Challenged or Entertained? [Tinyletter]

Welcome to the mostly weekly Tinyletter from @gavreads. This is often my bookish week in review and sometimes my thoughts on books and reading. 

First things first. Sorry for unintended quietness. I’m blaming Mini-Metro – it’s addictive. Try it. You’ll see for yourself.

I finished The Rhesus Chart by Charlie Stross. It’s the fifth book in The Laundry Files and sold as a jumping on point for the series. As I said in my last letter the way that the jumping on bits were executed left me frustrated enough that I stopped reading it for over 2 years. The jumping on repetitions seem to drop off around page 145 and from that on it got a whole lot more enjoyable.  Up until that point I’d enjoyed the series. Bob Howard as a Geek-Turned-Lovecraft-Monster-Fighting-James-Bond is an idea that started as a novella and short stories before moving on to novels. And the format works really well in the shorter story format – Down on the Farm and Equoid are great stories. But Stross pulled me back in so much so that the last scene had me gasping and needing to start  The Annihilation Score to see what happens next. The characters are people who are doing their best with what they have and it’s endearing for that.

The Annihilation Score moves straight on from The Rhesus Chart but flipping main characters to Dr. Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, the wife of Bob Howard. Unfortunately for Mo she’s plunged straight into a crisis gives her no time to help Bob with the aftermath of The Rhesus Chart. I’m not keen on giving up on books of series I’ve loved. I’m not the sort of read that can skip something and leap back in. I like things in order.

That’s why I’m not very good at picking up crime novels that part of a series. I always want to go back to the beginning – I read both Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir by picking a book 4 or 5 books and then had to go back and read the first novel in the series I’m quirky.

Speaking of quirky I started reading Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watchingby Adam Alter. The title mostly says it all. It’s about our addictive nature. It scared me a little and inspired me to put social media aside for lent. I know it’s 5 days in but I’m not feeling too bad the moment. I’m picking up The Annihilation Score  and buying books instead. I’d recommend reading it. It is eye-opening. More details when I’ve finished.

I’m still listening to Runemarks by Joanne Harris.  I’ve got 2 hours left. She’s a wonderful storyteller. I’m just a slow listener. I’ve just got to a part where things are coming together and the veil has been taken away. I took an hour long bath today to get more listened to. I see more baths this week. I need to finish for two reasons. The story great and I can’t read another fantasy book until I’m done.

For example these are out:

Oh and so is Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan. And I really want to read Swordpoint by Ellen Kushner.

What else? Oh buying books.

I’ve always bought books faster than I’ve been able to read. My mood flips or when a version of OCD kicks in and I end up with a different selection of books to read.

These three are the latest batch. Mostly chosen as I’m looking for something different and maybe darker from what I’ve been reading for the last few books.

If you want to get in touch please do by tweeting me via @gavreads.

Until next time,

Happy Reading.

#backinblack, Looking Back and Coming Back [TinyLetter]

Paul Kaye as Terry Pratchett
Paul Kaye as Terry Pratchett

I didn’t watch Terry Pratchett – Back in Black​ until Sunday afternoon when I was alone. I expected to cry a bit and I did. But not as much as I expected. Paul Kaye’s performance of Terry was done with humour and knowing. I admit to a tear at 1 minute in, a smile at 3 minutes and from then on it was a wonderful exploration of Terry’s life. But then, at the end, your reminded that a daughter lost a father and Neil and Rob lost a friend. Well worth a watch but Val McDermid does let out a  spoiler about The Shepherd’s Crown. I guess now I’m prepared. I’ve been a fan of Terry’s Discworld books from the second I picked up a Gollancz omnibus of the first three Witches books at 17 (or so). I’ve been privileged to interview him and Stephen Baxter and talk about either collaboration The Long Earth. I was also at his memorial and watched as all these wonderful people celebrated his life.  I will read The Shepherd’s Crown in 2017. It’s time.

