[reading] What have you read recently?

Like Bored of the Rings?
DM of the Rings is to the movies as Bored of the Rings is to the books. With added D&D jokes. I found it pretty funny. Bored of the Rings has some laugh out loud funny moments too (and being often on point, for better or worse), despite some of the jokes being of their time and too obscure for me to get.
Started reading Revelation Space but got bored after about 100 pages and gave up. I'm reading another Alastair Reynolds book Terminal World. I'm quite enjoying this one.
Finished Charles Cumming's Typhoon which I found slightly disappointing. Thought it read like second hand Le Carre a lot of the time. Not as good as The Trinity Six. Think it's a relatively early novel by Cummings though, so probably still finding his voice? Not a complete write off by any means. Hong Kong and Shanghai are vividly brought to life and quite instructive about a part of the world that probably many of us don't know much about.

Also recently read The Butchers of Berlin by Chris Petit. Police procedural set in 1943 - a detective and a disgraced SS man team up to investigate a series of ritual murders on Berlin's abbatoir district. Meanwhile the Nazi regime is gearing up for the final round of deportations to the death camps. It's all very murky and full of despicable characters doing horrible things. Undeniably atmospheric but Petit hasn't got the same grip on the storyline as you'd expect from, say, Phillip Kerr. You could probably recycle some of the book's ideas for a Cold City scenario, or a Delta Green one involving the Karotechia but GM and players would need strong stomachs.

Petit did a not dissimilar novel The Psalm Killer set during The Troubles which was genuinely intriguing but suffered from being too long and just ran out of steam at the end in a complete anti-climax. He also wrote and directed cult early 80s movie Radio On which for me managed the not inconsiderable feat of being visually stunning and dramatically dull as ditchwater. I think it's all about the mood with him.
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I’ve not read Typhoon but the later books are great. On holiday at the moment so my reading rate has jumped. Working through some Neal Asher novellas like popcorn for a SF fan.
On the Edge, by Ilona Andrews (book 1 of The edge)

Effectively a paranormal romance, but not as smutty as the usual fare badged as such. I have the series in print, and liked them enough to keep. It's kind of a portal fantasy, but without portals; basically, the world-building posits that there are 3 zones - The Weird, The Edge, and The Broken. The Weird is a version of Earth with high magic - which include magical creatures as well as magic users. History has taken a different course and while recognisably our world, countries are very different - North America is split into a number of more-or-less feudal kingdoms and colonies of European powers without native Americans who appear to have been wiped out by some form of magical catastrophe back in the past. The Broken is our world - high technology, no magic. The Edge is a buffer zone between the other two zones - it's low tech compared to The Broken, and low magic compared to The Weird.

Rose Drayton is an Edger with unusually high magic powers. This has made her a target for forced marriage at best, breeding stock at worst. Fortunately, her powers have been enough to protect her, but have left her very distrustful of strangers and men of her community. With her mother dead, and her father missing, she is bringing up 2 younger brothers as best she can while eking out a living in The Broken (effectively as an illegal as she has no legal papers even though she's 'locally' born).

While in The Broken to replace a pair of new trainers damaged by one of her brothers (needed for school), she meets a man called William. Later she is started by a blue-blood called Declan Riel Martel, who challenges her to set him 3 tasks; if he wins, she will marry him, if he loses, he will leave her along. The book details these challenges and the tension between the two; William is also a suitor for Rose's hand but she doesn't warm to him and he is gentleman enough to leave her alone. Complicating this is a renegade sorcerer from The Weird who is producing wolds - a dangerous magical beast.

The story is compelling enough to carry you along, and it's nicely done. Enough thought has gone into the world-building to make it believable. What I didn't like was the somewhat misogynistic plot of the 3 challenges; it does riff on fairytales, but it made me rather uncomfortable in places, especially as the challenge is backed by magic - if Declan succeeds at the tasks, Rose will not have any choice but to marry him. (This sort of plot line is why I don't generally like romance novels.)

Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, edited by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, translated by Fabio Fernandes

I got this from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, and although the stories were (generally) as good as in the previous solarpunk anthology on Early Reviewers translated from the Portugese, I found this anthology didn't hold my attention as well. Partly I think this was down to the somewhat uneven translation - I thought it very stilted in places and there were a some passages that made no sense to an English speaker.

Otherwise, the stories were of interest riffing on the South American setting. I was reminded of some of (IIRC) Alan Dean Foster's and Poul Anderson's future histories where the social and economic power on Earth has shifted to the southern hemisphere from the northern so it makes a change from the usual European and North American backgrounds.

Lois McMaster Bujold:

Diplomatic Immunity (Vorkosigan 14)
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan 15)
Cryoburn (Vorkosigan 16)
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan 17)

I read these out of order, but as they are all stand-alones it didn't really matter, although it helps to have read earlier novels in the series to understand the political background and how the various characters interact (there are some running internal 'jokes').

Diplomatic Immunity is set on Miles' and Ekaterin's belated honeymoon tour. On their return journey to Barryar, they are intercepted by an Imperial courier - Miles as an Imperial Auditor is being asked to sort out a diplomatic row in Quaddiespace; the Barryaran trade fleet is being held because of an escalating situation. We meet some old characters from Miles' Dendarii days - the herm Bel Thorne who had an unrequited crush on Miles, and the quaddie Nicole who the Dendarii rescued from slavery in Jackson's Whole.

Without giving away too much plot, Miles has to get the trade fleet moving, sort out the diplomatic row in Quaddiespace without paying through the nose and banning Barryar, and lastly figure out what is going on with the Cetagandans who are threatening war. Very enjoyable.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is told from Ivan Vorpatril's point of view (the first novel-length Vorkosigan instalment that doesn't feature Miles as the lead character although he puts in a brief appearance). Ivan has accompanied his boss, Admiral Desplains to Komarr on an inspection tour. While there, he meets up with Byerly Vorrutyer who asks him to do a favour - there's something fishy going on and By has been asked to kidnap a mysterious young lady so he asks Ivan to met her and protect her. In order to do this, Ivan ends up marrying her - temporarily - to lend her the protection of his name and social position. It seems the young lady, Tej, is the youngest daughter of a Jacksonian House who have suffered a hostile takeover, and there is a price on her head (she appears to be the remaining member of her family).

Ivan takes the new Lady Vorpatril back to Barryar, where she is met with approval by his mother and other members of his family, including Emperor Gregor. However, when they try and dissolve their marriage, they encounter an unexpected hitch - Count Falco Vorpatril refuses to dissolve the marriage on the grounds that there are no grounds to do so.

Further complications ensure when it turns out that the reports of Tej's family deaths were premature, and they turn up on Barryar with a scheme to recoup their fortunes to take back their House. It turns out that Tej's grandmother was a Cetagandan who was married to a ghem-Lord during the Cetagandan occupation, and she knows the location of a bunker stuffed with loot - under Imp.Sec HQ... This produces the funniest scene of the book!

Cryoburn is back to Miles' point of view again. He wakes up disorientated and suffering from memory loss in the catacombs of Kibou-Daini, a world dominated by the mass cryo-freezing of the recently deceased by various corporate entities. He becomes involved with a pair of orphaned children, father genuinely dead, mother cryo-frozen, and a cryo-cooperative of somewhat shaky legal standing. It seems that one of the cryo-corps is trying to start up on Komarr, and one of the people they made their pitch to was Empress Laissa's elderly maiden aunt. She smelt a rat, sent the details to Laissa who also smelt a rat, and Emperor Gregor dispatches Miles on a rodent hunt...

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is from the point of view of Admiral Oliver Jole, who was Aral Vorkosigan's aide-de-camp, and one-time lover (yes, Aral and Cordelia's marriage had room for others). Following Aral's death, Cordelia has retrieved the gametes she and Aral deposited many years ago, and has created 6 daughters (to avoid complications for Miles who is now Count Vorkosigan). She is left with some enucleated eggs, and offers them to Oliver Jole along with some of Aral's sperm with a view that Oliver can create Aral's sons with himself. (With galactic technology, this is perfectly feasible.)

