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Beside the SeasideNon Fic

A history of Yorkshire's coastal towns, Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington and Filey etc., and how they became popular seaside resorts. There's interesting stuff for both the historian and the casual reader, but for my purposes it wasn't as useful as 'The Georgian Seaside' by Louise Allen.
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FoundationA remarkably readable popular history, not too deep and academic, but a quick reminder from 15,000 years ago (the Neolithic), through Roman rule, the Dark Ages (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) and the medieval to 1509, the death of Henry VII. This is the first in a six volume set, easily digestible and informative.
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The first in what appears to be a long series of mysteries set in Regerncy England featuring Captain Gabriel Lacey, recently returned from the Napoleoinic Wars with a badly healed knee, a bad case of melancholia, and a huge grudge against his former mentor and commanding officer. Lacey is a gentleman but he's broke. What comes in from the army (his half-pay) is barely enough to keep him. He lives in a squalid room in a narrow street off Covent Garden and though he gets to move in tonnish circles thanks to being favoured by society favourite Grenville, he's also friends with a couple of prostitutes who are neighbours, and with Louisa, the respectable wife of the aforementioned commanding officer, now also out of the army. When Lacey stumbles across a small riot in Hanover Square he gets involed in trying to right an injustice for the Thornton family whose daughter and maidservant have disappeared in suspicious circumstances. It leads to uncovering sordid goings on as Lacey digs for the truth and, if not a completely happy ending, there is a satisfying resolution. Lacy is an odd character, very up and down as you might expect from someone suffering from depression and probably a dollop of PTSD as well. He has a sense of honour that he can't really afford to indulge. I couldn't decide whether I liked him or whether I wanted to slap him senseless for being a stiff prig, and an idiot on occasions. What investigator in his right mind goes (without backup) to the home of the person who he considers to be the chief suspect, and right in front of the suspect's thug, trots out his speculative accusations? The historical background is well drawn and seems pretty accurate as far as I can work out.
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When Sir Harry Valentine moves in next door to the Bevelstokes, Olivia is intrigued by local gossip (that he murdered his fiancée) and sets out to spy on him--exceptionally ineptly, causing initial friction between them. (Let's be honest, they hate each other.) Harry knows a bit about spying, having joined the Hussars with his dashing cousin, Sebastian, survived the Peninsular Campaign, and moved on to working for the War Office. True, it's the boring part of the War Office since he's mostly translating Russian documents (thanks to his grandmother he speaks the language fluently) but he rather enjoys the quiet life. However when he gets instructions to spy on a Russian prince who has shown a marked interest in Miss Bevelstoke, things get interesting. Julia Quinn has given us an interesting hero with an intriguing family backstory which has given him the odd hangup. There's a plot (besides the romance) which works well and a terrific proposal scene. The secondary characters, particularly cousin Seb, are particularly well drawn. This is the followup to The Secret Diaries of Miranda Cheever. Julia Quinn is always worth reading. There's witty dialogue, a lot of humour, high excitement and the obligatory sex scene (which she writes well). It's light, frothy and very engaging.
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It's no good, I'm a sucker for Heyer's regency romances. The Marquis of Alverstoke is rich, influential, thoroughly spoiled and bored by almost everyone he meets… until Frederica Merriville, a very distant relative, applies to him for help in launching her beautiful younger sister into Regency society. He only agrees in order to give his annoying, pushy, sister a set down, but finds that whatever Frederica is, she's not boring. Gradually drawn into the chaotic Merriville family (which also includes two irrepressible boys) Alverstoke learns his lessons and the ending is as you might expect. It's not the ending (which was flagged up from very early on in the book) but it's how the characters get there that's the delight. I really liked this one. Alverstoke was never completely irredeemable, and Frederica had a huge dollop of commonsense.
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This is a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. It's a blazing debut, well worth your time. The Smoke Eaters fight dragons and dragon-fires with high-tech gadgets in a post-collapse 22nd century America. It's a bleak future vision. Firefighter captain Cole Brannigan is pressed to take up service with the Smoke Eaters after 30 years in the fire service because they discover that he can breathe dragon smoke without choking on it. He'd been planning his retirement with his wife, but now his future looks very different. Dragons emerge from below, destroying neighbourhoods and eating the population. They've destroyed the infrastructure, made travel by road too dangerous to contemplate, and turned the USA into a collection of autonomous, isolated city states. And then there are the wraiths, ghosts of the consumed who manifest electrically and attract dragons like I attract mosquitos in summer. Brannigan goes from being a seasoned firefighter to a Smoke Eater rookie as he has to learn the job all over again, but he brings with him thirty years of firefighting experience, a stubborn attitude and a deep hatred for the mayor who seems to be intent on sacking public servants and replacing them with droids and drones. Brannigan is a great character. Strong on attitude but weak of bladder. How nice to have a sixty year old hero who gets the job done out of sheer cussedness and commonsense. The author is a firefighter and it shows in the detail and the knowledge – and very probably the attitude. Loved it. NOTE: I had this as a pre-release review copy from Netgalley.

