Pilgrim continues to search as 2020 begins
This is a continuation of the topic Pilgrim continues searching for Enlightenment and Entertainment (2019, Final Quarter).
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Many thanks and the same to you, doubled.
En ook 'n baie voorspoedige nuwe jaar.
Happy reading to you, pilgrim! Hope all of your reading choices bring you great pleasure.
1. The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
2. Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo Perutz (trans. Eric Mosbacher)
3. Republic or Death!: Travels in Search of National Anthems by Alex Marshall
4. Firefly by Henry Porter
5. The White Rose Rescue by Astrid Lindgren (trans. Susan Beard)
6. Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch
7. Danger's Halo by Amanda Carlson
8. Monday Starts On Saturday by the Strugatsky brothers (trans. Andrew Bromfield)
9. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
1. VOX by Christina Dalcher
2. Warrior Mage by Lindsey Buroker
3. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 1 by Mark Twain
4. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 2 by Mark Twain
5. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
6. The Dying Trade by David Donachie
7. Dragon Storm by Lindsey Buroker
8. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark A. Noll
9. Oaths by Lindsay Buroker
10. Crazy Canyon by Lindsay Buroker
Series in progress
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch: 1-7 - The Domestic; False Value
Dania Gorska by Hania Allen: 1 - Clearing the Dark
Chronicles of Amber by John Gregory Betancourt: P1, 1-10 - Chaos and Amber
The Folk of the Air by Holly Black: P1-3, 1-2 -The Queen of Nothing
Dominion of The Fallen by Aliette de Bodard: 1 - Children of Thorns, Children of Water
Pieter Posthumous by Britta Bolt: 3 - Lonely Graves
Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs: 1-2 - Fair Game
Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs: 1-8 - Fire Touched
Sianim by Patricia Briggs: 3-4 - Masques
World of the Five Gods by Lois McMasters Bujold: 1.1, 2 -Penric and the Shaman, The Paladin of Souls
Chains of Honor by Lindsay Buroker: P1-P3, 1-2 Snake Heart, Assassin's Bond
Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker: 1-8 - Diplomats and Fugitives
Fallen Empire by Lindsay Buroker: P-3 - Relic of Sorrows
Heritage of Power by Lindsey Buroker: 1 - Revelations
Holly Danger by Amanda Carlson: 1 - Danger's Vice
Spellslinger by Sebastian de Castell: 1-5 - Crownbreaker
Greatcoats by Sebastian de Castell: 1 - Knight's Shadow
The Daevabad Trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty: 1 - The Kingdom of Copper
Chronicles of an Age of Darkness by Hugh Cook: 1 - The Wordsmiths and the Warguild
The Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell: 1-2 - The Lords of the North
Sharpe by Bernard Cornwell:1, 6, 8-9, 13 - Sharpe's Triumph
Arkady Renko by Martin Cruz Smith: 1 - Polar Star
Marcus Didius Falco by Lindsey Davis: 1-6 - Time to Depart
Flavia Albia by Lindsey Davis: 1-2.5 - Deadly Election
Priya's Shakti by Ram Devineni & Dan Goldman: 1-2 - Priya and the Lost Girls
John Pearce by David Donachie: 1, 14 - A Shot-Rolling Ship
The Privateersman Mysteries by David Donachie: 1-2 - A Hanging Matter
The Marie Antoinette Romances by Alexandre Dumas: 2 - Cagliostro
The Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: 1-3 - Louise de la Vallière
Cliff Janeway by John Dunning: 1 - The Bookman's Wake
The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy by Hailey Edwards: 1 - How to Claim an Undead Soul
Metro 203x by Dmitry Glukhovsky: 1-1.5 - Metro 2034
The Archangel Project by C Gockel: 1- 1.5 - Noa's Ark
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula le Guin 1 - The Tombs of Atuan
Forever War by Joe Haldeman: 1 - Forever Free
Benjamin January by Barbara Hambly: 1 - Fever Season
Darwath by Barbara Hambly: 1-3 - Mother of Winter
James Asher by Barbara Hambly: 1-2, 4 - Blood Maidens
Sun Wolf and Star Hawk by Barbara Hambly: 1-3 - Hazard
The Windrose Chronicles by Barbara Hambly: 1-3 - Firemaggot
The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison 4-5, 9 - The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born
The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg: 1-2, 4 - The Master Magician
Conqueror by Conn Iggulden: 1 - Lords of the Bow
Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka: 9 - Fated
The Danilov Quintet by Jasper Kent:1 - Thirteen Years Later
The Jane Doe Chronicles by Jeremy Lachlan: 1 - The Key of All Souls
The Kalle Blomqvist Mysteries by Astrid Lundgren: 3 - Master Detective
Robert Colbeck by Edward Marston: 1 - The Excursion Train
The Raven's Mark by Ed McDonald: 1 - Ravencry
The Psammead by E. Nesbit: 1-3 - The Story of the Amulet
Giordano Bruno by S.J. Parris: 5 - Heresy
Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters: 1-12 - The Rose Rent
Paul Samson by Henry Porter: 1 - White Hot Silence
The Gaian Consortium by Christine Pope: 1 - Breath of Life
Discworld by Sir Terry Pratchett: 1-15.5 - Soul Music
Divergent by Veronica Roth: 1, 2.5 - Insurgent
The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski: 1 - The Last Wish, Time of Contempt
The Rhenwars Saga by M. L. Spencer: 1 - Darklands
The Dolphin Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff: 1, 3-6, 8 - The Silver Branch
The History of Middle Earth by Christopher Tolkien: ? ?
A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain: 1-2 - Part 3
Miss Silver by Patricia Wentworth: 1 - The Case is Closed
Series Completed in 2020
Dragon Blood by Lindsay Buroker
(i) This list is still probably incomplete.
(ii) The named book is the next to be read
(iii) Inclusion of a series does not imply intent to complete it.
(iv) I have read some of the series in bold type during this year (2020), others are outstanding.
(v) I have pruned out of this list some series that I began in 2019, but definitely do not intend to continue.
