Sunday, 31 May 2009

D is for Dragon Hall!

This week's alphabet weekend was my call and, as we had Mr B's end of season football "do" on the Friday followed by a family day out to the coast and an engagement party on Saturday, I reluctantly called off plans for a Dancing lesson for two and reverted to Plan B!

This morning was gorgeous so we walked along the river and into the city to visit Dragon Hall. This is the only medieval merchant's trading hall known to have survived in Europe which makes this building unique. Dragon Hall was built for one wealthy merchant, Robert Toppes, in 1430 on King's Street in Norwich and the museum covers the story of the building as well as putting the life of Toppes into historical perspective.

The hall is named after a carving of a dragon in the rafters of the Great Hall which reflects the importance of the Guild of St. George in the city. Walking around the building, it's hard to imagine that until the late 1970s this impressive medieval hall appeared to be three separate properties - one of which was a pub! Although the building is not that large, the audio-guide and displays were informative and relevant so we left feeling that we'd learned more about the city that we live in.

Much to Mr B's delight, (I know sarcasm is hard to read on the interwebs, so should point out that there was a dab used just now) on our walk back home, I noticed that The Bishop's Garden was open in aid of the charity Livability. This is a lovely four acre walled garden in the centre of the city and, as might be expected, is right next to Norwich Cathedral. I'd not visited it before and it really is a delight - it has a big vegetable garden, a wild flower labyrinth, a lovely herbaceous border the border (see above) and a large expanse of lawn. If only I could afford a house with such a lovely big garden in the city centre! Drool...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale

This is my first read for the non-fiction five challenge.

Along with other prizes, this book was last year's winner of the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction but what first attracted to me to this book was the cover which I think is fabulous. The wonderfully titled The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House has been on my shelf for a few months and joining the non-fiction reading challenge was the perfect reason to pick it up and actually get around to reading it!

From the blurb: "It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home.

Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects.
A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery - a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets."

Covered in this book is not just the investigation of the murder at Road Hill House (which is horribly fascinating in its own right) but also of the emergence of the professional detective and the social values of Victorian society at that point in history. The sensationalism of this case in the press across England was fascinating and it's very easy to understand why this particular chilling murder caused such public interest.

I found Kate Summerscale's writing style to be very accessible - she writes with clarity and it was clear throughout that this book was meticulously researched. I should be very clear here - this is a work of non-fiction and not a novelisation of the crime! This is the true story of a real Victorian family dealing with an extremely unpleasant murder carried out by someone living within their home and then being placed under a spotlight whilst the whole country speculated about their domestic arrangements.

Looking at the scores given by readers of the book on Amazon, there's a really interesting polarisation of views - clearly people either love or hate this book! I definitely fall into the first camp as I think that this book provides a fascinating glimpse into the era and the crime itself, whilst horrifying, is only part of the story.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

C is for... Cycling!

Yesterday our Alphabet Weekend activity (as chosen by Mr B) was cycling!

As I've not actually been on a bicycle for around ten years, the original plan was to drive down to Thetford Forest and enjoy the off-road tracks there but the staff at Bike Art were so incredibly rude and unhelpful to my husband that we refused to support their business by renting from them and we switched to Plan B. Which was to borrow two bikes from my mother! One trip to Halfords for a new inner tube later and we were off.

We've walked our dogs from the centre of Norwich to my mother's house a few times along the start of the Marriott's Way, which is also part of National Cycle Network Route 1, and it follows the track-bed of a decommissioned railway line from 1883. We decided to explore this traffic free route a bit further along and cycled from Hellesdon to Thorpe Marriott (and back). The route does cross the road a couple of times but this was no problem at all and where the road was busy there was a horse and bicycle crossing.One clear advantage of a route along an old railway line (and living in Norfolk) is that it is generally very flat which was a definite bonus - see below for evidence! I'm really pleased that we went cycling so close to home - the start of the Marriott Way is under 1/2 mile from our home and it really is a lovely route that starts off along the River Wensum and then winds through fields.

