Tempests and Slaughter – Tamora Pierce

With the Numair Cronicals, Pierce is doing what she does best, and is taking us back to school. But this time we are not learning to hit things with sticks, but Numair is learning how to practise magic. Not only Numair though, we are back with his closest friends, Osborne and Varice.

We don’t start with the fiercely competent Numair from the Daine books, but an awkward Arram Draper, who is sick when watching the gladiator games when his father comes to visit. But we follow him being escalated through the normal classes as an obviously extremely talented student.

“And magic depends on perfection,” Cosmos interputed.

I love that instead of making the teachers difficult people, for the most part Pierce makes them motivated good mentors, who share their research and work with a gifted boy, as long as he works. And work hard is what he does, what all three of them do to work out how to find their own places in the world.

How Ozorne is shaped through this period, instead of being a cruel tyrant this now becomes a tragic story arc to those of us who know its conclusion. His starting place is just to be a boy who wants his own home and a place to practice magic, and he is renowned as the boy who will never get to be emperor. He does not get the same safe supportive mentors as Draper, but instead is manipulated through his grief-stricken state.

I look forward to seeing where Pierce next takes this arc, and the Numair we know is being shaped from the boy Arram.


La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is one of my favourite rereads. Lyra’s journey is many things: a commentary on faith, a fantasy multiverse and a coming of age story.

La Belle Sauvage is a prequel, and opens in the setting of an unfamiliar pub. But we are swiftly moved into a world of Alethiometers, scholars and the Magesterium. The nostelgia trip is complete with dæmons, witches and gyptians too.

I loved this. Pullman’s fantasy world is as rich as ever, and he continues to explore the dynamics behind abuse of power and how that affects real people.

The Marshmallow Test – Walter Mischel

For the unintiaiated, the “marshmallow test” was an experiment conducted with preschool children to establish what their ability to exercise self-control to wait for a larger reward was. In the original experiment, this was one marshmallow (or similar treat) as soon as they wanted, or double this if they waited until an adult returned to the room.

But crucially, the research underpinning The Marshmallow Test is that self-control at a very early age has a strong impact on outcomes throughout life. Those who can delay gratification for 20 minutes for a greater reward at a young age on average achieve better qualifications, save more for retirement and manage more stable relationships.

Mischel then sets out to understand what factors effect self control, from genes through stress levels in infancy, to factors under the control of adults. He tests public policies, parenting techniques and ways to control your thinking process to allow slower thinking to step into decision making. Thinking Fast and Slow was referenced, along with other research into how we control impulsive decision making and step back.

I found this an interesting read, and am glad I picked it up from the library.


Goodbye Christopher Robin – Ann Thwaite

I read Goodbye Christopher Robin travelling across France on a TGV, with my son next to me giggling uncontrollably as he listened to The House at Pooh Corner on audiobook. He is of course “Christopher Robin” age, happily and innocently talking to his soft toys.

I was surprised by how long it took in this book for a wedge to be driven between author and son, and how devoted the author was, despite his mistakes in sharing that. I can clearly see where all this sharing is going, even without the clear hint from the title. But it is a love story of a marriage and then the bonds between a father and son. How these bonds are severed leads to a heartbreaking conclusion.



Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

I’m starting to get a feel for title puns here: Reaper Man is not only mostly about Death, but about Death becoming a man. And of course, if Death takes a sabbatical, all manner of chaos is set loose across Discworld. No-one can die, and energies are building up.

‘But I don’t think Death ever came for a potato,’ said the Dean doubtfully.
‘Death comes for everything,’ said the Archchancellor, firmly.

This is fast-paced, chapterless, and flits between viewpoints. Ultimately though, there are three-four main threads to the story, which all pull together for a very tidy ending. Death learns humanity and the value of a temporary existence, and the internal politics of Ankh-Morpork nearly prevent the world from being saved.

The supermarket trolleys made me laugh, and the wider theme of compassion made me think, as it was supposed to. The next book as arrived on my ereader via the library app, so I’ll be diving into that soon.


Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

Exit West is for the first half a realistic love story about a couple trapped in a city dissolving into civil war. A tale of passion, family life and secretive liaisons. But as the world collapses around Nadia and Saeed, reality begins to seep away. Instead we move into a world where doors begin to exist that will take you to other places.

There is also vital commentary on war and anti-immigration feeling from the viewpoint of two people who could be seen as victims of both, including a very perspective look at how easy it is for someone who is marginalised and isolated to be pulled into violence. Of course our heroes avoid the temptation, and benefit from the most gracious sides of some communities, but they spend a lot of time being pulled with the tidal wave of changes to society.

