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2017-08-04 08:12 am
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2017/68: The Lawrence Browne Affair -- Cat Sebastian

2017/68: The Lawrence Browne Affair -- Cat Sebastian
Sodomites had been a favorite subject of his father’s rage-fueled tirades... lumped in with other crimes against nature, such as Catholicism and being French. [p. 154]


Lawrence Browne, Earl of Radnor, is mad. (He's not technically the Mad Earl: that sobriquet was given to his elder brother, who's now dead.) Lawrence, who has sensory perception problems (loud noises make him anxious: he likes his environment to be predictable), is perfectly happy living hermit-like in Penkellis, his crumbling ancestral home, doing Science. Most of the servants have left (a small matter of an explosion or two) but the vicar visits several times a week. One day he suggests that Lawrence might benefit from a secretary.not spoilery )
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2017-08-03 09:07 am
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2017/67: The Ruin of a Rake -- Cat Sebastian

2017/67: The Ruin of a Rake -- Cat Sebastian
... to combine scientific pursuits with actual orgies struck Julian as excessive in all directions. [loc. 63]


Julian Medlock is a shipping heir, the epitome of a Regency gentleman, whose carefully-polished exterior that armours him against the world and hides a number of secrets. Lord Courtenay is a notorious rake, penniless despite his aristocratic name, who has become bored of being bad. Courtenay is widely acknowledged to be the inspiration behind lurid bestseller The Brigand Prince of Salerno -- a novel which Julian knows rather well. not especially spoilery )
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2017-08-03 08:39 am

Monthly culture: July 2017

05JUL17: Spiderman: Homecoming, Odeon Leicester Square

Read more... )
16JUL17: 'The Death of Christopher Marlowe'
Read more... )
19JUL17: blink-182, O2, Greenwich
Read more... )
20JUL17: Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, Leighton House Museum
Read more... )
21JUL17: Der Freischutz (Weber), Blackheath Community Opera, Blackheath Halls
Read more... )
22JUL17: Adventures in Moominland, Royal Festival Hall
Read more... )

27JUL17: Dunkirk, Barbican Cinema
Read more... )
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2017-08-02 06:34 am
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2017/66: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen -- Lois McMaster Bujold

2017/66: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen -- Lois McMaster Bujold
"So, how long has my mother had this questionable fetish for bisexual Barrayaran admirals? I don’t think even the Betans have earrings for that one." [loc. 4825]


Three years have passed since the death of Aral Vorkosigan. His wife Cordelia, being Cordelia, has not resigned herself to a faded life of mourning: she is Vicereine of Sergyar (the planet where the two first met, back in Shards of Honour) and is pursuing a number of projects. One of these involves Admiral Oliver Jole, who has appeared -- fleetingly -- as Aral Vorkosigan's aide in several previous novels,mildly spoilery for premise of novel )
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2017-08-01 07:02 am
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2017/65: Untamed -- Anna Cowan

2017/65: Untamed -- Anna Cowan
The Duke’s transformation was absolute, down to the very marrow of his bones. There wasn’t a single hint of self-consciousness about him. His demeanour, the set of his mouth, the lazy sway of his hand, all belonged to Lady Rose. The ease with which he changed his skin was frightening. [loc 812]


Regency romance in which the Duke of Darlington flees London disguised as a woman: this is a factual but useless description. slightly spoilery for themes )
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2017-07-31 07:59 am
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2017/64: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal -- KJ Charles

2017/64: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal -- KJ Charles
“I believe that each haunting is an unfinished tale, of some kind,” Simon said. “If the story can be concluded, so is the ghost’s presence. The untold story is agony, whether it is the fact of a murder or the location of a will, or simply…unfinished business." [p. 58]

non-spoilery )
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2017-07-30 09:27 am
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2017/63: Spectred Isle -- KJ Charles

2017/63: Spectred Isle -- KJ Charles
"...when dawn comes, am I going to find myself bare-arsed on Burwell Castle’s remains, and a lady antiquarian belabouring me with her parasol?”
“I can only pray you will. First it would mean we were home, and second, I’d pay to see that.” [loc. 1815]


Disclaimer: I had an advance copy because I'm interviewing KJ at Nine Worlds, and it will be Fun.

First in a new trilogy, The Green Men, which is set in the same 'world' as The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal. (I bounced off that book on first attempt, so didn't get around to reading it until after Spectred Isle.) Unlike many of KJ Charles' other novels, it's set in the twentieth century -- in the 1920s, in fact, in an England which is still recovering from the horrors of a World War -- and where the Green Men have been defending England against occult forces since well before the Archduke's assassination. Though the War made things rather worse ...

