Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Saturday, April 18, 2015

TITLE: Memory
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

COPYRIGHT: 1996
PAGES: 480
PUBLISHER: Baen

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 8th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

Dying is easy. Coming back to life is hard. At least that's what Miles Vorkosigan thinks and he should know, having done both once already. That was when he last visited the planet of Jackson's Whole, while rescuing his brother. Thanks to quick thinking on the part of his staff, and incredible artistry on the part of the specialist who revived him, his first death won't be his last. But his next one might be, a realization he finds profoundly unsettling.

Even after he returns to military duty, his late death seems to be having a greater effect than he's willing to admit. Unfortunately, his weakness reveals itself to the world at large at just the wrong time and in just the wrong way, and Miles is summoned home to face Barrayaran security chief Simon Illyan. But when things begin to go subtly wrong in Imperial Security itself, 'Who shall guard the guardians?' becomes a more-than-rhetorical question, with a potentially lethal answer. Things look bad, but they are far worse than Miles imagines, as he discovers his worst nightmares about Simon Illyan don't compare to Illyan's worst nightmares-or are they memories?

This is many readers' favourite in the Vorkosigan saga, and by the time I finish reading the series, it may well be mine. I'm going to try to not include spoilers in the review below, but I will need to be, well, spoilerish to properly discuss anything!

In Memory Miles faces the fall-out of some of what happened to him in Mirror Dance. Or rather, he tries not to face it, and his efforts lead to things going horribly wrong for him, and in front of Simon Illyan, too. Miles is left to face the consequences of his actions while stuck in Barrayar. But in the midst of a fog of misery, he finds a mission when Simon's memory chip goes wrong. Something about how ImpSec is dealing with it doesn't sit well with Miles, and he feels it his duty, both to the Emperor and to the man who's been like another father to him, to get to the bottom of things.

I was sure at the beginning that the book was going to be about how Miles got back this life he had created and that meant so much to him. It wasn't. It was about Miles becoming a whole person again by coming to terms with the Lord Vorkosigan part of his character, realising that he'd put his all into his Admiral Naismith persona and neglected what is actually a huge part of his character.

The way this was done was just perfection. First there's the crisis. That, while painful to read, had me thinking back to my secondary school literature classes, when we studied classical tragedy. Miles' downfall is not external. It's not something that happens to him, but something he does to himself. It's inevitable, being who he is. It all had the whiff of hamartia (the "tragic flaw" in the protagonist's character so many classical tragedies are based on).

But, and here's a big difference, here this is just the start, not the conclusion. Miles' reaction to seeing his life crash down on him is all about growth and change. There were some elements in his actions that I expected (his doggedness, his determination to do what is right), but his resilience and willigness to change the very course of his life surprised me (just as much as it did Cordelia, which I thought was a nice touch. She'd been coming across as almost supernaturally perceptive about her family in previous books, so it was good to see that some of Miles' depths were hidden from her, as well as from the reader).

That change in Miles' life marks a change of direction of the series as well, which is a move that I find hugely admirable. It's much easier to just keep giving readers more of what they want (have got used to?). More books about Miles having entertaining galactic adventures, again and again. It's much tougher to do what Bujold does here and change -and bring readers fully with her. It felt at the end of the book that this was a necessary change, both for Miles and for the series, and absolutely the right move.

Memory is much more understated in the adventure side than previous books, but that didn't mean it lacked excitement. There were plenty of emotional highs and lows, and the stakes were extremely high, easily as high as in previous books.

There's a bit of romance here, not for Miles, but for several characters I love. That was all lovely, both sweet and funny. We also get a mystery plot in Miles' ImpSec investigation. That is not just something for him to do while he comes to term with his new life, but an interesting, clever mystery in its own right. I feel quite proud that I figured it out right ahead of Miles, but because there was so much book left, I thought there might be a few more twists and turns left.

Turns out not, the mystery is resolved earlyish, and we get an extended aftermath, a bit like Jane Austen does in her novels, where all the conflict has been resolved, but you get more about how things work out for people. I actually loved this, although I must say I did get the impression I should have had stronger feelings about the final scene with Elli Quinn. The thing is, I found it hard to believe this was a hugely emotional thing for Miles. I never felt he really loved Quinn, a feeling strengthened by the revelation early in the book that Miles has also been sleeping with Taura all along, in a sort of friendly way. That was the only tiny bit of the book that I didn't think perfect, but it's a small flaw!

