Valkyrdeath's 2015 reading

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Valkyrdeath's 2015 reading

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1valkyrdeath
Redigeret: jan 1, 2016, 6:06pm

Time to set up for my second year here. I’m going to carry on trying to read a wide variety of books, but I’m not setting myself any targets for how many. I didn’t set a target last year and consequently it was the first year I actually went over 100 books. I think I’d like to try and read a bit more non-fiction this year though.

Books Read:
1. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
2. The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth
3. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
4. Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M. Talbot art by Bryan Talbot
5. Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
6. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr
7. Ghosted: Haunted Heist by Joshua Williamson art by Goran Sudzuka
8. The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey art by Peter Gross
9. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
10. 394549::Why Me? by Donald E. Westlake
11. Cemetery Girl: The Pretenders by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden art by Don Kramer

12. Nebula Awards Showcase 2008 edited by Ben Bova
13. Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill art by Gabriel Rodriguez
14. The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem translated by Bill Johnston
15. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan art by Fiona Staples
16. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
17. Fresh Air and Fun: The Story of a Blackpool Holiday Camp by woodbertha::Bertha Wood
18. The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov
19. Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

20. The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
21. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
22. Inside Job by Connie Willis
23. WRONG! Retro Games, You Messed Up Our Comic Book Heroes! by Chris Baker
24. A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes
25. Good Behavior by Donald E. Westlake
26. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
27. Blankets by Craig Thompson
28. Freddy and the Ignormus by Walter R. Brooks
29. Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis

30. Rasputin: A Short Life by Frances Welch
31. Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett
32. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
33. Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman art by Yoshitaka Amano
34. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
35. 2868085::Cautionary Tales for Grown-Ups by Chris Addison
36. Brightness Falls from the Air by James Tiptree Jr.
37. Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights by Daniel Pinkwater
38. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
39. The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
40. Pratchett’s Women: Unauthorised Essays on the Female Characters of Discworld by Tansy Rayner Roberts
41. Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan art by Fiona Staples
42. Amityville Horrible by Kelley Armstrong
43. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

44. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
45. Oh What a Lovely War by Theatre Workshop
46. Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis
47. Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov
48. 302914::Let Me Go by Helga Schneider
49. Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell
50. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
51. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
52. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
53. Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line by Brendan Keogh
54. Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom by Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez

55. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
56. 14542492::Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan art by Fiona Staples
57. Drowned Hopes by Donald E. Westlake
58. We Can Fix It!: A Time Travel Memoir by Jess Fink
59. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
60. Uncle Boris in the Yukon and Other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater
61. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
62. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
63. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney
64. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

(Continued in next post)

2valkyrdeath
Redigeret: jan 1, 2016, 6:05pm

65. Don’t Ask by Donald E. Westlake
66. 43138::Young Adult Novel by Daniel Pinkwater
67. Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
68. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
69. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
70. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
71. A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
72. Fluke by James Herbert
73. The Best Art You've Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures From Around the World by Julian Spalding
74. The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis
75. Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

76. Witness by Karen Hesse
77. 14367057::Letters of Note compiled by Shaun Usher
78. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
79. Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
80. 13657674::March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
81. On Writing by Stephen King
82. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
83. Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey

84. Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
85. Alone Forever by Liz Prince
86. 15933551::Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes
87. Honey and Salt by Carl Sandburg
88. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
89. Beloved by Toni Morrison
90. 12882071::A Book in English by Woody Aragon
91. Poseidon’s Gold by Lindsey Davis

92. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
93. We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin
94. Here by mcguirerichard::Richard McGuire
95. Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis
96. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Moto Hagio translated by Matt Thorn
97. Death: At Death's Door by Jill Thompson
98. The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell
99. Letting It Go by Miriam Katin
100. Neurocomic by Matteo Farinella and Hana Ros
101. How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis
102. Unnatural Selections by Gary Larson
103. Ms Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson art by Adrian Alphona
104. Asterix and the Banquet by Rene Goscinny art by Albert Uderzo
105. Asterix the Legionary by Rene Goscinny art by Albert Uderzo
106. Asterix in Switzerland by Rene Goscinny art by Albert Uderzo
107. The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa
108. The Mason Williams Reading Matter by Mason Williams
109. 7004::Flight edited by Kazu Kibuishi
110. What’s the Worst That Could Happen? by Donald E. Westlake
111. The Madame Paul Affair by Julie Doucet

112. The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad
113. Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler
114. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
115. nEvermore!: Tales Of Murder, Mystery & The Macabre edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles
116. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa translated by Stephen Snyder
117. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
118. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

119. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
120. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
121. Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax
122. Narbonic by Shaenon K. Garrity
123. Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar
124. Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis art by Brooke Allen
125. 23507::Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges translated by Andrew Hurley
126. Luisa in Realityland by Claribel Alegria translated by Darwin J. Flakoll
127. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo translated by Julie Rose
128. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot art by Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot
129. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin translated by Clarence Brown
130. Lumberjanes Volume 2 by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis art by Brooke Allen
131. Narbonic Vol. 2 by Shaenon K. Garrity
132. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
133. The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
134. Help Fund My Robot Army!!! And Other Improbably Crowdfunding Projects edited by John Joseph Adams

Stats for 2014

104 books made up of:
56 Novels
26 Graphic novels
16 Non-fiction
6 Short story collections

78 by male authors, 24 by female authors. (2 multiple author anthologies not included)

Favourite novels of 2014:
The Martian by Andy Weir
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Dortmunder books by Donald E Westlake (I don’t want to pick one particular one out)

Favourite graphic novels of 2014:
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
The Adventures of Unemployed Man by Gan Golan & Erich Origen

Favourite non-fiction of 2014:
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
It’s Not Rocket Science by Ben Miller

3bryanoz
jan 2, 2015, 6:46pm

Welcome valkyrdeath, hope you are enjoying Les Miserables and Pyramids, both great reads IMO.

4mabith
jan 2, 2015, 8:44pm

Hiii!

5valkyrdeath
jan 2, 2015, 8:48pm

>3 bryanoz: Thanks! I'm loving Les Miserables so far, and it's definitely the longest book I've ever read. And of course, I always enjoy rereading Pratchett.

>4 mabith: Hi to you too!

6judylou
jan 3, 2015, 5:05pm

Welcome to the group. I see The Martian up there on your list of favourites. It was one of my favourites too.

7valkyrdeath
jan 3, 2015, 5:56pm

>6 judylou: Thanks! I loved The Martian, probably my favourite science fiction book of the last few years.

8valkyrdeath
Redigeret: jan 3, 2015, 6:09pm


1. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
A thought provoking look at the reading experience, what people visualise when they read, and how incomplete those images are. The book is full of pictures that emphasize the points the author is making, and I loved the design of the book. I think it’s definitely a book I’m going to want to reread, which is unusual for me. Thinking about the process of reading is something most of us don’t usually do, and I found it really interesting.

9judylou
jan 3, 2015, 6:24pm

This sounds very interesting. I studied early childhood literacy and read many books about how children approach books, reading and words. It might be interesting to apply that to adults.

10swimmergirl1
jan 3, 2015, 8:49pm

I like to read books about reading. Will add this to my list.

11valkyrdeath
jan 4, 2015, 5:54pm

I hope you enjoy the book if you read it. I find it a fascinating subject!

12wookiebender
jan 7, 2015, 12:41am

Welcome to the group! (And the second recommendation for What We See When We Read, I really must track down a copy...)

13valkyrdeath
jan 7, 2015, 6:17pm

>12 wookiebender: Thanks! And What We See When We Read is well worth tracking down!

14valkyrdeath
jan 7, 2015, 6:23pm

Started reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss but abandoned it pretty quickly. The author basically told me to stop reading on the first page for not being furious every time I see a misused apostrophe. And then she compares seeing grammar misused to a bereavement, which is just unpleasant, and the attitude doesn't seem to get any better over the next few pages. There's a difference between taking a light hearted look at grammar mistakes and being an obsessive grammar bully. Lynne Truss comes across as that sort of person who responds to a long and well thought out article by ignoring the content and going on a rant about an insignificant grammar mistake they made. It just seemed petty and unpleasant and I don't see any point in going on.

15swimmergirl1
jan 7, 2015, 8:21pm

I use that book to teach my students and they love it! I'll read a page without showing the picture and have them draw what they think it says. Great lesson for students!

16valkyrdeath
jan 8, 2015, 3:01pm

>15 swimmergirl1: Which book is that? I initially thought you meant What We See When We Read, but have just discovered that there's a childrens picture book version of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I assume/hope that would be less snobbish than the adult version.

17swimmergirl1
jan 8, 2015, 7:20pm

I didn't know there was an adult version of Eats, shoots and leaves. Yes the children's book is what I use, will have to look for the other.

18valkyrdeath
Redigeret: jan 18, 2015, 6:42pm


2. The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth
This book describes the various rhetorical figures of speech and takes a look at how they’ve been used over the centuries to create memorable lines. There’s a huge range of examples, anything from Shakespeare to Wordsworth to Beatles song lyrics. It’s really interesting and informative, and I learnt a few things I didn’t know about. My favourite piece of information regarded the order everyone puts adjectives in, automatically without realising it. It was strange to see the order written down and realising it was true, yet somehow we follow it without being taught or even knowing we’re doing it. Best of all though, the book is hilarious and made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions. I enjoyed the author’s earlier book, The Etymologicon, but I think I liked this one even more. I’d recommend it to anyone who has a love of language, since I find it hard to imagine anyone not enjoying it.

19jfetting
jan 10, 2015, 6:40pm

A belated welcome to the group! These books about words and reading sound really interesting - great reviews!

20valkyrdeath
jan 10, 2015, 7:57pm

>19 jfetting: Thanks! I'm enjoying these sorts of books at the moment and will probably have at least one more this month.

21wookiebender
jan 10, 2015, 8:23pm

Yes, I took a book bullet with that last one, too! I did find a short essay by Forsyth on my Kindle, and enjoyed reading that this morning. I'll definitely get the others at a later date...

22valkyrdeath
jan 12, 2015, 1:28pm

When it comes to graphic novels and comics, I don't generally bother with digital versions. However, I couldn't resist the current Humble Comics Bundle, considering I could get the first three volumes of Saga and the first eight volumes of The Walking Dead. I bought it just for those, but it also comes with a lot of other stuff that I've never heard of. At least I'm not short of graphic novels to read now. Anyone know if any of these are any good?

Alex + Ada
Deadly Class
C.O.W.L.
Elephantmen 2260 (what a bizarre title)
Minimum Wage
God Hates Astronauts
Satellite Sam
The Manhatten Projects
The Wicked + The Divine
The Fuse
Velvet
Sex Criminals

23valkyrdeath
jan 12, 2015, 7:56pm


3. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
I found this to be an enjoyable story and very well paced, though I don’t think it ranks up alongside his best work. It had some interesting ideas, but I thought the main character’s nastiness was a bit over the top. It would have been nice to have something to show how he ended up descending to that level, or something to show that he was always that unstable, but the madness just seemed to escalate too quickly. Despite that, it’s a good story and the character is memorable, and it builds up to a genuinely tense conclusion. A fun quick read.

24valkyrdeath
jan 18, 2015, 6:42pm


4. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot art by Bryan Talbot
Time for my first graphic novel of the year. This one combines a biography of Lucia Joyce with a memoir of the author, focusing on their respective relationships with their fathers, James Joyce and Joyce scholar James S. Atherton. Lucia’s story is a fairly tragic one culminating in her spending the majority of her life in mental institutions. The author’s story is rather happier as she escapes her initially unpleasant situation. The main linking threads between the two, aside from the James Joyce connection, are that they both had fathers who were writers and who apparently grew more and more distant over time as they became too focussed on their work, and that they both affected in a substantial way by the attitudes of their times towards women.

The artwork is by Bryan Talbot, Mary’s husband. It’s very good, and manages to use colour to make it immediately obvious when switching between the two stories to avoid it becoming confusing. It’s a more consistent style than the book I’ve previously read by Bryan Talbot, Alice in Sunderland, and it fits very well for the book.

The book wasn’t a bad read, though it’s not going to become a favourite. It just feels a bit insubstantial, possibly because of trying to cover two lives in the extremely short length (less than 100 pages) of the book. It’s enjoyable to read, but as graphic memoirs go, it’s not up there with the likes of Fun Home or Persepolis. The writing and art were very good though and I’d certainly be interested in reading any projects they might go on to do together.

Oh, and I love the title. That’s what drew me to get the book in the first place.

25valkyrdeath
jan 19, 2015, 8:46pm


5. Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
A really fascinating account of Eddie Chapman, criminal turned double agent during World War 2. It’s a gripping story from beginning to end, following how his life of crime led him to be imprisoned on Jersey when it was occupied, how he convinced the Germans to train him as a spy, only to turn himself in to become a double agent the instant he landed in England. It’s easily the match of any fictional story, and in fact would probably be deemed unrealistic if someone had presented it as a novel. It’s also a very funny story, full of eccentric characters. Macintyre’s writing keeps the story moving at a good pace while providing plenty of details about the background details about the events and other people involved. Chapman is a really interesting person, incredibly brave and risking his life to help Britain win the war on one hand, an unrepentant criminal who returned to a life of crime afterwards on the other. Yet he seems to have charmed nearly everyone he met and there’s something likable about him that comes across in the book despite everything.

This is one of my favourite stories from the war, and one that I’m very happy to have learnt more about. I also have Macintyre’s book about Philby, which I’m quite looking forward to reading after how much I enjoyed this. And that’s my disjointed thoughts on another book. I loved it.

26valkyrdeath
jan 25, 2015, 8:10pm


6. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr
As stated in the title, this book charts the history of swearing over the centuries. The “Holy” part of the title actually has meaning aside from its use in that particular phrase, since there’s a lot of information about the religious swearing of oaths, and how swearing oaths in vain became offensive language and how that has gradually changed over to the form of swearing we have now. It’s split into six chapters, starting with the roots of swearing in ancient Rome, then onto the Bible, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Victorian era and finally onto the 20th Century. I found a lot of the information in the book to be interesting, though there were times when it could get a bit repetitive, especially in the Middle Ages section when she sometimes seemed to repeat the same fact several times throughout the chapter. It’s also quite an academic book, though there is humour in there too. I quite enjoyed it, though I think it’s one for someone with a real interest in linguistics rather than the casual reader though. And as expected, it’s clearly not a book for someone who’s easily offended.

