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March 2017

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2017/24: City of Blades -- Robert Jackson Bennett
Mulaghesh stops and looks up into the face of Voortya. The world goes still. There is someone in the statue. It’s the strangest of sensations, but it’s undeniable: there is a mind there, an agency, watching.

It's five years since the events of City of Stairs. spoilery for City of Stairs, marginally spoilery for City of Blades )
2017/23: City of Stairs -- Robert Jackson Bennett
while no Saypuri can go a day without thinking of how their ancestors lived in abysmal slavery, neither can they go an hour without wondering – Why? Why were they denied a god? Why was the Continent blessed with protectors, with power, with tools and privileges that were never extended to Saypur? How could such a tremendous inequality be allowed?

The Continent used to be powerful, magical, and blessed by the Divinities. Now it's occupied by the Saypuri, who used to be the Continentals' slaves. City of Stairs is set a generation or so after the Blink -- a moment in which, after a Divinity was killed by a Saypuri rebel (the Kaj), the works of all six Divinities were ... unmade, causing devastation across the Continent as the things that they built and maintained crumble away. non-spoilery )
2017/22: Occupy Me -- Tricia Sullivan
With clever beaks and wingtips the beings who made me compile masks made of human skin, made of feathers, made of biological circuits: mitochondrial turbine engines and electron pumps. Their masks are made of darkness pregnant with radio, the slow deep turning of long wavelength light. They wear these masks and they hop around a ragged fire that drinks up the foreign atmosphere.

Pearl is a flight attendant: also, an angelnon-spoilery )
2017/21: An Unseen Attraction --KJ Charles
Clem had listened with fascination the other week as Gregory and Polish Mark and the journalist Nathaniel had discussed how “you could just tell” about men’s tastes, or their guilt, or if they were hiding something that could make a good story. Clem didn’t seem to have whatever ability it was that let other people “just tell,” and it felt as if there was an entire world of communication going on at a pitch he couldn’t hear.

London, 1874. Clem Tallyfer, son of an English father and an Indian mother, runs a lodging house in Clerkenwell: the role suits him, because he's not that good with crowds or noise or thinking in a straight line. His brother (well, half-brother) Edmund owns the house, and insists that Clem tolerate one particular drunken, ill-mannered lodger, Lugtrout by name.non-spoilery )
2017/20: Murder Must Advertise -- Dorothy L Sayers
Unlike the majority of clients who, though all tiresome in their degree, exercised their tiresomeness by post from a reasonable distance and at reasonable intervals, Messrs Toule & Jollop descended upon Pym’s every Tuesday for a weekly conference. While there, they reviewed the advertising for the coming week, rescinding any decisions taken at the previous week’s conference, springing new schemes unexpectedly upon Mr Pym and Mr Armstrong, keeping those two important men shut up in the Conference Room for hours on end, to the interruption of office-business, and generally making nuisances of themselves.

Ah, plus ça change ... First published in 1933, this novel depicts middle-class life in London -- work and play -- in familiar terms. Though Sayers' characters (most of them employed at an advertising agency, as was Sayers for seven years) live in a very different time, their concerns are eminently relatable. Work-life balance, the risks of falling into bad company, where to eat at lunchtime, the paradox of the poor spending money they can't afford on 'luxury' items ... Sayers' observations on the advertising industry are acute, witty and cynical.non-spoilery )
2017/19a: The Monarch of the Glen --Neil Gaiman
‘Well, I don’t think you’re a monster, Shadow. I think you’re a hero.’ No, thought Shadow. You think I’m a monster. But you think I’m your monster.

Another American Gods novella (it and Black Dog, both sold as standalone Kindle books, are so short that I am counting the two of them as one 'read', and that's pushing it, frankly.) Shadow Moon's wanderings take him to the Scottish Highlands, where he is asked to work as security for a rich man's annual party. The party is an institution: it's goes back 'almost a thousand years'. And it soon becomes apparent that Shadow's role is more than just that of a security guard.

The construction of this story -- Shadow's encounters with the people who will become significant, before he understands his part in the story; the constant questioning of whether he is a monster -- is like a jigsaw: Gaiman fits a great deal into The Monarch of the Glen, and also sets Shadow up for a return to the States and a greater understanding of his own nature and destiny. (I don't know whether Gaiman is still working on the sequel to American Gods. I do hope so.)
2017/19: Black Dog -- Neil Gaiman
It’s daylight, said Shadow to the dog, with his mind, not with his voice. Run away. Whatever you are, run away. Run back to your gibbet, run back to your grave, little wish hound. All you can do is depress us, fill the world with shadows and illusions.