MY GRADE: An A.

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Talon, by Julie Kagawa

>> Saturday, April 11, 2015

TITLE: Talon
AUTHOR: Julie Kagawa

COPYRIGHT: 2014
PAGES: 461
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Teen

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: YA paranormal romance
SERIES: Starts a series

‘There are a dozen soldiers hiding in that maze. All hunting you. All looking to kill you.’
To the outside world Ember Hill is an ordinary girl, but Ember has a deadly secret. A dragon hiding in human form, she is destined to fight the shadowy Order of St. George, a powerful society of dragonslayers.

St. George soldier Garret is determined to kill Ember and her kind. Until her bravery makes him question all he’s been taught about dragons.

Now a war is coming and Garret and Ember must choose their sides – fight to save their bond or fulfil their fate and destroy one another.

I read this one for my book club. In fact, I read past even the first few pages only because it was for my book club. It was appallingly bad, so much so that I had a sneer on my face the entire time I was reading it.

Ember and Dante are dragons. They can shift into human form and Talon, the organisation that governs their kind, has been training them since birth. They are now ready to live for a while among humans and learn how to pass for humans themselves, and we meet them on their way to their "foster family". And we start out as we'll go on, with clumsy infodump after clumsy infodump, under the guise of Ember and Dante's handlers checking that they remember their cover and all sorts of details about their own very nature that no one with half a brain would think they could have forgotten.

The story is basic paranormal YA. Ember makes friends and hangs out with other teens, two of whom have secrets of their own. Garrett is undercover himself, as he's part of the Order of St. George, a military sect devoted to hunting dragons. They've received information that a female dragon hatchling has been placed in the area, and he and his partner are trying to figure out who she is. There's also Riley, whom Ember and Dante immediately recognise as a dragon himself. He's clearly a rogue, someone who's left Talon and as such should be immediately reported to the authorities. But Ember doesn't want to.

Can you guess where this is going? I could smell the love triangle from about page 15. It was just as badly done as the rest of the book.

This is a profoundly stupid book... offensively stupid and juvenile and contrived.

The world-building is stupid. The whole nature of Talon as an organisation doesn't make much sense, and I never understood what the hell was the point of Ember and Dante's mission. And also, if you take security so seriously and feel you need to be in full alert all the time, you might want to think of an unobtrusive name for your dragon-girl to take, not fucking Ember!

Ember is as stupid as her name. She's exactly the sort of character that makes me so cautious about what I read in the YA genre. She's supposed to be a dragon who doesn't know how to behave as a human teenager, but I didn't believe that for a minute. She was all stroppy teenager. I didn't think she needed practice at all. She had the melodramatic self-involvement and penchant for idiotic risk-taking down pat. And of course, she's beautiful (flowing red hair, natch) and effortlessly good at everything she tries, whether it's surfing or the combat games her evil trainer puts her through. Tiresome.

The whole thing is predictable and as unsubtle as an anvil falling on your head. I hated every second I spent reading it and felt a huge sense of satisfaction at the cliff-hangerish ending because I will not be reading the next book and it felt like a liberation.

I am, I confess, looking forward to book club next week. The person who suggested Talon was this guy in his mid-30s who didn't seem at all like the sort to go for angsty teen paranormal romance. And he suggested it because it was a book he was already reading (which seems to me to defeat the purpose of a book club, but what do I know). Anyway, I'm very curious to see if he knew what he was suggesting or whether "This book I'm reading" meant that he'd had a peek at page 1!

MY GRADE: An F.

AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The audiobook narration was almost as bad as the book itself, which seemed fitting. The female narrator was particularly awful. The way she rendered the teenage boys' voices was excruciating. Every time they spoke, even the nice ones, I wanted to slap them. It was all stupid drawls and "duuuuude". Ugh. Ember's voice also made me want to slap her, but at least her melodramatic teenage stupidity was text-based, so it was actually a successful performance. The male narrator wasn't much better, and in similar ways (it was the teenage girls' voices he was crap at).

