book log 2015 – January summary

March 17, 2015

Summary of the books read in January, posted only a month or so late… All were reviewed in more detail earlier in the blog.

1) Ben Goldacre: Bad Pharma
Excellent non-fiction analysis of the problem of biased research in the pharmaceuticals industry.
Kobo, Amazon US, Amazon UK

2) Gemma Halliday – Spying in High Heels
Chicklit mystery, not to my taste.
Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US

3) Christmas in the Duke’s Arms
Regency romance anthology with linked novelettes by four authors, set in a small village one Christmas.
Amazon UK, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Kobo

4) Pati Nagle — Dead Man’s Hand
A lovely short ghost novel for Halloween, with the emphasis on the human soul rather than on horror.
direct from Book View Cafe, Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

5) Summer Devon — The Gentleman and the Lamplighter
Gentle and lovely Victorian m/m romance.
Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Kobo

6) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett — Good Omens
Yes. Well. I mentioned on Twitter while reading the book and when I wrote my review that it coloured the book to be re-reading it for the first time since Pterry announced The Embuggerance. I posted the review two days before he died. It’s no bad thing to be reminded of why he was so special.
Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Kobo


book log 2015: 6) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett — Good Omens

March 10, 2015

Usually I make a note when I happen to know the author (or in this case, one of the authors). It doesn’t normally affect my review much, but in this case — I last read this book before Terry went public about The Embuggerance. That’s coloured my recent re-read, putting an edge on the humour that wasn’t there last time round. Nevertheless…

This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and yes, that includes Terry’s other output. The Bible is true on a literal level, the Antichrist has just been born and Armageddon is coming, and a somewhat shopsoiled angel and demon would really rather it didn’t, thank you very much. Aziraphale and Crowley have spent the last six thousand years doing their jobs on Earth, after that unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden, and in the manner of undercover agents everywhere, have discovered that they have more in common with each other than their masters. They like humans, and they like the human lifestyle. They don’t at all like the idea of returning whence they came. And so they decide to do something about it.

All of which was predicted by Agnes Nutter, Witch, who left a set of prophecies for her descendents. Very, very accurate prophecies written by someone who saw things but didn’t necessarily understand what she was seeing. Her present day descendent knows that Armageddon is coming, and sets out to do something about the Antichrist.

Who just happens to be a perfectly normal English boy with a gang, and a dog. The dog is from hell, but the gang isn’t, in spite of the collective opinion of the adults of the village. One too many swaps in the nursing home left the Antichrist as a cuckoo in the nest of a completely normal middle class family instead of the American diplomat’s, and completely untended by satanic nursemaids to guide him in the wrong path. And thus the stage is set for a satire that mercilessly dissects all manner of things about modern life, and has enormous fun along the way.

Very much recommended.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo


Book log 2015 – 5) Summer Devon — The Gentleman and the Lamplighter

March 8, 2015

It’s Victorian London, and wealthy young gentleman Giles Fullerton is still grieving a year after the death of the man he loved, his grief made worse by the need to conceal it. He deals with the emotional pain by walking the streets through the night, until he can face sleep. Young lamplighter John Banks knows a thing or two about grief himself. He loved his wife dearly, even though he’s gay, and has missed her each day since her death. The young gentleman who wanders his route on so many nights may have attracted his attention with his good looks, but John can see that something drives him into the night. Enough so that at last John speaks to him, concerned for his safety. Curiosity about John’s job of lighting and dousing the streetlamps provides something for Giles to focus on outside his grief.

There’s companionship of a sort in a stranger to speak to, and gradually the two young widowers reveal more about themselves to each other in their conversation each night; first in coded and deniable references to their grief, and then more openly. Enough so that they finally act on their attraction. But this is Victorian London, and a relationship is barred by more than their being both men; the social gulf between them would be every bit as shocking to society, and moreover puts them at far greater risk of exposure than if they could meet as equals. Will they both have the courage to find a way through to a chance at happiness?

This is a gentle, slow romance, and all the better for it. It’s a lovely short novella with a pair of well drawn, appealing main characters and some good secondary characters, and a sex scene that adds to the emotional development rather than being there to make up the word count. One for my re-read list.

Available free to members of the Heroes and Heartbreakers website, or you can pay a modest sum to get a nicely formatted ebook with a gorgous cover.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo


booklog 2015 – 4) Pati Nagle – Dead Man’s Hand

March 8, 2015

Five murdered poker players from different eras are brought back from the dead for one last tournament. The prize is life itself.

