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I absolutely love HP Lovecraft; I gave a bit of background to my adoration when I reviewed one of his short stories during an ill-fated challenge to read 100 short stories in a year, and that still stands. He got to me young and I haven’t even tried tear myself away from the eldritch world of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones.
At the Mountains of Madness is probably my favourite Lovecraft novella and I was excited when the Book God pointed out that a graphic novel of said tale had been published and of course I had to get it. Rather good it is too, capturing the horror of the ill-fated Miskatonic University expedition of 1930 without being too gruesome.
At the same time I came across a short e-book called Ice Cores, a set of essays on ATMOM which look at the influences on Lovecraft which may have had an impact on his writing of the novella , as well as the context in which he was writing, and a bit on the story’s publication history. The author links fascination with the polar regions right back to Frankenstein, some of Poe’s stories (Arthur Gordon Pym for one) and in turn some works that Lovecraft himself influenced. An interesting diversion, though much of what he covers is necessarily speculation. Gets you thinking though.
All of this makes up a tiny bit for my disappointment that, for the moment at least, it doesn’t seem the movie version of ATMOM planned by Guillermo del Toro and set to star Tom Cruise will be made. Let’s hope that changes soon; I would love to see what he might do with this atmospheric tale.
So today my little blog is six years old, and I am very pleased with what it’s managed to achieve under the benign neglect of its erstwhile parent (which is an indication that its probably a good thing that I don’t have children in real life). It started off as a bit of an experiment in a year that (looking back now) was difficult for me in some ways but was also a turning point, and I’m thrilled that, despite some genuine reading slumps, its still going from strength to strength.
2013 has started off strongly in terms of reading and I hope that continues. My main resolution is to respond better to comments and to comment more on other blogs and that’s going well so far too.
I will turn 51 in a couple of weeks time and I’m pretty pleased about that as well; I rather like being middle-aged and am continuing to become ever more disreputable.
So here’s to another year of good books and good conversation!
Oh, and the cake is from my 50th birthday party last January (just in case you’re interested – I always like to know about cake!)
Garment of Shadows is the twelfth (I think) and latest instalment in the chronicles of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, husband and wife sleuthing team. It follows on directly from the events of Pirate King which I talked about here.
The book opens with Russell waking up in a strange room in Morocco with amnesia from a head injury; snatches of memory come back to her in dribs and drabs and she is aware of a range of skills that are clearly second nature but she has no idea how she developed them. At the same time Holmes is hugely concerned that his wife has gone missing and sets off to search for her. All of this against the background of unrest and revolution in the country. Is it all connected?
Well, of course it’s all connected and we’d be disappointed if it wasn’t, especially as it turns out that the French governor is a distant cousin of Holmes. The book is full of intrigue and ambushes, captures and escapes, and figures from the past. The amnesia device could have been a cliché but is handled really well and the manner in which Russell regains her memories rings true. I’m also pleased to say ( and I don’t think this is a spoiler) that the separation from Holmes is not strung out for two long as (and I know I’ve said this before) I really believe that one of the strengths of this series is the relationship between the two and I love to see them working together.
As always the historical research is impeccable but it’s handled very lightly and I learned quite a few things I didn’t know before; the author’s note is very interesting in that respect.
A special treat was the novella included at the end of the book, previously only available electronically, which takes us back to events in the very first novel The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.
Another very enjoyable read.
I don’t always remember exactly when I bought most of the books in my collection but that’s not the case with When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones. The cover caught my eye as I ambled my way out of Waterstones in Piccadilly after an evening with Ben Aaronovitch when I got my copy of his book signed. Didn’t know anything about the novel but after reading the inner cover flap (is that what its called?) I was keen to read it. And it’s only taken some seven months to do so, which isn’t bad for me (I have unread books that are decades in the waiting – yes Stanley Weintraub’s Queen Victoria, I am looking at you).
So , this is the story of Grace Farringdon and her (not giving much away here) rather dysfunctional family and obsession with Antarctic exploration. Which would be interesting at any time but Grace is an Edwardian woman, so the idea of trotting off to the Antarctic (actually, the idea of doing anything other than getting married or, if that can’t be arranged, staying at home to look after her parents) is ludicrous to almost everyone. But with the help of a relative she manages to get off to college against her parents’ wishes where she meets Cicely Parr, Leonora Locke and Winifred Hooper, and all four of them form the Antarctic Exploration Society. Parr (they all address each other by their surnames) is already a reasonably experienced mountaineer and that’s the interest they all take up, eventually climbing without a guide in the Alps. This is where the tragedy that defines them all, but Grace in particular, takes place.
