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I'm working my way through my treeware notebook, and have found some notes from my Hugo reading stint which it appears I never posted at the time. Here, have some belated Hugo thoughts. :-)

Naomi Kritzer -- Cat pictures please

Gentle, funny short about what happens when a search engine wakes up and wants to be helpful. It has more sense than to expose its existence, so it tries to do good deeds by stealth. I was smiling on every page. Lovely if slightly creepy little story about the potential benefits of AI.

Available free at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_01_15/

Brooke Bolander -- And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead

Take one part pulp, one part cyberpunk, add a shot of very cheap bourbon, and shake well. Watch the resulting foul mouthed guttersnipe of a synthetic person take on a security AI at its own game; or maybe the reverse. Bolander sketches in some fascinating world building with a few brief sentences, but the focus is on the rescue mission Rhye’s been press-ganged into. It’s a fast moving tale with a satisfying conclusion, and deserves a spot on the Hugo ballot.

Available free at http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/shall-know-trail-dead/

Chuck Tingle -- Space Raptor Butt Invasion

Okay. There’s back story on what this is doing on the Hugo ballot. It is not your typical nominee. Onwards…

Our hero is one of two men (definitely men) manning a remote observation station somewhere on a remote planet. The story opens as his teammate leaves at the end of his assignment, with no replacement arriving. Budget cuts mean the station will be solo manned from now on, and our hero will be the only living thing on the planet. So what is that mysterious space suited figure he thinks he’s seen?

So far, it’s a pitch perfect pastiche of Golden Age pulp. I have read the stories. I could make a guess at what happens next.

What happens next is that it segues into a pastiche of pulp gay porn, only with two guys stuck with solo duty on their respective nation’s planetary observation base. One of whom is a dinosaur...

Dr Tingle had far too much fun ramming every possible porn cliché into his tight virgin word processor. This is really not my taste in porn, not least because it pastiches bad pulp punctuation, but it’s very funny. My verdict as a Hugo voter is that this story gets No Awarded, but I am nominating the good Doctor’s performance art in response to its nomination for next year’s Best Related Work category.
Amazon UK
Amazon US
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First of the Grantchester Mysteries series, about a Church of England vicar who solves mysteries in collaboration with one of the local police detectives. The first book is a set of six short stories, each a standalone about an individual case, but with an overall arc running through them. I bought it because I'd seen and enjoyed a couple of episodes of the tv adaptation. This doesn't always mean I'll like a book, but in this case I'm very glad I bought it. It's an excellent period cosy mystery, written by someone who knows the minutiae of Anglican clerical life. The ebook for this one is often low price as a hook for the series, and well worth getting.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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Sweetly funny milf erotic romance novel - but be warned that the characters spend an awful lot of the book being interrupted before they can actually do something about their attraction. Successful romance writer Jillian divorced her no-good husband a while back for cheating on her, and hasn't had much luck in the dating game since then. So when her son comes home from unversity for vacation and brings his friend Brian with him, Jillian can't help but notice that Brian's very nicely put together. He's also her son's friend, which puts him off limits.

Brian thinks Jillian's pretty hot, even if she's old enough to be his friend's mother. In fact, she *is* his friend's mother, which puts her off limits...

While some of the situations they end up in are frankly implausible, the lead and supporting characters are well-written, and Jillian and Brian's ever more frantic efforts to first hide and then give in to their attraction are entertaining. This isn't going to be to everyone's taste; but if it appeals to your sense of humour, it's a lot of fun.

This is the first of a series, but there's closure at the end of the book. The ebook is free as a hook for the series, and I think worth downloading to try it out.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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Mystery novel which I can remember very little about save that I enjoyed it and would happily read more of the series. It's not the book's fault I can't remember the details, as I was somewhat jet-lagged at the time of reading.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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13) Sarah Pinborough -- The Death House

This is my nominee for the 2015 novel Hugo.

Yes, I liked it that much. I bought this YA speculative fiction novel when I saw Gollancz tweet an opening day offer, because I'd greatly enjoyed one of Pinborough's tie-in novels and wanted to read more by her. I started reading it that day, and was bowled over. It is a stunning portrayal of life, love and growing up under the shadow of death; a bittersweet coming-of-age novel about children and teenagers who know they will never do so.

It's set in a near future very much like our present, save for one thing - there is an illness so terrible that all children are tested for the signs that they are carriers. If they test positive, they are taken to the Death House. There they will be cared for and given as normal a life as possible, right up until the time the sickness activates. It may be a few months, it may be years, but one thing is certain - they will die. And they will never be allowed to leave, or have contact with anyone other than each other and the staff assigned to care for them.