27valkyrdeath
jan 26, 2015, 9:13pm


7. Ghosted: Haunted Heist by Joshua Williamson art by Goran Sudzuka
Time for another selection of random graphic novels and comic collections from my library. In this one, a criminal is broken out of jail by a rich man who wants him to perform an unusual heist: to steal a ghost from a haunted mansion. It takes elements of the heist stories with the team of various experts being assembled, and blends them in with a haunted house story. It was an entertaining enough story, and built up to a good ending, though it wasn’t exceptionally original in the end. It was fun though, and I’d read more if I saw it, though I wouldn’t really specifically look out for it. I was pleased that despite being volume 1, it told a complete story in its own right too.

28valkyrdeath
jan 29, 2015, 1:45pm


8. The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey art by Peter Gross
The Unwritten tells the story of Tommy Taylor, who shares his name with a Harry Potter style character in the books written by his father, and becomes famous because of this. Then, to his own surprise, rumours surface that he might not be the author’s real son. Later, it seems that things from the novels might not be as fictional as they seemed. The story plays a lot on the nature of Z-list celebrities and the obsessiveness of fans, but has some interesting ideas going on, though it doesn’t feel especially original. It’s the start of a lengthy ongoing series, collecting the first five issues, with only four of them following the main story and ending it on a cliffhanger, which always slightly annoys me, but I suppose can be expected when it’s a collection of comics from a long series. The final issue is an odd story about Rudyard Kipling which ties into the world of the story and looks like it will play a part in future. I enjoyed it and it has potential and I might read the next volume sometime. It felt like this one was basically just setting things up.

29valkyrdeath
jan 29, 2015, 2:00pm


9. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
Continuing my reread through the Discworld series. This is one of the books that doesn’t star one of the regular characters, and I often think these are unfairly ignored in favour of the popular characters. Which is a shame, since while this isn’t one of my absolute favourites of the series, it’s still a fun book. This one parodies ancient Egypt in particular, but is also a satire on pointless traditions and on religion, starting some of the ideas that he explored more fully in Small Gods (which is one of my favourites). Anyway, it’s a Discworld book, it’s hard to go wrong with any of them.

30valkyrdeath
feb 1, 2015, 7:13pm


10. Why Me? by Donald E. Westlake
The fifth Dortmunder book, and I think the best one yet. The others have all been good, but the humour seems even tighter here with the laughs coming even more regularly. Again, it manages to have a plot that’s entirely different to the others, this time with Dortmunder stealing the most valuable jewel of his career entirely by accident and then spending the book trying to get out of the mess it’s got him into. It’s full of great characters and funny lines.

31valkyrdeath
feb 1, 2015, 7:15pm


11. Cemetery Girl: The Pretenders by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden art by Don Kramer
The first volume of a series of graphic novels. It starts with a girl being dumped and left for dead in a cemetery, only to wake up with no memory of who she is or how she got there. (No clichés there then…) And so, to avoid running into the people who were after her, she decides to just stay there and live in the cemetery, as you would. This one was readable but didn’t really work. I know people don’t always act rationally, but there are just too many moments, practically every three or four pages, where I felt like shouting at a character as they ponder over what to do when the answer is clear. The overall mystery of who the girl is remains at the end of the book for future volumes, but I don’t think I’ll be bothering.

32valkyrdeath
Redigeret: feb 4, 2015, 8:23pm


12. Nebula Awards Showcase 2008 edited by Ben Bova
I decided to go back and fill in some of the gaps in my reading of the Nebula Awards collections, and while I’d read the 2007 and 2009 volumes, I’d missed this one. Sadly, this is one of the years where the collection was lighter on content, with only five complete stories included. Naturally, there’s the winner in each of the short story, novelette and novella categories, alongside one runner up short story and a story by James Gunn, who won that year’s Grand Master award.

The book opens disappointingly with the winning short story, Echo by Elizabeth Hand. It seemed a rather pointless story, where the narrator talks about how her long distance lover never talked to her much, and now there’s been a disaster and communications are cut off most of the time, she hears from him even less. And that’s about it. The runner up story later in the book, The Woman in Schrodinger’s Wave Equations by Eugene Mirabelli, wasn’t a bad story, and was superior to the winner, though wasn’t outstanding. It’s about a man studying physics and his relationships with two women, and other than his area of interest, I’m not sure what qualifies it as science fiction. I try not to worry too much about genre boundaries, but I’m almost certain these can’t have been the best two stories they could have found out of an entire years output.

The novella dominates the book, and in fact was originally published as a book on its own. At over 120 pages, Burn by James Patrick Kelly takes almost a third of the space on its own. It’s based around the fighting of forest fires and the author’s apparent hatred of Henry David Thoreau, being set on a planet called Walden where everyone has to live a simple life and remain generally isolated. It’s not destined to become a favourite, but it was at least an enjoyable and well written story.

As was Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle, the winning novelette. It’s a classic fairy tale fantasy story and perhaps my favourite of the book, despite the fact that I’m generally more interested in science fiction. It’s apparently a sequel to The Last Unicorn, which I’ve never read, so I don’t know how it links in with the original, but it worked perfectly well as a story in its own right.

There’s also the Rhysling Award winners for science fiction poetry included, which is a nice touch, especially as they don’t take a great deal of space. After that though, it’s onto the filler, of which there’s way too much in this volume. It’s nice to have a story from the year’s Grand Master winner, but James Gunn’s The Listeners is not only a fairly famous story already, it was already included in an earlier Nebula Awards volume back when it was a nominee itself, and I feel it would be better to include more of this year’s nominees. The novel excerpt is another completely pointless way of taking thirty pages away that could have been used for other stories in order to give you a random chunk of story with no beginning or end. The essays aren’t bad, but aren’t especially thrilling and don’t seem to have a great deal to say, and I could do without Orson Scott Card’s baffling talk about science fiction being a literary movement rather than just a genre.

That could sum up the problem I have with this volume. Some years the collection is amazing and some years disappointing, and this is one of the worst, but I don’t think it necessarily reflects on the quality of the fiction that year, just on the judging criteria. I understand that everyone is going to have different tastes, but the short story winner this year was so feeble, and half the stories barely fit into the genre anyway. I get the impression that the judges for that year were just going for anything that seemed “literary”, to use a term I particularly dislike, with references to Thoreau in Burn, mythology in Echo and untranslated foreign language quotes in The Listeners. Whether or not that is the case, this had the least content of any Nebula Award volume I’ve read, and none of what was there stood out enough to really make the book worthwhile.

33valkyrdeath
feb 7, 2015, 9:08pm


13. Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill art by Gabriel Rodriguez
After the murder of the father in the Locke family, they relocate to a town called Lovecraft. There’s the level of subtlety we’re talking about with this story. Nothing could go wrong in a town called Lovecraft, surely. The house they’ve moved into has mysterious doors with different magical properties, and the killer has escaped and is coming back for the rest of them. It’s quite well written and the artwork is good. It’s not the most amazing story, but it was entertaining enough and I’d probably read another. I could see it having some potential to get more interesting over the series.

34valkyrdeath
feb 7, 2015, 9:08pm


14. The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem translated by Bill Johnston
I’d never read any Stanislaw Lem before, so thought it was about time to give him a go now. This one is about a spaceship crew investigating the disappearance of their sister ship. The first part of the book is about the discovery of what happened, and then the rest of the book is dealing with that. The writing was very dry though, and I almost gave up early on, but before I did the story started to get more interesting and kept me going. It’s full of technical details, but lacks character, and indeed characters. I already can’t remember any of the characters in the book, and none of them were really distinct from each other. I never got any feel for the personalities.

I’d also never realised before how much easier to read things were with paragraphs. There’s lots of huge blocks of text in this book, and in the last chapter there’s sections where it goes for 3 – 4 pages for a single paragraph.

The story was decent enough for me to want to finish the book but nothing too spectacular. It generally fell flat because of the issues I mentioned. Though it’s hard to say with a book like this how much of it was the fault of the author and how much was the translator. The translation was perfectly good English though and I didn’t see any problems in that regard.

I might try one more Lem book sometime to see if I have better luck, since he’s highly regarded and this isn’t his best known work. Probably not for a while though.

35jfetting
feb 8, 2015, 8:16am

Nothing could go wrong in a town called Lovecraft, surely.

Ha! Great review

36valkyrdeath
feb 8, 2015, 5:49pm

>35 jfetting: Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. :)

37valkyrdeath
feb 8, 2015, 6:59pm


15. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan art by Fiona Staples
After those average comics from the library, this one feels like a big improvement. Lots of fun characters, good dialogue, imaginative settings and the start of an interesting plot. The writing is very good, as is the art. This one definitely is just the start of a longer story though, so there’s no conclusion to anything at all here. I’m looking forward to going onto the second volume very soon.

38valkyrdeath
feb 14, 2015, 6:06pm


16. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Not a bad as I feared it might be, though I’m not quite sure why this was such a big success. It seems a fairly average modern thriller, though the thriller components didn’t really kick in until the last third of the book when the pace started to pick up. The moment that was supposed to be a major twist half way through was predictable, and while I didn’t predict all the specifics of it, I saw it coming from very early on, and it’s quite unusual for me to guess a plot and I usually don’t even try.

It was reasonably well written, though had some annoyances, but it just didn’t do anything much to make it stand out to me. I enjoyed the final portion of the book, up until the ending, which was completely awful, not even slightly convincing and left the story feeling unsatisfying. It’s quite grim reading too, since it’s one of those stories without a single likeable character. Not an awful read, but nothing special. I probably would never have read it if it wasn’t the pick for a book club this month.

39valkyrdeath
feb 14, 2015, 8:05pm


17. Fresh Air and Fun: The Story of a Blackpool Holiday Camp by Bertha Wood
A bit of local history, and also a world record holder for oldest author to have their first book published, being released on her 100th birthday. It’s a memoir mostly focusing on her time setting up and running a holiday camp with her husband. It’s a fairly short book and it’s not hugely detailed, but it’s interesting enough for what it is. Holiday camps were a big part of post-war 20th century Britain when holidays abroad were unlikely for the majority of the working class population. These aren’t always the things people write about, but I think it’s important that we have first-hand accounts like this. There are a few amusing moments and if the author had gone into more detail and talked about more of the things that people got up to in their camp then this could have been a really entertaining book. As it is, it’s still a piece of small scale history that’s now preserved.

40judylou
feb 15, 2015, 1:17am

I have just received Saga Volume 4 from the library. I haven't been a big reader of graphic novels in the past, but this series is very well done I think. I hope the saga continues.

41valkyrdeath
feb 17, 2015, 12:33pm

>40 judylou: I've got the next two volumes which I'll be reading fairly soon. Then I'll need to get hold of volume 4 as I'm sure I'll want to continue. It really is well done.

42valkyrdeath
feb 18, 2015, 8:23pm


18. The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov
Published in 1952, this is the third and final novel in Asimov’s early Empire series, though chronologically it takes place between the other two. This is a huge improvement over The Stars, Like Dust, the previous book, though it’s still far from the heights of Asimov’s later novels. Perhaps it’s because he was only just getting started as a novelist, though he was already a master of the short story.

The book opens with a brief scene where a Spatio-analyst arrives to warn the government of the world of Florina of an impending disaster that will destroy the planet, only for the person he’s informing to wipe his mind. The book then moves forward in time and follows the gradual recovery of his memories and the mystery of just what the disaster was, who wiped his mind and why. It’s a complex plot with a large number of characters and several threads running simultaneously, but Asimov’s clear writing means that everything remains easy to follow.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the nature of the world set up, with the Florinians producing a cotton-like substance called kyrt but being controlled by the world of Sark, who treat them as slaves. The whole plot revolves around this situation, and it’s a pretty clear reference to cotton slavery. Whether it’s because he didn’t usually do it, or because I didn’t notice it at the young age when I first read most of his books, it’s not something I’m used to seeing in Asimov’s work.

The overall nature of the disaster is based on science that’s no longer plausible by modern knowledge, but then I’ve never felt that is too much of an issue. As long as things work in an internally consistent way then I don’t mind if they don’t match up with reality.

This isn’t one of Asimov’s best, but it’s a well plotted mystery and an entertaining read. Not a place to start with the author, but one that I enjoyed reading. Thankfully, he was only a couple of books away from writing The Caves of Steel and that’s where he really hit his stride with the novel form. I think there’s a reread coming up there.

43valkyrdeath
mar 3, 2015, 8:07pm


19. Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
I finished this one ages ago and then completely forgot to update with it. Another fun book from Pinkwater. Some bits seemed familiar, and then I realised it was because I’d read about the real versions of some of the events used in the book in Fish Whistle last year. I loved the satire around the school system and the child psychiatrist was hilarious. Again, I wish I’d had these books as a kid.

44valkyrdeath
mar 5, 2015, 6:15pm


20. The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
This was a great book. Set in New York in 1899, the story mixes elements of Jewish and Islamic mythology into the historical setting. It’s about half way through the book before the two title characters actually meet, but it ultimately ends up being a story of an unusual friendship between two people with very different views of the worlds. It’s well paced and entertaining throughout and I loved every bit of it. I can’t really find anything to fault. Hard to believe it’s a debut novel.

45jfetting
mar 6, 2015, 8:41am

I just finished this one too! I loved it. Very entertaining.

46valkyrdeath
mar 7, 2015, 10:51am


21. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
As a child, Mary Poppins was one of my favourite films, but I’d never read the book until now. Back then, I didn’t even know it was based on a book. Even reading as an adult, I really liked it. I think the abrupt and unpleasant Mary Poppins character of the book who “never wasted time in being nice” is a more entertaining character than if she was the sentimental creation of the film. There’s a real feeling of magic in the book and Mary comes across as extremely otherworldly.

