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  #661  
Old 04 August 2015, 09:36 PM
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In July, I finally finished Maurice Druon's Cursed Kings series - the last two were The Lily & The Lion (trans. Humphrey Hare) and The King Without a Kingdom (trans. Andrew Simpkin). There's a split in the series between those two - they were originally published 17 years apart (1960 and 1977), and this is the first time that The King Without a Kingdom has been published in English. That's why it has a different translator.

I've mentioned that George R R Martin wrote a foreword to the series explaining how it influenced A Song of Ice and Fire. The Lily & The Lion is another in which the influence is obvious - the main viewpoint character dies arbitrarily in a pointless skirmish at the end, just as everything is going well for him and his schemes are building to a climax.

The difference is that Druon is writing historical novels, and this event was decided for him by history rather than choice. He seems to have been rather fed up by it and basically says he can't be bothered to carry on now, ends the plot, skips 11 years and writes an afterword which is a separate story based on an event from earlier in the series.

The separate story is also historical in the sense that somebody claiming to be the legitimate French king, who had been substituted at birth with a baby who died, did in fact turn up in Italy in the mid-14th Century and spend a few years travelling Europe and trying to persuade people of his cause, with varying success. Druon chooses to take his claim as the truth, when in reality it would have been very unlikely to have been true. It's a better story this way, though, and it makes no difference to the outcome.

The King Without a Kingdom skips back closer to the end of the original story, but is written in a very different style - instead of a neutral narrator following the most relevant characters without much editorial voice, it's narrated in the first person by the Cardinal of Périgord as he travels to an audience with the Holy Roman Emperor. (The Cardinal of Périgord is Talleyrand, although not the famous Talleyrand from Napoleonic times - an ancestor of his). It's all the Cardinal's telling of the story to an audience of people who are supposedly dropping in and out of his palanquin. I didn't get on so well with the style - the translator also seemed to have a more consciously modern and Anglicized style as well, using "John" instead of "Jean" for the French king, for example. That was confusing since I'm still reading about the Magna Carta and had to keep remembering that it wasn't the same John. The narration made the story seem a little oblique and distant, but I still enjoyed it. This one had an historical equivalent of the Red Wedding in it, although it wasn't actually a wedding. (You could probably find lots of historical equivalents if you tried - one of George Mackay Brown's books, Vinland, has another similar event that happened in Orkney around about the 11th century).

I read Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. I had been a bit disappointed by Broken Homes but this one picked up again and I think is one of the best in the series. It's set outside London, for a break, and I also enjoyed it because, despite being set in an obscure part of Herefordshire, I know the locations. My aunt and uncle live in Luston (mentioned in passing - not to be confused with Lucton, which is nearby and mentioned a few more times). So I've been to Bircher Common, which is central to the plot, as a child on lots of occasions. In the book, it's a dogging hotspot. I don't think dogging had been invented back when I knew it. Everybody was still swinging about their pampas grass back then.

I read a bit more of Canterbury Tales, for the first time in ages - the Shipman, Prioress, and Chaucer's own Sir Topaz, which is interrupted by the Host dissing him in an early rap battle.
Quote:
"Myne eres aken of thy drasty speche. Now swich a rym the devel I biteche! ... for pleynly at a word, thy drasty ryming is nat worth a toord!"
Then I read a couple of PG Wodehouse novels from The Jeeves Omnibus 2 - Right Ho, Jeeves, which is the one where everybody ends up engaged to the wrong people, Bertie's plans go wrong, somebody steals something or falls in a pond, and then Jeeves fixes everything by making Bertie look stupid, and Joy in the Morning, which is the one where everybody ends up engaged to the wrong people, Bertie's plans go wrong, somebody steals something or falls in a pond, and then Jeeves fixes everything by making Bertie look stupid.

Currently I'm reading The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. It's three different versions of a romance - I had my own explanation, but then read this review which puts it much better, so I'll just quote:

Quote:
In version one, Eva and Jim meet and fall in love at university in the 1950s; in version two, they just miss one another; and in version three, it all goes horribly wrong.
It's rather good - I think I will get it for my mum for her birthday.

Last edited by Richard W; 04 August 2015 at 09:50 PM. Reason: Various clarifications
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  #662  
Old 17 August 2015, 03:07 AM
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I recently finished Michael J. Sullivan's The Crown Tower, a prequel to his Riyria Revelations series. I enjoyed it, and it was nice to see Gwen's POV since she was off-page a lot in the main series. While this book is series-newbie friendly, I'd be curious as to how they react to Royce, whose attitude is (sort of) mellowed by the time of Riyria Revelations. For the majority of Crown Tower, he's pretty scary. Not evil, but very self-interested and amoral.