The book details this and Oliver's and Cordelia's developing relationship. Although they were happy enough in their menage-à-trois, following Aral's death, Cordelia retreated from the relationship, missing Aral badly. Now time has blunted the immediacy of her grief, she is opening up again, and the daughters are a way of marking this along with her intention to retire as vicereine of Sergyar.

Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters, by Kim Newman (Anno Dracula 5)

The usual mash-up from Kim Newman, this instalment in the Anno Dracula series is set in Yokohama in the last few weeks of the 19th century. I do like this series, but it can be rather hard going - it could really benefit from a concordance; I recognised many characters, but missed as many.

Exiled from England, the vampire Genevieve is escorting a boat-load of other exiled vampires to Japan, where they are confined in a sort of no-man's land in the treaty port of Yokohama ("The Emperor has decreed there are no vampires in Japan. Therefore, this is not Japan."). Here they are interacting with a nationalist secret society who wish to wake a giant monster... Enough said.

I haven't been doing a lot of reading lately because of trying to get over the cold Paul brought back from Continuum and starting the new job (not the corporate interview I went to near Coventry - I didn't get that, but another contract at a London Borough). There were a couple of books I've started but didn't finish, notably Pat Cadigan's Synners (which I found rather dated and hard going), and I have a couple of books on the go.
Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters, by Kim Newman (Anno Dracula 5)

The usual mash-up from Kim Newman, this instalment in the Anno Dracula series is set in Yokohama in the last few weeks of the 19th century. I do like this series, but it can be rather hard going - it could really benefit from a concordance; I recognised many characters, but missed as many.
I liked the first Anno Dracula novel but thought the other one I read, Johnny Alucard, was dreadful. Just a relentless namechecking of other people's books and films. Newman has been called a witless recycler of other people's ideas which I thought was a bit harsh - enjoyed a lot of his stuff including his Lovecraftian tales in the "...over Innsmouth" series - but fully justified in this case. Be nice if he left the vampires alone for a while?
Forgot to mention The Harper Connelly eBook Collection by Charlaine Harris. This is the omnibus of the 4 Harper Connelly supernatural crime fiction series and contains Grave Sight, Grave Surprise, An Ice-Cold Grave, and Grave Secret.

Harper Connelly is a young woman with a troubled past, the child of drug addict parents who were successful lawyers until their addictions got the better of them. Divorced, Harper's mother married another addict - who brought his children to the marriage. Ending up residing in a trailer park, Harper, her elder sister and their step-brothers did their best to protect their younger half-sisters until it all unravelled with Harper's sister vanished on the way home from school and Harper being struck by lightning. This left Harper with some mild physical disabilities and a psychic ability which could best be described as the ability to read corpses - she can sense human remains (as long as there is something left) and also sense their last moments.

The 4 books are linked and should be read in that order. Harper and her younger step-brother Tolliver have set up a business out of her abilities. She works for law enforcement and also for private individuals, locating corpses (when necessary) and detailing their last moments. Running through the books is the search for Harper's sister, their relationship with their half-sisters who have been adopted by their aunt and uncle, and their growing romantic attraction for each other. Each book is a linked but self-contained story in that Harper and Tolliver are on a single job.

Grave Sight: Harper and Tolliver travel to rural America at the request of a mother whose son has apparently committed suicide and his girlfriend has disappeared. She is requested to find the girlfriend's body. After she does so and reveals that both were murdered by another person, Harper becomes the target of someone trying to prevent the truth from coming out.

Grave Surprise: Following the events of Grave Sight, Harper and Tolliver travel to Memphis to do a cemetery reading. A professor at a local college has found the records of the burials in a local burying ground attached to a chapel owned by the college and plans to use these records to debunk her. Unfortunately, Harper reads the graves with 100% accuracy - and finds a bonus corpse. This was a young girl who disappeared some 3 years ago; Harper was called in to find her, but never did - until now.

An Ice-Cold Grave: Following the events in Memphis, Harper and Tolliver travel to rural North Carolina to find a missing teenager. Unfortunately, she finds more than the local law enforcement bargains for when she uncovers the burying ground of a serial killer - who objects to her putting a hiatus in his activities. During the events of this book, Harper and Tolliver consummate their relationship.