I’ve picked up a book I’d abandoned in 2014 when I just couldn’t take any more repetition of ‘introductory’ information. I’ve enjoyed all the books in Charlie Stross’s Laundry series to varying degrees (but I think it works better as short fiction) but The Rhesus Chart wound me up. In order to make it a jumping on point Bob Howard, the main character and narrator, repeats that he’s a necromancer enough times that I’d happily be resurrected as a rotting shuffler than read one more word. And it’s frustrating as I like the character and premise but not the conscious or unconscious ticks. But I want to read the next two in the series (they swap main characters in each) and want to know what happens in end. I still got prickly reading on but I’m hoping that I’m either immune or that tick has stopped twitching.  I went back to it because as it’s familiar it was easier to get into than It Couldn’t Happen Here that I haven’t quite managed to get into. I will try again.

The other thing that’s been taking my time is some behind the scenes work The Readers Podcast, getting it ready for Thomas and Simon’s return. I’m 95% confident that it’ll work when the next episode goes live on Wednesday but I might need to do a little more background fiddling first. Do download it. It’s wonderful bookish-banter.

This weeks’ Tinyletter was definitely bought to you by the word ‘back’.

Until next week.

Happy reading.

Gav.

What I did with my weekend… [TinyLetter]

I didn’t realise how much I needed to switch off. But this weekend, starting evening Friday after picking up 5 days of food supplies, I spent most of my waking hours playing Civilisation V. The point of the game is to get from Ancient times to  2150AD by growing your cities and population until you ‘win’. It’s a turn-based game. You take your moves and then the computer, who is in control of the other rulers, makes theirs. It does require strategy  to plot your way forward. You can’t go it alone – you need the other players for trade, diplomacy and other forms of interaction. You can win by wiping out the others by domination but I really don’t fancy trying that. It’s helped me reset and step away from the news and social media. I’m going to try and play less this week and read more instead.
Speaking of reading more, I did pick up the two books above . They are, I guess, are linked to the theme of domination and the current news-cycle.  I’m only a few pages in to It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis but he’s set the scene of a darker America. I’m fascinated to see where it goes.

I’ve got 5hrs 41 mins left of Runemarks. I’ve been travelling earlier so only listening on my commute back. I’m curious about what’s going to happen next as Harris has just killed someone unexpected.

And I’m 42% into Making Sense – reading non-fiction before bed is quit relaxing but it does make me sleepy. It’s all sticking luckily.

The Pork and Maple Syrup recipe from Eat and Chicken Tikka Masala from One Pound Meals have become weekly favourites. Both are cheap, easy and tasty.  Highly recommended to try out.

Plans for the week are cracking on with what I’m reading and taking delivery of my pre-order of Norse Gods by Neil Gaiman. I can’t read it until after I’ve finished Runemarks – Harris has her take and I want to experience each authors voices independently.  And after following Ken Clarke MP on twitter and seeing his comments on this week I ordered his biography, Kind of Blue. He’s the kind of person I want to read a biography from – though I’ll admit I don’t read that many.

Hopefully this week will have more reading and less game playing the week.

What are you reading? Tweet me.

PS Terry Pratchett – Back in Black​ is on BBC Two on Saturday. I’m going to need a box of tissues.

Stop/Start/Stop [TinyLetter]

Most nights I read before I go to sleep. I put my phone on to charge in another room and use the backlight of my Kindle – I used to read by the bedside light – but now that would feel odd.

At the moment I’m reading David Crystal’s Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar ​in bed. Growing up in the 80s/early 90s meant  that English classes didn’t cover grammar. I’ve tried to self-educate. I’ve read different books off and on trying to understand the terminology but mostly I’ve failed to take it in. Crystal’s style is different.  He uses examples of his daughter Suzie’s grasp of grammar as she goes through different stages. And those stages illustrate the building blocks of grammar. I’m about half way in. But I really do recommend it.

I also finished The Lazarus War: Origins by Jamie Sawyer. It’s book three in the series so I don’t want to give too many spoilers as it does contain a few reveals. I started to like the second-half more than the first. Though the reveals felt rushed and disjointed. It’s just not as smooth as the first two in the series. The series did come quite quickly so I’m hoping that Sawyer is given the chance to make his next book smoother.  It’s a fun read for a series and the sims are fun. It is at its heart a Military SF novel and that does excuse a lot.

I’ve been cooking again. This time I picked up One Pound Meals in the supermarket and found myself picking up the ingredients for Chicken Tikka one the way around.

