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I was going to give each book its own post this year; however, I'll never catch up that way. So here I go with quick drive-by reviews. Ask me if you want to know more.

9. Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson

The final volume of Snorri's Viking age trilogy. It's been fun watching Snorri develop as a writer through the series. The first book was just OK but he pulled out a really *interesting* take on the mythology surrounding the Norns at the end, so it had my attention. Plus, Vikings. The second book was better and represented a big improvement in pacing. This one pulls it all together and is very good indeed.

Snorri's next project is, allegedly, going to be Viking murder mysteries. You could say I'm eagerly awaiting it.

10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My first thought on finding out Neil was writing this was, "does the world really need another retelling of Norse mythology"? But I was full of plague the day it came out, and I wanted some comfort reading so I bought a copy.

The answer is, strictly speaking, no. On the other hand, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that Neil's voice was made to write the Norse myths. It's also a very lovely book (I say to justify paying full price for the dead tree version). Nothing new here, but it livened up an otherwise miserable weekend.

11. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

This is the grimmest thing I've read in a very long time. And, you know, I'm a goth who used to read Dostoyevsky for shits & giggles, and thought A Man Lies Dreaming was a great fun black comedy. It's clearly very well written because I couldn't put it down even though I had a good idea that [redacted]. I had A LOT of thoughts about this at the time, some of which I've even remembered, but there's no way to discuss without major spoilers. Happy to discuss it over a pint though.

12. Z for Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien

The fun just kept on coming last month. This was last month's book club selection. Most of us had read it in school. For a post-apocalyptic number, it's surprisingly upbeat. I liked it but not all that much; however it was a good book club selection because we got a shitload of discussion out of it.

13. Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith

I vaguely meant to read this when it came out, forgot, and then picked it up at the library some weeks ago. It's the story of the fate of the Russian nobility who did not escape Russia after the revolution in 1917, told through the medium of two large aristocratic families (who between then covered the full range of experience).

This book wasn't quite what I expected - it was a lot more thorough and well researched than I expected. I did the Russian history course as an undergrad so I used to know a lot of this stuff, especially about the decades leading up to the revolution but I'd forgotten most of it. I'd mainly forgotten that everyone knew a revolution of some kind was coming and that the days of the empire were numbered. For decades.

If there is a fault with this book, it's that the author is too sentimental towards the noble classes. There are complicated reasons why he is sometimes right to defend them (in the absence of a middle class they were the artists, doctors, teachers, etc). Or maybe I'm just a crusty class warrior.

I couldn't keep the cast of characters straight. But you get the general idea - every time the "former people" found a niche for themselves and a way to survive in Soviet Russia, another round of persecutions started. The distance many people traveled over the years were staggering, and not just those who were went to the gulags.

Because my brain is an asshole, the thing I've come away with is the reference to the fact that by its end, serfdom has been compared to American slavery. Most things that are compared to American slavery are just a cover for racists trying to justify it; however, this could be an exception. I made a note of the source in the footnote - something totally obscure. Must. Not. Expend. Time. and Money. Tracking. It. Down.

14. Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis

Falco, book 12. Falco investigates the murder of a publisher, who was also a banker. All the usual stuff, Falco taking lots of swipes at bankers and publishers. Good fun. Well, except for one of Falco's sisters possibly making an enemy of the wrong person.


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43. One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis

Of all the books clamouring for my attention, this one got me because of the end of the last book in the series, where Vespasian has ordered Falco back to Rome urgently. It turned out all he wanted to do was to give Falco a bogus sinecure as Procurator of the Sacred Fowl as a reward for uncovering a plot to poison them.

Compared to Two for the Lions, this one's fluff (which could well be intentional). There's lots of weird stuff going on but Falco is even slower than usual at putting it all together as he's even more preoccupied with personal matters than normal. As to where the missing child was, it was pretty obvious even to me.

The portrayals of the priestly class are straight out of Asterix comics. While it's hardly surprising that Falco is not well disposed towards them, Davis portrays them as buffoons at best and dangerous lunatics at worst and it's kind of at odds with the picture she usually paints of Roman life (human with good and bad qualities).

I still enjoyed it, but it's far from the strongest book in the series.
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41. Two For The Lions by Lindsey Davis

A few years ago I read the first half of this series and then tailed off. I've read the first chapter of this a couple of times but couldn't get into it and thought maybe I'd had enough. Started it again on the bus/at lunch last week and got sucked straight in. Read the rest on the coach to and from London this weekend.

