There's a formula to the Expanse books so far which keeps me from wanting to read the whole series all at once, but that's an observation rather than a criticism; I definitely plan to carry on reading them. Just not straight away.
Deep Blue by Alan Judd. Spy novel taking place in two time periods, the 1980s and modern day. The former concerned with the recruitment of a Soviet official by MI6, the latter more about the bureacratic wrangling within the service. A few common threads between them e.g the lurking presence of homegrown radical types and the titular McGuffin. Starts off promisingly and the 1980s stuff is well done but rather loses its way about two thirds of the way through. Finishes in a vaguely bathetic anti-climax that resembles a lacklustre episode of New Tricks as the head of MI6, his lawyer wife and a caricature Oxbridge SPAD take on the superannuated lefties in a picnic site by a Scottish loch. It's not actually bad, just underwhelming. Comparisons with Le Carre from a tame Telegraph reviewer on the front cover can be safely discounted as hype.
The Margaret of Ashbury trilogy by Judith Merkle Riley: A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, and The Water Devil.
Judith Merkle Riley only published 6 books before her death and they are very hard to categorise. At heart, they are historical romances, but with strong paranormal elements (not in the more recent sense of vampires and shapeshifters, but in the sense of people with a paranormal gift).
This trilogy is written from the viewpoint of a peasant girl, Margaret of Ashbury whose marriages bring her up in the world. Her gift is the laying on of hands which she discovers after she looses her first child and nearly dies of plague herself.
I do like the series (and JMR’s other books); although romantic fiction they aren’t smutty in the least, the history is well-researched, and the storylines are believeable. For example, Margaret’s marriages are first to a social-climbing petty merchant, then to a wealthy City merchant, then to the second son of an old knightly family whose patron is the Duke of Lancaster. The writing doesn’t seem contrived, and the paranormal element doesn’t take over; in fact, Margaret does her best to hide her gift as she is likely to be burnt as a witch.
Recommended. (I’m eagerly waiting for the remaining 3 books to be published in epub.)
The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill. Ghost story in the MR James vein, good build up and nicely spooky in places leading to a cursory is-that-it denoument so that the whole thing feels rather disappointingly contrived. Nowhere near the same league as The Woman in Black.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling.
Never read Kipling before.
Really great read, reminded me of Don Quixote or Jack Vance at his most roccocco.
Good introduction explained the imperial assumptions baked in, with all the prejudices of the Raj. Cracking read.
Vietnam: An Epic History of Divisive War 1945 - 1975 by Max Hastings
A very good and in-depth look at the Vietnam War. From its beginnings after WWII with the French, to the pulling out of the USA and till the end of the South Vietnam Regime. Max Hastings once again provides a well researched and informative history of this conflict.
Monday starting Book 4 of the Spells, Swords and Stealth Series Siege Tactics by Drew Hayes. A nice little series about NPCs in a Fantasy RPG World who become PCs. It is set in the Real World and the Fantasy World where an RPG Campaign affects the "Fantasy" World. It is good fun and well written.
A re-read as I wanted something uncomplicated. Like Davis’ previous historical romance, The Course of Honour, this is set in Ancient Rome, but this time in Domitian’s reign. Lucilla Flavia is a Flavian freedwoman, and works as a hairdresser to the Imperial court. She meets Gaius Vinius Clodianus when reporting the theft of her mother’s jewelry. He is a discharged legionary (on medical grounds) and is the investigating officer of a cohort of vigiles, but after the great fire of Rome, is granted a transfer to the Praetorians.
Here, his and Lucilla’s lives entangle, and eventually they become lovers. All this is set against the backdrop of Domitian’s descent into paranioa and the terror this invokes. Eventually, Domitian’s suspicious eyes alight on Vinius; as Lucilla has become pregnant with their first child, steps have to be taken to secure their future in safety.
As with The Course of Honour, this is based on a true story. Vinius is the subaltern named by Suetonius as finishing off Domitian (the other account by Cassius Dio mentions no name) and he is not mentioned subsequently when Nerva is forced to avenge Domitian’s murder.
Light but well-researched, and filled with Davis’ trademark humour.
The Barrow, by Mark Smylie
Another reread, set in The Known Worlds this is by way of being a prequel to Artesia. It details the story of Stjephan, Artesia’s brother, and his raid on the barrow of a necromancer. Along the way, there’s much rather lurid sex (it is Artesia after all), a lot of back-stabbing, and violence. If you were thinking it sounds like a bunch of PFYs playing D&D, then you wouldn’t be far wrong.
