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I was a bit pathetic at book logging last year, wasn't I? Doubtless I shall be again this year, but I'm going to try to do slightly better and at least get to the end of January before it all goes horribly wrong...

Ben Goldacre is a very angry man, with good reason. In this book he lays out how the pharmaceutical industry has distorted drug research in pursuit of profit, sometimes intentionally, sometimes entirely without malice but with equally devastating effects for patient welfare. This matters because patients are prescribed less effective drugs, or drugs which are outright harmful, at huge financial expense to those paying for the drugs. This isn't a conspiracy theory book; Goldacre is quite clear that many valuable drugs have come out of the industry, and that most of the people who work in it want to make better drugs. He sets out in detail how and why bias is introduced into both research and prescribing practices, putting it in layman's terms but linking to the research papers and court documents that back up what he's saying. He also addresses the failings of the current regulatory system, and proposes ways to improve things -- pointing out that unless real controls with serious financial penalties are put in place, even those companies which genuinely want to reform will be under commercial pressure to continue with bad practice in a race to the bottom.

It's a dense and at times exhausting read. But Goldacre has done a decent job of making the issue accessible to a wide audience with a direct interest, from patients to practising doctors and academics. You can skim a lot of the book to get the general gist, or you can read it in details without following the links, or you can dig into research material he drew on and has laid out in meticulous footnotes and citations. He concludes the original edition with practical suggestions about what individual people can do to improve things, often simply by asking questions.

I read the second edition, which has a "what happened next" chapter about the reaction to the first edition. As he had predicted, there was a backlash in an attempt to discredit him -- but there was also a lot of covert feedback from industry personnel acknowledging the problems and considering how to improve things. While there's always a "the lurkers support me in email" issue with uncredited sources, he does also offer some examples of companies which have publicly moved to improve transparency.

Bad Pharma is an angry but rational examination of a real problem that affects millions of people, including almost anyone reading this review. It's a worthwhile read, even if it makes for uncomfortable reading for patients, doctors and companies alike.

Kobo
Amazon US
Amazon UK
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This new biography of Turing is short, the length of a long article or essay rather than a full book. If you want a detailed exploration of the life and work of Turing, you'll have to look elsewhere, but this is a good overview that's well worth reading. It's well balanced on coverage of his personal life, his work at Bletchley Park, and his academic work, tying them all together so you can see how one element affects the others. It also brings the story up to date as I write this, having been prompted by the campaign for a posthumous pardon, and there's some interesting material about that which won't be in the older biographies.

It's well written and edited, solidly grounded in known facts but enhanced by the author's clearly marked interpretation of some of those facts to make it more than a dry recital, and I found it a very enjoyable read. If you're looking for something a little more in-depth than the online articles without diving into the full length works, this is an excellent introduction to Turing. I think it will also serve well as a synopsis volume for those who want an outline in addition to the full length studies.

The Kindle Single is currently priced at 99p, and excellent value for money at that price, even if a significant chunk of the stated page count is a preview of another book by the author. It's also available in a paper edition, although I'm not convinced that most readers would find it value for money unless they're die-hard completists, unable to use Kindle format ebooks, or looking for a gift for a Turing fan. There's also an audiobook version.

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon UK
Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon US
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Which tells you how good I've been at keeping up to date on my book log... I really need to spend some time over the break to at least list the books what I have read, even if I'm not going to manage comments on most of them. Alas, I forgot to pack my ergonomic keyboard, so not a huge amount of typing is going to get done before I get home. The new computer's keyboard is nowhere near as good a temporary stopgap as the ThinkPad's was, and I really need to find out how to temporarily turn off the touchpad.
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Remember that I mentioned I was reading a feminist historical romance series that a lot of you would enjoy? Well, I finished it earlier this week. And this is me, Kermit-flailing about The Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan. I did very nearly Kermit-flail IRL on the bus when I opened up one of the later books in the series to find it dedicated to, amongst others, Rosalind Franklin.

