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February 2017

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2016/79: More Than This --Patrick Ness
Isn’t dying once enough? he thinks. Am I going to have to keep doing it? But then he thinks, No. Because you can die before you’re dead, too.[loc. 1132]

The book opens with a detailed description of Seth's death, drowning in an ice-cold sea. Then he wakes up, and is, as far as he can tell, in Hell.

It looks a lot like England, where he grew up.slightly spoilery )
2016/78: The Age of Miracles -- Karen Thompson Walker
After the slowing, every action required a little more force than it used to. The physics had changed. Take, for example, the slightly increased drag of a hand on a knife or a finger on a trigger. From then on, we all had a little more time to decide what not to do. And who knows how fast a second-guess can travel? Who has ever measured the exact speed of regret?[loc. 525]

The Earth's rotation slows, making days longer: ecological and sociological disaster ensue, as crops fail, the magnetosphere thins, and the US Government decrees that America will run on 'clock time' -- meaning that noon might be the middle of the dark hours.

This is not the plot, though: this is the background. non-spoilery )
2016/77: Company of Liars -- Karen Maitland
Once, half-submerged in a sodden field, we saw the statue of St Florian, his millstone tied around his neck. Since their saint was unable to protect them from the rains, the parishioners had stripped his statue of his scarlet cloak and golden halo, beaten him and cast him out to face the elements. Many of the cottagers were no longer begging God for mercy, they were angry with him. They felt betrayed...[loc. 2898]

Set in 1348, just after the Black Death has reached England: 'Camelot', a hawker of relics, decides to head north to avoid the plague. Camelot is joined by Cygnus, a swan-winged story-teller; Zophiel, a travelling magician with a wagonful of heavy boxes; Venetian musician Rodrigo and his pupil Jofre; painter Osmond and his wife Adela, who is expecting their first child; Pleasance, a midwife; and a strange white-haired child, Narigorm, who reads runes and is given to doom-laden pronouncements.

As Doctor House says, 'everybody lies'. All of these travellers are lying, concealing their individual, desperately important, secretsvery mildly spoilery )
2016/76: Rebel of the Sands -- Alwyn Hamilton
"How long had it been since you’d seen a First Being before the Buraqi came into town? Magic and metal don’t mix well. We’re killing it. But it’s fighting back." [loc. 993]

Amani Al’Hiza is sixteen, good with a gun, and being lined up as her uncle's next bride. She is unenthusiastic about the idea, and disguises herself as a boy to enter a sharpshooting contest. The prize money will be enough to help her escape Deadshot (a backwater, deadend desert town which has accreted around a munitions factory) and make for the city, where she believes a better life can be had. slightly spoilery )
2016/75: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet -- David Mitchell

"Doctor, do you believe in the Soul’s existence?"
Marinus prepares, the clerk expects, an erudite and arcane reply.
"Then where . . ." Jacob indicates the pious, profane skeleton ". . . is it?"
"The soul is a verb," he impales a lit candle on a spike, "not a noun."[loc. 3042]

not significantly spoilery )
2016/74: Medicus -- Ruth Downie
Ruso closed his eyes briefly and dreamed of a world where women stayed quietly at home and sewed things and understood the value of Modesty and Obedience–not to mention Not Turning Up Dead Under Suspicious Circumstances. When he opened them again, he was still in Britannia.[loc. 2317]

Gaius Petreius Ruso has family obligations, debts, an ex-wife about whom he's still bitter, and a new posting as an army doctor at the fort of Deva, in north-west Britannia.

He's hoping that his move to Britain will signal a change in his fortune: and so it does, though perhaps not quite in the way he hopes. not very spoilery )
2016/73: Inflight Science: A Guide to the World from Your Airplane Window -- Brian Clegg
We aren’t entirely sure why Newton came up with the number seven, including those obscure shades indigo and violet, but there’s a strong feeling that he was drawing a parallel with music. In the musical ‘spectrum’ there are seven notes, A to G, before completing the octave and returning to the next A up. Newton, it’s thought, felt that there also ought to be seven colours in the visible spectrum.[loc. 1323]

Entertaining pop-science, just the right length for a 4-hour flight: Clegg explores cloud formation, fractal coastlines, the physics of flight, airport security technologies, volcanoes, oxbow lakes ... It's a light read, with plenty of anecdotes and examples: possibly I was not the target audience, but it passed the time and some of the information was new to me.
2016/72: The Soldier's Scoundrel -- Cat Sebastian
Everywhere he looked there were women trying to help one another in dubious ways when there didn’t seem to be any other solution. [loc. 3585]

non-spoilery )
2016/71: Widdershins -- Jordan L. Hawk
I lied all the time. My life had been nothing but a fable, told to keep society happy, or at least keep it from noticing me. I'd lied about my feelings for Leander, I'd hidden away any spark or sign of passion after coming to manhood, and now I pretended Griffin was merely a good friend. What did one more lie matter? [loc. 3284]

non-spoilery )
2016/70: The Haunting of Hill House -- Shirley Jackson
"When I am afraid, I can see perfectly the sensible, beautiful not-afraid side of the world, I can see chairs and tables and windows staying the same, not affected in the least, and I can see things like the careful woven texture of the carpet, not even moving. But when I am afraid I no longer exist in any relation to these things. I suppose because things are not afraid." [loc. 1984]

Eleanor Vance is invited by Doctor Montague, an investigator of the supernatural, to stay for the summer in Hill House, an allegedly-haunted country mansion. vaguely spoilery )
12JAN17: The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus - Tony Harrison (Finborough Theatre, London)
Independent review
I liked this a lot: the theatre was very small, the action immediate and the satyrs very loud. Two British archaeologists, working in Oxyrhynchus (Egypt) in the early years of the twentieth century, become entangled with the fragments of the satyr play they've discovered amongst the endless petitions against homelessness. Bernard Grenfell also finds himself unwilling host to an angry Apollo, who wants his cows back.

