Valkyrdeath's 2024 Reading Record

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Valkyrdeath's 2024 Reading Record

Editado: Fev 24, 9:21 pm

After a couple of years with no posts on Club Read and a couple of years before that where I failed to keep up with my thread, I’m returning to make another attempt for 2024. I think by the closing months of last year I finally managed to get my reading back on track again so hopefully that will continue. As ever, my reading will me a complete mix of fiction and non-fiction in a variety of genres and subjects. I’ve got a few books I plan to read soon but otherwise no particular plans for the year, so I’m ready to see how it goes.

Currently reading:
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
The Time Traveller's Almanac edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
The Insider's Guide to Inside No. 9 by Mark Salisbury

Reading soon(ish):
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis
The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang
Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell

Books read:
1. Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell
2. Bad News by Donald E. Westlake
3. Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles by Dominic Sandbrook

4. Gentian Violet by Edward Hyams
5. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
6. The Comforters by Muriel Spark
7. Thoughtcrime Experiments edited by Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson
8. Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire
9. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
10. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall
11. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

The Angel Makers by Patti McCracken

Jan 1, 6:30 pm

I’m so happy to see you back here. Warm welcome, Gary.

Jan 1, 6:42 pm

Happy New Year, and welcome back to Club Read! I went AWOL for a couple of years when my life was crazy and I wasn't reading much. It's been nice to be back for a couple of years. I hope you have a great reading year and enjoy getting settled back into CR with old friends and new.

Jan 1, 7:03 pm

>2 dchaikin: Thanks Dan, I'm glad to be back posting again and hopefully I'll do a better job of sticking with it this time!

>3 labfs39: Thanks Lisa, Happy New Year! Life can have a habit of getting in the way of reading sometimes but it's definitely nice to get back to it.

Editado: Jan 1, 7:05 pm

Book stats for 2023:
80 books read made up of:
30 novels
28 graphic works
15 non-fiction books
5 short story collection
2 plays

Books from 13 different countries and by 58 different authors.

A few random reading highlights from 2023:
Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins
River of the Gods by Candice Millard
Babel by R. F. Kuang
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox
Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

Jan 1, 7:17 pm

>5 valkyrdeath: I enjoyed Millard's River of Doubt and own, but have not read Destiny of the Republic, but I may get River of the Gods and let it jump the queue. I just finished a year of reading African Novels, and this would tie in nicely.

Jan 1, 7:43 pm

>5 valkyrdeath: Nice. A great reading year. I loved All the Pretty Horses.

Jan 2, 3:43 pm

>6 labfs39: I've really enjoyed all of Millard's books, though Destiny of the Republic was the first I read and probably still my favourite.

>7 dchaikin: It was the first McCarthy I've read and I really liked it, so I'll hopefully be getting to The Crossing fairly soon.

Jan 2, 4:10 pm

>8 valkyrdeath: i loved The Crossing too. But don’t expect to be quite as swept away. 🙂

Jan 2, 11:36 pm

>8 valkyrdeath: I'm starting Destiny of the Republic tomorrow for one of my book clubs that meets later in January.

Jan 3, 1:49 am

>10 WelshBookworm: Oh, I love that book! Such a marvelous combination of tragically awful and insanely absurd.

Jan 4, 1:28 pm

I should read All The Pretty Horses. My first McCarthy was The Road, and I was blown away by the stark minimalist writing. After that I struggled with the baroque style of Blood Meridian, and I added pretty horses to my wishlist but never got round to it.

Jan 4, 7:26 pm

Thanks for putting me on to Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell. I put it on to my TBR group which is rather full, but I pushed it to the top. It’s just what I need right now.

Jan 4, 8:57 pm

>13 kjuliff: I'll be interested in how you find Super-Infinite. Do you know much about John Donne? Other than a poem or two we covered back in my school days I knew pretty much nothing about him, but something drew me to read the book anyway.

>12 FlorenceArt: I've no other McCarthy works to compare it to, but I found the style of All The Pretty Horses to be very easy to read.

Jan 4, 10:51 pm

>14 valkyrdeath: I know very little about him either, but when I saw you were reading it I looked it up, as I like his poems and recently read an article about him. Can’t remember where. It certainly looks like an interesting read.