Grave Secret: Returning to Texas, Harper and Tolliver visit their half-sisters and get an unpleasant surprise. Tolliver's father is out of jail and trying to get back into his children's good graces. They are also called in by a wealthy ranching family to settle how their father died. The two plot lines converge, and both families uncover secrets that link them together and finally the truth of what happened to Harper's sister is revealed.

I do like this series; they're a sort of dark cozy mystery with supernatural overtones. They are also one of the prequels to the Midnight, Texas series, along with the Lily Bard series and the Sookie Stackhouse series. Major characters in Midnight, Texas are minor characters in Lily Bard and Harper Connelly.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett (book 1 of The Divine Cities)

An interesting fantasy with a lot of commentary on the nature of the divine. It’s also more modern than the usual cod-medieval fantasy; I would describe it as more of a colonial-era setting, possibly as late as early 20th C technology. I liked it a lot; it starts as a murder mystery in an occupied city and morphs into an investigation into divinity.

The Continent was the home of 6 gods, who shared a capital city. They had various colonies, including the island of Shaypur, who did not share in the blessings of the gods. About 70 years ago, a revolt by Shaypur overthrew the Continentals, and taking the fight to the Continent, they assassinated 4 of the gods. Occupying the Continent, all mention of the Divine is forbidden and worship is banned. This includes Continental history. A Shaypuri academic has come to the capital to study Continental history and is murdered.

A Shaypuri diplomat investigates and finds herself considering the nature of the divine - especially as she is the granddaughter of the killer of the gods. It’s an interesting philosophical point - how much is human nature influenced by the divine - and vice versa?

Murder in Ancient China: Two Judge Dee Mysteries, by Robert van Gulik

These are two short stories (which are included in the longer collection Judge Dee at Work): The Murder on the Lotus Pond and Murder on New Year’s Eve. While the shorts give further insight into Judge Dee’s career, I prefer the longer novels, partly because they seem more realistic in that the Judge will frequently have more than one case at a time. This is alluded to in the shorts, but isn’t brought out. Also, the longer novels bring the Judge’s lieutenants into play.

A decent introduction, and I hope it serves to introduce Judge Dee to a wider audience.

The Midnight, Texas trilogy, by Charlaine Harris. I’ve reviewed these previously, but I think it was over at UKRoleplayers. As I’m watching the HBO series, I thought it would be a good idea to refresh my memory of the original books.

Midnight Crossroads
This is a mash-up of various of Harris' mystery series and is set in the same urban fantasy world of Sookie Stackhouse. It brings together various secondary characters from the Aurora Teagarden and the Lily Bard crime series, and the Harper Connelly Paranormal crime series. They all happen to inhabit a small, decaying town in rural Texas miles from anywhere along with various other supernatural characters. It's been turned into another HBO series (probably as a result of the success of True Blood).

The story begins with new resident Manfred Bernardo (the psychic from the Harper Connelly series) moving into Midnight, where his landlord is Bobo Winthrop (from the Lily Bard series). In the course of his getting to know the other residents, a town picnic to a local 'beauty' spot is proposed, during the course of which a corpse is discovered - which turns out to be the remains of Bobo's girlfriend who had vanished (apparently moved out) some time previously. The investigating sheriff turns out to be Arthur Smith (from the Aurora Teagarden series).

One of Harris' trademark cosy mysteries with strong supernatural elements and links to the Sookie Stackhouse series, albeit the vampire revelation does not appear to be a feature in this version, although True Blood is mentioned (the town vampire cannot tolerate it apparently).

Day Shift
Follows Manfred Bernado, the psychic, and Olivia Charity, the vampire's companion who is a skilled assassin. Manfred occasionally does face-to-face readings, and in the course of one, his customer dies and he is subsequently accused of the theft of some jewellry by his client's mentally unstable son.

Night Shift
Follows Olivia Charity and Fiji Cavanaugh, the witch in dealing with the secret threat that Midnight hides.

As with the first books, rather cosy, but enjoyable reads with strong supernatural elements. It's possible there will be further installments in the series, but enough loose ends have been tied up it would be fairly hard to add more. I suppose it will depend on the success of the TV adaptation.