The book opens with Wild Bill Hickok finding himself pulled from the grave, his bones clothing themselves with flesh and the flesh with clothes. The reader follows along with Bill as he tries to work out what’s going on and why he feels an urge to go to Atlantic City, although the reader has an advantage over him in being able to recognise the present day and just how much time has passed. Another four men from different time periods have the same experience, although one is so recently dead that he is able to convince friends and family that he’d been kidnapped and held incommunicado for several years. As they gradually assemble, they discover that they have been revived for the greatest poker tournament in history – between the greatest players, no matter when they lived.

The result is an atmospheric blend of ghost story and mystery, with some superb world-building going into the strange casino that has revived the men. The characters are well developed, and it’s a joy to watch their interaction, and their different reactions to the present day. Those reactions are driven in part by their different reasons for wanting the prize; not just a new life in a recreated body, but what they want to do with that life. A chance at love, a chance at revenge, fascination with this new world they find themselves in… Even for the four losers, their short time walking the earth again allows them to do at least a little of what was left undone.

A lovely short ghost novel for Halloween, with the emphasis on the human soul rather than on horror.

direct from Book View Cafe, with excerpts available
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia


booklog 2015 – 3) anthology — Christmas in the Duke’s Arms

March 6, 2015

Regency romance anthology with linked novelettes by four authors, set in a small village one Christmas. The Duke’s Arms of the title is the village pub, but there is a real duke as well, plus an earl or two. I’ve left it too late to write a proper review of this one, alas, but Azteclady’s written a good review. I don’t agree with her ratings on each story, but that’s a reflection of the variety in the stories – if you like historical romances, there’s a good chance at least one of these novelettes will work for you.

Amazon UK
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
Kobo


booklog 2015 – 2) Gemma Halliday – Spying in High Heels

January 11, 2015

Chicklit mystery set in Los Angeles. Maddie Springer is a young fashion designer who tries to track down her lawyer boyfriend when he goes missing, and finds herself in the middle of embezzlement and murder. I nearly stopped reading on the first page, wherein Maddie describes her behaviour on the freeway when she’s late for a meeting with her boyfriend. Almost causing an accident by cutting into lanes and doing her make-up in the mirror at high speed was presumably supposed to make her look adorably ditzy, but I simply found it loathsome. I did keep reading, but it coloured my view of the character for the rest of the book.

It’s an odd one for me. The mystery plot was enjoyable if predictable, and there were things I liked a lot, with some good supporting characters; but it was hard work getting to the end and if it had been a paper edition I would have probably been high-speed skim-reading. No more than a two star for me and I’m not inclined to try anything else by this author, even if I can see why other people were bowled over by it.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US
ARe


book log 2015 – 1) Ben Goldacre – Bad Pharma

January 10, 2015

I was a bit pathetic at book logging last year, wasn’t I? Doubtless I shall be again this year, but I’m going to try to do slightly better and at least get to the end of January before it all goes horribly wrong…

Ben Goldacre is a very angry man, with good reason. In this book he lays out how the pharmaceutical industry has distorted drug research in pursuit of profit, sometimes intentionally, sometimes entirely without malice but with equally devastating effects for patient welfare. This matters because patients are prescribed less effective drugs, or drugs which are outright harmful, at huge financial expense to those paying for the drugs. This isn’t a conspiracy theory book; Goldacre is quite clear that many valuable drugs have come out of the industry, and that most of the people who work in it want to make better drugs. He sets out in detail how and why bias is introduced into both research and prescribing practices, putting it in layman’s terms but linking to the research papers and court documents that back up what he’s saying. He also addresses the failings of the current regulatory system, and proposes ways to improve things — pointing out that unless real controls with serious financial penalties are put in place, even those companies which genuinely want to reform will be under commercial pressure to continue with bad practice in a race to the bottom.

It’s a dense and at times exhausting read. But Goldacre has done a decent job of making the issue accessible to a wide audience with a direct interest, from patients to practising doctors and academics. You can skim a lot of the book to get the general gist, or you can read it in details without following the links, or you can dig into research material he drew on and has laid out in meticulous footnotes and citations. He concludes the original edition with practical suggestions about what individual people can do to improve things, often simply by asking questions.

I read the second edition, which has a “what happened next” chapter about the reaction to the first edition. As he had predicted, there was a backlash in an attempt to discredit him — but there was also a lot of covert feedback from industry personnel acknowledging the problems and considering how to improve things. While there’s always a “the lurkers support me in email” issue with uncredited sources, he does also offer some examples of companies which have publicly moved to improve transparency.

Bad Pharma is an angry but rational examination of a real problem that affects millions of people, including almost anyone reading this review. It’s a worthwhile read, even if it makes for uncomfortable reading for patients, doctors and companies alike.

Kobo
Amazon US
Amazon UK


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