I always find it hard to read a book when every character is a jerk, as is the case in this book. PARTICULARLY the main character. And yet! The prose is so clever, the author so witty, that I read it cover to cover quick as a wink. The book starts by pointing out that  “This is not an autobiographical novel: it is about some other portly, dissolute, immoral and middle-aged art dealer.” The Honorable Charlie Mortdecai is as disreputable a toad as you can imagine, and as for his thug of a manservant Jock Strapp, yikes. Fabulous paintings are stolen, violence ensues, men are killed. Somehow, none of it is very believable, but what can I say, it is very entertaining. I put some quotes here, and can only say, go ahead and try it. Despicable but never boring–a sort of Bertie Wooster from the dark side.

Kyril Bonfiglioli


These books are filled with entertaining incident–another fantasy series that is begging to be made into a Netflix series. Michael Sullivan can certainly tell a story–I found myself drawn to continue, to find out what happens next. Not much of a stylist–never a moment when you think WHOA, must remember that phrase, that description–but a solid workman, who keeps plodding on. One of our two Invincible-Low-Born-Thief-Heroes is short (Royce), the other is tall (Hadrian). Thus we tell them apart. In the TV series I expect one will be blonde and the other not, which will also make it easier.

I remember reading a comment about Sharon Kay Penman which pointed out that her books are somewhat ponderous–like riding an ox cart–but, you got there in the end. Similarly, these Riyria books are slow and methodical, but you get there in the end. And yes, it’s a fun ride, however slow and bumpy. I should add that I listened to them, excellently well read by Tim Reynolds.

  • We start with Theft of Swords: a king is killed, our 2 heroes are blamed and imprisoned, but rescued and continue on to fresh adventures. In other news, A simple country maid in a simple country village does a great deed.
  • Then comes Rise of Empire. The wicked religious order plots to supplant the weaker kings etc.  Simple country maid now Empress.
  • Heir of Novron finishes off the many stories, and it ends very well. As I said, Mr. Sullivan can tell a story.

Banville writes so well–so elegantly! This plot was a grand idea, also–taking up where Henry James left off in Portrait of a Lady: Isabel Archer having discovered how mistaken she was about her husband, and how terribly naive she has been. As this is literature, not pop romance, it does not end with a happily-ever-after embrace, though her earnest American suitor continues to linger in the background. The delicate and exquisite language is a treat to read, and it is pleasing to find that Isabel does finally get some kind of revenge on Gilbert and Madame Merle. A rather ingenious one, at that.
The descriptions of life in late 19th century Europe–the tiresome complexities of travel, clothing, of medical care–are fascinating and carefully burnished. Excellent book–Banville is a treasure.

John Banville

In looking over my journal, I find I have read many many books by John Banville–fascinating, dense prose, and yes, difficult to read. At some point–years ago–I was in the midst of Banville’s The Sea, and during the same period was attempting to learn Java (computer code) without much success–and it suddenly occurred to me that being able to readily apprehend shade after subtle shade of meaning in a book like Banville’s, keeping the strands of plot distinct, feeling the resonances and reflections of other books, of quotations, poetry–is as complicated an affair as this business of keeping the different syntaxes of computer code in mind. More complicated, probably.
I just read another of his, called Wolf on a String (written under his pseudonym, Benjamin Black, which he uses for his fine series of detective novels). This is a historical novel, set in the 1600’s, in the Hapsburg empire–the mad Rudolf is on the throne, Prague is a fabulous and terrifying city, dense with intrigue and politics. Our hero stumbles in, and is caught up in a ghastly murder mystery. But really, it’s a contemplation of the time, of the people. The mathematician Kepler shows up, who was the subject of another of Banville’s books–he wrote several books based on the lives of eminent scientists–Kepler, Copernicus, and Newton–imaginative treatments of their times, their work, their struggles. Banville writes so extremely well, he is so subtle, so intelligent.
This book does not end happy, there is not much in the way of chuckles, and the vision of the world is bleak–but it is vibrant with real history in gorgeous detail, and such understanding of human emotions and actions.

