[reading] What have you read recently?


Staff member
# Books in October 2018

Read a bit of RPG stuff this month, posted elsewhere.

## *Norse Mythology* (Neil Gaiman)
I listened to the author read this unabridged on the way to work in the car, and really enjoyed it. It’s a long time since I read any Norse myth based books and this hit the mark. The telling is light and enjoyable and sucks you in, and you can understand why that love/hate relationship is there with Loki. Recommended.

## *Through the Woods* (Emily Carroll)
Beautifully illustrated and very creepy, this is a graphic novel collection of horror stories, the kind that creep around and unsettle you. Excellent.

## *Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History* (Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer)
This was an enormous nostalgia trip for me, and I will be dipping back into it regularly. If you are a gamer and D&D has ever been part of your heritage, treat yourself to this. Absolutely lovely.

## *The Swiss Spy* (Alex Gerlis)
This was disappointing compared to *The Best of Our Spies*. I just didn’t engage into the story. It ties in operations run into Nazi Germany from Switzerland by the British and Russians, and is interesting. However I never warmed to the protagonist. I think I preferred the *Station* series that David Downing wrote. I have a third book by the same author - hopefully that will look up a bit.
# Books in October 2018

I think I preferred the *Station* series that David Downing wrote.
I liked those. Have you read John Lawton's "Joe Wilderness" novels? They're in a similar vein I think while also being heavily indebted to "Harry Palmer/Spy With No Name" era Len Deighton.
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Over October I enjoyed:
A Murder of Quality - can't go far wrong with John le Carre I think, and this was a pleasant change from the usual espionage stuff to a simple whodunnit. Nice.
The Exorcist - ok, so not the obvious book for a minister maybe, but having had it recommended to me I took a deep breath, dived in, and was caught by surprise. Don't know what the film is like, never seen it, but although there are some 'strong' scenes in this, to me it was not so much about the gore and horror but an exploration of faith and the nature of sacrificial love. Not at all what I expected. Stayed with me for quite some time.
In Search of Robert Millar - a biography of the Scottish cyclist by Richard Moore. Cycling is my other passion and I grew up watching the Tour de France in the eighties when Millar was just about the only British cyclist to really hit the heights. Brought back happy memories.
A Briefer History of Time - Stephen Hawking's update less intellectual version of a Brief History of Time. Just about followed it until String Theory came along at the end. Going to have to go away and think some more!
I don't read comics anymore in their native format (too expensive for the content) but I do pick up a few in TPB format - generally stuff like Mouse Guard, The Wicked and the Divine* and Rat Queens** (and whatever massive crossover event nonsense Marvel pumps out, so I can keep my hand in!)

Lately, I have dabbled in some fantasy comics in this format and they've been remarkably good. CODA tells the tale of a wandering one-legged bard and his insanely dangerous pentacorn (yes, that's a five-horned unicorn...) as they search around a post-magical apocalypse looking for his wife. Its quite tongue-in-cheek in places, but it has some excellent ideas. To start with, you are introduced to an immortal dragon, who has no flesh on his bones, cannot do anything but lie there as a skeleton, but still talks. A quite pathetic figure, but a great taster for the setting as a whole. Its great.

ISOLA is another amazing comic, with Captain Rook and her tiger companion, searching for the mythical island Isola. To tell you anything more would spoil the story. However, it has some quite stunning art that manages to be both cinematic and concise, and yet again, some brilliant ideas for world-building ... which sadly, again, if I went into too much detail would spoil the story!

The best thing about both of these books is that you can pick them up for less than a tenner at your local specialist comic book shop. In terms of the sheer number of ideas in Coda, and the visual stimulation of the glorious Isola, they're well worth the money. And they play off the idea of magical post-apocalypse well.

* You do read TW&TD, right? It's like Scion but with something actually happening
** And if you haven't read RQ then shame on you! You'll never play a fantasy RPG the same again once you do!


Rune Priest
Taking a break from The Greek Myths by Robert Graves, I finished Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch, the 7th Rivers of London book which was released today.

The Met and The Folly are still trying to catch Martin Chorley, The Faceless Man Mk II, along with Lesley who is now working for him (although she prefers with him). The story details this, and the thwarting of Chorley’s plot - an attempt to create Merlin by sacrificing Mr Punch. Suffice it to say, they succeed, with some detours en route.

Molly is reunited with a friend from the fae, Guleed seems to be auditioning for a role in the remake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Nightingale discovers a talent for basic teaching in magic, Abigail has friends in the fox community (who all think Molly’s cheese puffs are wicked), and Peter enters a new stage of life when Beverley drops a bombshell.

Great fun.
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley - creepy 70s set tale of christianity vs the occult, set mostly on the bleak Lancashire coast near Morecambe. A few people have complained about the ending being rather opaque. However, if you've played the likes of Call of Cthulhu or even just read a few horror novels it's not hard to figure out what it's about.