I don’t know what to pick up as my paper-based read. This weekend’s events have recommended 1984 by George Orwell or It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. I think I’m going to escape into cosy crime – at least I know that way there will be justice in the end.

I think I’ll sign off with a tweet from the amazing human who is J.K.Rowling.

Not Really a Reading Week [TinyLetter]

This week I’m starting with a confession. I haven’t really read that much this week.

Wednesday night I was shattered and ended up going from lying on the sofa most of the evening to having a  very early night in bed. Sometimes life catches up with us.

Friday night was watching the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and the evening was chatting about the speech and what happens next.

Yesterday I was glued to twitter in between rearranging the books so that I can try take some of the piles off the floor and put books back on to the shelves. The reason I was glued to twitter watching and RTing image of  the crowds as they gathered in cities across the world as millions of women and men under the Women’s March banner.

Saturday left me feeling more hopeful for the world than I had been the case the day before.

This week’s commute listening has been swapped from Runemarks to Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest – a long poem set to music. I’ve heard most of it when it was broadcast live on the BBC late last year. You can watch it (as long as it’s still live) on Youtube here:

If I’m listening to an audiobook I really have keep listening not to miss bits of action and plot. With Let Them Eat Chaos I’ve been letting the words wash over me – I’ve been taking them in – but more organically.  Another confession.  I used to read way more poetry than I do now.  The last collection I picked up was Andrew McMillan Physical but I haven’t read it yet.

And that’s one reason I’m writing this letter each week to track my progress and hold myself accountable to all the words in the house.

I think I’ve figured out why I’ve been slower reading The Lazarus War: BK3 than I expected. There is a leap of six months between books. I think events have happened off-screen but I’m also realising that I don’t hold stories in my head with the same level of detail and accuracy that I used to be able to manage. I think I’m going to have to start re-reading the last few chapters of books in trilogies and seeking out summaries.

You’ll want to know how Slow-Cooked Beef Ragu from How to Lose Weight Well turn out? Really well. I’m going to make it again soon. I even tried White Bean Mash which is made with cannellini beans. It wasn’t really mash but went really nice with the strong taste of the beef.   I made another meal from  HoLWW earlier in the week. This time it was Five-Spiced Beef in Little Gem. I didn’t think it would fill me up but it did. Though the chinese five-spice taste takes a little getting used to.

A little more OCD kicked-in when I was looking for recipes and there are some real online bargains at the moment so I picked up: The Hairy Biker’s Asian Adventure as I liked the series and I’m hoping they version of the recipes are going to be straight forward; Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & beyond as not only is it Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink Award winner but I got the impression it was backed with simple and tasty foods; the final one is Our Korean Kitchen, Winner Of Observer Food Monthly’s Best New Cookbook Award 2016​ and it looks like a book that holds your hand as your explore a new culinary adventure.

More book and recipe book news next week.

If you want to get in touch please do by tweeting me via @gavreads.

Until next time,

Happy Reading.

Experimental Cooking and Seeing Ghosts [Tinyletter]

This week is a half-read, or more maybe more accurately, a part-read week. This is normal state for me to be in. Having an audio, electronic and paper book on the go. I do tend to suffer the effects of the last book I’ve read so I like swapping genres to combat it – I’m also not too good with reading the same genre in a different medium at the same time. This is what I’ve currently got on the go:

The audiobook of Runemarks is 15 hrs and 18 mins long and audiobooks are commute or bath books. I have 7 hrs 23 minutes left which means I’ve been sneaking in extra listening time. I didn’t know what to expect. I enjoyed Joanne Harris’s take on Loki in The Gospel of Loki. I think I’m going to need to re-read The Gospel of Loki after Runelight has been re-released and consumed to see how they fit together.

I’m 42% through  on my Kindle with ‘Johnny Rev’, the third Jack Shade novella by Rachel Pollack. This time Jack’s past comes back to haunt him. Literally. It seems Jack has unfinished business with someone who is likely to be want Jack dead. I really can’t express how much I enjoy Pollack’s use of story and the power of her myth-making. If you like Urban Fantasy or myths used in a modern way track the series down.

