Tag Archives: georgette heyer

Books in February ’13

The end of the month snuck up on me! I thought it was Friday and not Thursday! Oh well…

February turned out to be a very bad slump month. I started a couple of books but ended up abandoning them, lazed around online, and wrote stuff for school. I took a course on Medieval and Early Modern Ireland, a fun class but a lot of reading included, which also ate at my pleasure reading. I doubt I’ll do any better during March and April, but by the summer I intend to pick up some speed!

Georgette Heyer: Pistols for Two

Affairs of honour, affairs of the heart, and all the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has made her own are exquisitely revived in these eleven short stories of the Regency.

(Goodreads)

This one is a collection of Heyer’s short stories, all of them Regency – and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed every single one! They are written in the typical Heyer style, but I found them even better executed than her novels: there is a twist in each story, and I kept guessing what it was only a couple of lines before it was revealed. Very thrilling, I tell you, to feel like you are a step ahead of the story! Mind you, if you are not into romance you might not enjoy them to the same extent I did, but they’re worth it for the technical skill and beautiful prose.

Published: 1960

Pages: 205 (Arrow Books edition; 13 short stories)

Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

(Goodreads)

I was positively surprised. I knew absolutely nothing about this book, and actually picked it up solely because I have a mini series adaptation of it starring Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, and Rupert Graves. But turns out I really enjoyed the book. I was a little surprised that it begins with a male perspective, as it’s not something you would expect from a Brontë (I may sound like I know what I’m talking about, but actually Jane Eyre is the only Brontë sister novel I’ve read before this, so don’t be fooled), but the female voice comes to play before halfway. Some of the diction shocked my 19th century sensibilities, which was actually rather refreshing, although I’m not completely convinced I liked it. Not the author’s fault, obviously.

It could happen I’ll return to this book sometime in the future. It’s the kind of story that I think will change when you grow older.

Published: 1848

Pages: 378 (Penguin Popular Classics 1994 edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

Yup, I reread this again! And guess what! This time I finally pieced together the back story and people’s motivations! And it feels fantastic!

You can read more about Sharp Teeth in its favourites post!

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen?

Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen’s brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.

In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen’s characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and daring as a novelist. It uses telling passages from Austen’s letters and details from her own life to explain episodes in her novels: readers will find out, for example, what novels she read, how much money she had to live on, and what she saw at the theater.
Written with flair and based on a lifetime’s study, What Matters in Jane Austen? will allow readers to appreciate Jane Austen’s work in greater depth than ever before.

(Goodreads)

Mullan’s book caught my eye at the bookstore. As an Austen-fan, I’m always ready to learn more about her books, and boy, does Mullan bring out things one rarely thinks of while reading! The subtitle of the book, Twenty critical puzzles solved, tells you a lot: there are twenty topics discussed, among them the right way of proposing, money, and, perhaps my favourite, the importance of weather.

If you’re not a fan of Austen or unfamiliar with her works, I wouldn’t recommend this. Mullan goes to deep detail and doesn’t bother to explain the plots – which as it should be, since it frankly baffles me why anyone who hasn’t read Austen would even want to read this book. The chapters are short, 15–20 pages, so it makes wonderful regular night reading! I’m now eager again to read Austen’s novels again, just to see how much I have taken away from Mullan’s work: the details of people blushing, frequency of exclamation marks in the free indirect bits, and so on!

Published: 2012

Pages: 320 (Bloomsbury 2013 edition)

Books bought:

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen? (no picture this month since it’s just one book)

Currently reading:

David Mitchell: Back Story (not that David Mitchell, I’m talking about the comedic actor!)

I’m off to Amsterdam on Saturday, as the reading week has begun, and I will report about it when I get back! So meanwhile, keep reading!

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Books in November ’12

Hello hello hello hello hello, and welcome, to the – ! Okay too much QI. I apologise.

This has been a measly month when it comes to books. School has been really busy, and I’ve been so lazy to read anything after the Victorian pile we did. Hopefully Christmas holidays will allow me more time to read – I plan to have a whole ten days off school stuff between a Television Studies essay and writing the first draft of my thesis. I have some books I plan to read, but we’ll be seeing about those later.

Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift

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Man or monster?

Anne Rice reinvented the vampire legend. Discover what she’s done with the werewolf myth.

After a brutal attack, Reuben finds himself changing. His hair is longer, his skin is more sensitive and he can hear things he never could before.

Now he must confront the beast within him – or lose himself completely.

(Back cover of Arrow Books edition)

I started reading Anne Rice in the first year of high school, and stopped sometime during the third year. So in a way, starting The Wolf Gift felt a little like coming home. I actually tried to start quite another book, but it didn’t draw me in immediately. Wolf Gift did. And it was such an engaging book I had a hard time putting it down from time to time to attend to school stuff.

Rice doesn’t do to werewolves what she did to vampires, though she brings up a new twist to werewolf lore. But that is something you will have to find out on your own. What you might want to know is that Wolf Gift is not just horror – it’s also a thriller, a philosophical work, and just beautiful prose. It’s not heavy, despite the frequent descriptive bits, and it’s a good one to have with you if you commute. You get easily sucked into the story, and the characters are very likable, although I felt some of them remained somewhat flat. On the other hand, this leaves open the possibility of other books dealing with werewolves. And I would like that very much.

Published: 2012

Pages: 580 (Arrow Books paperback edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

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Reread for the fave post, so you can just click here and read why I love this book to tiny little bits.

