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House of Many Ways is the third of Diana Wynne Jones's loose trilogy of novels that began with Howl's Moving Castle. Like the second, Castle in the Air, it's set in a different part of the series universe and has its own main characters, but Sophie, Howl and Calcifer also feature (and at least one minor character from Castle in the Air makes it into this one).

I don't think either of the sequels is a patch on Howl's Moving Castle, really, and I thought this was the weakest of the three (the villains seemed particulary ill-developed), but even a less-good DWJ is still pretty good; it was a fun read and a nice bit of light relief after Dorothy Dunnett's plot twists and tendency to make her heroes suffer.
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The fourth of Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo books takes the eponymous hero to Africa after the security of his business is threatened by a run on his capital instigated partly by his long-standing enemy Simon and partly by the shadowy Vatachino company. In search of the legendary gold-mines of Guinea and an overland route to the perhaps equally legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John in Ethiopia, after a difficult and dangerous journey he comes instead to Timbuktu*, ancient capital of learning and trade in a prosperous, mainly peaceful pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa.

This was my favourite of the Niccolo books so far, and the first one I loved as much as I loved the Lymond series. Having recently read HMS Surprise, I really enjoyed the description of the voyage from Portugal to the Gambia in an age when Europeans had only recently discovered that Africa extended further south than Cape Bojador, slightly south of the latitude of the Canaries and for many years assumed to be the literal end of the world. I loved the depiction of fifteenth-century Africa as no less civilised than Europe, just different (and with surprisingly good communication links for the era), and Nicholas's perilous and uncertain journeys were utterly compelling reading. I found myself reading while walking down the street because I couldn't bear to put my Kindle down on more than one occasion.

Slightly spoilery for the end of the book. )

* I may have found myself at one point pondering whether it was possible to cast the party who make it to Timbuktu with the cast of Cabin Pressure, who of course never do get to Timbuktu. The description of Nicholas does make him sound rather like John Finnemore, and he certainly affects an Arthur Shappey-esque innocence on occasion.
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The Ready-Made Family was the last of Antonia Forest's books about the Marlows I hadn't ever read, and having read it now I think it may well be my favourite. In this one (set between The Thuggery Affair, which was the only one of the "holiday" books I read as a child, and The Cricket Term), Karen, the eldest Marlow sister, returns from her second term at Oxford to announce that she's getting married in three weeks to a widower twice her age with three children (the oldest only three years younger than Nicola and Lawrie), and the plot is driven by the tension and conflicts of the two very different families coming together.

Obviously, I was particularly interested in the Oxford-set section of the book. While things have clearly changed in the last 50 years (I didn't realise the library used to be in the Town Hall, just for starters), it's recognisably Oxford and walking past Carfax on my way to M&S at lunchtime today I suddenly found myself looking down St Aldate's and up at the figures on the clock (I'm not sure I'd ever noticed them before) in a slightly different way than I would have done yesterday*. Given how much Nicola Marlow's experience of Oxford (like her experience of everything; I am not at all like Nicola in most ways, but when I first read the books that was the thing which drew me to her, even if I don't think I would have been able to articulate it then) is influenced by the Oxford of literature, it seems very fitting that her Oxford has now become part of mine**. (Also, the Oxford section is crying out for an Endeavour crossover. Seriously, it practically writes itself.)

Apart from the Oxford bit, I enjoyed the human drama, and was particularly struck, somehow, by the opening with its catalogue of reported disasters piling one on the other and the family's reaction to them; I also liked the depiction of the way the younger Marlows, or Peter and Nicola at least, begin to grow up a bit when they suddenly find themselves responsible for the younger Dodd children.

Having now read all the books at least once (and having managed to complete my collection with the purchase of a very expensive copy of Run Away Home), I must do a full readthrough sometime...

* It reminds me of the time I walked through Lamb and Flag Passage while halfway through Gaudy Night and recognised that chestnut tree, which had always seemed like just any tree until then.