At least Saving Mr Banks inspired me to finally read this, even if it did try to pretend that Travers liked the film in the end. I really enjoyed this, and will be getting round to reading the sequels at some point.

47valkyrdeath
mar 8, 2015, 7:52pm


22. Inside Job by Connie Willis
A very short book about a professional debunker and his former film star assistant. They’re investigating a fake medium who seems to have suddenly started genuinely channelling an unexpected spirit. The central concept, that famous sceptic H. L. Mencken has returned to the grave and is speaking through fraudulent psychics with the paradoxical purpose of pointing out that they’re fakes, I found quite funny and the plot had a few twists along the way. This is the first Connie Willis book I’ve read that isn’t one of the Oxford Time Travel stories and it was still well written and very entertaining. It’s not a deep complex book, but it’s a fun tribute to H. L. Mencken and to scepticism in general.

48valkyrdeath
mar 10, 2015, 7:07pm


23. WRONG! Retro Games, You Messed Up Our Comic Book Heroes! by Chris Baker
A combination of wanting something light to read and browsing the practically worthless choice of books in the Kindle Lending Library led me to this. Unfortunately, it was a bit too light. Running quickly through around eighty superhero games from 1978 through to 1992, the author mentions one point, minor or major, where they’d got a character wrong in the game compared to the original comics, and then basically moves on to the next game. The concept might have been a fun read if it had gone into more depth about each game in general and maybe pointing out more mistakes rather than just one per game. As it is, it doesn’t really have enough time to be particularly funny and I’m left knowing nothing about the games other than Batman wore purple in this one, Batman shoots people in that one, Batman murders Catwoman in another one, and bloody hell there’s a lot of Batman games. Might have been alright as a website article, but it’s not really much to support a book with.

49valkyrdeath
mar 11, 2015, 10:05pm


24. A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes
Somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories. Each chapter tells a different fictional or non-fictional story, covering a wide variety of styles, but always with recurring themes. The main recurring subject is a naval one, with shipwrecks featuring in many of the stories, but I think the idea linking them all together is that of history itself. There’s a lot that seems to suggest that what we know about history is only ever going to be a representation and never a complete picture, whether it’s skewed by the people recording it, incomplete or misinterpreted. It’s written in a generally light style with a lot of humour, though the subjects it covers range from the comic to the dark.

I particularly enjoyed the comical alternate take on Noah’s ark in the opening chapter, told from the perspective of a stowaway woodworm. (Woodworms in a later chapter are put on an absurd trial for causing damage to a church.) A chapter based on a ship hijacking perhaps had the biggest impact on me in its own right, with a powerful ending. Elsewhere there’s a surprisingly interesting look at the painting The Raft of the Medusa, looking at why Gericault painted what he did and omitted other details. It’s a diverse book and I liked some chapters more than others, but overall I found it to be well written, both entertaining and thought provoking and it’s one of those books that I find myself still thinking about afterwards. It’s the first Julian Barnes book I’ve read, and I might try some more in the future.

This was my suggestion for the book club I’m in and it got picked for this month, so here’s hoping I’m not the only one to like it!

50valkyrdeath
mar 16, 2015, 10:06pm


25. Good Behavior by Donald E. Westlake
The sixth Dortmunder book, and as funny as ever. This time, after being saved by nuns after a failed heist, he gets himself caught up in the rescue of a kidnapped nun. He finds a way to turn it into a profitable venture and gets some of the old faces together again to pull it off, but of course, nothing ever goes smoothly. There’s funny dialogue and situations throughout and Westlake still has that way of cleverly phrasing everything that makes even simple lines funny. Another really entertaining book.

51valkyrdeath
mar 19, 2015, 7:44pm


26. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
An account of Roosevelt’s dangerous journey to chart a tributary of the Amazon. It’s one of those pieces of non-fiction that reads like an adventure story and it becomes really quite thrilling by the end. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why anyone would go on journeys like this though, knowing the incredible risks, and the fact that they arrived at the river having lost most of their provisions and leaving their boats behind and deciding to go on anyway in makeshift canoes made from tree trunks seems completely insane. It does make for a good read though. While Roosevelt might be headlining the book, I found Rondon, his Brazilian co-commander, to be the more fascinating character.

I really enjoyed this book. Like Destiny of the Republic it was really well written and informative. I just wish Candice Millard would write some more books now!

52valkyrdeath
mar 27, 2015, 7:01pm


27. Blankets by Craig Thompson
An autobiographical graphic novel following the author growing up in an extremely religious family through to his eventual loss of faith, focusing partly on his childhood relationship with his brother but mostly on his relationship with his first love as a teenager. It’s very well written and drawn, if a little angsty. He captured the emotions in the events very well and I can understand why it had such a big impact.

53valkyrdeath
mar 27, 2015, 10:22pm


28. Freddy and the Ignormus by Walter R. Brooks
This is the second of these books that I’ve read, and I really enjoyed it again. The characters are really entertaining and funny. Brooks also seems to be able to put good messages for children into the books without ever coming across as preachy, and it’s nice to see a set of talking animal characters that come across as being convincing people, with all the strengths and flaws you’d expect. A fun book from what seems to be a really fun series.

54valkyrdeath
apr 1, 2015, 8:56pm


29. Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis
The second in the Falco series of historical mysteries. The plot involves dealing with the aftermath of the conspiracy from The Silver Pigs. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, though not so much for the mystery as for the characters and setting. The plot is actually fairly light in this one, with events only really getting going properly around the last quarter. Instead, it focuses mainly on the developing relationship between Falco and Helena. The characters are great and I still love the idea of a film noir style detective in the ancient Roman setting. There’s a lot of historical detail in the books without it ever feeling like you’re just being given a history lesson, and the writing is often amusing. There were some very funny events towards the end too. I’m looking forward to the next book to see how things develop.

55valkyrdeath
apr 4, 2015, 7:12pm


30. Rasputin: A Short Life by Frances Welch
My knowledge about Rasputin was pretty much limited to that ridiculous Boney M. song, so I thought it was probably time I learnt a bit more. This book seems like a good introductory volume. It’s quite short at around 200 pages and just gives an overview of his life and eventually assassination, along with the other people involved. It’s basically the story of how a man claiming to be a faith healer conned his way into the confidence of the royal family and ended up wielding power over Russian politics, all while sleeping with practically every young woman he could find. The main problem with the book is that so many of the facts are unclear, with first-hand accounts from different people contradicting each other, and even the same person contradicting themselves at different times, probably through trying to sensationalise the story in later years. It means it’s hard to tell exactly which parts of the story are true, but the story is generally interesting enough to be worth reading about anyway, and the major points are clear enough. This book was decent, though it really is only for someone who knows very little about Rasputin, since it’s so short there isn’t really space to go into any real depth. It achieves its purpose though.

56valkyrdeath
Redigeret: apr 5, 2015, 7:14pm


31. Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett
One of the last Pratchett books published but actually containing his earliest work, this collects a set of children’s stories he wrote while a teenager, for printing in the local newspaper. They’re simple fantasy stories but with the Pratchett sense of humour clearly developing already. These are clearly aimed at young children, and it seems like this book would be a great introduction to Terry Pratchett. There’s enough there that I found enjoyable even now though, with quite a few funny jokes throughout. It’s obviously not got the depth of his later books and he was still developing as a writer, but it’s still fun in its own simple way, and I feel it would be good for the target audience. For the Pratchett fan, there’s a lot of interest to, with two stories about Carpet People that went on to inspire his first novel and some lines occasionally that you can see he later developed within the Discworld series.

57valkyrdeath
apr 10, 2015, 9:28pm


32. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
This is another great non-fiction book and one of my favourites I’ve read recently. It looks at the various ways cadavers have been used, such as organ donation, surgery practice, investigating rates of decomposition to help in murder investigations and nutty attempts to prove the Turin Shroud is real by crucifying corpses. It’s fascinating, but Mary Roach’s writing style also makes it surprisingly funny. I also didn’t find it morbid at all, since it’s simply looking at the uses of bodies after death, and not generally at death itself. I’ll almost certainly be checking out some other books by Mary Roach. This one is definitely recommended.

58valkyrdeath
apr 18, 2015, 6:41pm


33. Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman art by Yoshitaka Amano
A retelling of a Japanese folk tale that never actually existed, The Dream Hunters is unusual for a Sandman story in that it isn’t a graphic novel but simply an illustrated one. Gaiman is good at writing fable-like stories and this really does feel like a Japanese legend, especially early on. The Sandman characters appear later though usually not identified outright, leaving the reader to spot where it ties in to the rest of the series. It works as a story in its own right but has extra depth when familiar with the graphic novels. It’s fairly short and not very long, but it’s enjoyable and well written, and Amano’s watercolour artwork adds a lot to the feel of the book. Probably best for people who are already fans of the Sandman series in general though. As a comic it would have fitted in perfectly well amongst the occasional single issue stories.

59valkyrdeath
apr 20, 2015, 9:54pm


34. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
I wasn’t really expecting to like this book, but I really enjoyed it. It was surprisingly easy to read and the characters were well written. It also didn’t seem to follow a predictable path, though the ending itself did seem a bit like she didn’t know quite how to end things and was just finding a way to get out of it. I wasn’t expecting the humour either, but there were quite a few funny scenes. I have a tendency to think books from this era are just going to be stuffy and dull, but I guess it’s just finding the right books. I liked that it showed what society was like for women at the time too, which was probably pretty important at the time. Anyway, it seems I don’t have much coherent to say, but I liked the book and will be reading some more Eliot at some point.

60valkyrdeath
apr 23, 2015, 9:17pm


35. Cautionary Tales for Grown-Ups by Chris Addison
A fun, silly read with comedian Chris Addison coming up with a modern version of Belloc’s classic children’s book. The poems are actually very well done and it’s one of the rare places where you’ll find rhymes referring to bronchopneumonia. It’s not really laugh out loud funny but it’s amusing and entertaining. The characters mostly haven’t done anything too much wrong, but then it’s not meant to be taken seriously anyway. There are tales of the dangers of not voting or fly tipping, but there’s also stories of neighbours trying to outdo each other in gaudy Christmas lights on their houses (“With six-foot Santa, snowmen, deer – the standard ‘Xmas’ crew- / And sundry other flashing tat they’d bought at B&Q”). Nearly everyone comes to a ludicrous far-fetched end due to their activities, such as the Christmas lights being mistaken for a runway by a jumbo jet. It feels sort of Milligan-like. Not the deepest book, but a fun light read with well written comic verse.

61valkyrdeath
apr 25, 2015, 9:16pm


36. Brightness Falls from the Air by James Tiptree Jr.
James Tiptree Jr. was primarily a short story writer and only wrote two novels towards the end of her career. This is the second of those, published just a couple of years before her death. A group of people gather on the planet of Damiem to watch the final stages of a star going nova, though two appear to be there by accident. The planet is a protected world, home to a race of winged humanoid aliens who had previously been tortured and killed to harvest a fluid they secrete that was used as a very expensive drug. The book acts as a sort of mystery story, with you never being quite sure which characters are genuinely who they say they are. It’s quite tense throughout most of the book and the pacing is good. The characters were quite interesting too, particularly Zannez, making a likable character from someone with a profession that would usually be instantly vilified.

If there’s a problem, it’s that it seems clear that Tiptree isn’t really comfortable with the novel format. It’s not badly written and I did enjoy the book, but there’s so many ideas crammed into the book that it can be overly busy at times. On the other hand, it meant it was anything but predictable, and I felt I had to just keep reading to see where it was going. The ending possibly wrapped things up too neatly, but in general I found the book to be an entertaining read.

62valkyrdeath
apr 26, 2015, 8:35pm


37. Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights by Daniel Pinkwater
Continuing on from Fish Whistle, this is another non-fiction collection, mostly of things written for broadcast for his third and fourth years on All Things Considered. As stated in the preface, put together they form a sort of fragmentary memoir of his earlier life. As before, I kept finding things familiar and then realising I was reading about the events that had inspired something from one of his books. There’s a lot of humour, though it’s not quite as diverse as the previous volume. I enjoyed it. It’s probably best for someone who’s already a fan of his books though.

63valkyrdeath
apr 27, 2015, 8:30pm


38. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
I didn’t know much about this book when I got it from the library, but found it to be a quick and interesting read. It’s a fairly low key story centring on the narrator’s memories, mainly of a friend from his teenage years who committed suicide and of a former relationship. The book is generally based on the idea of the unreliability of memory. As new information is discovered, past events are seen in a new light, making the last half of the book like the unravelling of a mystery, which kept me reading. It’s very short and I raced through it in two days and enjoyed it.

64valkyrdeath
apr 29, 2015, 8:41pm


39. The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
Well, this was disappointing. I’d heard this was a sci-fi classic so maybe my expectations were set too high, but I didn’t like it much at all. It’s a set of three related novellas with connecting themes. The first one was easy to read and I quite liked the writing style, but it becomes clear what’s going on early in the story and it doesn’t really do much with it, and the revelation near the end just falls flat since it was already obvious. The second story was a surreal mess that I hated. The third story was the most interesting. Based around an investigator reviewing documents for a case, it’s told through various notebooks, diary entries and prisoner interview recordings allowing you to piece together just what the case is about and what’s going on. Again, it’s well written and I didn’t hate the story, but it didn’t really go anywhere, and as before it was fairly clear what was going on early on, especially since it had been stated as a theory in the first story anyway. Unless I’m completely wrong about what was happening. Maybe I’m missing something considering how highly regarded this is, but I can’t see how. Just different tastes I guess. Two readable but bland stories and one I hated don’t do much for me. I might still give The Book of the New Sun a go sometime though, since I don’t like to judge an author entirely on a single book.

Also, not a comment on the book itself, but my edition has one of those introductions that’s nothing but a description of what’s going to happen in the book. I skipped it and went straight into reading the book thankfully since I’ve had books ruined like this before, but really, what’s the point of introductions like that? Who wants their book to start with a complete spoiler? This should come at the end surely.