Jan 9, 5:42 pm

1. Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell
This book was a bit of a spur of the moment pick for me. My knowledge of John Donne was extremely limited, so that’s the level I’m working from for this book. In fact, my sole experience of his work was studying one of his poems back in my GCSE days, from which my only real memory is of the teacher telling the class that discussing the connotations of the phrase “suck'd on country pleasures” wasn’t on the GCSE syllabus.

So with that in mind, I found this an interesting and enlightening read. It drew me in by the list of all the things that Donne had done throughout his life, which made him an interesting man to read about. But aside from the biography side of the work, Rundell is hugely enthusiastic about his work too, to the point where she states in the introduction “This is both a biography of Donne and an act of evangelism.” The enthusiasm pays off and I began to enjoy the excerpts and brief discussions of his works and to understand the inventiveness of his work and why he is so highly regarded. Rundell herself is an excellent writer and has a way with unusual and sometimes amusing metaphors.

This is still primarily a biography though, and it works well in that regard too, though with the one flaw that there really are very limited sources of information for Donne’s life. It’s not the author’s fault of course, and she does well with what information is available, making it clear from the start where there are gaps in what we know about him. Izaac Walton’s biography of Donne is one of the earliest sources of information about him but seems of questionable veracity and more intent of fawning over Donne than anything, something Rundell acknowledges and a trap she doesn’t fall into herself despite her enthusiasm.

The lack of information does lead to sections that, while interesting, Donne himself doesn’t really come through as a fully rounded character. It’s intriguing to read that he joined a privateering fleet, but we’re mainly learning about what happened to the fleet with little information available about what Donne’s role actually was in any of it.

Still, Rundell can’t be held responsible for the limited historical resources and she doesn’t pretend to know anything she doesn’t and presents the information that is available in a readable and enjoyable way. It makes this a worthwhile read, even for someone as generally bad with poetry as me. A pretty good start to my reading year.

Editado: Jan 10, 12:22 am

>16 valkyrdeath: I am about to start reading this now, so your review popped up at an ideal time.

Jan 9, 9:22 pm

>16 valkyrdeath: it’s nice to have you back. This was a great review, and of a book I’m really interested in. (And I’m glad your professor clarified that one bit.). Enjoyed your take.

>17 kjuliff: look forward to your response too. Especially, I’m curious how this works on audio.

Jan 9, 11:19 pm

>18 dchaikin: it’s narrated by Simon Vance who is a professional narrator with a straight style. Very suitable for this sort of book. He’s narrated a few Dickens and I like his style as he does not intrude.

Jan 9, 11:53 pm

>19 kjuliff: thanks! 🙂

Jan 10, 12:39 pm

Looking forward to following along. I get behind regularly, but I usually get there in the end!

Jan 11, 6:22 pm

>18 dchaikin: Thanks! If you get to it I'll be interested in how you find it, but I know there's always so many books.

>21 AlisonY: I'll be following along with your reading too, I've been gradually catching up on everyone's posts but haven't got around to commenting on many yet.

Jan 11, 9:33 pm

>22 valkyrdeath: I was going to pick up an audio copy. I needed a new audiobook yesterday.'s too short. I only get my 12 credits audible credits, I need to use them for longer books. So, I'll have to pursue this one in text.

Jan 12, 9:51 am

Super-Infinite is on my wish list and so I enjoyed reading your review. I like biographers who are enthusiastic about their subject. Writing about somebody with whom you have little personal interest must be a galling experience.

Jan 12, 10:14 am

>23 dchaikin: That’s like me. I bought a short audio book this week rather than wait for my point to arrive at the end of the month. How many dollars per hour is a book worth, wonder. It’s a bit Larry-Davidish

Jan 25, 8:52 pm

>23 dchaikin: For the most part I tend to avoid anything too short on Audible too. It takes me ages to choose anything on there. I only tend to sign up for a few months at a time, or just for a discounted period, and I spend ages finding something I want but that isn't easily available on any library I have access to.