Toby has been in the House for long enough to have found ways to cope with the separation from his family and the knowledge of what awaits him, but the arrival of a new girl disrupts both the interactions between the Death House inmates, and Toby's coping mechanisms. Through his eyes we see the different ways the children deal with what their lives have become; all the emotions of a lifetime compressed into a few short years, with the teenagers like Toby finding themselves being surrogate parent figures for the younger children. There's a mystery plot as well; and the whole is a slow-burning build to a resolution where the older children decide exactly what is worth fighting for with their foreshortened lives.

Moving and beautifully written, this was one of the best things I read all year.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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Natasha's a ballet student who uses dance as one of her ways of coping with her demons, not always successfully. Darrell's an engineering genius who designs weapon delivery systems as a way of coping with _his_ demons. Darrell's stuck on his latest design, and then finds inspiration in watching a ballerina dance - so much so that he hires Natasha to dance for him privately at his workshop. They fall for one another, but they're very damaged people and the road will be hard, even without someone deliberately trying to break the relationship up before it really gets started. Cue much angst before the happy ending. That happy ending acknowledges that True Love doesn't magically fix everything, and Natasha and Darrell have a long way to go before their demons are vanquished. That the characters recognise this make it much more believable that they really will make it work in the long run.

This wasn't a bad read, but it did need rather a lot of willing suspension of disbelief regarding a lone genius being allowed to work on a a secret defence contract in his garage. It also leans heavily on the Evil Brit trope for the plot's antagonist; which doubtless appeals to many not-British readers, but was merely irritating to me. I'm glad I read it and would happily read the next, but I'm not desperate to rush out and buy it.

Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Prequel fantasy novel which works well as a standalone. The Barrenlands of the title are a magical wasteland that forms an almost impassable border territory between two countries. But where there is a border, there will be crossings, and people who make a living bringing things across that border, whether it is with or without the blessing of the governments concerned. Ehran, head of the King's Guard, will end up tangling with it more than once in his quest first to find the murderers of his beloved king, and then to find and dispose of the family of the king's brother. He's been sent on the latter mission supposedly to prevent the exile trying to seize the throne from the king's young son, a mission he rightly sees as a means of getting him out of the way of an unknown traitor within the court.

Some nice world-building here, with appealing characters and a worthwhile mystery. It's obvious from the first who the villain is, because Ehren's not stupid and already has his suspicions. But means and motive are another matter, and untangling those make for an entertaining story. A short novel offering an enjoyable way to pass a few hours.

http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/barrenlands/
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/barrenlands
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I had far too much fun backing random "that looks interesting/amusing" publishing projects on Kickstarter a few months ago, and the fruits are now falling into my letterbox. Yesterday's was this:


Hilariously obscene collection of Mr Bingo's favourites from his Hate Mail project - pay good money to a professional artist to have him draw a lovingly rendered insult on the back of an item from his collection of vintage postcards, and post it to you. Having done nearly a thousand of these, he then launched a Kickstarter to publish his favourites as a high quality art book. Whether or not you enjoy the contents depends very much on your sense of humour, but if it is your sort of thing, here it is in a physical object that's a work of art in itself. It's printed on heavy art paper, Smyth-sewn, clothbound casing, and tastefully stamped in gold foil with the title on the spine and a line drawing on the front cover reflecting the contents. That line drawing being of an octopus putting two fingers up at the world with all eight legs...

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mrbingo/hate-mail-the-definitive-collection
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Posting well out of order since this is a review copy. I may or may not get earlier book log done...


Note: I received a copy of the book from the author through Reading Alley in exchange for an honest review.

Tobias is both a fox shapeshifter and a rifter - someone who crosses the rifts between worlds. He works as a field agent for a covert organisation that tries to control rift traffic, but he's of an independent mind even if he's loyal to the organisation. He needs a partner agent suited to him, not one chosen for him to suit others' views.

Etty's from the slums, barely earning a living by disguising herself as a boy and driving her dad's hackney carriage after he was injured. She's driving the nearest cab when Tobias needs a quick getaway one night, and her world will never be the same again.

Tobias may have stumbled upon the perfect sidekick, but first he'll have to convince the people who pay his wages. And even if he does, there's a baptism of fire waiting for the new partnership. There's a whisper of new technology that could change the rift worlds forever -- and it's in the hands of a vicious criminal.

This is an excellent fantasy thriller with a strong romance subplot. The lead characters are engaging and well drawn, and I finished the book wanting to spend more time with them. There's some good world-building, with the main setting being roughly Victorian with low key magic, but references and scenes that make it clear the rift links to worlds at different levels of social and technological development.

This is the first book in a series, and sets up the universe and series arc. It does an excellent job of wrapping up its own story without an annoying cliffhanger while still pointing the way to the next book. I've been annoyed of late by too many books that tried to force me to buy the next by not giving me the resolution to the story - this book does it the better way, by making me want to spend more time in this world.