** I think I'm glad that I didn't read so much of the classic literature of Oxford until after I'd moved here as an adult. Not getting into Oxford was devastating enough to me at 17 without losing the Oxford of Peter Wimsey and Nicola Marlow (among others) as well as the one of my dreams.
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In the third of Patrick O'Brian's series, Jack Aubrey has to rescue his friend Stephen Maturin from torture and imprisonment at the hands of the dastardly French before they embark on the eponymous ship, Jack's first actual command as a post-captain, for a voyage to the East Indies and back, with halts in Brazil, Bombay and Calcutta as well as a harrowing voyage far to the south of Cape Horn. Jack's fiancee, Sophie, is left behind in England, waiting for him to earn enough to clear his debts and gain her mother's consent to their marriage, while the object of Stephen's affections has decamped to India as the mistress of a businessman and he hopes to meet her and win her back.

O'Brian is terrific comfort reading; he has a wonderfully dry wit and Aubrey and Maturin (and their relationship) are delightful. I love the complexity of Stephen's character*; spy, tetchy medical man, thwarted lover, duellist, both a man of the world and also, when given the chance to set foot on a strange shore, full of innocent wonder. During this book he acquires, at various times, a sloth (my favourite line in the book may well be the wonderful "Jack, you have debauched my sloth") and a giant tortoise; he and the much placider Jack quarrel and make up and Jack nurses him back to health not once but twice (hurt/comfort is very definitely a theme of this series).

I still don't know my stuns'ls from my royals, and I am somewhat hazy on the difference between wearing and tacking, but that doesn't really seem to matter. I did think that I could have done with a list of the crew of the Surprise, as well as the rigging diagram at the start of the book, as I struggled a bit to remember who was a lieutenant or a midshipman or the bosun or the purser, but that didn't really seem to matter either. It was relaxing, and fun, and perfect reading for a person who wasn't feeling 100% on a gloomy winter day.

* We watched the 2003 film with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany on Saturday, and while I thought the actors looked the part, the film's Maturin was a much less complex character, really only managing to reflect one aspect of his original.
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I wanted something entertaining and easy to occupy an afternoon of lying on the sofa feeling grotty (ready to be over this lurgy any time it likes, really), so I decided to download Body Work, the first of the graphic novels linked to Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, and read it on my iPad. 45 minutes later, I downloaded the second, Night Witch, and have preordered the third, which isn't due out as a collected volume until May.

Each graphic novel is basically a short piece of casefic; Body Work is set between Broken Homes and Foxglove Summer, and Night Witch comes between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree. They're adjacent to the main canon, rather than advancing the overall plot, although I recognised things in both that were referred to in The Hanging Tree and although Peter doesn't realise it, as readers we are shown a connection between the events of Night Witch and the series arc plot. (One thing that the graphic novel format allows is the opportunity to escape the confines of Peter's first-person narrative and see things from other people's points of view for once, or even scenes where he isn't present.)

I found both easy, fun reads; I think I slightly preferred Body Work, but only because it features Guleed and Stephanopoulos, two of my favourite minor characters, and neither is in Night Witch. I was worried that the format would completely lose Peter's snarky, geeky narrative voice, which is one of my favourite things about the books, but it managed to retain enough of it, and it was interesting to see a visual interpretation of the characters. There are also some entertaining "extras": vignettes of life at the Folly and Peter's notes on various areas of London and magical techniques. Graphic novels aren't my preferred format, but if you enjoyed the novels I'd say these are wortha try, especially if you're feeling under the weather.
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This weekend has been hard. I've spent far too much time tweeting and retweeting and signing and emailing and now I'm suffering from news overload again. And it's Sunday evening, and I'm still fighting off a cold, and I need to unwind so I can get a decent night's sleep before I go and tackle another week at work.

We're in this for the long haul, and we need to look after ourselves. And sometimes that means looking away from the big awful things and trying to find the joy in small things. On which note, and without trying to deny that the awfulness is still going on, I'm declaring this a Good Things Post. Tell me something that cheers you up, even a little bit. Tell another commenter something nice about themself. You could even tell me something nice about myself, if you wanted. Or, if you ask, I'll tell you something nice about you, or just offer a virtual hug.

