31. The Dream Quake, Elizabeth Knox – not so much a sequel to The Rainbow Opera as a continuation of the story, and thus a little difficult to review without spoilers for the first book. We rejoin the narrative where The Rainbow Opera left off – or, actually, a little before, as we relive St Lazarus's Eve 1906 from a different perspective. After the events of that night Laura is given refuge by the Grand Patriarch, who has his own agenda with regard to the Place. Gradually life returns to normal, Laura continues her training as a Dreamhunter whilst Rose prepares to take her place in society, but greater forces are at work and pull both girls toward a future that seems inevitable. We finally come to learn the nature of the Place, the reason Dreams exist, and their connection to the Hame family, and Laura at last fulfils her destiny … possibly not for the first time, but perhaps, this time around, for the last. A satisfying ending to a startlingly unusual and original read.
32. Daylight, Elizabeth Knox – it is an unfortunate fact that I almost never enjoy adult works by writers whose YA writings I love – cases in point, Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones (I'm still waiting for the kamikaze sex, Diana). This, sadly, is no exception. It's a vampire story, again with a very original and different take on the mythology, but I found it slow and dull, and the characters unengaging.
33. Winter Wood, Steve Augarde – the final part of the trilogy that began with The Various, this weaves together Midge and Celandine's worlds, brings the Various, now suffering through a bitter winter that strains their limited resources to the breaking point, back into both their lives, and gives resolution to the Various's time in our world. Another refreshingly different fantasy, brought to a satisfactory, though poignant, conclusion.
34. Sorcery and Cecelia: or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – an epistolary novel, set in a fantasy Regency AU. Two cousins, one enjoying her first London season, the other languishing in the depths of the countryside, stumble upon a dastardly wizardly plot and must use all their resources and ingenuity – plus the invaluable assistance of two conveniently eligible young men – to put a stop to it. The story was written as a game of letters between the two authors, and it's obvious at times that one occasionally had no idea what the other was doing. It might have benefited from a tighter final edit but, in general, is thoroughly enjoyable, albeit fluff of the fluffiest order.
35. Princess Hynchatti and Some Other Surprises, Tanith Lee – this was one of my favourite books when I was younger; I booked it out of the local library on a number of occasions, but never thought to buy my own copy. With hindsight this was a grave mistake, as it has never come back into print and I finally had to shell out … never you mind how much but more than I could really afford to a bookfinding agency to get an ex-library copy. Those only familiar with Tanith Lee in her guise as High Priestess of All Things Goth might be surprised by these slight, whimsical, often very funny variants on fairy tales, but I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting them.
36. The Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia C McKillip – Patricia McKillip is one of my favourite authors; I adore her dreamy, luminous prose, and her real-seeming and likeable characters. She does, however, tend to fall down on plot – or maybe not at plot so much as at plot resolution. There are many threads to The Bell at Sealey Head, and at least two worlds, and although all are tied up more-or-less tidily there are many questions left unanswered, and a number of plot points that seem to go nowhere. I loved it nonetheless; her writing really is that good, and her people really that charming.
37. Quirkology: The curious science of everyday lives, Richard Wiseman – every so often I feel obliged to read a non-fiction book, and I'm sure I don't know why because I never manage to retain anything from them. Unfortunately one fact I have retained from this that I wish I hadn't is that – you know that experiment where people were told they were giving volunteers electric shocks? Apparently someone repeated that using real electric shocks and puppies and every. Single. Person pressed the button. Human race, I hate you. Anyway! This is a collection of Quite Interesting facts and anecdotes, and some debunking of popular suppositions and mythologies, but … I was unconvinced. In a great many cases, the 'science' seemed weaker and more far-fetched than the superstitions it was trying to debunk. Not that I subscribe to the superstitions either; I'm just saying.
The high point of the book? The typo (?) on page 188 which states "Although Freud claimed to be a scientist, many of his ideas are completely untesticle." Now, is that a deliberate Freudian slip … or what?
38. Brat Farrar, Josephine Tey – I got into a patch of reading block after the last book and, after starting and giving up on two others (one, I'm sad to say, by my beloved Emma Bull), I fell back on this old friend. Written in 1949 it remains, but for some outdated attitudes and non-PC-ness, as fresh and vibrant as anything being produced nowadays, and a damned sight better written and plotted than most. It's a case of imposture and mistaken identity but, in a twist on the conventions, it's the imposter who engages the reader's sympathies – with reason, as it later becomes all too clear. Also, there are horses. It's classified as a detective novel, but with not a detective in sight; only people, and their ways and means and manners, at their best and at their worst. And, at the heart of it, deep and abiding love – for family, for home, for a way of life fast vanishing – but hatred too, and bitter, monstrous jealousy, with all its consequences. Josephine Tey wrote far too little during her short career as a crime writer, but everything she left us is a small, perfect gem.
I could really do with a better copy of this, btw, mine's falling to pieces.
39. The Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski – another YA fantasy, this one set in the unusual setting of Prague during what would be, in England, Elizabethan times. The first-time author weaves historical fact, AU history and sheer fantasy together into another inventive and original story – an astronomical clock that can change the weather, a prince who steals the clockmaker's eyes, a metal spider, a Countess whose skin leaks acid, a tribe of stranded Romany, a scheming Dr John Dee. It's let down somewhat by the writing style, which is blunt and choppy, almost as if it had been badly translated from another language, but I doubt this will trouble the book's target audience.
40. Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives , David Eagleman – does what it says on the cover: forty (extremely short) tales of possible afterlives. These are philosophical rather than theological exercises, and the afterlives in question are exclusively modern Western – no Valhallas here, no Gehennas, no meetings with the Hindu pantheon, or with the Chinese gods, no Elysian Fields; there are Heavens and Hells, or nothings and neithers. There is a Heaven where Mary Shelley is venerated, there are afterlives where we are cogs in a machine (not the most original of concepts, that one), there are afterlives where we finally move on only after our name is spoken for the last time – the famous fare particularly badly here – there is an afterlife where all things exist in all possible states at once, and another where your life is repeated in blocks rather than as individual events … and so on. The author is a neuroscientist, and you'll find a little of everything here. Everything except actual faith. As to whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I decline to comment.