The Planet in a Pebble, Jan Zalasiewicz
There are some authors who can make me feel enthusiastic about reading about geology — Richard Fortey being the obvious name that jumps to mind. Jan Zalasiewicz is not quite on that level, though I found the book interesting enough; sometimes it drags somewhat, but I think that somewhat comes with the subject. There are parts of a rock’s life cycle that aren’t exactly scintillating drama, if any part of the rock cycle could be called scintillating given the pace it happens at.
Probably not the first book I’d recommend for geology, but useful enough for understanding the rock cycle and the history of the Earth through rocks.
Starlings, Jo Walton
Received to review via Tachyon; publication date 30th January 2018
It’s no secret that I love Jo Walton’s work, and I’d better add here that I’ve spent time with her as well — I’d call her a friend. Still, I knew her work first, and this is a fun collection. Jo may say she doesn’t know how to write short stories, but all the same everything here works pretty well. I only knew ‘Relentlessly Mundane’ and some of the poetry before, I think. It was nice to re-encounter the poetry here and spend some time with it — reading it online wasn’t the same at all. I hadn’t read the play, either, ‘Three Shouts on a Hill’; entertaining stuff.
My favourite of the short stories… hmm, possibly ‘Sleeper’, and I liked ‘What Joseph Felt’ a lot too.
Really, I never know quite how to review short story collections: suffice it to say that I enjoyed it, and I think it’s worth it, especially if you’re already a fan of Walton’s work. I’m glad I got to read it ahead of time.
Neanderthals Rediscovered, Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse
For a book that promises to be all about Neanderthals and not so much about our ancestors, this didn’t totally deliver. The Neanderthals are compared to our (more direct) ancestors in pretty much every chapter, and not just where the two may have met and interacted. Nonetheless, it’s a good survey of what we currently know about Neanderthals thanks to work by people like Svante Pääbo who’ve taken it to the lab, and people who work in the field.
Honestly, it’s not as in-depth as I hoped, but it is an interesting subject and some of the photos in the full-colour plates are well worth a look — reconstructions, sites, skeletons, etc.
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee
Received to review via the author and Netgalley; publication date 14th June 2016
I am so late to this one. I’m sorry, and especially sorry because when I finally picked it up, I read it in an evening and immediately formulated a plan to go and pick up the sequel at my earliest convenience or possibly earlier. I didn’t start out that well with it, because the talk of maths blindsided me; once I started treating it like magic, however, and therefore subject to rules I may not understand, I got really fascinated by the whole system. It does keep you on your toes, and often avoids spoonfeeding you the things you need to know, so if you’re looking for something to turn your brain off and settle into, this isn’t it.
However, I got totally caught up in the characters, too. Not so much because they’re likeable — I’m not sure they are — but because I wanted to know what made them tick, what was going to happen, and how they were going to achieve their goals — or indeed, what their actual goals were.
I don’t know how to say more about this without merely describing it or giving spoilers, but suffice it to say I enjoyed it a lot. There’s something of the feel of Ancillary Justice (and the sequels) about it, although in many respects it’s totally different.
Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf
Despite the exciting-sounding title, this is actually a book about the science of how we read. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I read it and the review I wrote then is one of the reviews that I seem to have lost in the ether, but I do remember finding it generally entertaining, though I wished at times there were more citations so I could go and read more about the things Wolf claims.
One thing I really want to look up is the results of the study into AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) and how it affects the acquisition of reading skills. It seems a little eyebrow-raising that there should be specific problems with AAVE and not with, say, the Yorkshire dialect in Britain — maybe that’s for lack of studying it, I don’t know. It just seems a little bit suspect when you consider the way people view users of AAVE as uneducated, and all those other racial stereotypes.
Some interesting stuff about dyslexia, though.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christopher Moore
When I started reading this, I got really sucked in. I loved the idea, and I’m not opposed to making light of Jesus’ life — especially as despite Biff’s irreverence, Jesus (Joshua) comes across as a principled person doing his best to understand the world and what he’s here to do. I enjoyed Philip Pullman’s take on it, for example. I didn’t even mind the mild obsession with sex and bodies and all of that, because it makes sense that a young boy would wonder about those things and be caught up on those things and be a silly ass about those things.
