2011 books read

January books:

1. A Suitable Vengeance – Elizabeth George
This one was an oddity, the fourth book in the series and yet set a couple of years (I think) before the other books. Havers is barely there, because of the setting, and I missed the relationship between Lynley and Havers more than I expected. This is also in the days before the established relationships, so I missed Simon and Deborah together but was also fascinated because this is the story of how they became Simon and Deborah. It’s also the book where we find out a lot of Lynley’s family secrets, the things that shape the man we know in the other books, and we get to see the uglier side of Lynley’s background. As a study of the backgrounds of all the characters and a good mystery (yes, there is a mystery here) it’s a good book but I’ll be glad to get back to the normal time period with the next one.

2. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
A friend of mine has been raving about the Outlander books ever since I met her, so I though that I should really give this one a go. I’ll start by saying that it’s not a bad book. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it is a step up from much of the bad writing that haunts certain sectors of the romance genre. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of book where I danced for joy when I finally got to the end and really wished that I hadn’t stuck with for so long. The plot didn’t really capture me, there was some odd historical inaccuracies that jarred me (rationing in England did not end with the war, it was still in force in the early 50s) considering the amount research done in other areas and I could not engage with the characters enough to care for them. I suspect that this is one where some people are going to love it and other people will be a bit ‘meh’ about it. I fall into the latter camp, unfortunately.

3. Daughter of Time – Joshephine Tey
This was a recommendation from somewhere on 75 books, either a personal thread or the mysteries thread, and I loved it. I finished it last night and can easily see myself re-reading it again because there’s so much lovely historical research detail to go over again. The basic plot is that Inspector Grant has broken his leg and is on enforced bed-rest in hospital while it heals. A friend suggests that he tries his hand at researching a historical mystery and hands him a bunch of portrait re-prints to look at. Grant picks out Richard III, who has a face that does not fit with history’s most notorious murderer, and sets out with the help of a British Museum researcher to work out whether he really did kill the Princes in the Tower. The book was published in 1951 so some of the ideas were familiar to me already (I’m a bit of a medieval history buff) but some of the evidence was new to me and the way that Tey wrote it kept the investigation fascinating throughout. She managed to breathe life into the historical figures despite their existence as academic studies just as vividly as she created her fictional characters. It’s historical research presented in as a good old fashioned mystery and it works brilliantly. I’d recommend it to anyone and it’s a strong contender for going onto my favourite books of 2011 list.

4. Mistborn: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
I read Elantris a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it because Sanderson does such a good job of writing epic fantasy with a bit of a twist. When this trilogy was being discussed on the 75 books threads I decided to give it a try, despite the slightly unpreposessing title, and I’m very glad that I did. The first book is epic, filled with twists and turns, never goes quite where you expected and has both a resolution and some un-resolved things that left me itching for the next book. The characters, particularly Vin, Kelsier and Elend, are beautifully drawn and they are allowed to grow as the book progresses. Sanderson uses Allomancy as his main magic in the book, the ability to ‘burn’ metals for different abilities, and it’s a wonderfully unique system of magic that really enhances the story. If you like epics and high fantasy and you want to read something just a little bit unusual then you should definitely check this one out.

5. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (January 2011)
I’ve been intending to get into short stories more, as so much of the good work in sci-fi is done in that arena, so I bought myself a subscription to Asimov’s for my Kindle. As the bulk of the magazine is novellas and short stories, it works brilliantly on that format. I’d never seen it on the shelves anywhere so this is my first real dig into this kind of fiction. Asimov’s has an excellent reputation, regularly being the first publisher for Hugo award-winning stories, so I thought this was a good place to start. Having gone through that…
I think the strongest stories for me have been two short stories towards the end. Interloper by Ian McHugh is set in a future Australia and it was both weird and compelling, with its hints at some kind of invasion attempt and altered humans. Ashes on the Water by Gwendolyn Clare is set in a future India and explores the impact of future water shortages. It was beautifully written with some great imagery that will stay with me and a setting that is unusual in our Western-centric sci-fi world.
Dolly by Elizabeth Bear was a fun story. I’m a big fan of Bear’s work already, so I knew that I’d like that and while the idea has been used a number of times in sci-fi, she gave it a nice little twist that made it her own. The feature novella, Killer Advice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, was the other big stand-out piece although not as memorable as the the short stories. It was a good story and kept me interested all the way through. She had a nice touch with descriptions and her characters definitely not 2-D cliches as they could have been in this kind of story. Two Theives by Chris Beckett will also stay with me, I suspect, because the imagery was quite strong although I found myself a little dissatisfied with it overall. I’d say that there was more strong fiction that weak and I’m looking forward to February’s edition (which is just out).

6. The Sleeping Beauty – Mercedes Lackey
I love Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms books. They’re fun, inventive books that are complete brain candy but always keep me entertained. This one melds the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and some of the Ring Cycle of sagas into a quirky, fun romp. The Princess knows more than most about The Tradition because her kingdom is blanketed with it and requires a Godmother all to itself to manage things so that The Tradition does not produce endless tragedy. The solutions that Rosa and Godmother Lily come up with to problems are terrific and the characters are all great, so it’s a winner in my book if you’re after a bit of light, fun fantasy.

7. The Alchemyst – Michael Scott
A young adult novel that I’ve been vaguely thinking about for a while but it got talked about last year during the 75 book challenge so I decided to grab it for the Kindle. There are other YA fantasies that are a bit smoother, but I confess to enjoying this a lot and I’ll definitely be picking up the rest. One of the things that I really appreciated was the use of some of the less ‘popular’ ancient gods as the Elder Race creatures: Hekate, Bastet, Scathatch and the Witch of Endor are unlikely to be ones that kids will have encountered much before. The Morrigain may be a little more familiar to some, but I’d be surprised if many kids knew much about her. Scott picks out historical figures (Nicolas Flamel, Dr. John Dee) and weaves his backstory around their real lives quite skilfully. His modern teenagers are also well realised with some great potential in their stories. As with most series, the book ended in a way that resolved some things and left us on a good cliff-hanger so I’ll be looking out for the next one soon.

8. The Well of Ascension – Brandon Sanderson
I think that I enjoyed this second part of the Mistborn trilogy just as much as the first, which is unusual for the middle book. The pacing was great and there was a sense of urgency and fear as things got darker and good outcomes became harder to see. As with the first book, a lot of the threads were tied up at the end and a new/old threat was introduced to give us a reason to hunt down the final book. Sanderson doesn’t kill characters often, but he isn’t afraid to do it and that adds to the general tension in the books. You know that not everyone will get out alive and he makes you really care about all the characters. I’d highly recommend this one.

February books:

9. Septimus Heap Book One: Magyk – Angie Sage
This one went onto my list after some positive reviews in places because it sounded like an intriguing, fun read. Then it was briefly a free promotion for the Kindle, so I grabbed it (who wouldn’t?) on the spot. I think this could work for an undemanding 6-7 year old, but doesn’t work as well for the child’s parent. There is plenty of action, derring-do and mystery but it felt like everything including the kitchen sink had been thrown at this book. The excess of cliches and standard fantasy tropes meant that I’d guessed the entire plot by chapter 4 and there wasn’t enough charm to keep me really engaged. My suspicion is that a smart child may also find it a bit unsatisfying as well, so it’s definitely not one that I’d recommend for an advanced reader because there are other, more cleverly written, books out there that would provide the fun that this book intends while also giving the genuine thrills and surprises this book was missing.

10. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (Feburary 2011)
The main novella, “The Choice” by Paul McAuley, is definitely the stand-out work for me in this one. The story is beautifully written, set in a future where the ice-caps have melted and the Earth is working itself out of the convulsions and upheaval that ever-more-sophisticated wars left. There are lots of delicious hints at what that world is like, but never so much details that the plot is slowed down. The central character, Lance, is sympathetic and intriguing and the writer manages to tell a good story that is both resolved and left me wanting to return to that world one day to explore more. The novellette, “Out of the Dream Closet” by David Ira Cleary, was much more disturbing and didn’t have quite the same level of polish. It was filled with ideas and I was held by it throughout despite the uncomfortable subject matter. While it was not precisely enjoyable, I know that it’s one that will stay with me for a long time. The short stories were a bit of a mixed bag, with the only one that really stood out being “Planet of the Sealies” by Jeff Carlson because it had quite the unusual kicker at the end.

11. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
This was the first book in the 75 Books group Austen-athon. It was a re-read for me, although it has been a long time since I last read it and my memory of the book had merged with the events in the various film versions rather more than I thought. Although I enjoyed it, I was surprised by how hard it seemed to be to work through. My memory was that this was one of Austen’s lighter books (compared to Emma or Mansfield Park), but actually it is missing the light touch and wit that her later books incorporate so beautifully. This is definitely a first novel and it’s good, but her abilities definitely increased with experience. The central characters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, are senstively drawn and you really feel for them and engage with them. Austen’s dastardly characters (Lucy Steele, Fanny Dashwood and Willoughby) are suitably horrid and she populates the book with characters that you love or hate with passion. Her ability to create such memorable characters is one of Jane Austen’s strengths and, though her writing is not quite as polished as it is in later books, you can easily see here why people love her work so much.

12. Cotillion – Georgette Heyer
I found this one a bit hard to really get into, possibly because it was combining with Jane Austen for an over-dose of Regency, but got really absorbed by the final chapters. It’s my first Heyer Regency (I’ve read a few of her mysteries) so I was not sure quite what to expect. There is a lot of humour, slightly ridiculous situations and a heroine that I became really fond of by the end. what I probably enjoyed most, though, was that it was all being set up for a particular cliche ending and then in the final chapters Heyer took everything apart and put it all together in a resolution that I thoroughly loved. I’ve read my share of Mills and Boon and their ilk, not to mention loving Austen, so it was refreshing to get that unexpected ending.

13. Soulless – Gail Carriger
There was a lot of chatter about this one on the 75 books group and it sounded intriguing and fun. I needed something that would be easy to get into after a spate of books that I wasn’t terribly interested by and this definitely fitted the bill. I was hooked after the first paragraph and devoured it in every spare moment. The central character, Alexia Tarabotti, is terrific: strong, determined, vivid and funny. She jumps off the page and pulls you into the story immediately. The entire book is populated with characters like that, bright, well-drawn characters that the reader cares about almost from the moment they appear on the page. The plot is just quirky enough to be unpredictable and keep the reader guessing without getting overly complicated and the world that Carriger creates, with steampunk, vampires and werewolves, is one that I want to return to and learn more about. The romance subplot is nicely handled, adding to the book rather than distracting, and I cannot find any realy flaws in it. The next two books in the series have been pushed to the top of my wishlist!

14. From Doon With Death – Ruth Rendell
The first Wexford book, so not as polished as later books but it’s easy to see why this series is so popular. I didn’t guess the end until Wexford was part-way through his summing up, which is always good, and Rendell has a good touch for plot. All the bit-players are fairly unpleasant, which I find one of Rendell’s weaknesses, but Wexford and Burden are sympathetic and keep the reader engaged. It’s nice to have a detective team where the older, experienced detective doesn’t talk down to his side-kick and Rendell starts the process of introducing the characters while leaving plenty of gaps to fill in later books. Not a literary masterpiece, but a good, solid mystery that keeps the brain engaged.

15. A Great and Terrible Beauty – Libba Bray
This is one where the cover intrigued me and I’ve seen discussion around it, so I decided to put it onto the Kindle for my trip to England. It was an easy book to get into, although not the easiest book to read because it went into some odd and slightly disturbing places and I couldn’t quite decide whether I liked the central character or not. I found Gemma quite had to have sympathy for at times because her decisions were the kind that you knew would be bad, but I had to see how she ended up. It’s set mainly in a Victorian girls’ boarding school, the kind of place where experimenting with magic and the occult actually doesn’t seem insane, and it had some interesting ideas that were quite well-executed. I probably will read the follow-ups, but maybe not yet. I think this is the kind of series that can only be read in small stages.

March books:

16. Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
Somehow, I had never heard of Connie Willis until I saw her books being discussed on LibraryThing. How on earth did that happen? This is her first Oxford Time-Travelers book and it is brilliant, so I good that I have already bought the next one. It’s set in Oxford University in 2054, when time-travel has been mastered in a fashion and is used for historical research. I don’t think it’s giving much away to say that the story begins with the first trip to a Medieval period, which goes wrong in both unexpected and expected ways. The writing is engaging, intense and filled with tension and she transports you to both 2054 and the medieval world with equal vividness. Willis’ characters are wonderfully drawn and the reader very quickly feels for them, which makes the events much more personal and affecting. I loved this book and it is already on my list of top 2011 reads.

17. Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper book 1 – Tamora Pierce
I have no idea how this one passed me by, because I’ve loved all of Pierce’s Tortall books, but somehow it did so it became one of my holiday reads. I’ve heard some great things about it over the years and it lived up to my expectations completely. The journal style is quite different from Pierce’s usual writing, but it works beautifully for this story and this character. We get such a clear picture of Beka through her writing style as well as her adventures and the secondary characters are all wondefully vivid. Pierce doesn’t shy away from the rough side of a nation just starting to set up a police force and it’s a fascinating side of early Tortall that she drops the reader into. The thought that has gone into how the Dogs would work and function within a society like this is wonderful and it really made the book come alive. Definitely recommended and I’ll be grabbing the next one in the series very soon.

18. Changeless – Gail Carriger
This is the follow-up to Soulless, which I loved to pieces, so I knew going in that I would love this one. I read most of it in one lovely long Saturday marathon, accompanied by tea and chocolate, which allowed me to be completely absorbed by everything. As I hoped, Carriger starts to explore the world she has created a bit more and we get a peak at her werewolf society and its structure. I could tell that she had been working hard to set things up so that Alexia would finally get her dirigible ride, but it fitted beautifully into the story and I loved all the little details. One of Carriger’s strengths is her character writing: she creates characters who are bright, vivid and jump off the page and she never wastes them. Even Ivy, who is delightfully ridiculous, has her moments to shine and the new character, Madame Lefoux, is someone that I look forward to seeing agin. The main plot this time revolves around the sudden temporary humainization of the supernatural set and Alexia’s investigations into the cause. It neatly dove-tails into several other plots which kept me completely absorbed. You will need to have the next book, Blameless, to hand because while many of the plots are nicely tied up, Carriger leaves us on something of a cliff-hanger and waiting to read on is not an option!

