November’s reading challenge books

Now we’re getting to the sticky end – 2 months to go, 27 titles to meet my challenge of 3 x 52 books in 52 weeks. So here are the books I read in November:

Clemency Pogue Fairy Killer cover#130 Clemency Pogue Fairy Killer by J.T. Petty (Read 7/11/2012) This is an odd little fairy tale, which can’t quite make up its mind whether it has a contemporary setting or not. Clemency, in a decidedly inclement moment, discovers that the Peter Pan approved method of fairy extermination (saying “I don’t believe in fairies!”) does work, but in a random way. She then has to sort out the consequences of her assassination of the other half a dozen fairies she destroyed, in the process of trying to stop one nasty fairy from killing her. Can self-defence be raised to mitigate random acts of fairy murder? This book assumes not, and skims over the opportunities to consider wider issues of morality, in favour of trying a little too hard to be cute and clever. I have dire suspicions that the author is the sort of person who laughs at their own jokes, whilst in the process of telling them.

Spring-Heeled Jack cover#131 Burton and Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder (Read 10/11/2012) This is a fast-paced alternative history, adventure, Steampunk, mystery tale, replete with steam-powered rotorchairs and velocipedes, Eugenicists, Libertines, cloaked werewolves kidnapping chimney sweeps in the East End slums, an eerily botoxed Lord Palmerston, and the bigger-than-life explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who has the poet, Algernon Swinburne as his unlikely sidekick. So, good times, eh? Well, as long as you don’t slow down in your consumption of the book you should be fine. If you pause to consider the flaws, all will be lost. My central criticism (leaving aside the author’s lamentable compulsion to include a who’s who of 19th century London, among the sins of which is to cast a young Oscar Wilde as Burton’s precociously witty local paper boy), is that only a complete idiot would think that changing a pivotal moment in the past would not have dire future repercussions. The book deals with the inevitable time-travel paradoxes well, it’s just that…. ugh, it’s so stupid! And, poor old Algy! And, women….who needs them? Once you’ve gotten rid of the most prominent woman in Victorian times, the rest of them are pretty dispensible, unless you’re in need of a victim… sigh.

#132 These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (Read 11/10/2012) Continuing with my plan to read all of the Georgian/Regency historicals in publication order, I re-read this first in the Alistair trilogy. Set around 1755, the novel is populated by the “shades” of characters first met in The Black Moth – that is to say, it’s not a sequel, but there are very definite parallels. Apparently, Heyer felt she could not justify a sequel to that melodrama, so changed the names of the characters. Nevertheless, whether he is Tracy “Devil” Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, or Justin “Satanas” Alastair, Duke of Avon, it is clear that the melodrama’s villain is this story’s hero, however unlikely that casting may seem. He’s a cold-hearted, clever chap, so not your typical romance hero, although he has long mastered the traditional hero skill of high-handedness – it sits a lot better with an 18th cebtury Duke than in a contemporary romance. I loved the descriptions of the court, the clothes and the people in this book.

#133 Charmed by Nora Roberts (Read 12/10/2012) Sigh, no it wasn’t just tentacled ennui colouring my perceptions last month – I’ve now read the third installment in the Donovan Legacy series and, I’m sorry to upset any Roberts’ fans out there (and I know they are legion), but it was pretty much a rehash of the first book. The characters are nicely drawn, with good back stories, but it was the same “he won’t be able to believe/accept my being a witch” angst, and even the their sexual encounters were matching colour by numbers of 1. beautiful rainbow-filled, magical, ecstasy-inducing copulation, with the hero desperately restraining his passions; followed by 2. unrestrained monkey-copulation, with the hero feeling guilty about ‘attacking’ the heroine until she assures him she is smugly satisfied; followed by 3. ongoing, blissfully fulfilling, vaguely excessive, can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other copulation. Unhappy me, because I just don’t like paint-by-numbers plotting that is this obvious.

Arsene Lupin cover#134 Arsene Lupin by Maurice Leblanc (Read 16/11/2012) I was charmed to make the acquaintance of the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, who has been delighting readers with his dashing Gallic style for over 100 years. This is such an enjoyable book – I thoroughly recommend downloading it, reclining somewhere shady, and enjoying the reading experience accompanied by a cool, refreshing drink. Ahh, Summer bliss!

Corduroy Mansions cover#135 Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith (Read 17/11/2012) I had hesitated to start this series, thinking that, perhaps, my affection for the Scotland Street series stemmed from my affection for, and familiarity with, Edinburgh. I was worried that a similar series of stories about the people who live in an apartment building in Pimlico in London would not delight me quite as much. Well, I was wrong, naturally, because these stories are not about the geography (despite the sense of place that infuses them) – they are about the people. And these people are as delightful as all of Alexander McCall Smith’s other characters. Both series, with their short episodic chapters, are perfect for summer holiday reading.