Editado: Jan 25, 8:54 pm

2. Bad News by Donald E. Westlake
The tenth book in the Dortmunder series. The previous book felt like a perfect end point to the series, but Westlake didn’t stop writing them and this came out five years later. This time Dortmunder gets reluctantly dragged into a complicated con involving digging up and switching bodies. It’s not the usual thing for Dortmunder, though he does get to a heist to plan later in the book. It’s not quite up the standards of the previous few books, though it’s still got plenty of funny moments, and it’s always good to have more scenes with the regular gang. Sometimes it does feel like Dortmunder has become a supporting character in his own book when quite a few chunks of it focus on the new character Little Feather and he doesn’t have much to do himself, but the new character is an interesting one. The book also opens with him escaping a heist gone wrong and the way he gets out of it is classic Dortmunder and very funny. Not the best in the series but an enjoyable read.

Editado: Jan 26, 10:12 am

>27 valkyrdeath: I’m not familiar with the series, but sounds fun

>26 valkyrdeath: i thought i was the only who struggled to choose an audiobook on audible. It’s weird to have so many choices and how each suddenly has some fatal flaw. Somehow when i used the library it was an easier process.

Jan 26, 9:35 am

>28 dchaikin: I’m with you on the problem of choosing an audiobook and each one you think of getting having a fatal flaw. It’s even worse for me as I’m dependent on them

I recently bought with points The Undertaking as I enjoyed her other work. It’s OK-ish so far but not as good as her Colony. Understandable as The undertaking was her debut novel.

Jan 26, 5:35 pm

3. Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles by Dominic Sandbrook
The first of Sandbrook’s 20th century British history books. This one covers 1956 – 1963. It was originally supposed to cover to the end of the 60s, but it was eventually decided to split it into two books, which was probably for the best considering that in my edition this one is around a thousand pages long. Moving between politics and major events to social history and popular culture, he’s decided to throw in everything including the kitchen sink dramas. It covers from the Suez crisis and the rise of the consumer society through to the Profumo scandal and the start of Beatlemania. It charts the whole of Harold Macmillan’s term as prime minister but also covers literature, theatre, film and television as well as trends in society in general. The most impressive thing is that he does all this without anything ever feeling disjointed. One chapter flows into the next, the political events influence the social history, the trends in literature and film reflect general attitudes which feed back into the next political decisions. Sandbrook balances everything extremely well and draws on and quotes from a huge number of sources. It’s very well written, making it a really enjoyable read as well as an informative one. I’m intending to read the rest of his books, though given the size of them, perhaps not immediately. A definite 5 star read for me.

Jan 26, 6:40 pm

>30 valkyrdeath: This looks interesting I had not heard of this series of histories.

Jan 26, 7:41 pm

Wow. That’s a lot of pages. Sounds fun, though.

Jan 27, 4:49 am

>16 valkyrdeath: Great review. Donne is one of my favourite poets: I bought this book last year but have yet to read it. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

Jan 27, 5:02 pm

>31 baswood: I hadn't come across them before, but last year my friend got me hooked on the history podcast Dominic Sandbrook does with Tom Holland, and then put me onto this series of books. I've definitely been inspired to read more history since then.

>32 dchaikin: Very long, but thankfully never boring.

>33 rv1988: Thanks, I'm generally not great with poetry so I'm not sure if I'll get around to reading his work, but it was interesting to learn about him.

Editado: Fev 4, 9:10 pm

4. Gentian Violet by Edward Hyams
One of the many sources Sandbrook mentioned and quoted from in the last book I read was this novel. I really liked the quote he used and the plot appealed, so I decided to try and find a copy to read, which turned out not to be easy. Hyams seems to have been quite a prolific author and was apparently praised by Anthony Burgess but none of his novels appear to be in print.

The novel was written in 1953 and is a satire revolving around Jim Blundel, a working class man who during his time in the army during the war gets his middle name conflated with his surname by a rogue hyphen in the records. With this mistake, he starts to mingle with the upper classes and develops an entirely different persona, living as both Jim Blundel with his family and James Stewart-Blundel in his new life. This escalates to the point where Jim Blundel is elected as a Labour MP for his home constituency while Stewart-Blundel is simultaneously elected Conservative MP elsewhere.

