Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
I could have sworn I reviewed this back when I read it, which was quite a while ago, but apparently not. So this review will be pretty short. Basically, I felt that Sookie wasn’t convincing as a protagonist — she’s just so stupid (“oh, I’ll just wander into a dangerous situation, everything will be fine!”) and yet so lucky (everything is indeed fine). I didn’t find those decisions she made plausible, at least not for a character I’m meant to like.
I do actually enjoy Harris’ books as light reading, or at least I liked the Harper Connolly books. So unfortunately it’s probably mostly that I really didn’t take to Sookie.
The Making of the Fittest, Sean B. Carroll
The Making of the Fittest is really about that subtitle: “DNA and the ultimate forensic record of evolution”. It’s all about showing that DNA holds the record of evolution, and essentially proves what is difficult to see in real time. There are some good examples, but overall I found myself wondering if anyone who wasn’t already convinced would become convinced by this book. DNA isn’t exactly a secret, and the fact that many species share DNA isn’t either, and yet people still doubt that that means anything.
It’s a good enough read if you’re looking for examples, though, and good if you really want to get to grips with examples of convergent evolution, too.
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit felt even more insular and intimate than The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which was pretty closely focused on its crew. This book features Lovelace — the base AI Lovey developed from, but without her memories — and Pepper, who is a side character in the first book. It’s mostly about Lovelace, or Sidra, as she decides to call herself, and how she finds her way and figures out how to be herself, how to be a person, but it also follows Pepper’s past and shows how she got to where she was too. Found family is a theme here again, and there’s the same diversity of characters that a lot of people (including me!) loved from the first book.
This book does improve on The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet in a key way: it doesn’t feel as much like the conflicts and problems are resolved too easily. It does feel as though the characters have to work for it, and have to compromise rather than get an ideal outcome. There were one or two cases of that in the first book, but overall it felt too easily solved; that’s not the case here, in my opinion, which makes the payoff the sweeter.
Again, if soft SF is your thing, and you’re looking for something with interpersonal rather than intergalactic conflicts (though there’s some hints of the wider world as well) then this may well be your cup of tea. I’d start with the first book, though; it’s not necessary, but it gives you some context.
The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
I’ve been vaguely aware that this book existed for ages, but never picked it up — I’m pretty sure I didn’t know anything except the title, in fact, because I wasn’t sure what to expect when I did pick this up. I know it’s supposed to be a bit of a classic and it won awards and all, but I didn’t really get into it. The mystery is so-so and there’s too many characters crammed into a small number of pages — and yet I found myself wondering when it’s be over.
Turtle is a fun character, for sure, and I found myself a little bit caught up in how she and her sister navigated their issues… but otherwise, I mostly didn’t get into this at all, care about the characters or really wonder about the mystery. Meh?
Hengeworld, Mike Pitts
For the most part, Hengeworld is a thoughtful discussion of the various discoveries about henge sites, mostly in the Wessex area. It looks at dating and old digs, piecing together as accurate a story as possible and trying to put together the context of Stonehenge and the places like it. I’m pretty happy that, at least in 2000ish when this was written, Pitts was saying nothing controversial — his work aligns with that of Francis Pryor (notably not referenced, though) and Mike Parker Pearson.
One note, though — where Pitts discusses people protesting the dig at Seahenge, he insists that the protestors didn’t understand what was going on. Surely, he seems to think, if they’d understood the circle was going to be destroyed anyway by the sea, if they’d understood the importance to archaeology, they wouldn’t have had anything to protest about. But that ignores the link people still have with the prehistoric monuments like Seahenge. It was built of timber, so surely our ancestors knew it would rot in the end. It was built on the shore, for goodness’ sake — a liminal, impermanent place if there ever was one. They meant for Seahenge to be taken by the sea, perhaps. It may even have been important to them. Who is Mike Pitts, or any archaeologist, to claim that’s not worth respecting?
I share the curiosity about megaliths and henges — obviously. I’ve read this book. But sometimes I do wonder why we privilege our understanding of them over the symbolism they had for ancient peoples. On the one hand, of course those people are gone and won’t know what’s happening. On the other… maybe rescuing Seahenge is not a sign of respect for the past, but a desecration. However important you think the archaeology is, I think there should be room to consider that and accept that some people may feel it trumps the opportunity for radiocarbon dating, and freezing the remains of Seahenge in time in a climate controlled environment. That is not, after all, what Seahenge was built for.
When Pitts concludes that different eras have made what they will of Stonehenge and the other megalithic and megadendritic structures out there, he’s closest to recognising their real power, I think.