19. To Say Nothing Of The Dog – Connie Willis
The second in Willis’ Oxford Time-Travel series, and it is a complete contrast from The Doomsday Book. Where the first was intense, dark and focused on the impact of plagues and pandemics, this one is a light-hearted Victorian farce that makes use of time-travel brilliantly. I can understand why some people would be jarred going straight from death and despair to boating on rivers if the two books were read immediately one after the other, so I took a couple of weeks’ break between them and read some other things as a palate-cleanser, so to speak. It was the right call because I loved this book and I really appreciated the difference in tone from the first. This was still a book that I couldn’t put down, bu for different reason: there’s a large streak of farce, so you can’t help needing to see just how much deeper Ned can dig himself at each turn! At the same time, Willis really takes advantage of time-travel and the rules and ideas she set up in the first book, so this is a clever book where the reader cannot guess what is happening until the very end. Willis does not forget to develop some wonderful characters and sense of the ridiculous is just right for this book, particularly when she deals with the Victorian era, and it’s that combination of characters, clever plotting and perfect tone that make this book highly enjoyable and highly recommended.

20. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (March 2011)
The strength in this edition is way that several of the stories, which seem fairly innocent on the surface, linger with you because of the ideas that they consider. “Purple” by Robert Reed, the final novelette, is probably the most notable. It has a satisfying ending, but when you think about it too deeply the ideas are quite horrific. “I Was Nearly Your Mother” by Ian Creasey is also disturbing and compelling, with the ideas on hopping between alternate worlds seeming quite fun and innocent until you realise the damage it can do to peoples’ psyches. The first short story, “Where”, uses some stylistic writing choices that I found unreadable, unfortunately. I’m sure that the ideas are terrific, but I just couldn’t get past the writing. “God in the Sky” by An Owemoyela is another one that sticks with me. It’s left largely unresolved for good reason and although it’s root is science-fiction, it’s really a story about humanity and human nature. “Movement” by Nancy Fulda is the other stand-out short story and you have to read it to understand why, because explaining why it stands out would involve giving away the core of the story. Overall, this edition had more stand-outs than clunkers and I’ll be going back to a few of the stories because I think they’re ones that benefit from re-reading and re-considering after some deep thought.

21. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
After finding Sense and Sensibility harder to get through than I remembered, it’s a relief to discover that P&P is every bit as fun and readable as I remember! Austen’s prose is delightful, filled with wit and dry humour, and her dialogue is just perfect. S&S gives a hint at Austen’s talent for character, but it’s in P&P where she really succeeds and there isn’t a dull, flat one here. Obviously, our heroines are Elizabeth and Jane Bennet and it’s hard not to love them. Jane, who always sees the best in everyone, is sweet and kind without being insipid and Elizabeth is such a bright, vivid character that she jumps out of every page. Their partners are well-matched and our gradual understanding of Darcy is beautifully done. It’s hard not to rave about every character and why they are terrific: even the ‘villains’ of the piece are perfectly suited to the story. The reader can’t help loathing Mr. Collins on sight and Wyckham’s behaviour, while not as terrible as Willoughby’s, somehow makes us hate him far more than Willoughby. For myself, I think it is because the character he ruins is someone who had the potential to be redeemed until he entered his life and we know how things will be for them later. Overall, it’s a terrific book filled with humour and great observations on human nature, with romances that we can cheer and rather less of the over-wrought angst that peppered Sense and Sensibility.

22. Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld
This one has be intriguing me for a while and several people have recommended it, so I decided to give it a go. I loved it. The ideas are wonderfully creative and the setting (dawn of WWI) is both familiar and strange due to the world that Westerfeld has created. Adding an ideological, Clankers vs. Darwinists, element to it promises to make this a fascinating series. As well as great world-building, westerfeld creates two central teen characters (and several secondary adult characters) who are interesting, rounded and thoroughly compelling. I really enjoyed the fact that although Deryn is posing as a boy to be able to enter the Aeronautical Service, she is very much a kick-ass girl in our heads. It’s a trick that Tamora Pierce pulled off well in her Alanna books and it’s not an easy one to do, so I’m impressed with how well Westerfeld does it. Deryn is a fantastic heroine and I can’t wait to see more of her. Alek has is also a great character, showing growth and learning throughout and never becoming a spoiled brat even though his story could easily have led him there. I’ve grown to really care about the characters and the world Westerfeld has created so I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series. Highly recommended.

23. Blameless – Gail Carriger
I’m definitely a huge fan of these books and the only bad thing about this book is that I now have to wait several months for the next one to be published! Alexia is as resourceful and practical as ever, despite being on the run from vampires across Europe, and the mystery this time is more personal for her while also affecting all our favourite characters. One of the things that I’m loving about these books is Carriger’s secondary characters and the way that they’re allowed to grown and deepen each time we see them. Ivy is just wonderful here, becoming more than her ridiculous hats, and Professor Lyall is given the chance to shine while Connal is temporarily out of action. Getting a glimpse of Carriger’s Europe, where the supernatural set has not been incoroporated into society in the way it has in Britain, was fascinating and adds a new element to the books. As always, although Carriger ties up the threads of the book nicely by the final chapter she also leaves us needing to find out what happens to our favouruite characters next.

April books:

24. Foundation: Intrigues – Mercedes Lackey
This is the second in Lackey’s Foundation series, set in Valdemar after the end of the Herald Mages but long before most of her other Valdemar books. It’s not award-winning literature or deep and important ideas, but as always it’s fun, compelling and filled with characters you either love or hate. Mags does descend into self-pity a little too often (a bad Lackey trait) but otherwise continues to be an interesting character with a fairly unique outlook on the world around him. It’s a the middle part of a trilogy, so it continues some of the ideas and themes from the previous book while also setting up things for what I assume will be the big climax in the final book. It’s nice to see the characters developing and growing and I’m becoming a bit of a Dallen fangirl because he’s one of the most fun Companions that Lackey has given us. Overall, a solid entry in her Valdemar books and just right for a self-indulgent weekend of tea, books and chocolate.

25. Mistborn: The Hero of Ages – Brandon Sanderson
The final book in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and I spent most of the book utterly unable to work out how he could possibly give us a good ending. After all, things just got more impossible and bleak with every chapter. How was he going to do it? The answer is that he did and the book manages to be compelling, hopeless, hopeful and satisfying all at once. The magic and the entire plot are so nicely filled with logic and rules that it makes sense when he finally puts it all together for you. Characters grow and learn and there’s the constant tension of who will survive and who won’t, because Sanderson regularly demonstrates that he’s not sentimental about killing characters when the plot needs it. Overall, a thrilling set of books and that stands out well from the usual epic fantasies.