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The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7, by Maxim Jakubowski (editor)

>> Wednesday, April 08, 2015

TITLE: The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7
AUTHOR: Maxim Jakubowski (editor), and many, many authors (see below)

COPYRIGHT: 2010
PAGES: 544
PUBLISHER: C&R Crime

SETTING: Varies
TYPE: Varies, all have something to do with crime, but not all are traditional mysteries
SERIES: Many of the stories are part of series

The must-have annual anthology for every crime fiction fan - the year's top new British short stories selected by leading crime critic Maxim Jakubowski.This great annual covers the full range of mystery fiction, from noir and hardboiled crime to ingenious puzzles and amateur sleuthing. Packed with top names like Colin Dexter, Christopher Fowler, Alexander McCall Smith, Robert Barnard, Peter James, Natasha Cooper, Sophie Hannah, and many more.

The "Mammoth Book of X" are a very popular collection of anthologies. They cover all sorts of topics (Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance, Mammoth Book of Zombies, Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy, Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories and so on), and tend to be big bricks containing lots and lots of pretty short stories.

This one sounded like a great idea, and a quick scan of the authors included revealed several names I recognised and had been meaning to try for a while. Unfortunately, once I started reading I was disappointed. I read about a quarter of the stories and was really not impressed by most. There were only 2 which were ok, but even those weren't that great. For the others, reading the short notes I made about them (which I've copied below), I think the best word I can use to describe them is "pointless".

Since this seems to be a collection driven by the editor's taste and I felt this sample gave me enough of an idea of what that taste might be, there really was no point in me continuing to read.

Quick summaries of the stories I read:

MR E. MORSE, BA OXON (FAILED), by Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series is one I've been meaning to read, so I'd hoped this would be a good introduction. It's kind of put me off instead. The case was pointless, the writing opaque and Morse himself didn't come across as a particularly interesting character. Story (failed).


GHOSTS, by John Harvey

PI asked to investigate death of a young man in a fight by the victim's mother; must get culprit's girlfriend to turn on him. Much too short, felt like the executive summary of a story. Not interesting, either. Pointless.


THE BLOOD PEARL, by Barry Maitland

Could have been good, with an exotic and unique setting (people who've been fleeced by a con man get involved in plot to steal pearls from his cultivation grounds in Western Australia).Unfortunately I found the characters completely uninsteresting and unbelievable.


THE COMMON ENEMY, by Natasha Cooper

This one was good. Good characters and really, really sad. Girl hasn't come home from friend's house and her mother goes out to search for her. Not a mystery, though, just the story of a tragedy.


BLOODSPORT, by Tom Cain

Really short story, but I liked it. It has a special forces soldier with a sniper's sight trained on the British Prime Minister. Interesting ideas and well-written. Also quite surprising.


THE RAT IN THE ATTIC, by Brian McGilloway

Not terrible, but quite predictable. Elderly woman accuses her neighbour of running over her cat, and police officer goes talk to him to keep her happy. As soon as the whole thing about the roof having no snow on it was said, it was completely obvious what was going on.


ENOUGH OF THIS SHIT ALREADY, by Tony Black

Bad. Girl kills boy who raped her using Rohypnol. No way were these characters believable schoolkids. Another pointless, much-too-short one.


HOGMANAY HOMICIDE, by Edward Marston

Set in 1906, this story features Dr. Crippen as a detective (yes, the famous murderer; this is not just someone of the same name). The mystery was not at all interesting and I found the idea of having Crippen as hero to be in poor taste, especially because Marston seems to be justifying why he would want to kill his wife some years later.


And a list of the other stories in the anthology.

FRUITS, by Steve Mosby
A PLACE FOR VIOLENCE, by Kevin Wignall
FOUR HUNDRED RABBITS, by Simon Levack
HISTORY!, by Toby Litt
THE MASQUERADE, by Sarah Rayne
TAKE DEATH EASY, by Peter Turnbull
THE PARSON AND THE HIGHWAYMAN, by Judith Cutler
SPECIAL DELIVERY, by Adrian Magson
A BLOW ON THE HEAD, by Peter Lovesey
CHICAGO, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
THE HOUSE THAT GOT SHOT, by Barbara Nadel
THE OCTOPUS NEST, by Sophie Hannah
WALKING THE DOG, by Peter Robinson
THE VELOCITY OF BLAME, by Christopher Fowler
SOMEONE TAKE THESE DREAMS AWAY, by Marc Werner
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE, by Alexander McCall Smith
12 BOLINBROKE AVENUE, by Peter James
APPETITE FOR MURDER, by Simon R. Green
THE OTHER HALF, by Mick Herron
SWORD LILIES, by Sally Spedding
LOVE HURTS, by Bill Kirton
FUNERAL WEATHER, by Kate Ellis
A YEAR TO REMEMBER, by Robert Barnard
TIME OF THE GREEN, by Ken Bruen
VIVISECTION, by Bernie Crosthwaite
STAR’S JAR, by Kate Horsley
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A VICTIMLESS CRIME, by Paul Johnston
AND HERE’S THE NEXT CLUE..., by Amy Myers
FRECKLES, by Allan Guthrie
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, by Val McDermid