Bleak House

I have just finished Bleak House–an engaging book, my comfortable companion on the daily commute (audiobooks mean no weighty tome to lug about). YES, it is predictable and slow moving, YES, a certain amount of mawkish sentimentality, and then there are the overdone character tics–but it is a delightful treasure of good humored entertainment. Dickens can’t resist opportunities for lampooning the self righteous–oh those ineffably silly do-gooder ladies!–and HOW he relishes making our flesh to creep! Bleak House abounds in disease and death–seven deaths, I can think of, and there are probably more. There is a death by opium, a death by snowstorm, and even one by SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION.

It would be hard to translate this story into modern times, so deeply entrenched as it is in Victorian mores and attitudes–the main plot involves the long delayed but implacable punishment of a woman for her youthful betrayal of the social code. Though it suddenly occurred to me that there actually is a modern equivalent, if we reverse the sexes: the Puritanical ferocity which brought down Lady Dedlock is now being visited on erring men, whose punishment is similarly severe. Though at least they are not banished out, OUT into the storm, just losing their jobs, their positions.
The BBC production of the story is really very good, though I question the casting of Esther, who is not only constantly described as radiantly beautiful, but uncannily like Lady Dedlock. The actress was neither, particularly of course when the makeup artist goes nuts with horrid smallpox sores–all of which had magically cleared up for the last scene, when both Esther’s goodness and the viewers’ patience are rewarded with one of those traditional end-of-series BBC wedding scenes with all the characters (those that haven’t been killed off, that is) dancing gaily about on a sunny sward while adorable children dart about.

ParisHelprin always astonishes me, his effortless grasp of the exact description, his wonderful visions, his wild invention. He is such a brave true spirit! His books shine with honor and love—which does not prevent them from being slyly amusing, and very entertaining. Yes, extravagant language, yes, crazy wild excursions into otherworldly perceptions. But at no point did I feel the prose was too unbridled, too unbuttoned, too unedited–a occasional flaw of his fabulous over-the-top and VERY long book, Freddy and Frederika. At times, this latest book reminded me of the wild ways of Saul Bellow–another man whose essential kindness shone through all his brilliant talk.
Paris in the Present Tense is about a 74 year old man, a musician, who takes on an almost impossible challenge: to earn enough money to save his fatally ill grandson. When his first strategy fails, he decides on a new course, which eventually requires a stupendous and heroic sacrifice. But while the plot is engaging, it is his ruminations and conversations that give the book such charm: “Having an ageing body is like living in a big house. Something is always going wrong, and by the time it’s fixed, something else follows. Very old age is when the things that go wrong cause other things to go wrong, until, like sparks racing up a fuse, they finally reach a pack of dynamite.” HA! Well put! My copy of the book is bristling with markers—I have put some of the other quotes here.

Having enjoyed her fantasy novels, I thought I would venture onto her sci-fi books. Excellent also–she writes well, her characters are well made and believable. These books were such fun to read! Yes, a space opera, with all the space ships and stunners and high beam accelerators and what have you—but also, real people and a fascinating series of plots that kept me engaged for as long as it took to read them all. Bujold created a believable world—well, a bunch of worlds, actually, various planets all connected by trade and diplomacy—and I enjoyed living there and regret leaving it.

 #1 Falling Free

This book is only at the head of the line of books because it takes place in the universe Bujold invented, decades before the characters we love were born. I wouldn’t start with this one, actually, whatever the anxious author says. It is interesting enough—she really cannot write an uninteresting book—but, the real story begins with the next one.

#2 Shards of Honor

Very good and very enjoyable story of 2 people who come from different worlds–literally!– meeting and falling in love. Aral comes from a planet where ancient warrior traditions rule, and Cordelia from a planet of enlightened scientific research and a very controlling political system. Their worlds are at war, but thanks to various devious betrayals they aral&cordeliaare both suddenly marooned on a planet (subsequently named Sergyar) which has a strategically important position, and a fascinating flora and fauna. Mostly poisonous to humans. Their love story continues in subsequent books.
Mentioned also in the course of the story are futuristic machines, death rays, spaceships, etc.