I've only two minor criticisms; there's a scene that's flat out "beautiful blue-eyed blonde girl awes the primitive natives", and there are some formatting glitches in my copy that made two chapters very difficult to read. It's a measure of how much I was enjoying the book that I persisted through the section with scrambled formatting.

Overall a very enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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Have some book log completely out of order, because otherwise book log won't be happening...


Short book (20,000 words according to the author), but packed full of useful advice presented in an entertaining manner. The most important piece of advice is right up front: not all techniques work for every writer, so take and use what works for you personally.

This isn't about how to type faster. It's about how to be more productive with your writing time, and that includes protecting yourself from burnout. A lot of it is stuff that should be obvious, but isn't until somebody points it out to you; other techniques are ones that all too often writers have been told they shouldn't do, by a writer/editor/agent who thinks that if it doesn't work for them, it's bad for everyone. Some are things that are much less obvious, and which you could go for years without working it out by yourself.

Even if you already know everything in this book, it can help to have the positive reinforcement from another writer who learnt it the hard way. And besides, I know everything in this book already, and I still found it an entertaining read, well worth the £1.26 I paid. This matters - you're more likely to remember and follow advice if it was fun to read.

Very much recommended for writers, and even non-writers who are interested in the nuts and bolts of writing.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
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Hey, look - book log! Less than four months after reading the book! Posted only two months after writing the notes!

(Disclosure: I don't know the author particularly well, but I've long admired her work as an editor, and have submitted material to her publishing house in the past. This hasn't had any impact on my reaction to the book, other than I wouldn't have known about a promo deal on the new edition and run off to buy it if I didn't have her blog on my LiveJournal feed.)

Erotic fantasy novel which is quite openly inspired by Harry Potter. "Inspired by" means "loving homage", not "rip-off"; this is a worthy novel in its own right, and could be enjoyed as such by someone who's never read any of Rowling's books (or indeed any of the other speculative fiction Tan pays homage to). But it's most easily described as what would happen if Harry Potter was an American taking up a scholarship at Harvard University, and on arrival walking into the admin office of a faculty housed in buildings which aren't findable by most people on the campus, to the confusion of himself and the faculty administrators. Since we're dealing with undergraduates here, there's sex. Lots of sex. Sex for actual plot purposes, no less, and all the better for it. For there is indeed a plot, concerning the covert presence on campus of a siren, what that is, and the dangers it poses to the students. It's intertwined with various other plot threads, most of which are resolved satisfactorily while leaving openings for further stories about next year's adventures. While I think there's some room for improvement, it's well written, by someone who understands her material. I liked it a lot, enough to want to read the next one in the series (a quartet of novels plus a collection of short stories). If that brief description sounds like something you'd be interested in reading, I'd recommend you try it out -- the prologue and first chapter are available as free samples on Amazon and other online retailers.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo
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Summary of the books read in January, posted only a month or so late... All were reviewed in more detail earlier in the blog.

1) Ben Goldacre: Bad Pharma
Excellent non-fiction analysis of the problem of biased research in the pharmaceuticals industry.
Kobo, Amazon US, Amazon UK

2) Gemma Halliday - Spying in High Heels
Chicklit mystery, not to my taste.
Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US

3) Christmas in the Duke's Arms
Regency romance anthology with linked novelettes by four authors, set in a small village one Christmas.
Amazon UK, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Kobo

4) Pati Nagle -- Dead Man's Hand
A lovely short ghost novel for Halloween, with the emphasis on the human soul rather than on horror.
direct from Book View Cafe, Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

5) Summer Devon -- The Gentleman and the Lamplighter
Gentle and lovely Victorian m/m romance.
Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Kobo

6) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett -- Good Omens
Yes. Well. I mentioned on Twitter while reading the book and when I wrote my review that it coloured the book to be re-reading it for the first time since Pterry announced The Embuggerance. I posted the review two days before he died. It's no bad thing to be reminded of why he was so special.
Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Kobo
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Usually I make a note when I happen to know the author (or in this case, one of the authors). It doesn't normally affect my review much, but in this case -- I last read this book before Terry went public about The Embuggerance. That's coloured my recent re-read, putting an edge on the humour that wasn't there last time round. Nevertheless...

This is one of the funniest books I've ever read, and yes, that includes Terry's other output. The Bible is true on a literal level, the Antichrist has just been born and Armageddon is coming, and a somewhat shopsoiled angel and demon would really rather it didn't, thank you very much. Aziraphale and Crowley have spent the last six thousand years doing their jobs on Earth, after that unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden, and in the manner of undercover agents everywhere, have discovered that they have more in common with each other than their masters. They like humans, and they like the human lifestyle. They don't at all like the idea of returning whence they came. And so they decide to do something about it.