Standard Falco series stuff - Falco lands what he hopes is a lucrative contract as an auditor for Vespasian's census and is given the task of looking into the finances of various participants in the arena - gladiators, wild beasts etc and stumbles right into the killing of one of the lions to which convicted criminals are fed. This is, naturally, swiftly followed by the murder of a gladiator. For Reasons, the case unravels but Falco's entire family ends up in North Africa, where it all comes together again.

Because it's set in ancient Rome, even though it's mostly about a fairly clueless, smartass investigator, there's a lot of death and violence. Even so, the ending, where everything *really* all comes crashing down around him, is pretty dark.

And I have to read the next one really soon to find out exactly what Falco did bring to light about the sacred geese...
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31. Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis

This is the second in Davis's follow up series to the massively popular Falco books (of which I've only read half) featuring Falco's adopted daughter, who has taken over his informing business.

Flavia Albia is called in to investigate the murder of a newly wed couple. Their slaves were at risk of being blamed and fled to sanctuary at the Temple of Ceres, which is all a bit of an embarrassment for the Powers That Be, so she is asked to bring the matter to a speedy conclusion.

It's a competently plotted and quite convoluted mystery, but it's mostly a series of digressions while Albia muses on the nature of family, of household, of slavery and how it cane take away humanity, but shouldn't. (Found on the streets of Londinium as a teenager and brought back to Rome as part of Falco's family, she sees things from a lot of different angles).

And the epilogue is - odd. I'm not quite sure where (if anywhere, I might be over-thinking this) Davis is going with it.

I liked it. Not as much as I like the actual Falco books, but it's good.
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52. Three Hands in the Fountain by Lindsey Davis

Falco is on the trail of a serial killer who puts body parts into the aqueduct system (the affair is brought to his attention when he finds one of said hands in his local fountain).

He only leaves the new baby alone in the apartment once when he and Petro take off to pursue a lead.

You know, it's Falco. Thoroughly entertaining and not as light weight as it seems. I suspect I absorbed more than I wanted to about Roman engineering and the aqueduct system.
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35. Time to Depart by Lindsey Davis

I just wrote a proper review of this, and LJ ate it. Can't be bothered again. It's Falco, I greatly enjoyed it and will be getting the next volume from the library soon.
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32. The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis

The successor to the Falco series. The girl that Falco and Helena rescued in Londinium in The Jupiter Myth is all grown up, widowed, and working as an informer out of Falco's old office on the Aventine.

Flavia Albia has a very different voice to Falco, but shares many of his habits and opinions and, indeed, propensity for starting fights that can't end well. Where Falco went about the empire as a full Roman citizen seeing it as an insider looking out, Flavia Albia (though she has been adopted and made a citizen) sees Rome and the Romans as an outsider.

It's a different Rome from the Falco books - Vespasian is dead, and his son Domitian is ruling an East German precursor police state and everyone is scared. People are dropping dead mysteriously all over Rome, and Flavia is hired to get to the bottom of one of these deaths.

Falco and Helena are still alive but don't directly feature in the book - she mentions visiting them frequently, but what happens behind the walls of their house is only alluded to, never narrated. Falco is lying low and running the family auction house, as he made an enemy of Domitian early on and doesn't wish to remind the new Emperor that he's still alive.

I prefer Falco - he's a much more amusing narrator, and I missed Helen in this. I'll still probably read the next one, should there be a next one.
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29. Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis

Falco and Helena are sent to the Nabatean desert on a fact-finding mission for Vespasian (this lasts not quite a day as they get thrown out of Petra) and to find a missing musician. Before they manage to get evicted from Petra, they come across the freshly murdered corpse of a playwright, and join the troupe of actors in his place to find the killer.

It's Falco - funny, not at all challenging, but with a half decent mystery.
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22. Poseidon's Gold by Lindsey Davis

The fifth Falco mystery. I thought I'd got to the end of the books that had been dramatised on Radio 4, but I was wrong - I've listened to this one too.

Falco returns from Germany to find that his family is being shaken down by some of his late brother's army pals for a rather large sum he supposedly owes them. This leads to Falco getting involved in the antiquities trade, and to teaming up with his estranged father to get to the bottom of it. Geminus has all too much fun with this for Falco's liking, referring to them as "the Didius boys", especially when they've just roughed someone up. I found that bit hilarious (and how I could have forgotten that I'd heard this one on the radio I don't know, because that line was delivered in a particularly excellent way in the radio play).

In it we find out that Falco's brother wasn't exactly the hero he was described as in earlier books, and why Falco is always so broke - he supports his mother and his brother's girlfriend and child (OK, this is Falco, the child might be his). It also turns out his father wasn't so estranged to the rest of the family.

