"Complete Short Stories" by H. G. Wells (book 15) - I got this out of the library coz I'd been talking to dnky about favourite books, and this was his, and all I think I'd read by H. G. Wells before was "The Time Machine" so the conversation prompted me to remedy this. I did enjoy reading it but it wouldn't get on my favourite book list and to be fair I don't think any short story collection would, I much prefer novel length fiction. The best of the stories are still good - "The Time Machine" is definitely one of those - others are "of their time" (particularly in their casual racism & sexism that reads as very offensive to a modern eye) and some just didn't seem to go anywhere. An example of the latter type was "A Catastrophe" in which a man's shop is failing and he doesn't know how he & his family will survive, and then his wife's uncle & family die and they inherit everything so they're comfortably off. It reads more like a description of a story than a story itself, maybe because of different literary conventions of the time? I'm not sure. But there were several good stories too and perhaps I would have done better to find a collection of 'The Best' of his stories rather than the complete collection? It was also an interesting reminder that it's only been a bit over a hundred years since writing about flying machines was fantastical, and you could set stories in the jungles of Borneo to get your exotic creatures (giant intelligent ants!) rather than needing to go to another planet.
"Touch the Dark" by Karen Chance (book 17) was a total change of pace - urban fantasy, vampires, kick-ass bitchy heroine. I have a bit of a weakness for books like this, kind of candy floss for the brain - insubstantial, no nutritious value whatsoever, but it tastes nice at the time. So our heroine Cassandra Palmer is clairvoyant, can see/talk to ghosts and is on the run from the mafia-esque vampire family she was brought up by. They catch up with her, but so do more senior vampires & mages - as you'd expect she's actually a more powerful & important person than she knows (isn't this how they all go?). Some interesting twists - she was brought up as a human servant of the vampires from an early age so is perfectly OK with vampire society so we get a lovely scene where the not very nice mage is reacting to the punishment of some human servants (humiliation by being fed on in public) just the way the reader would ("ewww" effectively) and she's all "blah blah, isn't it normal, what rock did you live under". Rather than having the POV character be the one with "normal" morals it's someone who we don't much like and aren't supposed to. Also the obligatory sex scene has a plot purpose (more than one, in fact - I think I'm mildly spoiled for another point to the scene from reading the beginning of a later book in the series) which was refreshing. I'll probably keep an eye out for future books in the series in the library, for when I fancy reading something fluffy.
"The Margarets" by Sheri S. Tepper (book 18) I picked up initially because of the title, and then checked out of the library because of the author - I generally like Tepper's stuff although if I read too many too close together (like, say, 2 in a row) I find the preaching gets obnoxious. It's set in a future where the Earth is dying (eco-collapse and "it's all humanity's fault" is one of Tepper's themes) and humanity is being helped and/or exploited by various alien races - they'll help humans colonise other planets & help them rebuild the Earth if they reduce the human population on Earth. Primarily this is achieved by selling excess children as slaves (with water - the scarcest resource on Earth as the payment) or shipping them off to the colonies with varying degrees of voluntaryness. Margaret is initially one little girl, she's brought up as the only child on a scientific colony on Phobos and invents other selves to play games with and to pretend to be - like a Queen or a Warrior. So far, so normal - but as her life goes on at various turning points she feels odd and then it's like both possibilities happened and there are two different Margarets (not all called Margaret) who go along different paths through life. There's a threat to the whole existence of humanity, over & above the dying Earth, and a repeated theme of asking The Keeper for help (sort of God, but not) but that "to ask the Keeper you must walk all seven roads at once". Despite the science fictional trappings I think it's really a fable, a fairy story. It hangs together in a mythical, fantastical way, rather than a scientific way. I enjoyed it, as I do most of Tepper's books, but as I said above it's pretty preachy & in some ways it's like being hit round the head by a piece of 2x4 - a terribly well polished and attractive bit of 2x4 but a bludgeon nonetheless ;)