First impressions of the TV series is that HBO has toned down some elements and emphasised others. They appear also to have dropped some characters and severely changed others: Arthur Smith (from the Aurora Teagarden series seems to have been written out, Lemuel the vampire’s appearance is heavily changed, as is Manfred Bernado’s (probably because both were fairly extreme). We’ll see how it goes (if I’m not too tired, I watch an episode after supper - but I’m working in London again although the commute isn’t as bad as before).
The Ring of Ritornel, by Charles L Harness (actually deemed book 2 of Rings but I’ve never thought it part of a series)

It’s been a while since I read this; I have the 1974 Panther edition lurking in the library along with other editions Harness’ works of that vintage.

Described as a Wagnerian space opera, The Ring of Ritornel follows on from The Paradox Men, and deals with the culmination of James Andrek’s 18-year search about his father’s death and his elder brother’s disappearance. The Twelve Galaxies have been long settled by humanity’s descendants and various alien species. Terra, the homeworld of humanity, is now Terror and is on the verge of being finally destroyed as punishment for starting a nuclear war to prevent it’s colonies breaking from it’s control (no matter that the crime and punishment thereof were only put in place after Terra had lost the war). Oberon, the tyrant of the Spiral Galaxy, has a daughter, Amater, who is loved by James Andrek - who has been trained as a lawyer and works in Oberon’s service. Also involved are two religions - Alea, the Goddess of Chance, and Ritornel, the ring of Creation.

Effectively, the story deals with the inevitability of history - that things repeat, whether it’s civilisations or creations. This thread is very marked in the other two books in the sequence. Unlike most space opera, it’s not mighty men and mighty machines vs vicious BEMs, it’s more intelligent and sweeping in scope.


O, How the Wheel Becomes It!, by Anthony Powell

This was a freebie from the University of Chicago Press. I picked it up because at some point I ought to read A Dance to the Music of Time, and I wanted to see what Powell’s style was like. Well, that has pushed the series down my reading list. I was reminded very much of Aldous Huxley and other literary writers of that era.

Set in the 1960s, Geoffrey Shadbold, a grand old man of letters, is married to a much younger wife (his second) who writes successful detective novels. The novel deals with what happens when he is reminded (mildly unpleasantly) of another writer (who died in the war) whom he was friends with. An old flame who has written her memoirs of that time also returns. Also included is a TV producer of Lit.Crit. programmes who is doing a programme featuring Shadbold, and Shadbold’s wife’s first husband, a redbrick university lecturer of English. The link between all is one Cedric Winterson, author of ‘The Wellsons of Ondurman Terrace’...

It was a tolerable read, but not something I would recommend unless you like that sort of thing.
The Paradox Men, by Charles L Harness (book 1 of Rings)

Although this is part of the Rings series, like The Ring of Ritornel, this is a stand-alone novel. Rings is not a series in the modern sense; I’d call it a set of 3 books with a common theme - that history is cyclic and unless we learn lessons and change, we are doomed to repeat ourselves. This is neatly encapsulated by the first and last scenes in the novel: the same scenario happens in both, but the outcomes are different.

The book is set on Earth in the next couple of hundred years; the nations of Earth have coalesced into a handful of continental blocs and the threat of nuclear war is ever-present. The story is set in the capital city of the Western Empire (North and South America) which is a fascist tyranny that is now a slave-owning society. The government is opposed by a group calling themselves Thieves - they rob the wealthy and use the proceeds to purchase slaves from the charnel houses (where they are sold to for reprocessing once there is no further use for them).

Some 5 years previously, a space-ship crashed into the Ohio River. Oddly familiar, the only living being on board was a curious tarsier-like creature. Next day, an amnesiac was found on the banks of the river clutching the log-book of a spacecraft in the process of being built. Taken in by the Thieves, the man exhibited super-human physiology. Called Alar, the man turns into the lead actor in the struggle to overthrow the government.

Unlike The Ring of Ritornel, the main female character does have agency and the story does feature a person with disabilities (which also includes the main female character towards the end of the story).

Highly recommended.


