Review – On My Way to Jorvik

Posted 17 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of On My Way to Jorvik by John SunderlandOn My Way to Jorvik, John Sunderland

The most interesting part of this book, for me, is obviously the Jorvik part. It’s fascinating to see how someone with no experience managed to get into a big project like the one at Jorvik, and then create something pretty much universally acclaimed for the way it changed people’s relationship to the history there.

The problem is, the book is about the way to Jorvik as much as Jorvik itself, so there’s all sorts of distractions along the way, and details about Sunderland I wasn’t that interested in. Not just the formative incidents of skipping school to browse in museums, but also his relationships, his pre-Jorvik projects no matter how irrelevant, and weird incidents of the type that happen to nearly everyone at least once: a lady in a cinema with a “suspiciously deep voice” offering him sweeties. Some of the incidents are interesting, and Sunderland has a vivid imagination, but mostly I was just waiting for the parts about Jorvik, and wondering why the hell I’d be interested in that anecdote from the cinema, or what exactly Sunderland did on his days skiving from school.

There was some interest in it on another level, because Sunderland’s a Yorkshire lad, and while I wouldn’t say I’m a Yorkshire lass, I did grow up there, and I could put the things he said into that context and see how utterly Yorkshire he was being — things he said, his attitudes, etc. I doubt that’s going to be a big draw for many people, but it was part of the enjoyment for me: wry smiles and snorts of recognition.

The part about the actual Jorvik project is interesting. He doesn’t talk much about the dig or the actual findings there: he talks about how they set up the space, preservation methods, how they got those ‘piped smells’ sorted out, the commissioning of the figures… I’ve been to Jorvik, though not recently; possibly even long enough ago that I saw something like the exhibition Sunderland created, even though he says it’s been revamped and changed now. So it was interesting to get a behind the scenes view of how a very unique museum was put together, by someone outside the museum business, and how it upped the ante for other projects and museums. It is ultimately an autobiography, though, not a book about Jorvik.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 16 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 3 Comments

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More”, which… I’m not quite sure if I can do, since I tend to go on sprees. Let’s see what I can manage.

  1. Steven Brust. I’ve only so far read Jhereg, though I know I’m gonna read the rest of the series.
  2. Laura Lam. I’ve read one of the short Vestigial Tales, but not the main series.
  3. Phyllis Ann Karr. I loved Idylls of the Queen (and wrote part of my dissertation on it). Lucky for me, I have a few more of her books waiting in my queue.
  4. Steven Erikson. I’ve got almost the whole Malazan series to go. I might have to reread Gardens of the Moon by the time I get round to that, though.
  5. Philip Reeve. I’ve read Here Lies Arthur, and have a bunch of others on my list.
  6. Jorge Luis Borges. This is more because, much as I wanted it to, The Book of Imaginary Beings didn’t wow me.
  7. Italo Calvino. Same goes, with Invisible Cities. There’s a lot I wanted to love.
  8. James Morrow. I haven’t actually quite finished This is the Way the World Ends yet, but it fascinated me the way he managed to draw me in, despite my usual aversion to comic novels of any kind.
  9. Kameron Hurley. I’ve actually only finished reading her book of essays. I really need to read God’s War and Mirror Empire.
  10. Lucius Shepard. I’ve only read The Dragon Griaule, and that was just fascinating, the weirdness of the world and the way he built it up.

Oh, I could manage after all. What about everyone else?

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Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Posted 15 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Posting this old review since the book is a Kindle Daily Deal today!

Cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. Cancer scares me silly, so it’s not something I was able to do for a while, but I finally got round to it today. And in perfect time, because today I was an event marshal at a charity event raising money for cancer research, and tomorrow I’m running in that same charity event to raise money myself. (This seems an opportune moment to point at my fundraising page. Here.) I’m wearing a t-shirt tomorrow on which I’ve written the names of people who’ve died of cancer — my grandparents among them, but including people I’ve never known, people I’ve never even heard of. In fact, you can contribute names yourself in the comments to this review, if you like. Anyway, HeLa/Henrietta Lacks is the only one given special treatment, written larger than the others. Without ever knowing, she has contributed the most to cancer research and indeed to medical research of anyone living or dead. Rebecca Skloot’s book is important because it seeks to unearth what little information remains about the real Henrietta — a young black woman with cervical cancer — and how her legacy has affected the world, including her children.