Even better, I went to Courtney Milan's website to pick up links for the books, and found a blogpost saying that the first full length novel in the series, The Duchess War, is free over the holiday season. (Except on Amazon at the moment, because Amazon will not let publishers set the price to free unless publishers remove the book from all other outlets.) Go and get it - there are links in that post to the various retailers where you can pick it up for free. There is a prequel novella, "The Governess Affair", which I read first, but I don't think you need to have read that for this one to make sense.

I will write reviews of the individual books, I promise, but for now I wanted to get the link to offer on The Duchess War out there.

ETA: And since I started writing the post, Amazon UK have price-matched, and it's free there as well: The Duchess War (The Brothers Sinister Book Book 1)
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This isn't a review. It's just a note that over the last three days I have read Chaz Brenchley's new novel "Being Small" and that it is very good. And furthermore, that I may not be able to review it properly, at least not for those who come to it knowing nothing about Chaz himself. Usually I make a note to say that Chaz is a friend, merely to indicate that yes I may be biased. Here it matters for quite a different reason that I know something about the author. For I was reading it with an eerie double vision, both the words on the page before me, and the words I have seen Chaz write elsewhere.

This is fiction, not a memoir. Yet there are things in it that are taken very much from real life, even if melted and twisted and hammered and tempered in the way that a writer does; and not all of them are obvious. The obvious is Quin, because Chaz has written about Quin's dying before, and more than once. The less obvious is... well, there's a scene where the two boys go to a shop. There's a two for one offer. And I knew before it was stated what that two for one offer was for, and what the boys would do with it. My blood ran cold, not because of anything in the book, but because of the ore that scene was smelted from. A handful of words Chaz has written here and there, and some of them too damn close to home for me. There are the words on the page, and then there are the words elsewhere, laying a hazy film atop the page; a gossamer veil that I can see all too clearly, and yet not show to those who cannot already see it for themselves.

We each of us have our own reading of a book. This one is mine.
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As previously noted, the book log is woefully out of date. However, I want to try and write up this year's Hugo Voting Packet while it is still of some use to other people (and indeed me, for purposes of doing my ballot), so I'm skipping straight to this month instead of trying to keep it in order. Here are the three short story nominations I've read so far (if it wasn't in epub, it didn't go on the Kobo):

35) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. The water of the title falls on anyone who lies -- the less truthful what is said, the harder and colder the water falls. It's possible to avoid the water by being careful with your phrasing, but that just makes it obvious that you're being economical with the truth. What does it do to relationships, for both good and ill, when it becomes impossible to lie convincingly? Beautifully written character-driven short.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/02/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere
Amazon uk
Amazon US

(DRM-free)

36) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. Wishes for the year are sent floating down a Thai river, and it's one village's duty and privilege to gather the wishes up and grant them, in exchange for the money and gifts attached to the wishes. It's a situation that's ripe for exploitation, but all the lives around the river are connected, and wishes can be granted in surprising ways. It's a fun concept and there's some nice writing in it, but the story didn't quite gel for me.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/04/the-ink-readers-of-doi-saket

(DRM-free)

37) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. First person narrative by a young woman who has good reason to believe that selkie stories are for losers. It's difficult to say much about it without spoilers. I liked it but thought it took time to get going.

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130107/selkie-f.shtml
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I read four of the novellas on the 2013 Hugo ballot. Two of them in particular I think are worth explicitly recommending: Aliette de Bodard''s "On a Red Station, Drifting", and Brandon Sanderson's "The Emperor's Soul".

Read more... )
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Back to the ever more neglected book log. I'm going to do July 2013 in several parts, because there are a lot of titles, some of which I did or can say something sensible about, and some of which I left too late.

July was Hugo Voting Packet month. I chugged my way through an awful lot of words that were up for a Hugo, and logged the short stories at the time.

Read more... )
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Roman Senator Marcus Brutus is a patriot, devoted to the Republic. Many of his days are spent actively working for the Republic, protecting the system he believes in. His main respite is the occasional trip to his country villa in the company of his dearest friend, and lover, Cassius. But his tireless work may not be enough, not when the consul Julius Caesar is taking more and more power to himself. When Cassius first proposes a drastic solution, Brutus rejects the idea, but as the months go by, it becomes ever more obvious that given enough time, Caesar will overthrow the Republic and make himself emperor.

