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I have to confess that I’m not normally one for thrillers. Not entirely sure why; it dates to before Dan Brown so I can’t really blame him, and it’s nothing to do with le Carre cos I’ve read loads of his stuff, so it may just be one of those inexplicable things.

But I heard Robert Harris being interviewed on the radio when The Ghost was about to be published and it sounded sufficiently intriguing that I bought it when it came out, and its been sitting on my shelf until I decided that I wanted a break from the beginning-of-the-year-sc-fi-fest and picked it up.

And read it very,very quickly.

So our hero is a ghost writer who normally deals with the scandal-packed lives of celebrities but is catapulted into the world of politics when the man helping a former British Prime Minister write his memoirs drowns after falling overboard from a ferry in Martha’s Vineyard. Said book has a big advance attached to it and so has to be delivered on time. Things get a little more pressured when said PM looks like he’s going to be charged for war crimes in relation to a conflict not a million miles away from what’s going on at the moment. And our hero delves more than he should and finds out stuff that he shouldn’t and, well, it all gets a bit exciting.

I couldn’t put this down. Another book that almost had me missing my stop when I was reading on the train, it’s very well written, well-paced, has you entertained as you try to work out how much of the PM is based on Tony Blair, how much his wife is like Cherie, who the other political figures might be based on. And it was timely reading given that the Iraq enquiry is underway in London at the moment and a lot of the subject matter covered in this story is being openly debated. Well, as open as any inquiry into something like this ever can be.

Polanski has directed the film version which will come out shortly (starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor) and I’ll be interested to see how that all works.

Very enjoyable and certainly recommended if you like a political thriller.

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It is a month for favourites – Charles Stross is rapidly becoming one of the authors I leap upon (metaphorically speaking of course) as soon as something new comes out (we have lots of his stuff in the house but I am trying not to gorge myself as he is far too good to be wasted in that way) and Lee Gibbons is becoming one of my favourite sci-fi cover artists.

So Saturn’s Children is yet more space opera with a strong female lead and an extremely interesting premise, so there was no way that I was going to dislike this novel, which is a really good thriller as well as a sci-fi tale.

 Freya Nakamachi-47 is a cloned synthetic person, designed to be a concubine for humans, but activated long after the human race has totally died out. The robots, for want of a better word, have built their own society which unfortunately has taken on many of the worst aspects of how humans behaved – rigidly hierarchical with everything from aristocrats to slaves, overly legalistic and potentially very harsh.

Freya gets into trouble on Venus and needs to get off-planet very quickly; to do so she takes on a job as a courier, taking contraband from Mercury to Mars. Of course, this all goes a bit pear-shaped as you might expect, and Freya’s troubles multiply as she tries to find out what’s going on, and in particular who wants to kill her.

I really enjoyed this – it’s very funny in places, the thriller bits are thrilling, Freya is a likeable character in difficult circumstances and the story had a nice pay-off as far as I was concerned. Some of the funniest parts relate to the horrors of interplanetary travel – basically not a lot of fun, takes ages, is expensive and passengers often don’t survive. The variety of robot entities, some more humanoid than others, really add to the offbeat alienness of a non-human society. And there are a number of really cool spaceships.

This is another read for the 42 Challenge, and the Sc-fi experience 2010.

So where to begin? Let’s start with what it says on the back of the book:

For more than half a century Miss Hyacinthe Phypps has been offering guidance on proper behaviour. It is the publishers’ fondest hope that this book will serve the current generation of young ladies as it served their mothers.

The subtitle for TRDG (as it has become known in this house) is “The Right Thing to Say on Every Dubious Occasion” And all of the occasions covered here are distinctly dubious.

So, you are a young woman stepping over the threshold into adult womanhood, and you need to find something appropriate to say after the event. Miss Phypps has some remarkable suggestions depending on the location of your own particular threshold-stepping moment, some of them rather peculiar but all of them very funny.

At least I thought they were – let’s just say my reaction to this book was to dip in, giggle/snort with laughter depending, and then to read bits out to the Book God.

Of course the main attraction for me was the fact that this was illustrated by Edward Gorey, and the book does reflect the humour of the mid-1960s (originally published in 1965 and has been out of print for a long time) with the male characters tending to be crooners, marimba players and Chinese detectives amongst others, but I was very amused by it and still dip in occasionally when I need to be cheered up.

If you like your humour quaint, tongue in cheek and a little surreal then this might be for you.

Unless you are of a delicate disposition, of course.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for the free book.

Not wanting to behave too much like a Twihard (it’s so undignified for a woman of my advancing years) but  Neil Gaiman is writing for Season Two of the Matt Smith Dr Who.

Two of my absolutest favourite things/people/stuff/whatever coming together in what will surely be a glorious televisual event.

Must be true – it’s on Mr G’s own blog plus at SFX

So Gary Gibson was my big find of last year (well, I didn’t exactly find him, I was pointed in his direction by the Book God) and Stealing Light one of my favourite reads. So anticipation was high for Nova War and it didn’t disappoint.