I'd love to explore further along the route as we stopped for our picnic at what turned out to the last bit of the "urban" section before crossing the fields towards Reepham. I'd like to cycle the whole route but my saddle-sore bottom might need to recover before I can even contemplate getting back onto a bike any time soon!

(Route pictures from the Wensum Valley Trust's website and the sign was from Peter Boggis's account of a trip he took along the route in the 1990s. )

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The City and The City - China Miéville

A new book from China Miéville is a cause for celebration and it's been a while since I got my last "fix" as Iron Council was published in 2005. I could not justify buying the hardback edition but was more than happy to fork out the 55p demanded by my library to reserve it in advance of release day. That's actually quite an honour in my view, as the only other item I have been willing to pay to reserve was the audio book of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book as I wanted to hear the banjo version of the Dance Macabre he'd chosen to use on it. As usual though, I digress!

Miéville is described as a "New Weird" genre author and, although I am not entirely clear what that actually means, The City & the City would probably fit into that category - although it's not set in quite the same sort of alternate world as his other books.

"When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other."

It's worth mentioning from the outset that the city of Beszel co-exists in shared physical space with the city of Ul Qoma although the inhabitants of the two cities don't officially "see" each other... Hrm. That made much more sense as a concept when Mr Miéville wrote it in his book... The acceptance and difficulties that this way of living imposes on the citizens, and visitors, is explored alongside the murder-mystery aspect of the novel and that's what's really thought provoking about this book.

Anyway - perhaps this book could be described as an "alternate reality crime thriller" where the process of investigating a murder plays out across international borders and the unique political landscape plays a large part in the complexity of the story.

This is a relatively short book (by his standards anyway) however as you are thrust straight into the heart of this world, without much in the way of explanation, it felt longer than it actually was. By this I mean that the slight sense of disorientation at the outset actually added to the sense of exploration - I had to concentrate to gather the full implication of throwaway geo-political references and it was a nice change not to be spoon fed a world. There is so much detail within the story that it's difficult to understand how it could all be packed into this brief book however credit for that achievement must go to his elegantly economical use of language.

Oh my word. I've just discovered that China Miéville was born in Norwich although he was brought up in and lives in London. I appreciate that it's a pretty tenuous link for my home city but one I am pleased to learn anyway!

Speaking of links - here's one to a video of him discussing the book!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Whoops - I've joined another book challenge!

It was the lesser of two evils though as I was very, very close to joining the "pre-printing press" book challenge (which looks fascinating!) when realisation hit me. I really, really don't need to be distracted from working through my current pile of fabulous TBR books and Jodie from Book Gazing kindly suggested that I sign up to this one instead!

The rules for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge are pretty simple:

1. Read 5 non-fiction books during the months of May - September, 2009
2. Read at least one non-fiction book that is different from your other choices

This is a great way to work through some of my non-fiction TBR pile that always gets neglect in favour of fiction instead. I have no idea why this is as I do want to read every book that I have listed below it's just I tend to pass them over for easier, escapist books instead.

  • The Bolter - Frances Osborne
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House - Kate Summerscale
  • Dry Store Room No 1 - Richard Fortey
  • The Dragons of Eden - Carl Sagan
  • The Origin of Humankind - Richard Leakey
  • The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters - Charlotte Mosley
  • Works on Paper - Michael Holyroyd
  • Our Hidden Lives - Simon Garfield
  • Bad Science - Ben Goldacre
  • Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich - Alison Owings

Oh dear - and these are just the unread non-fiction books that are on the bookshelves near my computer! Clearly this challenge came at the right time for me.

I have three new bookcases arriving on Friday and that will mean that the last of the "attic books" can come downstairs so I can have a proper rummage for books to read for this challenge - although clearly I have enough to hand to complete the prescribed five!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

B is for Broads!