The Orthodox Church: 2 Worship by Fr Thomas Hopko
Grey Sister: Book 2 of the Book of the Ancestor by Mark Lawrence
Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly
The Way of the Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way translated by Olga Savin
Positive Options for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome by Elena Juris
Agent Jack by Robert Hutton
Empire V: The Prince of Hamlet by Viktor Pelevin
The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol: Volume 1 by Nikolai Gogol
Imperial Legend: the mysterious disappearance of Tsar Alexander I by Alexis S. Troubetzkoy
Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home by Anthony M. Coniaris
The Works of Rudyard Kipling One Volume Edition by Rudyard Kipling
Party Time: Raving Arizona by Shaun Attwood
And here is my first review of 2020:
The House of Shattered Wings: Book 1 of Dominion of the Fallen by Aliette de Bodard - 3 stars
I had high expectations here, and so this was something of a disappointment. I started this in October on my Kindle, and found I was not rushing back to it.
I really enjoyed Aliette de Bodard's world-building in the previous book that I read by her. And the setup here was also interesting. I just did not feel the story itself was that good.
This is set in Paris, but a ruined Paris, destroyed by the "Great War" between the Houses. The Houses are feudal domains, which divide up Paris and protect the members of their House, whilst expecting loyalty and obedience in return. Outside the Houses, street gangs roam and scavenge.
The Fallen are fallen angels, who literally fall from the City into Paris, their wings hacked off. But they arrive innocent, with no memory of the rebellion for which they are being presumably punished.
And they are vulnerable, because every scrap of their bodies can be used in alchemy - to imbue magic items which can be utilised by anyone, even humans, but which are basically storage items, whose power is gradually used up. Angel essence, which when inhaled briefly gives a human the powers of a Fallen, is considered an addictive drug. But the Fallen are still immortal (unless killed) and once they orient themselves, and work out how to use their innate power, they can return out to be extremely powerful - and terrifying.
And there is more. As in the war that we used to call the Great War, France called upon its colonies. Soldiers from Indochina were brought to fight for Paris. And these are not human either, but they served a different deity - the Jade Emperor.
How this history of Paris fits with our world is never explained. The streets and landmarks are recognisable. But a ruined Notre Dame - horribly presciently - points to a future setting, whilst references to Indochina, rather than Viet Nam, place it in the past.
As a premise, it is fascinating. Aliette de Bodard is a Parisienne of part-Vietnamese origin, and she uses these different cultural strands with great confidence.
But almost the entire story consists of the political manouevrings between the Houses. We watch as a newly arrived Fallen and an embittered Vietnamese ex-soldier (who fought for a now-destroyed House and is currently a member of a street gang), are drawn into the affairs of the House of Silver Spires, built around the ruins of Notre Dame, and founded by Morningstar himself. We see the internal conflicts of many House members. But mainly it is about how inhuman the Fallen can be, and how ruthless those who rule Houses are - and believe that they "have" to be - in order to preserve their House and its dependents... when not sacrificing them "for the good of the House".
The Fallen can remember nothing of their rebellion, and little of the City, except that they can never return. Despite this, some are still conventionally Christian, which does not entirely make sense to me (if they do not believe God's infinite mercy applies to them, yet do not take responsibility for their mysterious "rebellion" (since they do not remember it), in what exactly, do they believe?)) Basically, this makes the whole "fallen angel" concept somewhat pointless - they are just random-suoernatural-being-with-unspecified-powers.
The glimpses of the Vietnamese supernatural were more interesting, because these beings still retain beliefs and motivations related to their traditional conception. But unfortunately this references were often tantalisingly brief. Not being familiar with traditional Vietnamese religion, the hints were too little.
And this "I do what I have to do" mentality meant that most of the characters were hard to like. The jeopardy at the end was very much the logical consequence of this attitude. The tension was lacking not because the peril was not real, but because it was deserved.
Because we are dropped into the middle of this world (like a new Fallen), it takes a while to work out the 'rules'. What makes this vaguely unsatisfying is that they are never really made clear; new powers, or limitations, tend to pop up as needed.
As the setup for a novel, this showed real promise; but as the novel itself, it was disappointingly ordinary.
So are all the books listed in post 15 what you are planning on reading in 2020?
>15 -pilgrim-: Eek, no! I am not that ambitious. Also, I don't enjoy planning my reading in advance: goals, challenges etc. too often seem to turn a pleasure into a chore (for me).
I don't tend to buy books when they first come out. So that is a list to remind me which books from various series I have read (the numbers), and the name of the next book to read in that series (so that I can look out for it).
>17 -pilgrim-: Your review seems to agree with my reaction to the book - great premise and set-up, but disappointing execution. I felt detached from all the characters so I couldn't really care about their intrigues and political manoeuvres or their ultimate fates. However, I went on to read the sequel, House of binding thorns, and loved it. It was much more immediate and involving, and there was more of the Vietnamese element.
>20 Sakerfalcon: Thank you for that. I had been undecided whether to continue with the series or not; it sounds as if it might be worthwhile after all.
I noticed that in her acknowledgements, Aliette de Bodard thanks various people for help where she was stuck. It sounds like she knew where she wanted to go with this, but got a bit lost on how to get there.
Looks like you've been absent from this thread for a bit, hope it's not for totally awful reasons. I've just caught up and had to chime in with my dislike for The Dark Monk as well. Not for the same reasons altogether, but it was nice to see another perspective for all that is wrong with that book.
>23 Bookmarque: I have just read your review of The Dark Monk and agree with everything that you said there.
And no, there is too much going wrong at the moment. I have no heart for reading. Am trying to work out what I can do. (I just appear here occasionally to keep up with other people's threads.)
>1 -pilgrim-: Following, and wishing you a happy new year. Happiness occurs in moments, in my experience--not in days or months, much less years. Those moments are like diamonds in the grass.
>25 Meredy: Thank you (am following you also, even if I don't say much). You are right, of course. Wise words. Life is not without its moments.
Meeting up with Sakerfalcon and pgmcc at Foyle's last week was one of them.