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

Jules Verne: The Castle of the Carpathians https://i0.wp.com/i43.tower.com/images/mm100788706/castle-carpathians-jules-verne-paperback-cover-art.jpg

The descriptions of the quaint villagers of Werst, their costumes, manner of living, and belief in the supernatural world would in themselves prove an interesting narrative, but when coupled with the exciting adventures of Nic Deck, the two Counts, the cowardly Doctor, and the beautiful La Stilla, the story is undoubtedly one of the most enchanting ever offered.

This mysterious tale takes place in the area which in just a few years would become known as Dracula’s homeland. Jules Verne has the knack of it. He knows how to make the scientifically romantic story. You might not know what a “nyctalop” was, but if you saw one flapping his wings around the dark fortress in the Carpathians, you would run for it, as did Nic Deck.. Orfanik is head conjurer, and in his trial he explains how he brought into play for a wicked purpose a variety of ingenious inventions.

(Goodreads)

Second book for the fantasy course in Comparative Literature. I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. It starts slowly, switches characters around before we actually meet the main character, and unfortunately the end is rather predictable if you know anything at all about Verne. It wasn’t particularly scary, or even very exciting. The main character’s history was, I grant, interesting, but it is not enough to make me like the book. Translation, of course, can be a part of my disinterest, as the Finnish used was adequate but not exactly compelling.

First published: 1892

Translation: Pentti Kähkönen 1978

Pages: 211 (WSOY 1978 edition)

Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

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Meek little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. In the almost one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures-in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood-continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie. This Penguin Classics edition features an appendix of the letters in which Grahame first related the exploits of Toad.

(Goodreads)

I didn’t like this one too much. Of course, it is a classic children’s story – and I hear I liked it a lot when I was a kid – but right now it felt very slow-paced, and some of the chapters felt unnecessary. That is, of course, partly a rather charming detail that tells a lot about the time the book was published: “The Wayfarer” is about as important to The Wind in the Willows and the Tom Bombadil interlude is to The Lord of the Rings, and neither section would be printed today. It seems that in the first half of the 20th century relevance and progressing plot weren’t quite as important, at least not in Britain – could this have something to do with the tradition of serially published novels? I don’t know, but I’m inclined to think so, as also the Victorian novels seem to have these unnecessary bits that make me want to bang my head against the table. Well, not when I’m reading for enjoyment, but when I’m in a hurry and not particularly fond of the book it’s among the most annoying things.

The Wind in the Willows is very English in style, and the style is very similar to The Hobbit, or rather the other way around. The class distinctions and propaganda are clearly there, with the “good” animals representing the middle and upper classes, and the weasels and stoats standing in for the working class. My favourite character might be Mr Mole – he undergoes some delightful character development, unlike the other characters. He reminds me a little of Neville Longbottom.

First published: 1908

Pages: 207 (Oxford Children’s Classics 2008 edition)

Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army

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In 1815, beneath the aegis of the Army of Occupation, Brussels is the gayest town in Europe. And the widow Lady Barbara Childe, renowned for being as outrageous as she is beautiful, is at the centre of all that is fashionable and light-hearted. When she meets Charles Audley, the elegant and handsome aide-de-camp to the great Duke of Wellington himself, her joie de vivre knows no bounds – until the eve of the fateful Battle of Waterloo…

(Back cover of Arrow Books edition)

As my initial plan was to write my thesis about things happening around the Battle of Waterloo, it was very natural to pick up this book of Heyer’s. I’d read The Spanish Bride before and was ready for the war descriptions, although in this book they definitely contain many more names and detailed information about the position of troops et cetera. If you’re completely unfamiliar with what went on during the battle, I advise you to do some light reading on it before starting, if just to acquaint yourself with the main personage and the leaders. This book is absolutely riddled with people who really existed, and I was at times bummed because I wasn’t sure if someone was real or fictional.

There are also characters from Heyer’s earlier books, including my favourites from The Devil’s Cub! I may have squealed in delight when I realised they were present.

Even more than with The Spanish Bride, this book contain two main storylines: the first one is the courtship of Barbara and Charles, and the other one, naturally, the war. They fit together admirably, although are still very clearly distinguishable from each other.

The prose is usual Heyer: Austen-esque, witty, and very flowing. As always, be prepared for long sentences. When you get used to it you don’t have to think after every comma, What does this refer to again? Trust me, it’s worth it.

First published: 1937

Pages:  427 (Arrow Books 2004 edition)

A. A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh

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To my surprise I really enjoyed Winnie the Pooh. It’s a pleasant read, easy to get through, and at times so accurate in its way of describing things I’m starting to feel disappointed I wasn’t introduced to it earlier in life. I’m even planning on getting my own copy, as particularly some of Eeyore’s scenes really made an impact on me. This, I think, is a very good children’s book. Easy, fun, and yet meaningful. Well done, Mr Milne – well done!

First published: 1926

Pages: 161 (E. P. Dutton 1998)

So that’s it.

Books bought:

I’ve bought a few books, but they haven’t arrived yet except for one: Wellington – Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford. I’ll take a picture of the books for next month!

Currently reading:

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One (Loving it so much)

I wish you all strength for the rest of the year – I know I’m stressed and can’t wait for the holidays!

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Books in July ’12

Well, there goes the idea of separating romance from other books. It’ll be back, don’t worry, but this month’s post is embarrassingly short as it is and doesn’t need to be chopped up. And when I say embarrassing… In a way that’s not true, but you’ll see why. On with the show!

