I'll start with this one, Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard.
Anyway, this was a fascinating book. Hearing about Victoria's life from the point of view of people who knew her better than anyone was rivetting. It sounds like it might be a cushy job, living and working at court but of course it was not (and probably still isn't). The Queen was demanding, there were petty rivalries and jealousies, and people like Henry Ponsonby, who basically ran the royal household - I forget his offical title - was sometimes worked to total exhaustion and ended up being hospitalised in order to recover. So much to say about this book that it's impossible in a brief review, to say it all. If you have any interest at all in Queen Victoria's reign this is a *must read*. It's not a quick read, I took over a week to work my way through it, but it is an extremely rewarding read and well worth the effort.
My second book could not be more different - I like to ring the changes - it's the classic science fiction story, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.
I feel like I may have read this book before, or rather, like I *should* have read it, but I'm not entirely sure. It felt fresh and new but bits seemed familiar. It doesn't matter. This is one of those odd books where not a huge amount happens. It's not pacey and hugely plot-driven, in fact it's quite casual as it tells you all about physics and how alien civilisations might differ from ours and how they might solve the problem of travelling through space. It sounds like it might it might be rather dry but in fact it's not at all. The physics was quite understandable, though I did struggle with the concept of a sea that went right around a cylinder and didn't fall down. But Clarke makes it clear that that's ok, because the characters in the book are also struggling with this, and many other concepts, in the book. This not a character-driven book. You don't get to know anyone that intimately. The book is really all about the alien spacecraft; I would even say that 'Rama' is the main character in the book. That might seem very odd but it works wonderfully. There's a reason why some of these older sci fi books are called classics and I can easily understand why this one is numbered amongst them. It maintains a sense of awe right the way through, even though you would not call it exciting or even a page-turner. It takes clever writing and a clever writer to achieve that and I can honestly say I absolutely loved this book.
I'll be reading more by Arthur C. Clarke. Oddly enough we lived for eight years in the town where he was born, Minehead in Somerset, although he lived most of his life in Sri Lanka. While we were there, there was talk that he wanted to fund some kind of science centre in the town (he didn't die until 2008). Sadly it never happened, I'm not sure why, but it's rather a shame as it's a small town with a large Butlins holiday camp, and really it could do with something else to offer the many tourists that visit the area, not to mention the children who live there. I think he was rather an amazing scientist and writer and would have loved to leave that kind of legacy behind.