But the news since then has made me feel that it is always a case of 1 step forward, 10 steps back.
Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo Perutz (translated by Eric Mosbacher) - 4 stars
This is a strange mixture of crime fiction and gothic novel. The sinister, mysterious air arises from the unreliability of the narrator, who seems not entirely mentally stable.
The setting is in the alien world of Vienna in 1909. The mores of the period are such that the appropriate way to proceed regarding an aristocratic cavalry officer one believes guilty of murder, and then lying in denial "on his word of honour", is to take one's suspicions not to the police, but to the Court of Honour of his regiment - after first allowing the said officer an interval in which to "do the decent thing".
But although some attitudes are simply not those of the modern era, other thoughts of the narrator seem strange even by the standards of the time. Moreover the character assessments of him by others, as he recounts being told them, do not match his personality as he presents it in this "memoir".
The case involves a sequence of apparent suicides, all except one inexplicable in terms of the state of mind of the deceased, but resembling each other in circumstance. The victims know each other.
Investigation into these events is carried out partly by the narrator, and partly by mutual acquaintances. The narrator is not himself likeable, demonstrating both the arrogance of his class and the self-absorption of the mentally unstable, which results in little personal distress over the death of acquaintance, being more preoccupied with the reminiscences that the event invokes and how his own emotional response to those memories affects him. The distress of bereaved relatives barely enters his thoughts, even when he would describe himself as personally close to them. On the other hand he can be equally apathetic to events that one would think should concern him greatly.
But there are other attractive figures in the novel, so although the narrator is distant, the reader does not share his ennui.
I enjoyed this tremendously. The twists are unexpected, but the final conclusion is not fanciful.
This novel was written in the era of Sigmund Freud, and the then current understanding of psychology plays a prominent rôle in this novel. In particular there is is an epilogue, ostensibly written by another party after the death of the narrator, which gives another possible interpretation of the whole sequence of events, in psychological terms.
This book was published by Pushkin Press, in an imprint called Pushkin Vertigo, which seems to be an attempt to collect the best of classic European crime fiction and translate it for an English-speaking readership.
It was written in 1921 by a Jewish author of Czech origin, who fled Austria after the Anschluss but returned after the war. Its mood is very much of the between the wars Viennese intellectual community.
I will be looking for more books by Leo Perutz, and Pushkin Vertigo also seems to be worth investigating further.
Helmet Reading Challenge: 16, 22, 43
Republic or Death!: Travels in Search of National Anthems by Alex Marshall - 2.5 stars
I should have taken more notice of the author's background when I was tempted towards this book. He is a music and travel journalist - two genres in which the writer is used to giving primacy to his own thoughts, reactions and sense impressions. And that is exactly what he does here.
He was inspired to write this book when a rapper, who he was interviewing, kept telling him how "important" his music was. The writer doubted this to be the case, and (by his own admission) stopped listening to his interviewee, so that he could muse about what music he considered to be actually important. His conclusion was that anthems, the music that inspires people to fight for their country, might actually fit the case.
The author then travels around several countries, interviewing their inhabitants about what their national anthem means to them, and in the cases where it has changed recently, interview the writers of the anthem.
That is a basically sound premise for a really interesting book. Anthems are short pieces of music that we recognise, whilst knowing almost nothing about their composers. And they are important - the way new regimes agonise about how to change them is evidence for that. The countries that the author selects to visit are those where either the form of the anthem itself, or the history of his it came to be that country's national anthem, is particularly distinctive.
The problem is in the execution. The author is far more interested in himself than in his topic. I lost count of the number of times that he told us he had stopped listening to what his interviewee was saying - usually because it did not match his preconceptions of what he had decided that they ought to think - and regaled the reader with his own meandering ideas instead. Since I found all of his main interviewees more interesting than him, this irritated me intensely.
Apart from the infuriating narcissism this displayed, it also leads to incredibly disorganised material. Thus, for example, information about about Korean anthems appears in the chapter on France.
Nevertheless the interviews and nuggets of information about the history of the anthems are genuinely interesting.
I do have some qualms about his standards of accuracy, however. He seems to take it for granted that the Jacobite usage of "God Save the King" simply aped the Hanoverian anthem, whilst later admitting that the Hanoverians took the anthem from a published, anonymous source of what was already a popular tune, and puzzles as to how it could be so popular and yet so little known about its composer.
Now, I have a book on the history of Jacobite songs (unfortunately not to hand), which starts that "God Save the King" was originally a Jacobite song, praying for the preservation of the "King over the Water" (i.e. in exile in France), that was subsequently taken over by the Hanoverians and given additional polemical verses in praise of General Wade, and about crushing "rebellious Scots", as an astute propaganda move. My source named the Jacobite author, and stated that he had to be published anonymously because he was at that time already proscribed and on hiding. This account of the origins of the British national anthem may not be correct, but in a book which refers extensively to the use of anthems for propaganda purposes, I feel it should at least have been mentioned, rather than just the author's assumption that the official version was the first. Presumably his research was simply too facile for him to be aware of it - which makes me wary of his accuracy on the histories that he gives for other anthems.
I was extremely moved by the account from the Japanese schoolteacher whose career has been blighted by her refusal to stand when the Japanese national anthem is played at the beginning of the school year (because for her it symbolises her country's refusal to admit, and teach its children about, the atrocities it committed prior to and during the Second World War) - and of the headmaster who committed suicide from the dishonour of being unable to persuade his staff to stand for the anthem, as his school board had required.
Such stories are what made this book worth reading. It was therefore particularly galling to read, in the Acknowledgements, of all the anthem composers and writers, whom he had interviewed but not included - so that he could include such things as a lengthy account of drinking with Bosnians, several pages on his attempt to sing "The Star-spangled Banner in a competition, and an entire chapter on his own attempts to write a new national anthem for Switzerland.
Basically this is yet another of these "how can I get someone else to pay for my travelling?" books, where the theme is really just an excuse to go to certain countries. The fact that the author is apparently an "award-winning journalist" makes one despair of journalistic standards.