Reading the one-star reviews, there’s a lot of concern about Skloot’s choice to document her personal activities in the search for HeLa, and the fact that she’s profiting from this story while pointing out the injustice of the fact that Henrietta Lacks’ children do not even have medical insurance. I’m not sure myself why she couldn’t outright give money from the profits on this book to the family, but she has set up a foundation. Most important is the fact that in writing this book she had the permission and cooperation of the family, who read the book in draft form and approved it. Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, repeatedly asks for this book to be written just as it is, telling the full truth about the family.

Skloot documents first the process of discovering the HeLa cell line’s potential, and moves on to the contributions made to scientific knowledge because of it. Slowly, her focus expands to examine the legacy of HeLa for the family, and the effect upon them. It’s pretty shocking reading, because this family was completely taken advantage of. Laying aside any ethical debate about whether the cells belonged to them and whether they could or should profit from them, they didn’t even understand what was happening. Nobody bothered to explain to them, even while taking samples from them to compare to the HeLa cells.

I don’t think this book is perfect, but it certainly succeeded in opening a dialogue. Maybe we should never have known who HeLa was — her genetic code has been published, arguably violating the privacy of her descendants too — but now we do know, questions about the race and class issues surrounding the family need to be asked. And judging from what the Lacks family are now doing in terms of talking about Henrietta, giving talks and so on, I think Skloot did a great thing.

There is a lot about the author herself in this book, because it was a personal journey; whether that’s to some degree appropriative is a good question to ask, and one I don’t feel I can answer.

Rating: 5/5


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Review – Book of Skulls

Posted 14 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Book of Skulls by Robert SilverbergBook of Skulls, Robert Silverberg

I liked the idea behind this, and I even liked the way Silverberg set up the four characters, stereotypes that over the course of the novel are pried open and exposed for the often hypocritical things they are. The writing, too, is pretty good, lyrical and intense. The psychological building up and tearing down of the characters works really well, and it’s not easy to predict who will commit the murder, who will be the sacrifice, etc. The only real problem for me was that I kept having to check the chapter headings to see who exactly was talking: despite the four very different character backgrounds, they didn’t sound different at all.

But. The stereotypes manage to be so offensive — like, the portrayal of the gay male character/s is kind of horrifying, the whole portrayal of what gay people are like as a community. I know this isn’t exactly a new book, and doubtless Silverberg knew he was using stereotypes and that real gay people come from all over the spectrum, but it’s still pretty ghastly to read.

I can see why people enjoy it, I think, but euch, not for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 13 September, 2014 by in General / 58 Comments

You know how I was talking about only three books, this week? Well, it’s a multiple of three? — Why are you looking at me like that? I just felt like an adventure, okay, and my adventures involve books (and awesome second-hand bookshops). And… you couldn’t expect me to leave a bookshop without buying anything, right? Right?

So yeah. Big haul; twenty-seven books in all, counting books from publishers, not counting comics, though Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel both came out in the last week (eee!).

Wait, I just redid the total. Twenty-eight? Man, I dunno. Just look at the pretties.

ARCs/review copies

Cover of The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko Cover of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett Cover of The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini

Cover of Black Swan, White Raven, ed Ellen Datlow Cover of Joan of Arc, by Helen Castor

I’ve heard good things about the middle two, particularly City of Stairs, and I’ve read some of Lukyanenko’s work before. Plus, with a title like The Genome, no one’s surprised my ears pricked up. I’ve read other work by Helen Castor and enjoyed the way she writes. And Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are just… legendary editors and it’s high time I read their anthologies.


Cover of The Archer Who Shot Down Suns by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Benjanun Sriduangkaew, so when I was alerted to this being a freebie, off I went at speed. And that’s the end of the modest sections: onto the rest of my acquisitions!

Dead tree

Cover of Five Hundred Years After by Steven Brust 6079793 Cover of Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust

Cover of Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip Cover of The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Cover of Hero by Perry Moore  Cover of Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom by Emily Franklin and Brandon Halpin Cover of Salt by Adam Roberts

Cover of Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn Cover of Dancers of Arun by Elizabeth A. Lynn Cover of The Northern Girl by Elizabeth A. Lynn

 Cover of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby Cover of The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was mentioned a lot in the neurobiology class I took on Coursera (a class I recommend if it comes round again, by the way). Lots of classics, otherwise; stuff from the 101 best SF novels list I’m reading; Steven Brust and Patricia McKillip are tried and true for me…


Cover of Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams Cover of Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew Cover of The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

Cover of Under the Skin by Michael Faber Cover of The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy Cover of Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Cover of Genesis by Poul Anderson Cover of Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand

Most of these, though not all, are for the aforementioned 101 best list I’m reading my way through. I swear.