I bought this because I love Sam's fanfic, and expected him to do a good job of original fiction drawing on historical fact. I wasn't disappointed. This is one of those novels where I think it can be enjoyed both by readers who know nothing about the historical characters, and by readers familiar with the historical story, or with Shakespeare's play. There's a solid story here that fleshes out the basic facts and brings Brutus to life as a real person, a decent, honorable man faced with a choice between evils. His decision is not a simple one, and is made over the course of months, as more and more evidence accumulates of what Rome's future could be if Caesar is not reined in.

And it's not just Brutus who's brought to life here. There's a good exploration of Cassius and his motives. In addition, there's a brief but lovely portrait of Brutus's wife Porcia, and a marriage that is a loving partnership and friendship, not just a useful front for a gay man. Along with the historical characters, there's original character Tiresius, a teenage runaway taken on by Brutus as a horseboy. Tiresius has secrets to hide, but as Brutus discovers more about the boy's troubled relationship with his father, it provides him with insight into his own troubled relationship with Caesar, a man who may or may not be his biological father. The interactions between the characters create a rich portrait of a situation where there is no easy right and wrong.

One of the problems with writing historical fiction is that historical people could have very different moral values and beliefs, often ones that don't sit well with a modern reader. In trying to make a lead character synpathetic, it's easy to slip into the trap of turning him or her into a twenty-first century person in fancy dress. This book does a superb job of presenting the characters in their proper context, with believable explanations for their attitudes and beliefs about various issues.

It's not a romance, because it follows Marcus Brutus and his relationships with Cassius and others in the months leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar, and anyone who's familiar with either the history or Shakespeare's play will know that Things Do Not End Well for the conspirators. But well researched as far as I can tell, beautifully written, and I'd recommend it to someone looking for historical fiction with an LGBT theme.

http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/city-war
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

minor spoiler )
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I have not abandoned the book log for last year, but I'm going to get caught up with this month's while I can still remember them.


Cthulhu Christmas-themed novelette set in the Laundryverse, a couple of books into the series timeline. There's just about enough backstory that I think someone completely new to the Laundryverse could enjoy this, but you'll get a lot more fun out of it if you already know at least a little about the world it's set in.

Bob Howard works for a branch of the British secret service which is devoted to putting off for as long as possible the forthcoming invasion of our universe by the eldritch horrors from beyond time and space. Except it's still the civil service, with all that implies about audit trails and HR...

Being confined to a hospital bed by your last field assignment is no excuse for not putting in your annual leave request on time, so Bob's left minding the office phone over Christmas as Duty Officer. The upside is triple pay. The downside -- sometimes you have to earn that triple pay. It's Christmas Eve, and the Bringer of Gifts will be visiting all the boys and girls, even the ones at work. And especially the ones who work in the Laundry.

Lovely satire of the office Christmas party and life in the civil service under austerity measures, with a large helping of geeky jokes, and good fun to read. It was a Hugo nominee for good reason.

Originally published and still available as a free read at Tor.com, but also now available formatted as a cheap DRM-free ebook.

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kobo, Tor.com
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Onward with the book log... Again pretty skimpy, but check out (30) because it's good and it's in the BVC 50% off sale until 6th Jan.

26) Ian Rankin -- The Flood
Picked this one up, and put it down again within a few pages -- not because I thought it was poorly written, but because I discovered that I really wasn't in the mood to read this style of story. I'll probably give it another go at some point.

27) Agatha Christie -- A Pocket Full of Rye
Re-read of Miss Marple novel, previously reviewed here: http://www.librarything.com/work/29788/reviews/71474847

28) James Blish - Jack of Eagles
"Oh, look, SFGateway is republishing books I haven't read in years!" It has some issues seen through 21st century eyes, but is still a worthwhile exploration of psi powers.
http://www.librarything.com/work/199007
http://www.sfgateway.com/books/j/jack-of-eagles/

29) Francis Durbridge -- Tim Fraser Again (audiobook)
Another case for engineer turned secret agent Tim Frazer, definitely of its time but a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Unabridged on 2 CDs and read by Anthony Head. There are some good detailed reviews on Amazon UK. It's available on Amazon US, but might actually be cheaper to order from the UK at the moment.

