This is a fairly in-depth examination of the Wall and the archaeology done around it to try and understand what it was used for and at what times. As such, it’s a lot of information that most people wouldn’t expect to hold in their heads after, unless they’re deeply interested in the topic. Which is pretty much exactly why I read this, back during my exam period. I really love reading books like this that sift through the archaeology, present possible conclusions and discuss what is most likely. I don’t expect to remember this or that about the forts — no one expects me to remember it — but all the same I learned about the Romans and the British of the period, and got to connect some dots in what I know.
It’s perhaps not the most scintillating reading if you’re not pretty engaged and interested in the topic, but it’s interesting stuff and they make a good case for their ideas.
The main point of interest in this classic is the fact that it was a first. The introduction is more interesting than the book in many ways, putting it in its context and explaining why it was significant. The introduction is short, don’t get me wrong, but the story itself is a fairly typical one in many ways. You can guess at the motives, and the mysteriousness is not at all mysterious to someone used to the genre. Not that it’s bad, just that it’s not particularly unique or surprising in any way. The writing is workmanlike, and in some places dips into being almost incomprehensible (but then, I find Dickens like that at his worst, and some people think he writes amazing prose, so take me with a pinch of salt). The plot probably was rather shocking at the time, but leaves me going, so? And of course, the poisoning by proxy is rather… impossible.
In any case, I had fun reading it in terms of connecting the dots with other classics of crime fiction, and it wasn’t a bad way to pass the time, but it’s not something I’m wildly enthusiastic about or would particularly recommend.
I left this a few days to stew before trying to review it, and I still can’t really decide what to make of it. There’s a plethora of names with too many similarities to really keep track, and to what extent it matters is kind of up in the air as well, and that sense of confusion kind of permeated the whole thing for me. It does emerge into the light a bit at the end, with you being able to get a clearer sense of the cyclical story the novel follows, and the potential changes wrought by this particular version of the cycle… but, I don’t know, it never quite worked for me.
Reading some other reviews helps me appreciate it more, but on its own I was just left feeling… meh. I was a heretic and felt that way about Little, Big, too, so maybe it’s a me-thing.
I just… didn’t enjoy it, however much of a classic (or an SF Masterwork) it might be.
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, Nick Lane
I read this while I was preparing for one of the final exams of my biology degree, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I found it helpful in revising some of the topics (mostly apoptosis!), but also found that knowledge useful in understanding the book itself. To me, it seemed an incredibly clear and well-written account of the role of mitochondria in life and the origin of life, and I didn’t really find any major holes in it based on what I know. If you’ve read The Vital Question, then a lot of the ideas in it aren’t new — but of course, that makes sense, since The Vital Question is a more recent book by the same author.
And since this is pop science, I should add that you don’t need the biology degree to understand it. It might be slower going and less like pleasure reading if you don’t have a solid background in science, but it should work at that level too.
I do roll my eyes a little bit at the title, which is obviously drumming up excitement by sounding provocative and then like a self-help book, but hey, maybe it’s persuaded someone on the fence to pick it up just through sounding a bit unusual for the section it’s in. It’s worth picking up, definitely.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.
What are you currently reading?
Human Universe, by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. I’d kind of expected a little more of a biological focus from something called Human Universe with a chimpanzee hand reaching out to touch a spacesuited human hand on the cover, but so far it’s very much been about humanity’s place in the wider universe. It’s light on the equations, though, and I’m now onto a chapter which is discussing the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation, which is the kind of thing I can really get into.
I’m also reading Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo. I’m enjoying it, but also kind of stalling with it — I want to see Kaz’s point of view more, and… I don’t know, something isn’t quite working for me.
What have you recently finished reading?
I zipped through The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman as a little treat to myself after some truly stellar exam results; it remains a lot of fun, and I found myself pondering a lot on the great relationships between Kai, Vale and Irene, and wondering what would happen if any of them developed romantic relationships with each other and who I’d want to get together. (I’ve no idea if that’s the way Cogman plans to go with the characters, it just struck me as I was reading the bit where Kai propositions Irene.)
What will you be reading next?
Looks like Witchmark by C.L. Polk is the next book to win my #MakeMeReadIt polls on Twitter, so that’s probably next up. I’ve already started that, really; I just need to get back into it! Other than that, I’ll be continuing my reread of Cogman’s books, so The Masked City is up next.