Countries visited are: France, USA, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Liechtenstein (who still share a tune for their anthem with Britain), Japan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, South Africa (for their multilingual anthem) and Paraguay. (There is also a chapter on Islamic State, but he went to Germany to speak to experts on their naseed jihadya.)
Each chapter is preceded by a few verses of the relevant national anthem (or one version, in certain cases) both in the original language and in English translation. (Note: there is no transliteration, provided for those that do not use the Latin alphabet.)
Firefly (Book 1 of Paul Samson adventures) by Henry Porter - 3.5 stars
This has nothing to do with the science fiction TV series; "Firefly" is the codename for the "asset" being sought by multiple parties in this thriller.
Naji Tauma is an extremely intelligent thirteen-year old boy. He organised his family's escape from Syria into Turkey, after witnessing the massacres committed by Islamic State in his village. On seeing in their refugee camp men who had taken part in the massacre, and knowing that they recognised him, he escapes the camp and makes his way along the migrant trail through Greece and Macedonia, heading for Germany. Since he is an unaccompanied minor, he cannot pass through legally, even though he is a documented refugee, and is therefore traveling the illegal route.
Paul Samson is a British citizen of Lebanese origin, and a former child refugee himself. He was formerly in the employ of SIS (i.e. MI6), until fired because they disapproved of his private life - a habit of making occasional calculated, but sizeable, bets on horse racing. He now works freelance, looking for missing persons.
Naji had confided to the child psychologist in the camp that two men from IS were there, and that he was in danger from them because of what he had seen, and she reported this to her superiors. As a result, SIS hire Paul to find the boy, so that he can identify the terrorists responsible for the massacre.
The story switches between the points of view of Naji and Paul, during this pursuit across the Balkans - because far less well-intentioned parties are looking for Naji too.
This is a well constructed thriller dealing with topical problems: the threat that IS poses to Europe, and the European security services' response to it, and the massive influx of refugees, fleeing the mayhem in the Middle East, and swelling the ranks of migrants to such an extent that their countries of first arrival, such as Greece, struggle to cope.
It relies at times on some lucky coincidences, but there are also missed opportunities, so the result does not seem too fortuitous. This is, I suppose, what real intelligence work is like: successful operations require a combination of good luck, intelligent analysis of information, and hard work.
What raised this story above the average for me was two factors: the portrayal of the main protagonists and the way it dealt with atrocity.
An important theme in the plot is the sale by IS of thousands of young captured women as sex slaves, and their subsequent rape, torture, and possible divide or murder. Paul's previous, unsuccessful, job was to find and attempt to retrieve one such woman.
In a less skillful author's hands such atrocity could easily have been graphically described, with a lot of prurient detail. But the topic is handled sensitively; the book does not gloss over the horror of what these women endure, but it does not take pleasure in detailing specifics. Similarly, there is no gratuitous detail in the torture or murder, whether committed by IS or in Assad's prisons.
And I liked the portrayal of our hero, Paul. He is no "gung-ho" macho type. Although capable of both enduring physical violence, and committing it where necessary, it is never his first resort. He is no Jack Bauer type; he never tortures or roughs up anyone. He gets the information by skillful interrogation and and competent intelligence work. Furthermore, unlike so many modern heroes, he does not have a shady past. He is no shining idealist, but he is a basically decent guy, whose biggest flaw seems to be that he is too keen on risk to settle down and start a family, as his mother wants - and too aware of this flaw to start a relationship with someone who would be discomfited by this.
The portrayal of the young Syrian boy was equally skillful. It showed his above average intelligence, and how this both increased his competence and alteted his view of the world, but (unlike other portrayals of "boy genius" characters) it never forgot that emotionally he is still a boy, even though he has taken on the responsibilities of an adult, and seen things most adults would find hard to cope with. Some aspects of the "repressed memory" theme did not trying quite true to me, but I am not enough of a psychologist to know whether they are plausible or not.
This book was written by an author who has spent time in the Balkans, and visited the refugee camps in Greece. He knows about what he writes, and did it with realism rather than sensationalism.
I liked this book so much that I am disappointed by some things in the final two chapters. Firstly, Paul has made a major, very obvious, and stupid mistake -
I have been reading a preview copy that I received from the Amazon Vine programme. There have been obvious changes before publication - Paul is called something else in my copy - so the above problems may have been fixed, along with the usual printing errors.
Helmet Challenge: 7, 23, 30
The White Rose Rescue: Book 3 of the Kalle Blomqvist Mysteries by Astrid Lindgren (translated by Susan Beard) - 3 stars
Having read Astrid Lindgren's famous Pippi Longstocking as a child, I was intrigued to discover that she had written many other sequences of books and decided to try one.
This is the third in the Kalle Blomqvist sequence, but that is in no way a problem; the situation is summarised nicely in two pages before the start of the book. Kalle is one of a trio of friends: Anders, the leader, Eva-Lotta, a "fearless warrior", and Kalle himself, who sometimes fancies himself a Master Detective. They comprise the Knights of the White Rose, and spend their summer holidays happily battling three other children, the Knights of the Red Rose, for the possession of the Great Stonytotem. There is no actual enmity between the sides; it is simply an exciting way for the children to spend their summers, with taunting messages, puzzles, sneaking around and pummelings.
However, on the way back from a midnight rendez-vous, Knights of the White Rose see an actual crime in progress, decide that there is no time to get help, and decide to intervene.
This is the same style of innocent children's play mixed with foiling actual criminals that I vaguely remember from my childhood reading of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven.
However this is considerably better writing. The landscape, weather and wildlife are vividly described, in a way that really brings to life the joy the children take in the Swedish countryside. The immediacy of their thought processes also portrays their feelings, rather than simply describing what they actually do.
Eva-Lotta is also considerably more than the 'token girl'. Although Kalle is the point of view character, she is the best warrior of the White Roses, and genuinely heroic in her desire to protect a small boy. The fact that she goes soppy over small children, in a manner alien to her friends, is a traditional female trait, but her 'maternal instincts' inspire her to bravery rather than domesticity. In many ways, she is actually the central character in this story.
