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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 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 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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Given the time of year, I thought Hogfather might be an appropriately seasonal re-read. I have to say that it's never been one of my favourite Pratchetts; I love Susan Sto Helit, and really like the central exploration of the relationship between fantasy and humanity, but there are a lot of subplots and some of them seem a bit superfluous, and Teatime is a fairly cartoonish villian and a lot less chilling than similar characters in some of the other books. I enjoyed re-reading it, but it didn't leave me with the overwhelming sense of how much of a loss to the world Pterry's death was that some of my other recent re-reads have done.
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I didn't read Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1990, when I had discovered travel writing via Bruce Chatwin and The Songlines* and someone (I think it was my A-Level English teacher) had recommended him, because when I looked for his books in the local bookshop I saw that the third volume of the trilogy had yet to be published, and thought I'd wait until I could read all three (at that point, Between the Woods and the Water was recent enough that this didn't seem like too remote a possibility). I finally bought a copy of A Time of Gifts in 2011, when the news of Leigh Fermor's death suggested that, in fact, this was not going to happen, and I might as well just read the two instalments he had managed to publish. However, despite the writer's block which prevented the final book appearing during his lifetime, an early manuscript (actually predating the writing of A Time of Gifts) still existed; in the last years of his life, he began revising this, and after his death the travel writer Colin Thubron and Leigh Fermor's biographer Artemis Cooper prepared the manuscript for publication.

The Broken Road isn't a complete, polished work like the earlier two; the main narrative breaks off in the Bulgarian port of Burgas, still a long way from the walk's final destination, and is followed only by some scrappy diary entries from PLF's stay in Constantinople and a section of longer entries describing his subsequent visit to Mount Athos. The descriptions of the landscapes, towns and people of Bulgaria and Romania are as stunningly beautiful as those of the earlier books, and if The Broken Road does sometimes feel like the less mature work that it is in origin that's not a reflection on the writing; rather, it's the more personal content, with the long historical and geographical digressions of the earlier books mainly absent and replaced by reflections on the process of writing an account of a journey undertaken thirty years previously and the childhood events that had brought him to the point of setting out on the walk. There's more of a sense of occasional homesickness for London here, and also a much clearer impression of the way this charming and good-looking young man was taken up and fêted, not just by the aristocracy across Europe but specifically by the women he met; a Greek-Bulgarian student in Plodiv, the landlady of a hotel in Rustchuck, the whole staff of the brothel he mistakes for a hotel in Bucharest... There's also more melancholy in the reflections of the fates of the people Leigh Fermor met on his journey during the intervening years, especially those in Bucharest (where he is careful only to mention by name the people who are dead or who had escaped to the West by the time of writing, to avoid anything that might put his friends in danger at the hands of the Communist authorities); I don't know whether this is because of self-editing in the first two publisheed books, or because Romania was the place where Leigh Fermor ended up living for several years between the end of his walk and the start of World War 2, and the losses have hit him more because of that.

I found the diary entries from Mount Athos the weakest part of the book. I can see why the editors included them, as they do offer a more satisfactory conclusion than breaking off mid-sentence in Burgas, but PLF at nineteen is a very different person from PLF in his fifties looking back; he already had the facility for description that is the defining feature of the work of his later self, but he's (understandably) much less mature and his descriptions of the people he meets lack the subtlety and insight of the later work. His dislike for the food offered in many of the monasteries (vegetables and olive oil, horror of horrors!) comes across as somewhat brattish, and his discomfort at encountering a monk who insists on holding his hand is an interesting contrast to his more open-minded reflections, earlier in the book and later in his life, on homosexual relations among the people who gave the English language the word "bugger".

It is a glorious book, though, and I'm glad that we did get a third volume in the end, even if not quite a complete one.