I love this one slightly less than The Iron Hand of Mars, because you can't beat a good lost legion and sacred grove mystery, but I still highly enjoyed every page of it.
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Actually, I've got a few to catch up on, but some require more consideration than I can give right now.

9. The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

Another one (I think the last) that I'm familiar with from the BBC radio plays.

This is by far my favourite of the series so far, and is likely to stay that way. Falco is dispatched to Germany in search of a missing legate, and information on the situation in general. He discovers the fate of a lost legion, and finds himself accidentally straying into a sacred grove.

The Eagle of the Ninth was one of those books that I re-read lots as a kid; anything with lost legions along with dangerous tribal beliefs has me hooked.
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8. Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis

The third Falco novel. Another one that I was familiar with from the BBC radio adaptation (and yes, I do read them now with the voice of the actor they use in my head). My head is still so full of crap that the only thing I can concentrate on for more than 5 minutes at a time is this series.

I do genuinely enjoy it though.
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6. Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis

It's winter.  I couldn't face any more Nordic Noir, took the lot back to the library unread, and got stuck into the second Falco mystery instead.  If there's anyone left who doesn't know, this is the series set in ancient Rome about a "private informer" who really, really wants to be Philip Marlowe in a toga.

I knew the basics of the plot as it's been dramatised on BBC radio, but there's a lot more to the book. 

It's chewing gum for the brain, but witty, engaging chewing gum for the brain.  And reading about Italy in summer is a lot more appealing than reading about Rekjavik in winter at this time of year.
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4. The Jupiter Myth by Lindsey Davis

A random later one of the Falco detective novels (set in the Roman empire).  I've read the first, and listened to the dramatisations of the 2nd and 3rd on Radio 4 and frankly, anything that's this level of chewing gum for the mind that needs to be read in order can bite me.

The dramatisations had really got me excited about reading more of the books, but this was a bit of a disappointment.  It was reasonably amusing (Falco, the metropolitan Roman stuck on the fringes of the empire in Londinium) but I figured out who the chief bad guy was long before Falco did.  I'm not very bright - I never do that, so it was really obvious.
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I've been saving this up for when I'm more articulate & less tired, but on the rare occasions that happens I go out and Do Stuff, so here goes.

44. Vurt by Jeff Noon

I picked this one for Bibliogoths, and now everybody hates me. I haven't read it in 15 years, and I still really like it. It's set in an alternative Manchester that's grounded enough in the real geography to be convincing. There's a few good concepts, and a few amusing ones. Can't believe I missed the Moors murderers reference the first time, but I suppose I hadn't been in Manchester (or the UK) long enough to pick up on it.

45. Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory by Lisa Jardine

Didn't I say recently I'm going to end up becoming an expert in the 17th century if I'm not careful?

Jardine was plugging this on Start the Week a while back and made it sound awesome. It's about how close and cross-pollinating the English and Dutch cultures were in the 17th century, and thus is was No Big Deal when William III came over from Holland and took over. I can't resist explanations for culture that nobody really thinks about, so I reserved it at the library.

It's a mixed bag. Given that I find it extremely difficult to give a shit about art history, or the history of the art trade, a lot of it was really tedious, but sprinkled with enough awesome factoids to keep my interest. I'm glad it did, because the last three chapters (science, and interactions between the English & the Dutch in the New World) were exactly My Kind of Thing. There's also three pages describing how Dyrham Park (the nearest big country house to where I live) was built - more identifiably on graft than anywhere else -ie one floor was a bribe from the governor of Jamaica, the stairway from the governor of somewhere else).

The other problem I had with this book is that the argument that English and Dutch cultures were very close at the time (wholly convincing) doesn't for me join up with her other point, that that was the reason why the Glorious Revolution was so conflict-free. Especially given that her first chapter is about what a finely crafted propaganda campaign made the people accept the rule of William and Mary.

Glad I read it; equally glad it came from the library.

46. The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

This is the first of a series of detective novels set in ancient Rome. I wasn't sure what to expect going in to this - at least one of you loves the series, another is ambivalent, and the book was given to me by one of you who really wasn't impressed.

I have to admit it didn't start off well. I thought Davis was trying too hard to be Chandler in classical times; and trying too hard to be witty and sarcastic. However, I was stuck on a train with nothing else but work-related notes to read, so I persevered. By the time I got to Cardiff I was hooked.

It is a bit of a soap opera, and it's probably not very well written, but I ended up really liking the character of Falco, and getting really emotionally invested in the whole thing, and staying up too late on more than one occasion to read it. Trashy, but I thoroughly loved it.

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