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange by Adam Scovell. In two minds about this. At its best Scovell's writing makes you want to seek out and watch the films he describes. A lot of the time though he lapses into a turgid academic style which makes for heavy going. I gather his blog is more reader friendly though.


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Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor (book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary's)

This jumped the TBR queue because book 3 is in the Black Friday Kindle sale and I hadn't read this one yet although Paul had. He thought it started well but tailed off enough to not be worth continuing the series.

St Mary's is a historical research organisation attached to Thirsk University. They have a unique approach to research - they possess the secret of time travel and go back and study the actual event first hand. Dr Lucy Maxwell is invited to join the team of historians and she is the PoV character. We see her during her training and during her first time jumps - the Cretaceous, WWI France and others. However, all is not well - there is another organisation who are looting the timelines and are trying to get St Mary's shut down so they can be the only ones with access to the past.

Good points: it's reasonably well written, and is episodic enough to be easily put down in the middle of the book. Bad points: I could have done without the sex (yes, it's a plot point, but in all honesty it would have worked better if the characters involved weren't being so in-your-face about it), and (what killed it for me), allowing people to go into the past wearing modern clothing especially when they are going to be interacting with history. I mean, the Wardrobe department is meticulous about any clothing that could possibly be seen, but allows thermal underwear and a sports bra? Um, no - that's completely wrong - that's the SCA approach to re-enactment.

Given there are now 9 books in the main series, and a bunch of short stories, I hesitate to recommend this.


Staff member
# Books in November 2018
A quiet month, with some gaming reading in the background and still really busy with work and some family health issues.

## *The Labyrinth Index* (Charles Stross)
I picked this up on a weekend when the better half and the kids were away, started reading it and as I finished it, I realised it was after 2am in the morning. It’s a long time since I did this. I really enjoyed the book; nine entries in, with the original protagonists fading into the background, it still holds my interest. The book addresses the question of what you do when the PM, the avatar of N’yarlathotep, tells you to set up SOE style operations in a formerly friendly country who seems to have forgotten the existence of its head of state. Hostile occult operations in the United States.

## *Thin Air* (Richard K. Morgan)
A return to SF and a return to form from Richard K. Morgan, coming on the back of the successful Netflix take on *Altered Carbon*. This was the second book I finished in the weekend, both of them getting me to a better place. The novel is space-noir, set on Mars in the same universe as *Thirteen* (originally *Black Man*). The protagonist is a former special operations expert who used to ride space ships to manage piracy and other threats. He is genetically engineered to hibernate 4 months in every 12 rather than sleep normally, so has a very different metabolism. The UN COLIN (Colonial Initiative) arrives at Mars to audit the present government against corruption, and our hero is assigned to escort one of the off-world team. Naturally, it gets messy. Fast paced, page turning detective noir, perhaps the only element that may put you off is Morgan’s ongoing love of moderately graphic sex scenes.

## *The Man Between* (Charles Cumming)
Kit Carradine, an author, agrees to carry out a small operation on behalf of British Intelligence while he is overseas at a Book Seminar where he is one of the guests of honour. He becomes entwined with machinations related to Resurrection, an Alt-Left violent revolutionary organisation which practices direct action against right wing figures. He encounters Lara Bartok, one of the founders of the group who left when it changed to using violence, and life becomes very complicated.

This is not Cumming’s best spy-thriller, but it was very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the sequel, especially after the way that it ended.


Rune Priest
Not much to report lately - I've been trying to read Robert Graves The Greek Myths, but that's stalled, I'm a bit over halfway through Stephen Donaldson's Mordant's Need omnibus.

What I have read through recently are some Ilona Andrews titles (I needed some light reading). I don't seem to be reading a lot recently even on the train - mornings I tend to be a bit sleepy, evenings I'm skimming the Standard and doing the puzzles.

First up: an online read - the 4th instalment in the Innkeeper Chronicles: Sweep of the Blade
This has been published online in a series of instalments on http://innkeeper.ilona-andrews.com/. It focuses on Dina's sister, Maud, who is a widow with a young daughter. One of Dina's suitors falls in love with Maud and this is the story of their romance:
Maud Demille was many things during her life: daughter of Innkeepers, sister to one, a wife of a vampire knight, a mother, an exile, a warrior, and an avenging widow. But now life threw a new curve ball: Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful Vampire Houses in the Holy Anocracy.

She refused to marry him, but she can’t let him go.

House Krahr is a powerful vampire House, and Maud knows that a woman who turned down the proposal from its most beloved son wouldn’t get a warm reception. But Maud Demille never shied from a fight and House Krahr may soon discover that there is more to this human woman than they ever thought possible.

Not bad, and I shall certainly purchase it when it becomes available.

Diamond Fire, a Hidden Legacy novella
Set shortly before Nevada and Rogan's wedding, this deals with the fallout of Rogan's decision to marry Nevada without a pre-nup. Rogan's mother wants Nevada to wear some family jewels: a diamond and aquamarine tiara. However, the centrepiece aquamarine has gone missing, and it could only be one of the gathered family members who stole it. The story is told from Catalina's PoV as she has been tasked with finding the perpetrator.