*It may be 25 years, but I still got full marks on the set of bonus questions on Chatwin on this week's University Challenge, which was more than the students did.
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I wanted some comfort reading, so decided to turn to Jane Austen (where else?). I don't think Sense and Sensibility is her best novel; it definitely feels like an early work, and the characterisation lacks the subtlety of her later novels. Elinor Dashwood is too much of a paragon to feel quite true (clever, sensible, patient, kind, able to bear disappointments stoically) and most of the other characters feel more like caricatures, with even the kindest being mocked for their foolishness or lack of common sense, taste or interesting conversation. Still, there are some lovely moments of social comedy, and I was particularly struck by John Dashwood's reasoning for not giving his stepmother and half-sisters any money following his father's death, because "They would only enlarge their style of living if they felt sure of a larger income, and would not be sixpence the richer for it at the end of the year." I feel sure I have heard that argument in the mouths of opponents of the welfare state very recently...
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Apparently autumn is when I read Gwyneth Jones's Bold As Love series; I can't remember when I read the first one, but I vividly remember finishing the second in a holiday cottage with a stunning view over Hastings harbour very early one morning exactly ten years ago this week (I know it was then, because we'd gone there to celebrate ten years together). I read the third last year and finished it the evening of the Paris attacks, and somehow, even though I thought I wanted something cosy and calming to drive away the fears the current state of the world have provoked, when I was flipping through the books on my Kindle last week trying to decide what to read it just felt like time to read the fourth.

I really like the series; a retelling of Arthurian legend (with, I think, a particularly strong nod to the Arthur of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset) disguised as, or transfigured into, a near-future sf fable about what might happen as the world of the twentieth century disintegrates. For a series first published between 2001 and 2006 it still feels like a remarkably plausible vision of the future (unlike her 1991 White Queen, which I also read last year and which is set in a 2038 where people still use fax machines and there's no internet), and I like her rockstar-turned-politician characters, both the central trio and the supporting cast. And actually, even though the series is about civilisation falling apart as the world collapses into a new dark age, I don't find the books dark and depressing; the world in Band of Gypsys has moved a long way from the not-very-different-to-now world of the first book (in some ways it felt as though it was set much further from "now"), generally not in any good ways, and there are deaths and destruction and unhappiness, but there's also sunlight and the English countryside and love and friendships and small acts of kindness, and the overall effect is somehow uplifting and hopeful despite the horrors of the setting.

The books are out of print at the moment, but cheap Kindle editions are available, and although I have paperbacks of the first three I bought Kindle copies of the later ones, and would advise anyone tempted to do the same thing to seek out secondhand paper copies instead - I have never read such a dreadfully formatted Kindle book, not even free editions of classics (well, there was the copy of Linda Grant's When I Lived In Modern Times which kept insisting that it was entirely in italics, but apart from that).
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Reading Race of Scorpions, which is set largely in Cyprus, reminded me that I had a copy of Lawrence Durrell's book about the time he spent living in Cyprus between 1953 and 1956 (handily shelved next to the Dorothy Dunnett). I bought it years ago, probably about the time I read Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, but didn't really get on with the writing. Still, I hung on to it, and I thought I'd give it another go.

There are some beautiful descriptive passages which made me long to see Cyprus for myself, but I didn't much like Durrell as he characterises himself in his own book; too much British Imperial superiority and humorous anecdotes about the comical Cypriot peasants he encounters in his quest to buy and refurbish a house and in his work as a teacher at the Gymnasium in Nicosia, along with a fair amount of name-dropping about the visits he receives from the literati (Rose Macauley, Freya Stark, Patrick Leigh Fermor, to name but a few of many). The latter part of his stay in Cyprus coincided with the rise in violence as the Cypriot struggle for independence from Britain and union with Greece, and the second half of the book, which I thought was both darker and better than the first half, describes the gradual descent from normality into chaos. I found it somewhat unsettling reading at this particular point in history, I have to say.
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I'm still reading Dorothy Dunnett when I want comfort reading; not that her books are entirely comforting in themselves, given her penchant for throwing her heroes into one dire situation after another and piling misfortune on misfortune, but they're books I can lose myself in, and that's what I wanted this week. In the third book of the House of Niccolo series, Nicholas ends up in Cyprus, where both claimants to the disputed throne want him and his army to fight for them. There are battles and twists and romance; some plot threads from the earlier books are resolved, while others emerge.

I do feel as though I'm starting to get a bit of a handle on Nicholas's character, which I struggled with in the first couple of books. Even though long sections of the narrative are written from his point of view, unlike Lymond, where we only get a handful of scenes from Francis's point of view throughout the series, and those tend to be solitary action rather than introspection, I've found him harder to understand; perhaps because the amount of point-of-view time he gets is deceptive, and there's a lot of crucial stuff we don't see. With Lymond, the overarching mystery always seemed to be what had happened in the past to make him the way he was, but with Nicholas, I think it's more about what kind of a person he really is.
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I bought this because it was one of the many fascinating-sounding books mentioned during the "Transformative Shakespeare" panel at Nine Worlds this summer. Monstrous Little Voices is a collection of five stories by five different authors inspired by Shakespeare's plays and looking at the lives of his characters after their canon stories have finished. The stories are located in a kind of shared world where all the plays take place together, almost simultaneously, and each one builds on the events of the earlier ones to create a wider arc plot.