Yesterday our Alphabet Weekend destination was The Broads which is a nearby protected wetland with national park status that's managed by The Broads Authority. The whole ecosystem spreads across the eastern edge of Norfolk and into Suffolk and we're lucky enough to live just a short drive from this area of natural beauty. Except we never go there! I have absolutely no idea why this is but I thought that this weekend was a good opportunity to head out and explore a couple of the nearby ones to remind ourselves what we're missing out on.

The broads we visited were Ranworth Broad and Cockshoot Broad - both of which are nature reserves looked after by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The picture above is of the Ranworth Wildlife Centre which has viewing windows with binoculars on the top floor and floats on the broad itself. They both have wheelchair/pram friendly board walks to lead visitors around them and, no doubt, to protect the wildlife from people trampling all over them!

As it's spring, there were loads of baby birds testing out their swimming ability which I have to say was adorable. There's something so incredibly cute about fluffy ducklings and goslings swimming around! There was a huge variety of bird life to see - it was really nice to realise how lucky we are to live where we do and that we really should learn more about our local environment. Sadly, we didn't see an otter or a water vole but next time...

Inexplicably, I appear to have taken only two photos yesterday (one of a sign and one of Mr B enjoying his pub lunch at a local Brewery (see what I did there?). We did take along our new video camera though and got some great footage of Birds on the Broads but I've not imported/edited that yet. The more I use this camera, the more I love it - such great quality footage that I think we'll need a new TV to do it justice ;)

Friday, 15 May 2009

Heir to Sevenwaters - Juliet Marillier

Here are the links to my previous posts about the Sevenwaters series - Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows/Child of the Prophecy.

I was very pleased to realise, when I returned the last two books of the series, that I was able to borrow this one! The joy about reading books from the library is that it's totally guilt free as the extra reads don't join the toppling TBR pile. Actually, now I think about it, not totally guilt free as by reading books from the library, I'm not exactly making inroads into the pile. Hrmmm. More ethical thinking required!


Heir to Sevenwaters focuses on Clodagh, daughter to Lady Aisling and Lord Sean who is the twin brother of Liadan, heroine of Son of the Shadows. Keeping up? Good...

It's now three years after the events of Child of the Prophey, and at the start of the book, having given birth to six daughters, Aisling is pregnant however this is cause for concern rather than celebration as she is well past the safe age for childbearing. During her difficult pregnancy, management of the large household falls to the very ordinary and practical Clodagh as her father is distracted by concern for his wife as well as tension between rival neighbouring clans. A heightened sense of responsibility for others means that after her baby brother is born, Clodagh adds looking after him to her list of tasks until one night he is stolen and a changeling that only she can see is left in his place...

This book is more fairytale-ish than the others as Clodagh enters the Otherworld in search of her brother and to confront the powerful fairy Lord Mac Dara who lives there. Reluctantly helping her in her quest is Cathal, who is a fearsome warriors trained by her cousin, who has a very prickly nature and a lack of self-belief. Unlike previous Sevenwater heroines, Clodagh doesn't have any special abilities that help her fulfil her task so it's only her courage, quick thinking, ability to make friends and determination that can help her to succeed.

This book has more emphasis on romance than the darker Child of the Prophecy did - which was a definite plus for me. The developing trust and affection between Clodagh and Cathal is quite sweet if slightly lacking in emotional intensity. Like the other books in this series, the importance of duty and family is a central theme but there's plenty of adventure and magic too. One thing I would comment on is that it felt a bit less mature than the other books in the trilogy - which is not necessarily a bad thing - but the tone of the book struck me as more like that of her delightful young adult book Wildwood Dancing so perhaps writing for a younger audience has influenced Marillier's style in the years between writing those books and this one. I enjoyed the latest installment in the Sevenwaters saga all the same and want more!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson

This was a book I bought as part of my hopelessly optimistic glut to take on holiday with me. It seemed very apt given I was going to Kenya and... I liked the font on the cover!

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa is by Nicholas Drayson who lived in Nairobi for a couple of years. It's a gentle paced book set in that city that, of course, has been likened to Ladies Detective Agency - probably only because it's set in Africa...