I also wrapped up Hard-Luck Diggings, an anthology of early Jack Vance stories. Very fun with a lot of variety, even if most of the stories don't quite reach the quality of Vance's later works. DP! really stood out since it reminded me of the movie District 9. I'm not sure about the title, unless its a callback to the DP pseudonym of H. G. Wells, in which case Vance is referencing the Morlocks from Time Machine.

I'm now about a quarter through Max Gladstone's Two Serpents Rise. This is the second book in his Craft Sequence. It's a second-world urban fantasy where Craftsmen can harness light from the stars, sun and moon to perform godlike feats of power. So a lot of people started a global war and in some places the gods were either killed or thrown out. Two Serpents Rise takes place in an Aztec-like city ruled over by the the King in Red, CEO of Red King Consortium. Since the gods responsible for providing water to a city in a desert have been killed off, RKC is the main water supplier to the city. Oh, and since Craftsmen feed off light, their flesh eventually melts away in some bizarre version of "You are what you eat". So older workers of the Craft like the King in Red are immortal skeletons, ruling over the world's equivalent of high-powered law firms and sprawling multinational corporations. The currency of choice is the hardest of hard specie, soulstuff. So you can hire a necromantic lawyer from the firm Kelethras, Albrecht and Ao to look over your triplicate-signed contract in blood, Kathic and cuneiform, and for her billable hours, you will hand over part of your soul.
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  #663  
Old 17 August 2015, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Cure the Blues View Post
I also wrapped up Hard-Luck Diggings, an anthology of early Jack Vance stories. Very fun with a lot of variety, even if most of the stories don't quite reach the quality of Vance's later works. DP! really stood out since it reminded me of the movie District 9. I'm not sure about the title, unless its a callback to the DP pseudonym of H. G. Wells, in which case Vance is referencing the Morlocks from Time Machine.
Is "DP!" the one where humanoids start pouring out of caves, turns out they've been living on fungus and are being driven out by rising lava; the ones that survive surface conditions are in camps and no one really knows what to do with them? If so, "DP" stands for "displaced person", and it's commentary on how real-life displaced persons can genuinely be victims and yet ignored/despised by populations that, ultimately, just don't want to deal with them (think, contemporarily, of the Katrina DPs).
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  #664  
Old 17 August 2015, 02:56 PM
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My oldest is reading Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist for 9th grade summer reading, so I figured I'd read it as well. Entertaining YA fantasy, with a lot of familiar tropes but some neat original ideas as well. I had given up on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series some time ago, but maybe I'll check out what Sanderson did to finish the series.
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  #665  
Old 19 August 2015, 01:41 AM
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Is "DP!" the one where humanoids start pouring out of caves, turns out they've been living on fungus and are being driven out by rising lava; the ones that survive surface conditions are in camps and no one really knows what to do with them? If so, "DP" stands for "displaced person", and it's commentary on how real-life displaced persons can genuinely be victims and yet ignored/despised by populations that, ultimately, just don't want to deal with them (think, contemporarily, of the Katrina DPs).
Yes, that's the one. Lots of "I won't take them. Let country X have them. They have plenty of room/money/etc." All the while the humanitarian aide workers helping the troglodytes become severely demoralized as sickness sweeps through the camps. And since the troglodytes came out in Austria not long after WW2, the Neo-Nazis wanted them exterminated. Displaced persons makes a lot more sense than what my poor Google-fu dredged up.
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Originally Posted by musicgeek View Post
My oldest is reading Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist for 9th grade summer reading, so I figured I'd read it as well. Entertaining YA fantasy, with a lot of familiar tropes but some neat original ideas as well. I had given up on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series some time ago, but maybe I'll check out what Sanderson did to finish the series.
Sanderson's one of my favorite fantasy authors and he comes across as a really nice guy on the Writing Excuses podcast. His Steelheart YA superhero series is also pretty good, as is the standalone book Elantris. Plus he's a writing machine who easily puts out at least 2 books a year, not counting various novellas and short stories. He just finished the Steelheart trilogy a few months back and book 2 was only released in January.
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  #666  
Old 19 August 2015, 12:33 PM
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I finished Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault by John Dvorak. It's very interesting.

I'm reading a book on dinosaur ichnology and also Tom Standage's A History of the World in Six Glasses.
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  #667  
Old 05 September 2015, 10:09 PM
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According to my list, I read loads in August, but I seem to have either mentioned them all already, or they're not "full" books...