65valkyrdeath
apr 30, 2015, 9:31pm


40. Pratchett’s Women: Unauthorised Essays on the Female Characters of Discworld by Tansy Rayner Roberts
There are not many books actually about the Discworld novels out there so when I saw this I thought I’d give it a go. It’s a short book looking at the various portrayals of female characters throughout the Discworld series. I’m not really an analytical reader, I prefer to just enjoy the story in a book, but it’s interesting to look at these things occasionally, especially when there’s important issues involved. This doesn’t really go into a great deal of depth in the space given, but it does make a few interesting points at times. It also makes some baffling assertions, such as that Hogfather makes no sense except on rereads (it was an instant favourite of mine from first read) or that Felicity Beedle in Snuff is a thinly veiled version of J. K. Rowling, which I just don’t think is true. I’m not disappointed that I read it, though I think it could have been made clear that the book was a compilation of articles that had previously been posted online before I bought it though. I don’t think I’d particularly recommend it unless you’re extremely interested in the subject and don’t mind the odd strange comment.

66aquascum
maj 1, 2015, 2:36am

*grins* nope, I don't see any sense in The Hogfather, but haven't been able to force myself to reread...

Have read sevral other books 'about' Discworld and agree with this sense of 'wouldn't particularly recommend it unless'...

One has got to hand it to Pratchett, he reached such a wide variety of readers and gave so much food for thought...

67valkyrdeath
maj 1, 2015, 6:17pm

>66 aquascum: They definitely attracted a far wider range of readers than the average fantasy book. I'd be interested in other books looking at the Discworld series but I'm not sure if there's any particularly good ones out there at the moment.

68valkyrdeath
maj 1, 2015, 6:17pm


41. Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan art by Fiona Staples
A great continuation of the first volume. It’s still sharply written with great dialogue and characters. The art style is excellent too and really adds to the story, and the designs of the various odd creatures is really imaginative. Onto volume 3!

69valkyrdeath
maj 1, 2015, 8:14pm


42. Amityville Horrible by Kelley Armstrong
I didn’t know anything about this book, since I got it as part of a Humble Bundle that had a couple of books that I wanted so this came along with it and I thought I might as well give it a go since it was so short. It seems to be part of a longer series of books called Women of the Otherworld. This one is about fake TV spiritualist who actually happens to be a necromancer and genuinely have the power to speak to the dead, but still fakes it for her performances due to how the real thing works. She’s pressured into appearing on a haunted house reality show in Amityville where things start to go wrong. It wasn’t terrible but not especially exciting either. Then there’s a twist at the end which feels like a complete cop-out.

70valkyrdeath
maj 2, 2015, 8:52pm


43. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
A fun little book where Queen Elizabeth II stumbles across a mobile library and becomes addicted to reading. It’s as much a paean to reading in general though as the Queen’s whole outlook changes as she reads more and more. It’s got plenty of Alan Bennett’s usual wit and it builds up to a great speech and an amusing ending.

I particularly liked the conclusion she draws after holding a party for her favourite author’s so she can meet them. “Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels.”

71valkyrdeath
maj 3, 2015, 10:13pm


44. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
This is a novel posing as a memoir being written by a man called Howard W Campbell Jr as he sits in an Israeli prison awaiting trial for war crimes during World War 2. He spent the war broadcasting anti-Jewish propaganda for the Nazis, but also passing secretly passing messages to America within those broadcasts, a fact which the US government refuses to either confirm or deny. It’s a story of many forms of moral ambiguity, not only the fact that however much he was helping the Allies, his propaganda was also highly effective. It’s full of characters that fall into a moral grey area in a conflict that is often portrayed as purely black and white, and looks at what people can be driven to in desperate situations.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

I think this is my favourite Vonnegut book that I’ve read so far, yet it’s not one I’d ever heard about. It’s probably also his most accessible, told in a fairly straightforward manner and without the more crazy elements of books like Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s still full of great lines and Vonnegut’s brand of dark humour, and he has that way of phrasing tough details in such a simple, casual way that somehow gives them more impact. So it goes. I’ve found the Vonnegut books I’ve read to be mixed, but this one I loved.

72valkyrdeath
maj 7, 2015, 8:36pm


45. Oh What a Lovely War by Theatre Workshop
I haven’t read a play script since I was at school, but I saw this in the library and thought I’d give it a go, since no-one seems to be staging it around my area these days. Created by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop, based around Charles Chilton’s radio musical The Long Long Trail, it’s very much a collaborative work, and the book doesn’t credit it to any one person. It’s a classic anti-war musical highlighting the absurdities and horrors of World War 1, using the soldiers spoof versions of lyrics of period songs throughout. A lot is missed by reading it rather than seeing it produced though, since some sections seem quite visual and you only get the lyrics without the music. Thankfully, since they’re existing old songs and I’ve seen the film version before, I could imagine them anyway. Not an ideal book for reading, but I think it’s the closest I’m likely to get to the stage show.

73valkyrdeath
maj 10, 2015, 8:17pm


46. Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis
The third Falco book, and everything feels a lot tighter and more focused this time round. The plot is much more to the forefront, though the character development is still there. While I enjoyed the first two books, this is the first one I found to work as an effective mystery, leaving me guessing who had done what. It purposefully follows some detective fiction tropes (while subverting others) and relocates them effectively into the ancient Roman setting utilising things intrinsically linked to the period. It’s often funny and the whole thing feels sharper this time around. The series seems to keep improving.

74valkyrdeath
maj 13, 2015, 6:05pm


47. Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov
This is the second of Asimov’s books aimed at children and starring David Starr, now known mostly by his nickname Lucky. It’s basically more of the same, a fun and fast paced story with more action than the typical Asimov but still with a level of scientific accuracy above that of most books of this style. The science also hasn’t dated so much in this book with the facts still generally being correct, even if our knowledge has expanded since. It also treats the pirate community of the title in a more thoughtful way than might be expected, rather than just making them Long John Silver in space. It’s nothing particularly deep, but it’s a fun kid’s story that I could still enjoy reading as an adult. I do wish I’d owned it when I was in the target age group though.

75valkyrdeath
Redigeret: maj 17, 2015, 6:39pm


48. Let Me Go by Helga Schneider
A true account of the author’s meeting with her 90 year old mother for only the second time in her life since early childhood. Her mother had abandoned her family when Helga was a child to join the SS and ultimately to work in the concentration camps. It’s a deeply disturbing read, as she shows no remorse over the past. In their earlier meeting she had tried to give her daughter jewellery taken from the Jews in the camps she worked in and even in this second meeting while seemingly suffering from dementia, she’s still manipulative and still seems to believe that what she did was right. It’s not a pleasant read, but it’s a compelling one, and it’s a perspective to the holocaust story we don’t often see.

76valkyrdeath
maj 17, 2015, 8:34pm


49. Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell
This is a short book about an English girl who becomes an orphan and moves to Salem to stay with her Uncle. Unfortunately, it’s right at the start of the Salem witch trials. This is a bleak story, but then that’s to be expected given the setting. The witch trial period is one of the many depressing moments in the history of quite a few countries, and the book could only really end one way. It’s very well written and seems to have been well researched too, with the events following the general facts although most of the characters are fictional. Good but dark. I think I need something cheerier now after the last two reads!

77valkyrdeath
maj 20, 2015, 9:01pm


50. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers
My first Lord Peter Wimsey book, and it seems like they’re quite fun. I’ll probably read some more at some point. I don’t have much more to say about it, mostly because I’m not good at writing about this sort of book but also because I tried an audiobook for this one read by Ian Carmichael. His reading was excellent. On the other hand, I’m hopeless with audiobooks because my mind wanders too much, and that’s not good for books with complex plots. My concentration is terrible these days. I think the rest of this series will be read in print.

78valkyrdeath
maj 23, 2015, 6:31pm


51. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This was a fun retelling of the story of Achilles and the Trojan war. It is told from the perspective of Patroclus, which I thought was an excellent choice and it what made the book so interesting. Much of the focus is on their relationship with events being seen through the lens of how it affects them. It’s more a love story than it is a war story. I know pretty much nothing about The Iliad and my knowledge about Achilles basically ends at the heel, which isn’t included in this book at all, so I can’t say how closely it matches the original story. As a novel though, it was entertaining and well-paced and I really enjoyed it.

79valkyrdeath
maj 25, 2015, 8:32pm


52. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
A collection of early short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Or to quote his own preface, “samples of work I sold in order to finance the writing of the novels.” A few are science fiction but the majority are snapshots of people’s lives. Despite my love of sci-fi, I think it’s the other stories that generally have the best moments. The writing is still distinctly Vonnegut and there are some great stories in here. There seems to be a real understanding of humanity behind most of them. Nothing is straight forward even in the simplest story. The quality is mixed as usual with short story collections. I enjoyed it mostly, but I do prefer Vonnegut’s novels.

80valkyrdeath
maj 27, 2015, 7:24pm


53. Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line by Brendan Keogh
Spec Ops: The Line was one of the more interesting thoughtful computer games of the last few years. While on the surface it looked like just another Call of Duty style military shooter, over the course of the game it became a deconstruction of the genre, forcing the player to confront the consequences of the atrocities committed so casually in these games, and in consequence to examine the nature of the games themselves.

All of which makes it an ideal game to get a full book of critical analysis written about it. The whole idea of analysing games in this way is fairly recent, and this is the sort of book I’ve wanted to find and haven’t been able to until now. This follows a full playthrough of the game from the title screen right through to the end, looking in depth at everything that happens and the authors interpretation of just what is going on and what it means within the context of the story and of the gaming genre in general.

It’s clear the author has put a lot of thought into the book, with it showing through continuously throughout. I didn’t agree with everything he had to say, but it’s a story open to interpretation and that’s not necessarily a negative thing. There were a couple of things I was surprised that he’d missed and a few moments where I thought he was reading too much into minor incidental details, but overall I found it interesting and it pointed out a lot of things I hadn’t actually noticed. There was a significant error around the game’s ending, but at least in this edition it had been footnoted to point out the mistake and linked to an online article to update it (though I’m not sure why that couldn’t have been added to the book itself.)

It’s not perfect. I’m not sure following the game from beginning to end was the best way to do it, since it means at times it can end up repeating things, and not every single moment is equally noteworthy, and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t played the game is likely to be reading it and needing every detail filled in. But this is a new type of writing and it’s hard to say just how best to approach these things. Despite the problems, I found it to ultimately be a worthwhile and thought provoking read. I hope to see more serious books about gaming in the future (and more games worthy of them.)

81valkyrdeath
maj 30, 2015, 8:40pm


54. Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom by Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez
This book looks at various cases where maths has been misused during court trials leading to incorrect verdicts. It doesn’t just look at the mathematical side of things though, giving a full overview of each case and going into the story of anything relevant to the trial. So we get anything from the background of some of the people involved to information about DNA analysis to the events of the Dreyfus affair. It’s well written and I found it very interesting to read. It’s one of those books that ends up making me want to read up on some of these things in more detail.

Each of the ten cases had a mathematical point to the court case though (with the exception of the chapter on Charles Ponzi, which was mathematical but it wasn’t used to mislead in a trial so felt strangely out of place). The problem is that probability and statistics can be confusing and counterintuitive and that it’s unlikely anyone on a jury is going to understand them well enough to analyse everything themselves and so will trust whatever a supposed expert tells them in court. When the expert has, accidentally or intentionally, miscalculated or misinterpreted figures, lives can be ruined. It can be a slightly depressing read. Dr. Roy Meadow’s nonsense figures put many women in prison for murdering their children by using his nonsense figures to show it was almost impossible to be a natural death while other evidence was ignored. Perhaps scariest of all, nurse Lucia de Berk famously spent 6 years for murdering patients despite every one of the deaths having been deemed natural and there not being a single scrap of evidence against her simply because of a made of figure.

The book doesn’t have a solution to the problem. The authors express confidence that the public can become more educated in these matters, but I’m not so sure most people would ever bother looking into it. But this is still an interesting book, and one that doesn’t require a great deal of prior mathematical knowledge to appreciate. And while it focuses on court cases, this is the same sort of inaccurate information that the media is constantly trying to push onto us every day, hoping we won’t think things through, making it useful too.

82valkyrdeath
jun 5, 2015, 8:39pm


55. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
This was the second Discworld book I ever read back when I first discovered Pratchett, and it’s still one of my favourites. The last two books saw Pratchett getting into his stride, but absolutely everything came together so well with this book. All of the City Watch are great characters, as is Lady Sybil of course, the plot is great, the writing is sharp and the book is extremely funny. The whole of the Watch series contains some of Pratchett’s best writing and I always look forward to reading them again.

83valkyrdeath
Redigeret: jun 9, 2015, 6:12pm


56. Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan art by Fiona Staples
I’m still enjoying this series. Good writing, good art, entertaining dialogue. Now I just need to get hold of the next volume to find out what happens next.

84valkyrdeath
jun 14, 2015, 8:52pm


57. Drowned Hopes by Donald E. Westlake
These books are always fun. I think this is the seventh of the Dortmunder books, and it’s significantly longer than any of the ones that came before it. Here they’re having to find a way to dig up some previously buried stolen money, with the snag being that the place where it was buried has been flooded and turned into a reservoir. Dortmunder gets involved to try and figure out a way to get to it to keep Tom, his former cellmate, from blowing it up and flooding the nearby town and killing all the people there. It’s a darker concept than usual with Tom being a particularly nasty character, but the multiple failed attempts at getting to the money are still very funny, and the collecting of Tom’s various other smaller caches in between even more so. And I loved Wally, the computer geek character who is portrayed in a far more positive way than in a lot of things, even if the computer details given are alternately dated and unrealistically optimistic these days. One of the best so far.

85valkyrdeath
jun 16, 2015, 6:38pm


58. We Can Fix It!: A Time Travel Memoir by Jess Fink
A graphic memoir told in the form of the author using a time machine to travel back in time to visit her earlier selves. It’s an interesting idea, but it seems about the first half of the book is taken up with her just going back and having sex with her younger selves and then spying on her previous sexual encounters. Fair enough to have those things in it, but it’s not particularly interesting to take so much of the book up. After that it improves slightly as she starts trying to fix her mistakes, but it’s never really satisfying. It hints at various disturbing events but we never really find out what happened and before any details are given she’s off to a different time again, so you just get a lot of disjointed moments and no real depth to anything. The humour is also quite puerile, leading to her, amongst her more serious final realisations, to come to the conclusion that “fart humour transcends age and time restraints”, something that I agree with only to the extent that it’s equally unfunny at any age to me. Nice concept, but it’s very short and just didn’t do enough with it.

