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8. The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

Woo hoo! I'm in to February now. Which means I still don't remember my thoughts on this book.

I've been a fan of this series since the start. I seem to recall that general consensus was that the last one, where Detective Peter Grant goes to the country, was less good. I loved it - it had psychopathic unicorns, for a start. The general consensus also seem to have been that this one is a return to form. (Did I mention I was a bit late reading it - I was number 46 on the list at the library when I put the reservation in). Whereas I never thought he'd gone off form.

Anyway, there's a mysterious death in One Hyde Park, the most expensive address in London, and there's Weird Shit, so Peter becomes involved. I can't remember much more; suffice to say it's a good addition to the series, and progresses the story arc so that I eagerly await the next one.


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7. The Janus Cycle by Tej Turner

Also from January.  I had a lot of thoughts about this at the time, too, but they're all gone.

The author read from his work in progress, which is the sequel to this, at the January BristolCon Fringe. It was very funny so most of us came away with a copy of the first book, which is made up of a series of interlinking short stories surrounding the young people who go to the Janus Club.

It reminded me a lot of people I knew in my late teens and early 20s - all the misfits with no family, adrift, not having found their place in the world yet. Only weird supernatural shit didn't happen to us.  But the heartbreak and the shitty living conditions, that's all too real.  There are gay characters, trans characters (so like any alternative scene), so if you feel that representation matters, this is the book for you.

It's very much a first book, but I enjoyed it a lot. A good reminder that being young sucks a lot of the time.


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And I appear to have exceeded the allowed number of tags on LJ, so from now on I can only use ones I've used before.

30. Who Killed Sherlock Holmes by Paul Cornell

Regular readers will know that I have been eagerly awaiting this one. Paul Cornell's Shadow Police novels are my very favourite supernatural detective series, mainly because they are straight up horror in a police setting, and an exercise in what smart people do when presented with the supernatural.

In Cornell's London, whatever London remembers is real, so Sherlock Holmes is one of the ghosts of London. One of the detectives, Sefton, has a dream that Sherlock Holmes has been killed, rushes to the Holmes museum at 221B, and finds a body that only those who have the Sight can see.

This coincides (or not) with three separate Sherlock Holmes films/TV shows being shot in London, and grisly deaths of people who have ever played Sherlock Holmes, in ways that make increasingly less sense.

Meanwhile, the data analyst Ross is on a quest to recover her lifetime's happiness (which she had to sacrifice in the last book to buy a crucial clue - one of the singular darkest things I've ever read), and Lofthouse, the senior office who doesn't know why she knows about the Shadow Police, finds out more about her past and how she came to be involved in all this. These are easily the best parts of the book.

I loved every second of it. Still not as much as London Falling, but it will be extremely difficult to beat that.
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13. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

This month's book club selection.

It's a post-apocalyptic world (brought about by a very fast-acting flu pandemic) that has had really good reviews.

My (and everyone in the group's) feelings were mixed. It is beautifully written and very well plotted - the many disparate strands slot into place seamlessly at the end. The problem is that she didn't think her apocalypse through as well - it's 20 years after the outbreak and nobody has resurrected electricity or running water yet. I like that it's set around a troupe of travelling actors/musicians - in the pre-recordings age, that is how entertainment happened. There is also a strand of the story that takes place on the eve of the outbreak which explains how some people survived. The best bit, for me, is the character who is trapped in an airport while the world ends (but they don't know the world is ending) and the interior monologue he has while he's waiting for the airport to open up again. I wish there was more about the society that develops amongst the people who stay in the airport over the years because it's very peaceful and cooperative.

The first half annoyed me but I ended up being very fond of it indeed. Apparently there's going to be a sequel. I will read it.

As an aside, I think I know the island that one of the characters come from. It sounds a lot like the island where my dad's hippy brother lived for a few years in the 70s.
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I had thoughts about all of these at the time; but I've it off too long to have anything meaningful to say.

41. The Wylde Hunt by Gunnar Roxen

Bought this from the author at BristolCon last year. It's a far-future hardboiled detective/scifi adventure. The London in it is so far-future and alternative that I think it would have been better placed in a wholly fictional environment. The plot, while a bit predictable, was pretty damn good.

However, it was let down by some seriously awful copy editing - comma splices abounded where they did not add effect or emphasis, wrong words used - which made it more difficult than it needed to be and ruined the whole experience.

42. Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

September's Bibliogoths selection. I've heard a lot of good things about Pinborough, from people like Paul Cornell who I esteem highly.

It's a fictionalised interpretation of the Thames Torso Murders, which happened about the same time as Jack the Ripper. (Remember: I have close to zero tolerance for all things Ripper). While I wasn't feeling immersed in Victorian London, I only picked up one linguistic blunder.

