February Reading Thread

Montero

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Christopher McDougall Running with Sherman (the Donkey)
The author is a runner and writer and has several other books on long distance running to his name. He and his family live on a small farm in Amish country and take on a rescue donkey. The book is about rehabilitating Sherman by taking him on runs with them, gradually working up to taking part in a cross-country burro race in the Colorado mountains. Entertaining read that encompasses a lot on donkey behaviour and training, long distance running - as in ultra running, an independent minded escapologist goat called Lawrence, several of his Amish neighbours and other neighbours. Includes an Amish running group.
 

Hugh

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Maeve Gilmore “A World Away: a Memoir of Melvyn Peake”
An account of her marriage to Melvyn Peake: heartrendingly sad and poignant, but also really sweet and lovely.
Highly recommended if you want to know more about Peake.
Only 135 pages long. Well written. Simple prose.
Ah! The joy of finding something unknown in a second hand bookstore....
 

hitmouse

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Maeve Gilmore “A World Away: a Memoir of Melvyn Peake”
An account of her marriage to Melvyn Peake: heartrendingly sad and poignant, but also really sweet and lovely.
Highly recommended if you want to know more about Peake.
Only 135 pages long. Well written. Simple prose.
Ah! The joy of finding something unknown in a second hand bookstore....
This is a lovely book. If you liked it I recommend the “4th Titus book” written by Maeve Gilmore. Quite haunting. Contains a character who is clearly Mervyn.
 

Hugh

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This is a lovely book. If you liked it I recommend the “4th Titus book” written by Maeve Gilmore. Quite haunting. Contains a character who is clearly Mervyn.
Many thanks indeed. I will now definitely read it in the next year or so. I'd wondered about it after reading in Maeve's memoir that she'd written it, but was unsure...
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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From Sixteen Short Novels:

"Tortilla Flat" (1935) by John Steinbeck

Episodic, seriocomic account of the adventures and misadventures of a group of Hispanics near the city of Monterey, California, just after the end of the First World War. The story has the feeling of a folk tale. Loosely adapted into a movie of the same name in 1942, with Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, and John Garfield.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Since I last posted here I have continued my Witch World reread, and finished both Three Against the Witch World and Warlock of the Witch World (they aren't long books).

In Three Against the Witch World, the three children of Simon and Jaelithe are born at a single birth—a thing that had never been known to happen before in Estcarp. And more than that, these children of a battle-hardened soldier from Earth and a former wise woman of Estcarp develop as extraordinary individuals in other ways. From a young age, the triplets (two boys and a girl) develop a three-way telepathic communion, which they keep secret from others. And while Kyllan and Kemoc are trained as warriors, as other youths are in their land, Kaththea shows promise of witch powers like those her mother possessed before her marriage. However, Simon and Jaelithe, knowing that Estcarp finds them useful but still distrusts them and their children for being different, refuse to give up their daughter for testing and fostering by the witches.

Years later, when Simon and Jaelithe have gone missing during an overseas adventure, and while the brothers are off on patrol, the witches swoop in and spirit Kaththea away to their heavily-guarded sanctuary. There she trains as a witch, but before she can take the final vows (and might, thereafter, be lost to her family forever), she contacts her brothers to warn them. Because the witches have been mustering all of their combined powers for—and focussing most of their attention on—a final devastating blow against their foes to the south, a chance to rescue Kaththea may finally be offered. And so it is, for as the witches strike out against enemy Karsten by literally moving mountains, many of the witches die while others are left temporarily too drained to stop the enterprising Tregarth boys. Now it is their turn to swoop in and carry Kaththea off. However, knowing that they will now be hunted as outlaws, they need a refuge, and so they turn to the forbidden land beyond the eastern mountains.

After an arduous journey, they arrive in the ancient land of Escore, which proves to be a land of wonders, as well as a land where powerful forces for good and evil exist in a sort of uneasy balance, ever since battles fought centuries ago. And the coming of the Tregarths upsets that balance.

While the previous book is told from the perspective of Kyllan, the warrior, Warlock of the Witch World is told from the viewpoint of Kemoc. While still in Estcarp, Kemoc turned a period spent recovering from a battle injury to good account by searching through the archives at Lormt, hoping to uncover secrets there. This is how he found out about the forbidden realm beyond the mountains in the first place, but he also uncovered a certain amount of magical knowledge. Because men in Estcarp have no magical power (at least until the arrival of Simon, and afterwards his sons) they are allowed full access to the archives because no one sees any reason to hide from them knowledge that they can't use anyway. Which in Kemoc's case, turns out to be not at all the case.

And now that he is in Escore, he is going to need every bit of magical knowledge he has acquired, every bit of magical power that he can muster.