I don't know if it'll work, but it seems worth a try.
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Casting Off is the fourth of the Cazalet Chronicles, and for almost two decades it was also the final book. This one picks up the family after the end of World War 2, as they try to adjust to peacetime life again in a world which hasn't magically got better just because the war is over; there is still rationing, food is awful, there are strikes and fuel shortages and smog, tensions between supporters of the new Labour government and the Conservatives and concerns about the impending break-up of the Empire. The old social order, where upper-middle-class families like the Cazalets were supported by a staff of servants, has gone, and when the family decamp from Home Place to return to a dingy post-Blitz London, returning to life as separate nuclear families rather than the whole extended family living together, many of them struggle to deal with the sudden absence of the support they've taken for granted all their lives, while the smaller children, who barely remember life as separate families, miss their relatives. Louise, Polly and Clary are young women now, dealing with the mistakes of early adulthood and the pains of first love.

Like the earlier novels, this isn't about events, but about emotions; the viewpoint shifts between members of the family and their connections, each moment including a lot of flashbacks and introspection (and a certain amount of the "she, X" construction that people complain about so much in Hilary Mantel's writing). We get to see both the good and bad in everyone, and this time round, Howard even manages what I thought was impossible and makes me feel some sympathy for Edward. Because this was the end of the series, she does draw the threads together towards the end and manages to produce happy (or at least happyish) endings for what feels like a somewhat implausibly high number of the characters. (Maybe I'm just cynical. But while I would like to think that most people are reasonably happy in their day-to-day lives, having so many members of one family's lives work out into something good in the space of about six months feels statistically improbable.) It also all gets a bit meta towards the very end, as Clary reflects on finishing her novel and saying goodbye to characters she's come to know so well, which I couldn't help feeling was really Howard using Clary as her mouthpiece.

Somehow I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the earlier books; I think maybe I liked Louise, Polly and Clary better as teenagers than as young women, and despite the many happy resolutions, there was a sense of previously-solid relationships breaking down, or at least shaking. Or maybe it was just that I was feeling a bit off-colour and struggling to concentrate sometimes. I certainly liked it a lot, and I found myself liking it more as I got towards the end (so maybe it was the shakiness of relationships after all?).
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Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's contribution to the Hogarth Press's series of contemporary reworkings of Shakespeare. It's a Russian doll of a book, a retelling of The Tempest which is also a novel about a production of The Tempest which is derailed, for at least some of the audience, by an act of revenge based upon The Tempest. The central character is Felix Phillips, a somewhat experimental theatre director (his productions include Pericles with spaceships and The Winter's Tale with Hermione as a vampire) who is dismissed from his post as Artistic Director of a theatre festival due to the manipulations of the scheming, ambitious Tony. He disappears from public view, living like a hermit in a tumbledown shack and dreaming of revenge. His opportunity arises after he takes a job running an adult literacy programme in a prison, teaching medium-security prisoners (hackers, fraudsters, pickpockets) to perform Shakespeare, when he discovers that his enemies will be attending the performance, and sees his chance to act.

It's beautifully written, as you'd expect from Atwood; sparkling, witty, compassionate, moving. The structure enables her to explore the original play and characters both through the retelling and more directly, as Felix and his class prepare for their production. I think it was particularly good to read this the week after seeing the live streaming of the RSC's current production of The Tempest, as that meant that the plot was fresh in my mind (I found while watching the RSC production that I'd forgotten quite a lot of the plot), though I think the book would still have been enjoyable if I hadn't remembered it so clearly or even if I didn't know the play at all.
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It must be very nearly thirty years since I found a copy of Margaret Elphinstone's The Incomer in the local library. I was a science-fiction loving teenager who was passionate about feminism, and the Women's Press's SF imprint was a sure sign that a book would be relevant to my interests, so of course I snapped it up. Somewhat unexpectedly, it ended up having a profound influence on me; among other things, it was the book that first introduced me to T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, and I also remember it as being the first time I realised that it was actually possible for someone to be attracted to both men and women, and to act on that*. I think I read it a few times over the next couple of years, but I hadn't really even thought about it in years before I found a copy in a second-hand bookshop a couple of years ago**; it took me a while to get round to re-reading it, partly because I was worried about how it would stand up, but I found myself thinking of it recently and decided to take the plunge.