On paper I’m on page 223/457 of The Lazarus War Book Three: Origins by Jamie Sawyer. The first two books delve into the missions of a squad of soldiers who can transfer their consciousness into simulant body. Unlike a videogame who feel what your body feels and when you die you feel your death just before the link is severed.  In the previous books the mission has been to retrieve or explore an ancient artefact that has the potential to turn the war that humanity is having with a bug-like species called the Krell. In this book they are fighting not only the Krell but face danger from another faction of humanity. It’s a bit of a shift from the other two books – ramping up the stakes and changing the focus of the story – so I’m reading it in chunks rather than reading chapter after chapter but enjoying it nonetheless.

I’m guilty of buying non-fiction book that require action and just reading them. I’m talking the books on writing, self-help and cooking that I have sitting around the place. This year is I’m trying to put more thoughts into action – like the thought of getting healthier. And one way I’m going to do that is cook more from scratch.

Have you noticed there is a trend towards more healthier cooking rather than exercise books over the last couple of years? I’ve picked up the three Lean 15 books, Tom’s Daily Plan and How to Lose Weight Well for inspiration and encouragement.

But I’ve also been going back over some of the other cooking books I’ve ‘read’ but not used that much.

This is pork with apple and maple syrup from eat by Nigel Slater that I made yesterday. It was lovely apart from I probably should have given it a bit less cooking time as it dried out a little.


I’ve got Slow-Cooked Beef Ragu from How to Lose Weight Well in the oven and I’ll let you know how that turns out next week.  What’s your favourite cooking book?

I was going to write about ghost writing and books but to be honest Joanne Harris has said everything much better than I would be able to – please do have a read of her tumblr post On Ghostwriting, Celebrity and That Guardian Review.​

If you want to get in touch please do by tweeting me via @gavreads.

Until next time,

Happy Reading.

Discussed: 2016 Isn’t Quite Finished…but I’m almost there [TinyLetter]

It’s been a good week for reading. I did a 4-hour round trip alone in the car, which meant I had perfect opportunity to listen to Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsIt’s been so long since I’d read the original that I’d completely forgotten the ending.  I remembered the spiders though. They are the stuff of nightmares after all. I finished with an hour or so’s drive left and I moved straight on to Runemarks by Joanne Harris.

I always have a listen to the sample before buying an audiobook. If you’re going to spend 10 plus hours listening to someone perform then you have to enjoy the sound of their voice. I definitely have my own pet preferences for narrators (and I might share them another time).  I haven’t heard Rosie Jones before but she’s really drawn me into 14 year-old Maddy’s adventure as she discovers what her ruinmark really is and what One-Eye hasn’t been telling her for the last 7 years. I’m really enjoying my daily commute to work just to find out what happens next. That’s got to be a good sign, right?

I finished re-reading Savage Season by Joe R. LansdaleI’d forgotten how brutal it was. Best friends Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are drawn into a job by Hap’s ex-girlfriend. The job doesn’t go as expected and Hap and Leonard have to to some thinking, talking and fighting to get themselves back out of it. I read the first three in this series in the late nineties when they first came out so I’m forgiving my brain for not remembering what the next two bring. I’ve treated myself to Mucho Mojo, Two-Bear Mambo and Bad Chili in anticipation.

I love short stories, and I subscribe to a few SF&F fantasy magazines but I’m really poor at keeping up. That’s why I’ve just finished ‘The Queen of Eyes’ by Rachel Pollack. It was first published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2013. In this second story Rachel expands the world that Jack Shade inhabits. We get to see glimpses of aspects of old Gods like ‘The Ancient Doll’, homeless elementals, power struggles that should have nothing to do with Jack. Pollack manages to pack a lot into her 23K word novella. As I’m behind I know there are two more, ‘Jonny Rev’ and ‘Homecoming’ in later issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction to  ready to read. Oh, and here is a an interview with Rachel – these novella’s are going to be collected as well. As I’ve only got the electric versions I’m glad to see a book I can have on the shelf.

I haven’t read SQPR or Life, the Universe and Everything (both as dip in sort of reads).

I wasn’t sure if it mention what review copies arrive or not but as they might tease or tempt you so why not? I’m only going to mention a few – as I know to my cost that too much choice is overwhelming.

The first three I’ve requested and the last one is right up my street:

Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day  (Feb ’17) was mentioned by Rob on Adventures with Words as part of their Book of the Year 2016 episode. It’s not out until February but is set in 1939 where some Italian men have been rounded up and sent to an island – someone has betrayed them.