I loved the central concept of one man being two different MPs and it leads to some very funny scenes towards the end where he becomes directly opposed to himself, giving speeches in parliament against his opponent and even criticising him for not being present to answer them. Hyams is clearly a good writer too, and there were some really great lines throughout the book. It is very much of its time though, and I can understand that it wouldn’t really hold up generally now. It’s also a bit uneven in terms of the actual plot, having sections where it hurtles along and others that drag a bit, but also this could be partly because the satire of the situation at the time doesn’t quite hit the same now.

I don’t regret reading it, especially coming to it from a book about the history of the era, but it’s not really one to recommend. But I thought I’d preserve a few of my favourite passages from it:

"Children are said to understand character instinctively: the origin of this belief is not clear, since it takes children fifteen years to discover their parents are frauds"

"Mrs Cream liked to have her nephew stay with her, to give him the benefit of the country air and of food out of a better class of tin than the boy's mother chose to afford."

On the House of Commons: "A Member might be on his feet talking away yet boring nobody, as nobody was obliged to listen... If democracy was to be found anywhere in the world, it was here, in the House of Commons, and Jim soon began to feel very proud of being two Members of it."

"But in the case of marginal seats the leaders are forced to take risks; for, in order to appeal to the electorate, their candidate must have some positive quality... and some moral attributes. And it is impossible to be absolutely certain that these qualities will not entail independence of mind. It is for this reason that despite every precaution a few Socialists become Members of Parliament under the aegis of the Labour Party; and a few genuine Tories are elected as Conservatives."

"But all she ever got out of hundreds of hours waiting in hospital ante-rooms was a name for her only daughter. She had overheard two neighbours in the hospital queue mention Gentian Violet, and Mrs Fletcher thought it a pretty name for a girl. Happily, she had only herself to please, for Mr Fletcher had, as it were, died in childbirth. The prospect of supporting an infant out of the thirty-two shillings a week he received as farm hand had driven him to get drunk in the village inn, and reeling from The Iron Horse at closing time he had stepped in front of a fast car."

Editado: Fev 4, 9:43 pm

>35 valkyrdeath: Great review, and the bits you excerpted are really an invitation to read the whole book.

I loved the central concept of one man being two different MPs and it leads to some very funny scenes towards the end where he becomes directly opposed to himself, giving speeches in parliament against his opponent and even criticising him for not being present to answer them.

I don't know if you're familiar with the TV series M*A*S*H, but if so, this reminds me of the episode 'Tuttle,' about an officer who didn't exist.
(Edited for formatting)

Fev 4, 9:50 pm

>35 valkyrdeath: Although you don't recommend the book, the quotes are very funny and enticing. You are acting much as poor Jim, arguing against himself!

Fev 5, 9:27 am

>36 rv1988: "I don't know if you're familiar with the TV series M*A*S*H, but if so, this reminds me of the episode 'Tuttle,' about an officer who didn't exist. "

And then there's the movie "Brazil," written by Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, an alternate universe dark comedy in which a dead fly falls on to an old manual typewriter as an arrest warrant is being typed out, causing a man named Buttle to be falsely arrested instead of the real criminal, named Tuttle. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Fev 5, 2:42 pm

>36 rv1988: Ah yes, the tragic death of Captain Tuttle and his forgotten parachute. I think I've seen every episode of MASH at least three times, but that didn't actually occur to me while reading the book. Though in that, both MPs do make an appearance, one with and one without a beard, just never at the same time.

>37 labfs39: I'm now regretting not writing two reviews with contrasting opinions of the book! There are some great quotes in the book which is what drew me to it in the first place, so I'd hoped I'd enjoy it more, but it didn't quite hold together as a novel.

>38 rocketjk: I did wonder the first time I saw Brazil whether using that name was a reference to MASH.