Saul Lazenby is a former archaeologist and military man, disgraced and discharged: he used to work with Leonard Woolley, but is now employed by Major Peabody, an enthusiastic amateur (or nut job, depending on point of view) who's keen on 'magical powers, haunted temples and secret societies'. Saul is grateful for the employment, and keeps his reservations to himself.

Then one day he's walking along, minding his own -- well, Major Peabody's -- business, and an oak tree bursts into flames.
not plot-spoilery but mentions some backstory )
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2017-07-29 11:10 am
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2017/62: Touch not the Cat -- Mary Stewart

2017/62: Touch not the Cat -- Mary Stewart
'Only you were reading my thoughts. Do you often do that?'
A pause, as long as four quickened heartbeats. Then he said, easily: 'Twin and I do it as a matter of course. Shades of Bess Ashley, the gipsy, didn’t you know?'
'It must save a lot of telephone calls,' I said lightly. [loc. 2067]

maybe slightly spoilery for mid-plot )
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2017-07-28 08:01 am
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2017/61: Single and Single -- John Le Carré

2017/61: Single and Single -- John Le Carré
'...what the hell happened next?’ He was so warm! He could feel it! It was here in the room. It was across the packing case from him. It was inside Massingham’s skull and begging to come out – till at the very last second it turned and scurried back to safety. [p. 282]

maybe slightly spoilery )
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2017-07-27 08:48 am
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2017/60: Touch -- Claire North

2017/60: Touch -- Claire North
Everyone needs a hobby, and everyone was mine. [p. 67]


Somewhere in London, in a dark alley, in the past, a woman is murdered. But she doesn't want to die alone: she reaches out and touches her murderer ... and becomes him, looking down at the corpse of his victim.
no spoilers )
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2017-07-26 08:16 am
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2017/59: An Unnatural Vice -- K J Charles

2017/59: An Unnatural Vice -- K J Charles
Conscience makes flats of us all, Justin thought. How lucky I don’t have one. [loc. 1231]


Nathaniel Roy is an investigative journalist, the atheist son of an archbishop, and desperately lonely despite the good friends who've stood by him through love and loss. Justin Lazarus is the Seer of London, one of the most successful (and most expensive) spiritualists in the city, and determined that he'll never again be obligated to anybody. not spoilery )
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2017-07-15 11:45 am
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2017/58: All Systems Red -- Martha Wells

2017/58: All Systems Red -- Martha Wells
I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. [p. 9]


All Systems Red is the first-person narrative of Murderbot, a self-hacked security cyborg -- 'SecBot' -- who, due to having disabled their governor module, is no longer forced to obey the commands of the Company . (Note the pronouns: Murderbot may not have what they primly refers to as 'sex parts' but they are very much a person, possibly more so than some of their human clients.)
not spoilery )
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2017-07-14 09:38 am
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2017/57: American Gods -- Neil Gaiman [reread]

2017/57: American Gods -- Neil Gaiman
"Media. I think I have heard of her. Isn't she the one who killed her children?"
"Different woman," said Mr. Nancy. "Same deal." [loc 6102]


Reread sparked by the Amazon TV series -- which is a very different animal,
'based on' rather than a straightforward adaptation of the novel.
non-spoilery )
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2017-07-13 07:15 pm
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2017/56: Spandex and the City -- Jenny Colgan

2017/56: Spandex and the City -- Jenny Colgan
He almost certainly had no idea that the fact that he was rich was as strange to me as the fact that he could lift up a truck with one hand. [loc. 1255]

slightly spoilery review )
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2017-07-08 10:26 am

Monthly culture: June 2017

02JUN17: Wonder Woman, Odeon IMAX, Greenwich

This is not really a feminist film, despite the female protagonist -- there is not enough interaction between the female characters -- but it might be a 'feminist superhero' film. Diana's blend of naivete and power, and her journey from the idyllic female community of Themyscira to the trenches of WWI, parallels her growth from idealistic warrior to conflicted hero. That arc is familiar (Thor, Captain America, even Iron Man). Is Diana's journey any different from a male hero's?

I didn't engage with Wonder Woman as fully as I'd hoped. I found it a remarkably humourless film -- perhaps I have been spoilt by Marvel's wisecracks and one-liners -- and, though it has parallels with the first Captain America film, it doesn't have that film's knack for characterisation. For instance, Steve Trevor's backup team get more screen time than Steve Rogers' Howling Commandos, but have less personality.

I would have liked more of Lucy Davis' Etta Candy (and Josette Simon's Mnemosyne!) but Gal Gadot rocks: she has presence, grace and timing.