MY GRADE: A DNF.

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Obsession in Death, by JD Robb

>> Monday, April 06, 2015

TITLE: Obsession in Death
AUTHOR: JD Robb

COPYRIGHT: 2015
PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Putnam

SETTING: 2060s New York
TYPE: Police procedural & romance
SERIES: By my count, 42nd full-length title in the In Death series

Eve Dallas has solved a lot of high-profile murders for the NYPSD and gotten a lot of media. She—and her billionaire husband—are getting accustomed to being objects of attention, of gossip, of speculation.

But now Eve has become the object of one person’s obsession. Someone who finds her extraordinary, and thinks about her every hour of every day. Who believes the two of them have a special relationship. Who would kill for her—again and again…

With a murderer reading meanings into her every move, handling this case will be a delicate—and dangerous—psychological dance. And Eve knows that underneath the worship and admiration, a terrible threat lies in wait. Because the beautiful lieutenant is not at all grateful for these bloody offerings from her “true and loyal friend.” And in time, idols always fall...

Eve Dallas has made many enemies over the years, but in Obsession in Death she comes against someone who considers hirself a friend. A well-known defense lawyer has been found dead in her home, and when Eve and Peabody respond to the call they are surprised to see the message written on the wall next to the victim. It's addressed to Eve. It makes it clear that the killer is an admirer of hers and is trying to tie the loose ends Eve herself cannot (being, as she is, constrained by the rules of her job). The dead woman is a macabre offering, and Eve is sure it won't be the last. And when this person realises Eve is not properly appreciative, will they turn against her and go for the people she cares about?

This was a middle-of-the-road kind of entry in this series. Nothing special, but good and satisfying and working perfectly well as a comfort read. This is one of those cases where the investigation combines the development of the plot and the personal aspects of the series (which can sometimes be a bit separate).

It's obvious the killer takes some sort of twisted inspiration from Eve and sees quite a few similarities between them. So Eve has to consider this, and it leads to an acknowledgment of just how much her life has changed since the solitary days before she met Roarke. The number of potential "bad" victims, people the killer could target as a "favour" to Eve, is large, but the number of potential victims if the killer turns and starts to go after Eve's friends is even larger.

The only aspect that didn't work so well was that I felt Robb overestimated how well we readers would remember previous books. The 40+ books in this series all cover a period of about 2 years in Eve's life. This means that when Eve and her team discuss the victims and their involvement in previous investigations, they don't do a lot of verbal catch-up. This makes sense; they all remember the cases well. I didn't, and I've read every single book in the series. Some of the earlier ones I've actually read multiple times. This includes Rapture in Death, which is where the first victim shows up. The thing is, that book came out almost 20 years ago (!). I reread it more recently, but I still had no idea who all these people Eve was talking about were. Fortunately, there's a wiki for the In Death series and that was really helpful to remind myself of what had happened. Still, Robb really should have realised the great majority of her readers would not remember the books as well as she does!

MY GRADE: A B.

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March 2015 reads

>> Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A mixed month. Some solidly enjoyable reads, but also a few duds, including (especially!) some I was sure were going to be great.



1 - Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold: B+
review coming soon

Miles is sent to Komarr to investigate an accident that might be sabotage, gets involved in another mystery and meets a woman. I enjoyed this very much, but it lacks the compulsive quality of the previous few books.


2 - The Rescue Man, by Anthony Quinn: B+
review here

Reread for my March book club. It's set in Liverpool during World War II and the 1860s. The main character during the WWII sections is an architect who is making a record of Liverpool's noteworthy buildings right before the war starts. To hurry the process he decides to substitute drawings for photographs, and that's how he meets a photographer couple in whose lives he becomes very involved. During the war, he also becomes a rescue man, part of the crews going into bombed buildings and getting people out. And all the while, he's researching and reading the diary of a famous architect from the 1860s.