Fev 5, 7:38 pm

5. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
I’ve had this book for years and have only now finally got round to reading it, though I’ve read some of the stories before in other places. Ted Chiang is far from a prolific author and this book compiles all his published fiction from 1990 to 2002, a total of only eight short stories. Every story is really good though. Many of the stories lie at a strange intersection between hard sci-fi and fantasy, taking a world where science works differently but following the internal logic of that through the story. It’s full of great ideas. Story of Your Life is the original story the film Arrival was based on, and is probably the centrepiece of the collection, following an alien visitation and the attempts to translate the alien language with unusual consequences. Hell is the Absence of God is a very striking portrayal of a world where the existence of God is plainly and horrifyingly obvious to anyone. Seventy-Two Letters treats both golems and the concept of preformation as if they were scientific facts.

I think my favourite of the collection is the last story, Liking What You See: A Documentary. As the title suggests, it’s written in the form of a transcript of a documentary where a technology has been invented that can stop people being able to judge other people based on their appearance, stopping the brain from being able to tell the difference between beautiful and non-beautiful faces. It follows a campaign leading up to a vote at a college trying to make it compulsory to use on campus, with various people telling their stories and putting arguments for and against. It was so well written that I could really see it as a documentary in a world where this had been invented. And while this story is from 2002, with changes in society and technology, if anything some of the themes that come up in it only feel more relevant now.

I’ll hopefully get to his other later collection soon.

Fev 5, 9:00 pm

>35 valkyrdeath: such a fun review! Cool find.

>39 valkyrdeath:I'm now regretting not writing two reviews with contrasting opinions of the book!” 🙂

>40 valkyrdeath: sounds terrific. I loved the movie Arrival.

Fev 6, 2:02 pm

>35 valkyrdeath: Good to read a positive review of Gentian Violet. I have 988 or Sylvester by him published in 1951 on my to read list. I am sure it will be hard to find, but I enjoy the searching

Fev 6, 3:29 pm

>42 baswood: I'll be interested to see your review when you get to it. I'm certainly tempted to read more by Hyams.

Editado: Fev 7, 3:40 pm

Abandoned The Angel Makers: Arsenic, a Midwife, and Modern History's Most Astonishing Murder Ring by Patti McCracken

"Most first names have been anglicized, and some surnames have been, as well. Some first names have been changed for clarity, as many of the people portrayed had the same name."
"This is a true story... However, to fill in gaps, I have had to imagine or assume certain scenarios."

Those are quotes from the brief author’s note at the start of this book, which didn’t bode well for me. The idea that a supposed non-fiction writer can just decide to change the names of real people because she finds it easier I find quite unpleasant and disrespectful. But even worse is the second part. There is no “had to” about it. Not only do you not have to make things up in a history book just because there’s a gap in the historical records but you absolutely shouldn’t be doing that!

I decided to start the book anyway, thinking that maybe she makes it clear when she’s speculating, but sadly that’s not the case. It’s not even written as a non-fiction work, it’s written in the form of a novel from the perspective of the characters, switching perspectives to different characters at times, full of unnecessary details that the author clearly has no way of knowing. I don’t know if the author just wanted to write a novel but this was the only way she could get published or if she just feels like people won’t read real events without them being wrapped up in fanciful nonsense, but it really doesn’t work for me when I’ve picked up a history book. I was listening to this one on audio and I gave it an hour, thinking if it improves after the opening then maybe I’d continue with it. It doesn’t, so I didn’t.

This seems like a really interesting piece of history. I’ll try and read a non-fiction book about it sometime instead of an historical novel in masquerade.

Fev 6, 5:17 pm

>44 valkyrdeath: That author's note is quite astonishing.

Fev 6, 6:34 pm

>39 valkyrdeath: Since you are a MASH fan, I thought I'd let you know that I'm currently living in a house once owned by a relative of McLean Stevenson.

Fev 7, 5:05 pm

>45 labfs39: Definitely wasn't what I was hoping for at the start of the book.

>46 RidgewayGirl: Interesting fact!

Fev 11, 11:39 am

>40 valkyrdeath: Great review! That sounds like my kind of book. I loved the movie Arrival so this book is definitely going on the wishlist.

Fev 12, 3:42 pm

>48 avidmom: I loved Arrival too. When I was reading the sections of the story about decoding the written language I was definitely imagining the symbols they created for the film.