The stories themselves were variable. My favorite was Adrian Tchaikovsky's "Even in the Cannon's Mouth", an entertaining romp combining characters from Much Ado About Nothing, All's Well That Ends Well, As You Like It and Twelfth Night and featuring magic, swashbuckling and humour. I also liked Emma Newman's "The Unkindest Cut", a much darker story about prophecies and fate, and Foz Meadows' "Coral Bones" which explores Miranda's life after The Tempest along with much more modern ideas about gender and sexuality. I was less keen on Jonathan Barnes' "The Twelfth Night", which was about (a version of) Shakespeare himself rather than the characters from the plays, and thought that Kate Heartfield's "The Course of True Love" was definitely the weakest of the stories, a fairly unexciting romance with some magical elements.

Overall, it was enjoyable enough to read, though I didn't quite feel that the different stories tied together as neatly as I think they were supposed to, and I might have preferred more separate stories.
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I'd been putting off reading the third of the Cazalet Chronicles, because I wasn't quite sure I wanted to read about people living through the grimness of World War Two when the world seemed to be falling apart around me. Actually, though, the grimness seems less obvious in this one than it did in Marking Time; it begins in 1942, three years into the war, and where the last book showed how life changed in the early years of the war, in this one it feels more like a steady state which people have got used to. The main point of view characters are still Louise, Polly and Clary, growing up during the war and almost unable to remember what life was like before it; much as I like them, I would have liked to see a bit more of the rest of the family, who mostly only seemed to make very brief appearances as the novel took them through the last three years of the war (and some of the sections that didn't focus on the three girls actually focused more on one-off characters, including two who appeared to have wandered in at random from a Mary Renault novel; they were probably having a slightly jollier time of it in Howard's book, though not by much). Generally, though, I'm continuing to enjoy the series a great deal and looking forward to reading the next book soon.
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Night Watch is arguably the Best. Discworld. Book. Ever., and definitely one from the phase when Pratchett had completed the transition from the parody of the earliest books in the series to the more pointed satire of the later ones, after a mid-period where the two coexisted a little uneasily. This is the point at which I came back into step with the books, having not really managed to get what Pterry was trying to do in the half-dozen or so before it on first reading (actually, I think I had to give Night Watch a second reading, but I obviously managed to see that there was enough there to merit a second reading, whereas I spent an embarrassingly long time thinking Jingo was dreadful).

Unlike its precursors, Night Watch really is a Sam Vimes book, rather than a City Watch book. Carrot and Detritus both appear briefly, Cheery Littlebottom gets a couple of lines, Angua doesn't appear at all, because for most of the time Vimes is adrift from his own time; after falling through the dome of the Unseen University Library while pursuing a murderer, he finds himself sent back thirty years and becoming part of a very different City Watch. This isn't the run-down rump of the Watch we saw in Guards! Guards!, but it's a Watch where bribery and paying less attention to evidence than to who it would be easiest to pin a crime on are rife, and where none of Ankh-Morpork's ethnic minorities are represented, while Ankh-Morpork as a whole is also a lot less diverse than in Vimes's present. It's really a lot like Life on Mars, although as that was made four years after Night Watch came out if that's more than coincidence the book must have influenced the TV show, and not the more usual other way round.

Night Watch isn't a book with a lot of laughs. It's a serious book, about corruption and justice and law and freedom and hope, and it's a book that always made me cry even when Pterry was still alive and I wasn't just crying at how much poorer the world is without his clarity of vision (there's a passage about refugees close to the start that got me that way). And it's amazing.
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Cordelia's Honour is an omnibus volume of the first two novels, in terms of internal chronology and within the main timeline, of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. I actually read the first, Shards of Honour, about eight and a half years ago, and felt a bit meh about it; looking back at the post I wrote about it then, apart from the strong sense that the me of eight and a half years ago really was a pompous ass, it's clear that back then I was reading sf for ideas and new ways of seeing the world, whereas now I read books for enjoyment and escape and the chance to see through someone else's eyes and try to understand what it might be like to be them. I think this is probably a reflection of just how much I've changed over that time; finally, and somewhat belatedly, I've developed a modicum of emotional intelligence and can now enjoy a book which isn't about grand ideas, it's just about people, and about love and loyalty and the intersection between different cultures.