The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley
The Shadowy Horses is another delightful romance with a strong sense of place and a bit of a mystery/ghost story factor, this time set in Scotland in the midst of a dig to find remnants of the Ninth Legion. There’s no proof of what happened to the Ninth Legion, so stories like this and like Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth that try, in different ways, to puzzle out some of it have always fascinated me. That’s not the primary story here, which is a little disappointing, though I didn’t really expect it to be.
Primary, of course, is Verity’s story, and the stories of the characters around her; how they intersect and intertwine, and in some cases, part ways. The ghost story might feature a Roman ghost from the Hispana, but it could be any ghost with a tragic story for all that it really matters.
It’s a fun story, and I really need more books like it and like Mary Stewart’s books. The sense of atmosphere and, secondary as it is, the historical background give the romance its flavour.
Why Dinosaurs Matter, Kenneth Lacovara
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 19th September 2017
The idea of this book is pretty much encapsulated in the words from the summary: “What can long-dead dinosaurs teach us about our future? Plenty.” It’s the story of the dinosaurs as a highly successfully set of creatures who ruled the world — for a time. It’s also the story of their decline and fall, so to speak, and the lessons we can learn from them. Also, a reminder that a penguin is very literally a dinosaur, just as we’re very literally primates.
There’s nothing revelatory here if you’re into dinosaurs, but if you’re looking for something more general than David Hone’s The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, something to get you up to date on current dinosaur scholarship, this isn’t a bad place to start. And I agree with Lacovara: dinosaurs shouldn’t be viewed as synonymous with something obsolete. They ruled the world for a reason.
Acadie, Dave Hutchinson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 5th September 2017
Acadie is a fun enough little story that had me just sort of nodding along… up until the ending, which packs a bit of a punch and casts all the rest in a new light. I still think that some more world-building could go into the utopian colony, because the little bits that were there were only just enough to whet my appetite; a bit more emotional involvement would probably make that ending even more satisfying. Right now, it’s satisfying in an intellectual way, and didn’t leave me as conflicted as I’d hoped.
Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing story with a heck of a sting in the tail. My favourite sort!
False Colours, Georgette Heyer
This book somewhat ran into one of the problems I have with fiction that includes humour: I’m bad at being embarrassed, and get second-hand embarrassment for characters I like. There’s obviously a lot of scope for embarrassment in a book which features twin protagonists who pretend to be one another, and the muddle they get themselves into when they do this as adults in order to cover for each other. Or, really, Kit covers for his brother who is mostly absent, and really doesn’t deserve such devotion.
It’s generally charming, particularly the bond between Kit and his mother. She’s hopeless, but loveable as well, and while I’m not quite sure how anyone could put up with her from a distance, far too able to see her flaws, I’m sure that in person she would be completely charming. The romance is so-so; this is one of the books where I rather wish there’d been more attention paid to the romantic heroine (though plenty of attention is paid to Kit’s mother, which balances that). There were also some cringy lines that read unpleasantly for the modern reader, but there’s also a lot of fun — the whole relationship between Amabel and Ripple, for instance.
It all works out fairly predictably and easily, but it’s fun while it lasts and I didn’t get too embarrassed on everyone’s behalves, which was a plus. It was definitely a worthy distraction from fretting over my rabbit at the time, too (in consequence of the idiot biting through a cable and electrocuting himself — he’s 100% fine now).
Starborn, Lucy Hounsom
This has garnered good reviews from other bloggers I usually agree with, so I was excited to dig in. It’s certainly a quick read, with some interesting aspects — I like the paired Lunar/Solar magic, for example, and the fact that airships were stirred into the usual fantasy mix instead of it just being your usual race across the land with horses. But I found the characters and world rather thin, really, and the events seemed to lurch from one thing to the other without really making sense. It’s obvious from the beginning that Kyndra is going to turn out to be different and special, but then the book makes such a secret of it — it takes 150 pages for that to be even partially confirmed, despite it being obvious.
I’m not a great fan of the writing, either. It’s not laboured or overly ornate, thankfully, but to me there was something thin about it. ‘Kyndra did this, and then this, and felt like this about it.’ I was more intriged by Nediah and Brégenne from the beginning, although their story reminded me of something else I’ve read. (Kyndra’s did as well, but since it’s fairly typical ‘stable boy becomes the king’ type narrative where an ordinary person turns out to be extraordinary, that’s no surprise.)
Also, sexual assault. Also, a disabled character gets magically healed — and not even through their own choice, but just because someone thinks it’s for the best. Also… yeah. Problematic stuff is not addressed.
In the end, I just didn’t get into it. It’s easy enough to read, but I could take it or leave it, and I feel like I know where things are going. Given that and the neverending backlog, I think I’ll pass on continuing this series.