86valkyrdeath
jun 18, 2015, 9:02pm


59. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
A much more enjoyable time travel book than the one I’ve just read. It seems I can rely on Connie Willis to provide a good read. After being sent back in time to find the Bishop’s bird stump, a ludicrous MacGuffin to hang the plot around, Ned Henry soon ends up in the Victorian era with severe time lag, little preparation for the period and no idea what he’s supposed to be doing. The other Connie Willis books have often had plenty of humour in them, but this one is played out almost entirely as a comedy, and it’s a really fun read throughout. It plays on the conventions of time travel fiction as well as referencing all sorts of things from Victorian fiction to 1930s murder mystery novels. It also sets up plenty of comic set pieces along the way, from boat journeys to fraudulent seances. It’s a very different book from Willis’s earlier Doomsday Book, but I still really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more of her work in the near future.

Though I do wish at least one character would just stand up to the obnoxious and demanding Lady Shrapnell and simple say “no!”

87valkyrdeath
jun 19, 2015, 8:30pm


60. Uncle Boris in the Yukon and Other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater
A memoir focusing mostly on the dogs Pinkwater has owned and encountered throughout his life. The content was entertaining enough, but the majority of it is stuff he’d already talked about in Fish Whistle and Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights so if you’ve read those volumes there’s not much new here. A bit disappointing , but mostly because I’ve already read about most of it fairly recently.

88valkyrdeath
jun 25, 2015, 6:16pm


61. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
(What’s with these old Asimov book covers? I haven’t got a clue what that thing is supposed to be on there, but whatever it is, it’s definitely got nothing to do with the contents of the book, nor has the spaceship thing. It seems the covers were all like this back then.)

Anyway, this is a reread of one of my favourite Asimov books. At its core is one of Asimov’s best mystery stories, a murder mystery investigated by detective Elijah Baley and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw. Far from being just a detective story stuck into a science fiction setting, Asimov creates a plot that’s entirely dependent on the culture it’s set in, and it’s this that makes the book stand out. It’s one of Asimov’s best realised worlds and he manages to portray huge amounts of information about it through context and in a relatively few words within the first few pages (something I’d certainly be grateful if more authors could learn.)

The Caves of Steel of the title are the huge enclosed Cities which the inhabitants of Earth now almost exclusively live crowded within, never venturing out into open air. They live strictly regimented lives enforced thanks to the overpopulation of the planet causing everything to be in short supply. In contrast, the colonies on other planets have grown into self-contained worlds with low populations living in wide open spaces and strictly limit immigration and mostly avoid contact with people from Earth due to their lack of immunity to diseases, which they’ve had no exposure to. These “Spacers” have one isolated settlement on Earth, rigidly guarded, but one of them has been murdered. Throw into this a growing resentment from the population against robots taking work from people amongst many other factors and you’ve got a really interesting setting to work with.

There’s some places where it has dated a bit. It’s an old book and technology has obviously gone off in new directions to what was predicted in some ways, and amusingly, the unmanageable population that has caused the Earth culture to become like this is a mere 8 billion, which I believe we’re not far off now. Elijah’s wife is also basically a typical 50s housewife character, which is disappointing, though sadly a fairly standard feature of that era of sci-fi. These things aside though, it’s a great story and I still enjoyed it on rereading.

89valkyrdeath
jun 25, 2015, 8:46pm


62. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
I think I came across this one after enjoying “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman many years ago and seeing it being compared to this, but I’ve only just got round to reading it. I didn’t particularly like it unfortunately. It’s a collection of adult retellings of fairy tales (though the author apparently denies this even though it’s clearly true), mostly with disturbing and sexual themes. The title story opens the book and is the longest story by far. It was a fairly straight retelling of the Bluebeard story, but incredibly drawn out, overly descriptive and I found it just generally very dull, and the same applies to most of the rest of the stories too. Carter also seemed far too fond of using obscure words all over the place which I always read as the author showing off. Puss-in-Boots was the best of the bunch for me, a more comical story that was a bit better than the rest. The two takes on Red Riding Hood and one of the Beauty and the Beast stories were probably my pick of the rest, though I wasn’t all that impressed by them. In general I just found this boring. Clearly not the book for me.

90lilithburns
jun 26, 2015, 7:05am

How did you like the Marbles GN by Ellen Forney?

91valkyrdeath
jun 26, 2015, 3:19pm

>90 lilithburns: I'll be posting my proper review a bit later today, but basically I loved it! Have you read it?

92valkyrdeath
jun 27, 2015, 9:35pm


63. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney
Marbles is an excellent graphical memoir that follows the author’s struggles with manic depression and the lengthy process of finding the right combination of medications to help her. She also looks at the association between bipolar disorder and creativity and talks a lot about her fears that taking medication would destroy her creativity.

The writing is excellent and I really loved her art style. The artwork really captured the feel of both the extreme highs and lows of the manic and depressive phases in a way I’m not sure a plain textual description could quite match, and I found myself association with much of the story despite living a very different life. I also find it reassuring to read something like this with a generally positive outcome, and for all the emotional turmoil it’s ultimately quite uplifting. I found it to be a really powerful book and one I’d definitely recommend.

93valkyrdeath
jul 5, 2015, 5:25pm


64. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
I wasn’t sure about this book when I started reading it. I find this sort of “child travels to strange fantasy world” story can go either way, at best being fun and imaginative but at worst coming across as a bland attempt to copy books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Thankfully, I found this to be one of the former. It certainly evokes elements of classics like the Oz books, the Alice books and The Phantom Tollbooth, but the actual contents are full of imagination, and there’s more modern satirical elements to it and an almost Pratchett-like sense of humour at times. I really liked the writing style too. I particularly liked the moments when the narrator addressed the reader directly, at times even talking about the extra privileges the reader has to know things the characters don’t. I enjoyed the book and may well read the next one.

I’m a bit confused around who this book was aimed at though. I was sure when I added to my wishlist a long time ago it had said it was an adult book styled after traditional children’s stories, but now it seems to be marketed as a children’s book. Maybe I was mistaken. Either way, I’d say it’s suited to pretty much any age group, though there are some quite dark elements and the narrator does refer to the reader as being grown-up at one point. Not really important, but I’m just not sure whether I got mixed up or if the marketing was changed.

94valkyrdeath
jul 9, 2015, 6:14pm


65. Don’t Ask by Donald E. Westlake
Another Dortmunder, this time much shorter than the last one. Not my favourite one, but still very funny. This time, he’s trying to steal a relic for one small country from another to help them secure a place in the UN. The dialogue is as sharp as ever, as are the situations, and I’m still impressed by how Westlake kept coming up with new ideas for these. I don’t have much else to say about it other than that the whole series is recommended.

95valkyrdeath
jul 10, 2015, 6:34pm


66. Young Adult Novel by Daniel Pinkwater
Another book with the usual Pinkwater brand of craziness. It’s pretty short but a lot of fun, about a group of Dada inspired school pupils and involving elements of parody of the sort of young adult novels around at the time. Not my favourite Pinkwater book but an enjoyable quick read.

96valkyrdeath
jul 10, 2015, 8:56pm


67. Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Nothing to Envy is a non-fictional account of the lives of people in North Korea, focusing mainly on six people who eventually defected to South Korea. By concentrating on these people and what their lives are like are portraying wider events from that perspective it presents a far more human portrait on the culture. It reads almost like a novel at times, which is no bad. It’s obviously a rather depressing book at times, and it’s awful that there are countries still being run like this in the modern age. The whole society really does sound like Orwell’s 1984. It’s nice that there are positive stories in the end though, and while things aren’t perfect, the people chronicled in the book have generally managed to adjust to their new lives. The edition I read was updated with an extra chapter bringing events up to date to the middle of 2014 too, through the death of Kim Jong-il and the taking over by Kim Jong-un, and it was good to see how things had progressed in the meantime for the various people. It was a good book for me since I knew very little, and had no idea of the lack of electricity or just how bad the starvation is there. Very well written and definitely recommended for anyone interested in the subject.

97valkyrdeath
jul 13, 2015, 7:07pm


68. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
This is the earliest of Gaiman’s short story collections that’s still in print. It’s a reread, as I loved it when I originally read it many years ago, and thankfully I think it’s still held up. The majority of the material here is good and the best ones rank as some of my favourite of Gaiman’s works. It’s also quite varied, with stories ranging from a comic tale about a woman who buys the holy grail for 30p at a charity shop, a murder mystery set in a city of angels at the start of creation, a Lovecraftian tale with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore characters inserted into it and a deeply disturbing alternate look at the Snow White story. There’s not a great deal I really didn’t like. I preferred this one to the later Fragile Things, but I’m looking forward to getting round to the new Trigger Warning one.

98valkyrdeath
jul 18, 2015, 6:39pm


69. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to like this, but in the end I really enjoyed it. I don’t know much about the sort of books it’s parodying, but I think I got a good impression of what they were like just from reading this. It was extremely funny at times, and also I was surprised that it didn’t feel dated at all. There’s a lot of satire on all sorts of aspects of society in it that felt as relevant now as when it was written. I particularly liked the spoof introduction letter where she explains that she’s marked out the best bits to save the reviewers the trouble and then puts stars preceding the most ludicrously overwritten metaphors.

Up until a couple of years ago I hadn’t even been aware that this was a comedy book. It turned out to be a really fun book and I’m glad I finally read it. I’m now considering trying some of her other books too.

99valkyrdeath
jul 24, 2015, 9:55pm


70. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This tells the story of two women during WW2, one a pilot and the other a spy. Following a crash landing in France, the first half of the book is told as the confession being written by the spy while being held and tortured by the Gestapo, though there are clues that things might not be what they seem. The second half of the book is told in the form of the diary of the pilot. Both of their stories look back over their friendship prior to the situation. It’s well written and seems fairly well researched and I really enjoyed the story. It’s not a light read though, with references to torture throughout the book due to the situation. I was surprised I had to go into the children’s section of my library to get a copy of the book. Anyway, it was a great read and had a fair few twists along the way.

100valkyrdeath
jul 25, 2015, 8:31pm


71. A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
A really fun memoir of a childhood in a small town. I loved that it was told from the perspective of her childhood self rather than any sort of introspective look back. There’s no attempts at analysing the past, she simply narrates various events from her youth, usually in a very funny style. The events are sometimes things that people might find upsetting, particularly for anyone who doesn’t like to hear about the deaths of animals of which there are many, but it’s all told with the naïve innocence of a girl who just takes it all in her stride. One of the most entertaining memoirs I’ve read and one that made me laugh of quite a few occasions.

101valkyrdeath
Redigeret: jul 25, 2015, 9:16pm


72. Fluke by James Herbert
A rare departure from horror for James Herbert, Fluke tells the story of a dog’s life as a stray, from the first person perspective of that dog. He seems to have captured the dog viewpoint pretty well, and there are moments of humour, though much of Fluke’s life is quite hard. As the story goes on, he starts to get more and more glimpses of memories of a time when he was human, building up to the climax of the book, which isn’t quite as straight forward as it first seems. It’s a pretty dark and at times disturbing story (though I remember it was adapted into a family film by changing pretty much everything in it for some reason) but one that kept me reading throughout and that I enjoyed. In some ways, it’s a shame James Herbert didn’t diversify into other genres away from horror more in his career, especially considering how his writing improved over the years.

102valkyrdeath
jul 30, 2015, 8:50pm


73. The Best Art You’ve Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures From Around the World by Julian Spalding
This book collects a wide variety of art in many different styles with the intention of showing art that is usually hidden in some way. It was an interesting collection and a lot of the art was genuinely worth covering, the pictures that went along with it were generally good and the discussions were often well thought out. The author’s enthusiasm about the works really comes through and he was good at pointing out details I might not otherwise have spotted.

Unfortunately, he’s also very opinionated and feels the need to forcefully express those opinions throughout, such as what he thinks should and shouldn’t be classed as art and how art should be treated. I found this got quite annoying, especially as I disagreed with quite a bit of it. He states in the introduction that if a piece of art doesn’t speak to you then it probably has nothing to say, which seems to me to be ignoring the fact that different people like different things, and sounds like a justification for claiming that what he likes is good and what he doesn’t like is bad. (He also mentions that the only art worthy of the name works on many levels, something which just instantly makes me think of Fry and Laurie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WF6NIxIeaU)

The title is also a bit misleading. Not all of the art is particularly obscure and he includes it simply if he feels the art has been hidden at some point. Some of the more sexual works are pretty well known these days even if they weren’t publicly displayed in a past age for example. There’s a section on modern art that he likes that he claims is hidden by conceptual art, which is basically an excuse for him to complain about pickled animal parts and unmade beds in galleries getting all the publicity. He even includes the Mona Lisa due to how it’s obscured under old discoloured varnish that the Louvre doesn’t seem to want to clean. Some of these things are valid points but the title led me to expect something different. And there’s so much art out there, it really would be nice to see some things that really never get shown around at all.

Anyway, despite the flaws I generally enjoyed the book anyway. I liked the choices even if they’re not all the sorts of things I was expecting and when he’s not ranting the author manages to provide background history about the culture the art came from and the artist that created it as well as about the work itself, all in a relatively short space. Some of the more ancient pieces are as much of archaeological and historical interest as artistic, which appealed to me. More of that and less polemic and it could have been a genuinely great book.

103valkyrdeath
aug 1, 2015, 8:51pm


74. The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis
This is the fourth Falco book, this time seeing the Roman informer travelling to Germany to investigate a missing military officer. This one was more involved with real history, covering some real life mysteries of the era and mentions battles and situations in Germany at the time. It’s still got plenty of humour, though it’s a generally darker plot than the previous books. It also feels different rather than just a repeat of the same thing again, which is always good. Towards the end this is much more of an adventure than a mystery, though of course everything gets resolved in the end. I really enjoyed it, and am as always looking forward to continuing the series.