The story is pretty good, and the sex is actually relevant to the plot given what is really going on. However, there is a rather irritating spellchecker error - broach is used instead brooch throughout, and several characters let rooms not rent them (it rather puzzled me the first time I saw it, especially as the character was behind on their rent).
As I'm going to be in Ireland this summer for WorldCon, I thought it would be a good idea to reread the McCaffrey 'Irish' romances. (Yes, not only did McCaffrey write science fiction, she also wrote some romance.)
The Carradyne Touch, by Anne McCaffrey
A family saga set in Ireland near Dublin, this tells the story of events one summer in the late 60s at the Cornanagh Stud, which has been in the Carradyne family for over 200 years. The incumbent Carradyne is Michael, and as the story opens he is resident with his wife, Isabel, one son, Philip, and his last child, Catriona. Also resident on the estate are his widowed sister-in-law, Eithne, and her son, Owen. Two of Michael's other children are still resident in Ireland, the other two live abroad (and take no part in the story).
I won't call it a romance, although there is romance involved, but saga is a better description given the feud Michael gets caught up in with a neighbour. Neither is it particularly sweeping in scope; it's very domestic in scale, events revolve around daily life at Cornanagh, training and caring for horses, with excursions to various horsey events.
Lightweight but recommended.
The Kilternan Legacy, by Anne McCaffrey
Irene Teasey, following an unpleasant divorce takes herself and her twins to Ireland to investigate a legacy left to her by her great-aunt, another Irene Teasey. This turns out to be an estate outside Dublin, comprising of land, a nice house, cottages with tenants, a trust fund and a horse.
Beset by other Irish relatives (who thought the elder Irene should have left everything to them), her ex-husband objecting to his children being taken to Ireland, and mysterious goings-on at the estate, this is a light enjoyable read.
Although badged as a gothic romance, there's no supernatural goings-on, real or fake.
The third of McCaffrey's 'Dublin' books, although this one only starts and end in Dublin.
Widowed children's author and Ph.D. Dana Jane Lovell goes on a lecture tour in the US. Snowbound in Denver, she meets a personable man, Daniel Jerome Lowell and has a brief fling with him. Splitting up after the snow lets up, Dana continues her tour. At the end of the tour, her son contacts her - a Denver lawyer has been trying to contact her - Dan Lowell is accused of murdering his ex-wife while in Denver, and needs Dana's testimony to clear him.
Suffice it to say, all ends happily, and presumably, ever-after. Light and readable.
Only 5 months late in reading this; it was my birthday present last year.
Another of Tim Powers trademark urban fantasies or secret histories. Here the weirdness centres on the Californian freeways; the flow of traffic creates power and the ability to switch dimensions - specifically to the Labyrinth ruled over by Daedalus. The power also supports ghosts - people who died on or close to the freeways.
The hero is a former cop turned Secret Service agent who heard a phenomenon and was nearly executed by the TSU. Staying one step ahead of the TSU, he is surviving in the shadows, working for a business taking advantage of the power generated by the freeways.
Only read a couple of his books but the first one was Declare which I really enjoyed. Like an occult version of John le Carre. Has been called Lovecraftian but that's perhaps more about the underlying themes rather than anything mythos specific. Would recommend.
Three Days to Never was all right - did some clever time bending stuff, just felt a bit routine after "Declare".
"Re-reading" Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Dead series, all on audiobook. Had Gardens of the Moon when it originally came out. Glad they are now all available on Audible now.
Starting Deadhouse Gates read by Ralph Lister, a very good narrator of audiobooks. Series later uses Michael Page, who was a good narrator for the Gentlemen Bastard Books by Scott Lynch . Two good narrators for a much loved Fantasy Saga.
# Books in January 2019
This was a surprisingly slow month for me, except I guess I’ve been writing stuff for Lyonesse, and at the same time the book that I’d started over Christmas - *Winter’s Tale* by Mark Helprin - is one that I love and really wanted time savour. Hence not much progress there.
## *The Silk Roads: A New History of the World* (Peter Frankopan, narrator Laurence Kennedy)
A fascinatingly different take on world history; well worth the time. I listened to this over a month and a half as the audiobook runs to nearly 30 hours. I did find the narrator's use of accents when quoting sources somewhat irritating, but it didn't detract from the content.