From the blurb: "For the past three years, the widower Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa, a woman who leads the weekly bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society. Reserved and honourable, Malik wouldn't be noticed by a bystander in a Nairobi street but beneath that unprepossessing exterior lies a warm heart and a secret passion.

But just as Malik is getting up the nerve to invite Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball, who should pop up but his nemesis from his school days. The jokester Harry Khan, good-looking in a flashy way and quick of foot, has also become enraptured with the object of Malik’s affection.
So begins the competition cooked up by fellow members of the Asadi club: whoever can identify the most species of birds in one week’s time gets the privilege of asking Ms. Mbikwa to the ball."

The two men's approach to the contest is very different. Harry Khan approaches the task by enlisting two Australian tourists to help him and then making short trips around Kenya to a variety of habitats to try to see as many species as possible. Mr Malik takes a gentler approach to the contest and has a number of other things to deal with during the week that takes his focus off the contest. I thought this was a nice approach to the story as otherwise it could have been in danger of becoming a trip around Kenyapunctuated by lists of birds!

You don't need to be a bird-watcher to enjoy this book, although I can imagine it would add a layer of enjoyment, and where they are mentioned it's always in an easy, entertaining way. Mr Malik's warm heart makes this story a gentle delight. As an elderly gentleman with what sounds like a quite alarming comb-over, he could so easily have been merely a figure of fun but he's also thoughtful and observant. This is an enjoyable, sweet book that I wish I'd read when in Kenya itself!

An interview with Nicholas Drayson in which he reveals he is working on a sequel... Breaking news from The Bookling indeed!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Son of the Shadows & Child of the Prophecy - Juliet Marillier

I read, and really enjoyed, Daughter of the Forest back in January as part of the Sc-Fi experience reading challenge and when I saw that the library had the last two books in the series, just sitting there on the shelf, I could not resist them! All three of these books work as stand alone reads but I think, to get full enjoyment, they would be better if read in order.

Son of the Shadows takes up the story of the children of Sorcha, who in the last book had to try to save her brothers after a sorceress had turned them into swans, and Hugh, the Briton she married. Her daughter Liadan is a gifted seer and healer who thinks, in spite of her visions, that she knows what the future has in store for her - caring for her dying mother and then an alliance marriage to a strategically important near neighbour, Eamonn. A chance meeting on the road carries her off to care for a dying man - one of the mercenaries of the sinister Painted Man, Eamonn's arch-enemy and a killer for hire. Liadan discovers that she cannot choose where she loves and that she and the Painted Man are as bound up in destiny as her mother and father were before her.

The developing romance between Liadan and the Painted Man is a delight and I really enjoyed seeing their relationship grow. This book felt like more of a traditional historical romance with talk of strategic marriages, chieftain alliances and well trained warriors. There is still plenty of magic and the family's heritage is a central theme as the ramifications of the ancient prophecy continue to be felt by them all. Having said that, I really liked this book - Liadan and the Painted Man made a great couple (him = strong silent type so Peta = happy) and the story was exciting throughout.

In Child of the Prophecy we follow the next generation of the family and this is the story of Fainne, the daughter of Liadan's sister, Niamh. Fianne has been raised in isolation and trained in magic by her loving but remote druid-father, Ciaran, and her ruthless sorceress-grandmother, the Lady Oonagh. Who was the evil sorceress from the Daughter of the Shadows. They send Fianne to Sevenwaters to live among relatives, who had no knowledge of her existence, to carry out her grandmother's long-planned vengeance on the clan - and on the Old Ones, who are the source of Ireland's mystic power. Fianne is reluctant to harm her new-found family but if she lets them live, the Lady Oonagh will kill both her father and Darragh, the handsome young horse tamer who is the only friend she has ever known.

In this final volume several of the threads from the first two books are pulled together and the true meaning of the prophecy is finally resolved. Whilst, of course, there is a touch of romance, this book is much more about struggling with torn loyalty and the pain of making difficult decisions that impact several of the characters we've already met in the previous books.

