10 November 2013

Storm Front

Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files, book 1
Year published: 2000
Pages: 336
Time It Took To Read: A day
I bloody love supernatural horror. Not the ghosty-bump-in-the-night type, because that's freaky. But wizards, vampires, demons. The Southern Vampire Mysteries (True Blood) are my favourites, but as that's now finished, I needed a new series to get into. BEHOLD, this came up on a trip to Forbidden Planet and is amazing. So much so that I've got hold of the WHOLE series already. 
Harry Dresden is a real wizard, who earns a meagre living by consulting for the police and offering a private eye service to the public. He is the only wizard in the phone book. When a horrible double murder occurs, the police (who are largely sceptical about his powers) call him in to have a look. This leads to an unfortunate series of events, in which Dresden's life is threatened repeatedly, by demons and wizards and storms. 
It's a bloody good read. Kinda trashy, but with good characters and just the sort of fantastical horror I love. Escapism at its finest.
And there we go. FIFTY new books read this year, with about 7 weeks to go.  I will continue blogging reviews of all the new books I read. I think my favourite was Wolf Hall.

The Bat

Author: Jo Nesbo
Translator: Don Bartlett
Series:Harry Hole book 1
Year published: 1997 in Polish, 2012 in English
Pages: 432
Time It Took To Read: A day

Ah, Nordic Noir. This book is, unusually for its genre, based in Australia. Harry Hole (pronounced Hoh-leh), a Norwegian policeman, goes to Australia to investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman. This leads him into a circle of drugs, prostitution, addiction of many types, and tempts him with alcohol. He also meets a beautiful woman. Of course, being this style of book, there's no happy ending. I was thoroughly depressed when I finished it. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy it or it wasn't good - quite the opposite, I was tremendously invested in the characters and hoped Harry would sort it all out by the end. I have got hold of the rest of them, and can't wait to get into them. Slowly. One by one. Not too much at a time, lest I get too depressed by them.

Book count: 49/50

She Wolves

Author: Helen Castor
Year published: 2012
Pages: 496
Time It Took To Read: Four days

I love Helen Castor. Unlike her nearest rival for female TV historian Lucy Worsley, she doesn't act like sex is a great, taboo delight, and she credits her sources properly. The role of women in history fascinates me from a personal and feminist perspectives. Much of the oppression women are still faced with dates from the Victorian era, but some of it dates back centuries, if not millennia.
The first truly independant queen of England was Mary I, but there were queens before her, who held power. Her own mother, Katherine of Aragon acted as regent when Henry VIII was fighting in France. This was carrying on a long held tradition, where queens could rule in their husbands stead, as power was considered to rub off on them.
This book looks at Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitane, Isabella (known as the She Wolf of France) Margaret of Anjou and the circumstances that led to the quick succession of queens beginning with Jane Grey and ending with Elizabeth I.It explains how they took power, often through treasonous intrigue, and how they were considered by their peers and subjects. It is fascinating, and if you're interested in history, a very good read.

Book count: 48/50

1 November 2013

Walk The Lines, Kathryn Swynford, The Fire Engine That Disappeared

It turns out that doing two uni modules at the same time is quite time consuming. Even when I'm not actually working on it, my mind is forever asking me DIFFICULT questions about golgi apparatus and the finer details of Galenic theory. However, in the last week, I've been rather unwell and spent a lot of it reading. So, a triple bill of reviews.

Author: Mark Mason
Year published:2011
Pages: 368
Time It Took To Read: About a week
First up, Walk The Lines. A man decides to walk all the main London lines (not the DLR or overground), to get a better sense of London. I read this after visiting my dearest friend Katie, who lives in Hammersmith, as I am perpetually confused when leaving the tube station there trying to find her house. She lives NEXT TO THE THAMES, yet I can never bloody find it. I, like many other fen-dwelling country folk, have no idea how London actually fits together on the surface. It took me several years before I realised that Leicester Square and Covent Garden are next to each other. Such is the curious geography of the tube, which makes everywhere seem oddly divorced from its neighbours.
Mark Mason has lived in London most of his life, but now lives in Suffolk where life is cheaper, and a one bedroom flat rent in London can get you a small mansion. It turns out that walking the lines equates to about 400 miles. He does it by line, rather than simply wandering from station to station, meaning he visits a lot of stations twice. 
I enjoyed the book, from a nerdy point of view, but I felt it could have included more trivia. It feels like the extended, occasionally drunk, grumble of a man who's doing a lot of walking. If Tim Moore had done the same thing, it would have been wondrous. It's still a good read though, especially if you enjoy the Tube network.
Author: Alison Weir
Year published:2007
Pages: 278
Time It Took To Read: Two days
I've reviewed Alison Weir's historical fiction before, but this is the first time in a long time I've read one of her histories. The last one I read was Mary, Queen of Scots, which was bloody ponderous. However, this was a pleasant surprise.
As you might expect, a 14th century woman who was very much on the fringe of importance until the latter years of her life does not leave the biggest archive of material to base a biography on. Kathryn Swynford was the notorious mistress, and later wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Leicester, one of the primary nobles of the 14th century. His brother, Edward III, was one of the finest rulers England ever had, and John of Gaunt's son by his first wife became Henry IV. Kathryn Swynford bore him four bastard children, who were later legitimised by papal decree (and then illegitimised by Richard III, trying to protect the throne from Henry Tudor, ignoring his own descendancy from them), and her descendants include all monarchs since the 15th century, and many other important figures. Alison Weir weaves a story around her, based mainly on property deeds and the records of John of Gaunt, and most of her source material is educated guesswork based on the much more complete records of his doings. I found it particularly interesting because, like so much of the royal court at that time, the places she lived are not far from me. Peterborough, Stamford, King's Lynn, Grantham, Lincoln and Boston were all Lancastrian lands back then, and regularly referenced.
This is the first time I've read much biography about the Plantagenet family, and I really enjoyed it. Kathryn Swynford is an excellent example of a woman either ignoring or largely escaping the misogynist taint of adultery in those days, owning property in her own right and raising illegitimate children without much apparent backlash. It helped that she was within John of Gaunt's household for the majority of those years, but she's still a rarity. It's a well written, well sourced book, and worth a read if you're interested in that era.

Author: Maj Sjöwall and PerWahlöö
Translator: Joan Tate
Series: Martin Beck, book 5
Year published: 1969 in Swedish, 2011 in English
Pages: 288
Time It Took To Read: A day
Do you know what I like? Hotel rooms that give you books to read!  I went away last weekend, and in my hotel room was this (and some godawful chicklit), so I devoured it promptly. Martin Beck is the original grumpy Swedish detective, and there are a total of ten books about him, written by a married couple.
In this story, a house blows up in the middle of the night, and when it's discovered to be arson, the hunt is on for the killer and the motive. This is a realistic police procedural book, that doesn't mess around with endless heartfelt plot. The characters are realistic: they go home, they have wives, they drink, they screw, they sleep. Martin Beck is the head of the homicide department, with a crap homelife, but unlike similar British detectives *cough,Frost,cough*, he doesn't sleep in his office or apparently shout at his wife. He just gets on with it, drily. 
I loved this. It wasn't painful to read like the Millennium Trilogy (excellent, but god you need therapy afterwards), or gorily foul like Wallander can be, but it was incisive, with true characterisation and I really cared about the resolution. And unlike many other books, where the perpetrator is immediately obvious after the prologue, I really didn't know whodunnit til the very end. 
I've got the Harry Hole series lined up next...
Book count: 47/50