However this was first published in 1953, and in one aspect, the story seems incredibly dated. The oldest children at least, Anders and Sixten, are thirteen or fourteen. I cannot imagine modern teenagers playing imaginative games with wooden swords like this. My childhood feels rather far away, but I think I had given up such things by the age of ten, at the latest. (Having just read Firefly, in which a thirteen year old child, admittedly from an environment where he has been forced to grow up fast, is well aware of such threats as paedophiles, and mem who are capable of torturing and killing him, the contrast is rather stark.) Did childhood innocence really pay so much longer back then?
I know children's stories are usually aimed at children actually younger than the stated ages of the protagonists, but I am not clear what she group this is actually aimed at. There is a five year old in this story, whose frank stupidity is a major plot point - and here again the assigned age seems too old. The obliviousness to danger, even when explained by the older children, seems unrealistic, and more appropriate to a three year old. Surely younger children would be offended by such a portrayal of a boy nearer their own age group?
But I also found the lack of sense in the older boys unrealistic. I can see them dating each other into taking real risks, but after this had led to the near death of one, would they really shrug it off so lightly? And could such children make what are, on the whole, relatively sensible decisions and risk assessments when dealing with the adult threat?
In reading children's adventure stories written in the modern era, I find myself disturbed by the unrealistic suggestions of what children can do. Thirteen year olds successfully physically challenging adults, withstanding torture from them etc., might be exciting, but also gives an unrealistic sense of invincibility against the evils of the adult world. (I have the Alex Ryder spy stories in mind here.) What I liked about this story is that although the children are genuinely brave, as well as terrified at times, and their intervention is crucial in saving the kidnap victims, it takes the heroic action of an adult to actually save the day - and his fate is a moving reminder that in the real world heroism can have serious consequences.
This was both a beautiful evocation of the joys of an innocent childhood, and an exciting adventure, culminating in a reassuring return to the safety of the adult world.
I am actually curious as to who the bad guys were working for.
I liked reading this. I think it would probably appeal to an age range of 11 or lower. Peril:
Helmet Reading Challenge: 7, 25, 32
>31 -pilgrim-: That's not normally a genre I read, but that one sounds interesting.
>33 Karlstar: I don't read a lot of thriller or espionage either, but this was a lot more factually plausible than most. (It is far from the usual, super-competent author avatar "with a tortured past" fare .) It's not a book that I expect to keep and reread, but I am planning to buy the sequel.
Lies Sleeping: Book 7 of the Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - 3.5 stars
Despite my previous mutterings, the fact that the series now does seem to be leading somewhere had led to me persisting with it as my chemotherapy read. Ben Aaronovitch's writing seems to be getting better. There were no false notes on behaviour, or out-of-character actions inserted to fit the plot. And there does seem to be an overarching plot.
I noticed that there was even an attempt to talk his way, retrospectively, out of the glaring plot holes in the first book, Rivers of London, that I pointed out in my review
The authentic-sounding London slang/police jargon mix has been one of the main strengths of this series and remains so.
One knows to expect multiple twists in the plot, but the outcome still took me by surprise.
There are still references to cases that are designed to push readers into buying the graphic novels, but they can be left as "unexplained vistas", rather than the infuriating plot holes created by the vanishing of Varvara and the unexplained addition of Maksim, that so annoyed me in Foxglove Summer (reviewed here).
The conclusion leaves the odd loose end:
Furthermore, although there is a mild attempt,
my review of The Hanging Tree and here.
The emphasis on mental health in this installment troubles me, however, particularly when combined with repeat installments of Peter's ability to have visions
Nevertheless I do hope the current sequence of events reaches some sort of conclusion soon. I would not be averse to spending further time in the company of the Society of the Wise, but the feel that everything relates to one, still yet to be revealed, thing is starting to smack of being dragged out simply so as not to kill the cash cow.
Helmet Reading Challenge: 7, 33, 41
Danger's Halo (Book 1 of Holly Danger) by Amanda Carlson - 2 stars
This is the first of a series of novels about salvager Hollywood California Danger (named by her mother from a postcard, because she liked the picture). They are set 153 years from now on a dystopian future America. The technology level is a mixture of advanced and not so advanced: after building a utopian technological future, Earth was hit by a meteor, resulting in permanent climate changes, and a situation where much of the technology around is no longer useable.
While the Government hoards the available resources, the culture of aggressive individualism means that in practice society has fragmented into small groups, each looking out for themselves.
Apparently the setting is that of the HALO video games (which I do not know). I have the impression that some of the things referenced in the book as 'possibly going on' will turn out to be backstories for plot aspects of the game. So there may well be a lot of nuances and hints here that I missed.
Being the first book, a fair amount of time was spent on introducing the technical and social environment. Holly is the typical streetwise, rather improbably badass combat-capable heroine. Her "crew" are the scary, huge mechanic, the suave security specialist and the likeable, nerdy technology expert. There is nothing original here, but not so totally clichéed as to be unbearable.
At the start of the book, Holly has been paid, anonymously, in actual coins (!), to prevent a street kid jumping into a gorge. Naturally she takes him in, find out what sort of trouble he is in, and things go downhill rapidly from there.
This is a solid, workmanlike addition to the dystopia genre. Some plot twists took me by surprise, others did not.
Although Holly is super-competent, she is not infallible; she makes plenty of mistakes.
By the end of the novel:
- it has been identified that Something Important exists, but not what it (information) does
- the initial situation is resolved
- the team is worse off than are beginning
- a Strange Man has appeared.
The Strange Man's jawline is mentioned repeatedly, he has a flowing trenchcoat, is amazingly competent, and irritates our heroine intensely - so I assume that this is the Love Interest being introduced.
Nothing particularly irritated me about this book, other than the obvious sequel-bait and lack of resolution. I enjoyed reading it.
One thing that frustrated me about the setting though is that, from the book, I have no idea how the rest of the world's fared after the meteor strike - is it in the same state America? Unaffected? Completely devastated? Or what?