 I thought the WWII sections were as fantastic as I did the first time I read the book. Their account of what it would have been like to live in a city during a heavy blitz felt vivid and believable. They were also full of characters I cared about. And this time I liked the 1860s sections even more, because last year my friends and I spent the Heritage Open Day visiting the works of Peter Ellis, the architect Quinn's character is based on. It's fantastic stuff. And by coincidence, one of my friends had also got tickets for a tour of the Hardmans' House. The Hardmans were a photographer couple, much like the characters in this book, and their house (which served as their studio and business) has been preserved as it was in the 40s and 50s. I'm not sure if the characters here were based on the Hardmans, but I suspect they might have been, and having seen their house really enhanced my enjoyment of those sections.

This is a love letter to Liverpool, and since I share that love, I thoroughly enjoyed it.




3 - The Reece Malcolm List, by Amy Spalding: B
review coming soon

YA. It features a young woman going to live with her long-lost mother, a famous author, after her father dies. The main character was a bit too passive for my taste, but I was interested, especially in her relationship with her mother.




4 - The Magicians, by Lev Grossman: B
review coming soon

This is billed as Harry Potter for adults, with a young man suddenly being offered a place into a college for magic. The worldbuilding is really cool and I enjoyed that aspect, but I found it hard to care about the characters. They do feel realistic, though!



5 - Kiss of Steel, by Bec McMaster: B-
review here

This is steampunk with vampires. A young woman on the run from a powerful aristocrat finds refuge in the rookeries, where the hero rules. An ok read, but it lost steam (haha!) along the way.




6 - Flirting With Disaster, by Victoria Dahl: B-
review coming soon

The reclusive heroine is on the run and living under a false name. The hero is a US Marshall working on a case in the neighbourhood, exactly the sort of person she doesn't want becoming curious about her past. Not as good as Dahl's usual books, I'm afraid.



7 - Heartless, by Mary Balogh: DNF
review here

This was written 20 years ago and it shows. Very dated, with a martyr heroine, an unbelievable villain and a pretty offensive characterisation of the Evil Other Woman.




8 - Talon, by Julie Kagawa: still listening
review coming soon

Audiobook. YA featuring a dragon-shifter heroine trying to pass for a normal human and avoid the attentions of an organisation devoted to hunting those of her kind. I'm reading this for my book club, otherwise I would have abandoned it after the first chapter. It hasn't got any better.




9 - The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin: still reading
review coming soon

This is an old one, from the late 70s. I haven't got very far into it, but I picked it up because it was described as being really clever and a bit like the game Clue!

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April 2015 wish list

>> Monday, March 30, 2015

This is shaping up to be a really good month. Plenty of books I'm going for without a second thought, and quite a few that intrigue me.


Books I'm definitely planning to get


The One In My Heart by Sherry Thomas (Apr 6)

This is Sherry Thomas doing contemporary. The plot doesn't sound particularly interesting (it's a 'pretend girlfriend' thing, which can be a bit tired), but it's Sherry Thomas, so I'll be definitely trying it.





A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley (Apr 7)

I think Susanna Kearsley is probably my most automatic autobuy. I will buy anything she writes. Period. This one sounds brilliant, too.





The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre (Apr 7)

To be honest, after reading the blurb I'm not quite sure what this is about, just that it's New Adult. But since I've really liked Aguirre's take on NA, I'll be picking it up.





The Liar, by Nora Roberts (Apr 14)

I haven't loved Roberts' latest non-In Death books, but I live in hope. This one sounds like a very typical single-title RS Nora. We'll see.





Garden of Lies, by Amanda Quick (Apr 21)

Krentz seems to have moved away from the half-baked paranormal lately and her books have been more enjoyable, so I'm looking forward to this one.





Sweet by Tammara Webber (Apr 27)

Yay, a new Tammara Webber that is not just a retelling from the other POV!



Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on


The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths (Apr 2)

Latest in the Ruth Galloway series. I haven't unreservedly loved the ones I've read, but her setups always sound very tempting.





The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James (Apr 7)

1920s, mediums, a war veteran whose vocation is debunking psychics. I'm definitely interested.





