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text 2018-08-19 22:37
Reading progress update: I've read 23%. -wow, what a start
A Thousand Words for Stranger - Julie E. Czerneda

This is the first book in the Trade Pact series. It was published in 2012 but I only became aware of it this month. 


Stepping into was a bit like going to the first Star Wars movie when everything was new and unknown but it felt solid and it moved fast and you wanted more.


This is confident, complex, has a huge cast of characters but keeps the focus on people in the way the best Star Wars movies do.


My wife and I are reading it together. It's great fun.

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text 2018-08-14 17:55
Reading progress update: I've read 14%. - feeling disoriented
Our Friends In Berlin - Anthony Quinn

Competent if slightly disorienting start to an unusual idea: a spy novel set in London during the Blitz where the German spies are the heroes.


I'm not sure where this is going but the ever-so-English almost "Mrs Minerva" atmosphere is made oxymoronic when applied to descriptions of "Little England" fifth columnists meeting discuss how to accelerate Hitler's liberation of Europe.

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review 2018-08-14 12:48
"Bearskin" by James A. McLaughlin - Highly Recommended
Bearskin - James McLaughlin

"Bearskin" is a rare find: a literary thriller that is as lyrical as it is muscular.


Instead of choosing between writing a literary book about how a man can surrender himself to the dark sentience of an ancient forest and walk out more himself than he was before or a thriller about a man deeply maimed by violence who, although living an almost invisible life in the wilds, knows his past will catch up with him, James McLaughlinhas written a book that is both a literary achievement and a page-turning, viscerally realistic thriller.


Two things caught and kept my attention throughout this book: the development of Rice Moore, the man at the heart of the story and the sometimes total immersion into the ancient Appalachian forest. Either one would have been reason enough to read this book. Together they became compelling.


Rice Moore is a great creation. Recent acts of extreme violence against him and by him have left him emotionally scarred and subject to fugues states and hallucinations. A solitary man who no longer entirely trusts himself to play well with others, he seeks isolation, partly to hide from his enemies and partly to avoid people. Alone in the forest, feeling its pulse next to his own, his inability to let go of his territoriality or his instinct for violence, repeatedly draws him into conflict with the people around him.


Yet this isn't a one-man-triumphs-against-the-world sort of story. Moore is losing his mind. His fugue states, his obsession with protecting the black bears on the estate he is warden of and his personal ghosts, lead him down a path where he literally puts on another skin and enters a different kind of consciousness. James McLaughlin's ability to help me experience this altering of states as something real and raw was deeply impressive.


Even though "Bearskin" is as fast-paced and propulsive as a thriller needs to be, McLaughlin is able to incorporate the forest and its fauna and fauna as a deeply experienced part of the story. Ecology is more than a plot device or a scientific concept here, it is about understanding our place in the world and its rhythms.


In addition to these two strong themes, McLaughlin gives us an insight into the poaching of black bears, the vengeance of the Mexican drug cartels and the rules and rituals of outlaw motorcycle clubs and an up-close experience of violence that is hard to look away from.


I recommend the audiobook version of "Bearskin" as MacLeod Andrews' narration enhanced my experience of the book.


Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/441607044" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]


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review 2018-08-08 22:31
"Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Tyak & Frayne #1" by Harper Fox
Once Upon A Haunted Moor - Harper Fox

This novella has a little bit of everything: PC in a remote village on Bodmin Moor obsessed with finding a lost child, a psychic with cryptic clues, the possible presence of the Beast of Bodmin, family intrigue and a gay romance.


The romance is more central to the story than the possibly haunted moor. Our PC, son of a fierce Minister, lives in the house that used to be his father's, in the village he grew up in. He sees himself as the protector of the village and yet he is unable to admit his sexuality to the other villagers (all of whom have recognised his preferences for some time. The romance liberates the policeman from his doubts and his fears and enables him truly to be himself.


I thought the romance and the sex scenes were well done. I liked the intimacy between the two men: the way they talked to each other, the way they saw each other's strengths and their own weaknesses, the way they needed the comfort of the other's touch.


The crime plot was not complicated and was made even less so when it was solved by not-so-cryptic visions from the psychic. The atmosphere of distress and threat was well evoked. I didn't think the supernatural veneer added much.


If you have a choice between ebook an audio, I recommend you go with the ebook. The narrator of the audiobook does the dialogue very well but handles the rest of the text with random inflexions and a generic I-must-emote-more style that suggests a sight-read rather than a thoughtful delivery. The narrator seemed deaf to the distinctive cadence of Harper Fox's prose.


Although this was a pleasant read, it was a little too slight to make me keen to move on to the next book in the series.

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review 2018-08-08 21:20
"Rogue Protocol - Murderbot Diaries #3" by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells

I had this on pre-order and then scarfed it down on the day it arrived.


As always, it was fun. I loved Murderbot's interaction with Miki, the "pet" robot that sees humans as its friends. Murderbot moves from disbelief, through disdain, on to mild jealousy followed finally by muted grief when they part.


Miki is everything that Murderbot is not: naive. optimistic, emotionally attached to humans and open to making new friends. In the same way that ART in book two showed us that Murderbot is too human to be a real AI, Miki shows us that Murderbot is too much an AI ever entirely to trust humans.


In this third part of what is now clearly one great novel being sold to us in (expensive) instalments, Murderbot continues to pursue proof of the wrong-doings of the GreyCris corporation but this is really the frame for his journeying and not the focus of the novel. The focus is on how each of Murderbot's journeys takes him on a path from I-hacked-my-governor-module-so-I-could-watch-more-space-operas to I-have-things-and-maybe-even-people-and-bots-who-matter-to-me.


In this instalment, Murderbot is aware of becoming more humanlike in his behaviour (although humans should never be allowed to do Security: they're unable to keep pace with fast-changing situations, their egos get in the way and they're allowed to give up). Murderbot is dismayed to discover there are now things s/he cares about:

"I hate caring about stuff. But apparently, once you start, you can't just stop."

The novella has a leisurely start but once the action begins the pace is fast and the tension is relentless.


I finished the novella with a sense of satisfaction that could only have been improved if I'd been able to continue on to part four instead of having to wait for the publishers to feed it to me later.


My only gripe about Murderbot is the pricing strategy: split a novel in four and charge the price of a full novel for each part. This is not the way to treat the fans. I moved from reading Murderbot as an ebook to listening to the audiobook, purely because the audiobook cost one credit (which translates to £3.66 or $4.71 as opposed to $9.10 for the Kindle version.


Actually, the audiobook was very well done. The voices for Murderbot and Mikki were perfect. I'm glad my miserliness financial prudence brought me to such a skilled narrator.


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