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Prompted by Ursula LeGuin's passing I decided to re-read that much loved book for (probably) the first time in thirty years. It wasn't quite like reading it for the first time because I knew how Ged's struggle against the shadow would end, but I had forgotten a lot of the Journey and how the shadow came to be created in the first place. I first read this in my early twenties and took it as I found it – a great adventure filled with magic. Reading it again I realised how clever the worldbuilding is. Every inch of Earthsea lives. It's a tribute to Ms LeGuin that even when not on the page, you know that the characters are still living their lives. It's a rainbow world. Ged his red-brown. His friend Vetch is black brown. It begins with the boy who is to become Sparrowhawk/Ged (true names hold power and are never revealed except to the best of friends) who leaves his village on Gont to become a wizard's apprentice, and from there he travels to Roke to a serious school for wizards (as unlike Hogwarts as any school could be). Ged is a fabulous character, fully rounded with strengths and flaws. Trying to run before he can walk, he makes a mistake and eventually has to deal with it in his own way. It's a book about balance, responsibility and friendship. He starts out as a “wild, a thriving weed, a tall, quick boy, loud and proud and full of temper,” and grows not only in talent but in wisdom, too. If you haven't read it, read it. If you haven't read it recently, it's worth another look.
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This is a re-read of one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books. The first time I read it, I'd never been to a science fiction convention. Now I have and there are plenty of familiar things in here.

Rupert Venables is a magid charged with selecting a new magid-in-training after his mentor, Stan dies. Stan (as a ghost) is allowed to help in the selection process. What's a magid? Good question and even having read the book I'm not sure I can tell you succinctly. A magid is a magic user who protects and corrects matters any number of alternate worlds, guided by (sometimes very obliquely) entities 'above' who are supposed to know what's going on in the multiverse and guide it along. Confused? Not surprised, but just go along with it. Rupert is the youngest earth-based magid with only a couple of years' experience. Both his older brothers are magids too, which gives him someone to call on when things get sticky. And they're about to get very sticky very fast. The magids mostly keep magic away from ordinary people and there are 'deep secrets' which are for magids only. Some worlds have more magic than others. Earth is on the negative side. Rupert is designated to look after the Koryfonic Empire which is on the cusp of the magic positive/negative divide, but politically unstable. With the death of the emperor it seems to be open season on his heirs and Rupert is caught up in events there, while at the same time trying to hunt down the potential candidates for the new magid. In the end he hits on a plan to get them to come to him... at a science fiction convention. The only one he tries to keep away is Maree Mallory whom he has already crossed off his list because she's weird and they seem to hate each other on sight. But since the fate lines have all become twisted together, Maree turns up anyway together with her aunt, uncle (a writer) and her cousin, Nick. It all gets very complicated because it turns put that there are other magic users playing with the 'nodes' so the rooms in the hotel are never where they were left. it's a plot that ties events on earth with the problems in the Koryfonic Empire.

There's a lot to like in this book. Rupert is an appealing character, Maree and Nick grow on you, and the twisty plot keeps you on your toes. I didn't notice the first time I read it (I wasn't a writer then) but there's a section where Nick and Maree are on their own doing something extremely perilous while Rupert waits for them to return. They return and the plot continues, but for some reason Ms Jones chooses to tell that segment of the story at the end from Nick's point of view, which seems a bit out of place, though it has a nice little reveal at the end.