The Incomer is, basically, a classic 80s postapocalyptic feminist utopia***, set in Galloway a distant future where, following the destruction of "our" society by an unspecified cataclysm, people have returned to subsistence farming, living in small, close-knit communities, working in harmony with nature. The patriarcy has been replaced by a matriarchy, with women as "householders", leading extended family groups of children, siblings, aunts, nieces and nephews, but not fathers and partners; the nuclear family is no more, and whatever romantic relationships may be formed in adult life blood relationships and the family of origin remain the most important thing, while children belong to their mothers and only know their fathers as friends and neighbours. It's a peaceful, contented vision of the future, and if adult-me is perhaps less enamoured of the idea than my younger self was (there's a lot to be said for modern technology) I could imagine a lot worse. The novel follows the villagers through a winter when a stranger, a travelling musician, is staying with them; it's not particularly plotty, more a gentle exploration of their society, and the way in which the women of the village safeguard it from the dangers that lurk in the past and threaten to emerge into the present.

It's beautifully written, full of lovely, lyrical descriptions of the landscape and the forest. It's scattered with quotes from Four Quartets (the characters find two books from the old world, a romance novel which they find incomprehensible, and Four Quartets which seems to them the most straightforward and logical thing in the world), but reading it now I'm so much more familiar with the poems I can also see their echoes throughout the book, in the language and imagery and the way the characters experience the world around them and its relationship to the past. Even some of the structure of the novel seems to owe something to Eliot; there were times when I felt that I was reading, if not quite a feminist reworking of Four Quartets, certainly a feminist response. It's a quiet, thoughtful book, and I did enjoy revisiting it; it certainly hasn't lost everything that I found it it years ago.

One thing that hasn't stood up well, though, is the depiction of gender. It's telling that, in the 80s, the only alternative to the patriarchy seems to have been a matriarchy; it's clear, in the world of The Incomer, that the women are in charge, and the men are seen as a bit useless, not party to the deep mysteries of the world. The women are the keepers of the new peace, and are ruthless in the extent to which they will go to preserve it; an act of violence sees them transformed into Furies, pursuing the wrongdoer and exacting justice. Women are nurturing and keep their society together, while even in this brave new world the men struggle to express their emotions, to talk between themselves about what matters or to behave with tenderness and compassion to each other. Almost all of the femal characters are seen in sexual relationships with men, and although one mentions the possibility that she may have had female lovers and this is accepted as perfectly normal, it still seems to be a largely heterosexual society. Really, it's a sign of how far the dialogue around gender has moved in the last thirty years; not that it was completely impossible to imagine a post-gender future in 1987 (Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time managed it a good ten years earlier, after all), but it was clearly still possible for a radical green utopia to feature very traditional gender roles and heterosexuality-by-default in a way I don't think it would be now.

And as for my bisexual epiphany? Well, on re-reading, I do wonder if the scene were two female characters, both of whom have prevously been seen in sexual relationships with men, declare their love for each other and get into bed together was really just intended to be platonic bed-sharing, companionship and friendship and mutual support; it's certainly not spelled out that this is a sexual scene, if it's supposed to be one. (The heterosexual sex scenes are not remotely explicit, but it is pretty obvious what's going on.) Still, I don't suppose it really matters what the actual intention was; what matters is the realisation it brought me to.

* I was about 13, and it was the 80s; there was no Internet and Clause 28 was a thing, so this wasn't necessarily an easy thing to find out, but I'm very glad I did as I'm sure I was at least marginally less confused because of it.

** Although I appear to have subconsciously plagiarised it, or at least produced something very derivative of it, in my 2009 Yuletide fic. It's just as well I don't do Yuletide any more.