Small cast, fascinating shifts of metre and rhyme, some truly funny lines and some audience participation: a powerfully moving play about (among other things) cultural elitism, archaeology versus poverty, and clog-dancing.

29JAN17: Black Sabbath: The End (O2, Greenwich)
Telegraph review
Very, very loud. My companion enjoyed this more than I did, but it was bloody good rock all the same, and though I have not kept up with Sabbath I still recognised quite a few of the songs. 'Paranoid' was fab, and the lighting and stagecraft (giant black and purple balloons! Sabbath confetti! close-ups of ageing hands playing guitar!) very effective.
2016/69: Jackdaw -- KJ Charles
"He's not an evil man, unfortunately ... That makes him all the more harmful. If he as evil, we'd kill him. No, he's ... chaotic."

Ben Spenser has come to London for one purpose: to track down Jonah Pastern, windwalker and thief, and punch him in the face.non-spoilery )
2016/67: A Queer Trade -- KJ Charles
2016/68: Rag and Bone -- KJ Charles
"You act by writing. That is not a crime, and you are not a criminal. It is extraordinarily rare... What's wrong with you is that you've been taught to draw your power down the wrong way. Blood writing is impractical if you use your own blood, and illegal if you don't." [Rag and one, loc. 615]

Ned Hall, purveyor of waste paper to the markets of London, is visited one afternoon by a frantic Crispin Tredarloe, whose late master's house has been cleared. Crispin desperately needs to track down some of the papers that Ned might have bought: they're scripti, spells written down, and they could be dangerous.not significantly spoilery )
2016/64-66: A Charm of Magpies (trilogy) -- KJ Charles

"There’s power in the Magpie Lord’s bloodline. It’s in the blood, bone and birdspit, as they say, and yes, birdspit is a euphemism." [loc 2160]

Lucien, Lord Crane, returns to England after two decades' exile in China.mildly spoilery review )
2016/63: Think of England -- KJ Charles
The actual life of a gentleman spy, it seemed to him, consisted of sneaking about, breaking the rules of hospitality and generally being anything but a gentleman, and the only mysterious foreigner around was da Silva. He was probably the closest thing Peakholme had to offer to a sultry seductress, come to that.[loc. 556]

The year is 1904, and Boer War veteran Archie Curtis (nephew of Sir Henry Curtis, who appears in King Solomon's Mines) is attending a country house party in search of answers about the disaster that ended his military career and killed his friends. Was it bad luck, or sabotage?not significantly spoilery, given genre )
2016/62: Fencing with Death: A Vintage Mystery -- Elizabeth Edmondson
'You did brilliantly in the written papers, I have to tell you, but the interviews let you down.'
'Chip on your shoulder a yard high and ridiculous left-wing fancies sprouting out all over you.'[loc. 317]

It is not to my credit that it took me about half the book to work out that I'd read it before, albeit under a different title: Losing Larry. non-spoilery )
2016/61: Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder -- Evelyn Waugh
'...It seems to me that without your religion Sebastian would have the chance to be a happy and healthy man.'
'It's arguable,' said Brideshead. 'Do you think he will need this elephant's foot again?'[loc. 2198]

Incredibly, I had never actually read this: having been deterred at an early age by the 'classic' label (for which I blame an education system that inflicts 'classics' on adolescents before they are mentally or emotionally ready to appreciate them), and never having seen the classic BBC adaptation (beloved of many of my university friends) I just ... didn't. After all, there were so many other books to read.probably spoilers, but it's not exactly recent )
2016/60: Wicked Gentlemen -- Ginn Hale
When I had been very young, I had snuck up from Hells Below to drift up into the open night. I had thought that it was my kingdom. For a few weeks I had thought that perhaps I was the secret child of an angel. I had floated up into the frigid mists of clouds and imagined that the moon, shining above me, was my promised halo.

slightly spoilery review )
2016/59: Europe in Winter -- Dave Hutchinson
"Europe is inherently unstable. It's been in flux for centuries; countries have risen and fallen, borders have ebbed and flowed, governments have come and gone. The Schengen era was just an historical blip, an affectation."[loc. 5535]

Third in the series -- trilogy? or will there be more? -- that began with Europe in Autumn and continued with Europe at Midnight. I liked Europe in Winter a great deal though suspect I need to reread the entire sequence before I can make sense of the ways in which the various plot threads weave and tangle spoilers )
2016/58: Fool's Run -- Patricia A. McKillip
"I learned something strange. When you run, you run backwards, you never reach the future. The past runs faster than you and waits for you to reach it. You have to walk out of danger, out of the past. Because you look back when you run, but you look to the future when you walk."[loc. 1737]

Reread: I absolutely adored this novel when I first read it, but haven't revisited it for years. Having recently read Kingfisher -- which reminded me of Fool's Run in its mythic resonance and its relatively sparse imagery -- I wanted to reread this and see if my memory had become rose-tinted.
non-spoilery review )