The “doors” were the most unexpected part of the story, but they are a handy literary device, saving the need for explanations as to how people got to places, just that it was accepted that they did.

Saeed and Nadia’s relationship is what shines through the book though. Something that inspires both of them to try for better, and offering two views on changes, along with the dynamic within the relationship itself. It is clear that each other is what is most important throughout much of the book, and that is what inspires each of them.

I even enjoyed the ending, bittersweet though it was, with the epilogue helping to end on a bit more of an upbeat note.

Having read this, I think it much more deserved the 2017 Booker prize than Lincoln in the Bardo (the winner) did.


The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

This is becoming a historical novel, describing an alternative present in the 1960s, Dick uses the device of a book offering the perspective of the route history did take, which is widely held as both dangerously radical and impossible. Strangely though, little pivots around that device except the author of the book (who only appears in the last couple of chapters) and one of its readers. Far more pivotal is the I Ching, which slowly develops from a quiet source into a key active component, and the one detail that ties all plots together.

As this was written in the era when the world was coming to terms with the horrors of Nazi Germany and the development of nuclear powers, the obvious question as to how horrifying a future in which these two elements were combined is explored. It also deals with complete authoritarian superpowers who run the whole world. Interestingly it becomes clear that over time Hitler loses the respect he commanded, but that the power base he had built up had too many vested interests to allow for his systems to be disbanded. Instead horrors perpetuate without checks and balances.

Even though there isquite brutal violence, I now need to read more of his work.


Heritage of Lakeland – A. Harry Griffin

Prior to picking this book up, I was unaware of Harry Griffin’s writings about climbing and general life in the Lake District. He wrote in an interesting era, as the national parks were set up, and climbing was becoming a more popular hobby. He also has the great benefit of writing as a local, who lived his life at the foot of the fells, and knew both the fells and the people who climbed them and made a living from them intimately.

This collection is broken into distinct sections, covering the main publications he wrote for: the Lancashire Evening Post, Cumbria, Fell and Rock Climbing Club, The Guardian Country Diary pieces, and a set of other writings. Each of these display that intimacy, and give imersive descriptions of climbing and exploring the fells, or meeting shepherds in the pub, or of his life as a music journalist.

His descriptions are so inspiring that I am tempted to learn to climb myself, and not just plod across the summits. But I think I’ll stick to plodding and skiing for now. His music pieces have also returned me to regular piano-playing

Because he loved the Lake District so much, this shone in not only his climbing but also his curiosity as to how the ancient routes across the fells came to be. What did Moses of Moses’s trod really smuggle? Who is the Jack that Jack’s Rake is named after? Sadly these are unknown, and become more unknowable as time passes, so they remain as open questions.

This is a well-curated collection by a writer who loved his subject, and well worth reading through.


Mort – Terry Pratchett

I have spent about 20 years telling people I don’t like Pratchett’s writing. Periodically I’d pick one up and give it a try, but it never quite chimed with me. Then a few people convinced me to give it another go, and I ran out of books with only my ereader on me, and spotted Mort (start of the death series) was immediately available.

For everyone who over the years has shook their heads at me not liking Pratchett, I apologise. Mort was unputdownably brilliant.

I now have Reaper Man on order at the library, only because I am too short on shelf space to buy every Discworld book right now (the long-planned library remodelling will be the subject of a later post).

I liked Mort as a character, but Death himself really was what dragged me in. His attitude to life, and kittens, along with the attempt to find an apprentice were all very compelling. The plot is perfectly paced, and the humour light.

Sadly the library auto-returned my copy before I wrote this post though, so I have lost my bookmarked quotes. I shall do better next time…


Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Gaiman leads us on an adventure through Norse mythology, as we discover the complex network of relationships and characters that make up this mythology. As he states, it is a shame that many of the supposed tales have been lost through time, and Gaiman only works with those that remain.

The Norse myths to me do speak of a cold mountainous land. One where powers struggle against each other to gain an upper hand, and giants roam the lands beyond. But it is a fully-realised world, with details filled in to make compelling tales.

Gaiman celebrates Loki’s cunning, whilst slightly mocking Thor’s excessive use of strength. And they are all very fallible. In fact the fallibility of the gods is most of what the stories are about, combined with their willingness to sacrifice each other for personal gain, and inhuman speed, strength and stamina.