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77. Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Having thoroughly enjoyed the last three Pratchett numbers I read (Thud, Snuff and Dodger), I'd kind of forgotten that I really dislike a lot of his work.

The first half of this is one of those. I can see where the humour's supposed to be, but it's a smug go at easy targets and threatens to implode in on itself in Little Englander-ness.

The second half, where there is an actual Plot To Foil The Bad Guys, somewhat redeems it.

That'll teach me. If it's not a City Watch book, I should steer well clear.
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53. Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Instead of being set in a city that isn't "not Victorian London honest", this is set in early Victorian London. A loveable, too good to be true street urchin who goes by the name of Dodger rescues a lady in distress and makes the acquaintance of Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew, who set him to solving the mystery of who she is and what has happened to her.

It shouldn't work, but I loved every word of it. Granted, I had a head cold throughout and I'm beyond exhausted, so I needed something comforting to read, but it made me giggle and warmed my heart all the way through.

But you know what? I read a lot of non-fiction, and a lot of seriously un-jolly fiction. I'm a complete news junkie, so I deal with difficult concepts every day. I think I'm entitled to a little bit of comfort reading now and then.

Plus, Pratchett has reminded me by way of his Afterword that I have read a whole lot of stuff based on Mayhew's research, but I've never read the primary text, which Pratchett says is very readable. If the Book Mountain (TM) ever gets to manageable levels, I will add it to the list.
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So much for not doing this.  I can barely remember the first couple.

28. Cold Mirrors by CJ Lines

Yes, [livejournal.com profile] naturalbornkaos, I've finally read it!

This is a spiffing collection of short stories, mostly, but not all, in the horror vein.  I've read some of them before - Lambkin was in the Tiny Terrors collection, CJ put The Trending up on line some time before the book came out, and I was one of the test readers for Patrick O'Hare: King of the Freaks.  I particularly like The Trending - the idea of using Twitter to do ritual magic is simultaneously genius and blindingly obvious.  Extra credit for giving a story the title In Every Dream Home a Heartache, and having it be a completely suitable title for a really creepy little number.  Clownn Stations is just dowright disturbing.

I was most impressed by the variety of the stories, and of the style and voice used.  CJ writes characters you actually care about (except maybe in Dream Home, but I've known more than a few people like them), a real achievement in such short pieces.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I'm honestly not just saying that because I know the author.  I did have some more constructive thoughts but my appalling memory strikes again.

If you're going to read it on my recommendation (please do!), don't buy from Amazon - CJ loses money on every copy bought through them - go straight to the source - www.adramelech-books.co.uk


29. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I'd been putting this one off becuase I'd been led to understand that he's a bit of an arse in it.

Well, maybe, but given that I largely agree with his opinions on the wrongness of the status given to religion in our supposedly modern and rational society even by non-religious types, I thoroughly enjoyed this.  There's a lot more evolutionary biology than I'd been led to expect, which was fascinating.

I've read The Selfish Gene and possibly The Blind Watchmaker, but now I want to get the rest of his books, not to mention the huge reading list to check out at the back of the book.

30. Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Samuel Vimes goes on holiday to his wife's family's country home, and discovers all sorts of nefarious goings-on.

It starts out unpromisingly with a fairly un-funny couple of chapters about how Vimes doesn't want to go on holiday, and his fear and loathing of the countryside (which I share, but it still wasn't very amusing).

It gets better, though.  While Ankh-Morpork is any big city, the countryside is definitely England.  There is a neighbour family who are clearly the Bennetts from Pride & Prejudice.  The scene where Vimes tells all six daughters that they should get off their lazy backsides and get jobs nearly made me choke, it was so funny and I was reading in a public place.

As usual, Pratchett's message is applied with a sledgehammer, but since it's about tolerance and Generally Being Good to Others, I can let that slide.

31. Stonemouth by Iain Banks

Kind of a cheat - before it was released, this was the Book at Bedtime on Radio 4, read by David Tennant, so I read the whole thing with his voice in my head, and knew where it was going.

It's about a young artist who'd been run out of his home town by one of the local crime families 5 years before being granted dispensation to return home for a funeral, and gradually reveals what led to his being exiled in the first place.  Which doesn't sound much, plot-wise, but it's still hard to put down.

For a coming-of-age novel, it's a very mature and thoughtful work. 

Another one I liked very much indeed.
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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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I've been too headachey to read much so far this month, but have finished:

15. Watchmen and Philosophy, edited by Mark D White

As I mentioned earlier, this really is Philosophy for Dummies, and I still struggled with parts of it. It's a series of short essays on different aspects of philosophy and how they apply to Watchmen; as is usual with these things, some of them appealed to me a lot more than others.

This is part of the Philosophy and Popular Culture series. I'm not pants on fire to read the rest, but am willing to accept that the failing is mie.


16. The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

Mmm....Chandler....

This one is different from the earlier books in that very little of it takes place in LA. The solution is bloody obvious from the beginning, but how the story arrives there is worth the ride.

Not surprisingly, I highly recommend this.


17. Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Not one of his better efforts. It's about the witches, and I *loathe* the witches. The opera jokes are way too obvious and not particularly funny. As to the end - apparently biology is destiny. *spit* I nearly threw it out a window at that point.
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57. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Another stinking cold, another Terry Pratchett book. Not as compelling a mystery as Thud!, but as I have a soft spot for all the City Watch characters I was less bothered by this than I might otherwise have been.

58. Persian Fire by Tom Holland

I'd been cursing myself for missing the Persian exhibition at the British Museum about the time that this came out, and thought it would be a good way to learn more about the Persian empire. It's pretty much the Persian empire, ancient Greece and the Persian wars for dummies, which is just the thing - I've been wanting to learn something, anything, about Persia for ages, and I did Greek history 101 as an undergrad in 1986, so some memory refreshment was in order. Very engagingly written, I mostly enjoyed this. I had some minor quibbles, though. I felt that in the introduction he over-stated the relevant to present-day East/West conflict, but this is thankfully confined to the introduction. I would have liked more discussion of sources, particularly whether he's using the history or the archaeology for the really early stuff, though I understand that this can be off-putting for the general readership it's aimed at. Finally, I thought some of the maps were a bit poor. Overall, the pluses well outweigh the minuses.

Not that it's been lying around here for too long, but I have the hardcover. Because there was no paperback yet. See why I need to stop going to the library?
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42.London Orbital by Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair walks around the M25 (or as close to the M25 as he can) and writes about it. In a random, stream-of-consciousness sort of way. He is particularly fixated on how many old psychiatric hospitals (and a smallpox isolation hospital) were situated near to what is now the M25, and before that how it was the "right" distance from London for rich people to have their country estates. He uses the word "psychogeography" a lot.

This book rocks, but I had to renew it from the library about three times. It is not particularly easy going and I found that my head had to be in exactly the right place in order to take any of it in. It is, however, full of exactly the sort of useless trivia I find riveting. More than worth the effort.

43. Thud! by Terry Pratchett

I haven't enjoyed a Pratchett book this much in years. I never thought about it before, but I think my favourite Discworld novels are the City Watch ones. I really like all the Watch characters. In Thud! Pratchett takes on immigration and religious fundamentalism, Blackberries and other PDAs (if they had little imps in them, I'd have one) and the Da Vinci Code. On top of that, I found myself genuinely curious about the solution to the mystery.

44. Psychoville by Christopher Fowler

Sunday's Bibliogoth selection and another re-read for me. It suffers a little when you know the ending, but I still ripped through it very quickly.

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