeth from their political marriage dictated by expediency to a genuine partnership.

It was interesting to compare it to the later The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley which was set in the early years of Henry VIII’s reign.
 
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