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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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11. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Neil's latest collection of short stories. I found they varied wildly in quality - some were wonderful, straight through to what-the-hell-is-this? My favourite was definitely the Shadow story (as in Shadow from American Gods), but I also really enjoyed the variation on Sleeping Beauty.
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36. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Finished my pre-publication copy last night, and it only took me this long to read because of how wiped out I've been. It's not long, and I couldn't put it down.

It's partly Neil's usual kind of fantasy thing, but parts of it are really quite scary in a way you don't expect. The anti-Mary Poppins childminder is particularly frightening.

I like the characters that are neither witches nor goddesses, but "just are".

The epilogue packs one hell of an emotional punch.

Lots of thoughts, none of which are coherent enough to set down, except that it may be time for my every-decade rereading of Sandman in the whole (and I might even treat myself to Absolute Sandman as I suspect some of the original comix - I have them all from A Game of You - are too fragile to read these days). Was thinking a re-read of this, and all of Gaiman's novels, might be in order. Right after the re-read of Iain Banks' complete works, which given the amount of time I have to work with is never going to happen either.
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FX: shakes fist

I haven't read a Stephen King book in decades - while I've always appreciated that there's more to his books than most people think, I found that every second one or so just bored me.  
However, I just read Neil Gaiman's interview with Stephen King (it's behind the Times' paywall so Gaiman put his unedited first draft on his blog).  

As always when Neil enthuses about something, especially something I know is a Good Thing, I feel the need to read King's back catalogue.  And the man is nothing if not prolific.  As if there aren't enough things that I feel the desperate need to read already.  

I may be some time.
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80. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Last book I finished in 2011.

Despite having already been a Neil Gaiman fangirl for many years when the TV series came out, I hated it.  It has many elements that meant I should have loved it, but I did not grow up watching Doctor Who and other BBC children's series with zero production budget, so do not feel comforted by the crappy production values they were harking back to.  Plus it was too whimsical and Just Didn't Make Sense.

So I wasn't even interested in the book till Gaiman finally brought out a version that he was happy with.

There's a lot to like about it - the writing style is absolutely gorgeous and fantastic, there's real humour and real tension, but there's a lot about London Below that I just wasn't able to buy into.
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12. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This month's Bibliogoths book. I read it first in 1991 on a train from Edinburgh to Leeds and loved it. When I re-read it a few years ago I was less impressed, so I wasn't going to bother again, afraid it was a case of diminishing returns.

But as I have a 6-second memory I decided I'd better make the effort, and I'm glad I did. The bits that stuck with me (the M25, Milton Keynes, tapes in the car) are just as funny as ever. What I'd forgotten was the wealth of little details that are by turns lovely, hilarious and fascinating.

Yes, there are bits where they are trying way too hard. And I hope that after all his years living in the US, Neil is suitably embarrassed about the lame cracks at Americans.

We discussed whether it's dated or not; personally, I think that the message - "the devil made me do it" is not a valid excuse, because there's nothing the forces of heaven & hell can dream up that humans haven't done to themselves 100 times worse - is even more important today than it was in the early 90s.

So yes, still highly recommended.

13. Hunt for the Southern Continent by James Cook

Volume 7 of the Penguin Great Journeys series. I picked up a random selection of these at a charity shop a while back. The previous two volumes that I read, Mary Wortley Motagu's Life on the Golden Horn and Mas'udi's From the Meadows of Gold, were little treasures.

I struggled with this one. Too much nautical stuff, not enough ethnography, and even Cook's impressions of South Pacific cultures aren't very informative. On the other hand, before I read this I was only aware of Cook as an explorer of the South Pacific islands; I didn't know that he'd made a serious (and very close) attempt at reaching Antarctica.

It's all worth it near the end when they end up on an island where the volcano is erupting and Cook and his men try to climb to the mouth of the volcano, but can't get to it because the natives (wisely) won't take them there.

For reasons unknown, the editor left out the account of the discovery of New Caledonia, which had been previously unknown, and left in a bunch of things that must have been much less interesting. Also, he "preserves Cook's idiosyncratic spelling", which doesn't exactly make it any easier to read.
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69. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I suspect that everyone who cares has already read this, so I'll just say that it's lovely. I've been saving it till I had a chance to read it all at once, which I did over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

(With an additional hooray for spending Chrismtas with people who don't mind you curling up with a book all day).

70. Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Finally! I got through the whole thing!

Which makes it sound like a chore, but it wasn't. I loved this book (no big surprise as I'm a big fan of Stephenson on the whole). A masterful bit of world-building - when you think you have it all figured out, something changes and you realise it doesn't work like you think it does.

71. The First City: St Augustine Saga of Survival edited by Jean Parker Waterbury

A history of St Augustine that I picked up when we were there. Surprisingly easy read. I was left wondering how the Spanish managed to hang onto Florida as long as they did. I have enough training to wonder whether they really were that incompetent, or whether, as history is told by the victors, it's Anglo spin. Though the evidence as presented is pretty compelling for the incompetence case.
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23.The Neil Gaiman Reader, edited by Darrell Schweitzer

Quasi-academic essays on Neil's output to 2006. A mixed bag, as these things always are. I think I preferred The Sandman Companion, but there's a mattress in front of the bookcase where (I think) it is, so I can't flip through and do a quick comparison.

24. Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

Thanks to [ profile] spitecandy for the heads-up. She was discussing Harris's "Southern Vampires" series, about which I'm not convinced as it sounds like it strays a little too close to the "Romance" label for me; but I discovered that the same author writes a detective series about a woman who was struck by lightning and consequently has the ability to know the cause of death when she gets near a corpse. Supernatural crime stuff = exactly my thing.

This was OK, but probably the least substantial thing I have read in a very, very long time, not excepting Harry Potter. The writing neither grabbed me nor turned me off. I won't be rushing out to read the rest of the series right away, but will certainly give it at least one more chance at some point.

25. Matter by Iain M Banks

I made the mistake of starting this when I had The Lurgy back in March, thought it was too hard & that I hated it. Do not attempt with head full of snot.

Actually, it's one of Banks's better recent Culture novels; it is, however, not as good as The Algebraist (on the other hand, it is neither as hard going or as long).


Sep. 24th, 2006 08:30 pm
inulro: (Default)
Well, that was an excellent weekend. Never having been to a con before, I wasn't sure what to expect, and was afraid there may have been a lot of sitting (or worse, standing) around waiting for the sessions with Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. That was not the case.

Really long. It's )


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