26. For the Sake of Elena – Elizabeth George
A solid entry in the Inspector Lynley series, taking in Cambridge, several of the on-going plot threads and a mystery that left me guessing until about the time that Lynley figured it out. The insights into Havers’ life and the decisions she has to make about her mother were heart-breaking at times and it’s nice to see the understanding and friendship that have built between Lynley and Havers used to good effect here. I’m glad that the Lady Helen plot is finally getting resolved and it was interesting to see her sister’s life and the potential source of some of Helen’s concerns. Overall, this one did feel more focused on the lives on Lynley and Havers than the mystery and there are better entries in the series, but it was a good read and a relief after the previous outlier book.

27. The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation – Ian Mortimer
Edward III is one of those historical characters that I always hear did great things, but could never really recount any of them. Mortimer starts out with the premise that Edward III was regarded as a great king but has been largely dismissed by 18th and 19th century historians and that is why people no longer know much about him. He is trying to re-dress this, which I suspect is why he often seems to have a bit of hero worship going on when he deals with things that show Edward III in a particularly good light. Despite this bias, he is not completely blind to Edward’s faults and admits that he made some bad choices at times. Mortimer also regularly references his own theories on the fate of Edward II, a subject that he first touched in his work on Roger Mortimer, and those are the moments that threw me off a little. Not because I don’t believe him, but because I want to see what other historians think of that theory before I draw my own conclusions and it coloured some of my impressions of Mortimer’s other research. Overall, Edward III comes across as a quite fascinating character who was the picture of the medieval warrior-king but was also a parliamentary reformer and law-maker. Perhaps the most interesting element, for me, is that he formalised the regular sitting of Parliament and the inclusion of the commons. It’s not completely unfair to say that he began the modern Parliamentary system. The book reads well, providing a narrative that is neither dry nor overly flamboyant, and Mortimer gives plenty of insights from the records into Edward III’s person as well as his historical achievements. To get a properly rounded feel for him, though, I think this needs to be supplemented by another work by a historian with a different view point.

28. Declare – Tim Powers
The first book from my reading the Arthur C. Clarke nominations list, so I knew that it would be pretty good. In fact, it was excellent. It does help if you know a bit about the Cambridge spies, specifically Kim Philby, and what was going on during 1950s Europe, but Wikipedia supplied sufficient information to add a lot of depth to what I was reading in the novel. The central character, Andrew Hale, is one of the few entirely fictitious characters and he’s a as layered and interesting as any of the ‘real’ characters. One of the great things about this novel was the way that Powers released information very gradually, not so slowly that you gave up, but at the right rate to keep you turning the pages compulsively. The first couple of chapters read as though this is just a spy novel, albeit a well-written one, with the supernatural element slowly creeping in and making sense of what is happening. In his afterword, Powers wrote that he didn’t change any of the known details of Philby’s life and movements and slotted in his story into the ‘gaps’. That is exactly what he did and the result was thrilling and compelling.

29. Archer’s Goon – Diana Wynne Jones
I watched the BBC adaptation of this when I was a child and remembered loving it. A few years ago, I managed to ‘acquire’ a digital copy of that adaptation that has to be a digitised file from the a recording of the broadcast. I will never understand why the BBC hasn’t release an official copy! The book is out of print so I had to hunt down a second hand copy. I’m so glad that I did! I was half-expecting that the adaptation had not been faithful so I was delighted to find that, apart from missing a few details presumably for budget/timing reasons, what I watched was pretty much exactly the book. DWJ’s writing is fantastic and her characters jump off the page. The Awful of the book is just as annoying as she is on-screen, but she’s also somehow much more likeable. The idea behind the book is brilliant and, as always, I’d forgotten who the Goon really is so that was a fun discovery. I picked this up and couldn’t stop reading it until I’d finished, that was how much I enjoyed it!

30. Logopolis – Christopher H. Bidmead
This is the novelisation of Tom Baker’s last Doctor Who story, by the man who wrote the script. The thing that I’ve always enjoyed about the Target novelisations is how well they are done: they never read as a script, they read as a book complete descriptions and motivations. The book stays very close to the episode, but Bidmead adds some nice little details to give us a better ‘picture’ and it’s nice to finally understand why the Doctor falls off that blasted platform. That’s never really clear in the episode! This is the Doctor Who story that first introduced me to entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: I actually read the novelisation back when I was a teenager, a couple of years before finally seeing the video. I found out later that Bidmead was a scientist and liked to use his scripts as a chance to educate about scientific principles. He did that through a thrilling plot that I still love and this is still the first thing that I think about when people are explaining entropy on documentaries!

31. Dancing Shoes – Noel Streatfield
Another ‘children need to earn money by going on stage’ book from Streatfield, although this one is a little different in that neither child really wants to learn to dance. Rachel and her adopted sister Hilary’s mother dies and their guardian becomes their uncle, who’s wife runs a dance school/entertainment troupe. Rachel and her mother were always determined that Hilary should become a ballet dancer and a lot of the novel focuses on Rachel’s attempts to keep Hilary away from the ‘wrong’ sort of dance that he aunt teaches, even though Hilary enjoys it far more. It’s a fun, light read and I really felt for Rachel, even though she sounded like a character I’d find tiresome when I first read the book description. Streatfield never creates entirely nasty characters, she leaves them with a human streak, and she’s equally good at not over-loading her good characters with sugar. It’s not her absolute best, but it’s one that I’m sure I’ll be re-reading at some stage.

32. Rivers of London/Midnight Riot – Ben Aaronovitch
Several people recommended this to me as being rather Neverwhere-ish, although not quite in Gaiman’s league. Broadly, I would agree. Aaronovitch makes terrific use of his locations, making Covent Garden almost into a character in its own right. The physical manifestations of the rivers of London are wonderful and I’m hoping that a few of them will be in his next book. Normally I’m not fond of first-person point of view, but Grant’s voice was just right for this book and it’s part of what kept me turning pages. The central big bad was wonderfully creepy and disturbing and I can’t say any more than that because Aaronovitch did such a nice job with it that I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone too early. The only thing that threw me out was the editors’ occasional attempts to American-ize some of the language in my (American) edition, so there’s a couple of references to eighth grade early in the book, although by the end they had obviously stopped because a ‘year five’ slipped through the net. I couldn’t really understand why the American-ization was attempted in a book that where being a London-er is such a key element to the central concepts, but that’s editors for you! It’s the first in what looks to be a series (the next one is just out) and I’m definitely going to be picking up the rest. Although I may look to import from the UK….

33. Sea Glass – Maria V. Snyder
This was absorbing enough to keep me glued for an entire day, reading cover to cover, so it’s obviously a good one! Opal is a great central character and her magic, and its implications, is explored with skill in this book. Snyder gives us a bit of a tour of the world she has created, going back to familiar places and finding new places, while also building a story about the benefits and dangers of the glass magic. There are a few things left unresolved that I suspect are going to come to fruition in the final book but it’s a satisfying ending at the same time. The only problem I had is that the next book isn’t due out until later in the year!