Brent Weeks: The Way of Shadows

I’ve been giving Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy for years, and finally made the decision to tackle it. And I liked the first book. It was good.

However, it didn’t blow my mind. The beginning was my favourite part: we witness Azoth’s first meeting with the “wetboy” (an assassin but better, and with Talent) Durzo Blint, just before we’re familiarized with Azoth’s life as a street rat in the bad side of town. And it’s very enjoyable. We then follow along as Azoth grows up, and the main plot point reveals itself as we go on. The prose is easy to read and the chapters are short, so this is not a long read despite the amount of pages. The characters are interesting, although I had a hard time trying to remember who is who and why exactly are they important, which means I didn’t get as invested in the story as I would have liked to. Another turn-off would be the classic Chosen One business, which has never sat well with me.

I’m afraid this series will suffer the same fate as Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy did with me: I’ve read the first one and kind of liked it, but haven’t gotten around to continuing the series. It’s a pity, but not everything can please. Give it a shot! I’m pretty sure a year ago I would have loved this, and maybe I will continue next year and wonder why I didn’t get the brilliance at once. Timing is all.

Published: 2008 Orbit

Pages: 645

Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch

Now this is a prime example of a book where absolutely nothing happens but it still keeps you reading. Brilliant. I’ve probably said it before, but let me say it again – Heyer is as close to Austen as you can get without actually reading Austen. In this book, it took some time and effort to tell apart the characters – there’s a myriad of them, and then you have to remember first names and surnames and titles – and the ending came so suddenly I was a little baffled, but other than that, a very enjoyable read. The language is just wonderful, and there were a lot of Regency insults! (My particular favourite is ‘vulgar mushroom’.)

First published: 1962 Heinemann

Pages: 297 (Arrow Books 200 edition)

Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace

You won’t believe how I proud I am of myself for having read this. Seriously. War and Peace is one of those books I’ve always thought I’ll read when I’m old and smart – and I promise you, I consider myself neither.

The most interesting thing about this book is the fact that it’s not hard. Not even remotely. It’s just long, and among the interesting stuff there are boring bits, no matter what kind of stuff you like. I was interested in the main characters and what happens in their lives, and so I found all the philosophy of history and war tedious, but you might find it the other way around. Anyway, if you want to get a nice picture of what went on in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, this is a good book to read. Tolstoy kept repeating names of people and places, so you’ll remember people like Kutuzov, Caulaincourt and Barclay de Tolly, and places like Borodino and Bagration. There are dates and very detailed descriptions of what went on, and a whole lot of Napoleon!

As I think most of my readers are fantasy oriented, there’s something I really want to raise up about this book. It’s a lot like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Seriously. Short chapters, usually following a character. Cliffhangers. You can’ be sure who dies, so beware of becoming attached. Much less scheming and virtually no incest, though, unless you count cousin/cousin. The characters are very well rounded, so you’ll end up hating the ones you initially liked and vice versa. A couple of characters mysteriously disappeared, not to be heard of again.

On Goodreads, I gave this book three stars. It’s a very nice book, and I recommend it. Not the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever read, but decent. (And the translation I read was excellent.) The edition I had was very approachable, too – four 400-500-page volumes in total.

If you’re for some reason interested in what went on in my head during this monster of a read, you can take a look at my reading diary.

First published: 1869 (original title Война и миръ – Voyna i mir)

Translator: Esa Adrian 1975

Pages: 432+495+492+446=1865

So that’s all I managed this month. In a way it seems pathetic, since it’s only three books (actually four, but as the fourth is part of an omnibus I’m not counting it here), but on the other hand, one of them was almost 2000 pages long. I think that evens things out nicely.

Bought this month:

I may have gone a little crazy. Most of these books were really cheap, though. The Lives of English Rakes was so so so cheap I just had to get it! The one to the right of it is Master and Margarita, by the way – I’m not sure I like the translation, because it’s not the same one my brother has, but we’ll see when I get to it… sometime next year maybe. Redshirts I actually bought in June, but it didn’t arrive until July.

Currently (re)reading:

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (<3)

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Books in April

I never expected April to be such a good reading month. Easter holidays of course helped, along the fact that I spent those in the country without internet access or indeed a computer. And since it snowed on the night we arrived, there was no work to be done outside, either, so my time was spent “studying” and reading. (The former included half-heartedly going through grammar exercises and reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Swedish.)

So be warned – this is a list of nine books.

Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage

Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, has just acquired unwilling guardianship of Stephen Huxtable, the new young Earl of Merton. If he were to marry Stephen’s eldest sister, he would have the eligible wife he needs and she would be able to look after launching her younger sisters into society. It would be a comfortable arrangement all around. However, Vanessa, the middle sister, thinks otherwise. Margaret loves another man and has a secret agreement with him. And so Vanessa steps up as the sacrificial offering.

(back cover of Dell 2009 edition)

Let me start by saying that I like this book and am completely prepared to like other books by Balogh as well. The style is not too heavy and not too light but very amusing and readable. The period is set with casual mentions of all sorts of details in food, architecture, dress, and social customs. Marriage of convenience is a much-used plot point, and Balogh brings very little into it that I with my limited experience haven’t seen, but it is nevertheless very enjoyable. The characters are believable, and Vanessa’s feelings towards her deceased first husband are, I’m sure, familiar to many. The plot is perhaps a little slow – although that did not slow my reading even a little – and the scapegoat was not used to full capacity. The latter fault, I understand, has to do with the subsequent parts of the series. The hero is likable and the heroine a woman of sense, something that always finds favour with me. There is, once again, sex, but it is not disturbing. I believe I said previous month that the sex in Stephanie Laurens’s books did not bother me – well, compared to Balogh, it is positively offensive. (As, indeed, is Balogh’s compared to the subtlety of Georgette Heyer.)