This novella is a sequel to American Gods: it's set in the Peak District, where Shadow Moon takes shelter in the village pub during a rainstorm. He encounters a cheerful couple, Moira and Oliver, who recount some jolly episodes from local folklore. There's also a woman, Cassie, who Shadow meets next morning on the hillside. She points out the Gateway to Hell. A number of cats arrive ...

This is a simple tale, with a sense of mythic -- or perhaps fairytale -- justice: kindness repaid, wrongs avenged, ancient stories coming full circle. Shadow's equanimity balances Moira and Ollie's brittle cheer, and makes the story less gloomy than it might have been.
2017/18: Dark Matter: A Ghost Story -- Michelle Paver
I’ve also flicked through this journal, which was a mistake. I’m shocked at how my handwriting’s changed. I used to write a neat copperplate hand, but since I’ve been alone, it’s degenerated into a spidery scrawl. Without reading a word, you can see the fear.

The novel begins in London in 1937. Jack Miller has a chip on his shoulder, a physics degree from UCL, and a job he hates. When a group of wealthy young men advertise for a radio operator to form part of an expedition to the Arctic, Jack jumps at the chance: he has nobody to leave behind, nothing -- apparently -- to lose.
somewhat spoilery for middle of book )
2017/17: The Hanging Tree -- Ben Aaronovitch
We’d been reluctant to employ a forensic psychologist because of the well-founded fear that they might section us for believing in fairies.

Following the events of Foxglove Summer, Peter Grant has returned to London. Lady Tyburn (one of the river goddesses of London) calls in a favour: her daughter Olivia was at a party where a young woman died in suspicious circumstances, and Lady Ty wants Peter to ensure that Olivia is not implicated in the investigation.non-spoilery review )
2017/16: Foxglove Summer -- Ben Aaronovitch
Nightingale calls them the fae but that's a catch-all term like the way the Greeks used the word 'barbarian' or the Daily Mail uses 'Europe'. [loc. 260]

Foxglove Summer is quite a departure from the previous novels in the series. After the traumatic events at the end of Broken Homes, Peter Grant is sent to rural Herefordshire to investigate whether a local wizard (retired) is involved in the disappearance of two young girls. Nightingale -- who barely appears in this novel, boo -- may also be giving Peter a break from 'the usual' for compassionate reasons; and there are new threats facing the Folly, which Peter may not be ready to deal with.slightly spoilery because of comparison to another novel )
2017/15: Broken Homes -- Ben Aaronovitch
Either Stromberg had discovered something in the locality – an ancient temple, a stone circle, site of a massacre or iron age industrial site – or he'd been planning to extract magical power out of the everyday lives of council flat tenants. No wonder he was waiting up on his roof with his telescope until the day he died. [loc. 3019]

A suspicious-looking suicide and a burnt body in an unburnt house: another case for Peter Grant and the Folly. Broken Homes is largely set in a fictional council estate, the Skygarden, in Elephant and Castle (modelled on the Heygate Estate), which was unaccountably listed even though the council would like to tear it down. slightly spoilery review )
2017/14: Whispers Under Ground -- Ben Aaronovitch
...just chalk it [magic] up to pixie dust or quantum entanglement, which was the same thing as pixie dust except with the word quantum in it. [loc. 203]

slightly spoilery )
2017/13: A Taste of Honey -- Kai Ashante Wilson
At her finger's touch, the world's richness and vividity doubled; it trebled and redoubled again. Aqib's perception expanded into a whole other dimension. Bees' buzzing, locust-chatter, the birds singing: no longer was this empty noise. It was lyric'd music, song with words. In a distant courtyard of the Sovereign House, a bitty lapdog barked and barked. Welcome home, I love you, Whee, Yay, Hurrah. Aqib had always . . . guessed? some of this: now he knew. Now he heard it plain. [loc. 559]

Aqib bgm Sadiqi is the son of the Olurumi Master of Beasts -- the keeper of the menagerie -- and fourth cousin to the royal family. He meets a handsome foreign soldier (Lucrio) and falls in love, or lust, or both. But Olorum culture is not accepting of homosexuality, and Aqib's family doubly so. non spoilery )
2017/12: The Rest of Us Just Live Here -- Patrick Ness
The indie kids, huh? You've got them at your school, too. That group with the cool-geek haircuts and the charity shop clothes and names from the fifties. Nice enough, never mean, but always the ones who end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the alien queen needs the Source of All Light or something. They're too cool to ever, ever do anything like go to prom or listen to music other than jazz while reading poetry. They've always got some story going on that they're heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges... Having said that, the indie kids do die a lot. Which must suck. [loc. 170]