May books

34. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (April/May 2011)
Review to come.

35. Generosity – Richard Powers
This one came from the Arthur C. Clarke short list and I can see why it was nominated, although it is only tangentially a sci-fi novel. The best way that I can describe it is as an extended essay on the nature of happiness and its potential genetic origin, focused through a piece of fiction. It had a lot of interesting ideas and insights into whether personal happiness is something we are programmed for and used a character with a seemingly bottomless level of happiness and optimism to consider this through. It was hard not to like her because Powers cleverly didn’t make her saccharine sweet, despite her constant cheerfulness, and gave her some interesting facets. The main thrust of the novel was exploring whether someone could be broken past the point where there genetic ‘happiness’ levels could no longer save them. The other characters in the book were interesting and I became invested in their journeys as well. The tone of the novel, though, was very clinical and distant so although I became invested in the characters’ lives and outcomes and wanted to know what happened next, I feel an emotional connection to them after they left the page. It’s a very clever novel, with a lot of terrific ideas, but I need a bit more humanity in my books to get really absorbed. I’d recommend it, but not as a book to curl up with and enjoy it. It’s a book to think about and re-read to examine the ideas closely.

36. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
All the emotional thrust that was missing in Generosity was here in spades. The second part of the Kingkiller Chronicles has been nominated all over the placed but I hadn’t read the first part, despite reading positive reviews everywhere. I loved it and I’ll be grabbing the next book very soon. Rothfuss creates an interesting world with a lot of depth that is hinted at but leaves us with an itch to know more. Kvothe, the central character, draws the reader into the story. It’s structured as him telling his life-story to a Chronicler who wants to know the truth behind the legends. Every few chapters returns to the ‘now’ and we get a few more hints at what is happening in the world. I found myself racing through the book because I kept wanting to back to the ‘other’ story, whether I was in the past or the now. Rothfuss’ characters are vivid and engaging. The story in this book is focused on young Kvothe and his early life, but there are hints at darker events in the wider world that I am really looking forward to seeing expanded in the next book. In fact, his story-telling and the rate he provides information makes the book quite addictive!

37. The Exploits of the Chalet School – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
This is a re-read for me, although it’s the first time that I’ve read the hardcover version. I found this in a local second hand bookshop last year and obviously had to buy it because how often do you find Chalet School books in Canada? It’s been so long since I read the paperback that I can’t remember whether anything significant was cut from it, but it did feel a bit more complete and substantial in the hardcover. This is the book that introduced Thekla, one of the rare characters who is completely awful but gives a good insight into some of the classes in Germany in the late 20s/early 30s. Brent-Dyer wrote this well before WWII, but reading it now I can see why Hitler rose to power the way he did. Thekla is Junker to the core, dismissive and often thoroughly unpleasant to people not of her social class or racial background (i.e. almost everyone in the Chalet School), and unlike most girls, her first term at the school does little to reform her. There are lots of the usual Chalet School hijinks, with pranks, an explosion in the chemistry lab and loving descriptions of the Alpine locations. An excellent entry in the series, although the next couple of books are where we really see the consequences of Thekla and her beliefs so they need to be read for this storyline to feel really complete.

38. Rosemary and Rue – Seannan McGuire
I’ve seen a few people raving over this one so I thought I’d give it a try. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. It reminded me a bit of the Dresden books, even though the tone and central character are quite different. Toby, the central character, has spent the last few years as a fish in a koi pond so there is an ongoing theme of thing she doesn’t quite understand or missed out on during her pond years. As the pond was not voluntary, there is also some understandable fear of going back! She’s a faerie changling, part human and raised initially in the human world before being taken back to a faery realm. The events since she left the faery world and the people she has formed relationships are a large part of the core of this book. Toby is initially asked to investigate an old friend’s murder and finds herself caught up in other events. We’re given a good glimpse of the faery kingdoms, which are based on the darker stories and legends rather than the pretty Disneyfied ones and that always gets a thumbs up from me. There is a lot of wry, dark humour in the book, some interesting characters that I became quite attached to, a solid plot and a sense of resolution. However, enough threads are left for me to want to read the next book and get a better look at the world that McGuire has set up.

39. Joey and Co. in the Tirol – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
This is from my precious stack of unread hardback Chalet School book and it’s a bit of a departure from many of them. The school is there in the background as a theme, but this is about a trip that Jack, Joey and a few of their children make to the Tiernsee during the summer holidays. It’s supposed to be a rest for Joey, but as always she somehow finds a cause her children find an adventure. This time it is a family of three children whose father is a woolly-headed space-travel obsessed professor. Professor Richardson is quite happy to leave his children largely alone and unsupervised for days on end while he heads out to gaze at stars and plot a trip into space. Joey’s triplets stumble on them (quite literally) and resolve to help them. There are the usual hi-jinks, escapades and odd moment of true drama and one or two elements are obviously a set-up for the next Chalet School book. Although I missed the school structure of most books, this was a fun story and it was interesting to return to the Tiernsee and see it through the younger children’s’ eyes.

June books:

40. Jo Returns to the Chalet School – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
A re-read for me, probably my third of fourth time! For some reason, this is one of my favourite Chalet School books. It takes place through the first term after Jo leaves school, when she returns for what should have been a quick weekend visit and ends up staying at the school and doing a spot of teaching thanks to measles, whooping cough and staff illnesses. Although Joey has grown up in the pages of the Chalet School books, this is in many ways the first book where I really feel like she’s turning into a grown-up. It’s also the one that feels like the most obvious author insert. I am sure that EDB must have drawn on her own experience for Joey’s disastrous first novel attempt! That first novel may also be one of the reasons that I love this book. There is also a lot more focus on the staff than we get in a regular Chalet School book and I always enjoy a glimpse at the staff room chatter. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable book although not one for first-time Chalet School readers.

41. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (June 2011)
A really strong issue, I thought. The main novella, Kiss Me Twice, was the stand-out piece for me, being both an interesting crime story and a thoughtful exploration of some of the nuances of AIs. The novelette, The Cold Step Beyond, was also haunting and left me thinking long after I finished it. None of the short stories were duds (phew), although All the News That’s Fit and Apocalypse Daily were the two that I really enjoyed. The first was a lovely piece about how a world-view can be formed when information is limited and the second was a fun piece about computer games and social interactivity. This was a much stronger edition than the April/May one and I thoroughly enjoyed every story in it.

42. Pheonix and Ashes – Mercedes Lackey
I went on a bit of a comfort-reading kick and re-read a couple of favourite Mercedes Lackey books. This is one of the Elemental Masters series and it’s a re-telling of the Cinderella story, set in England during World War I. It’s creepy in places and Lackey writes a suitably evil step-mother, with a lovely “Cinderella” character (Ellie) who is strong, determined and resourceful and a hugely damaged hero who needs rescuing and healing just as much as Ellie. Not the deepest literature, but a lot of fun.