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 388

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Seeing as I have discussed this book at some length in this blog just recently, I suggest you refer to the Favourites post. If you have read the book, feel free to see also the Read-Along posts – beware of spoilers.

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 537

Mary Balogh: Then Comes Seduction

In a night of drunken revelry, Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, gambles his reputation as London’s most notorious lover on one woman. His challenge? To seduce the exquisite, virtuous Katherine Huxtable within a fortnight. But when his best-laid plans go awry, Jasper devises a wager of his own. For Katherine, already wildly attracted to him, Jasper’s offer is irresistible: to make London’s most dangerous rake fall in love with her. Then Jasper suddenly ups the ante. Katherine knows she should refuse. But with scandal brewing and her reputation in jeopardy, she reluctantly agrees to become his wife. Now, as passion ignites, the seduction really begins. And this time the prize is nothing less than both their hearts.…

(Goodreads)

I find this second instalment in the Huxtable Quintet very, very similar to the first one, discussed above. The meeting of the hero and heroine is where these two books differ the most: while Vanessa and Elliott meet under very proper circumstances, Katherine and Jasper’s first actual meeting is far cry from proper. After the three-year gap the story really kicks off. There are horrible rumours, disgusting relatives, a question of guardianship and, after a fashion, a duel over the lady’s honour. It is all very sweet, and the book is most definitely entertaining (I spent a four-hour drive reading it and a couple of hours afterwards reading it), but it is not as good as First Comes Marriage. I don’t quite buy the breaking of the barrier between the lovers, and Jasper’s logic is not very clear, but the end is lovely in any case. I would have liked to have more repercussion of the rumours, as I don’t believe the solution the main characters come to will quell all the wacking tongues.

So a marriage of convenience and the finding of love. Very basic, but clichés become clichés because they work, and even if it doesn’t really work in two books in a row. It does not make me think ill of Balogh.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 419

Jane Aiken Hodge: The Private World of Georgette Heyer

Lavishly illustrated, and with extracts from her correspondence and references to her work, ‘The Private World of Georgette Heyer’ reveals a formidable and energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and above all, a love for all things Regency.

(Goodreads)

To write the biography of a person as quiet about her personal life as Georgette Heyer is a difficult task. This also explains the superficial quality of Aiken Hodge’s book: there is very little said about Georgette Heyer as a person, but much more about her as a writer. If you have read Heyer’s books, you know she was a subtle writer and a meticulous researcher. Of that, there is a whole lot in this biography. The only more personal titbits are the quotes from her letters, which I found hilarious. Despite the lack of actual information the book creates an idea of what kind of woman she was – shy but professional, only really comfortable in her small circle of friends.

This is a biography that can be read for the entertainment value. It is a typical biography in that it probably makes the subject look better than it in reality was, but this time I did not mind it. Because my admiration towards Heyer comes not from her persona but from her style and dedication to detail, it was a pleasure to get a peek to her writing process and the pictures taken from her research notebooks.

Published: Bodley Head 1984

Pages: 208 (Bodley Head 1984 hardcover edition)

Agatha Christie: Murder On the Orient Express

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer. Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.

(Goodreads)

This is the first Christie book I have ever read. Shocking, I know. I would not have read one now had I not been at the country and out of books. Well, not exactly out of books, but out of books I had meant to read. I wanted a short read for the car ride, and ended up picking this one from the shelf.

The experience was a little disturbed by the fact that I love watching Christie adaptations on TV, and had seen this one as recently as last year. Even though I usually forget who the murderer is and can re-watch detective stories with ease, this one is too memorable for that. What I did not remember was the details, which made the book after all enjoyable. But it is the ending that makes it worthwhile in my books – and if you tend to read detective stories and for some reason have not picked this one up yet, I recommend you do so. It is a great puzzle!

Published: Collins Crime Club 1934 (copyrighted to Agatha Christie 1933)

Pages: 191 (Fontana 1974 edition)

Mary Balogh: At Last Comes Love

Only desperation could bring Duncan Pennethorne, the infamous Earl of Sheringford, back home after the spectacular scandal that had shocked even the jaded ton. Forced to wed in fifteen days or be cut off without a penny, Duncan chooses the one woman in London in frantic need of a husband. A lie to an old flame forces Margaret Huxtable to accept the irresistible stranger’s offer. But once she discovers who he really is, it’s too late—she’s already betrothed to the wickedly sensual rakehell. Quickly she issues an ultimatum: If Duncan wants her, he must woo her. And as passion slowly ignites, two people marrying for all the wrong reasons are discovering the joys of seduction—and awaiting the exquisite pleasure of what comes after….

(Goodreads)

There is little I can say about this book after having discussed the two previous parts in the series. This one involves the eldest Miss Huxtable, Margaret, and her marriage of convenience. I did like this one better than the Then Comes Seduction and, it might be, First Comes Marriage. This one has a through-and-through sensible main character, an illegitimate child, and a lately widowed first love. Mostly, though, it is similar to the previous parts in the series and thus very pleasant and fun read but nothing exactly special. Still more historically accurate than many other Regency Romances.