30) Chris Dolley -- Reggiecide

(Note: I received a free review copy of this through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.) An entertaining steampunk pastiche of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories. It's one of a series of shortish stories about gentleman private detective and silly ass Reggie Worcester, his automaton valet Reeves, and his fiancee Emmeline, In this one, the chaps have to investigate the disappearance of Guy Fawkes, who has been revived as a Promethean by one of his descendants. Alas, Fawkes has but one thought left in his head... I found that it worked well even though I hadn't read the earlier stories. Good fun if you like speculative fiction and Wodehouse.

It's also in the BVC sale - 50% off until 6 January... http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/reggiecide/

31) Margery Allingham -- Police at the funeral (audiobook)
Re-listen of an Albert Campion abridged audiobook.

32) Nisi Shawl (Editor) -- Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars
Limited edition fundraiser anthology from Book View Cafe, which is superb and deserves a proper review when I've re-read it. No longer available, alas.
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20) Alexander McCall -- In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Sixth in the series about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The usual collection of small and large puzzles for the ladies to solve, and two new characters for the series. Mma Ramotswe knocks a gentleman off his bike, and thereby gains a new staff member for the joint premises of the detective agency and the garage. Mma Makutsi joins a dance class and thus acquires a new friend. As ever with this series, gentle humour and believable domestic mysteries make this a pleasure to read.
http://www.librarything.com/work/20047

21) Sayers -- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (audiobook)
Superb BBC full cast dramatisation, with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. If you're a Sayers fan, this radio dramatisation is well worth getting.
http://www.librarything.com/work/10709447
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

22) Georgette Heyer -- Venetia
One of Heyer's Regencies. There are several excellent reviews on LibraryThing, so I will merely say that I adored it.
http://www.librarything.com/work/16552/

23) Gladys Mitchell -- The Twenty-third man
Another outing for the inestimable Mrs Bradley, this time on holiday to the Canary Islands, and a cave with a somewhat erratic number of mummies of ancient Kings. As usual for this series, enjoyable murder mystery with a fair bit of macabre humour.
http://www.librarything.com/work/1246526

24) Mark Coker -- Secrets to ebook publishing
The head of self-publishing company SmashWords offers some useful advice on self-publishing via ebooks. While it's slanted to using SmashWords, it's wider-ranging than that. It's free to download, and the contents are useful and well-written. Available from SmashWords, obviously, but also on Amazon and presumably other platforms.
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/145431

25) Edward Marston -- The Merry Devils
Second in Marston's mystery series set in an Elizabethan theatre troupe. Enjoyable read.
http://www.librarything.com/work/425601
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14) Oscar Wilde -- The Picture of Dorian Grey
Lots of reviews and critiques out there already, so I'll simply say that I liked it.

15) Gladys Mitchell -- Watson's Choice

28th Mrs Bradley mystery. Mrs Bradley is invited to a weekend country house party thrown to celebrate the Sherlock Holmes anniversary. Naturally, someone provides a real life mystery, complete with a real live Hound of the Baskervilles. The plot wanders a bit, but it's still a lot of fun if you're a Holmes fan. I suspect that it will be less fun if you're not, as the book is stuffed with Holmes references and jokes.

http://www.librarything.com/work/439987
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

16) Mary Stewart -- Stormy Petrel

Romantic suspense set on a remote Scottish Island. the story's fairly simple, and the appeal is in watching the interplay of the characters, and the evocative descriptions of the island and its way of life. It has mixed reviews, and I can see why; but I liked it a lot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/96426
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

17) EM Forster -- Where Angels Fear To Tread

There are plenty of other reviews, so I will only note that I liked part of the novel, but it didn't quite gel for me even though I like this sort of social satire. I don't regret the time spent reading it but am not inclined to re-read. It's out of copyright in some countries, and thus available on public domain sites.