43. Firerose – Mercedes Lackey
Another Elemental Masters book, this one based loosely around Beauty and the Beast. It is a little unusual for the series, being set in turn of the century America rather than England, and that influences the tone a little bit. This one doesn’t feel as polished as some of the other Elemental Masters books, although the central heroine is well-drawn and as feisty as any of Lackey’s heroines. I’m always intrigued by the fact that this one, although it has a happy ending, doesn’t have the total cure that many of her books do and it rather suits the characters. Not one of my favourite Elemental Masters books, but good for a rainy afternoon with a mug of tea.

44. Tortall and other lands – Tamora Pierce
This is a collection of short stories by Pierce. There are a fair number of Tortall-based stories and a few stories with new settings: new worlds and a couple of modern-set stories as well. The Tortall stories include updates on familiar characters and a few based on new characters. Of those, Lost is the one that stands out most clearly because it gives a tiny bit of insight into an area of her world that has not been explored much before and has a delightful central character. The Dragon’s Tale is the other stand-out story, giving us the chance to see the world from Kit’s point of view for the first time. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse at how Kit sees things – she is quite an unusual character – and the story strong and compelling. Of the other stories, Huntress is the one that has stuck in my head. It has a slightly familiar theme, but Pierce puts her own spin on it and the ideas are just creepy enough to keep me thinking about them after the end. I find short story anthologies hard to read in one big sitting (which is why this one took so long) but this was great to dip in and out of and the mixture and order of stories has obviously been considered well. Any fans of Tamora Pierce will probably love this.

July books

45. Heartless – Gail Carriger
Another excellent entry in the series. Carriger follows up nicely on plot threads from the previous book, including the destiny of the marvellous Biffy, and adds some new plot threads plus a few lovely red herrings. Alexia is determined not to let advanced pregnancy slow her down and her investigation into threats against the queen and proceeds quickly despite her tendency to waddle rather than stride. One of the strengths of these books is the characters and even Ivy gets her little moment of brilliance. Carriger is also not afraid to shake things up a bit and the final few chapters have me itching for the next book in the series to see how everything settles out. Highly recommended.

46. Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch
This is the second in Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard’s series and, after a slow start, it’s really very good. It picks up a couple of years after the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora, with Locke and Jean setting up a cunning plot to steal more wealth than can be imagined. Of course, everything gets a lot more complicated and never goes where you expect it to which is a large part of the entertainment in these books. I found the first half of the book a bit disjointed and hard to get properly absorbed in, but as soon as a new character, Zamira Drakasha, appears it started to come together a turned into a rip-roaring adventure that had me glued. There are hints dropped at a much bigger story building in the background and the final few pages had me exclaiming out loud. In all, a very satisfying and entertaining read despite the slow start. I’m looking forward to the next one, although I hope that Lynch gets the pacing a little bit better.

47. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (July 2011)
For me, the stand-out piece in this issue was a short story called ‘Pug’. It’s a whimsical fantasy that was a complete delight to read. Minor characters from Jane Austen’s novels have found a gateway between their fictional locations and the story is more of a musing on the nature of minor characters in books than a romp. I loved the chance to see someone’s thoughts on Ann de Bourgh and the author is obviously a lover of Austen, which may be why this story stuck with me so firmly. The other piece that I keep thinking about is called ‘Twelver’, a story about the consequences of changing gestational habits, but ‘Pug’ was the piece that made the magazine’s subscription worth it this month.

48. Unnatural Issue – Mercedes Lackey
The latest in Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, this is a terrific read. It is based around the Donkeyskin myth, one that I wasn’t familiar with until I Googled it, although it uses that idea more as a springboard rather than following it faithfully. That is the tendency with these books and one of the reasons that they’re always new and interesting: Lackey takes an element of a fairytale but is not constrained by following all of it. Unnatural Issue is set in 1914 and the threat of WWI is always there, more overtly than in most of her other Elemental Masters stories. The central female character, Susanne, is strong and clever and I really liked her a lot. Lackey never writes weak female characters, but this one is particularly wonderful. Her male central character is Lord Peter Almsley, who we have met in other books but this is the first time he’s been the focus and he holds the story together very well. There is necromancy, magic, feats of great bravery and a little hint of romance to make this a completely compelling read.

49. Bloodhound – Tamora Pierce
The second in the Rebekah Cooper books and I loved it. The central plot is about money forgery, which is really fascinating when the repercussions start to work through, and Pierce uses the story to give us some wonderful new characters and lots of growth and development for the established characters. I think Becca Cooper may be one of my favourite Pierce characters and her ‘voice’ adds something unique to the narrative. It’s a great addition to the Tortall books and I can’t wait to read the last one.

50. Tongues of Serpents – Naomi Novik
Following the events of the previous books, Lawrence and Temeraire have been sent to Australia. They’re initially accompanied by a couple of old friends and, as always, make both new friends and new enemies when they arrived. As usual, Novik weaves her story around the real events of the time (Bligh!) and re-imagines how the Napoleonic Wars would have been altered by the presence of dragons. This is, in places, quite a dark novel but it’s also a thoroughly enjoyable one and Novik’s descriptions of Australia are beautiful. Temeraire continues to be a fantastic character and his relationship with Lawrence is lovely. There is adventure, intrigue and humour aplenty and I found this a great contribution to the series.

51. Maise Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear
This was a recommendation from the 75 Books group and they did not steer me wrong. The central character, Maisie, is an amateur sleuth just setting up on her own after her mentor retires. The mystery itself is good, although a little predictable, and it is the exploration of Maisie, her past and the events of World War I that really bring the novel alive. Set initially in the late 1920s, the book is very much haunted by the War throughout. While nowadays we tend to focus most of our memories and concerns on WWII, the horrors of World War I in many ways had a deeper impact on society. It was a fascinating book and Maisie is a character that I really look forward to seeing more from. This book had the feel of setting things up for meatier mysteries later, but the backstory and its relationship to Maisie’s life kept me turning the pages eagerly to the end.

August books

52. The Last Dragonlord – Joanne Bertin
This is from my large stack of pre-2008 buys that have never been read. I have a feeling that it was bought in desperation to use up a gift voucher for WH Smiths. It was a serviceable, reasonably enjoyable book with some interesting ideas but didn’t really set my world alight. My opinion may be influenced by the incredibly tiny type the publisher used, which made it hard going and more of a slog than it should be. Quite enjoyable but I’m not rushing out to buy the rest of her books immediately.

53. Birds of a Feather – Jacqueline Winspear
Having enjoyed the first book so much, I had to buy the next book immediately and I wasn’t disappointed. Now that we know the main characters and the set-up, the book focused much more on the mystery and it was a more detailed, nuanced mystery this time. It harked back to World War I again but this time on one of the lesser known aspects and it shows just how complicated the entire thing was. There was also a bit more about Billy and his backstory, which I enjoyed, and Maisie is growing into a lovely, well-rounded character. This is definitely a series that I’ll be continuing.