A YA paranormal, at least if you go by the chapter headers: "CHAPTER THE FIRST, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate." Except that The Rest of Us Just Live Here isn't about the Chosen One(s), or the end of the world, or vampires (sparkly or otherwise) or the Hellmouth. The teenage heroes of this story -- Mel, Henna, Mikey and Jared -- have other foes to conquer: OCD, sexual identity crises, anorexia, that new kid in school, Mikey's mum's campaign to be senator, prom, and the imminent performance by boy band Bolts of Fire (which Mikey's little sister really wants to see).
non-spoilery )
2017/11: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe -- Kij Johnson
She had never met a woman from the waking world. Once she asked Carter about it. "Women don't dream large dreams," he had said, dismissively. "It is all babies and housework. Tiny dreams." Men said stupid things all the time, and it was perhaps no surprise that men of the waking world might do so as well, yet she was disappointed in Carter. [loc. 604]

Professor Vellitt Boe teaches at the Women's College of Ulthar University. Clarie Jurat, daughter of one of the College's trustees, is one of her best students: when Clarie elopes with her lover -- a dreamer from the waking world -- Vellitt Boe realises that Clarie's disappearance might mean the closure of the College, and so she sets out to find Clarie. not significantly spoilery review )
2017/10: Doc -- Mary Doria Russell
Belle Wright undoubtedly believed that his courtesy to Johnnie Sanders and China Joe stemmed from an admirable democratic conviction that they were every bit as good as he was. In reality, he thought himself no better than they: a significant distinction. It was not a surfeit of brotherly love that informed John Henry Holliday's egalitarianism. It was an acute awareness of the depths of disgrace into which he himself had fallen. [loc. 3214]

Mary Doria Russell, author of one of my very favourite SF novels (The Sparrow) and a number of other books that I have enjoyed and / or admired, has turned her attention to the Western. Sort of.not significantly spoilery )
Let's talk about depression.

A conversation with a friend got me thinking about what has changed -- what I have changed -- since my twenties, when my mental health was very bad.

Of course, in my twenties it was a lot harder to talk about mental health, and there was no easily-accessible forum in which to discuss it.
five methods that have improved my mental health and its impact on my life )
JUST SAY NO. Say no to medication that makes you feel worse; to demands on your time or energy that are likely to exhaust your resources without benefit to yourself; to self-criticism and self-loathing; to frantically keeping up with the outside world when it exhausts and infuriates and upsets you; to anyone who dismisses or condemns your experience of your illness; to 'should' and 'shouldn't'; to depression itself (and / or other mental health issues) for telling you lies about yourself and your world.
2017/09: Wanted, a Gentleman -- K.J. Charles
I make my money from hopes and dreams laid bare, and those are too important, too revealing, to be treated with anything except scorn." [loc. 716]

A Heyeresque romance, with two main differences: both of the leads are male, and one is black.
non-spoilery )
Links point to other people's reviews ..

03FEB17: Antigone (Sophocles) -- Shaw Theatre, London
The UCL Greek play: thanks to Tony K for organising!

Read more... )
A visually stunning production, simple and well-lit. Nice translation, too: 'Could some god have done this?' 'Oh, shut up.'

09FEB17: Prometheus Bound (Aeschylus) -- Greenwood Theatre, London
The KCL Greek play, performed in Ancient Greek with (somewhat delayed) surtitles.
In which Prometheus is bound, but unaccountably not gagged. Read more... )
The staging was effective, but I was never quite sure why Prometheus had been chained in a jungle (as indicated by trailing vines and overloud birdsong): and most of the performance felt like a reading rather than a play. It lacked passion: or perhaps it just lacked plot.

11FEB17: Edward II (Marlowe) -- Arts Theatre, Cambridge

Read more... )

An absolutely awesome production: I hope to see at least some of these actors in the West End in a few years' time, and I expect this to be in my top 5 theatrical performances for the year.

(Oh, another review I liked.)
2017/08: The Marlowe Papers -- Ros Barber
'All those who love not tobacco and booze are fools.' 'Tobacco and boys?' Nashe laughed. He was half deaf,
the close ear dull. 'Dear post, tobacco and booze!
But boys go just as well with sweet Virginia
pressed into a pipe.'
            Misheard, offstage,
the quote that would define me for an age. [loc. 1816]