#3 Barrayar

I am finding these stories VERY addictive. Perhaps it is just that this sci-fi stuff is written by a woman, and so there is more character interraction and less blood and brains exploding all over the place.Not that there isn’t blood and brains spattering about, but just not in huge quantities. This is the story in which a heinous assassination attempt fails to kill Aral and Cordelia, but almost kills their child, still in the womb. Miles is eventually born, but crippled. Some amusing business of how horrified Cordelia is at the barbaric Barrayan ways–babies left to grow in unsafe human wombs! Instead of inside the much safer and more dependable uterine replicators, as on her world.

 #4 The Warrior’s Apprentice


By Gemmonia, at DeviantArt

Miles doesn’t make the grade at military academy, due to his size and brittle bones. But on travels to see granny, he accidentally establishes an army–the Dendarii Free Mercenaries! Things happen, and he is so smart and there you are. He made me laugh, with his internal dialogue–getting ready to deal with the ominous rock hard mercenaries–why should they work for him, imagining himself a warrior chief of old–and they amaze him by…asking about their medical insurance and other perks. “He had been prepared for defiance, disbelief, a concerted unarmed rush. . . . He had a sudden maniac vision of Vorthalia the Bold demanding a whole-life policy from his emperor at sword’s point.”

#5 The Vor Game

Miles made it through military academy, finally! And is sent off to total hell hole. Managed by a LUNATIC. And, as it happens, Gregor the emporer is ALSO there, incognito. I think? Memory failing a little here. But Miles saves the day. Almost freezing to death first. But first all sorts of things happen, and it turns out that Miles cannot pursue military career—his dream!—but will do very well in the imperial security forces.

 #6 Cetaganda

Miles and Ivan are off to Cetaganda, a world of amazing sophistication and artifice. Their customs for reproduction are particularly elaborate. No actual sex is involved. A FINE story, a real page turner. LOVE these books!


Haut Rian by Gemmionia, at DeviantArt


#7-Ethan of Athos

ethan-athos01In this one, there is a civilization on a particular planet that consists of only men–they grow their much treasured sons in artificial wombs–and though they have heard of ‘women’ they dread and fear any contact with them. It happens that their tissue cultures are beginning to degrade, so a doctor–a good and decent man–must travel off planet to acquire fresh supplies. In so doing he comes across WOMEN and has other experiences also, adventures, danger, excitement. At some point he is trying to understand this odd fascination men in other worlds seem to have with women–there is a ‘fiction holovid titled Love’s Savage Star, that he had stumbled onto and been too stunned to switch off. Life with women did not just induce strange behavior, it appeared; it induced very strange behavior. How long before the emanations or whatever it was from Commander Quinn would make him start acting like that? Would ripping open her jacket to expose her mammary hypertrophy really cause her to fixate upon him like a newly hatched chick on its mother hen?”
I LOVED that mammary hypertrophy business!

 #8-Brothers in Arms

Miles is trying hard to manage the 2 sides of himself–Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries, and Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar. And then the assassination attempts begin–in which we meet his CLONE! Bred to destroy him, but Miles not only is not destroyed, he saves the clone–he tells him, they are brothers–and unmasks a ghastly plot. Really well made story.

 #9-Mirror Dance

The clone–Mark, his name is Mark, his brother tells him, which is automatically the name for the second son in the Vorkosigan family–attempts to liberate a bunch of clones on the terrible world where he was made. They are to become the host bodies for the brains of wealthy old people, who choose this way to become immortal. Disgusting, rather. Mark’s mission ends in disaster, but Miles saves the day. And then is KILLED! But thrust into a cryo chamber–which GOES MISSING in the turmoil! WHOA, this is some story. It ends OK, and Mark meets the father he had been bred to kill. But, doesn’t kill him. Cordelia helps him come to a peaceful acceptance of his life. Again, fascinating story!