54. Dissolution – C J Sansom
Another 75 books recommendation, this was an excellent book that combined the mystery and the historical fiction beautifully. It’s set during the early stages of the dissolution of the monasteries, with Cromwell sending a lawyer to act as his commissioner and investigate a death at one of the monasteries that he’s trying to close. The main character, Shardlake, was one that I initially wasn’t sure that I would like but he grew and learned through the book and now I’m going to be very happy to meet him again in the next one. The other characters were well-drawn and the solution to the mystery was one that I wouldn’t have guessed, even though the clues were there. Nicely done! The politics of the time – and the way Shardlake works around them – added an extra depth to the novel and I found it completely gripping.

55. The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole
This was read in preparation for reading Northanger Abbey next month. It was recommended for containing all the important gothic cliches and being short. I’m very glad that it was short because it was convoluted, insane and very hard to take seriously. I can definitely see why Jane Austen found the gothic novel so ripe for mockery and it gives me a much better understanding of how silly Catherine would have been to be so addicted to them!

56. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (August 2011)
Two stories stood out for me in this issue. ‘Corn Teeth’ by Melanie Tem was very weird and quite disturbing. At the other end of the spectrum, “Paradise is a Walled Garden’ by Lisa Goldstein was a steampunk story with a difference: it was set during Elizabeth I’s reign (rather than Victoria’s as so many are) and a large part of the action took place in a Moorish Spain that had lasted longer than the real Moorish Spain did. The author created a world that I’d love to see more of and she thought through the impact of steam technology at that point in history really well. Her characters were vivid and I was left both satisfied and wanting more. None of the stories in this issues were really duds, but those were the two that have stayed with me.

57. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent – Galen Beckett
This was one that I’ve had on my wishlist for a while. The reviews that I’ve seen have been mixed, with some people rather ‘meh’ about it and others loving it. I’m firmly in the loving it camp! Describing it is difficult. The book is split into three sections. The first was rather Austen-esque, with maybe hints of Heyer, and lots of hints at the background plot and magic but nothing overt. The middle section reminded me a great deal of both Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, but this time the magic was a much more central part of the plot. It was spooky, haunting and completely compelling. The final section is back to being a little Austen-esque, but it concentrated much more on the magic and the plot and the conclusion to everything that the book had been building up to. I was left with the satisfied feeling of a good book and some intrigue about the things that had not been tied up and will hopefully be addressed in the next book. It was an unusual book, combining elements of other books and familiar tropes in a new way that I thought was quite creative and a bit unusual. I will definitely be getting the next one!

September books

58. Hospital Sketches – Louise May Alcott
I think this one may have come from alcottacre’s thread. It’s a fairly short book about Alcott’s experiences as a civil war nurse. The tales are told in bright, lively way and the various patients are described beautifully. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

59. The Children of Green Knowe – Lucy M. Boston
Sweet, charming and quite enchanting. It’s not got a big, important central plot and it’s hard to know what to say without giving a lot of it away. This is a children’s book from the fifties with quite a young protagonist. It has that slightly misty feel of a lot of magical books from that time, with the magic never made explicit, and there was a bit of the atmosphere of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. I thoroughly enjoyed it although it didn’t have the “cant put it down” pull of many books.

60. Witch Week – Diana Wynne Jones
I suspect that I should have read this before Charmed Life, but everything made sense and I didn’t feel that I’d missed something major so I’ll look forward to reading Charmed Life in a week or two 🙂 This was so compelling that I read most of it in a marathon session ended only when my back complained that I’d been sitting too long. It was terrific. The boarding school was beautifully drawn, the characters were vivid and engaging, the plot threads were addictive and the final resolution was absolutely perfect. Possibly I wouldn’t have quite ‘got’ Chrestomanci if I hadn’t previously read a Chrestomanci book (The Magicians of Caprona) so I wouldn’t pitch this as the right intro book to this series, but I loved it to pieces. Highly recommended.

61. Perdito Street Station – China Mieville
It’s taken me a long time to write down my thoughts on this one. I think that is because this is a difficult book, both to read and describer, and I am still not entirely sure how I feel about it. The story is only tangentially about the station in the title, instead it is a huge, complex novel with the station as the centre of the city it is set in. There are so many ideas in this book that it can be a bit overwhelming, which may be a large part of why it took me so long to read and why I’m still a bit conflicted. I found myself either liking or loathing all the characters – it was hard to be indifferent – and they all had their flaws. Combining the ideas, multiple plot threads and characters with writing that pulled up some vivid and often disturbing imagery makes this a difficult book. While I am still conflicted over how I feel about it, I can say that I don’t regret reading it and I’m probably going to need to read it again (in a few years!) to really pull everything out of it.

62. Ash – Melinda Lao
This was a bit of a palate-cleanser from Perdito Street. It is a Cinderella re-telling with a difference – the titular Ash falls for the King’s beautiful Huntress rather than the Prince. The story is lovely and has some interesting ideas in addition to the romance. There is another book out there – a prequel called Huntress – that many people tell me is better than Ash so I may need to hunt it down.

October books

63. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Read as part of the 75 books Austenathon challenge. We were recommended to read a gothic before reading this (I read the Castle of Otranto) and I think the exposure to that genre made Northanger even funnier. Austen is not as subtle in her with and humour here as she is in later books like Pride and Prejudice, but it is a very funny book. The writing style lacked a bit of maturity so I can easily believe that this is her first completed novel. The central heroine, Catherine, is naive and innocent, but not as foolish as the TV adaptations I’ve seen often portray her. The various villains of the pieces (male and female) are cads in the extreme and felt, to me, like early, rough sketches of characters that Austen worked much better in her later novels. Overall, a fun novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and will read again but not Austen at her best.

64. Missing Joseph – Elizabeth George
I needed something a tiny bit mindless on my Kindle to recover from the Mieville and this fit the bill nicely. It’s an Inspector Lynley mystery set in the snowy north filled with poisonous plants, secrets, betrayals and village secrets. So, a fairly typical entry. The mystery plot is neatly counter-pointed by Deborah and St. James’ storyline and Havers (and Lynley to a degree) have their personal stories pushed largely to the background. Not one of the best in the series, but a solid book and nicely diverting.

65. Changes – Mercedes Lackey
I have been really enjoying the Collegium series and this is a terrific book in that sequence. Mags’ growing maturity is shining through and it’s great to see the other characters fleshed out more. There was a suitable amount of action, espionage and adventure and hints at a much wider plot going on that we are just seeing the edges of. Lackey usually writes trilogies so I suspect that this may be the last book in the Collegium series. I wouldn’t mind another chance to see these characters, though, and I really hope that Lackey continues to write in this era of her Valdemar world so that I can see how that wider plot develops.

66. Blackout – Connie Willis
I’d been saving this one (and it’s second part) for my vacation and I’m glad that I treated it as something special. I’ve loved the Oxford Time Travel books and they’ll definitely be on my list of top 2011 reads. This one is largely set in, around and through WWII. One of the aspects that I’ve really enjoyed is seeing the Blitz through the eyes of historians who know about it from their research, but are experiencing the reality of it and the every day life away from the iconic photos. Willis creates terrific characters that you engage with and become attached to, which gives this book an added tension: will a character that I adore make it through? Not necessarily. Previous books have mentioned the theories and ideas behind time-travel, but that aspect has never been a big part of the books except where slippage causes issues for our heroes. This seems to be the series where Willis addresses that and she does it in a creative and fascinating way. The book ended on a cliff-hanger that made me grateful to be able to immediately dive into the second part.