*** Interesting that that really was a thing; more modern postapocalyptic visions tend to be dystopias, but there was certainly a pervading view in the 80s that the end of our civilisation (which was probably just around the corner) might herald the birth of a better one. Even Star Trek got in on the act, while in more recent books, Station Eleven seems to be part of the same tradition.
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I bought a copy of Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint last year because lots of people I knew seemed to be reading something called Tremontaine, which I gathered was a prequel of some kind, and also because I read a post somewhere about writers who were influenced by Dorothy Dunnett and Kushner was mentioned there.

I originally tried reading the book in the autumn, shortly after the US election; everything I'd heard about it suggested it would be just the kind of entertaining swashbuckling romp that would be perfect escapist reading when the world was going to hell in a handbasket. In fact, though, I didn't find it comforting at all. It's set in an unnamed, decaying city, with lawless areas where the poor and undocumented live in the ruins of grand houses; the ruling class are corrupt and decadent while the poor exist in a world of casual violence, and yet the tone of the narrative is so detached as to be almost whimsical, and it really wasn't what I wanted. So I put it to one side and read something else (Sense and Sensibility, I think).

I don't like giving up on books after only one try, though, so I picked it up again this week, and was obviously in a better place as I was able to appreciate the atmosphere of corruption and decay and enjoy the political maneuvering, while the detachment of the narrative didn't jar as it had done when I tried before. I found the central characters engaging and sympathetic, and I liked the relationship between Richard and Alec a lot. I suspect I will end up reading the later books set in the same universe sooner or later (especially as they now seem to be available for Kindle, which they weren't when I bought my copy of Swordspoint).
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After Foxglove Summer's venture into rural Herefordshire (which I really enjoyed, though a lot of people seem to have disliked it) and a long wait for publication (the book was originally scheduled for autumn 2015 but wasn't actually published until this November*), it's back to business as usual for Peter Grant in the sixth instalment in Ben Aaronovitch's series of urban fantasy police procedurals; running liaison between supernatural entities and his colleagues in the more normal branches of the Metropolitan Police, fighting crimes, causing significant collateral property damage and trying hard to avoid people who want him out of the way.

I think this series is getting better and better; Peter's voice and character have got surer and more consistent since the first couple of books, and if his transformation into a geek isn't quite consistent with his characterisation in the first book the frequent SF references are fun enough for me to accept the inconsistency (though it is what kept throwing me out of Moon Over Soho, where I really wasn't expecting it). It's funny and the plot zips along with occasional episodes of relatively mild peril, and I enjoyed how The Hanging Tree pulled together loose threads from throughout the earlier books rather than just concentrating on the main plot points. And if it didn't actually seem to do that much with them, or move the plot on all that far, well, I kind of get the feeling that Ben Aaronovitch is having too much fun writing about Peter to be particularly interested in winding things up any time soon.

*and I think they skimped on the proofreading to get it out then; the Kindle edition had quite a lot of missed or extra words, plus someone had obviously done a find-and-replace to hyphenate "back-up" without realising that there are also a number of occasions when characters go back up stairs, or driveways, and all of those got hyphenated as well...
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I think I liked Sherlock better when the clients and cases were central to the plot, and not just thrown in as asides to make people familiar enough with ACD canon (of whom I am not one, having only read most of the stories once) feel smug when they can recognise the updates.

Also, wtf does John Watson think he's bloody playing at?

Oh well. Next Sunday Endeavour is back and on at the same time. I'll take Douglas Richardson in a trilby over Martin Crieff being a clever-clogs any day.
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I started reviewing books here fairly early in 2016, and started cross-posting the reviews to Goodreads later on in the year (around Easter, I think, though I can't remember exactly). You can see the reviews by clicking on the "2016 books” tag. I make it 83 books, which is a surprising increase even on last year's 50, especially when six of them were by Dorothy Dunnett.

