Book Diary: Catching Up

Due to my recent blogging slump I’ve fallen far behind on keeping up with the books I’ve read, pretty much beyond hope of ever catching up by way of regular blogging (at least for someone as fundamentally lazy as myself). Considering that the main purpose of this blog is to keep track of my reading, I did not want to just skip them like I did last year in a similar situation (and still regret doing), but constantly dragging two months behind is not an appealing prospect either, I’m finding it rather more fun to write about books while they’re still fresh in my mind. So I’ve decided to do a catch-up post that will bring me up to date (or at least close enough) where I basically just write a sentence or two on most of the books that I’ve read in October and November. I’m hoping to be able to return to at least some of them (Checkmate and Hydrogen Sonata in particular) for a more extensive post, but at least they won’t drop completely under the table.

Dorothy Dunnett – Checkmate
The final instalment of her Lymond Chronicles, and it’s pretty much everything I had hoped it to be. A huge payoff at the end of the series, with some of the unforgettable set pieces Dunnett does so well (like the utterly brilliant chase scene through a nocturnal Lyon early on in the novel), a brightly shining Phillipa and a Lymond that finally, after six volumes, I found myself actually liking. Some issues with the ending which I thought was a bit manipulative in parts, but then it’s nowhere near as bleak as I had dreaded, so all is forgiven.

S.L Grey – The Mall
A collaboration between two South African authors, this is ostensibly a horror novel. It does start out like one, but then takes a sharp turn into a satire on consumerism. Very nasty, utterly chilling and very much recommended.

John Le Carré – A Murder of Quality
It seems early in his career, Le Carré was figuring out by trial and error which genre suited him best – Call for the Dead was a strange but fascinating hybrid between mystery and spy novel, his next one, A Murder of Quality, is pure mystery and the one after that, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, is pure spy fiction, the genre he’d then settle with. And one can see why – while A Murder of Quality is a decent enough novel, it is nowhere near as brilliant as his spy fiction – I suspect mystery was just too cozy a genre for what Le Carré was aiming at, its morals too clear-cut and not sufficiently ambiguous.

Iain M. Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata
There’s always much rejoicing in my household when a new novel by Iain M. Banks is released, and I tend to place them right on top of my TBR pile. This one, his tenth Culture novel riffs openly on Excession, but also, less obviously, shares some themes with Matter. It’s lighter in tone than his last few have been but not at all lightweight for that; in fact I think it’s his best since Look to Windward.

Phil Rickman – The Wine of Angels
Combining cozy mystery with horror might at first glance seem like a very strange concept, but Phil Rickman manages to pull it off in this first installment of his Merrily Watkins series. He is keeping the horror very subdued, though, and leaves it open just how supernatural things are, but in my opinion that is very much to the benefit of the novel. The Wine of Angels has a very slow build-up, and is probably not for people who don’t enjoy descriptions of English village life for their own sake, but Rickman has really nailed the atmosphere and I at least found it very enjoyable to read.

Kate Griffin – A Madness of Angels
I’m only now noticing that I apparently read two novels with angels in their titles in succession – I wonder if there’s any significance in that… – In any case, Kate Griffin’s novel is “classic” Urban Fantasy, i.e. in the vein of Emma Bull and Charles de Lint rather than Paranormal Fantasy. It is also quite literally urban Fantasy, in so far as the city of London plays an important role in how magic works here, as well as for the novel itself. A Madness of Angels has been called a celebration of London, and while that is certainly not wrong I think even more than that it is a celebration of life, of its many forms, of its joy and exuberance, but also of its pain and sadness. I enjoyed this one a lot, and am eagerly looking forward to reading the sequels.

Jonathan L. Howard – Katya’s World
A Science Fiction juvenile (or YA, as I suppose one would call it these days) that has all the sense of excitement, exploration and adventure I loved about this genre when I was first started out reading it as a kid. In keeping with being an adventure story, Katya’s World is very plot-oriented, and I particularly loved that Howard obviously took great care to make everything happen with internal consistency and not just because the plot required it – you can really tell that a lot of thought went into that aspect. And the author still manages to assemble a varied and interesting cast of characters that keep the reader actually interested in their fate while the action hurtles along towards the grand finale.

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