It’s rather weird and jarring to go from the last book into this one focused on someone who isn’t September. The narrator nods to that fact, but really it’s no less infuriating: the last book left September in the lurch and I needed to know. It wasn’t so bad on this reread, but still. Still!
It’s not that Hawthorn isn’t a darling and his companions aren’t excellent and that the depiction of our world through the eyes of Fairylanders isn’t funny and wry and all wonderfully aslant, because all of those things are there. Hawthorn is a darling, his Rules for understanding the world are great, Tam is great. But. September!
Reading it a second time and knowing that, though, and having some more patience with it, I did love all the callbacks to September’s story, the little narrative references and mirrorings. It’s all very clever, in a very typically Valente-ish way, and it’s enjoyable to read it and notice what she’s up to. (And that level of the reading is what makes me think the series had so much to offer older readers as well as young: there’s just so much cleverness to savour.)
But I’m still very glad to get back to September and Ell and Saturday when this book is over.
There is something really sinister and dark about this book. It’s one of those where drug-taking/mental illness really pushes the plot, and it leads to some really gruesome moments. That atmosphere is the best thing about the book, I think: that sense that you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next, because it seems like it could be anything. It’s not very subtle, but it works pretty well.
Of course, I don’t love mysteries which rely on mental illness for their sense of danger and their motives, because the facts are that mentally ill people are more likely to be attacked than to be the attackers, by quite a margin. But it’s a classic trope and this is a classic book, from a less aware time, so while I wouldn’t recommend it if that kind of thing really gets to you, I don’t hold it against it too much in how I enjoyed it.
Mind you, considering I didn’t like the detective that much and found the Watson rather boring, I’m not sure how to rate it. The sense of atmosphere is definitely worth something, though, and it’s not as though I found it a hard read. Until I sat down to think about it, I’d have gone with three stars easily.
Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, Michael Marshall Smith
This is perhaps a little less dark and twisty than one might expect from Michael Marshall Smith, and I felt at times that it wasn’t quite sure of its audience — at times the knowing narration seemed more appropriate for an adult audience (mostly the opening; the ending makes it obvious what’s going on there) and some of the book metaphors for relationships felt a little much for kids. It deals with divorce a fair bit, partially through the eyes/close POV of Hannah, who is eleven or so.
It was a fun read, and I did tear through it very fast. It’s not that it’s bad — there are some great observations of people, and I enjoyed the ambiguity of the Devil in some parts (at other times he was just straightforwardly evil in a kind of offhand “that’s the way it is” fashion). It ticks along at a great pace, and Vaneclaw is a fun character, etc, etc.
But. I don’t know. I finished it in record time, I did have fun, but I’m still left feeling lukewarm — like it could’ve been more. Maybe it’s the sense that the audience isn’t quite right, some of the relatively straightforward morality (in the end, after all, the fallen angels who oppose the Devil are the ones in the wrong and unequivocally evil), some of the simplicity in Hannah’s character… I don’t know. It didn’t quite come together for me, is all I can conclude.
Time for the other half of my haul from the Hague! Shoutout again to the American Book Center and Stanza Bookshop for being amazing and friendly. This time it’s the SF/F books, so let’s have at it. Note: the bunnies bought me a couple of these.
Extra shoutout to the bookseller who made sure there was a copy of The Calculating Stars for me. <3
With a title like Rubicon, if you know about the significance of that small river, you might expect the book to be mostly about Julius Caesar (if you didn’t notice the subtitle, which differs slightly between editions but always mentions the Republic). It isn’t: in fact, at times early on you might not be quite sure what Caesar has to do with it and what’s even happening to him at the time. Which is fine: there’s plenty going on that you don’t need the big name to make Roman history interesting, but I do think it makes the title a little bit misleading. It’s not really all about that decisive moment of Caesar’s: it’s more broadly about the Republic, and the sense I got was that even if Caesar hadn’t taken the action he did, the end of the Republic would still have come.
Holland’s writing is mostly breezy and easy to follow: sometimes he gets a little too flippant or broad in his translations for my liking (I wouldn’t put it past Romans to call someone a “cocktease”, definitely, but I’ve seen that line translated rather less explosively, too), and sometimes the sheer number of events and names starts to tangle a little. He’s covering quite a lot here, really putting the moment of crossing the Rubicon into context, and it can feel both a little jam-packed and a little dry as he crams everything in.
For the most part a good read, though a fairly traditional account of the doings of men in classical history. (Give me more about Clodia and her influence!)