List )

I don't seem to have logged Did Not Finishes this year, but I know there were a couple; Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body, possibly Courtney Milan's The Duchess War, though that may have been last year (both of these were DNF basically for Too Much Sex, though in rather different ways) and Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint (much more whimsical than I was expecting it to be and not really what I was in the mood for at the time, but I might give it another try some other time).

And now it's New Year's Eve, possibly my least favourite daye of the year, and I'm trying to decide whether I should be polite and stay up and go with my parents to see the New Year in with lots of complete strangers in the second freezing Norfolk church in two days or just go to bed and read The Hanging Tree which I treated myself to on Kindle as no-one had bought me the hardback for Christmas and be sound asleep well before midnight. After all, 2016 was the first New Year I'd stayed up for in about 15 years and look how that turned out...
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Given that I find the Christmas and New Year period a particularly trying one in the best of years, and that 2016 hasn't been the best of years by anyone's reckoning, I wanted something frothy and comforting, and you can't get more frothy and comforting than Wodehouse. I'm not actually sure whether I'd read this one before or simply seen the Fry and Laurie TV adaptation multiple times (it must be about 30 years since I discovered Wodehouse and read my way through everything the local library had to offer), but either way this was delightfully familiar territory; Bertie Wooster getting into a series of scrapes while trying nobly to extricate everyone around him from theirs, in this case largely centering around a silver cow-creamer, and narrating in characteristically breezy style, and incidentally delivering a stinging response to the thuggish would-be dictator Roderick Spode which gladdens the heart of 2016 as much as it must have gladdened those of 1938.
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I haven't been on Twitter much lately; after the US election it just wasn't doing my mental health any good at all, so I took a bit of a break. I've dropped back in again a few times in the last couple of days, mostly because I clearly have too much time on my hands in a week at home with nothing to do, but partly because I remember that it used to be fun. Today, though, I've been confronted by endless retweets of someone's thread about how, in the wake of the deaths of 53-year-old George Michael and 60-year-old Carrie Fisher, we all need to reduce our stress levels so that we can live to 90 instead of dying so young. Which, well, yes, they were both much too young, but most people don't choose to be stressed and are in fact stressed by factors beyond their control; health issues (including mental health), poverty, prejudice, war, and the amount of privilege inherent in assuming that we can just "choose" not to be stressed is staggering. Plus, it's bullshit anyway. My dad's heart problems weren't cause by stress, they were caused by viral damage to the heart muscle. Probably food poisoning, to be exact. Stress may increase vulnerability to some infections, but I'm not sure food poisoning is one of them. One of the most laid-back people I know died last year of acute pancreatitis, at the age of 45. (As Facebook has helpfully reminded me, today would have been his 47th birthday.) A colleague's wife died at 40 of metastatized melanoma, which is caused by UV damage, not stress. I may not be a doctor, but I'm still fairly sure more sleep - even if that's possible for you - is probably not actually going to make you live longer. And anyway, what's so great about living to 90?

Maybe my New Year's resolution should be to delete my Twitter account. I'm not sure it's ever going to go back to being fun like it used to be.
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I always really enjoy hearing Susan Calman on Radio 4, so when a friend mentioned that she'd written a memoir about her experience of depression I promptly added it to my Amazon wishlist, and then forgot all about it so that it came as a complete surprise when it turned out to be what one of my brothers had bought me for Christmas. And, as Christmas is generally a pretty low time of year for me anyway, I thought I might as well read it straight away.

Calman writes pretty much the way she speaks; I could hear a lot of the book in her voice. Like her radio shows, it's very funny, if perhaps more wry-smile-of-recognition funny than rolling-on-the-floor-in-hysterics funny, and it was nice, as someone who is pretty much the same age as her and has spent a similarly long time struggling with mental health issues, to read another person's story that had so many points of similarity with my own. The bit about how no-one in the 80s talked about mental health resonated particularly; I had no words to describe what was going on in my head for a long, long time, because I didn't even know there were words for it, and I'm sure that's part of why I still struggle to articulate what I'm feeling. Also, the bit about Clause 28, and just what that said to LGBT teenagers in the 80s about where we belonged in society. It's an excellent read for anyone who's suffering from mental health issues and wants to feel a bit less alone.

