Christmas reading: Magic and parallel worlds

One of the pleasures of having a bit of spare time over Christmas is that I have the opportunity to get my teeth into some good fiction. This Christmas I had borrowed a couple of books from the library: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I really loved both books, though it took me a bit longer than the Christmas period to finish both.

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Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

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Several years ago, I saw a film called Ghost Dog, that I thought I would hate, but ended up watching twice because I found it so intriguing. The film is about the eponymous Ghost Dog, who is an assassin who works for a Mafioso, and follows the Way of the Samurai. To the Mafioso, he's just a hired hitman, but the man saved Ghost Dog's life when he was young, and Ghost Dog decided as a result to regard the man as his 'lord' in the terms of the Samurai code.

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Attention All Shipping - Charlie Connelly

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The Shipping Forecast is an odd thing. For many people (particularly Radio 4 addicts), lying in bed around 1 am listening to the gentle poetry of the Shipping Forecast is one of life's secret but treasured pleasures. Curled up under the duvet, you can let the litany of "Dogger, Fisher, German Bight...", "south-westerly five or six, rain then showers, moderate becoming good..." wash over you. You may live in Solihull, miles from the nearest coast, but for once you can be glad that you're not in North Utsire enduring the gales.

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Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

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I read the first part of this series ('The Sparrow') a short while ago and loved it, so I was keen to read the sequel — particularly as the first part didn't exactly have a happy ending. 'Children of God' follows Father Emilio Sandoz back to the planet of Rakhat, several years after he returned as the only survivor of the first disastrous mission. I think that the author was trying to cater for people who hadn't read the first book, so there's quite a bit of scene setting and recapitulation at the start which is a little tedious if you have read the first part.

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