I thought that with the ending of Child of the Prophecy I'd now finished this series but I see that There Is Another... It's currently on loan at the library so fingers crossed that the nice person who has it returns it soon!

Here's a link to Juliet Marillier's website which includes and some photos that she took that were the inspiration of the Sevenwaters area. I was really sorry to read on a recent update that she has embarked upon a lengthy course of chemotherapy/radiology and my thoughts go out to her.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

A was meant to be for Art!

...but was actually for Armchair.

Our first Alphabet Weekend didn't go entirely to plan but I don't think that really matters! Mr B had planned that A is for Art and we went to see the Levity III luminarium which is a 10000sq ft inflatable, walk-through sculpture and is currently inflated in Norwich. There was an enormous queue so we decided to visit it after work during the week and go for a brunch instead and then head up to the Castle Museum to see their current art gallery exhibitions.

Except the Museum was closed. :(

So we had a stroll around the city instead and walked home via Elm Hill (see above). Where we passed an antique shop with a chair outside it. A pinkish chair that looked very similar in shape to the "dream" chair I've been looking for for about two years. I want(ed) the perfect old fashioned chair for reading in - comfy, big wings for napping against and room for me and the dogs. We stopped. We asked how much? We winced a bit. The chap said he had another larger one inside that might be just what I wanted. It certainly was. We asked how much is that one? We winced a bit more. I looked at Mr B. I said "What if we don't go away in June for a few days and buy these instead?". Mr B knew we were buying at least one chair. We asked how much for the pair? He did a deal. We bought both.

Then the nice chap popped them in his van and dropped the chairs, and us, home. They are now installed in what will be my snug once we've worked out what to do with the dining room table! They do need re-covering at some point but at least Oscar seems to like them! The picture is of the smaller of the two...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Adamantine Palace - Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace is the Stephen Deas’s debut novel and also the first book in a trilogy - the next book is due for publication in 2010. This means that I accidentally broke my own rule to not read books in a series until all the books are published as I hate cliffhangers when I can't immediately open the next book!

From the blurb: "The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. The Empire has grown fat. And now one man wants it for himself. A man prepared to poison the king just as he has poisoned his own father. A man prepared to murder his lover and bed her daughter. But unknown to him there are flames on the way. A single dragon has gone missing. And even one dragon on the loose could spell disaster for the Empire."

I blatantly bought this book just because it has dragons in it. Oh and I liked the cover. The plot itself revolves around the scheming members of several royal families who are jostling for the position of Speaker - which puts the holder in a powerful position over the other kings and queens for the next ten years. The point of view changes with each chapter and this did mean that I struggled slightly to keep track of what on earth is going on and with who. There are several family trees provided at the front of the book which helped in later stages as the politics became more complex.

The dragons in this book are domesticated however it becomes clear that this is only because their racial memories are being suppressed by the use of strong chemicals rather than because of a bond with the humans characters. I found this an interesting premise and a nice slant on the usual dragon-human bond. Refreshingly, no character is safe in this fast-paced read and that made for some unexpected plot twists. Whilst I enjoyed the speed that the book romped on at, this does mean that some of the world-building was light and the family trees I mentioned earlier might not have been necessary if more time had been spent on "growing" the characters and how they fitted together. But then the pace would not have been as snappy so what do I know?

In summary though this is an entertaining and enjoyable book that definitely left me wanting to know what happens next to the dragons...

Monday, 4 May 2009

An introduction to "Alphabet Weekends"

We went on a trip today to the Fairhaven Water Garden with the dogs. It's a lovely place to stroll around and was going so well until Safi fell into a stagnant river just before we got into the car. Attempts to hose her down at the plant shop did produce some improvement but not totally successful so my fleece was sacrificed in a good cause. Here's a picture of her looking most disgruntled - she wouldn't even look me in the eye!

Aaanyway - during our walk, Mr B and I decided to start up "Alphabet Weekends". This is inspired by the book Alphabet Weekends by Elizabeth Noble which he read on holiday. His excuse was that he'd run out of books to read so had to choose one from the bookshelf in our room. A likely story. In the book, a couple learn "love lessons from A – Z" by using the alphabet to plan weekends activities in turn.