Hame by Annalena McAfee (Feb ’17) grabbed me because of the mystery element about looking at someone’s part   and the search for a place to feel at  ‘home’ in an uncertain world.

The End of Eddy by Édourd Louis (Feb ’17) is darker than I expect to be reading – I’m not very good with ‘real’ books that don’t have any sense of otherness – but this is an autobiographical novel by a young writer growing up in Northern France. It’s a portrait of escaping from an unbearable childhood, i and it asks, how can we create our own freedom?

Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor (Apr ’17) when I read the types of short stories included I got very curious: An interview with the last speaker of a language. A chronicle of the final seven days of a town that is about to be razed to the ground by an invading army. The lonely voyage of an elephant from Kerala to a princess’s palace in Morocco. A fabled cook who flavours his food with precious stones. A coterie of international diplomats trapped in near-Earth orbit. You’d want to read those too?

Finally, SF Gateway had a Christmas/New Year’s sale on their Essential titles- and a I had some Christmas money – on top of the Book Token’s I had (I bought this crazy book called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer with them already) – I thought I’d stock up. I might have let me OCD go a little bit to wild.

They are a mixture of mostly shorter novels and short story collections:

Raising The Stones by Sheri S. Tepper
The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
The Jaguar Hunter by Lucius Shepard
The Avram Davidson Treasury by Avram Davidson
Volkhavaar by Tanish Lee
The Birthgrave by Tanish Lee
Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Book 1) by Fritz Leiber
The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany
The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
Imperial Earth by Arthur C Clarke

Have you read any of the above? Where would you start? Tweet me via @gavreads.

Until next time,

Happy Reading.

Discussed: Goodbye 2016 & Hello 2017 [Tinyletter]

I started a solo podcast in January last year but little continuous reading meant I didn’t really have much content to keep it going.

I did enjoy recording with Simon, Kate and Rob. I’m glad I read Carol by Patricia Highsmith and got to discuss it on Hear…Read This! even if the episode turned out to be the last book we read before going on an unplanned hiatus.

I did read a few more books in 2016.  I’ve listed below most of them below:

Fiction

  • Smilers Fair by Rebecca Levene
  • Dark Intellegence by Neal Asher
  • Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
  • A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas
  • The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
  • The Lazarus War Bk1 & 2 by
  • Fellside by Mike Carey

Non-Fiction

  • The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

Audiobooks

  • The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronvitch and narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
  • The Theif of Time by Terry Pratchett and narrated by Stephen Briggs
  • The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett and narrated by Stephen Briggs

I’d happily recommend any of them.

The lack of reading didn’t stop me picking up books. I did pick up quite a few (aside from those that are sent by publishers):

  • The Big Book of Science Fiction by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies by Clark Ashton Smith
  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis
  • The Diet Myth by Tim Spector
  • A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily Life by Greg Jenner
  • Doctor Strange Vol. 2: The Last Days of Magic by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo
  • The Story of Egypt by Joann Fletcher
  • Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal Trilogy) by Zen Cho
  • Jerusalem by Alan Moore
  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah
  • Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
  • Spellbreaker: Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy (The Spellwright Trilogy, Book 3) by Blake Charlton
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (The Cthulhu Casebooks) by James Lovesgrove

So I’ve got quite a few to look forward to in 2017.

Various things effected by mojo this year. Mostly my day job wiped out my concentration. But somehow my mojo just ebbed away.

It seems to be coming back slowly. I’ve got quite a few things on the go.

On Kindle I’m reading ‘The Queen of Eyes’, a novella by Rachel Pollack, which again features Jack Shade – a Traveller and not really a PI PI; and Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams, I don’t think I’ve read this before but it seems oddly familiar. On paper I have  SQPR by Mary Beard has been slowly absorbed; and a reread of Savage Seasons by Joe R. Lansdale.

My notes show I started Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets read by Stephen Fry on the 2nd May and I’ve been listening to it on and off between my Pratchett rereads. But I’m now using it as my commute book and I’ve got a long trip tomorrow so I might finish it then

I’ll leave you with part of my reading pile for 2017 – Happy Reading Everyone.

Books and Reading