That said, even though I enjoyed Shards of Honour much more for reading it as a character-driven novel rather than one primarily driven by plot, the fact remains that the plot is fairly thin and relies quite a lot on fortuitous coincidence for a happy resolution; it's mainly just an excuse for Cordelia and Aral to meet, have time to get to know each other and fall in love (surprisingly quickly, for people who met as enemies, though on Aral's side this seems to be largely due to his cultural background and lack of experience, while I think Cordelia's initial attraction develops into something more during the months between their first and second meetings, knowing that Aral has already offered her marriage and the children no man she's met on her home world has), be parted and meet again. The second book, Barrayar, is much plottier, combining political intrigue with comedy of manners and showing the development of Cordelia and Aral's relationship, their relationships with others around them, and Cordelia's interactions with Barrayaran society (a process of adjustment on both sides).

I'm glad I decided to give Bujold another try; I often do find that if I don't get on with a book or an author the first time, I will at another time, and this time I was obviously ready to appreciate her.
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I've seen quite a lot of mentions of Kerry Greenwood's series of 1920s-set mysteries starring Phryne Fisher over the years, and was finally propelled into buying the first book after Nine Worlds, where one of my favourite cosplayers was the woman playing Phryne in a series of stunning dresses.

The book is pure fluff; Phryne Fisher is rich, clever, charming and confident, and solves crimes (aided by her maid, a couple of Communist taxi-drivers and a rather wonderful Scottish woman doctor) while changing her outfit multiple times a day, taking an awful lot of baths and making everyone fall in love with her. I thought at first that it was going to be too fluffy for me, and the plot is certainly fairly thin, if dramatic, but it grew on me, and I liked the strongly feminist slant; apart from the woman doctor, one of the sub-plots concerns a backstreet abortionist who is exploiting desperate women, and Phryne is an independent, sexually confident woman who is fully aware that she lives in a society where that isn't normally accepted. I don't feel compelled to rush out and buy all the subsequent books, but I wouldn't rule out reading at least a couple more sometime.
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I bought my copy of Margaret Atwood's The Blind Asssassin just after we moved to Oxford, in early 2001, but then I never got round to reading it; there were always other books, and for a long time I read so little, and so slowly, that I was daunted by the prospect of embarking on a book of more than 600 pages. Happily, these days I'm reading more and faster, and long books are no longer offputting, and as I'm going to see Atwood speaking at the Sheldonian in November I thought I ought to try to catch up on her back catalogue.

The Blind Assassin is an intriguing, multi-layered novel. The main narrative is reminiscent of a family saga, set in smalltown Canada in the 1920s and 30s, as Iris Chase Griffen, now in her 80s, remembers her childhood and early adulthood and her relationship with her sister Laura. We learn two things about Laura at the start of the novel: that she killed herself just after the end of World War II, and that she is the author of a celebrated posthumous novel, The Blind Assassin, and this novel, the story of a love affair between two nameless characters, is woven alongside Iris's narrative, a novel within the novel. There's also a third narrative, as the man in Laura's novel is a writer of pulp SF and spins out a story, or several stories which sometimes intersect, across their many meetings, and a running commentary of newspaper stories. Atwood is a skilful enough storyteller to let the multiple narratives twine around each other, occasionally intersecting, creating a space between them which coalesces into the shapes of the secrets which have been hidden for half a century and which only Iris is left to remember.

It's not a happy book; it's full of loss and heartbreak and empty, unfulfilled lives, but it is beautifully written and vivid and made me stop and think about what being alive really means, and it reminded me (if I needed reminding) just why it is that Atwood is one of my favourite writers. She doesn't deal in comfort, but she always captures the truth.
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The Baba Yaga is described as being the third book in the Weird Space series, which was created by Eric Brown and then passed over to Una McCormack, who wrote this book and the soon-to-be-released sequel. I haven't read the two books Brown wrote, but I didn't really feel that it mattered, as the opening chapters gave enough background that I didn't feel I was missing anything.