104valkyrdeath
aug 1, 2015, 9:34pm


75. Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
Somehow I’ve gone all this time having never read anything by Anne McCaffrey. This seems like it was a good place to start. The world building is impressive and everything seems to have been thought out to make the setting convincing. It was well written and I enjoyed it, though it was light on plot and once the lead character gets out of the Hold she lives in part way through the book, there’s no real conflict to resolve and it ends quite abruptly. It definitely read like the first part of a book that’s been split up, leading into the sequel. So, onto the sequel.

105valkyrdeath
aug 3, 2015, 7:53pm


76. Witness by Karen Hesse
Historical fiction set in a small town in Vermont in 1924 as the Ku Klux Klan move in and the effect they have on the lives of the people there. It’s told from the perspective of eleven different characters in first person perspective and it changes between them from one page to the next. It was an interesting quick read and I thought it was generally well done. The different personalities and viewpoints were captured well.

It’s a verse novel with each character being portrayed in free verse. The trouble is, in this case it’s that particular type of free verse that to me looks like prose with random line thrown in. You could remove all the line breaks and it would just read as normal text. I really don’t see what this adds to anything. And there’s no capital letters anywhere and very little punctuation. It didn’t really bother me but I don’t understand why it was like that either. At first I thought it would be done for a particular character but it was the same for everyone.

None of that really affects the quality of the writing for me, but it’s just something I found a bit strange.

106valkyrdeath
aug 13, 2015, 6:12pm


77. Letters of Note compiled by Shaun Usher
A really interesting collection of letters ranging from ancient history to very recent. I can’t find much to fault in this book. It’s got a huge variety of letters and I can’t really quibble over the inclusion of any of them, as each is worth reading, whether for historical or cultural interest or in some cases simply because they’re very funny. It’s fascinating to see things like job application letters from Leonardo da Vinci or the Queen sending her favourite scone recipe to President Eisenhower, and disturbing to read the ignored letter warning of a design flaw in parts of the Challenger Space Shuttle which could lead to disaster. I think Dorothy Parker’s comical letter describing her tedious stay in hospital may have been my favourite though. And then there’s Virginia’s letter to the New York Sun newspaper about the existence of Santa and the reply. They blatantly lie to the eight year old child and try to encourage her to be gullible and believe whatever they say and never to be sceptical, a perfect indication of why you can never trust a newspaper. (Ok, this might not be the way this letter is generally portrayed, but it’s how I like to look at it anyway.)

The book is really well designed too, with high quality pictures of the original letters where possible and various other illustrative pictures, along with transcripts of the letters when the pictures aren’t completely clear, all laid out clearly and attractively. All in all a great book.

107valkyrdeath
aug 17, 2015, 7:59pm


78. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
I loved this book. It’s definitely one of my favourites of the year. It’s a long book, but perfectly paced with so much happening throughout the course of the book. It’s hard to describe because it covers so many themes, comic books, stage magic and war, but mostly it’s about the characters. I won’t even try to go into any details about it and will just say it’s a great book.

108valkyrdeath
aug 17, 2015, 8:28pm


79. Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
The sequel to Dragonsong, continuing straight off from where the first book finished. It really feels like it should have been the second half of one book. It follows Menolly’s musical training at the Harper Hall as well as more about the fire lizards. It was a fun book, and it’s nice to see the occasional book where things just go generally well for a character who doesn’t feel the need to go back and confront her abusive family and is happy to just leave them all behind. It’s an enjoyable series so far. One more book to go in the trilogy.

109valkyrdeath
aug 19, 2015, 6:02pm


80. March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin art by Nate Powell
An interesting, though short, graphic novel by John Lewis about his childhood and early involvement in the civil rights movement. I didn’t know much about him, but he seems to have been a major figure and was well worth reading about. It covers mainly his growing up and the lunch counter sit ins to end segregation. It also shows his commitment to non-violence, something I have a lot of respect for. It’s a fairly straight forward account of events, but there’s nothing wrong with that. If there’s a flaw, it’s that given how short the book is, I wish they’d just waited and released the whole story as one rather than splitting it up into three.

110valkyrdeath
aug 22, 2015, 9:48pm


81. On Writing by Stephen King
On Writing is a fairly brief book that’s part memoir of Stephen King’s childhood and how he became a writer and part his attempt at providing guidance to new writers. The short memoir part was ok, but I had issues with the rest of it. (Not a new thing, since the last time I read a non-fiction work by King, Danse Macabre, I spent much of it disagreeing with him.) Some of the stuff he said this time wasn’t bad advice, though I don’t really share his dislike of passive verbs, and I can’t even begin to understand his hatred of adverbs which are a perfectly good part of language and the examples he gives seemed to show why they were important even as he was saying they shouldn’t be used. What grated about it though was the fact that he doesn’t seem to follow his own advice at all. He tells people to eliminate unnecessary words and to get to the point as quickly as possible but quite often writes long rambling books that are often 200 pages longer than they need to be. The point that wound me up the most was when he started talking about how he doesn’t like flashbacks and only relevant and interesting backstory should be given. My last experience reading Stephen King was Wizard and Glass, a book published shortly before this one, which stops the action of the Dark Tower series for a long and tedious flashback scene THAT GOES ON FOR MORE THAN 500 PAGES! If I hadn’t read his books, I might be less annoyed but I couldn’t help getting irritated by that stuff while reading.

111valkyrdeath
aug 28, 2015, 6:24pm


82. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
I thought I’d go backwards and read the first Lord Peter Wimsey book, having listened to the audiobook of the second earlier in the year. I really enjoyed this one. There’s a good mystery, the characters are fun and turned out to have more depth than is common in these types of stories, and the dialogue was sharp and entertaining. I’ll certainly be continuing on to the third book in the series shortly.

112mabith
sep 2, 2015, 4:34pm

>102 valkyrdeath: I think I definitely prefer to read reviews about art books rather than read the books myself. Such a classic Fry and Laurie sketch, I can see that one just happening naturally in their conversation after seeing some annoying sort of pretentious review.

113valkyrdeath
sep 4, 2015, 8:16pm

>112 mabith: I think I'll stick to reviews of them rather than reading them in future too. Or at least only look at the pictures so I don't have to get wound up by the writer. The Fry and Laurie one is a great sketch, it's always stuck with me, and I heard critics using those sorts of terms all the time.

114valkyrdeath
sep 4, 2015, 8:17pm


83. Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey
This is the final part of the Harper Hall trilogy and probably my least favourite. Piemur is the main character this time around with Menolly only appearing as a minor character. It’s more plot driven than the others, and it’s mostly a fun and entertaining story. There’s a moment where the supposedly good guys basically torture a dying man to get what they want though, and then it’s just sort of waved aside and never mentioned again, and I found that hard to accept. I’ve never agreed with the whole “ends justify the means” thing and I find it odd that this scene just turns up in the middle of a book that’s aimed at young readers. The rest of the book I enjoyed, but that certainly coloured my experience of it. The first two books were superior generally anyway. The second was my favourite, but really the two together should have been one book. This one is a completely separate story.

115valkyrdeath
sep 7, 2015, 7:52pm


84. Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
This is a non-fiction miscellany of rain related topics and is an entertaining read. It sometimes tends to jump around a bit rapidly and seemingly at random, especially near the beginning, but then it soon settles down to longer chapters focusing on a particular subject. It’s interesting to read brief histories of things like weather forecasting or of the people who claimed to be able to make rain, and it would be a good starting point for further reading on the various areas. Some bits I enjoyed more than others, but I guess that’s to be expected in a book that covers so many different things, but overall I liked it.

116valkyrdeath
sep 11, 2015, 8:49pm


85. Alone Forever by Liz Prince
A collection of comic strips of varying lengths about the author’s experiences with being single. There’s often a sadness running through it, some of the strips are sweet but mostly it’s funny and I really enjoyed quite a few of them. There’s a good variety of formats from basic comic strips to parodies, and I liked the simple but effective artwork. Not a life changing book, but a fun quick read.

117valkyrdeath
sep 13, 2015, 7:42pm


86. Return to Sender by Fred H. Holmes
This is a time travel book which aims to be the first in a series. The method of time travel this time is genetic rather than mechanical, with a company having discovered DNA that tracks the position and time for the individual, acting as “a builtin clock and GPS”. By manipulating this DNA, the person can be moved in time and location. Doesn’t really make much sense since changing a clock doesn’t move the clock to another time, it just means the clock is now wrong, but then time travel doesn’t make real world sense in the first place so I can go with it. What’s harder to go with is that the “hero” of the story is being sent back in time to try to change the outcome of the American Civil War so that the South won. Things don’t turn out so well once it’s done, but there’s a chunk of the start of the book involving the head of the company giving his thoroughly unconvincing explanation of why this is a good idea and waving his hands saying the South would have ended slavery within a few years anyway and expecting people to just accept it… and they do. Not one person seems to want to go against him about this, and no-one ever mentions the fact that changing a major event like that so far in the past would have meant probably none of them would have been born in the first place.

When it comes to the actual plot, it’s passable. The characters are a bit stereotyped and the main character seems to fall into a pattern of casual violence a little too easily, but as a pulp-style adventure story it doesn’t do too badly. Towards the end when it gives a sequence of newspaper snippets to show how history went following the changed events was quite well done and interesting to read through. It’s mainly in the characterisation and dialogue that things are a bit clumsy.

As the first book in a series, it’s possible that most of these flaws could be fixed if any later books are written and that a good time travel adventure could come out of it, assuming it involved a less uncomfortable premise than “let’s help the racists win”. As it is, it’s a readable story but doesn’t add much new to the genre.

118valkyrdeath
sep 14, 2015, 9:05pm


87. Honey and Salt by Carl Sandburg
I’m not great with poetry. I just don’t understand the vast majority of it. Every so often I’ll come across a poem that I love, but even then most of the other work by that poet will probably mean nothing to me. It’s probably because in general I prefer things that just say what they mean rather than wrapping it in poetic language.

So having said that, I liked some poems in this book, didn’t understand most, and that’s pretty much all I can say. I’m not going to try to write a review of it because I’m clearly not qualified in any way to do so since I find poetry to just be one of those “I like what I like” things. For what it’s worth, I particularly liked “Little Word, Little White Bird”.

119valkyrdeath
sep 20, 2015, 8:09pm


88. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
I didn’t know anything about these books, though after looking it up I realised I did see the Disney film of The Black Cauldron but can remember nothing about it. This one was a fun read following an assistant pig keeper with a desire to be a hero. His attempts to fulfil the stereotypical hero role on the adventure he ends up on are continuously thwarted by the fact that things never work out to plan in that way. It’s quite unusual for the era it was written in in my experience, and it makes it much more fun and adds a lot of humour. The main character can be annoying at times because of this but his companions are good characters and he seems to be changing over the course of the book. An enjoyable light read and I can imagine loving it as a kid.

120valkyrdeath
sep 20, 2015, 9:14pm


89. Beloved by Toni Morrison
I don’t think Toni Morrison is for me after reading this book. It wasn’t as hard to read as I feared despite the weird writing style, but the story itself seemed to have been put together in an odd way. Constantly switching to flashbacks but never seeming to indicate clearly when it was happening, or when the perspective was switching and we were suddenly in the head of another character. Suddenly someone who was supposed to be dead would be having a conversation and I’d realise we were somewhere in the past now and it all became confusing. Having said that, sometimes the flashbacks were slightly interesting, but the main “ghost of dead baby returns in body of adult” plot did nothing for me.

121valkyrdeath
sep 28, 2015, 6:18pm


90. A Book in English by Woody Aragon
I wasn’t sure whether to include books like this at first, but in the end it’s a book I’ve read so it’s going on the list, though it probably isn’t going to interest anyone else. It’s a magic book and it’s got some of my favourite thinking of any magic book I’ve got in recent years. There’s lots of powerful and usable material. I doubt I’ll be doing any of the tricks as written but I’ll most likely be adapting quite a few of them. One move in particular was worth the price of the book for me, though there are lots of other interesting ideas too. The theory chapters which close the book were quite interesting too. Probably the best magic book I’ve read recently. (In case anyone is reading this, it’s not a book for beginners either since it refers to sleights and moves and principles by name and expects you’ll already know them and some of the stuff is quite advanced.)

122valkyrdeath
okt 7, 2015, 8:32pm


91. Poseidon’s Gold by Lindsey Davis
The fifth book in the Falco series, and it continues to be a lot of fun. This time it has Falco involved in the old detective-accused-of-murder trope, but it also focuses more than ever on his family and relationships. I like that Lindsey Davis has taken the typical hardboiled detective and not only transplanted him to ancient Rome but also inverted the whole stereotype by giving him a huge family and an ongoing relationship. Aside from the murder investigation the plot also involves some missing statues that his brother was involved in before being killed in the army. You also get to meet Falco’s father, which is fun. The plot is tight, the dialogue is well written and often funny and it’s just enjoyable all round.

123valkyrdeath
okt 17, 2015, 11:00am


92. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
Sequel to The Book of Three and it's another fun fantasy book, though not quite as good as the first. I did love the scenes with the witches though. I don't have a huge amount to say about it. It was a fun light read but nothing too spectacular. I still like the lead character being far from perfect and making mistakes.

124valkyrdeath
okt 17, 2015, 11:01am


93. We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin
A graphic novel/memoir following the author's escape from Budapest with her mother during WW2. We see both the horrific events that were happening and her childhood perspective of them when she didn't really understand what was going on. It's an interesting read and Budapest isn't one of the places we hear about so often when WW2 is discussed. It's a story worth hearing, though it's a very brief read and could possibly have supported a longer length to flesh things out a bit more. The art style was excellent throughout and fully fits the material.

125valkyrdeath
okt 17, 2015, 11:06am


94. Here by Richard McGuire
More an art project than a traditional graphic novel, Here simply shows us one room of a house at various points in history. We get to see the events that have occured in this space, including before the house was built. It jumps around in time continuously, and sometimes the double page spread will show the room in one time period but various boxes will show that part of the room at different eras. Sometimes a set of pages will show a brief continuous part of a story amongst the other sections while other times we'll see similar events happening at very different eras. It's a thoughtful book and I could certainly imagine rereading it and seeing new things in it. It's very interesting to me to think about all the different things that have happened in one particular location.