Taken by Charlotte Stein (Apr 14)

I really don't know if I want to read this. The blurb sounds really messed up (and, incidentally, I HATE those 1st person blurbs), but if someone could pull it off, it's Stein.



A Dance with Danger by Jeannie Lin (Apr 21)

I didn't love the one book of Lin's that I've read, but I've been meaning to try her again.

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Kiss of Steel, by Bec McMaster

>> Friday, March 27, 2015

TITLE: Kiss of Steel
AUTHOR: Bec McMaster

COPYRIGHT: 2012
PAGES: 448
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks Casablanca

SETTING: Alternate-reality Victorian London
TYPE: Steampunk romance
SERIES: London Steampunk #1

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it's the last safe haven. But at what price?

Blade is known as the master of the rookeries—no one dares cross him. It's been said he faced down the Echelon's army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he's been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She's so...innocent. He doesn't see her backbone of steel—or that she could be the very salvation he's been seeking.

Kiss of Steel is billed as steampunk, but although there are some steampunky things here, it's more of a paranormal, alternate-history romance, set in a world where beings we would call vampires (here called Blue-Bloods) have replaced the British aristocracy.

These beings are all infected with a virus that causes a craving for blood. But that's not enough to be part of the Echelon (the aristocracy). When a person is infected, this can take two paths. If they're given a Blue-Blood's blood to drink, they become Blue-Bloods too. This means they develop superhuman speed and strength (not to mention hearing, sight, and all sorts of things) and can heal from pretty much anything. They do need to drink blood to stay alive, though. After many years the craving for blood gets the better of them, and they become vampires. These are are out-of-control, mindless beings, extremely dangerous, because their strength and speed are even more extreme than those of Blue-Bloods.

However, Blue-Bloods are extremely protective of their powers. The Echelon is a small group, and to maintain their status, they keep tight control over who is allowed to join them. So most infected persons are not given a Blue-Blood's blood. I'm not 100% clear on what happens then, but it seems like they either starve to death or become vampires as well. Probably the former; it makes more sense.

All that basic world-building out of the way now, on to the actual plot! Blade is a rogue Blue-Blood. He was created as a game by a sadistic Blue-Blood called Vickers. He was meant to be kept locked up, but he escaped and took refuge in the rookeries. He managed to make an alliance with the locals to protect them from exploitation by the Blue-Bloods (whose demands, both for blood and taxes had got to extortionate levels) and they were able to fight off the Echelon and their troops, who have left them alone ever since. By the time the book starts, Blade is basically the master of the rookeries.

Honoria Todd and her family are new residents of the area. They're there under an assumed name, since they're being hunted by the very same man, Vickers, who turned Blade all those years ago. Honoria's father was a doctor who was working for Vickers on a cure for the blood-craving virus. He fell out with man and sent his family to safety before he could kill them all. Vickers is determined to have them back, both because Honoria took her father's diaries, containing details of his work, and because he's long had an unhealthy and very creepy interest in Honoria.

As the book starts, Honoria's family are on the edge of disaster. They're in a very precarious financial situation, in spite of Honoria and her sister having jobs. Also, the brother, Charlie, is not doing well. Turns out Dr. Todd infected him with the virus to test his vaccine, and the vaccine didn't work. Charlie is getting weaker and weaker and has to be kept tied to the bed, but if Honoria and her sister try to get help, they fear the Blue-Bloods will simply have him killed.

And then Blade takes an interest in the family. He's figured out they're the very people for whose location Vickers is offereing a huge reward, and he's interested in understanding why he's enemy is interested. And once he meets Honoria, he's interested in a whole lot more.

This was all right. I started out by liking it quite a bit and feeling very engaged. The world McMaster created was interesting and different, and I liked how the relationship between Blade and Honoria developed. He realises quite soon that she's verging on desperate, and he tries to help, all the while trying to keep this assistance wrapped in a semblance of a commercial transaction (he can't let her know that he's a kind, decent person, rather than a self-interested cut-throat). There's also a vampire haunting the rookeries and behaving in an unusual manner, and the mystery of that was interesting.

However, I sort of lost interest at around the halfway point. The book felt really long and like it didn't really need to be. I continued to read, and there was nothing there that I found bad or offensive. I wasn't bored enough to ever be tempted to DNF, just not interested enough that I actively needed to know what happened next. Also, as the book went on I became less engaged by Blade and Honoria as a couple.

