Quarterly Book Round-up – April 2018

Reviving a series from the former incarnation of this blog, the quarterly book review provides a non-exhaustive list of some of the books I read and enjoyed in the previous quarter.

This particular edition covers the period January – March, published late because I only began blogging on 16 April.

Sidney Grice/March Middleton series (first four) (M. R. C. Kasasian): An enjoyable detective series explicitly in the Sherlock Holmes style, set in late Victorian London. Grice and Middleton are both well characterised and the plots are good. The third in the series I found a bit of a let-down, but the fourth is a return to form.


84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff): Technically I read this last year, but I saw the play in January. Genuine collection of letters between an American woman who loved rare books and the staff of the bookshop in Charing Cross with which she corresponded during the 40s, 50s and 60s. Humorous and heartwarming, I found it highly reminiscent of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and would recommend it to any who enjoyed that. The sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, is her account of her eventual visit to London.


Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guangzhong): A classic of Chinese literature, written in the 14th century and set in the 2nd and 3rd. Interesting in large part as being the only classic Chinese work I’ve read, and there are certainly noticeable differences in how the characters think and act, compared to western equivalents. Once you get a handle on the characters, a good read.


The Black Elfstone (Terry Brooks): The opening novel of what is meant to be the final quarter in the Shannara universe, this had a lot of promise, offering a lot more potential than his recent trilogies which have felt a bit like treading water. Let’s hope he keeps it up.


The Courtney Series (Where the Lion Feeds, A Sound of Thunder, A Sparrow Falls) (Wilbur Smith): I find Smith can write remarkably powerfully, and this is particularly true in these novels. Sean Courtney is a grievously flawed character who one nevertheless has strong sympathy for – and I learned a fair bit about South African history, too.


Chrestomanci series (first six) (Diana Wynne Jones): A previously undiscovered (by me) gem of children’s fantasy literature that still reads incredibly well when coming to it for the first time as an adult. Inventive, humorous, great characterisation and unpredictable plots, set (primarily) in an alternative England where magic is commonplace and treated as another trade. An added bonus is that Chrestomanci (the incredibly powerful enchanter who gives the series its name) is a civil servant.


Dark State (Charles Stross): The second in Stross’s follow up series to the Merchant Princes trilogy, featuring parallel universes, alternative history, surveillance states and intertemporal espionage. I find this series not quite as compelling as the original trilogy, but still highly original and enjoyable.


Period Piece (Gwen Raverat): A reread of one of my all-time favourites, the childhood memoirs of Darwin’s granddaughter in Cambridge. Charming, humorous and timeless.


World War Two – A Short History (Norman Stone): Recommended by Tim Harford, I personally didn’t learn that much from this (there is probably less detail than in Wouk’s excerpts from the fictitious Armin van Roon’s World Empire Lost) but for anyone second an introduction to the subject, Stone does a remarkable job of compressing the Second World War into just two hundred pages.


Family D’Alembert series (E E Doc Smith): Classic escapist old-school science fiction, with the conceit that humanity’s top super-spies are a brother and sister duo from a high gravity planet, with cover identities as acrobats in the ‘Circus of the Galaxy’ (hence having superlative acrobatic and physical skills).