I’m not sure “Duncan” is a very Regency name, but I haven’t checked so can’t be sure. It didn’t sound right in any case.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 386

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

As I read this book in order to refresh my memory for the Favourites post this month, you can read what I have to say about it here.

Published: Gollancz 1990

Pages: 383 (Corgi 1991 paperback edition)

Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork – not the old-fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.

The prospect of the Big Match draws a likely lad with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dm but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt. (No one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too.)

As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever. Because the thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

(Doubleday 2009 hardcover cover)

It has been a long time since I’ve last read Terry Pratchett, and it seems I need to reacquaint myself with his way of pretty much ignoring the plot. I’m not very familiar with football, which may mean I missed quite a few jokes, but not so many that I’d really notice. I don’t think this was Pratchett at his best by all means – and I do prefer a little more plot – but I was entertained once I got the hang of it. It took me a long time to finish it, which was partly due, again, to the lack of plot and the fact that the Internet is full of wonders.

With regret I have to say I can’t recommend this book. Experienced Pratchettists may want to take a look at it, but it’s not one to start acquainting yourself to Discworld with.

Published: Doubleday 2009

Pages: 400 (hardcover edition)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

(Goodreads)

There were two reasons I decided to read this book. The first one was that I had never done so before. The other was that my DVD of the second season of BBC’s ingenious Sherlock (of which I plan on raving about at some later time) arrived.

I have nothing negative to say. It’s an engaging book, even if you remember the story. It’s exciting and it’s fun, and I liked it better than Agatha Christie, which could probably be explained by my inclination towards pre-1900 literature. Sherlock Holmes is an interesting chap, and although Watson at times seems a little too simple it’s nothing unbearable.

Sherlock’s mention of his case of Vatican cameos had me giggling. Oh Moffat and Gatiss, you guys have used everything!

First published: George Newnes 1902

Pages: 174 (Penguin Popular Classics 1996 edition)

I didn’t buy many books this month, mostly because that budget got blown on those DVDs – and I’m not regretting one bit, because Sherlock is totally worth every penny! The books I got from an online auction. If you’re wondering about the one with Xena on the cover, it’s doctorate called Time of Fandom. The full title of the other one is a bit hard to read, but it’s Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? – What REALLY happened in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? It’s a collection of essays, and I’m saving it up for work reading.

I also got Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, but for some reason forgot it from the photo. I wanted to get it because of BBC’s new awesome mini series. Watch it! You won’t regret it!

Currently reading:

Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Kaarina Nikunen: Faniuden aika (Time of Fandom – for an essay)

Happy May Day, people! 😀

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Books in February

Okay, so this month I’ll be doing things a little differently. Since I have absolutely no talent in summarising books I have thus far avoided it, but I don’t think that is the way to go in the end. So from now on, I will find a short summary to attach to the book (source will naturally be indicated), and then just go on as I have before.

Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

A friend told me several years ago that I should watch the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and back then I decided I would for once read the classic before seeing it. This promise got fulfilled during the first week of February, and boy, am I glad I did it!

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

(GoodReads)

I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Gaskell’s language is very easy to fall into, and the story – originally published as a newspaper serial – rolls on very nicely. Gaskell is not as clever as Jane Austen, refined like her friend Charlotte Brontë, or teller of a complicated story like Charles Dickens, but her prose is a pleasure, and Mr Thornton has now risen to one of my favourite classic gentlemen. I’m looking forward to seeing the adaptation!

First published: 1854-1855

Pages: 403 (Wordsworth Editions 2002)

Julia Quinn: What Happens In London

It seems I cannot keep away from Julia Quinn’s books. This time I found myself reading What Happens in London, the second book in the Bevelstoke series (third one being the Quinn I read previously – I’m not very good at this, am I?).

When Olivia Bevelstoke is told that her new neighbor may have killed his fiancée, she doesn’t believe it for a second, but still, how can she help spying on him, just to be sure?  So she stakes out a spot near her bedroom window, cleverly concealed by curtains, watches, and waits… and discovers a most intriguing man, who is definitely up to something.

Sir Harry Valentine works for the boring branch of the War Office, translating documents vital to national security.  He’s not a spy, but he’s had all the training, and when a gorgeous blonde begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious.  But just when he decides that she’s nothing more than a nosy debutante, he discovers that she might be engaged to a foreign prince, who might be plotting against England. And when Harry is roped into spying on Olivia, he discovers that he might be falling for her himself…

(http://www.juliaquinn.com)

The book was merely entertaining. The characters were nothing special, the plot was nothing special, and the humour I’ve previously found redeeming in her work was largely missing. Once again, a rather serious subplot was dealt without much care and the author largely depending on the reader, leaving me to wonder whether the traumatized little brother was necessary at all. The “villain” could have been more consistent in character, and I actually found his bodyguard Vladimir more interesting. The language is, as usual, off, and I still have a hard time trusting Quinn’s background research. However, the book is good for a day’s entertainment, so in that capacity it is more or less worth picking up.

Published: 2009

Pages: 328 (Avon Books 2009)

Jane Austen: Persuasion

After Quinn I was in need of some good and reliable Austen. Persuasion is one of my favourites, perhaps because it is rather different from her other works:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

(Goodreads)

This book is so subtle it is an absolute thrill to read. Little gestures, words, expressions mean so much, and feelings that once were return gradually. There is little else I can say about the book without spoiling the ending, but be prepared: this book includes the most beautiful letter I have ever read!