As I realise that I won't finish anything else this month...

# Books in August 2018
Quite a few books, boosted by a holiday for 10 days.

## *Suldrun’s Garden* (Jack Vance)
## *The Green Pearl* (Jack Vance)
## *Madouc* (Jack Vance)

More of a skim read this time, but I went back through the whole of Lyonesse to tag out the elements I’m responsible for writing about using a textual analysis tool called CATMA. Every time I read this trilogy I love it more and more.

## *Cthulhu City* (Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan)
I enjoyed this; the ideas are different and evocative but ultimately the book doesn’t deliver what I expected. It’s very much a gazetteer of Great Arkham and details the individuals that tie it together. Every individual has three options; victim, sinister or stalwart, and each location can be masked or unmasked. Cults are detailed with some motivations and frictions. It’s a toolkit to build a sandbox.

I’d have liked to have seen some more guidance on running a Cthulhu City campaign and how to make it distinctive, perhaps with some ideas for plot arcs and using the noir/pulp feel within the setting. The introductory adventure is good, but it doesn’t really feel tied to the themes within the text. I expected to see more that keys into the backstory and the characters arrival into the city.

The cover art is great but the internals less so.

All in all, I liked this book and will run something set in it, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

## *Surviving AI: The promise and peril of artificial intelligence* (Calum Chace)
A reasonable short overview of artificial intelligence including the work that has been done so far, current fields of study and then extrapolation on what the consequences could be. A good primer.

## *Runcible Tales* (Neal Asher)
A collection of short stories set in Asher’s Polity Universe. Good fun. I read a paper copy four years back, Goodreads tells me.

## *Mason’s Rats* (Neal Asher)
Three short stories about how a farmer deals with the situation when he encounters super-intelligent rats. This amused me.

## *The Parasite* (Neal Asher)
A novella by Asher set in the future. A comet miner comes back with something in him, and the corporation he works for tries to dispose of the awkward and financially damaging evidence. This is classic Asher, black and white, Bond-flavoured action thriller full of technology, space, sex and violence. Hints of the Polity, even if it’s not part of that series. I enjoyed this a lot. Fast paced action thrills.

## *Collected Folk Tales* (Alan Garner)
A pot-pouri of folk tales and poems brought together by an author I love. I enjoyed the collection, and all along the way was seeing the potential of some of the plots and creatures for roleplaying scenarios. It is a mixture - some of the stories evoked more of a response with my than others - but overall worth the time.

## *The Expert System’s Brother* (Nicolas Tchaikovski)
I like Tchaikovski’s work, and this is a cleverly written and plotted story of humanity colonising another planet. However, it didn’t really land with me as I found myself very detached from the protagonist. That may have been deliberate, based on the plot, but it doesn’t draw me to read it again. I may reconsider the 3 stars I gave it on Goodreads though.

## *The Lost Child of Lychford* (Paul Cornell)
I enjoyed the first in this series so have come back for more. This didn’t disappoint. A short/novella length piece, this has similar vibes to the *Rivers of London* series, with the supernatural touching the real world. It’s just before Christmas at Lychford and foul deeds are afoot. The three witches have to find a way to understand the threat, defend themselves and reality, and save the life of a young child. Good fun.

## *A Long Day in Lychford* (Paul Cornell)
The third book has trouble caused by disagreements between the witches, threatening the threads that bind reality and Lychford together. This accelerates rapidly from one of the witches having a serious disagreement with a local over Brexit triggered by the colour of her skin. Enjoyable, if there are more, I’ll read them.

## *The Sword, the Crown and the Unspeakable Power* (Wheel Tree Press)
A re-read in depth of the PbtA game that I’ll be running at Furnace this year. Good stuff.

## *Owning the Future: Short Stories* (Neal Asher)
The last of the short story collections that I bought recently. I enjoyed this most of the selection we had, especially the expansions on the Owner universe.

## *Wyntertide* (Andrew Caldecott)
This is the sequel to *Rotherweird* and it works very well. It could have done with a plot summary at the start for what has gone before but it came back to me as I plunged in. The story escalates nicely, but ends in a very *Empire Strikes Back* moment with the forces of good at a low point. And I need to wait until June 2019 to find how this ends. Great book.