126valkyrdeath
okt 17, 2015, 11:15am


95. Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis
Back to the Falco series with book number six. He's off out of Rome again this time, looking for a missing musician but soon getting entangled with a travelling theatre group after discovering their writer's corpse floating in water. He becomes their new playwright while secretly investigating the murder. The humour comes to the fore here and it's full of theatrical jokes and references. My favourite running joke is Falco trying to interest everyone in his idea for a play which sounds very much like Hamlet, only to be constantly told that it's a terrible idea. There's also a clown doing a standup comedy routine which sounds very much like most modern standups (and looking at actual jokes from the time, things really haven't changed much.) With the large group of suspects in a confined group it feels like Davis's take on the traditional Agatha Christie style mystery as she continues to take and twist every genre convention she can. It's also got plenty of historical details. A very fun book, and the series really seems to have hit its stride.

127valkyrdeath
okt 18, 2015, 1:59pm


96. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Moto Hagio translated by Matt Thorn
Moto Hagio is a Japanese manga artist and writer specialising in stories aimed at girls. As with anything though, good writing is good writing, and this is a great collection of short stories that I very much enjoyed without having to be part of the target group. There's a good variety amongst the stories, ranging from generally realistic to more science fiction and fantasy themed ones, but all have a depth beyond what I was expecting. Some are better than others as always with a collection, and these stories span a large space of time, presented chronologically. I particularly enjoyed Girl on Porch with Puppy, a very short story about being different, the conjoined twins story Hanshin: Half-God and the very strange Iguana Girl. There's plenty to enjoy about pretty much all the other stories too though. A book I enjoyed much more than I expected and that I'd definitely recommend to anyone with an interest in comics and graphic fiction.

128valkyrdeath
okt 18, 2015, 2:10pm


97. Death: At Death's Door by Jill Thompson
Jill Thompson tells a story about Death (and Delirium and Despair) during the time of Sandman: Season of Mists, but with cute black and white manga style artwork instead of the usual style. At least, about half the book does. When Hell has been closed by Lucifer, all the former occupants turn up at Death's house and she and her siblings have to find a way to keep them occupied while Morpheus is off sorting things out. It's a far more comical story than is usual for Sandman, and its rather fun. Thompson writes the characters fairly well, and Delirium is always entertaining. The cute artwork feels strange at first but it's well drawn and often amusing. The other half of the story is basically a straight retelling of Season of Mists itself, which seems a bit odd, but I guess was necessary for context for the rest of the story for it to work as a standalone volume. It's not a huge book and with only about half the book telling the new story there's not a huge amount of content, but it's fun and nice to look at. Not an essential part of the Sandman series but worth a read.

129valkyrdeath
okt 26, 2015, 8:59pm


98. The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell
A graphical memoir about the author as she discovers the father she adored as a child had lied about basically every aspect of his life, mostly triggered when she discovers that he’s taken out a credit card in her name and maxed it out. As she investigates her father’s stories she discovers more and more deceptions. The book is also about her recognising her own problems along the way, and ultimately overcoming her addiction to alcohol and ambien. It’s an interesting story, well told, though don’t expect any resolution as to why her father was so obsessed with lying about his life.

130valkyrdeath
okt 26, 2015, 9:27pm


99. Letting It Go by Miriam Katin
A second graphic memoir from Miriam Katin, this time showing her attempts to come to terms with her son’s decision to move to Berlin. Reading We Are On Our Own first isn’t really necessary, but knowing what Katin and her mother went through during the second world war helps to explain her attitude towards Berlin and her reluctance to have anything to do with it. Eventually she takes a trip there to visit her son and then returns when a museum exhibits some of her work there too, and it illustrates these trips, both good and bad aspects.

I thought the artwork in the previous book was excellent but it’s possibly even better here, and the art really adds to the storytelling too in an impressive way. As before, it was fairly short, but this time it felt like the right length for the material. Well worth reading.

131valkyrdeath
okt 27, 2015, 6:53pm


100. Neurocomic by Matteo Farinella and Hana Ros
Neurocomic is a graphic novel following an Alice in Wonderland style journey through the workings of the brain. It also covers some of the history of brain science as the character meets various historical scientists on his journey. It’s a quick read and so doesn’t really go into a great deal of detail on anything and the storyline wasn’t anything too exciting. The artwork was quite good and it was enjoyable enough but nothing to particularly make it stand out. It would probably work as a nice introduction to the topics for children though.

132valkyrdeath
okt 27, 2015, 7:41pm

On with the graphically focused holiday reading!


101. How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis
A collection of short comics, each with a different art style. It’s a gorgeous looking book and the art is the highlight of it. A few of the stories I didn’t really get the point of, but I enjoyed a few of them and loved all the different styles she used in the pictures. And the page where a woman describes her depression only to be told she just needs to go gluten-free was all too familiar.

133valkyrdeath
okt 28, 2015, 9:25pm


102. Unnatural Selections by Gary Larson
A collection of Far Side comics. That pretty much says everything you need to know about it I think! I love the Far Side comics so I loved this. Probably not my favourite collection of them, but still good.

134valkyrdeath
okt 28, 2015, 9:38pm


103. Ms Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson art by Adrian Alphona
Well, this was surprisingly great. The origin story of the new Ms Marvel, Muslim American teenager Kamala Khan. The characters are great, feeling believable and not too perfect as can happen in comics. The story is funny and well written and it’s just generally very entertaining. I’ll hopefully read some more of this when I can get hold of them.

135valkyrdeath
okt 30, 2015, 7:51pm


104. Asterix and the Banquet by Rene Goscinny art by Albert Uderzo
105. Asterix the Legionary by Rene Goscinny art by Albert Uderzo
106. Asterix in Switzerland by Rene Goscinny art by Albert Uderzo
Well, these were great. I have no idea why I never read them when I was a kid, despite there being a huge collection of Asterix books in the school library, since I would have loved them. I’m always a fan of stupid puns so I love all the character names, and they’re pretty funny throughout. I missed them as a child, but I can enjoy them now anyway!

136valkyrdeath
nov 1, 2015, 6:12pm


107. The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa
More catching up with stuff I missed during childhood. When I was a kid, all I saw of Disney comics were some short strips printed in Sunday newspapers which didn’t make much impression on me, so I would never have sought out anything like this anyway if it hadn’t been recommended to me (though I did like the DuckTales cartoons). It completely surprised me by being brilliantly written and drawn, often funny but also excellent in storytelling terms and in characterisation. It charts the life of the titular character from childhood to old age, ending at the point where the rest of the original Scrooge stories pick up, and incorporating all the facts Carl Barks wrote into his stories about Scrooge’s life. I loved it, but it’s made me want to read the rest of the Carl Barks and Don Rosa stories now.

137valkyrdeath
nov 1, 2015, 6:33pm


108. The Mason Williams Reading Matter by Mason Williams
A fun little book of random funny thoughts and poems, along with the odd less comedic one. A slightly odd joke essay aside, I enjoyed most of this, especially a shape poem about Christmas trees which I think I’ll now have to try and find somewhere.

138valkyrdeath
nov 1, 2015, 7:14pm


109. Flight edited by Kazu Kibuishi
An anthology of short comics ranging from a page to several pages, each with the theme of flight in some form, but with a wide range of styles from different artists and writers. There’s some beautiful artwork in some of the comics and it was really nice to look through. The stories were varied and mostly didn’t stand out much to me, though I enjoyed some of them. I was rushing through it a bit as I was reading at a friend’s house the night before I had to fly back home so that could have affected things too. It was definitely a lovely looking book and one I would probably have liked more time with.

139valkyrdeath
nov 2, 2015, 9:00pm


110. What’s the Worst That Could Happen? by Donald E. Westlake
Another great Dortmunder novel, possibly the best yet. This time, he’s caught in the process of robbing millionaire Max Fairbanks, who then goes on to claim to the police that Dortmunder’s ring was stolen from him and takes it for himself. On getting away, he sets off to get the ring back in a series of burglaries, including at the Watergate. It’s extremely funny, many of the characters from the earlier books return and in some ways it feels like a natural end point for the series, though there’s a few books that came after it. Apparently this was the peak though and it goes downhill afterwards. This one was brilliant though.

140valkyrdeath
nov 3, 2015, 5:55pm


111. The Madame Paul Affair by Julie Doucet
A short graphic novel, originally serialised in a French newspaper or magazine which means every page starts with a panel of text summarising the previous page. Julie and her boyfriend move into a cheap flat in a building full of odd people and an odd landlady who quickly disappears. They then investigate and yet more odd people turn up. It’s readable but nothing particularly interesting or memorable.

And with that, I'm finally up to date with my thread for the first time in over a month! Also at an end to my run of mainly graphic novels and comics.

141valkyrdeath
nov 4, 2015, 7:52pm


112. The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad
The latest volume in the series of anthologies collection science fiction, fantasy and horror stories from around the world, and it’s a good one. As always with any anthology, I didn’t love every story, but there were plenty of great ones for every one that didn’t quite work for me. The definite highlight for me was The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, a wonderful story that I feel would stand out in any collection. It’s one of the longer stories in the collection, possibly the longest, and has so much going on it almost feels like having read a compressed novel. It’s a story set basically in the real world, only with the main two characters having fantastical abnormalities, one casting no shadow and not showing up on camera or in mirrors, the other made of glass, and it’s a story about friendship, love, and just generally being different. I’d have been happy to have read the book just for this one.

Other highlights include the moon emigration story The Four Generations of Chang E, a metaphor for the experience of various generations of Chinese immigrants. Of the more horror themed entries, Black Tea stood out with its disturbing atmosphere and situation. Most of the stories were at the very least a decent read, though there were one or two that just failed completely for me. I couldn’t follow Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith by Shimon Adaf at all and ended up not finishing it, and Single Entry by Celeste Rita Baker was written entirely in first person dialect. It’s just personal preference, but I think dialect writing is best used sparingly and I just couldn’t read pages of it at once. I also struggled with Sarama, since I think it would have helped if I knew something about the Ramayana first. These stories might be more successful for other people, but they didn’t work for me.

Generally though, the stories here are very well written and high quality, and varied in style. It’s great to have books like this to show the output from other countries in a market dominated primarily by native English speaking authors. A few of these authors I hope to check out again in the future.

142valkyrdeath
nov 9, 2015, 7:20pm


113. Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler
I’ve never read anything by Octavia Butler before. I’m not sure if a book of two short stories that were unpublished during her lifetime was the best way to start with her, but it was a pick for an online book club I’m in so I went with it. I’ll be checking out some of her novels as soon as I have a free slot in my reading.

The majority of the book is taken by the first novella, and then there’s a much shorter story following it. The second story was written for a final Harlan Ellison Dangerous Visions anthology which ended up never being published, so at least there’s a reason why it wasn’t printed in her lifetime, rather than stuff that was repeatedly rejected like a lot of posthumous publications. Both stories are well written and perfectly enjoyable to read, though I don’t have a lot to say about them. They both sort of felt like they’d be great first chapters to novels rather than things that were especially memorable on their own. The quality of the writing stood out though. I’m hoping to read Kindred sometime soon.

143valkyrdeath
nov 17, 2015, 8:45pm


114. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
A semi-autobiographical novel about a boy growing up on a reservation and his experiences when he chooses to go to school away from it. Often funny, but with some serious subjects covered, it’s well written and thoroughly entertaining throughout. I can see it being perfect for the target age as a YA book, but that certainly didn’t stop me really enjoying it now too. I’m glad I read it.

144valkyrdeath
nov 18, 2015, 7:16pm


115. nEvermore!: Tales Of Murder, Mystery & The Macabre edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles
This is an anthology of short stories, all inspired in some way by Edgar Allen Poe. Some have directly based their story on one of Poe’s works, some are retellings and others have just been inspired by his gothic style. As always in anthologies, there’s a mixture in terms of quality and style, although I never really found anything dragged, which isn’t always the case in these sorts of books. The opening story, The Gold Bug Conundrum by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, was a bit disappointing as a start to the book, since it seemed fairly interesting until it came to an abrupt end with nothing having happened, but thankfully that’s not typical of the rest of the book. Street of the Dead House by Robert Lopresti is a highlight, retelling The Murders in the Rue Morgue from the perspective of the infamous orangutan, tying in with the original story while still creating something new in the process. Similarly, Nancy Holder’s Annabel Lee retells Poe’s poem from the perspective of Lee herself, and manages to incorporate a few of Poe’s other works into the story in the process. Naomi by Christopher Rice is an interesting and more supernatural take on The Tell-Tale Heart and The Masques of Amanda Llado by Thomas S. Roche spins a completely new story using elements of The Casque of Amontillado, while also having a pun on it for a title which always gets points in my book. And I particularly liked Kelley Armstrong’s The Orange Cat, which added some welcome humour amongst the gothic stories, taking on Poe’s The Black Cat as a modern legal case (incorporating a character that’s apparently from a series of books by the author.)

Most of the rest of the stories didn’t really stand out much, and there isn’t really one particular truly exceptional story, but it’s a solid collection with nothing terrible either. Any fans of Poe are likely to find something enjoyable here, and each story comes with a brief introduction by the author of where the inspiration came from, which is a nice touch.

145valkyrdeath
nov 20, 2015, 8:05pm


116. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa translated by Stephen Snyder
This story follows a housekeeper as she goes to work for a former mathematics professor whose short term memory now only lasts for 80 minutes thanks to an accident years before. His ability to know what has happened recently is restricted to things he writes on notes that he sticks all over his jacket. It explores the friendship built up between the housekeeper, her son and the professor, despite the fact that for him, he’s meeting them for the first time every day. They make a connection thanks to the professor’s infectious enthusiasm for numbers, an enthusiasm that really comes through in the writing, as there’s quite a bit of maths related content, making it the perfect book for a maths geek like me. (There’s also a love of baseball in the book, which I understand less.) The writing was good, the translation flowed well, and the story was lovely, though at times sad. I’m noting the author to check out her other works sometime, though I understand they’re very different.