First published: 1818 (posthumous)

Pages: 230 (Penguin 1975)

Georgette Heyer: The Spanish Bride

Shot-proof, fever-proof and a veteran campaigner at the age of twenty-five, Brigade-Major Harry Smith is reputed to be the luckiest man in Lord Wellington’s army. But at the siege of Badajos, his friends foretell the ruin of his career. For when Harry meets the defenceless Juana, a fiery passion consumes him. Under the banner of honour and with the selfsame ardour he so frequently displays in battle, he dives headlong into marriage. In his beautiful child-bride, he finds a kindred spirit, and a temper to match. But for Juana, a long year of war must follow…

(back cover of the Arrow Books edition 2005)

The Spanish Bride was not exactly the romance I thought I was going to get, although the romance bits are just as sweet as Heyer always makes them. Most of the time, however, is devoted to the war. The army marches from city to city in Spain – I found that the book might do with a map – and waits for action. The battles are scarce, but they are not the interesting thing anyway. The characters have been real: in the foreword Heyer mentions several autobiographies she read while doing research, and the authors of those are met. I feel like I understand Lord Wellington’s character, and seeing as how scrupulous a researcher Heyer is, I am not doubting her vision.

The only thing I felt a little queasy about was the age difference between husband and wife. Harry is twenty-five when they marry, Juana only fourteen. To a modern reader this looks suspicious, but we must remember it was not exactly out of the ordinary in the day. Juana is also very mature, so one does not keep thinking of her age but instead her admirable spirit.

In short, as a history lesson this book is excellent, especially if you, like me, learn better from fiction than pure facts.

Published: William Heinemann 1940

Pages: 422 (Arrow Books 2005)

John le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley’s chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.

(Goodreads)

I actually picked this book up simply because the movie was coming out here, and I decided I wanted to read the story first. I don’t usually read crime fiction, but this one left a pleasant impression of the genre. Even though I’m not good with history past the 19th century and the details of the Cold War are hazy, it did not hinder the reading. More difficulty I found in adjusting to le Carré’s rather lengthy and complicated style, but as usual, once one gets used to the rhythm it gets easier, and once all the characters are familiar the story really picks up. I would advise little breaks during the reading, to allow the different stories of the past and their details to sink in – and sometimes, if concentration has faltered at some point, it is necessary to go back a paragraph or two.

I think it likely I will read the other two books in this Karla trilogy, but the need to do so is not very pressing. Nevertheless, Tinker Tailor is a compelling read – although not the extent where I would keep glancing around me on the street, trying to spot legmen watching me. (I did keep my eye on the car with Czech license plates, though.)

Published: Random House (US) / Hodder & Stoughton (UK) 1974

Pages: 422 (Sceptre 2011)

George Orwell: Animal Farm

Animal Farm is the most famous by far of all twentieth-century political allegories. Its account of a group of barnyard animals who revolt against their vicious human master, only to submit to a tyranny erected by their own kind, can fairly be said to have become a universal drama. Orwell is one of the very few modern satirists comparable to Jonathan Swift in power, artistry, and moral authority; in animal farm his spare prose and the logic of his dark comedy brilliantly highlight his stark message.

Taking as his starting point the betrayed promise of the Russian Revolution, Orwell lays out a vision that, in its bitter wisdom, gives us the clearest understanding we possess of the possible consequences of our social and political acts.

(Goodreads)

Animal Farm happened to be on the shelf when I visited one of my regular libraries, and since I’ve long intended to read it, this was a good opportunity. And I liked it. A lot. Even though the story is familiar – from general knowledge of either literature or history – it is an engaging story. The parallels to the Soviet Union are clear as day, in all their unpleasantness. This is a rather neat novella, with a very clear outline. Those who have experience in the field of political satire might find it too easy, but a dabbler like me will enjoy the clarity. There are also some elements that are developed further in 1984, published only four years later.

Published: Secker and Warburg 1945

Pages: 95 (Penguin 1989)

Patricia Briggs: Moon Called

Since werewolves are my favourite paranormal creatures, I wanted to give the Mercy Thompson series a go.

Werewolves can be dangerous if you get in their way, but they’ll leave you alone if you are careful. They are very good at hiding their natures from the human population, but I’m not human. I know them when I meet them, and they know me, too.

Mercy Thompson’s sexy next-door neighbor is a werewolf.

She’s tinkering with a VW bus at her mechanic shop that happens to belong to a vampire.

But then, Mercy Thompson is not exactly normal herself … and her connection to the world of things that go bump in the night is about to get her into a whole lot of trouble.

(Goodreads)

As an urban fantasy novel, I suppose this one is a good one. The problem is, I’m increasingly feeling like this is not my genre – the first person narrative, the American cities, the weapons, the TV-series-like quality are not for me. Not that I wasn’t entertained by this book, quite the opposite! Briggs’s heroine Mercy is an independent, non-conventional woman, and the werewolf system she introduces is logical and believable. There is a lot of action and not a dull moment. However, I did not like her relationships to males (maybe excepting Zee), and, as much as I regret to say it, I’m finding I can barely stand vampires any longer. Of course, this is not Briggs’s fault in the least.

So if you like werewolves, urban settings, and fast-paced action, read it. I might eventually continue this series (currently six books long), but only if I want something light and quick to read.

