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So in a fit of madness I’ve decided to sign up for the next 24 Hour Readathon, which is on Saturday 10 April. I’ve already booked the day before as leave so that I can get chores done (and stock up on some sleep perhaps) and persuaded the Book God to sponsor me (though haven’t finally plumped on a charity yet).

I’ll also be trawling my friends for support, so let’s see how that works out!

But I’ve not even begun to think about what I will read on the day – lots of short things methinks…..

Spring is definitely here; the sun is shining, I have a couple of very well-deserved (in my opinion anyway) days off work and Carl has just announced Once Upon a Time IV, one of my very favourite reading challenges.

As per usual I’m going to commit to Quest the First, which involves reading five books from the categories of fantasy, folklore, fairy tale and mythology. I’ll almost certainly select from the following (not terribly long) list:

And who knows, I might even get to them all!

OK, so I know I’ve come to this one so much later than everyone else, but if you read this blog regularly then you will have worked out by now that I have never really been an early adopter (of anything). Add to that a natural reluctance to be reading something at the same time as everyone else and you get an inkling about why it’s taken me so long to pick this up.

In fact, my resistance was so strong I wasn’t even going to buy this as I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, and it was the Book God who brought it into the house.

A little bit of context on the reading experience. As I’m sure I’ve said before, for all sorts of reasons I do most of my reading on the train to and from work, and this is how I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Then Oscar weekend came along, and I planned to pull an all-nighter (succeeded, too). However, I have to recognise that I am getting on a bit and the whole staying up all night thing is not as easy for me as it used to be, so in addition to taking a day off on the Monday to recover, I decided to take an afternoon nap. I am not a natural napper; I don’t really like sleeping during the day and find it difficult to do so unless I am ill. So I decided that I needed something to read as a way of lulling me towards a natural, relaxing sleep.

Bad move.

I had read as far as page 149 in my copy. By the time I decided that I probably should move I had actually read the remainder of the book, that’s around 365 pages. In one afternoon. Can’t remember the last time I did that, but it tells you something about the power of the story.

So, plot synopsis very briefly in case there is anyone else out there who hasn’t had a go at this. Crusading journalist convicted of libel steps back from his day job and takes on a private commission, ostensibly the history of an industrialist’s family but actually an investigation into the disappearance and likely murder of said industrialist’s niece, probably by another member of the family. Throw in titular investigator, a young woman with, I think it’s fair to say, issues and you have a really enjoyable and gripping, if occasionally unpleasant, thriller. Don’t mind unpleasant, myself, so not an issue.

As a story it really tanks along at great speed. I never know how to judge translations (I don’t speak/read Swedish though I know a man who does) so can’t say how this stacks up to the original, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Book God has now got his hands on the first sequel so I’m sure I’ll be revisiting these characters later in the year.

So I’m doing my now traditional staying up all night to watch the Oscars live – missed only once in 10 years. It’s 23:35 here in London and I am now settled in front of the TV watching the Red Carpet on E! (in preference to some of the British coverage) even though it’s mildly annoying.

I have the full support kit: fizzy white wine; enormous milk chocolate heart left over from Valentine’s Day; blanket just in case it gets a bit chill in the wee small hours; laptop in case inspiration strikes me, but not live-blogging as that’s too much pressure.

Day off tomorrow, probably just as well.

And as long as Avatar doesn’t win Best Picture and there is at least one really gorgeous frock I’ll be happy.

OK, so before I start talking about Barking, which has as its central character (and quite a few of its secondary characters as well) a lawyer (specialising in winding up the estates of deceased persons) I feel I need to point out (given how disparagingly they are referred to throughout the novel) that some of my best friends are lawyers.


Well, two of my best friends, including Silvery Dude who actually got this for me as a birthday present to show that he has a sense of humour (which he has) as well as a reasonable taste in fantasy novels (which he also has). The other lawyer friend has no nickname for the purposes of this blog, but does also have sense of humour as well as a taste for light opera, but that can’t be helped.

In order to put this into a wider context, the rest of my best friends are either accountants or civil servants or (in more than one case) both. Now you can see why I don’t blog here every day, my life is just one giant whirlwind of excitement and really wild things.

Or something like that.

But nothing as wild as what happens to Duncan Hughes in Barking.

So here we have a man who is in a dead-end job doing OK, not yet a partner, divorced and kind of just muddling along, when an old friend from school comes back into his life, teases him away from his current firm (with the help of Duncan’s boss who decides to fire him) and  makes him a partner in a rather unusual way. He bites him and turns him into a werewolf.

This is not the weirdest thing that happens in the novel. There are vampires (also a firm of lawyers). There are reanimated people (not exactly zombies). There is a unicorn. And there is the estate of Bowden Allshapes, whose file follows Duncan to his new firm and which has been a constant in his working life for some time. If only he could get the accounts to balance….

This is huge fun, very amusing, well-written with a great story at the heart of it. I’m always a bit wary of comic fantasy; for every great author (Pratchett, Adams) there are lots of misses so I tend to take a cautious approach but I’m glad the Dude of Silver introduced me to this and I enjoyed the whole reading experience very much.

And it’s not giving too much away to say that it has a happy ending.

And the best thing of all is I’ve found a new author to binge on.

Or newish at least since I haven’t linked to my film reviews for yonks.

So if you want to find out about any of the following, then just follow the links:

This is without doubt a beautifully written book. I finished it a while ago and have been mulling it over ever since, wondering what I could actually say about it without diminishing what was a truly lovely reading experience.

The Alchemy of Stone tells the story of Mattie, an automaton who has become emancipated (up to a point) and who has trained as an alchemist. It’s a dysfunctional society in which she lives, of Alchemists versus Mechanics, each with their own views on how the city should be run, and an underclass which appears to be rising up to overthrow the existing order.

Mattie treads a fine line between maintaining her independence and the need to find a way to get the thing she needs from the mechanic who made her – Loharri, who, though ostensibly letting her go, still holds the key which winds her heart.

I won’t say any more about the story itself, but it’s worth dwelling on the themes which develop within it.

This is a book about identity, what it means to be free, what it means perhaps to be a person. It’s also about class and oppression, about those who claim to know what’s best, about where women fit in to society, about the nature of difference, and about love. The quote on the cover of my edition says it better than I ever could:

A gorgeous meditation on what it means not to be human

And it has gargoyles.

And a man who absorbs the souls of the dead, who can still speak through him.

It’s steampunk at its best, with a main character of real substance, and an ending that I found moving, heart-breaking but also hopeful.

Seriously recommended. And if you’re not sure just look at Carl’s review here. Which has the wonderful cover that originally drew me to finding out about this book, though I’ve come to love the one on mine more.

I thought this was just lovely and am so glad that I was finally able to get my hands on a copy.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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March 2010