So it’s March, how are my challenges going?
You can read more about ShelfLove here, and see the origins of Game of Books here!
Books read (overall): 49
Books read (backlog): 26
Points earned (see spreadsheet): 223
Five-star reads: 3
Four-star reads: 19
Three-star reads: 15
Two-star reads: 6
One-star reads: 2
The discussion this month is about books that have been on our TBR the longest. I’ll go back as far as the beginning of this blog for the ones I bought waaaay back then…
And some of those are even ARCs. Shame on me…
Who else still has TBR books from 2013 and earlier? Don’t let it just be me…
The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean
The Disappearing Spoon is not quite as entertaining to me as Sam Kean’s book on neuroscience, but it’s still reasonably fun and definitely an easy read. There’s all kinds of random facts, and he makes things like electron shells very clear — even for me, with my brain’s stubborn refusal to grasp it all. He writes with humour and enthusiasm, pulling out interesting characters and discoveries from the history of the Periodic Table and its elements.
I’m just not as into chemistry/physics as I am biology. Even organic chemistry. I should be, but, alas. So I found that this dragged a bit — for me. It’d probably be unfair to assume it’d drag for you as well, if you’re actually a fan of chemistry.
The Secret Library, Oliver Tearle
This is a beautifully presented book, at least in the hardback — the dustcover is lovely, with a keyhole cut into the front and edged with silver, and the book is nicely bound. It’s not quite as meta as the binding of Keith Houston’s The Book, but it’s still a lovely object that will make a good gift for book lovers of your acquaintance.
In terms of content, it’s fairly shallow: it’s a whistlestop tour, as it says several times, so the facts here are more on the level of trivia than anything in-depth. If you’d like a survey of literature and weird facts relating to literature and literary figures, it’s a good one. It made for a good book to read on the train, too, as you could easily dip in and out of it. There was no need to keep track of things too closely.
I think I hoped for more, but honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting.
What have you recently finished reading?
T. Kingfisher’s Summer in Orcus! For which I have many hearts, as it is the kind of self-aware portal fantasy that I needed right now. I love Reginald and Glorious and even the Antelope Woman, and I want to wander through Orcus and see the birds dancing.
What are you currently reading?
Um, well, I might still be partway through more or less the same books as last week: After Atlas, The Dragonbone Chair (reread), The Stars are Legion… I think that’s it. Probably.
What are you planning to read next?
Probably a couple of ARCs — Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland is next up on the list, I think. After that, some non-fiction. A friend told me that Nick Lane’s The Vital Question is a difficult one, so now I’m curious.
Death at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood
Another fun outing with Phryne, this one opening with a young man dying in Phryne’s arms. That gives us a driven, cold, angry Phryne. It’s always fun to see Phryne shocked right out of her comfort zone and realising that death can touch those around her, and this book gives us a Phryne who is almost (but not quite) out of her depth, with the kidnap of Dot and… well, everything else that happens.
I did find it a little too dramatic this time around, though. Anarchy! Guns! Seances! It’s all a bit sensational, and while I know that’s what I’m likely to get with a Phryne novel, still… this one definitely doesn’t have the cosy feel of some of the others, and there’s a real sense of peril in places which is at odds with the pretty clothes, sexual liberation and epic spreads at lunch and dinner.
What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, Randall Munroe
What If? is a fun outing in which the author of xkcd answers weird science questions while ignoring the implausibility of those situations ever arising. So we get things like “what if all the rain from a cloud fell in one big droplet” and “what if Earth started expanding” — and Munroe answers them, rummaging through scientific papers and obscure experimental results to find out his closest guess at what would happen. I can’t really speak for his science in most places (only the DNA question was really down my street), but given how pedantic the internet can be, I’m sure Munroe did his absolute best to find an answer that would be, if not incontestable, at least not easily dismissed.
The whole thing is illustrated with Munroe’s usual stick figures, and I still remain completely baffled as to how the combination of his stick figures and his lettering can imbue things with feeling. It makes no sense. And yet the Moon promising to help the Earth start spinning again? Gah. Moon, I love you!
He also has a humorous tone and a clear way of explaining, so despite the weird situations that he examines, it pretty much all makes sense… though I took his equations for granted, and any other calculations.
There isn’t an official theme this week, but I thought I’d treat it as a freebie and give you ten characters I have a squish on. What’s a squish? It’s a term used in the asexual community for a crush which doesn’t involve any desire for a sexual or perhaps even romantic relationship. And honestly, it really works for the way I feel about some characters — it’s not about them being pretty or handsome or whatever, but I’d still get all squeaky and flappy about meeting them in real life.