I did finish the book, though, and I liked that although Honoria was written in a way that sometimes bordered on TSTL, with her taking many risks and insisting on going with Blade to situations that were clearly extremely dangerous to anyone who wasn't a Blue-Blood, it turns out that she can handle herself. She doesn't hesitate to defend herself or those she cares about, and that was good.

Before I close, I should mention the way Blade's speech is written, because it's something that might bother some. He speaks in what's clearly meant to be a cockney accent and uses unorthodox grammar ('I were', that sort of thing), and the author writes his dialogue phonetically. I admired that McMaster kept that up until the very end and made it clear that there was nothing wrong with Blade speaking the way he'd been brought up to speak. But honestly, by the end it had got a bit old and had started to grate.

On the whole, this was ok, although not good enough to make me want to read more in the series, I don't think.

MY GRADE: A B-.

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Beautiful Game Theory, by Ignacio Palacios Huerta

>> Wednesday, March 25, 2015

TITLE: Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics
AUTHOR: Ignacio Palacios Huerta

COPYRIGHT: 2014
PAGES: 224
PUBLISHER: Princeton University Press

SETTING: N/A
TYPE: Non Fiction
SERIES: None

A wealth of research in recent decades has seen the economic approach to human behavior extended over many areas previously considered to belong to sociology, political science, law, and other fields. Research has also shown that economics can provide insight into many aspects of sports, including soccer. Beautiful Game Theory is the first book that uses soccer to test economic theories and document novel human behavior.

In this brilliant and entertaining book, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta illuminates economics through the world's most popular sport. He offers unique and often startling insights into game theory and microeconomics, covering topics such as mixed strategies, discrimination, incentives, and human preferences. He also looks at finance, experimental economics, behavioral economics, and neuroeconomics. Soccer provides rich data sets and environments that shed light on universal economic principles in interesting and useful ways.

Essential reading for students, researchers, and sports enthusiasts, Beautiful Game Theory is the first book to show what soccer can do for economics.

This book was a birthday present from my colleagues, who really know me very well! It's something a bit different from the usual. There has been plenty of work using the tools of economics to illuminate what's going on in the world of football (in fact, one of the best-attended sessions I went to in last year's Royal Economic Society Conference was devoted to using economics to figure out what the impact of Financial Fair Play would be). This is, as the subtitle suggests, the opposite. Palacios Huerta's work uses data from football to test economic theories, many of which are otherwise really tricky to fully test in the real world.

Penalties are particularly useful to him. Their formal, ritualised nature, with well-defined and understood pay-offs, allow him to test quite a few different theories. My favourite was how he used them to test whether psychological pressure affects performance in competitive environments (the key element here is who kicks first in a penalty shoot-out, which is randomly determined by tossing a coin). The author suggests a couple of ways to minimise the advantage he finds goes to the team that gets to kick first, and I really think FIFA should be looking at those.

Another example I particularly liked: How to test the efficient market hypothesis (basically, that the market incorporates any new public information fully and so immediately that no one can take advantage of it to make money, say, trading stocks)? Palacios Huerta's answer is to use the existence of half time, a period when no new information is emerging, and examine how betting markets react. He looks particularly at a situation when there has been a goal right before the interval, therefore providing a significant shock of information.

The book is basically a collection of papers, many adapted from papers already published. I was expecting a pop science-type book, a sort of Football Freakonomics, if you will, but it was quite a bit more technical than that. If Palacios Huerta simplified the papers, he did so only mildly. You get a good level of detail about his exact models, with equations and econometric results aplenty. This makes it ideal for a football fan with a good knowledge of economics. From what I could tell, though, anyone not comfortable with getting into the detailed economics could just skip the most technical bits and still get a very good understanding of the intuitions and results.

If you like football, I'd recommend this.

MY GRADE: A B.

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The Year We Fell Down, by Sarina Bowen

>> Friday, March 20, 2015

TITLE: The Year We Fell Down
AUTHOR: Sarina Bowen

COPYRIGHT: 2014
PAGES: 270
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: New Adult
SERIES: Followed by several related books

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He's way out of Corey's league.

Also, he's taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the "gimp ghetto" of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They're just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she's falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won't, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness -- one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who's afraid to love her back.