I quite enjoyed this book because, unlike Norton's other books, this one has a fairy tale vibe to it (along with other elements more familiar to fans of her books). It is even possible to identify the specific inspiration ("Childe Rowland" and its small family of variants) for a large part of the plot. But along with the story of Kemoc going on an arduous quest to rescue his sister (yes, again), there are complexities to the story involving politics and alliances among different cultures, different races, and even different species (some of them the distant progeny of experimental subjects in laboratories—magical? scientific? some combination of both? too long ago to say), trying to unite in order to fight against a similarly diverse coalition, but that other one is allied with forces of the Dark. Kaththea is being seduced by a member of that other coalition, with promises of increasing her power beyond anything she could ever have imagined before. And in the course of trying to save his sister, Kemoc also faces questions about the dangers and temptations of power.

So now for me, it's on to the final book of the original series. Like I said, none of them are long, so I'll probably report back soon.
 

williamjm

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I finished Adrian Tchaikovsky's House of Open Wounds. I liked City of Last Chances a lot, which this is a loose sequel to, and I think this book might be even better. There are a lot of fantasy stories which focus on wars and battles (such as Tchaikovsky's own Guns of the Dawn), this is a bit different to most of them because while it is set in an army during a war we see very little of the fighting and often the characters have only a vague idea about how the war is progressing. The setting is an experimental field hospital where a motley bunch of outcasts, magicians and priests are applying their varied talents to saving the lives of wounded soldiers who might not survive with conventional medicine. Their existence is complicated because the country whose army they are serving is has very strict rules against outcasts, magicians and priests and would normally be hanging most of them rather than employing them. This is particularly true of their newest recruit Yasnic (previously seen in City of Last Chances) whose speciality is divine healing which can cure any wound as long as the person being cured commits to a life of pacifism, which is not a good fit for someone healing soldiers. It features a last cast of characters, many of them get chapters told from their own perspective, and I thought they were all interesting and the way their backstories are gradually revealed is very effective. The tension builds as the story goes along and the hospital's continued existence gets increasingly tenuous and the story has a great ending. There's also a good amount of (often dark) comedy to lighten the mood a bit, particularly in the interactions between Yasnic and his irritable God who is continuing to have trouble adjusting to only having a single follower.
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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From Sixteen Short Novels:

"Mario and the Magician" by Thomas Mann (1929), translated from German by Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter (1930)

During an unpleasant vacation in Italy, the German narrator and his family witness a grotesque, sinister hypnotist work his will upon members of the audience. Pretty clearly an allegory for the rise of Fascism, and close in mood to a horror story.
 

Danny McG

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Hench by Natalie Zina Walshots

The daily grind of being a temp agency henchman to a super villain
 

Teresa Edgerton

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originally put that in my post, but then I edited to correct a spelling, now it looks like I've accidentally deleted a full line!
That sort of thing happens to me a lot when I try to write posts on my Kindle instead of my computer. I am always hitting something I shouldn't on that tiny digital keyboard.

But to return to my own recent reading: I have finished Sorceress of the Witch World. That rereading went quicker than I thought it would, but felt slower, since so much of it was so disappointing to me that I started skipping and skimming—which I find is generally death to any real engagement I may feel for the characters or the story. And that turned out to indeed be true in this case. I did continue with the book on to the end, hoping it would recapture some of what I liked in the previous books, but it never did.

So not my favorite book in the series, not by a long shot. My advice to those reading this series, whether for the first time or as a nostalgic looking-back at a beloved series: stop when you get to the end of Warlock of the Witch World, while you are still ahead.

Although if you are tempted to read The Year of the Unicorn—an early favorite of mine that I did reread a few months ago but didn't mention here, because I was depressed and uncommunicative at the time—which takes place in the same world but in a different part of that world, with an entirely separate plot and characters (though often packaged as though it were part of the same sequence), that one does hold up a lot better.

(A few days ago when I was discussing Warlock of the Witch World and said that a fairy tale influence was absent from her other books, I don't know what I could possibly have been thinking of when I said that, because it isn't true. The Year of the Unicorn is inspired by one of my very favorite folk and fairy tale motifs, which is one reason why I liked it in the first place.)
 

HareBrain

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Michael Caine (he's started writing novels, not a lot of people know that)
My initial response when I heard about this was 'Yeah, of course he "wrote" it', but a bit of research suggests I was wrong, and he really did tap it all out himself (unlike lots of celebs). So, good on him for that at least. Shame it doesn't seem to be that great.
 

Matteo

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A re-read of the Saga of the Exiles tetralogy which I read around 30 years ago. Though a good read generally, this time round I thought it was over-long. That might be because I only had the chance to dip into it for a few moments every now and then rather than sit down for at least an hour in silence - as I prefer to read. To be pedantic, it was actually my mid-November, December, January and first of February read...
 

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