2016 Reading Update, September

I’ve met my target of reading 26 books this year, with a few months left to keep reading in. Since my last update I’ve added seven more books to my total, four of which are Patrick O’Brian books – and I’ll finish the series before next update, library stock permitting.

The list so far

Here’s what the list looks like after the last update in July:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross
  12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
  13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell
  15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross
  16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian
  17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian
  18. The Errant Hours by Kate Innes
  19. Iceland Defrosted by Edward Hancox
  20. Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle
  21. The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian
  22. The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian
  23. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

Recent Reads:

And here’s what I’ve been reading since then:

24. Clarissa Oakes by Patrick O’Brian

Since getting back into this series earlier in the year I’ve become consumed by it, and those of your who are following my writing progress reports will already be aware that it’s seeping into that side of my life too. It’s an inspiration. This book in particular I adored. The framing for the plot is simple: the title character boards the ship at the start and leaves it at the end, and her presence on board is the catalyst for much of the plot – with both Jack and Stephen having a great deal to consider as a result. O’Brian tends not to use obvious structural frameworks in his novels, but here where he has used one it’s worked very well indeed.

25. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

I’ve read Stross’s Merchant Princes series before and greatly enjoyed it, so I decided to try more of his work. And while the Merchant Princes was very much my sort of thing – with an alternative world, a seeminly magical object opening a door between that world and our own, and court intruige – the Atrocity Archives veers a little further from what I’m used to. There are still alternative worlds, but they are not so stable, their inhabitants are much less friendly, and crossing from our world into those alternative worlds is a lot more dangerous. More science fiction and horror than fantasy, if you’re looking for a speculative fiction spectrum. Fun, though.

26. The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O’Brian

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I met my goal with some Aubrey-Maturin. There’s a good balance between the seafaring challenges of Jack’s story and the intruige and intelligence of Stephen’s, with real danger for both. Quite a lot with this series Jack’s side of things takes precedence – there’s not much intelligence-gathering or enemy-intelligence-disruption Stephen can engage in while at sea for months, so it’s good to see him having more to do.

27. The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian

After years away at sea, circumnavigating the globe over the course of several prior books, Jack returns home and is given a new command, this time at the head of a fleet combatting the illegal slave trade. It’s interesting to see how O’Brian has handled this topic, giving his characters a range of believable stances on what is, in the modern day, universally and rightly condemned: Stephen opposes slavery vehemently, on the basis that he vehemently opposes tyranny in all its forms (even to the point where in private he speaks out against Jack’s absolute authority over his men on board ship); Jack is indifferent, having never given it much deep thought, but on balance opposes it on the basis that it is illegal (Jack being trusting of his government), and later on the basis of the suffering he seens on the ships he liberates. It is clear, though, that in their time it is still very much an active debate, and O’Brian has been sensitive to this, acknowledging the stain on the past without excuses.

28. The King’s Exile by Andrew Swanston

With no book to read one day and a wait for my next reservation at the library (see item 29 below if you can’t guess what that might have been), I picked this up to fill the gap. Set during the English civil war, it follows Thomas Hill, a bookseller, who has been transported to Barbados as an indentured servant for the crime of publishing a political pamphlet. Thus the conflict is seen from a remove, focusing on its impacts on the inhabitants of Barbados, at that point a young colony of England.

29. The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O’Brian

Poor Jack Aubrey is almost never allowed to enjoy the wealth he has obtained through his heroism and seamanship for long before some variety of catastrophe puts his finances or career – or this time round, both – into some variety of jeopardy. His actions capturing slavers in the previous book has resulted in a few lawsuits from legal slave traders operating from countries where the trade is not illegal; and his political opposition to enclosing land on his manor has made him an enemy of the admiral whose fleet he now sails in. O’Brian has a good sense of balance – after a lot of seafaring and intruige, it’s a welcome break to have a story more focused on domestic life, and it’s good to see the child characters growing up some more (though in this book it becomes clear just how much O’Brian fiddled with the time line, as the children’s apparent ages in relation to one another have changed drastically, Jack’s son George in particular).

30. Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth

A little foray into non-fiction for once. I saw a quote about adjective word order from this book online and decided to read it on that basis alone. And I’m glad I did. It goes beyond what I learned in school (I finally understand iambic pentameter!) and introduces the reader to a variety of modes of phrasing, some familiar, others less so, that make the content of the phrase more effective and memorable. And Forsyth writes with such an engaging voice that it barely feels like learning at all. There are some very well selected quotes illustrating the use of these various forms, from Shakespeare to the Beetles, and from Carry on Cleo to Doctor Who. Seriously. I am very tempted to read this again, this time taking notes, before taking it back to the library.

Up next

I’ve been lucky enough to be sent an ARC of The Second God by Pauline M Ross, who as you will know if you’ve read much of my blog recently is one of my favourite fantasy authors. So that’s what I’ll be reading next, and I’ll be reviewing it too, so look out for my review. After that, I’m eager to finish the Aubrey-Maturin series; I’ve only got two and a half left: The Hundred Days, Blue at the Mizzen, and The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey.

As I am now behind with my goal of at least half of the books I read being by women authors, thanks mostly to reading a lot of Patrick O’Brian books, I will read some more books by women. More Cadfael books, for starters. And as before, I am open to requests, in particular finalists for the SPFBO.

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