I read the last book in the Jeeves Omnibus 2, Carry On, Jeeves, which is short stories. I read a book about shadows in art by EH Gombrich, Shadows: The Depiction of Cast Shadows in Western Art, which was originally an exhibition catalogue that's been re-issued in a nice illustrated hardback. I read a book of David Shrigley cartoons, and finished the Magna Carta commentary.

I read All the Tea in China by Kyril Bonfiglioli, the cover of which implies it's going to be similar to his Charlie Mortdecai books (it even says, "A Mortdecai Book" at the bottom). I knew it was about an ancestor rather than the same character, but other than that, was expecting something similar. It's really quite different, though. I thought it was probably his best. It's about a Dutch pottery seller who goes on a voyage to China to pick up new stock - but less dull than that sounds. I guess it's still in a similar vein to the others, but not really even the same style; the implication that the narrator is the ancestor of Charlie Mortdecai isn't at all important to the book. It's only implied in an aside at the end, which is almost an in-joke or a passing reference for fans. It was a good book, but it would still be a good book without the cover having to try so hard to tie it to his other series. It might appeal to people who like Patrick O'Brien, perhaps.

I also read Somme by Lyn MacDonald, which is about the Battle of the Somme, based on eyewitness testimony from when there were still veterans around who remembered it. It's grim but readable.

Currently I'm reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, which will take a few months I think, and China Miéville's new book of short stories, Three Moments of an Explosion.
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  #668  
Old 01 October 2015, 06:17 PM
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Also in September I read The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett. It was a lot better than Raising Steam - perhaps he rushed that one because he knew he didn't have much time to get to this, and he obviously thought this would be a good final book. I'm glad he went out on a relative high note. There's a note from the editor saying that Pratchett would probably have filled in more parts in the middle if there had been time - there's not really enough about the elvish invasion to build up a proper sense of peril before the ending - but it's a finished book, more so than Raising Steam I think, and up to standard.

I read the first volume of collected Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman. My brother gave me the first four for my birthday because I'd never read them. Pretty good.

And I read a book of short stories by Stella Gibbons, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm. If you like Stella Gibbons because of Cold Comfort Farm (which is great) I'd recommend that you don't read this! There are a couple of reasonable stories - I liked the one about the party, Tame Wild Party - but most of them are very much "of their time" and the general theme is that women are just getting enough freedom to discover that, after all, what they really want from life is a man, a baby and the occasional good hard slap from their alcoholic partner to sort them out...

I'm still reading Les Misérables - a bit more than half-way, and it's a lot more readable than I thought it was going to be. And I'm reading a book about King Oswald of Northumbria, called The King in the North by Max Adams. It's rather interesting. Apparently he's the guy that Aragorn in Lord of the Rings was based on. I don't know early seventh-century history that well, and what I do know tends to be from a southern Anglo-Saxon perspective, whereas although Oswald is Anglo-Saxon, this is up north and there are still British kingdoms like Strathclyde or Rheged and Scottish ones like Dal Riata involved. Northumbria as it was under Oswald is a unification of Deira, Bernicia and Elmet. A lot of this is new to me, so I am enjoying it.
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  #669  
Old 01 October 2015, 06:26 PM
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I just read "Smoke gets in your eyes - other lessons from the crematory", by Caitlin Doughty.

Not as gruesome as one might expect. Yes there's some gore, but it's presented politely and accurately.

It's essentially the story of a mildly death/morbid-obsessed young woman who becomes a mortician/crematorium operator and her struggles in life.

Worth a read. It's a quick one, about 250 pages.

OY
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  #670  
Old 01 October 2015, 06:44 PM
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I'm also reading Sheperd's Crown.

It must be a very dusty book, because I've found myself tearing up reading some of the early chapters.
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  #671  
Old 01 October 2015, 07:49 PM
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I'm also reading Sheperd's Crown.

It must be a very dusty book, because I've found myself tearing up reading some of the early chapters.
Same here. My wife and some friends walked in and were quite concerned about why I was crying, then I held up the book and they got it. It is good to have people who get that, and will probably end up crying themselves as soon as I finish the book and they can start.

Richard, I agree with you about it and Raising Steam. This one, he seemed to know it was his goodbye and he was making it a good one.
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  #672  
Old 01 October 2015, 08:34 PM
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I'm reading Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. Fifty pages' worth of action jam-packed into 650 pages. The rest is mostly taken up by anti-Catholic diatribes.
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  #673  
Old 23 October 2015, 06:10 PM
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I'm about halfway through The Shepherd's Crown. It... is difficult to put down, though I suspected some of the early events when I first cracked the book. I strongly suspect this will be a much better farewell to Mr. Pratchett and his world than Raising Steam was.