http://www.librarything.com/work/20427

18) Agatha Christie -- Death on the Nile (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. Heiress steals friend's fiancee, friend starts blatantly stalking, even unto the honeymoon cruise on the Nile. Heiress is found murdered, and as the husband points out, the ex-friend has an obvious motive. The one problem is that she couldn't possibly have done it. Nor could any of the other people the heiress has provided with motives. The abridged audiobook has been well edited for the plot, but does by necessity skimp on the character development and social observation. There's also an unabridged audio edition, read by David Suchet, which I've not yet listened to.

http://www.librarything.com/work/29995
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

19) T Baggins -- Fifteen Shades of Gay (for Pay)

Contemporary m/m romance, and yes, the title's riffing off That Book. What it isn't is a rip-off of That Book. It's a thoughtful and well-written look at men coming to terms with their sexuality, seen through the eyes of a young actor who takes on male escort work to pay for his sister's chemotherapy, even though he's straight. The blurb for the book tells you all you need to know about the plot, and there's little point in rehashing it. It's a plot that has the potential to be very cliched, but Baggins shows what a skilled writer can do with the concept, and the book is a joy to read.

It's an m/m romance, so of course the POV character isn't straight after all. But this isn't a gay-for-you story. There's a solidly laid foundation for a character who is in deep denial about his bisexuality, and has good reason to be that way. It's Andrew's story, so we see his character grow and change the most; but there are also good portrayals of men who aren't in denial to themselves, but are closeted to their family and have different ways of coping with that. Perhaps it edges over into fairytale territory with how quickly Andrew comes to accept having gay sex without accepting that he's bi, but the story's good enough to carry it.

Be warned that it has the potential to be triggery for readers who've had to deal with cancer. Baggins doesn't dwell on the reality of living with cancer in a loved one, but doesn't gloss over it either -- the one that got me was the comment about neighbours who insist on showing their neighbourliness by just popping in to see how you are even though they're not well themselves, and infectious. But with that one caveat, thoroughly recommended.

http://www.librarything.com/work/13260408
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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Taking advantage of the Christmas break to (very slowly) catch up on the book log. Alas, it's long enough since I read these books that for most of them I can't write anything in depth about them.

10) Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle

Big ebook bundle, previously reviewed.

11) Agatha Christie -- Death in the clouds (audiobook) )
12) Maria Dahvana Headley -- Queen of Kings )
13) Wilkie Collins -- The Woman in White )
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This is an ebook omnibus of some of John Scalzi's work published by Subterranean Press, which was made available for a short period at a very good price as a promotional item. The contents included three very funny short stories, two short pieces from the Old Man's War universe, a novella, and a non-fiction essay collection on writing. They're all still available as individual titles, and I think all worth having, assuming you like Scalzi's writing style.

Fiction:

How I Proposed To My Wife: An Alien Sex Story
Trashy newspapers don't change their methods just because the embassies downtown include the ones from off Earth...
Amazon UK, Amazon US

An Election
An insight into local election time, science fiction style.
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Questions for a Soldier
Amazon UK, Amazon US
The Sagan Diary
Amazon UK, Amazon US
A short story and a novella set in the Old Man's War universe. I think that reading the first book of the series gives enough background knowledge to follow and enjoy these, but The Sagan Diary in particular probably isn't going to work for anyone who hasn't read at least the first novel.

Judge Sn Goes Golfing
Omitted for the first release, and I didn't manage to grab the update before it went off sale, so I've not read this one.
Amazon UK, Amazon US

The Tale of the Wicked
Short story riffing off Asimov's Laws of Robotics.
Amazon UK, Amazon US

The God Engines
A blend of dark fantasy and science fiction, about exactly what the title says. Starship engines that are captured gods, and a universe in which this is reality. This examination of faith and power isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but if you do like it, you'll like it a lot.
http://www.librarything.com/work/8343179, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Non-Fiction

You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop

Collection of essays, mainly from Scalzi's blog, about writing as a business. I'd read many of these when they first appeared, but I'd have still been happy to pay full price for this ebook. Scalzi has selected and arranged the essays in a coherent order, often with notes updating the older essays and putting them in context. The essays span a decade, and some of the early information about writing as a career is now largely of historical interest, but that historical interest is useful in understanding what has happened to writing as a business during the rise of the internet.