Given the relatively recent nature of the disaster (in her mother's lifetime), then Holly must be aware of what used to exist. Maybe she does not know the answers to my questions, but given her repeated whining about how terrible it is that things are no longer like they used to be, and how much she hates how her current life is, I would have thought that she ought to have some interest in whether it was better or worse elsewhere!
I read this particular book because it had been lent to me; I did not find it particularly memorable in any way.
Maybe that is because I am not far enough into the story arc, or maybe my ignorance of the video game means that I am blind to hints about where it is going.
I would continue to read this series if I was at a loose end, but will probably not seek the sequel out.
Helmet Reading Challenge: 8, 28
37 I don't know, because I have NEVER played it, but
(i) this was lent to me by a friend who believed it tied into the HALO universe;
(ii) in talking about a type of soldier known as Spartans, he mentioned something about their origins that makes think that this story is going to turn out to be the origin story for them.
That is why I put in the review the date at which the novel is set. Does that precede the setting for the game, and if so, by how much?
>38 -pilgrim-: For the date, I really have no idea. My fandom consisted of getting roped into playing Halo in a multiplayer environment back in the 90's.
but an origin story, I guess so? I didn't even realize the franchise was big enough for that kind of thing, but then, I'm not much of a gamer either :-D
>39 BookstoogeLT: It makes sense to write out of the main game period when you are dealing with an ongoing franchise. Many of the Star Wars novels - that used to be canon before Disney bought the franchise from George Lucas - were set prior to the events of the films.
I'm a "tabletop" gamer more than a computer one. When Iron Crown Enterprises had a licence from Tolkien Enterprises to publish original material set in Middle Earth, most of it was "in game" dated to Third Age 1640 i.e. a couple of thousand years before the events of the Lord of the Rings, but well after anything that happens in The Silmarillion. I suspect that was part of the terms of their being allowed to mess with what has always been a pretty closely controlled intellectual property.
Once you write in the same period as a game or film, it becomes harder to do so without making at least background use of copyrighted characters - so you can't write for profit in these settings without official permission. And s franchise is not going to give that, and make your work canon, if it restricts how they can develop their own plotlines in the future.
That is my take on it, anyway.
I am currently reading Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, an American author and blogger who has lived in Cairo (and studied Arabic as part of the coursework for her history degree from Boston University).
The hero is a young hacker living in an unspecified Gulf State. His mother is an Indian convert to Islam, his father is Arab.
What is puzzling me, is that his mother send to call him makan. I was curious as to what that actually meant - did it mean "son", or an affectionate insult like "rascal', or a babyish endearment, or what? - so I googled.
Online translators are quite definitive in insisting that makan means "place" in Arabic! (I can find other meanings in other languages, but none that I can see having right s relevant meaning, or likely to bring spoken in that context.)
Can anyone - @haydninvienma perhaps? - clarify this for me?
Am I missing something, or has the writer made a major blunder in attempting to give "local colour", that no one has picked up?
I would have thought that was unlikely, except for some of the technical stuff that she writes about Alif's hacker activities sounds technically incorrect to me. (Why would he pay someone to DISable the encryption on his own secure phone? I suppose he could want to install his own, if he believes there are backdoors into encryption l provided by manufacturers, but the text mentions only the disabling, not having put on anything else.)
>41 -pilgrim-: Sorry. I know that Gulf Arabic and Egyptian Arabic have differences, but that's about all I know. If the mother was Indian, how about it being an Indian word? Lots of languages in India, and not all Muslims speak Arabic. As I understand it, Muslims from other cultures use their own language for common purposes and treat Arabic as a religious language. (I was just now eating dinner with a Pakistani Muslim whose "home language" is Urdu.)
Wikipedia mentions a Pakistani TV series called "Makan" (also Urdu), which it translates as "Home a Heaven".
I found "Makan" as a boy's name in a Farsi compilation of the astrology of names.
>42 haydninvienna: Thank you.
I had considered the Indian languages as a viable possibility; even though the story makes it clear that Arabic is our hero's native language, his mother might well user loanwords from her own. But my Google search was not throwing up results in these languages (and Google Translate itself only covers a few).
I suspect that makan in Urdu (i.e. home) is a loanword from Arabic with a slight drift in meaning.
"Makan" is not the boy's name, although his real name -
But since I have seen Urdu described as a "Persianised" Indian language, I am now wondering whether the answer lies in the meaning of the Farsi name that you found..
Makan is an Arabic boy's name. (ETA: An uncommon one, afaik)
Also, many Arabic given names concretely mean quotidian things but take on metaphorical meanings when used as first names. Eg, Noor = light = heavenly light or nobly illuminated. It actually is a pretty common naming convention in the Arabic language.
Addendum: I decided to do a Google Books search for the word 'makan' in Alif the Unseen, and a search of a paperback edition that contains a glossary states it is the Malayalam word for "son." So that's that, but I'm leaving my above comments, in case they are of interest.
>44 libraryperilous: Thank you!
I knew that 'makan' was not Alif's given name (as that is revealed later in the book), but my edition has no glossary.
Intriguingly, it also did not have the Prologue that is quoted on the LT page for the book either.
>44 libraryperilous: Annoyingly, I cannot read Google books on my phone. It blocks my phone's native enlargement option, whilst providing iits own scaling buttons - that are too small to select!
And I am falling behind in my reviewing again... The last 2 books that I read were stupendously good, the current one is turning out to be mind-blowingly bad - reviews of all three will follow. Eventually. ;-)
>49 -pilgrim-: Thanks. I didn't realize you updated earlier posts, so that is good to know!
>46 -pilgrim-: Oh, that is annoying. I've found the look inside feature of Google Books to be more helpful than Amazon's on several occasions.
You always write thoughtful and interesting reviews, even of books I'd never decide to read. I enjoy learning from them. Thanks for the care and time you spend.