I finished Saturn Run, by John Sandford and Ctein. WOW! I daresay anyone who enjoyed the Martian - book or movie - would likely enjoy this book. Thick, but very fast-paced, not a wasted word, memorable characters, excellent plot. Hard SF by a non-SF writer. Very muchly recommended.
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  #674  
Old 23 October 2015, 11:37 PM
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I saw a movie preview for "Room" with Brie Larson and it looked fantastic.

I just ordered the book and am really excited.
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  #675  
Old 23 October 2015, 11:54 PM
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"Room" is super good! In my opinion, of course. I don't know if I'll be watching the movie, but the book is riveting.
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  #676  
Old 01 November 2015, 03:17 PM
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Most of October I was finishing books that I've already mentioned earlier.

I went on holiday and spent most of my reading time finishing Les Misérables, which I really enjoyed. Some of Hugo's digressions about social matters still seem very relevant, too:

Quote:
The real question is, can work be the law without also being a right?
(From Part IV, Book Seven, Chapter 4). That sums up the whole "worker versus shirker" question that's very much still a thing in UK politics - how can you insist that people don't deserve a life without work, unless you can also realistically provide them with useful work that they're able to do?

New books I read include volume 2 of the collected Sandman comics (still very good), plus:

Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes (trans. Jamie Bulloch). Hitler wakes up with a headache and covered in petrol on a piece of waste ground in Berlin in 2011. It's narrated in the first person by Hitler, and it's very funny.

I thought it started well but unfortunately once the premise is established (Hitler gets a TV show as a Hitler impersonator) it doesn't really go anywhere - it satirises media and celebrity, and reminds us that Hitler was apparently a very charismatic individual who said a lot of things that appealed to the populace at the time - but Vermes doesn't go all that far into the idea of people starting to genuinely follow him again, as opposed to "ironically" doing so. It does show how a lot of Hitler's ideas are still pretty popular now as "saying what needs to be said," even to the extent that the reader will probably agree with him in some cases, but never goes all the way into his darker ideas. A lot of the humour relies on bathos - or the reverse of bathos, whatever that is - where Hitler rants about a couple of minor modern-day annoyances and then chucks in the annexation of the Sudetenland as a third example, or whatever.

So, it's definitely worth reading, but didn't go quite as far as it might have (or couldn't, in the context of this sort of comic novel). The best bit was probably Hitler going to visit the offices of the small far-right party that presents itself as his successors, and berates them for completely failing to live up to his ideals, while they try to weasel out of it because they don't want to express any of that sort of thing on camera.

I also finally read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Definitely a classic.

Currently I'm reading a book of poetry by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod, just called Poems. I haven't got to Ken MacLeod's yet, and I'm not the best judge of poetry, but I would say that Iain Banks's poems are not that great - a bit over-ambitious in some cases, and not particularly illuminating in others. The poems are in chronological order from the early 1970s (1973) until 1981, so he'd not even had any books published at the time he was writing them, and the ones I've read so far would have been written when he was 19... it kind of shows. They're probably better than I'd have done at that age, but I'd say they're only of interest to completists. Maybe later ones are better.

Also reading Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs To Someone Else by James Meek. It's a critical study of the recent waves of privatisation. I'm not very far into it yet, but as somebody who used to consider myself a centrist and now seems to be hard left without having actually changed my opinions much, I'm certainly sympathetic to the viewpoint.

Last edited by Richard W; 01 November 2015 at 03:22 PM.
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  #677  
Old 01 November 2015, 03:52 PM
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Room was delivered early. I received it on Tuesday afternoon and I had read it by Wednesday evening. Parts were incredibly gripping.

I was frustrated with a lot of the story, but I think that was intentional from the author's viewpoint. The 5 year old narrator, with his extremely limited frame of reference really contributed to the claustrophobia of the beginning of the book, and it was frustrating that he was happy with his life, in a way. Of course it's all thanks to his mother, but as the reader knowing so much more is out there, you also want him to feel more independent.

