Unmastered (A Book On Desire, Most Difficult To Tell) – Katherine Angel

Unmastered is the most personal book I’ve read in a long time. Much more so than I was expecting when I picked up a Penguin book.

We are taken on an exploration of Angel’s adult relationships, and how key moments defined who she became. She keeps to short, modern fragments of moments and thoughts. This gradually builds up the image of a woman working out what her desires are.

When I started I did have doubts about whether this was “My kind of book”. The choppy and disjoint writing took a few sections to start enjoying and appreciating the flow of. But once I was into it, I flew through this, then flicked back to reread sections, whilst noting a few references I intend to follow up.

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The Space Machine – Christopher Priest

The Space MachineThis is a glorious tribute to H. G. Wells, borrowing strongly from both The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. Its set in that late Victorian era beloved of steampunk when Science! was happening and there were leaps of progress and borrows strongly from that early science fiction tradition.

Whilst the characters are occasionally a bit wooden in that “stiff upper lip” manner, they have some personality and backstory at least. There is even a dynamic female character who is key to the whole story, even if she is inevitably the love interest.

I do however object to the cover, as the first thing we are told about the machine is that despite first impressions it doesn’t look like a clock after all, just that style of machining. So what do they use but a picture of a clock to illustrate the cover??

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The Making of Modern Britain – Andrew Marr

The Making of Modern Britain is a well-researched book on how the British moved from being Victorians to modern Britains. It looks at political and social change and the causes behind these.

There are enough details to illustrate each point, and to see the changes progressing through the decades. It puts the history we all know into context, and allows a comparison between people of the Edwardian generation as people, not as stiff-upper lipped photographs.

It is important to remember though, that Marr is a BBC man. He criticises the abuse of power by the newspaper journalists in a way that Auntie is protected from, and the monarchy is again generally protected. This is understandable, but makes the book less impartial than it might otherwise aim to be.

Well-worth reading though, and I intend to read The History of Modern Britain, for which this book was a prequel.

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Marrying Out – Harold Carlton

I came across Marrying Out in a copy of Slightly Foxed, which gave a lovely taster of this book. Therefore when I ordered myself a Slightly Foxed subscription, I also ordered the lovely hardback, Everyman-sized copy of this book.

Its an autobiographical book about Harold becoming an adult, and working out what that means in his 1960s Jewish family. He explores the family secrets, and truths everyone holds to be self-evident, and tries to work out what being an atheist Jew means.

The unravelling of secrets at the end finished the book well, and allowed all the strands of the book to make sense.

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The Last Vote – Philip Coggan

At the Hay Festival last spring, I heard Coggan talk about this book. It sounded sufficiently intriguing to add to the mental tbr list, and later on I finally ordered it from the Guardian bookshop. Months later still it eventually arrived (wasn’t a preorder so I’m unlikely to use them again).The Last Vote

Unfortunately Coggan is an economics journalist and it shows. There is little discussion about any motivations aside from the economic ones, both for democracy and explaining why it may currently be in peril. Whilst economics is of course a key driver, there must be other things to explore in this.

I may of course be jaded from having just read The Undercover Economist, and in need of a bit of a different topic though!

There are also a few cases of “bad statistics” lurking in this book, such as a graph that compares economic growth and trust in government between different countries, ignoring the impact that very different cultures and political climates may have on this. Change within countries over time would surely be more valid than comparing disparate countries in a snapshot.

However far it wanders from its core argument though, the need for people to vote to legitimise government remains one close to me, especially in the run up to a UK general election.

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Arslan – M.J. Engh

Arslan is a book of the post World War Two/early Cold War era, with an unknown dictator having swept to power across the world and celebrating with a brutal display of power in a small American town. More of a dystopian future novel than science fiction, it focuses on the victor in a power grab, a dictator who has decided what direction to take the human race in.

I love the exploration of character here. We follow the development of the dictator and the community we first meet him in as they adapt to this new world order. Its an interesting exploration of character and how life events define us.

Its also impossible to say much more without giving away motivations that are best revealed as the plot unfolds.

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The Forgotten Affairs of Youth/The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds – Alexander McCall Smith

The Uncommon Appeal of CloudsThe Charming Quirks of Others

I have been neglecting my favourite fictional philosopher of late, so decided to pick up the latest two Isabel Dalhousie novels. They were exactly what I expeted from them, lightweight looks at Edinburgh social life, littered with Isabel’s internal philosphical debates and cultural references.

In some ways her life never changes, even as she negotiates her relationship with Jamie and her niece, and little Charlie grows up. Of course I don’t want her to change too much, her blessed life is the escapism that this series offers.

AMS is an astoundingly prolific author, especially given he only came to writing novels post “retirement” and this is definitely my favourite of his series.

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