But the longer it went on in that vein, the more tired of it I got. Yes, yes, women and sex, we get it; is that the best punchline you’ve got? Oh, you’ve got a fart joke too. That’s the entire basis of the humour, along with some anachronisms. It’d probably work as a short story, but at this length, I got very tired of it. I perked up a little when some female characters showed up who seemed intelligent, and then — oh. Sex again, plus making fun of Chinese names. Oh, she’s called “Tiny Feet of the Divine Dance of Joyous Orgasm”. And she’s called… “Pea Pods in Duck Sauce with Crispy Noodle”?
I hung on a little longer, but in the end, I didn’t finish this book. There are aspects about it I was curious about, but at 250 pages through, I sat back and thought about whether I wanted to invest more of my life in it.
No, I don’t.
The Warrior Princess, K.M. Ashman
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 22nd August 2017
I really appreciate that someone’s taken a bit of Welsh history and made a novel from it — there’s plenty of Welsh history to choose from, but apart from books based on the lives of some of the Tudors, I can’t think of many other books that really touch on it. While I knew about Nest ferch Rhys (Nesta, here; I believe that’s a popular version of her name which maybe sounds better to the English-speaking ear), I didn’t know anything about Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, for whatever reason, so if nothing else I’m grateful to this book for drawing her to my attention!
The style is a little disappointing, though; I found it rather wooden at times, even with the author’s attempts to vary the vocabulary by varying the inquits (asked, sighed, etc). The pacing was quite slow, too, and I felt at times like I was having the information dumped on me, rather than introduced organically. If you enjoy the author’s writing style, it’s likely you’ll enjoy this as well; it’s probably a personal taste thing as much as anything.
I did appreciate the historical note at the end — always good to get a bit of the background, so you know where to research if you’re interested.
Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb
It was a little odd rereading this, because it’s been quite a while since I read these books, and yet they’re still so very familiar! I know every beat, and I think I could practically recite some of Fitz’s monologues. It’s still a great book, though the familiarity perhaps spoils things a little bit — I know exactly where things are going, and how stupid Fitz is being about x, y and z. I always had the urge to reach into the book and shake him, and I definitely had that now. Especially, perhaps, because last time I read it I was a teenager, like Fitz, and now I am an adult and oh my goodness, Fitz, don’t be an idiot.
I love the characters so much, particularly Verity. I can’t imagine why people would ever have preferred Chivalry, because from the sound of it, he was just too perfect. In contrast, Verity is blunt, sometimes unthinking, but he’s so dedicated to his people. He’d sacrifice anything, and he also cares for the small people — including Fitz, whom others consider a liability or a worthwhile thing to sacrifice.
I find Burrich frustrating, because his opposition to certain things is just based on superstition, as far as it appears to Fitz — he expects Fitz to obey him without ever explaining why. Of course, we’re meant to feel that way, ’cause he’s a stubborn ass, but I still find him frustrating.
I’m looking forward to rereading the rest of the trilogy. Except for that bit — Hobb is all too good at making her characters suffer.
The Emerald Planet, David Beerling
I confess that I wasn’t expecting to love a book that focuses on photosynthesising plants; I don’t have a huge interest in plants, as a general rule, and I picked this up because it was one of the Oxford Landmark Science books. Buuuut this book definitely got me interested in the way plants work, the various types of photosynthesis, etc. It’s written in an engaging style — you can feel that Beerling loves his topic, and it really works.
I find myself recommending this to people now. If you don’t understand how much we rely on the photosynthesising part of the biosphere, well, maybe it’s time you got a wake-up call. And I think this book could get anyone enthused.
Defy, Sara B. Larson
I loved the sound of this — set in the jungle, with a heroine who has dressed herself as a boy and maintains her position in the prince’s guard. More than maintains it: she can beat any of them. It seemed typical in other ways, in fact reminiscent of Throne of Glass, but I was ready to follow along for the fun of it. Unfortunately, Alexa keeps nearly revealing herself as a woman by being uncontrollably attracted to men and prone to blushing.
Now one, attraction to men does not make you a woman. I know this is YA, but that’s not the first assumption people would necessarily make. And two, I know I don’t have any experience with overwhelming attraction, being ace, but I still haven’t much noticed people being this thrown off by random thoughts about how attractive other people are. With that and the fact that whoops, everyone seems to know she’s a girl and whoops, they start acting protective once that is out in the open… blech. I lost interest. The love triangle didn’t help, either. It just felt so. very. generic.
I mean, come on. If you’ve known someone is a girl for a long time and managed to avoid acting protective, why would you start up being protective just because the girl now knows you know she’s a girl? Especially when she’s been regularly thrashing every one of the guard in sparring matches since she first joined.