This is all told in the first person many years later (on the cusp of WWII), so of course the tale unwinds slowly as Grace, now a recluse after being hounded by the press, unpicks her memories and tries to tell her story. And of course there is a final revelation which doesn’t really come across as much of a surprise if you have been paying attention.
I don’t mind first person narration as long as I don’t think about it too much (and its interesting that as I was reading this Jenny posted on similar issues); and I enjoyed this novel very much, although the ending would have made more sense in a more traditional narrative I think. I also think it’s a shame that the blurb and cover quotes give the impression that this is a thriller with “unexplained menace”. Instead, I thought this was a psychological study of a woman who had been thwarted in life, surrounded by tragedy and trying to explain herself, though clearly her view of events us unreliable at best. I thought in many respects that it was all rather sad, in a slightly Gothic way.
Sufficiently compelling that I sat up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. Well worth a look.
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is the second of the murder mysteries featuring the precocious eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, set in 1950’s England. I read the first one a couple of years ago during the 24 hour readathon (my thoughts are here) and enjoyed it sufficiently to start collecting the sequels (I already have the third and hoping to get the fourth as a present for my birthday at the end of this month).
Flavia’s circumstances haven’t changed much from the previous story; she is still being treated badly by her horrid older sisters, her father is still distracted by financial worries and she is still sticking her nose into adult affairs which she doesn’t entirely understand of course given her tender years.
On this occasion a travelling puppet show finds itself stranded in Bishops Lacey and Flavia gets involved (along with the local vicar) in persuading them to put on a show for the villagers and as is inevitable tensions burst out into murder.
The underlying story is rather dark and very sad but there is a lot of fun in Flavia’s attempts to get to the bottom of what’s going on. She is a really interesting character; sometimes she seems to be older than she is meant to be (but not often enough to cause problems with consistency) but it is clear that some of the motivations of the adults are beyond her though her instincts and fascination with chemistry lead her to the correct explanation for many of the events (she memorably twigs that one of the female characters is pregnant) and she has the grudging respect from the investigating detectives.
This was the perfect read for me at the time, given that I was suffering from Norovirus and needed something worth reading but not too challenging intellectually, and this was exactly that; I read it in a day.
Looking forward to reading the next one!
So, I asked and was pleased to receive Jack Glass as a Christmas present and it was always going to be my first proper read for 2013. I will admit that there were two big attractions for me: (1) the astonishingly lovely cover which you can see alongside and really caught my eye and (2) and the subtitle “the story of a murderer” which is intriguing for a sic-fi novel. It was also the first time I had read anything by Adam Roberts and it’s no spoiler to say that I’m going to be looking for more of his stuff.
The novel starts with a bit of scene setting by someone who is identifying themselves as a Doctor Watson figure and tells us what we need to know about what we are going to read, which includes the following:
A quantity of blood is spilled in this story, I’m sorry to say; and a good many people die; and there is some politics too. There is danger and fear. Accordingly I have told his tale in the form of a murder mystery; or to be more precise (and at all costs we must be precise) three, connected murder mysteries.
And so we are presented with a prison story, a regular murder whodunit and a classic locked-room mystery. In a properly sci-fi setting with lots of technical stuff which I always love. So this looked like it was going to be a real treat and I am very pleased to say that I wasn’t at all disappointed and read it in two sittings. All of the stories are equally fascinating but its worth noting that the first one, set on a prison asteroid where seven men have been sentenced for eleven years to mine the thing so that it can be turned into a luxury dwelling of the mini-planet style at the end of that period, so they have to cooperate to survive, is fairly brutal and grim and quite astonishing in its ending and the effects ripple into the rest of the book. That’s not to say that the other two stories are not as good, as they most certainly are, but they are more traditional and less gorily violent (well I thought so at least).