As well as being a memoir, this is also in some ways a self-help book, as Calman talks through the various strategies she's developed over the years for managing her depression. This part of the book felt quite basic to me, probably because I've spent as long living with my depression as she has with hers, although there was still some interesting stuff in there, particularly the identification of the different ways depression can manifest and different strategies for coping with each; this may well be something I do, but it's not something I've ever tried to taxonomise in that way, and maybe it would be helpful to do so. It was also really helpful and positive to read about someone else who was trying to live with depression through simple, straightforward actions, and not medication or therapy (I have found NHS therapy unhelpful at best, can't afford private and don't believe in it anyway, and while I occasionally wonder whether giving up the medication was really sensible I genuinely do feel that I'm better off without it*). However, I suspect the advice would be more use to someone who is suffering from depression for the first time, or perhaps to someone whose friend/significant other/child/parent is suffering and who wants to understand a bit more about what they're going through and how to help (and, indeed, how not to help).

*there's a lot to be said for not needing 10 hours of sleep a night and being able to lose myself in a good book again. Especially the book thing. I missed reading so much, and am not prepared to risk losing it again.
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It's possible that Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library suffered, for me, from being the book I picked up straight after such a complete knockout as Thus Was Adonis Murdered, because it seems to have a lot of glowing reviews, but I thought it was really only OK. It also wasn't quite what I was expecting; I thought there would be more about the Library and its Librarians, whereas in fact that only seemed to be the McGuffin for a fairly standard steampunk* romp. I also found the central character so utterly unmemorable that every time I picked the book up I was surprised to find that it was told in tight third person from her point of view and that her name was Irene, while the supporting characters didn't have a great deal of depth (possibly because they were all seem through the tight third person narrative of a character who appeared to be a really bad judge of other people's characters).

There were some entertaining nods to other books scattered throughout the story; I particularly liked the reference to Irene's Swiss boarding school which specialised in languages and prided itself on turning out young women who were ready for anything, though as there was no mention of spineless jellyfish maybe I was just imagining the reference there. The aristocratic detective, on the other hand, was such a blatant Holmes/Wimsey expy that it was lampshaded in the text. And my suspension of disbelief was well and truly shattered by a comment that it would be impossible to set a Library-based protection spell on the British Library, as it would be broken as soon as anyone took a book out...

Not a dreadful book, but not one I particularly enjoyed.

*I am starting to wonder if, however much I like the idea of steampunk, the truth is that I just don't enjoy reading it. It ought to be right up my street - Victoriana! Clockwork! Zeppelins! - but with the exception of Ankaret Wells' Firebrand I'm not sure I've ever read a steampunk novel that didn't leave me with an overwhelming sense of "meh".
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I normally buy goats instead of sending Christmas cards, but this year I've donated to Hope Not Hate and MSF instead. Wishing a very merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, and a better 2017 to all of us.
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I bought a Kindle copy of Sarah Cauldwell's Thus Was Adonis Murdered a couple of years ago after [personal profile] legionseagle recommended it, and decided to start reading it last week after it came up in the books thread on [community profile] fail_fandomanon. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it, because it was an utter delight, although on the other hand it was absolutely the perfect thing to read at the end of a long Michaelmas Term in a long and difficult year.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered is a cosy (I might almost say frothy) murder mystery, focusing on a group of young barristers, one of whom is accused of murdering a man she met on holiday in Venice. Most of the action actually takes place in London, as her colleagues read her letters and conduct investigations remotely, advised and guided by the narrator, Professor Hilary Tamar, an utterly Oxford donnish Oxford don whose gender is never revealed. It's wonderfully witty and arch and simultaneously an engaging mystery and an absolute hoot. It reminded me a bit of Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen novels, except without the casual misogyny which really put me off The Case of the Gilded Fly. I will definitely be buying and reading Cauldwell's other novels, and already feel sad that she only wrote four.


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