 #10 Memory

This concerns Miles’ recovery from being dead, and his desperate but unsuccessful schemes to stay in the military–but he has a spectacular accident and is retired from the service. HOWEVER. His help is needed in finding out who has attacked Simon, head of Imperial Security. He is no longer in the military, but is appointed an Imperial Auditor–a job which, as it turns out, exactly suits his talents. Also, Gregory steals someone else’s girlfriend and an IMPERIAL WEDDING is being planned. Miles is to be best man.

#11 Komarr

Komarr is a planet of great importance to the Barrayans, being at the entrance of a significant wormhole. Miles, now Imperial Auditor, has come to deal with a terrible accident to the solar mirror which is one of an array that is gradually transforming the planet into a more livable place. The accident, it appears was NOT an accident, but part of a terrible plot to DESTROY not just the planet but the wormholes that allow travel between planets. The exciting conclusion is something of a nail-biter. Interesting people are introduced, among them Ekaterina, the wife of a minor official–the man is an idiot, but the wife is smart and completely lovable. The official is eventually killed by his own idiotic negligence. Leaving his wife and son free to return to Barrayar–hotly pursued by Miles, who has fallen in love with Ekatarina.

 #12 A Civil Campaign (and Winterfair Gifts)

Ekaterin by Gemmiona at DeveiantArt

Ekaterin by Gemmiona at DeveiantArt

Finally Miles has finally found a lady who will marry him! Though he almost loses her through acting like an idiot. Some very amusing scenes, like the Worst Dinner Party Ever, and the Arrival Home to find Naked Guard Smeared in Butter. HAHAH! He finds out that a mad scientist is one of his rivals: “Good God, Enrique was writing poetry to her? Yes, and why hadn’t he thought of poetry? Besides the obvious reason of his absence of talent in that direction. He wondered if she’d like to read a really clever combat-drop mission plan, instead.” NOT as such, no. But what she does want to read is the abject apology he writes her after the disastrous dinner party. Abject, and irresistible. Because, love.
The entertaining story of Donna Vorrutyer who becomes Dono Vorrutyer is one of the many delightful divertissments in this book.
This book ends with weddings–Gregor’s and Miles’. Lovely, both of them.

#13 Diplomatic Immunity

Miles and Ekatarina are off on their honeymoon, watching vids of their SOON TO BE BORN babies who await them at home in their handy dandy uterine replicators. But a diplomatic emergency intervenes and they must hasten off to a planet where a Barrayaran ship has caused a ghastly incident. There is evil afoot! Danger abounds, murder has been done once and may be done again. Miles is on the case! He almost dies (again!) but in the end he triumps, with the help of his lovely wife, and they get back home for the emergence of their two babies, Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia. And it turns out, even when the birth consists of opening a machine, it is still a deeply moving event.

#14 Cryoburn

Miles is investigating something odd in the frozen bodies awaiting resurrection on the planet Kibou-daini. But he is kidnapped, and exciting plot things happen! Including a bio-engineered Sphinx, made as part of a branding promotion for a particular business. It can speak a few words, ‘Fud’, ‘Aout’–and its new owner has to clean up something of a mess in the house when he doesn’t pay attention as it is stalking around muttering ‘POO, PEE”. Silly, and has nothing to do with the plot, but it made me smile. As I said, sci-fi for women.

#15 Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

Vorkosigan-IvanFinally Ivan has his own story! In which he meets the beauteous lady Tej who will eventually, after much mystery and disaster–become his wife. He is led to her by Byerly Vorrutyer, who also meets his own eventual mate, Rish, Tej’s companion.

And at the end, I encountered such unexpected grief, Aral the good man suddenly dead. Well not really unexpected, he is an old man now, but we have been living with him, his triumphs and failures, through many adventures, many books. His son is the hero of the series now. But I was shocked, taken unawares, when his death was announced, at the end of the book. Tears in my eyes, really.