Fev 12, 6:15 pm

>16 valkyrdeath:
Super-Infinite Features prominently (and very positively) in the latest New York Times Book Review podcast. The Book Club Review people also raved about it when they read it last year. I also enjoyed her 'The Golden Mole', a very different type of book!

Fev 12, 8:05 pm

>50 Willoyd: The Golden Mole does sound very different, but interesting. I'll add it to my list!

Fev 12, 8:42 pm

6. The Comforters by Muriel Spark
At this point in the narrative, it might be as well to state that the characters in this novel are all fictitious, and do no refer to any living persons whatsoever.”

In contrast to the previous book I tried to read, here’s a book that’s definitely a novel and is happy to draw your attention to the fact at all times. The book opens with Laurence staying at his grandmother’s house when he discovers diamonds hidden in a loaf of bread and is convinced she’s running a diamond smuggling gang with her strange visitors. Ostensibly we’ve got the books plot started. So far, so comic thriller. Then the next chapter switches to Laurence’s partner Caroline, who soon begins to hear typewriter sounds and a strange voice narrating her own actions and thoughts, a narration that happens to be exactly the same as the narration we’ve been reading in the book, including the quote above.

Aside from the main threads there’s a bookshop owning friend known as the Baron who’s incorrectly convinced that another character is a Satanist, while horrendous busybody Mrs Hogg intersects everything with her nosy intrusions and blackmail attempts with what she learns. There’s a lot going on in this fairly short novel. It doesn’t get simpler when the characters catch Mrs Hogg apparently disappearing completely whenever she’s not directly involved in the plot. It’s quite hard to comment on the book, though via the narration the book probably comments on itself better than I can.

This is Spark’s debut novel, and you certainly couldn’t fault her for ambition. The copy I read has an introduction by Ali Smith which frames it as a response to the social realism of the “angry young men” of the time (which makes it fit in nicely with my earlier non-fiction reading on the subject in the Sandbrook book!) It's an interesting context that I probably wouldn't have thought of. The book feels like it’s almost sending up the conventions of novels in general. It’s very clever, well written, and often funny, but there are so many characters and subplots and I feel I lost track of it all at times, and couldn’t always grasp where she was going with things. Some of this is probably part of the point of it. I’m glad to have read it and absolutely love the concept, but it didn’t work for me as well as I hoped it would, especially with how much I’ve enjoyed some of her other works.

Fev 12, 10:09 pm

Spark was special. It was nice to learn about her 1st novel. I would like to try this one.

Fev 12, 10:33 pm

>40 valkyrdeath: Great review. I read a story of Chiang's online, but now will seek out the book too.
>44 valkyrdeath: This reminds me of when I first went to the US. I had a colleague from an Arab country who had a fairly simple, two syllable name starting with S. In our first graduate class, a midwestern classmate told her that her name was 'too difficult' and that she would henceforth be calling her 'Swan'. That wouldn't fly (pun unintended) these days. Re: your point about historical novels in masquerade, I find it regrettably occurs a lot in the true crime genre. I'm thinking particularly of American Kingpin, in which the author decides to make up his own richly textured inner dialogue for living people instead of simply interviewing them.
>52 valkyrdeath: Great review again. Adding it to my list.

Fev 13, 2:38 pm

>53 dchaikin: I've really enjoyed some of her other books that I've read. She certainly had a distinctive style.

>54 rv1988: I've certainly read books like that where they put thoughts into the heads of real people, and it can be annoying but I try to deal with it if the book is interesting enough. That one went way over the top with it though, and the strangest thing was that most of the stuff she was adding was minor details she couldn't possibly actually know but also weren't interesting or relevant anyway.

If you've enjoyed anything by Chiang before then the collection is definitely worth a read. I'm hoping Exhalation will be to the same standard too.

Fev 17, 5:03 pm

7. Thoughtcrime Experiments edited by Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson
This is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories available for free at It was a project created by the two editors to see if they could put together their own independent sci-fi anthology under the creative commons license, requesting submissions and offering 200 USD per story and with a preference for stories that had already been rejected by the more regular sci-fi sources. Apparently they mostly wanted lighter stories and were surprised at the number of dark Orwellian stories that were submitted to them, despite the fact that for some reason they’d used an Orwellian term as their book title. The purpose of this book was apparently to show how many high quality stories are getting rejected and also to put out an anthology with the only theme basically being things that they liked. Presumably it fulfils the second part of that, but I’m not so sure of the first.