Published: January 2006

Pages: 288 (Ace Books mass market paperback 2006

So this is what February was like. I also bought a few books from the Arkadia International Bookshop:

  • Baroness Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Jane Austen: Lady Susan/the Watsons/Sanditon
  • John le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

My order of Anne Rice’s Wolf Gift got cancelled, and I now need to wait for it some more, but I’m hopefully getting my hands on it next month. I’ve also ordered some other books, but more about those when they arrive.

Newsflash! I’m participating the Lies of Locke Lamora read-along in March! If you have a blog, and wish to take part for whatever reason, this (among others) is where you can express your interest: http://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/announcing-the-lies-of-locke-lamora-read-along/

I don’t know how long into March participating is possible, but thought I would mention it. This also means I will be posting more often than usual this coming month – you’ll be seeing a lot of fangirl talk.

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Books in January

January was a good month for reading, what with half of it spent on vacation with little else to do. The fact that I’m taking yet another history of literature class helped as well.

The year got started with an Arsène Lupin book, this one called The Hollow Needle. It was entertaining enough, although my favourite gentleman thief got very little screen time. He was, more or less, replaced by the clever schoolboy detective Isidore Beautrelet, who turned out amusing enough. While this book was entertaining, I still maintain that Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief remains the best out of the four I have read.

Published for the first time: 1909 (original title L’Aiguille creuse)

Translation: V. Hämeen-Anttila 1909

Pages: 238

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch was a reread I could not resist any longer. It is the second part in the Gentleman Bastard sequence, and very close to as brilliant as the first part, The Lies of Locke Lamora. This book is mostly set at sea, on a pirate ship, and the main characters are in trouble, as usual.

Published: Gollancz 2007

Pages: 628

My library excursions lead me to the romance shelf, and I picked up yet another Julia Quinn book, this one called Ten Things I Love About You. A newer Quinn, this one was a much pleasanter read than the previous ones. The plot is more even, the characters are pleasant and relatable, and the language has improved. There are some clichés, of course, like the jilted, angry Earl, but those are a given in the genre. I felt Sebastian’s war trauma was not made the most of nor adequately solved, although it is nice to see an author trusting the reader enough to pick up the little pieces of information to see the answer for themselves. His writing career was a definite perk, and made me chuckle on several occasions. Annabel, the heroine, was believable, although I would have wished to see her keep her pragmatic streak up until the very end. There is no angst over her family though, for which I was glad.

Published: Avon Books 2010

Pages: 377

After this new romance, I felt the need to get back to Georgette Heyer, whose Frederica was an absolute treat to read. Heyer’s writing is amazingly subtle and refined. The opening of the book was slightly on the heavy side, reminding me of Austen’s Persuasion, but once one gets the hang of who is who the whole things becomes easy to follow. Those looking for the thrill of romance this book might not be the bull’s-eye, for the relationship between Frederica and the Marquis develops little by little – but when it finally gets to full kick towards the end of the book it is as sweet as anyone could wish.

Published for the firts time: 1965

Pages: 380

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was required reading, and to my great astonishment I enjoyed it. It gauges the mental world of Raskolnikov, as he is about to commit a murder and after the act itself. Although very little actually happens, one keeps reading, just to see whether he goes mad or not. Not a world classic for nothing.

Published for the first time: 1866 (original title Преступление и наказание)

Translation: J. A. Hollo

Pages: 532

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is known to many, and I dare say many have also read this novella. As an insectophobe I found it slightly disconcerting – all the description of Gregor’s insect body forced me to have breaks during the reading – but it was also interesting. I admit the finer details of the text are still lost to me, but I hope I will gain better understanding when we discuss the work in class. Worth a read, everyone – and it’s very short, too!

Published for the first time: 1915 (original title Die Verwandlung)

Translation:

Pages: 64

My father read me Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita when I was little, and that is why I chose to read it for class also. I remembered very little. The whole book kept taking me by surprise, and I had a completely new appreciation for its numerous characters and stories that intertwine in the end. Bulgakov is an excellent writer, and has an impeccable sense of humour. If you enjoy a satire, I dare say this will be to your taste. It was to mine.

Published for the first time: 1966-1967 (original title Мастер и Маргарита)

Translation: Ulla-Liisa Heino 1969

Pages: 499

I saw Atonement as a movie not too many months ago, so I had a firm grip of the events of Ian McEwan’s novel. I’m almost sure I like the movie better: the book was unevenly balanced, had some rather pointless bits, and it was hard to feel sympathy towards the main character Briony. I also found myself unwilling to read at times, which reflected in the time it took me to read this short-ish book. I doubt I will return to McEwan.

Published: Jonathan Cape 2001

Pages: 372

The last read of the month was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. With the movie coming and my friend recommending it, I decided to finally give the series a shot, and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. It was less gory, less intricate, and more about romance than I had expected, but it worked well. The writing flows very effortlessly, there is always something happening, and the reader feels for the characters, all of them. The cliffhanger ending, both in terms of political situation and the rapidly forming love triangle are currently bugging me. Getting the sequel, Catching Fire, from the library will take some time, but I’m hoping someone among my friends owns the books so I could borrow them.

Published: Scholastic 2008

Pages: 454

So that was January. I also read Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, but it did not make the list as it contained poems with no plot, and I do not think I am any authority on poetry. (These seemed rather Romantic. More like Coleridge than Wordsworth.)

Currently I’m reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and enjoying her style immensely.

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October Books

Hello, and sorry for being late!