Scalzi has spent his adult life earning his living through writing, intially non-fiction but latterly adding fiction. He's a great believer in teaching other writers the financial knowledge they need to manage their writing as a self-employed small business, and this collection is very much focused on writing as a business, not an art. It's entertaining in its own right as a species of memoir, but it's also full of practical information for writers.

http://www.librarything.com/work/2332168, Amazon UK, Amazon US
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Rather than doing my book log in strict chronological order, I'm going to go straight to some recent reads while I can still remember them. I ordered this one a couple of weeks ago on the strength of Stevie Carroll's comment about it last month, and now I wish to share the love.


Back in 1955, the then Duke of Bedford was one of the first members of the aristocracy to open his stately home to the public as a means of raising funds to cover the running costs. He published this book in 1971, ostensibly as a "how to" manual for his (literal) peers who might be considering doing the same.

It is, in fact, packed full of genuine and useful advice for the would-be stately home entrepreneur, or indeed anyone in a service or tourism business. It's also a highly entertaining read for the public at large. The duke was a sharp observer of human behaviour and had a bone-dry sense of humour. He combined this with what reads as a genuine appreciation of and gratitude for his customers, and a delight in sharing his possessions with other people who enjoyed them.

The book was written in collaboration with George Mikes of "How to be an alien" fame. It's hard to tell exactly what blend of ghost-writing, co-writing and editing was going on here, but the duke was certainly capable of writing well on his own account, as he'd had a career as a journalist. It's clear that the general observations and much of the humour came from the duke -- and that the two men shared a wryly funny view of the foibles of the English. The original hardback edition is set off with illustrations by ffolkes, including a rather splendid colour illustration on the dustjacket.

It's a short book, only 125 pages, but it had me smiling on nearly every page, and left me feeling that I would have liked to meet the duke. Very much recommended if you like this sort of book.

It's long since out of print, but readily available online at reading copy price.

hardback at Amazon UK
paperback at Amazon UK
Amazon US
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It's the return of the book log! Not a particularly detailed book log, since it's a long time since February... But here are such thoughts as I can remember about what I read way back then.

5) Gladys Mitchell -- Tom Brown's Body

Another mystery for Mrs Bradley to solve. This one involves the murder of a junior master at a boy's school. Mr Conway was unpopular with both boys and teachers alike, for a variety of reasons. A lot of fun, with some sharp social observation. It was first published in 1949, which has some bearing on one of the minor plot threads. One of the boys is Jewish, and subject to anti-Semitic bullying. He does engage in some stereotypical behaviour, but Mitchell, through her lead character, observes that the behaviour is in response to the bullying and not the other way around. I get the impression from this and other books that Mitchell had a low opinion of racists.

LibraryThing
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US


6) Fiona Glass -- Gleams of a remoter World

LGBT paranormal mystery, where the mystery is long in the past, and the investigator is a ghost hunter. There's a romance sub-plot, but the emphasis here is on the mystery. I can't write a sensible review of this one because I've left it so long, but I stayed up far too late to finish it, and it will be no hardship to read it again at some point in order to review it properly. You can find the blurb and the first chapter on the book's page at at the publisher's website.

Librarything
at amazon UK
at Amazon US


7) Dick Francis - Under Orders

Another entertaining thriller set in the world of horse racing. This one features jockey turned private detective Sid Halley, pursuing leads in the murky world of online betting.

Librarything
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US


8) Mary Stewart -- Thornyhold

Romantic suspense novel from Mary Stewart, published in 1988, but set in the 1940s and 1950s. Young Geillis, known as Jilly has had a quietly miserable childhood, followed by leaving university early to look after her newly widowed father. Her future as a jobless spinster with no savings and no inheritance to speak of might have been bleak after his death, save for her older cousin and namesake leaving her Thornyhold -- Cousin Geillis's woodland cottage.

Jilly finds that her cousin has left her enough money to live on if she's careful, together with all of Thornyhold's contents. Those contents include the still room -- and Cousin Geillis's reputation as a witch. There is nothing but good in that reputation, but Jilly is still drawn into strange occurrences, some of which have an obvious rational explanation but which still leave her unsettled.