It’s not quite my favourite characters, but characters who’ve left some kind of deep impression on me — even if they’re not the main character, or if they’re not actually a favourite. Maybe another term would be “heroes”…
- Faramir, from The Lord of the Rings. The original squish, as far as I’m concerned. He doesn’t appear for long, but he’s such a noble person.
- Joscelin Verreuil, from Kushiel’s Dart. This is a fairly easy guess with me, too. I love the paladin types.
- Josua Lackhand, from The Dragonbone Chair. He was pretty much what I read these books for, the first time. And again, it’s that nobility and the way he cares for his people.
- Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, from Marvel Comics. She’s just so awesome. Not always the best equipped to tackle a situation, but if she’s the only one, she’ll take that responsibility and just act and do whatever she has to.
- Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, from Marvel Comics. Depends on the writer somewhat, but there’s such a core of integrity and honesty to the character. They did really well translating this to the MCU without making him a sanctimonious prick, too — which is one of the ways which writers can fail with Steve.
- Phryne Fisher, from Cocaine Blues. She’s a rather atypical character for this list, and I think she’d be totally baffled by the whole idea of a squish. But she’s completely badass and she cares and she owns her faults as much as her successes.
- Harriet Vane, from Strong Poison. She can make clever, witty jokes while she’s in prison and on trial for murder. Her cleverness won me over instantly.
- Honor Harrington, from On Basilisk Station. How not? She’s smart and dedicated and determined, and she has a telepathic cat.
- Maia, from The Goblin Emperor. He’s mindful, earnest, and he tries so hard. I just want to hug him.
- Jo March, from Little Women. An early and formative one, though this one was probably because I wanted to be her.
How about you? Ever had a fictional crush/squish?
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
This book tries to imagine what the world would be like if we were just raptured away or abducted by aliens, with little or no warning. Despite being ostensibly a book about the world without us, it turns out to mostly be a book about us. Or, more accurately, what we’ve done to the world, which the world will have to cope with whether we’re here and part of that or not. If you’re science-aware, there’s probably not much to learn — in fact, if you’re up on your climate science, what’s here is very basic when it comes to that. It does muse interestingly on certain specific animals and habitats which would benefit from a world without humans. There’s some good stuff on places where humans don’t go, which are proving to be wildlife sanctuaries even when they’re utterly radioactive.
But mostly, I think I hoped for a bit more of the future, and a bit less of the past and present. Of course, the past can tell us what some environments used to be like without human intervention, or after specific types of human intervention. And of course, the present shapes what will come. And we can’t really predict evolution — look at the differences between the stuff in the Burgess shale and later forms, for example. Or even the way that mammals succeeded the dinosaurs. But I still hoped for a bit more about the future, what kinds of animals might thrive, what it might look like.
If you’re already depressed by what humans have been up to, this will make you feel worse. A lot worse. None of it was news to me, but still… Yeesh, we’ve messed up.
An Artificial Night, Seanan McGuire
I enjoy these books a heck of a lot, but I do agree with a lot of the criticism I’m seeing about Toby. She refuses to be helped, she makes everything harder than it needs to be, and she’s not remotely honest with herself about her own motivations for… anything, but mostly her heroism. I’m sort of waiting to see it get someone that she’s allegedly trying to protect killed, just because she won’t think in shades of grey. There are no teeth in her constant desire to protect Quentin, for example — he comes through just fine physically, despite her every statement that he’s going to get killed. It’s remarkably bloodless in that sense, in this book in particular — there was a bit more of a price in A Local Habitation.
That said, I enjoy the lore of this book a lot. Blind Michael is creepy as heck, the use of nursery rhymes and the Tam Lin ballad is a delight, and the Luideag gets a pretty big part to play. We see more of faerie and the rules that bind them, and we get to explore another world.
I enjoy the series a lot, but I’m not sure about the people I know who sneer about, say, Ilona Andrews in comparison. I see a lot of the same tropes in action, and Kate Daniels is more self-aware than October Day. They’re both fun urban fantasy, using different lore in fascinating ways… but nope, Seanan McGuire’s Toby isn’t somehow more literary. If you like this series, you’ll probably also like the Kate Daniels series.
Diamond Dogs, Alastair Reynolds
Diamond Dogs is a really effective novella, for my money. I reread it recently, but I remembered the key points from the first time I’d read it — a twisty story that got under my skin. There’s lots of little references and clues to point you to what the story is going to do, and there’s plenty of worldbuilding and detail to keep you wondering. It helps to know a little bit about the larger universe of Reynolds’ books, just for background… but it’s not necessary.
It’s creepy and psychological and well structured. It’s just one of those novellas which perfectly gets under the skin, scratches that itch, etc, etc. I won’t give away anything else…