Corey Callahan's life has always been all about ice hockey. When she was accepted at Harkness College, what she was looking forward to the most was not so much the university experience, but playing on the varsity ice hockey team. And then she had a serious accident on the ice which caused a spinal injury. So she had to start school as a wheelchair user instead of a star hockey player.

Her injury means that she can't live in the regular dorms (very old buildings, accessibility is problematic), so she gets given a room in the accessible section, where her neighbour is Adam Hartley. Hartley is living there only temporarily, while he recovers from a badly broken leg, and he's a star hockey player himself. The only difference is he will go back as soon as his leg heals, while Corey will never be able to play hockey again.

This could have become the root of conflict between them (and, to be honest, I initially assumed that it would), but it doesn't. Instead, Corey and Hartley bond. They become good friends, and Corey starts developing romantic feelings for him. Problem is, he has a girlfriend.

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked the characterisation of Corey (for some reason, I felt the name didn't fit her. Whenever I saw the name I was all... "who?". Didn't help that Hartley (who was totally not an Adam, either), always called her Callahan). Corey is not mopey and miserable. She obviously has had some trouble adjusting to the fact that there are some things she loved that she now can't do, and she's certainly sometimes annoyed and resentful about the changes, but she gets on with it. I liked that the way she was written emphasises what she can do (and does), rather than what she can't. Also, given that I've only seen characters in romance who are wheelchair users 100% of the time, I liked that her wheelchair use was more complex.

Unfortunately, I wasn't crazy about the romance. I liked that they were friends first, before anything happened even though they did fancy each other from the beginning. But that's kind of related to what I didn't like, which was basically the whole thing about Hartley's girlfriend, Stacia. First of all, I was annoyed at how she's used as a foil to Corey. Look, Stacia is beautiful, rich and glamorous, but she's selfish and superficial (a 'monster', as she's described), while Corey is a complete contrast: genuine and good. That sort of thing annoys me.

I also found Hartley's relationship with Stacia horrible. He's not an asshole to her, which is good, but the way he treats her reminded me of an indulgent father with a spoilt child, which was really icky. There is an explanation very close to the end of why he's been in a relationship with her all these months, and that makes a very vague sort of sense, but I didn't buy that he wouldn't have just ended that relationship a lot sooner, given his feelings for Corey. Also, the explanation came too late, once I'd already been annoyed at him for the entire book and had lost a lot of respect for him.

I didn't hate this, but I didn't love it either, and it didn't put me off the author. Which is a good thing, because her Blonde Date, which I read a few weeks later, was lovely. I shall review that shortly!

MY GRADE: A C+.

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Interesting non-fiction

>> Monday, March 16, 2015

TITLE: I Wouldn't Start From Here: The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong
AUTHOR: Andrew Mueller

Mueller is a journalist and this is an edited collection of articles which are a sort of travelogue of trouble spots (mainly; he also goes to Luxembourg!) in the first few years of the 21st century. They're basically Mueller trying to get a handle on what the hell is going on. I was a bit worried when the first chapter featured Bono and I realised Mueller is a (former?) rock journalist. I was not in the mood for celebrity sycophancy, so I was relieved to see this was a one-off. There are some well-known people who show up in a few chapters, but they are more along the lines of Al Gore and Gerry Adams (whom Mueller asks why he never joined the IRA!).

I really enjoyed it. The writing is good, with enough of Mueller in there to keep it interesting but not make it about him, and I felt that what he had to say tended to be refreshingly non-trite.

MY GRADE: A B+.



TITLE: The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture
AUTHOR: Euny Hong

A look at the ascent of Korean Pop Culture, exploring how it's generated and exported, with a little bit about more general Korean culture as well. The author is Korean but she spent the first years of her life in the US, where her father was working, before moving back to Seoul in the 80s (where she lived in the Gangnam area). She therefore has an interesting insider-outsider perspective.

I thought the material was interesting, mostly, but I felt Hong did best in the sections where her personal experience was relevant. There were times when she was covering issues like industrial policy and it seemed she was a bit out of her depth. Those chapters mainly consist of her talking to people (lots of government officials) and parrotting back what she's told, without applying much critical thinking to it. In those sections we never really go beyond the most surface look at issues, and there were several chapters like that.

Interesting read, but it could have been much better.

MY GRADE: A B-.

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