67. All Clear – Connie Willis
This is the second part of the story begun in Blackout and it is even better than the first part. Willis creates plenty of tension and there are several points where it looks like our characters could be rescued but something unexpected happens each time to prevent it. It was fascinating to see how each character adapts to their situation, the way they grow from naive historians into whatever is needed to survive the war. I was genuinely attached to them all so there are some heart-wrenching parts to this book, but at the same time I ended it with a huge smile and a deep sense of satisfaction. The resolution to everything was not what I had expected and I found that I liked the ending that Willis wrote far better than anything I could have imagined. This is a wonderful set of books that I’d recommend to anyone.

68. Charmed Life – Diana Wynne Jones
DWJ writes such compelling books that I consumed this in a couple of days. This is another Chrestomanci book and it gives a bit of information about Chrestomanci, while leaving me itching to read more books and learn more. The characters are vivid, with a couple that you absolutely loathe and the rest more subtle: they’re likable, but flawed, and thus more real than the a character like Gwendolyn who is pure nastiness. There is enough sophistication of ideas amidst the adventure and magic to keep adults and kids alike interested. Fabulous.

69. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (September 2011)
I knew that there would be a dud issue at some stage and this appears to be it. In previous editions there have been one or two stand-out short stories even in issues where the longer stories are uninteresting, but none of the stories in this issue really grabbed me. There were a couple of stories that I couldn’t finish, a couple that left a sour taste in my mouth and the rest were rather blah. A rather forgettable issue.

70. Fables: Legends in Exile – Bill Willingham (Vertigo)
I expressed an interest in the new ABC show Once Upon a Time and a friend recommended this comic/graphic novel series because the show sounded rather similar to it. The TV show is actually nothing like Fables (although I enjoyed it a lot) and I’m very happy that my friend recommended this one. It seems to have triggered a latent interest in comics (my poor iPod is doing its best and will probably happy to turn this duty over to the iPad when I get it) but the first volume of Fables is the first thing that I’ve actually collected and finished. The idea of fairy tale characters in exile in our world is not original, but the way that it’s written is unique and I already feel attached to the characters. Willingham created an intro story that gives us just enough information on the backstory to grab the reader’s interest without revealing everything. The main plot, about the murder of Snow White’s sister, is an interesting police procedural and it left enough hanging threads and unanswered questions to guarantee that I will be returning for more.

November books

71. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (October/November 2011)
This was a double-issue so there were a couple of longer novellas, a couple of novelettes, and six short stories. Happily, none of them were duds and most of them were thoroughly enjoyable. There was a spooky theme to several of the short stories – a couple were downright creepy – which was appropriate to the season. The novelettes were both a bit weird and thoroughly compelling. It was the novellas that really captured me. They were quite different: the first was thoroughly sci-fi and the second more fantasy. They were both a mixture of adventure and thoughtful consideration of an idea and they were definitely worth the subscription on their own. Good issue.

72. The Curse of Fenric – Ian Briggs
This is the novelisation of one of the Seventh Doctor adventures and it is a complex story with an overtone of horror and some wonderful hints at how Ace’s storyline might have gone if the series had not been cancelled. One of the things that I love about the Target novelisations is that most of them are done by the writers of the scripts and they were allowed to elaborate on their scripts. Gaps are filled in, explanations are given that were hard to do in a TV script, and the story is allowed to really flow into what the author intended which is often a much richer, more complete story that we see on the screen. This is one of my favourite Seventh Doctor stories, although it is also one of the most disturbing, involving ancient evil, code breaking and espionage set in England in 1943. It helps to have a familiarity with the Doctor and Ace, but it is not one where you need to have watched the episode in order to understand the story or see it in your head. For me, it added depth to a story that was sometimes confusing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

73. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
As a big Christie fan, I should probably have read this, her masterwork, years ago. In my defence I prefer Miss Marple over Poirot and that is why it has taken me so long to get to this one. It is incredibly clever, filled with characters you quickly become fond of and Poirot is really at his best. One of the things that I enjoy about Agatha Christie is that the characters feel quite real as you read them and, unlike some more modern mystery writers, there are always some sympathetic characters to be invested in. The final revelation of who the murderer is provides a wonderful shock because, although the information is there, it is really impossible to work it out before Poirot does. This is not my favourite of Christie’s books (see my Marple preference) but it is quite brilliant and I can see why it is regarded as one of her best.

74. Point One: Issue #1 (Marvel)
This is, apparently, the serial that is setting up the Marvel re-boot. With so much backstory in all their lines, I have found it difficult to jump in with any of the serials and really understand them so I’m looking forward to the re-boot and the chance to start again with lines like X-Men and Spiderman. Point One is formatted as several stories from different Marvel lines with a framing story about them. In this first issue there is a quick potted history, an unsubtle info-dump, at the beginning of each ‘thread’ so it’s not impossible to pick up each one. I had preferences: the Scarlet Spiderman and the Avengers threads are both quite compelling. The artwork is good, although some of the DC New 52 lines are much better, and I am looking forward to seeing where this serial goes.

75. Dark Fire – C J Sansom
This is the second in Sanson’s series about Matthew Sharlake, this time set a few years after Dissolution during the final days of Thomas Cromwell’s time as Henry VIII’s chief chancellor. As with the previous book, there is a good mix of politics along with this mystery and Shardlake is a character that the reader quickly becomes attached to. A new assistant is assigned to him and I have high hopes for future books with him. There are two mysteries for Shardlake to solve and refreshingly they do not turn out to haves linked resolutions. Their only link is that Cromwell uses one to force Shardlake to investigate the other. Both the murder and the search for Darkfire from the title are fascinating and I found myself gripped throughout the novel. Highly recommended.

76. Thud! – Terry Pratchett
It’s Pratchett and it’s a Vimes book, so it was always going to be a strong entry for me. There are racial tensions between dwarves and trolls, international politics, and a little boy who needs his bedtime story all combining to make a great story. I can’t decide which cultures the dwarves and the trolls are metaphors for but the final resolution of that story is quite insane and brilliant. Possibly one of my favourite bits was most of the Watch helping Vimes to read that children’s classic “Where’s my cow” to Young Sam at one point. Pratchett’s humour is on fine form and the culture he has built up in the Watch series is so rich now that each visit is a treat.

77. Book Smart – Jimmy Palmiotti (Kickstart)
This is one of the first comics that I bought and I waited until I had my iPad to read it because it’s a fairly decent length – much too long to read on an iPod! The preview looked interesting: woman hiking in the Himalayas, guides attack her as she finds a mysterious doorway and she temporarily looses her memory but retains muscle-memory for interesting fighting skills. The search for what happened to her and why she keeps getting attacked by criminals was quite interesting and it was a fun book, but it petered out slightly towards the end and there was a very cliche romance to it. Not one to rush out and buy, but fun if you spot it at a library.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Er, why is it December already? « Of Code and Cats

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