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This starts off well. The two main characters, mercenaries, are currently signed on as caravan guards to get to where they are going (to deliver something important). What immediately sets them apart is that one is a Dead Man, the one-time bodyguard of a now-dead caliph who hides his face behind a veil (only revealing his face to someone he's about to kill). The other is a Gage, a metal man created by a now-dead wizard. The Gage used to be a human, but physically there's nothing organic left. The Gage and the Dead Man have formed a good working relationship that has become a friendship.  Mrithuri, the young rajni of the Lotus Kingdom is beset my enemies. The message the two mercenaries carry is supposed to help her. In the meantime, in the kingdom next door, Mrithuri's cousin Sayeh is regent for her young son, and in an even more dangerous predicament as volcanic activity, and an army led by the Boneless and both vying to destroy her kingdom.

This book doesn't quite end on a cliffhanger but it's obvious that the biggest battle is yet to come, but the characters are all in place now and their relationships established. The world-building is rich and detailed with a strong flavour of southern Asia and a completely weird 'day-is-night' vibe going on with the 'cauled sun'

This is in the same world as Ms Bear's Eternal Sky trilogy, but set fifty years later with new characters. I haven't read the previous trilogy and I would say this easily stands alone.
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It’s December 1348 and the plague is raging through the West Country. Two brothers, John and William come across a dead couple with a squalling baby and John saves the baby even though William urges him to leave it to die. It turns out that John should have listened. The baby is already infected and the woman they have asked to wet-nurse it now catches plague along with her father. The brothers believe that they will soon die and go to Hell. They stumble to an old stone circle and are each given a strange choice. They will die in six days, but they can either go home, or they can spend each of their remaining days 99 years on from their previous day, searching for redemption. The following day, hardly daring to believe what has happened, they wake in 1447, ignorant of the century and vulnerable to the people who are not. They meet kindness and cruelty. Again 1546 and 1645 are equally puzzling, chaotic and frightening. They no sooner arrive than they are whisked another 99 years into the future, sometimes finding friendship, sometimes finding enemies, but with redemption just as far away as ever. Finally the last day comes in 1942. This is a book for people who love history. Each period is lovingly described and recreated. Knowing that Ian Mortimer is a historian, I trust that the historical aspects are accurate. The setting is geographically located around Exeter. (John was a stonemason who carved the faces of his loved ones into the faces of the statues.) The brothers carry their ingrained fourteenth century beliefs with them, especially as regards religion, damnation and purgatory. John is very godfearing while William has a more relaxed view of life’s opportunities. It’s a great premise and an ambitious novel that actually reads more like non-fiction. Essentially, however, it lacks a forward moving plot even though the brothers move forward through time. Each day is episodic and the brothers simply roll with the punches. Despite the plot (lack) I really enjoyed reading this for the history.
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An interesting and unusual concept. When coming to the end of their life individuals can sign up for the army – no not an earth-bound army of geriatrics, but an army, newly rejuvenated, defending colonies in the galaxy from the predations of many races whose prime objective is to massacre (and possibly eat) colonists who are occupying planets they want. (It seems that humanity hasn’t actually discovered any peaceful alien species.) The Colonial Defence Force gets young, fit soldiers with mature minds. When it comes to looking age-related illness and death in the face these good citizens of America (I don’t think any other country’s individuals are mentioned) overturn their pacifist beliefs and take a leap of faith. And leap of faith it is, because though they know there’s a rejuvenation process, they don’t know what it is or how it works, and they don’t know what horrors they’re going to be facing out there. It turns out things are way more extreme than they ever imagined, both in terms of their bodies, and in terms of the likely death rate amongst recruits.

John Perry and his wife sign up at the age of sixty-five for service ten years hence. His wife, unfortunately, drops dead with no warning, so John, a few years later, goes off alone, knowing that he’ll never see earth again. If he survives he’ll be given a homestead on a colony planet. On board the transport he meets up with a bunch of similar individuals and they bond, calling themselves the Old Farts. But they don’t stay old for long. The reality of their rejuvenation is stranger than they could have imagined. They are mostly split up, but they keep in touch and a series of skirmishes against enemy aliens takes the lives of some of them. Things get even stranger when John is injured and sees his wife in the rescue party…

I really enjoyed reading this though I did wonder about the logic of it all, especially when the rationale for the Ghost Brigades came into play. Why did they need all those mature minds when eighty percent of them were likely to die? As it turned out John Perry’s mature mind comes in handy and he’s a likeable main character. The pacing is great. It’s a real page-turner. I heartily recommend this despite my old fart misgivings about the logic of old people abandoning the beliefs of a lifetime to go to war against aliens.

March 2019

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