I discovered this book off the back of the Chiang collection. While looking up the story Hell is the Absence of God, Wikipedia informed me (possibly spuriously) that the Ken Liu story Single-Bit Error was written in response, and this is the book that the story was published in. The intro does say he sought permission from Chiang to be allowed to publish the story, but other than the fact that the line “hell is the absence of God” appears within the text of the story and both deal with an angel visitation, there’s really nothing in common. The visitations aren’t even of the same form. Still, it was a decent story and one of the best of the collection. The final story, the strangely titled Friar Garden, Mister Samuel, and the Jilly Jally Butter Mints by Carole Lanham, was another I enjoyed and had a surprisingly dark ending. Goldenseed was a reasonable enjoyable fable-like story. All the things I liked were at the end of the book. Most of the earlier stories felt so insubstantial as to leave no impression at all, focused almost entirely on humour but not funny enough to me for that to carry them. I didn’t find much of it completely terrible but the hit rate for the stories wasn’t anywhere near as high for me as the best anthologies.

Editado: Fev 17, 6:59 pm

8. Once Upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller by Oliver Darkshire
This is an entertaining non-fiction read about Oliver Darkshire’s time working as as an apprentice bookseller at Sotherans in London. It’s often very funny in its account of the various eccentric customers and employees and their chaotic ways of working. It’s basically a book full of little stories of life as an antiquarian bookseller. He occasionally touches on more serious subjects, but for the most part this is just a charming, good-natured read by someone who clearly has a great fondness for the place he’s writing about. Even better is that I listened to this one on audiobook, read by Darkshire himself, who reads it extremely well and made the book all the more likeable.

Fev 17, 11:45 pm

>57 valkyrdeath: Oh, great review. I've placed a hold on the audiobook at my library.

Fev 18, 10:08 am

>58 rv1988: Hope you enjoy it! It's a fun light read.

Fev 19, 5:37 pm

9. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out, since I really like Pat Barker’s books, but I was wondering whether I really need another Iliad retelling. The answer was clearly yes, since I loved this. This one is from the perspective of Briseis for most of the book and centralises her story and that of the other women around her. Told in raw, modern English it becomes a story of the effects of war on women, and gives a completely different perspective on events by focusing on a character who is usually treated as a catalyst for events rather than as a person. As usual from Barker it’s brilliantly written and I’ve already got her follow up book The Women of Troy from the library to read soon.

A couple of quotes:

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achielles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles... How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him 'the butcher'.

Like everybody else, I'd been shaken by the sudden appearance of Priam in Achilles's hall. I'd felt blank and at the same time abnormally attentive. I could still hear him pleading with Achilles, begging him to remember his own father - and then the silence, as he bent his head and kissed Achilles's hands.
I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son.
Those words echoed round me, as I stood in the storage hut, surrounded on all sides by the wealth Achilles had plundered from burning cities. I thought: And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.

Fev 19, 5:51 pm

>60 valkyrdeath: Pat Barker is such a good writer. I haven’t read this one though as I’m not into re-telling of the Greek classics. But your review has ser tempted me.

Fev 19, 10:34 pm

>60 valkyrdeath: Ooh, good to hear that this is a good one. I just reread Song of Achilles and was tempted to start this one right away as I have it on my shelf. I'm glad I waited though, as I think the difference in perspective and tone would have been jolting. I'm looking forward to it though. I enjoyed Barker's Regeneration trilogy but haven't read anything else by her yet.

Fev 22, 6:08 pm

>61 kjuliff: I've enjoyed everything I've read by Pat Barker. I don't know how this one would be if you generally don't like re-tellings, but her writing is always good and she did a lot to make it feel relevant to the effects of war in general.

>62 labfs39: It probably would be strange to go straight from Song of Achilles to this one. I liked them both but they're very different in tone and style. That's one of the things I've discovered I like about these sorts of books though. It's interesting to be able to get such totally different perspectives to essentially the same story.