School took over all of a sudden. I had to return a study diary, read Stephen Crane’s the Open Boat, get a book from the library and the a three-hour lecture followed by a movie. This blog completely slipped my mind, as I’m not in the habit of writing for it yet.

Without further ado, on to the books!

The Last Werewolf was the first book I’ve read by Glen Duncan. A friend linked it to me, and as it seemed interesting, I decided to give it a go. The title tells a lot: the main character is the last werewolf alive, since there is a sort of disease that prevents change in future victims. He is being hunted by the official forces, and takes it very stoically – until something happens to awaken his will to live.

It took me a while to warm up to the style. It’s not hard or heavy, but at times intricate and crowded with literary references. (What really attracted me to this book was an excerpt online that started “Reader, I ate him!”) The plot flows nicely – we see events through Jake’s eyes as he records them in is journal – and keeps surprising you. Jake is an interesting character. We find out about his background, and here lies one of my complaints: he received the curse in the 19th century, but I can’t get the feeling of the era in the flashback sequences. The history and broodings of a monster remind me a lot of Anne Rice’s books, sometimes of Louis in Interview with the Vampire and sometimes Lestat in the Vampire Lestat. Not that this is a bad thing, as I like both of those books.

Published: Canongate Books 2011

Pages: 346

I couldn’t restrain myself any longer: I had to reread Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman’s the Fall of the Kings. The book takes place in Riverside, the place established in Kushner’s Swodrspoint, although this one happens several decades later.

Basil St Cloud is Doctor of History at the University, and keen to prove that not only did wizards exist hundreds of years before but their magic was real. This is an outrageous view and the whole city talks about it. Basil’s students back him faithfully, as does his lover, Theron, a student of Rhetorics and, without Basil’s knowledge, the heir of the Tremontaine dutchy. Strange things start to happen, omens are in the air, Northmen come down south, and Basil finds a book.

The plot is a little hard to abbreviate, since there are several points of view: Basil, Theron, a student of Basil’s, and Lord Nicholas Galing, who is up to no good. The writing itself is enchanting, Riverside is very much alive, and the whiffs of magic and the traditional rituals of the North make the reader shiver. There is, as often in mannerpunk, a political dimension, which adds to the attraction.

It is a wonderful book. I do not like it as well as the other Riverside books, the aforementioned Swordspoint and the later published the Privilege of the Sword, but it definitely has its appeal.

Published: Bantam Spectra 2002

Pages: 505

Catherine Arnold’s book City of Sin – London and its Vices take the reader through time but not place: it relates the history of prostitution and sex in London from the Roman times to the 21st century. It is definitely an interesting read. It shows how important part prostitution has played in people’s lives and how it has survived despite the laws set to prevent it. It gives us such aspects of sexuality as pornography, homosexuality, escort girls and even art.

The balance of this book is slightly off, as always happens when a topic is examined during such a lengthy period of time. It is heavy on the Victorian, which of course is because there are many more records from that period than, say, the Tudor era. Regency period is a little neglected, but that seems to be a common problem when we’re discussing vice.

Overall I recommend this book as a background read for writers and for anyone who has an interest in these matters.

Published: Simon & Schuster UK 2010

Pages: 333

I was not supposed to borrow anything from the library before I’ve read everything I brought back home from London, but after a particularly nasty day at school I decided I deserved a little treat. Back from the library is brought Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. It is the first book in the Alastair series, telling us how Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, meets his wife. I will not say anything particular about the plot, and recommend not reading the blurb if you wish to be surprised. What I can tell is that it has many typical elements of Regency Romance: revenge, a kidnap, a chase, society and, in this book very charmingly, France and the court at Versailles.

I did not like this book as much as I enjoyed its sequel, the Devil’s Cub. This is an early work of Heyer’s and I don’t think her style was very refined yet. It is fairly charming, however, and a quick read. I have to recommend it despite the shortcomings I find in it, for it shares some characters with the much better Devil’s Cub and thus makes the latter easy to understand.

Published: William Heinemann 1926

Pages: 347

I’m starting a course on History of Literature, from the middle ages to the Romanticism, and one of the books required was Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, which is the first part of the Divine Comedy. It was surprisingly easy to read, thanks to Eino Leino’s excellent translation. For those who are unfamiliar with this classic work: the main character goes through the different layers of Hell guided by Vergil and meets people from each layer, telling him what they have done to deserve their fate. In the first layers the punishments are relatively mild, but the deeper we go, the more gruesome it gets.

What can I say? This is a classic work, and not without a reason. One has to be vigilant, though, because there are references to people who were certainly known to the contemporary Italians but might not ring a bell for a modern reader. Often the crime is not explicitly stated and only the criminal’s identity is revealed. Having a map of Dante’s Hell helps a lot.

Written: the whole Divine Comedy sometime between 1308 and 1321

Translation: Eino Leino 1912-1914

Pages: 206 (not counting pages with pictures)

So that is all for October. I’m currently reading Dan Abnett’s Triumff – Her Majesty’s Hero and have Cervantes’s Don Quixote part one waiting. The latter is required reading again, and its size took me by surprise – I’m hoping it isn’t the whole 600 pages I’m supposed to read.

I have also bought books: the Gollancz 50 collection’s edition of the Lies of Locke Lamora and Hannu Rajaniemi’s the Quantum Thief, which I got from this year’s Book Expo, where Mr Rajaniemi was speaking. I got the book signed, hooray!

Until the end of this month, now!

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