## *Noumenon Infinity* (Marina J. Lostetter)
This is the sequel to *Noumenon* which I read earlier in the year. It takes the story of the original *Noumenon* multi-generation mission forward with its return to the web, and adds in the story of another Convoy Mission. Three separate threads twist around each other and then finally meet in a slightly confused ending. It works, but it was a little complicated at the end (even though I’d guessed one of the reveals a while earlier. I’ll look for more by Lostetter in the future.
I've just finished Aliens vs Predator: Prey by Steve and Stephani Perry. Movie tie-in, but based on the Black Horse comics rather than the films: Machiko Noguchi - hot Japanese lady company executive teams up with a crusty old Predator to give the xenomorphs a good shoeing. Picked it up in a National Trust charitybookshop. What can I say? It isn't much better than glorified fanfic and the authors write as if English is their second language (and I don't mean like Joseph Conrad). And yet...I rather liked it, doesn't have any pretensions to being anything other than what it is, and it's still better than any of the recent films. I'm only slightly ashamed to say I'd be happy to read more in the series.
I've just finished the first book of Marvel's Ms Marvel comics. Brilliant and I've already bought the second book - I can see myself bingeing on all of these. A really likeable - and refreshingly self-aware - teen superhero that really feels different, in part thanks to the different cultural setting (Kamala is a Muslim girl in Jersey City) and in part from the quirky art style.
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith. Arkady Renko, ace Soviet detective is assigned a triple murder case - three faceless frozen bodies are found in the eponymous Moscow park. The case is soon complicated by the involvement of the KGB and a wealthy foreign businessman. Quite an old one this, I read it back in early 80s when I was 13 and didn't understand a word. This time around I had a better grasp of its complexities although I still think it's a pretty dense affair. Will probably seek out the rest of the series now.
Two Regency romances by Sherwood Smith:

Danse de la Folie

A light Regency romance in the style of Georgette Heyer, albeit written by someone with shaky London geography (Richmond Park from the West End via Clerkenwell and Holborn - I don’t think so). It is less assured than her later works, and seems rather uneven in style. The second half of the book seems to flow better than the first.

Penniless Lady Catherine, sister to the Marquess of Tarval, befriends Clarissa Harlowe after her father’s yacht is sunk by the Marquess’ cutter in a fog. Clarissa invites Lady Catherine to spend the season with her and assists in the manner of dress (Lady Catherine having resorted to her late mother’s wardrobe). Lady Catherine falls in love with Clarissa’s wealthy cousin, and Clarissa falls in love with the Marquess.

The complications are that both Clarissa and the Marquess are betrothed to other people, and the plot revolves around their efforts to gain their freedom to follow their hearts.

Tolerable, especially when read on the daily commute.

Rondo Allegro

This is another Regency romance in the same vein as Danse de la Folie but to my mind much better written - the story flows better and is more believable.

In Naples. a young part-English girl, Anna Maria Ludovisi, obliges her dying father by contracting a marriage with one of Nelson's captains, Henry Duncannon. Parted by Henry's duties and the French invasion, Anna leaves Naples with her maid and travels to Paris, where she trains as a singer, and joins an opera company when her patroness marries and leaves France.

Eventually, Anna and Henry are reunited shortly before the Battle of Trafalgar, where Henry is wounded. Henry sends Anna home to his family in England while he recovers enough to travel. When Anna meets Henry's family, she becomes aware of undercurrents - it seems that he was previously engaged to an ambitious young lady who subsequently jilted him for his older brother, Lord Northcote. Unfortunately for her pretensions, she failed to give her husband an heir - just three daughters. She hopes to reattach Henry, but he has in the meantime fallen in love with Anna.

It's light, but readable for all that. Very much in the style of Georgette Heyer, I found it enjoyable enough to resent putting the book down when I reached my station on the commute.


Although there are no overt supernatural elements, the stories share many of the historical underpinnings of the Dobrenica series, especially the time travel plot in book 3, Revenant Eve. It's possible that the two came out of the historical research for that book.
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