146valkyrdeath
nov 28, 2015, 8:46pm


117. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
We Need New Names tells the story of a girl called Darling as she grows up in Zimbabwe before moving to the US about halfway through the book. It’s told in first person present tense, which I didn’t think I would like but it ended up not bothering me at all, and it actually meant that the voice of the narrator changed as the character aged, which worked really well. I was less keen on the fact that she didn’t use speech marks at all for dialogue, so sometimes I’d be reading something thinking it was part of the narration only to discover a couple of lines in that it was another character speaking. I don’t really understand why that was done, and it seems a particularly bad choice for a book that’s already in first person. It wasn’t a major issue though, just a baffling one, and overall the book was a great read and very well written.

147valkyrdeath
nov 30, 2015, 8:44pm


118. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
A fun graphic novel, compiled from what was initially a webcomic, set in a parallel world where Babbage built his Analytical Engine and he and Ada Lovelace use it on various adventures, mostly involving other historical figures such as George Eliot and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s often funny, and despite the stories being fiction, a lot of the quotes and information used in them is taken from genuine sources about Babbage and Lovelace. Every section of the book ends with lengthy endnotes explaining some of the historical and scientific details involved. If there’s a flaw, it’s that in addition to these, the book is also overloaded with footnotes. It’s not so bad later on, but in early chapters the footnotes often take up more of the page than the comics and it halts the pace of the story. I could only get going with it at all when I decided to ignore the footnotes and then look through them afterwards. I’m not sure why all that information wasn’t just left for the endnotes.

At the end of the book, there are a few pages showing some of the more interesting source documents the author used, along with a length description about how some of the elements of the Analytical Engine would have worked. I found this quite interesting. Overall the book is enjoyable, I just think it could have been edited together a bit better.

148valkyrdeath
dec 5, 2015, 9:26pm


119. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
My first ever Jane Austen read. Recently I’ve enjoyed books by Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot when I finally tried them, so I thought it was time I gave Austen a go. I don’t have much to say about this one other than I found it to be alright but not something that’s really going to stick with me. The writing was easy to read but I found it generally a bit bland and it only really got going about half way through for me. I enjoyed to bit where she plays on gothic horror and suspense conventions in the middle of the book, but otherwise I didn’t really see much humour in it either. (Though I don’t know how much there was supposed to be, I’d just seen various people stating it was her most explicitly comic book.) I don’t regret reading it, it was enjoyable enough, but not a favourite. I’ll probably try another Austen at some point though since I don’t like to judge on just one work, especially one of the less famous ones.

149valkyrdeath
dec 5, 2015, 9:27pm


120. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book, but I got into it pretty much straight away once I actually started it. It’s hard to know what to say about it though, since it’s one of those books with so much happening in it that it’s hard to say what it’s about. It follows various linked characters from different cultures in a portrayal of multicultural Britain. I really enjoyed it, and it was often very funny too. The characters often weren’t especially likable, but they were certainly interesting, and the various subplots are a mixture of the realistic and the absurd. It’s a sprawling work that can ramble off in different directions at times, but I was never bored. I was impressed, especially considering that it was a debut novel, and the age Smith was when she wrote it. I hope to check out some of her later books at some point.

150valkyrdeath
dec 6, 2015, 7:30pm


121. Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax
The comedian turned neuroscience graduate talks about depression, using stories from her own life to highlight the points, and then talks about mindfulness as a method of dealing with it. I found some of it interesting, though, as the author admits, the mindfulness stuff isn’t for everyone, and after reading it I can see it’s not a technique for me. I appreciate that it’s all presented without any New Age gibberish, sticking to the brain science behind things, though it doesn’t go too deeply into things. There are jokes all the way through and the book is sometimes funny, though I find she could be a bit judgemental and unpleasant at times which put me off a bit. I found the book to be a quick and easy read though, and while I’m personally sceptical about mindfulness, it seems to work for some people, and when it comes to depression, if it’s going to help someone then I’m all for it.

151valkyrdeath
dec 6, 2015, 8:00pm


122. Narbonic by Shaenon K. Garrity
This is a collection of all the daily strips from the first year of Garrity’s Narbonic webcomic, following a mad scientist, her evil intern and her computer technician. It’s very funny, starts well and just gets better as the book goes along. One volume down, five to go!

152valkyrdeath
dec 11, 2015, 8:58pm


123. Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar
(AKA I Want To Be Philip K Dick) Take elements from every science fiction novel you can think of, mix in some stuff about Israel and the Holocaust and a lot of different characters and try to cram it into a book that’s extremely short, and you’d probably end up with a mess. And that’s pretty much Martian Sands. The writing is fine and it was never less than readable, so it’s not a terrible book, but it tries to cram too many disparate ideas into too short a space and doesn’t really get to explore any of them enough. I did have fun spotting the many references to sci-fi classics (a bar called Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a song called Time Enough for Love) but it’s particularly obsessed with Philip K Dick, with Ubik brand cigarettes, the phrase “time out of joint” turning up, a cult with the motto “The empire never ended” and so on. The whole feel of the book seems to be aiming to be Dickish (there must be a better word for it than that.) There are some fun moments in it, such as scenes with bullets with artificial intelligence, all of them called Sam, but overall it just ends up a confusing jumble. There’s so many characters that you don’t really get to know any of them enough to really care and by the end everything goes crazy to the point that one of the characters seems to be living out a version of The Wizard of Oz for some reason. It’s interesting at times and started well, but I found it disappointing overall.

153valkyrdeath
Redigeret: dec 12, 2015, 6:02pm


124. Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis art by Brooke Allen
A really fun book collecting the first four issues of the comic about a group of girls at a Lumberjanes scout camp where all sorts of strange creatures keep turning up. I love the characters, they all have distinct personalities, and the dialogue is very funny. And it’s one of those books that can be enjoyed by both children and adults too, which I think we could do with more of. I definitely want to read more.

154valkyrdeath
dec 15, 2015, 8:21pm


125. Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges translated by Andrew Hurley
As implied by the rather generic title, this is a collection of short stories spanning a variety of genres, but always with interesting and unusual ideas behind them. Some I liked better than others, but everyone one was intriguing in some way, from literary criticism of non-existent books and a gradually expanding encyclopedia of a fictional world to an entire society to stories about a man who never forgets a single thing and a satire of a man who tried to recreate Don Quixote word for word. I particularly liked The Library of Babel, a story about a universe in the form of a library containing every possible book, The Lottery in Babylon where a normal lottery escalates to the point of controlling everything and Death and the Compass, a kabbalistic murder mystery that puts a new angle on the typical Sherlock-style detective. I’ll eventually get round to working my way through Borges’ complete Collected Fictions volume.

155valkyrdeath
dec 17, 2015, 8:19pm


126. Luisa in Realityland by Claribel Alegria translated by Darwin J. Flakoll
An apparently semi-autobiographical story about growing up in El Salvador. It’s not a novel so much as a collection of vignettes alternated with poetry. There seems to be some sort of revolution going on, but mostly the vignettes are just short snippets of memories about eccentric family members and most (though not all) of the more disturbing things are told in the poetry. I was never quite sure what was going on in wider events, which I guess can be a problem with works of this sort in translation which may have been written for a target audience who already would know all these events rather than someone ignorant like me who has only heard of El Salvador while knowing nothing about the place. It seemed quite well written and some of the segments I enjoyed, but it didn’t hang together too well for me, and I’m rarely good at understanding poetry anyway.

156valkyrdeath
dec 20, 2015, 7:05pm


127. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo translated by Julie Rose
That Victor Hugo. He does go on a bit doesn’t he?

I finally finished this book after reading it on and off for about a year. (Nothing to do with the quality of it, but it’s about 1,300 large pages of fairly small print and would take ages to read in one go and I get antsy about not getting anything else read.) I enjoyed it mostly, though there were certainly parts where I thought it could have been shorter without losing anything, especially in the middle and with his many digressions. At one point he decides to spend almost fifty pages giving a detailed account of what happened at the battle of Waterloo, of which only the last four pages or so are actually relevant to the plot. Another time he takes twenty pages away from the plot to attempt to justify the fact that he lets his characters use slang. It’s like an essay collection has been mixed in with the novel and these segments usually turned up at a point where I was really getting into the story. Whole chunks could be removed without affecting the plot.

I enjoyed the plot though. I was familiar with the general storyline from the musical and various films but there’s more depth to it in the book. Valjean and Javert are both interesting characters and the book is at its best when it’s focusing on one or the other or both of them. Fantine and Eponine are also interesting and tragic, and I even enjoyed the lengthy character piece about the Bishop of Digne which the book opened with. Marius and Cosette on the other hand are generally pretty dull, and the lengthy section of them falling in love might as well have been replaced with thirty pages of “You’re wonderful” “No, you’re wonderful” repeated over and over again.

So I think it could definitely use some editing, but when it got on with the plot I found it well written and gripping. I also appreciate the modern English translation by Julie Rose. I’ve seen some people complaining about this particular translation, but mostly from people who seem to think using modern English is wrong. As if Victorian English is any closer to the original French than modern English is. Either way you’re still seeing it filtered through the lens of another culture, so it’s no more removed from the original text this way, and is just clearer and more pleasant to read.

157valkyrdeath
dec 21, 2015, 9:00pm


128. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot art by Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot
This is quite a well written graphic novel that uses the fictional Sally Heathcote character to follow through various real life events in order to chart the history of the UK suffrage movement. It covers all the main events in a clear way while telling a decent story and it shows the different suffrage groups and their methods. It also doesn’t glorify Emmeline Pankhurst at the expense of everyone else involved in the movement, which I find can happen a lot in the popular media. (For someone who claimed to want freedom for women, she only seemed to like women who obeyed her, going as far as to exile her daughter for not agreeing with her use of violence. And she only really wanted the vote for rich land owning women and actually opposed the idea of the working classes getting the vote. I think there were plenty of more admirable people in the movement who probably did more good.) Anyway, ranting aside, it’s a good book and I can imagine it would be a great introduction to the events for younger readers too. I really liked the art which was mostly in black and white with flashes of colour in places, particularly in the heroine’s red h air making her stand out instantly in any pictures she’s in. The back of the book contains lengthy notes giving background to almost every page, but none of it is needed to understand the story and it even recommends not to read them until after to avoid being distracted from the story. It’s nice to have them there for anyone who needs further details.

So I think the book works as both a story and a brief summary of an important part of history and I’m glad I read it. It’s a quick read, and the final page of the book hits quite hard. Recommended for anyone with any sort of interest in it.

158valkyrdeath
dec 23, 2015, 8:51pm


129. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin translated by Clarence Brown
An early dystopian novel from the 1920s that inspired 1984 amongst others, and which apparently was published in just about every other language before it finally got published in Russia in 1988. It was a good read, and interesting to see where it influenced later writers. It’s more satirical and humorous than most of the dystopian fiction I’ve read, thanks to looking back at present day society from the fictional future of the novel. I enjoyed it, though it had issues, especially with the way every time his friend is mentioned the narrating lead character has to refer to his “African lips” which just made me cringe every time it happened. And it happened a lot. It slightly spoils the experience, but otherwise it was entertaining and interesting and I’m glad I read it.

159valkyrdeath
dec 24, 2015, 7:38pm


130. Lumberjanes Volume 2 by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis art by Brooke Allen
The next four issues of Lumberjanes collected into a second volume, and I think it’s possibly even better than the first. Very funny, great characters and a real sense of fun. And a lot of craziness. I love it and am looking forward to continuing.

160valkyrdeath
dec 28, 2015, 7:22pm


131. Narbonic Vol. 2 by Shaenon K. Garrity
The second year of the Narbonic webcomic in book form, and it keeps on getting better. A really fun read and I look forward to carrying on in the new year.

161valkyrdeath
dec 29, 2015, 7:22pm


132. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I really enjoyed this one. It’s an interesting character driven take on the post-apocalyptic genre, though a big chunk of the book is set before the collapse too. It’s told in a non-linear way, jumping backwards and forwards between different periods before and after the killer flu virus that wiped out most of the population, and between different characters, but it never becomes confusing, and you often learn something new that shows earlier events in a new light. It’s well written and hard to put down once you start reading, and throws you right into events from the first page.

162valkyrdeath
dec 30, 2015, 8:42pm


133. The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett’s first book, published in 1971, then reworked in 1992 after he’d become successful before being republished. It follows a race of microscopic people living on a carpet, small enough that the hairs of the carpet are like huge trees. It took me longer than usual to get into this for a Pratchett book, but later on I started to enjoy it a lot more and there was plenty of his typical humour and some great lines. It starts to feel more like a Pratchett book the further you get into it. I’m not sure exactly which parts were rewritten and which were original. I enjoyed the book in the end, but it’s far from his best work. I’m glad I finally got round to reading it.

163valkyrdeath
jan 1, 2016, 5:56pm


134. Help Fund My Robot Army!!! And Other Improbably Crowdfunding Projects edited by John Joseph Adams
This was an interesting concept. All of the stories in the book are told in the form of a fictional Kickstarted / Crowdfunding page. At first I thought it might just end up being a lot of descriptions of fictional products and little else, but most of the authors in the anthology have actually used the form in clever ways to tell a proper story, utilising updates and user comments sections to move things forward. Some of the best give brief glimpses into alternative worlds and futures, inferring what the world is like from the bits of information referred to. It spans a surprising range of subjects too, though mostly falling loosely within science fiction or fantasy. You get a pitch from a future dystopia, and one of my favourite stories refers to a rather disturbing future illness while never explaining it outright. Another of my favourites revolved around a device to remove the danger of learning spoilers, which takes another turn by the time you get to the comments. And there’s even a pitch from Nosferatu who wants to unleash a virus to wipe out all modern sparkly vampires, which is something I think would get a lot of support. The quality varies but I didn’t find any of the stories to be terrible. Some authors used the format better than others and a couple followed the format of the first story a bit too closely (the editor simply came across the title story and decided to get permission to build an anthology around it) and just gave pitches from people trying to take over the world. Overall though, it was a fun and enjoyable read. I like seeing people do something different, and while I can’t see this idea having a lot of scope, it certainly supported this book.