It's a good enough yarn, but I didn't feel the love at all. Partly because a lot of it centres around opium dens in East London in the 1880s and I recently attended a talk about how everything we think we know about them come from one "news" source written by a guy who'd never been to one. Partly because there's too much poverty tourism on the subject already. Mainly because nothing about it really grabbed me.

I was in the minority - everyone else loved it.

43. Revolutionaries: Inventing an American Nation by Jack Rackove

So some time ago we were watching Turn and Sons of Liberty concurrently and I realised that most of what I know about the American Revolution is primary-school level stuff that was probably more legend than truth, and this had been on my wish list since the author was pimping it on the Daily Show years ago.

The early bits about how the Adamses and Washington etc evolved their thinking to becoming independent were quite interesting; the later bits about how they actually built a new government from the bottom up were important to know but not that gripping. And someone the story of Adams and Jefferson in Paris came across as very dull indeed.

44. The Education of Auggie Merasty: A Residential School memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty

My brother sent me this for my birthday. It's a very short volume in which an aging Native man recalls his harrowing experience at one of Canada's infamous residential schools. (I'm not articulate enough to explain: Google it. Let's just say it's not Canada's finest hour).

Harrowing stuff, but an absolutely essential read.

45. Railsea by China Mieville

Moby Dick but with giant moles where the sea is a giant quicksand desert only passable by rail.

It took me ages to get into it but eventually I quite enjoyed it.

46. A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell

The complete short stories of Paul Cornell. I bounced off a few of them, but some are very good indeed. My favourite, conceptually, is a mashup of MR James and Scooby Doo. I laughed very hard at that. I by far prefer his Shadow Police novels though.

47. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Last month's Bibliogoths book. I can't believe I've never read it. Something Wicked is one of the few books I've kept re-reading regularly since I was 12 but for some reason I thought I didn't like Bradbury's science fiction.

I liked this a lot more than I expected. There's a lot to it, none of which I can articulate here. And his prose is lyrical and magical.

48. Base Spirits by Ruth Barrett

Disclaimer: I have known Ruth since 1986. She was my partner in crime when I first came to Leeds as a student in 1989-90.

This is a ghost story about a Canadian woman who is in a terrible marriage, has writer's block and is on a deadline for a commissioned play. Her husband has some academic commitments in England so they rent Calverley Old Hall (a real place, with a real traumatic past) to stay in so she can work. Along with some friends, they get drunk and summon the spirits of the place. Things go badly.

It's genuinely spooky - I couldn't put it down. But it's really about domestic violence and toxic relationships and the damage those do.

Highly recommended. I'm not just saying that because I know her.

49. The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth

An introductory text to the Viking Age but presented in a way that was really different from every other basic text on the time I've read. For a start, it starts with a Viking raid on Nantes in the 840s rather than the standard opening of the raid on Lindisfarne, because we have a much more detailed description of the raid on Nantes than we do for any other single raid. How did I not know that?

Whereas most English-language books on the Vikings focus on contact with Britain and Ireland, Winroth gives more information on interaction with Northern Germany and the Carolingians. As well as the standard material about exploration into the Byzantine Empire and points east.

This is a fantastic book - engagingly written, I learned new things and saw things I know from new perspectives. It's a really lovely volume too.

50. Spirits from Beyond by Simon R Green

I read one of Green's Nightside novels years ago and although it's sheer pulp, I loved it, mostly for the characters. I've been meaning to read more since. Green is very prolific and has many different series of books. He was at Bristol Horror Con last month and only had some of his "Ghost Finders" series so I bought one.

I didn't like this as much, mainly because the characters are just assholes. However, when the book finished all the set-up and story arc stuff and it got to the nitty gritty of the haunted pub, I couldn't put it down.

51. The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

I went to a panel at Foyles last year about writing historical fiction, and Jack was on the panel. It was probably the most interesting literary discussion I've been to in a very long time; and I was totally convinced about this novel.

It's the story of Tristan Hart, a squire's son in Berkshire in the mid-18th century, who goes to London to lodge with Henry Fielding and study medicine with Hunter. Hart is an avowed atheist and scientific rationalist.

Except that he's a sexual sadist and (most of a problem) completely insane, absolutely convinced of the existence of a malign world of fairies who have it in for him.

It's written in as close to an authentic 18th century voice as Wolf thought he could get away with. A lot of people (note to self: Don't read Good Reads, ever. Bunch of morons who don't get out much) find that really annoying, but I think he trod the line really well. It's 550 pages long and at the start I thought, I wonder how long it will be before this pisses me off, but it didn't. It conveys the protagonist's conflict between rationalism and madness really well.

It's pretty difficult, emotionally and textually, but I found it was thoroughly worth the effort - even though it's taken me about two months to read, in small bits, I absolutely loved it.

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