Garment of Shadows cover#136 Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King (Read 18/11/2012) I’m very fond of this series of stories about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. This one follows on, hard on the heels of Pirate King and is clever, evocative and fast-paced. I was transported by the descriptions of the rather timeless city of Fez in the early 20th century, and impressed by the subtle infusion of the political situation in North Africa – you absolutely need to understand it to follow the plot, but King is not didactic in the way she conveys the historical context. As well as being a great read, this book reinforced my desire to travel to Morocco.

Fables 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) cover#137 Fables 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) GN by Bill Willingham (Read 20/11/2012) Another fun installment in this exceptional series – this one sees the inhabitants of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights stories arriving on a diplomatic mission to the modern Fabletown, hidden in New York, where miscommunications and cultural misunderstandings abound. There are, as ever, plenty of things going on in sub-plots, and the second story – a romance between two of the Adversary’s wooden soldiers – is great, if rather disturbing.

Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love cover#138 Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love GN by Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus (Read 20/11/2012) A spin-off story from Willingham’s Fables series, this gives a little more depth to the seeming socialite Cinderella, who is really Fabletown’s most accomplished spy and assassin. I did not really like the art in most of this graphic novel, which was disappointing compared to the striking cover, but the story was fun. The endless fairy tale worlds of Willingham’s creation offer plenty of scope for creativity, and imagining what would happen to various characters.

Miss Buncle's Book cover#139 Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson (Read 21/11/2012) This is the first in a charming pair of books first published in the 1930s. Set in the 30s in a small English village, with a great cast of characters, this is an utterly enjoyable book about the chaos unleashed when one of the villagers writes a book about everyone in the village. Ah, gentle metafiction  Here’s a quote: “Mr Abbott had never before read a novel about a woman who wrote a novel about a woman who wrote a novel – it was like a recurring decimal, he thought, or perhaps even more like a perspective of mirrors, such as tailors use, in which the woman and her novel were reflected back and forth to infinity.” I loved it.

Masqueraders cover #140 The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer (Read 24/11/2012) First published in 1928, this is the fourth of Heyer’s Georgian era novels still in print. The action takes place not long after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, when the supporters of the Stuart cause, who had rallied to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s standard, were decisively defeated by the Hanoverian government forces. The persecution of Jacobites after the battle, ordered by the Duke of Cumberland, is the underlying reason for the otherwise baffling masquerade in which the main characters engage. I stand by my earlier recommendation of this enjoyable novel, which I note I reviewed a year ago, along with the Mary Russell Pirate King mentioned above.

Miss Buncle Married coverMiss Buncle Married other cover #141 Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson (Read 25/11/2012) I liked Miss Buncle so well I had to read the sequel. Thoroughly enjoyed it as well, what! I will just note, though, that for those who don’t believe the old “judge a book by its cover” theory, that I read the newly published edition seen to the right. What jolly fun! The chances of my even picking up and thinking about reading the edition to the left is, I believe, approximately zero – that’s the cover for the CD book edition and it is utterly unappealing to me. I’d like to imagine that is not an indication of how shallow I am, but a reflection on the vast number of (prettier) books out there vying for my attention.

Delta Blues cover #142 Delta Blues collection edited by Carolyn Haines (Read 28/11/2012) I had my own little soundtrack running through my head whilst reading this collection of short stories set in the Mississippi Delta and inspired by the Blues – it went a little like this: “Please give me some shelter,that’s something I can use, way down here in the Delta with these Muddy Water Blues” and also a fair bit of “I went down to the crossroad fell down on my knees, etc”. Like most themed anthologies, I loved some and was left unmoved by others. Definitely worth dipping into for fans of the Blues.

A small pedantic aside though – one constant in all of these stories was the heat. The heat and the humidity – uh, Lord, it’s so damn hot! Hot, hot, hot, down here in the Delta, etc, etc, ad (frankly) nauseum. Well, you know, it’s a bit hot here too, y’all. So just how damn hot is it, in the Delta, vis a vis, for example, right about where I’m sitting? So I Googled the latitudes – Clarkesdale, Mississippi is on a northern latitude equivalent to the southern latitude of…. Bondi Beach. That’s, approximately, 1000 kilometres (621 miles) further from the equator than hereabouts. Hot? Yep. Humid? Yep. I got it, y’all, I got it.

Thief of Thieves cover #143 Thief of Thieves: Volume 1 “I Quit” GN by Robert Kirkman (Read 30/11/2012) This graphic novel reads like a high-octane action movie of heists, crosses and double-crosses, federal agents, criminals, and one nattily-dressed master thief called Redmond. I have to be honest and say that I think I’m the wrong demographic for this one – I don’t tend to watch those movies – and I prefer Arsene Lupin’s old school charm.

One month and only 13 books to go… but can I do it with the growing social demands of the silly season? Onwards and upwards to reading glory – I only have to average 0.419 of a book per day and the challenge will be met. Wish me luck and enjoy your Christmas reading all – I know I shall!