16JUN17: L'elisir d'amore -- Donizetti, Royal Opera House

I adore this opera: the comic, romantic themes suit Donizetti's glorious and ebullient music rather better than the doom and tragedy of Lucia or Anna Bolena. Laurent Pelly's ROH production -- set in 1950s rural Italy -- is cheerful, witty and beautifuly staged. The performance we saw had some changes of personnel. Roberto Alagna was ill, so Nemorino sung in second half by Atalla Ayan from side of stage while Alagna acted (this worked surprisingly well) and understudy Jennifer Davis stood in as Adina for Aleksandra Kurzak. Absolutely no complaints on either count.

I used to avoid the ROH because I perceived it as much more expensive than the ENO. Times have changed. We had reasonably-priced seats -- £35 -- in the Upper Amphitheatre (note to self: get seats on left-hand side next time, to avoid crowds en route to bar) and didn't find the 'restricted view' problematic.
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2017-06-19 01:04 pm
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2017/55: Lord of All Things -- Andreas Eschbach (translated from German by Samuel Willcock)

2017/55: Lord of All Things -- Andreas Eschbach (translated from the German by Samuel Willcocks)
the digested version of a story already squeezed to bursting, a story of Arctic islands, Russian subs, and a steel fortress that fell to dust.


A book of two (unequal) halves: a promising beginning, but the rest is weakly plotted, gruesomely sexist and poorly characterised.

It starts well. Hiroshi is the half-Japanese, half-American son of a cleaning woman. He likes fixing things, and befriends Charlotte -- daughter of the French ambassador -- after fixing a broken doll. spoilers and irritation )
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2017-06-16 09:15 am
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2017/52-4: The Moon in the Cloud + 2 -- Rosemary Harris

2017/52:
The Moon in the Cloud -- Rosemary Harris

2017/53: The Shadow on the Sun -- Rosemary Harris
2017/54: The Bright and Morning Star -- Rosemary Harris
The pyramids were almost as white by night as by day. They burned with a malignant whiteness barely distinguishable from a white sky. They had a fierce beauty, fed by what lay around them: hundreds of thousands of men had toiled all day in the burning eye of the sun to raise them, and been worn and thirsty; and many had died. Their bones lay beneath the desert. Great kings had laid them there: the bones of the labourers, white, and buried in a gold casing of sand, near the bones of the kings encased in gold, buried in a white casing of stone. And in the night the bones of the buried men and the bones of the kings help speech together. [The Moon in the Cloud, page 147]


Reread, because the Amelia Peabody books made me yearn for some quality fiction set in Ancient Egypt. I adored these books as a child and am pleased to report that they are just as enjoyable some decades later. And I was happy to see Barbara Mertz' Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs mentioned in the Acknowledgements!
minor spoilers )
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2017-06-14 10:25 pm
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2017/51: Chalk -- Paul Cornell

2017/51: Chalk -- Paul Cornell
I stuck to what was true, except that I didn’t include anything impossible. I wrote about what it was like on the playing field. How there were no teachers. How anything could happen. How anything had been happening for a long time now. I mentioned the lightning because there would be the patch of black glass on the ground ...


A horror novel about growing up in the 1980s: cod in butter sauce, Feast lollies, Bananarama, school discos. somewhat spoilery )
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2017-06-13 07:29 pm
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2017/50: City of Miracles -- Robert Jackson Bennett

2017/50: City of Miracles -- Robert Jackson Bennett
The conclusion I draw is not, as you suggested, that miracles fade as their existence goes on, causing fluctuations in their function. Rather, I believe that miracles changed and mutated just as any organism might: the Divine Empire was a teeming ecosystem of miracles and Divine entities, all with varying levels of agency and purpose, all shifting and altering as the years went by.


Conclusion of the Divine Cities trilogy (previous volumes were City of Stairs and City of Blades). I wondered, reviewing the latter, if the third book would focus on Sigrud the mysterious Viking Dreyling berserker: and it does, in that he is the primary viewpoint character. However, it's not primarily his story.not much more spoilery than the blurb )
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2017-06-11 06:26 pm
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2017/49: Death by Silver -- Melissa Scott, Amy Griswold

2017/49: Death by Silver -- Melissa Scott, Amy Griswold
He threw a satisfied glance at Ned, looking momentarily very much like one of the heroes of an adventure novel. Ned felt rather like one himself, and wished there were any chance of Julian putting his arms around him in an admiring way on the spot. [loc. 5335]


Death by Silver is set in an alternate London, probably in the local equivalent of the Victorian period: carriages not cars, telegrams rather than 'phones, cricket at Lords. Ned Mathey is a newly-qualified metaphysician, still trying to establish himself as a practitioner and curse-breaker. slightly spoilery )