Saturday, November 3, 2012

Recent Reading

   Let me tell you about a few other books I've read recently. I've decided I'd rather tell you a bit about a lot of books than either get stressed about being so late with proper reviews or just not writing about them at all.
Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99
   I had never read any Tad Williams until a few weeks ago. I realise this is a ridiculous state of affairs for someone who identifies as a fantasy fan, but there you go. I had the very lucky chance to read an advance digital edition of his newest book 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' and really enjoyed it. Bobby Dollar is an angel who's putting in his time on Earth trying to get the souls of the departed into Heaven. He's a very small part of a huge bureaucratic machine, operating his little beat in California, having little idea who his ultimate boss is or what the point of the whole thing is. He's an intriguing character - a heavenly being who enjoys his booze, fast cars, and is fascinated by a sexy demonic opponent. His story is a cool cross between classic crime noir and modern urban fantasy - a winning mix, it would seem!
Penguin, £5.99
   I finally read a book I'd been meaning to read for a long time - 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins. I got the gorgeous new Penguin English Library edition - if you haven't seen these, they really are beautifully designed, and the inside print has been redone, which is often a quibble of mine when the classics are rejacketed. An image which frequently popped into my head as I was reading was of Agatha Christie reading the book and thinking "I could do this, and probably in a quarter of the space". Which is to some extent a criticism, but I did enjoy the read. Collins' characters are exceptionally well-drawn, from Betteredge the epitome of a perfect servant to Miss Clack, an infuriating evangelist. Ill-fated couple Rachel Verinder and Franklin Blake are divided when a magnificent Indian diamond (the Moonstone) is stolen on her birthday. What is the meaning of the rumour of a curse on the diamond? Who were the mysterious Indian jugglers seen near the house on the night in question? What part do the sinister 'shivering sands' play? It was the original detective mystery, so if you're a fan of that genre, off you go!
Vintage, £16.99
   I haven't been reading much non-fiction lately, but one unusual book I found really piqued my interest - Frank Westerman's 'Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse'. This is a fascinating discussion of the 20th century history of the Lipizzaner horse in the context of world wars, upheaval all over Europe, and in particular a general obsession (brought to its height by Hitler and other prominent Nazis) with race and purity. "For a Lipizzaner to be recognised as such, Austria applies a set of obligatory physical standards... Inadvertently, these... resemble the Nazis 'Aryan tables'." Westerman explores the movement of Lipizzaners all over the continent, as scientists struggled towards a perfect horse, discusses the rise and fall of opposing trains of thought on genetics, and all in a very accessible, personal but objective, journalistic style. If you're at all interested in the social history of the last century on the continent, or indeed a fan of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, this book is a great new perspective - a mix of history, science, travel writing, and memoir... and a great read. 
   What's next on my pile? Well, depending on mood and opportunity, I'll be tackling Mary Elizabeth Braddon's 'Lady Audley's Secret', Philip Reeve's 'Mothstorm' and 'Mortal Engines', James Smythe's 'The Explorer', Alexandre Dumas' 'The Queen's Necklace', H.G. Wells' 'The War of the Worlds', Mette Jakobsen's 'The Vanishing Act', Laurence O' Bryan's 'The Istanbul Puzzle', and Silvana De Mari's 'The Last Elf'. And that's just to start with!

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