She's even more unsettled when she meets a handsome neighbour -- and then life becomes very odd indeed...

Highly enjoyable period romantic suspense, with well-drawn characters and just a touch of magic left even when the explanations are done. Definitely one I'll enjoy re-reading.

Librarything
at Amazon UK
at AmazonUS


9) Agatha Christie -- The Secret Adversary

First of the Tommy and Tuppence books. It's shortly after the end of the Great War, and a pair of bright young things are finding peacetime both rather boring and rather financially restrictive. They decide to advertise themselves as "The young Adventurers", in the hope of finding a job. There follow many adventures in pursuit of a missing document, served with a large helping of fun and an even larger helping of red herrings. The politics are somewhat eyebrow-raising, but a reflection of the time when the book was written. I didn't find this as appealing as the Marple and Poirot stories, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours. It's still in print, but also now out of copyright in some countries and thus available on various public domain sites.

LibararyThing
at Amazon UK
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Busy trying to catch up with the sorely neglected book log. Here are my brief notes on January's books. I know I read more than these, but I didn't jot down notes at the time and have lost track.

1) Agatha Christie -- Five Little Pigs

A young woman approaches Poirot for help in solving an old murder -- that of her father by her mother. Amyas Crayle was a superb artist, and a womaniser who routinely slept with his models for inspiration. Caroline Crayle rowed with him about it, but tolerated it because she knew that they were passing infatuations -- until the one who wasn't. Amyas died of poison, and Caroline died in prison.

Carla Crayle is quite certain that her mother was innocent, and wishes to both clear her mother's name and unmask the real killer. Sixteen years after the killing, there is no evidence left save the memories and journals of the five people who might also have committed the murder. Hercule Poirot must use his deep understanding of psychology to weigh the different stories against each other, and hunt out the clues in the contradictions.

The plot itself is intriguing, but the highlight of this book is the distinct and individual voices Christie gives to each of the five little pigs in their narratives. Blustering, dishonest, self-serving, self-deceptive, or merely subject to the passage of time -- each memory, and how it is presented to Poirot, is different. And the very attempt to present the facts in the way the teller wants Poirot to hear them exposes each pig's inner secrets... Superbly constructed, and great fun to read.

2) Agatha Christie -- The Sittaford Mystery

A standalone without any of Christie's regular characters.

There's not a lot to do in the tiny village of Sittaford on a snowy afternoon, which is why a tea party amuses itself with a seance. The fun turns sour when a spirit announces that an absent friend of one of the party has just been murdered. Major Burnaby is sufficiently concerned that he sets out in what has become a blizzard to walk to his friend's house in the next village.

Captain Trevalyin was a wealthy man, and the obvious suspect is his nephew James Pearson, who was actually in the village at the time in search of a loan from his uncle. But young Pearson's fiancee refuses to accept that he is a murderer, and sets about tracking down the real killer.

Enjoyable mystery, with plenty of plausible red herrings, and a good lead character in the form of Emily Trefusis.

3) Robert Sheckley -- The Status Civilistation

Short novel from the master of satirical science fiction. Will Barrent awakes to find himself with no memory, and a one way ticket to a penal planet where the inhabitants are mindwiped and then left to do as they please. The society created over generations is one in which committing crime is a social good, and the only way of advancing in society -- or indeed, staying alive. Barrent has no memory of his crime, and no desire to commit further crimes; but to find out how and why he was sentenced to life and death on Omega, he will have to stay alive long enough to find a way back to Earth.

4) Rudyard Kipling -- The man who would be king

Kipling's novelette about two former non-com officers from the British Army in India, who decide to take a crate of rifles and ammo and set themselves up as kings of one of the upcountry statelets in Afghanistan. Beautifully written study of greed and politics, and an excellent adventure story.
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On checking to see where I'd got up to with my neglected book log, it appears that the answer is "have not yet even posted the books read in 2012 summary". Er. Sorry about that, especially those of you who are still awaiting an LTER review I owe on something I read last year. Anyway, I read 103 books last year, at least that I remembered to note down (I'm fairly sure I missed some). The list is below the cut.

Read more... )

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