But it’s going to be difficult to review here because it is a straight sequel (part of the Shoal sequence, the third volume comes out later this year) and so any in-depth discussion would give away details of the outcome of the first book, and I wouldn’t want to do that because it was huge fun to read and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone likely to give it a go.

So what do you need to know? Well, it’s a space opera (hurrah! I’m a sucker for those) with a couple of strong central characters, a convincing range of truly alien alien races (the Emissaries being particular favourites for their sheer nastiness), fantastic spaceships, revelations, war, realpolitik and (yay!) exploding suns.

I absolutely loved it from the Lee Gibbons cover to the set-up for book three. I strongly identified with at least one of the main characters (is it too much to say that Dakota Merrick survives from book one ? Probably not given that she is the heroine after all), actually felt a tiny wee bit of sympathy for one of the villains (we find out what was done to him in the past to make him who he is now and it is truly terrible – sympathy doesn’t last that long, though) and just enjoyed the whole big-wide-world-of-spacefaring thing that was going on.

What can I say? I just can’t resist hard SF.

So, I’ve probably stated elsewhere that I’m not really very good with zombies, they totally creep me out and I’ve tended to avoid them for that reason.

However, I’ve recently begun to find the literary versions rather interesting, starting with Handling the Undead, and now in World War Z.

I think I picked this up on a trip to Forbidden Planet but I’m not entirely sure why; possibly the cover but more likely because I read about it on someone else’s blog and it just sounded like something I would want to read. And it certainly was, because I was totally drawn into the story and ended up cracking through the novel in almost a single sitting.

So this is looking on ten years of fighting a zombie plague (for want of a better description) which has swept across the planet from its beginnings in China, that led to a huge, almost catastrophic reduction in the population of earth, a massive war and a realignment of the planet’s political structures.

For me the huge success of this novel was the fact that it looked back and was structured as an oral history, the sort of thing you see on satellite TV channels every day; people from all walks of life and all affected nations telling their stories. It’s well-written and pacy and has enough gruesomness in it to satisfy the horror fan but without being overwhelming. And the people and stories are credible and not stereotypical, and advance the plot in a convincing way.

And the way the zombie menace spread, the inefficiency of a variety of governments in dealing with it and so on has parallels in today’s world. If you replace “zombie” with bird flu or Ebola and imagine what would happen if something like that got loose in the world, our reaction would probably be something like this – trying to confine it, failing to do so and then  panicking before taking quite radical and drastic action.

All without the need to kill the undead with baseball bats, of course.

Really very, very good.

So, despite Christmas and birthday gifts I still apparently felt that there wasn’t enough to read -n the house and got involved in a little retail therapy when things got a bit tense at work this week, coupled with a late birthday present and a freebie from a publisher.

Confession time:

  • Iris Murdoch: A Writer at War edited by Peter J Conradi – combining two of my favourite things, diaries/letters and digging into the background of favourite authors; didn’t even know this was coming out
  • Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe – sticking my nose into private matters once again, this includes amongst others the Bells, the Morrells and the Wells’s – almost rhymed too
  • Barking by Tom Holt – a present from Silvery Dude, not an author I’ve read before, this has a cast including (apparently) unicorns, vampires, werewolves and lawyers…..
  • The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker – a free book from the lovely people at Bloomsbury, religious sects and death in France

And with this on order, I couldn’t be happier!

So this is the book that reminds us what the 1970s were really like.

I have to declare an interest here; I was born in January 1962 (I know, I know, who would have thought it), which of course means that I was 8 when the 70s began, and 17 in 1979. My views of the decade are obviously coloured by my own personal experiences, and recently, when people have been a bit sniffy about the era, I’ve rushed to defend it as I remember as a kid having a lot of fun.

And falling in love with Donny Osmond, but let’s leave that for another day…

So I was really looking forward to this, both because of the subject matter (duh) but also because I really, really like Francis Wheen – don’t always agree with him, but he is thoughtful and measured and also incredibly funny. I pestered the Book God to get this for me and devoured it as soon as I could. And it did make me look at my childhood in a very different light.

His theory about the seventies is that it was a time of mass paranoia. The politics of the time were affected by it (thinking of the whole Nixon/Watergate thing as well as what was happening politically here in the UK); there was economic crisis all over the place – and I do remember having to do my homework by paraffin lamp and being in school only every second day for a while because of problems with heating (and actually I’m sure I remember often not being in our school building at all but in a local church hall because it didn’t have oil-fired heating.)

And then there’s what was happening in some African countries (Amin in Uganda in particular, the number of military coups across the continent).

And Wheen’s own bête noire, Uri Geller.

So it did make me revisit my childhood and teenage years, and realise how much effort my parents had put in to make sure my younger brothers and I weren’t affected by what was going on, though looking back from my current position I can see how worried they must have been.

But.

I still think that, for all that went on, the 1970s in western Europe was a pretty good place to grow up and I look back on the fashions with fondness (so much better than the 80s IMHO) and still listen to the music.

But this book sheds light on what was going on in the background, and for that alone can be recommended.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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My Dad passed away a week ago, on Friday 10 November. This is my favourite photo of him and my late Mum at a wedding in (I think) 1961. Will be heading back home to Paisley for the funeral next week.

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