Really good book. I'm hoping that they'll start showing the movie around here, but I haven't seen anywhere it's playing.
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  #678  
Old 01 November 2015, 04:32 PM
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I recently finished reading Welcome to Night Vale, the novel based on the podcast of the same name and written by its creators. It's centered around a few 'side' characters who have only been mentioned once or twice, but also solves a long-running mystery from the central narrative of the podcast itself. I think I would have liked it much better as a standalone story. The plot is interesting, if hard to describe, and it gets the inherent weirdness of Night Vale mostly right (when reviewers say they want to live there, you know they've downplayed the horror too much), but it's sorely lacking without the cadence of Cecil's voice carrying the narrative. And I didn't think it was possible, but apparently you can overplay Cecil's adoration of Carlos.

-Tabby
the princess with claws
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Old 01 November 2015, 04:53 PM
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If I couldn't figure it out any other way I'd know I was feeling stressed out by what I've chosen to read. Lately I've been turning to some old favourites - Elizabeth Cadell and Dorothy L. Sayers. Not a combination that probably makes sense to anyone but me but I find them to be a calming influence right now.
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Old 06 December 2015, 07:22 PM
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In November, I read #3 and #4 of The Sandman, which are the last of those I have. It seems #5 is missing from most bookshops at the moment, although you can get later ones, so I probably won't read the rest for a while, unless I can get round to ordering them on-line. I've liked all I've read so far, anyway.

I finished Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod's poems. Ken MacLeod's were better than Iain Banks's.

I've also read Penguin Lost by Andrey Kurkov (trans. George Bird) - the sequel to Death and the Penguin. Viktor was separated from Misha Penguin at the end of the last book, and spends this book trying to find him in various places and ending up in Chechnya. Kurkov is worth reading; they're fairly light and jokey in style, in translation anyway, but they've got more serious themes and it's always good to read from different perspectives.

I read You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers. This was his first novel and the second of his that I've read, after The Circle. (I've read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius too, and wasn't very convinced by it).

You Shall Know Our Velocity is about a young American guy who has come into some money and doesn't want it, so he decides to travel round the world in a week, visiting poorer countries with his friend and giving cash away to people who need it. They can only spare a week but think it should be feasible in that time. Another friend was recently killed in a car accident and they're trying to get over that, too. So it's basically about how travel is confusing and disorienting and makes you feel out of your depth, interspersed with white liberal guilt. It's better than that makes it sound, though - it sums up some things about modern travel better than any other books I've read.

I read a couple of whodunnits, which (coincidentally) are both by "Tartan Noir" authors, although neither is fully in that genre itself.

Dead Girl Walking by Chris Brookmyre is about a singer who has disappeared after the last night of her band's tour in Berlin. Her bandmates think she went off with a throat infection (or in a huff) and is recovering in private somewhere, but the manager knows she's missing and hires Jack Parlabane to find her without much publicity. I enjoyed it, although I realised that another reason I'd been ambivalent about some of Brookmyre's work isn't just that it was his earlier stuff, it's that I don't like Jack Parlabane as a character. In this one though, Brookmyre does seem to have acknowledged that he's a bit of an arsehole at times, rather than the best person ever at everything, which improves it somewhat. If you can ignore that, the rest of it was good.

The other was Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, which is about a body that's found on a roof in Edinburgh and possibly connected to a string of revenge killings of Serbs for atrocities committed in the Balkan wars of the early 1990s. It had more depth of research than the other books I've read by McDermid, and some nice parts set in Dubrovnik. I enjoyed this too.

Finally (although not actually finally as I didn't actually read these in the order here) I read a volume published by Hesperus as Mrs Lirriper by Charles Dickens, but which is in fact a collection of the 1863 and 1864 All The Year Round Christmas Specials, "Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings" and "Mrs Lirriper's Legacy". Dickens wrote a framing narrative about a character called Mrs Lirriper, who runs a lodging house, and other popular Victorian authors filled in the rest with short stories about the various tenants. Apart from Dickens, I'd only really heard of Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Collins (who is Wilkie Collins's brother).

Anyway, the stories vary quite a bit and are mostly sentimental Victorian light entertainment, complete with villainous French stereotypes and so on. Dickens dials back on the stereotypes in the second one - he was a bit of a Francophile, I think, and he made sure to set part of the second framing narrative in France so he could go on about how it was great after all. On the whole, it's mostly interesting to Dickens completists and people who like Victoriana, but it was fun enough to read.

I'm currently reading A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani, and Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger, who was either the last of the imperialistic Victorian-style travellers, or possibly (as the introduction suggests) the first of the hippy backpackers. Although based on what I've read so far, he's much more of an imperial throwback - hippy backpackers might like living with tribespeople but they probably don't shoot quite so many lions as Thesiger did. (Seventy, during his five years in the Sudan, he tells us).

Last edited by Richard W; 06 December 2015 at 07:28 PM.
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