The novel is set sometime in the distant future, when humanity has recently made a fragile peace with the alien Vetch, largely in response to a new threat from the Weird, strange alien beings from another dimension whose encounters with humans and the Vetch to date have been catastrophic. This isn't a utopian Star Trek future; old enmities and suspicions are hard to put aside in the face of new threats, and humanity is split on whether to try to destroy the Weird before it destroys them or to find some way of negotiating a peace. The central character, intelligence analyst Delia Walker, is on the side of negotiations, and has heard rumours of a distant planet where humans and Weird live in harmony. Forced out by the hawkish ascendency in the Intelligence Bureau, she sets off in search of this world, which may well just be a myth.

Part space-opera quest, part Spooks-style thriller, the real delight of this book is in the characters, who are complex and three-dimensional and sympathetic while not always being likeable. Also, almost all of them are women, and reading an SF novel full of well-drawn, non-token female characters was an utter and unexpected joy. And that was before I got to the part where McCormack creates a society which is basically a 1970s feminist utopia brought into a 2010s novel.

Although you don't have to have read the previous novels set in the same universe to understand this one, the ending is very obviously setting up the sequel and although some of the sub-threads are tied off the wider plot is very far from being resolved. Apart from that, the only slight quibble I have with it is that the Kindle edition could have benefitted from more thorough copy-editing, as there were a lot of small errors, particularly missing words or moments where part of a sentence had obviously been rewritten but some of the grammar of the surrounding text needed to be updated to match. But overall, I loved this book, and am really looking forward to the sequel.

(Disclaimer: Una McCormack is an online friend, and I might well not have bought the book in the first place if not for wanting to support her. I'm really glad I did, though, and I'll be buying the next one because I want to read it.)
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Ursula Le Guin's A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else is one of the books that got me through my teens, and although I hadn't read it for years before finding a copy in the second-hand bookshop in Stratford last week I've often thought about it. Unlike most of Le Guin's work, it's not SF; instead, it's a fairly simple story about two geeky contemporary teenagers. It's also less than 100 pages long, which I hadn't remembered, but even so it's probably the truest depiction I've ever come across of what it's like to be a thoughtful teenage loner, trying to learn how to do the human act and work out what the point of all the years stretching ahead of you are. It's also one of the very few books I encountered in my teens that touched on the subject of depression (the other one is Fire and Hemlock); it doesn't refer to it by name, but when I first read the narrator's description of the mental fog that descends on him I knew that he was feeling the same way I was, and I didn't feel quite so alone any more.

Thirty years later, I still found it beautiful and moving and insightful; it was good to be reminded of some of the things it taught me about living but which I'd half forgotten over the years.

(Interestingly, I think the UK edition must have been anglicised in a way I don't think happens so much now; there are references to "maths" and "primary school" and a few other things that now strike me as incongruous in an American book.)
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The second of Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo books takes her hero (now definitely Nicholas, rather than Claes, and leader rather than apprentice) on a trading mission to Trebizond in 1461. Having looked up Trebizond when I read The Towers of Trebizond, I knew from the start that this wasn't likely to be an entirely uneventful trip, as indeed it wasn't, featuring Dunnett's trademark twisting plots; sequences that had me turning the pages, unable to put the book down until I found out how Nicholas and his comrades would get out of the latest tight spot; and other sequences where her hero's dazzling audacity pulls off feats that are simultaneously amazing and hilarious. I think I must be getting used to Dunnett, though, as while I couldn't have begun to guess at how most of the plot twists would unravel, there is one unwelcome final turn I saw coming a long way off.

Having started to unravel the enigma that is Nicholas in the first book, this one gave a bit more insight into his own thought processes. Certainly more than we ever get of Lymond, though I do love the way the Lymond Chronicles pretty much never show scenes from Lymond's point of view; saying that, I'm not sure how trustworthy Nicholas is as a viewpoint character. Several supporting characters also return and are further developed, and I felt that the cast of this series were really starting to come alive. Also, it reminded me how much I love Dunnett's women, who manage to be tough and independent while never feeling as though they are modern characters dressed up in historical costumes.

I'm definitely warming to the series after being a bit lukewarm on the first book, and look forward to moving on to the next one soon.


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September 2017

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