Again not bad.

Iron and Magic, book 1 of The Iron Covenant
This forms part of the wider Future Atlanta story arc, which to date comprises the 10 Kate Daniels novels.

Set between books 9 and 10 of Kate Daniels, this deals with the marriage of convenience between Hugh D’Ambrey, former commander of the Black Dogs (Roland's special ops troop), and the Lady Elara. I came into this before reading any Kate Daniels, and it came across as a straightforward romance novel in the urban fantasy setting (I hesitate to call it paranormal romance because neither are shapeshifters nor does it seem to have many of the tropes associated with that genre - quite apart from anything, the cover doesn't feature tattoos, semi-nude men, skinny women with weapons that appear to be weightless etc, etc).

It seems to fill in some of the backstory to Kate Daniels, and I shall be interested to see how their story pans out. I certainly enjoyed the read.

Magic Bites, book 1 of Kate Daniels
This turned up in the monthly deal, so I got it as I'd recently read Iron and Magic (along with books 4 and 5).

Kate Daniels is a mercenary in Future Atlanta, an alternate universe where magic has returned and wars with science. Magic come in waves: sometimes science works and magic doesn't, other times it's the other way round. She is hired to investigate some killings: one of the victims was her former mentor who had been investigating as well.

The romance interest is the Lord of the shapeshifters in the city.

Not bad, and I'll continue with the series as the book pop up on Amazon (not sure I'd pay full price though).
Horse's A**e by Charlie Owen. First novel by a former police officer. Covers the exploits of a severely dysfunctional group of coppers in a fictitious northern newtown in the mid 70s. Despite the Life on Mars meets the Sweeney cover blurb it's more like an episode of Z-Cars as written by Sven Hassel: Grossly violent, relentlessly scatological and occasionally pornographic. I laughed at it a lot, while simultaneously being appalled at its crude glorification of old school police brutality. Owen's gone on to do another three novels featuring the same milieu and characters. Slightly ashamed to say that I aim to read them as well at some point.


Rune Priest
Mordant’s Need: The Mirror of her Dreams & A Man Rides Through, by Stephen Donaldson.

This was my reread of a series that stayed in my library through various culls (along with Daughter of Regals) whereas the Thomas Covenant series went very quickly. I think I kept it for sentiment - one of the games I was playing in at the time was a mash-up of this and The Fionavar Tapestry (among others). The reread was frankly something of a chore.

Poor little rich girl Terisa Morgan has been emotionally abused by her parents to the extent her defence is total passivity and a retreat into herself. Following her mother’s death, she has moved to New York and an apartment purchased by her father, and works for a homeless charity for want of any ambition. She is ‘translated’ into Mordant by the means of mirror-magic where she is expected to save the kingdom.

So far, so-so. What I found irritating was her passivity and lack of belief in herself. I also found the main villain to be something of a caricature (no doubt played by Terry-Thomas, with a twirling mustache, top hat and opera cape he could have been named Sir Jasper and dropped seamlessly into a Victorian melodrama). Admittedly, she and the hero grow into themselves and their powers, but it seemed to take a long time to get there and I found myself not caring much about their journey.

I won’t say recommended, but if you like long-winded epic portal fantasies with a strong bildungsroman element, then this may be to your taste.


Rune Priest
The Guinea Stamp, by Alice Chetwynd Ley.

A Regency romance with mystery overtones. I read some of Ley’s books back in the 80s, and kept one - Mistress of Chesdene Manor - in my library for many years (it got culled when I got the ebook). I’ve been picking the ebooks up as they show up on Amazon at 99p.

This one I had not come across before; set in Devon during the Napoleanic wars, it deals with a cabal of French spies attempting to blow up the Channel fleet with a prototype submarine (one of Robert Fulton’s designs). Yes, very much historically accurate!

Caught up in the plot is Miss Joanna Fentiman and her friend Kitty Lodge. Joanna meets a mysterious stranger, one Captain Jackson who is a smuggler, and admits to Joanna that he’s a double agent.

The style is reminiscent of Georgette Heyer and is eminently readable. Recommended.


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The Mortal Word, by Genevieve Cogman (book 5 of The Invisible Library).

Irene Winters is back in alt London with Peregrine Vale, when she and Vale are called to investigate a murder in another version of Belle Epoque Paris. The Dragons and the Fae are negotiating a peace treaty with the Librarians acting as mediators, and a high-ranking member of the Dragon delegation has been murdered. Vale is hired to investigate, and Irene and Lord Silver are the representatives of the Librarians and the Fae. An independent judge-investigator is the Dragon representative.

Cue an investigation that is complicated by Dragon and Fae natures, anarchists, infernal devices (and places), all set in Belle Epoque Paris with it’s decadence, glamour and seediness.