Average: 3.44 stars - a good month
8 fiction: 4 urban fantasy (Paris, London, an Emirate, Karelia), 1 psychological murder mystery (Vienna), 1 children's adventure (rural Sweden), 1 thriller (Greece and Macedonia), 1 science fiction (America)
1 non-fiction: travel
Original language: 6 English, 1 German, 1 Russian, 1 Swedish
Earliest date of first publication: 1921
7 paperbacks, 2 Kindle
Authors: 6 male, 4 female
(Translators: 3 male, 1 female)
Author nationality: 3 British, 2 American, 2 Russian, 1 Austrian, 1 French, 1 Swedish
New (to me) authors: 5 (5 familiar)
And, in acknowledgement of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this month, I note that 4 authors were fully or partly Jewish.
And a couple of more statistics for January:
Most popular book on LT: Alif the Unseen (1301 copies)
Least popular: Republic or Death! (11 copies)
No. of books read: 9
From Mount TBR (books owned before 2020): 4
Books owned before joining Green Dragon: 2
No. of books acquired: 22
No. of books disposed of: 6
>51 libraryperilous: "You always write thoughtful and interesting reviews, even of books I'd never decide to read. I enjoy learning from them. Thanks for the care and time you spend."
Seconded... 100% agree.
I have just finished reading VOX by Christina Dalcher.
I find I have a lot that I would like to say about this book, would starting a thread for that purpose (and of course for anyone else who wishes to comment on the book) be the appropriate thing to do here?
Also, this is a very political novel. It is obviously intended to reference certain trends in American politics. Those themes would not be appropriate for discussion here; but, not being American, I do not consider myself qualified to comment on the plausibility of her political points anyway. But her portrayal of women and feminism - would critiquing those be considered 'politics' under the remit of this pub? If such a discussion would be considered inappropriate for the Green Dragon and, if so, could s Dragoneer suggest somewhere that it might be appropriate to post it?
>57 -pilgrim-: No opinion about starting a thread here, but this new group might be just what you want:
>57 -pilgrim-: I was under the impression that "politics" were out in this group?
>59 BookstoogeLT: Discussion of politics is.
That is why I raised the question; I have no intention of commenting on the novel (which is set in an America of the near future) in terms of its attitude towards the American political scene - which is a subject on which I do not feel qualified to comment anyway - but I wanted guidance from the Powers That Be as to whether a discussion of its portrayal of women would be considered "politics" or not.
Thank you 2WonderY.
>60 -pilgrim-: I am not necessarily a "Power That Be" but as a long time member I can say that people here have frequently discussed when they were unhappy with the role of women in a book that they were reading. As for the discussion of Feminism, I would probably tread lightly with that one, as it can certainly get political.
Kinda depends on how it's done? :)
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit - 4 stars
I am feeling very much in need of comfort reads at the moment, so I bought a free eBook edition of a favourite from my childhood. Although the edition I have appears to be taken from the 1905 edition, and credits the original illustrator, this Kindle version did not actually include the illustrations! They were listed, however, and I found that their titles often brought them to my mind (I think the edition that I read as a child must have used the same ones.)
This is a story of four Edwardian children and their two year old baby brother, who are moved to a house in the country after their father is called away on business. Their mother also has to go away, to look after their grandmother who is ill, so they are left in the charge of the servants - Martha the nursemaid and the cook. In practice this means that they are usually left to entertain themselves during the day, coming home for the evening meal. That does not mean, however, that discipline is lax; Martha is kindly but strict, and does not tolerate bad behaviour.
As the author herself says, she could have told an interesting story of ordinary adventures that the children had in such an environment. However they meet a Psammead - a "sand fairy". That is what it calls itself, although in appearance it is very different from traditional views of fairies. It grants wishes. It is permanently grumpy, and as slippery to deal with as one might expect - although it puts all the blame on the stupidity of "modern children", compared to the days when they ate dinosaurs and made sensible food-related wishes.(The idea that dinosaurs were contemporary with early humans was commonplace at the time the book was written. In the story, the children often make errors of fact, but there are no deliberate distortions in the narrative - other than the existence of "sand fairies", of course!)
The story follows the "be careful what you wish for theme", as each of the children's wishes go awry. Although they know the old tale of the farmer and the black pudding, and they have read about the magic beans, they still manage to wish by accident, and even their planned wishes do not turn out as expected.
The four children have distinct personalities, of which Anthea's is the strongest; she is clever, resourceful and compassionate. Of her brothers, Robert is the more rumbunctuous, while Cyril is the more knowledgeable and scientifically minded. Jane is the youngest, and most inclined to sulk, or not quite realise what is going Although the boys sometimes patronise their sisters, in the manner typical of the period, the girls never "live down" to such descriptions, and their brothers fairly often have to apologize and admit that they were wrong.
The opening description of the family as "poor" is, naturally, relative, since they do have servants, and the children are educated. But it is obvious that finances are strained. When they lived in London there was no money for travel or entertainments, and it is evident that the rundown appearance, and inconvenience, of their new home is something that their mother struggles with. Anything new has to be carefully saved up for, and any new toy is a major event. In an era where anyone from the middle class was expected to have at least one servant, the family is clearly relatively low down the social scale. They do not have the unconscious arrogance of those to whom money is no object, and one of the wishes results in a scathing condemnation of such attitudes.
Both the relative freedom, and the expectation of using one's imagination during play, remind me of my own childhood.
The fact that this is the children's point of view needs to be emphasised. The portrayal of the "Red Indians" might well be offensive if considered as a representation of Native Americans; however it is clear that what the children get from their wish is the Red Indians of their imagination, and are no more related to the actual indigenous inhabitants of North America than the castle besiegers, dressed in armour that is a mish-mash of time periods (but matching the standards of accuracy of the historical romances that the children have read), are representative of any European army that ever existed.
The term "gypsy" was neutral, rather than a racial slur, at the time when the book was written. I winced initially at their child-stealing urges - fulfilling the stereotype - but those are the side-effects of a wish (and not confined only to the "gypsies"). The actual portrayal of their lifestyle and values was actually more sympathetic than many modern accounts, and one, Amelia, is one of the most sympathetic adults whom the children encounter. They contrast strongly with the circus folk, whose portrayal is far less kindly.