All of which was predicted by Agnes Nutter, Witch, who left a set of prophecies for her descendents. Very, very accurate prophecies written by someone who saw things but didn't necessarily understand what she was seeing. Her present day descendent knows that Armageddon is coming, and sets out to do something about the Antichrist.

Who just happens to be a perfectly normal English boy with a gang, and a dog. The dog is from hell, but the gang isn't, in spite of the collective opinion of the adults of the village. One too many swaps in the nursing home left the Antichrist as a cuckoo in the nest of a completely normal middle class family instead of the American diplomat's, and completely untended by satanic nursemaids to guide him in the wrong path. And thus the stage is set for a satire that mercilessly dissects all manner of things about modern life, and has enormous fun along the way.

Very much recommended.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo
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It's Victorian London, and wealthy young gentleman Giles Fullerton is still grieving a year after the death of the man he loved, his grief made worse by the need to conceal it. He deals with the emotional pain by walking the streets through the night, until he can face sleep. Young lamplighter John Banks knows a thing or two about grief himself. He loved his wife dearly, even though he's gay, and has missed her each day since her death. The young gentleman who wanders his route on so many nights may have attracted his attention with his good looks, but John can see that something drives him into the night. Enough so that at last John speaks to him, concerned for his safety. Curiosity about John's job of lighting and dousing the streetlamps provides something for Giles to focus on outside his grief.

There's companionship of a sort in a stranger to speak to, and gradually the two young widowers reveal more about themselves to each other in their conversation each night; first in coded and deniable references to their grief, and then more openly. Enough so that they finally act on their attraction. But this is Victorian London, and a relationship is barred by more than their being both men; the social gulf between them would be every bit as shocking to society, and moreover puts them at far greater risk of exposure than if they could meet as equals. Will they both have the courage to find a way through to a chance at happiness?

This is a gentle, slow romance, and all the better for it. It's a lovely short novella with a pair of well drawn, appealing main characters and some good secondary characters, and a sex scene that adds to the emotional development rather than being there to make up the word count. One for my re-read list.

Available free to members of the Heroes and Heartbreakers website, or you can pay a modest sum to get a nicely formatted ebook with a gorgous cover.


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo
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Five murdered poker players from different eras are brought back from the dead for one last tournament. The prize is life itself.

The book opens with Wild Bill Hickok finding himself pulled from the grave, his bones clothing themselves with flesh and the flesh with clothes. The reader follows along with Bill as he tries to work out what's going on and why he feels an urge to go to Atlantic City, although the reader has an advantage over him in being able to recognise the present day and just how much time has passed. Another four men from different time periods have the same experience, although one is so recently dead that he is able to convince friends and family that he'd been kidnapped and held incommunicado for several years. As they gradually assemble, they discover that they have been revived for the greatest poker tournament in history - between the greatest players, no matter when they lived.

The result is an atmospheric blend of ghost story and mystery, with some superb world-building going into the strange casino that has revived the men. The characters are well developed, and it's a joy to watch their interaction, and their different reactions to the present day. Those reactions are driven in part by their different reasons for wanting the prize; not just a new life in a recreated body, but what they want to do with that life. A chance at love, a chance at revenge, fascination with this new world they find themselves in... Even for the four losers, their short time walking the earth again allows them to do at least a little of what was left undone.

A lovely short ghost novel for Halloween, with the emphasis on the human soul rather than on horror.


direct from Book View Cafe, with excerpts available
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
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Regency romance anthology with linked novelettes by four authors, set in a small village one Christmas. The Duke's Arms of the title is the village pub, but there is a real duke as well, plus an earl or two. I've left it too late to write a proper review of this one, alas, but Azteclady's written a good review. I don't agree with her ratings on each story, but that's a reflection of the variety in the stories - if you like historical romances, there's a good chance at least one of these novelettes will work for you.

Amazon UK
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
Kobo
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Chicklit mystery set in Los Angeles. Maddie Springer is a young fashion designer who tries to track down her lawyer boyfriend when he goes missing, and finds herself in the middle of embezzlement and murder. I nearly stopped reading on the first page, wherein Maddie describes her behaviour on the freeway when she's late for a meeting with her boyfriend. Almost causing an accident by cutting into lanes and doing her make-up in the mirror at high speed was presumably supposed to make her look adorably ditzy, but I simply found it loathsome. I did keep reading, but it coloured my view of the character for the rest of the book.

It's an odd one for me. The mystery plot was enjoyable if predictable, and there were things I liked a lot, with some good supporting characters; but it was hard work getting to the end and if it had been a paper edition I would have probably been high-speed skim-reading. No more than a two star for me and I'm not inclined to try anything else by this author, even if I can see why other people were bowled over by it.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US
ARe
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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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