As always I don’t want to say too much about the plot because the fun is in discovering whats seems to be going on as things unfold, but Jack is a compelling character, much more complex than the set up might lead you to believe. And I developed a bit of a girly crush on Diana, one of the other key characters who is a rather privileged fifteen-about-to-turn-sixteen year old faced with some significant events. The world-building is also excellent but never force-fed so you begin to understand the political and other structures as the story unfolds rather than huge chunks of exposition.
Couple of small things:
- the opening section identifies the murderer(s) but I totally forgot by the time I got to the last story particularly, so it was a bit of a revelation and I felt like a total idiot when I realised I should have known;
- the author’s drive for writing this was to bring together some of the conventions of Golden Age sci-fi and detective fiction (which I think he has achieved admirably); and
- a Champagne Supernova is a real thing that astrophysicists are pondering, named after the Oasis song (which is a favourite) and made me giggle
So my first new read of 2013 is actually a hangover from last year, but that’s not something I worry about too much as long as I am enjoying the story. And I really did enjoy this, even if it turned out to be something quite different from what I had expected, especially having read the synopsis on the back cover. Bit of an aside here, but I’m beginning to think I should stop reading the stuff publishers put on the back covers of books as they either tell you absolutely nothing (just quotes from others who have enjoyed the book), give away (almost) the entire plot or are pretty misleading (which in my view is the case here).
The Keep starts off with Danny who, in his desire to get away from trouble in New York, takes up an offer from his cousin Howard to work for him in setting up a hotel in an old castle somewhere in eastern Europe. There is history between the two cousins; when they were younger Danny and others left Howard underground in a cave which led to him having significant problems as an adult (as you would expect) but he is now a very successful millionaire planning this vanity project.
But there is another story also being told, that of a prisoner, Ray, in the States taking part in a writing class. How do the two intersect, if at all? What’s real and what’s imagined? Why is Ray in prison?
This is a clever book, and I mean that as a compliment. I enjoyed reading it and trying to work out what was going on. The gothic elements in Danny’s part of the novel are well done and his building paranoia deftly handled, and the prison story is also well told. How these two come together is nicely satisfying, but brings us to a point picked up by a number of other reviewers of this book.
The novel is split into parts, the first two divided by a particular event. There is a case to be made that if the novel had finished at the end of the second section that it would have been more effective. But the author has written a third section which picks up the story from the point of view of a third character, Holly, who taught the prison writing class. I can see both sides of the argument, but must admit that I rather liked Holly so felt that the last part didn’t really detract from the main story, but YMMV.
If you have read this I would love to know what your view is.
This is the third Jennifer Egan novel I have read, and I was introduced to her by Silvery Dude who was positively evangelical about A Visit from the Goon Squad. I have already posted my thoughts on that and on Look At Me on the blog, if you are interested. I will definitely be seeking out more of her work.
The English Monster was brought to my attention via Silvery Dude, who had gone on a little book-buying spree and had been told by one of the nice people at Waterstones Piccadilly that given what he had already picked up he should read this, and he passed the info onto me and I bought it immediately on reading the plot synopsis. Silvery Dude and I had planned a bit of a readalongathon but that turned out to be impractical as (1) SD has been incredibly busy workwise and (2) I just couldn’t put the darned thing down.
It’s a nicely constructed novel which tells two stories in alternating chapters. The first is the tale of the Ratcliffe Highway murders in the Regency London and the nascent police force investigating the killings. The second is the tale of William Abless as he begins his career under the Tudor sailor John Hawkyns in developing the English slave trade. The two stories are clearly going to cross at some point and the fun of reading the novel is in seeing exactly how that happens and why.
I thought this was fabulous, and I say that as someone who normally avoids stories involving pirates like the plague. The Big Thing that happens is handled very cleverly and I had to read it through again just to make sure that what had happened was actually what had happened. The murder mystery sections are fascinating and truly horrible and paint a picture of Regency justice which shows how much the city needed a proper police force when it finally came along. I found the ending really satisfying and am glad that this is the first of a series.
I always enjoy reading the author’s note but this is a particularly fascinating in giving us the lowdown on what’s real and what’s invented but especially in the discussion about Britain’s involvement in setting up the slave trade and all the attendant awfulness, something which has been overshadowed by the focus on abolition. It made me dig out Harry Kelsey’s biography of John Hawkyns from my 16th Century history pile to read more about him.
So, a hidden gem for my last proper read of 2012.