We felt that we really don't take advantage of the attractions and experiences that are on our doorstep and that it would be nice to try to do so this year. Somehow this idle conversation led onto the agreement that we'll start doing our own Alphabet weekends. Starting next week!

The rules are:
  • Using letters of the alphabet in turn, we have to arrange an outing or activity over the weekend starting with that letter.
  • We have responsibility for alternate weekends so he will do A, I will do B, etc.
  • Most activities should be based near home so that we can also explore more of Norfolk.
  • It's OK to do an activity that we know we'll really love but the other one might not.
  • If it's a hard letter we can cheat a bit with what it might stand for. e.g. X is for Xtreme Sport. As I have the letter X this is very unlikely to be what it ends up standing for...
I'm really looking forward to the next 26 weekends - I've done a bit of research on "my" letters and am astounded by how much there is to see and do around here if you just look for it.

To close this post, here's a picture of Mr B reading this guilty pleasure book on "our" veranda in Kenya. Looks like he's enjoying it a bit too much, I think....

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Dragonfly Pool - Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson is the author of several children's books including Journey to the River Sea which won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize. She also writes novels for "older readers".

From the blurb: "Tally Hamilton is furious to hear she is being sent from London to a horrid, stuffy boarding school in the countryside. And all because of the stupid war. But Delderton Hall is a far more interesting place than Tally ever imagined, and an exciting school trip to the beautiful and luscious kingdom of Bergania whisks Tally into an unexpected adventure ...will she be able to save her new friend, Prince Tamil, before it's too late?"

The Dragonfly Pool is, as you may have gathered, one of her children's books and is set in a British boarding school during WW2. The author, Eva Ibbotson, was herself born in Vienna, but when the Nazis came to power her family fled to England and she was sent to boarding school. A preface to this book explains that this was a very progressive school too where characters very like the eccentric ones in this story actually existed.

What really appealed to me about this story was such a strong female lead in the form of Tally. Tally is very level-headed, practical, empathetic and filled with common sense. She's also got a big heart and is much loved by her two aunts and widowed father - all of whom are devastated that they need to send her away from London. On arriving at the school she rapidly assesses the other students and is very shortly central to life there. It is her idea that a party of children from the school go to a folk dancing festival in the fictional country of Bergania after seeing a news reel at the cinema about the King's refusal to allow German troops in. That none of the children actually know how to folk dance doesn't halt Tally's plan and they create the Delderton Flurry Dance from ideas gleaned from books. Now that is one folk dance I would like to see - it sounded hilarious!

It's in Bergania that she meets the young Prince Tamil and the adventure really starts as the children have to work together to evade Nazis, evil family members and save the young prince from genuine danger. The Dragonfly Pool manages to successfully mix up a stirring war story, old fashioned boarding school story into a convincing "ripping yarn" period piece. I would have happily believed that this book was written in the late 40's or 50's instead of 2008.

This is a really charming story and absolutely perfect for younger readers. I'd also love to see it made into a make a great film too as the range of

Friday, 1 May 2009

April Reading List

A total of eleven books read this month and as you can see, it was a pretty mixed bag! I started with the glorious revolution then moved into the future and then headed back to a glut of regency romance to finish the month off.

What with being on holiday then general busy-ness, I didn't properly review all the books I read this month but (as usual) have told self to Do Better Next Month. I'm still working on my review of Neal Stephenson's trilogy and that should be out soon!

Quicksilver, Confusion and The System of the World - Neal Stephenson
The Understudy - David Nicholls
Halting State - Charles Stross
The Iron Man - Ted Hughes
The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
When He Was Wicked and Mr Cavendish, I Presume - Julia Quinn
False Colours - Georgette Heyer
Sir Phillip, With Love - Julia Quinn

At £1 per book, that's also an £11 donation to Book Aid as part of my year of readers commitment.