This is an England divided by class. There are people far above the children, and the working class, whose company they would never make socially. But all characters are individuals, not types, and both good and bad behaviour is demonstrated at all levels. The children do not take the servants, or anyone else, for granted.
The writing style is vividly descriptive, both in the mundane and fantastic sections. The realism of the social observation gives the story roots within to frame the magical element.
And there is a wry sender of humour in the tone of the author that amused me greatly when I first read this, and still does now.
This is the first of three books about these children, but it is a complete story in itself.
Helmet Reading Challenge 24, 33, 39
>62 -pilgrim-: - I loved this story as a child. You have inspired me to put it on my reread list.
This reminds me that I want to read The Railway Children soon. I hope you enjoy your reread, -pilgrim-.
>64 -pilgrim-: I had no idea it was a trilogy. I remember reading it back in elementary school but I don't think I'd really picked up on the idea that if I liked a book to check out other books by the author. Took me a while to get THAT concept ;-)
So now I'm looking forward to your reviews of the other two!
>66 BookstoogeLT: I actually read the third book first, and only discovered the others because I liked it so much.
>62 -pilgrim-: I have heard about that story for years, yet never read it myself. I would like to one of these days.
>68 MrsLee: All the books of the trilogy are currently available for free on Amazon for Kindle (in the UK at least).
>70 ScoLgo: Do you have any idea of the quality of the gutenberg editions? I've had real 50/50 luck with some of the stuff I've gotten from them..
>71 BookstoogeLT: No, I haven't downloaded those particular books. I just took a peek to see if Gutenberg had them since Amazon often 're-packages' free books from the public domain and then sells them for $0.49 or $0.99. Questionable business practice IMHO but it is public domain material so there is no law against it. The sad part is that, at least IME, Amazon usually does not seem to fix any of the quality issues you mention. If they did, I would personally have less of an issue with them doing it.
>72 ScoLgo: Thanks. I can always check myself, just figured I'd try to save myself a whole 60 seconds :-D
The Amazon copy that I read (for free) was marked as having "quality issues". As far as I can see, that is simply because it included the list of illustrations without actually including the illustrations. I found no problems with the actual text.
There were some free versions for Kindle on Amazon, but since I had a .99 credit available to me, I ordered the .99 version hoping it is perhaps better quality than the free ones. :)
>75 MrsLee: Mathematically speaking the 0.99 version is infinitely more expensive than the free one so you should expect the quality to be infinitely better.
EDT: As I have recently read Reality is not what it seems I will have to point out that infinite is finite. I had to mention this here because I am sure hfglen or haydninvienna would bring this up if I had not added this qualification.
>77 pgmcc: But then of course you can consider infinity raised to the power of infinity... And that process repeated an infinite number of times.
Hence there is an infinity of infinities.
The Dying Trade: Book 2 of The Privateersman Mysteries by David Donachie - 2.5 stars
I read the first book of this series ten years ago, sand have been looking out for its sequels ever since; have finally found them on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited.
The first book, The Devil's Own Luck, was an interesting mixture of the naval fiction, historical fiction and crime fiction genres. It was set in the Napoleonic era, and comprised a murder mystery aboard a Royal Navy ship.The captain had a long-standing grudge against Harry Ludlow, and was therefore quite willing to hang his brother, James, for the murder, on circumstantial grounds, unless Harry could find the real killer first.
In this book, Harry has been operating successfully as a privateer and amassed a significant amount of money, but is currently without ship or crew. After some negative interaction with Royal Navy officers - which, as James observes, Harry could easily have avoided - Harry is asked by Admiral Hood to investigate the death of a naval officer in Genoa. (The promised reward is s set of redemption certificates, which would enable him to operate as a privateer without having to run from every Royal Navy ship he encounters or risk having his entire crew impressed into the British navy.)
Genoa at this time was an independent republic, whose prosperity arose from trade. Although neutral, it currently has a French naval vessel birthed there. There also seem to be a lot of privateer vessels operating from there. If Harry can prove that the French were responsible for the murder, then he could make a case for having them ended, at the least. But that would necessitate coming to grips with the labyrinthine local politics. Meanwhile, Harry has a more selfish aim - rating himself with a suitable ship and a new crew.
The setting was vividly and beautifully described. Although the language was not as carefully 18th century as in Patrick O'Brian's novels, it nevertheless avoids any obvious anachronisms. And the behaviour of all the characters, particularly that of the Ludlow brothers, is certainly true to the period.
Further positive points are the portrayal of the ordinary seaman; although they are seen from an officer's point of view, they are portrayed as individuals, not as a forehead-knuckling mass (far from it!)
This is one of those books that, on looking back on it, I feel should have tasted far higher than it does. It is well-written and authentic. The problem is that I just never found myself hurrying back to it; I kept picking up other books instead. I did not really get involved until a stonking sea-battle about two thirds of the way through.
I think that part of the problem was that I was not warming to either of the brothers. Away from the sea, Harry's habits of decision without consultation, as his brother points out, cease to be the standard behaviour of a naval captain, and become just obnoxious arrogance. However James' supercilious derision of those he judges to be insufficiently cultivated was equally annoying. Both brothers' personalities do seem highly representative of men of their rank in that period, so it feels unreasonable to carp. But the number of times that they created problems for themselves by giving gratuitous offence got rather wearing (even though realistic).
It did not help either that I guessed the culprit very early on, although the full motive (and explanation of the book's title) did not come until much later.
I found the depiction of eunuchs made me uncomfortable, but then we are seeing them through Harry's eyes (and he is not feeling very tolerant at the time), and his description matches those given by actual 18th century travellers.
There was, however, a distinct historical inaccuracy around the major theme of the book. MAJOR SPOILER:
But as a final frustration, the ending is ridiculous, considering everything that has gone before.
N.B. David Donachie is perhaps better known for writing under the pseudonym of Jack Ludlow.
Helmet Reading Challenge: 7, 15, 24, 25, 30, 37
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.