And finally…


Captain Marvel #7 Ms Marvel #8

That Captain Marvel cover had better make a lot more sense in context, because I am not a fan of Carol Danvers looking like a cringy heroine from a horror movie who is about to get eaten. The lady kicks ass, people. Steve Rogers is disapproving of you right now. Right now.

Anyway! Anyone been sticking to resolutions better than me?

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Bookshop Review – Paramount Books

Posted 12 September, 2014 by in General / 2 Comments

Earlier this week I had a hankering for books and a pressing need to get myself out of the house for once. Because really, self, that’s not healthy. I ended up deciding I’d take a random trip to Manchester, because I’ve exhausted the more local Thumbnail of map showing Paramount Books' locationbookshops, and I found a few second-hand shops in Manchester by googling. Armed with google maps and GPS, I ventured out. I actually had to stop after just a couple of stores, and it was mostly the fault of Paramount Books (Shudehill, Manchester City Centre, 061-834 9509, open until 7pm most days). It’s super easy to find; not too far away from Manchester Piccadilly station, on a corner near Arndale Shopping Centre.

One problem is that it’s a tiny little place, with nowhere near enough room between the aisles to get in there with a wheelchair. There’s no ramp that I could see, and I’m not convinced the door would be wide enough anyway. There is enough room to get in there if you’re using a stick, I think, but I don’t have any experience with that beyond a few days on crutches once, so I couldn’t say for sure.

First impression on walking in was, “whoa, loud classical music”, which is probably my only other complaint. Which is likely because I was just about on top of one of the speakersPhoto of the front of Paramount Books where I was looking at the science fiction and fantasy section. Unlike some shops that have an SF/F section, this one wasn’t dominated by just George R.R. Martin and Tolkien: there was a good selection of stuff from across the genre. Lots of stuff that I didn’t know, some stuff that I’d been wanting, and probably something for just about everyone. Apparently there’s more in the back room, too, but it was busy when I got there — and probably safer for me in the long run.

It’s not just SF/F, of course. There’s a good selection of old comics, more general interest reading, and plenty of little corners to squirrel yourself away in with a book you’re interested in orPhoto of inside of Paramount Books a shelf you want to study. I saw one of the owner(?)’s young relatives doing exactly that, of which I fully approve. With the loud music and so on it’s not a library, but it’s no Waterstones either — there’s no corporate efficiency, it’s much more personal than that, and no one disturbed my browsing with questions about what I’m looking for (which always annoys me when I’m blatantly browsing rather than seeking something particular). I had a great conversation with the person who took my money, who wisely mentioned liking Wales, and it really made me smile when I was also told to pick some fruit from a big bowl on the desk before I left!

They also pay cash for CDs, cassettes, videos and LPs, and sell old/valuable books as well as the usual old Poul Anderson-style paperbacks.

Things to keep in mind: not a place to find the latest releases — rely on serendipity, cash payment only, take a big bag to carry your finds home in!

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Posted 12 September, 2014 by in General / 1 Comment

Spotted this meme on Reading is my Treasure and picked it up since it looks like fun!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Never-ending lists, mostly. I have lists going back to 2011 of the books that I’ve acquired (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), though that doesn’t include ARCs or library books. At the moment I’m also using my Stacking the Shelves posts as a visual reminder: look at old StS posts, figure out what I’ve read and what I haven’t, feel guilty.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
Probably ebook, but I’m not sure, because I do have a looooot of both. It’s easier to go on sprees with ebooks, though.

A Book That’s Been On Your TBR List The Longest

Ulysses by James Joyce, technically! It’s been on my list since a couple of months before my first year in university, anyway. Other than that, I think it’s my Diane Duane books.

A Book You Recently Added To Your TBR

Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas. I keep hearing so much about this!

A Book In Your TBR Strictly Because of Its Beautiful Cover

I don’t really pick based on covers, but there are some that partially appeal because of the pretty.

Cover of The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans Cover of The Falconer by Elizabeth May

A Book On Your TBR That You Never Plan on Reading

Probably Ulysses… I just can’t find any appeal in it other than “you have two English Lit degrees, you are meant to read it”. Well, boo to that.

An Unpublished Book on Your TBR That You’re Excited For

Mmmmmm. Up to last week it’d have been Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, or maybe The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. Right now, I guess it’s down to N.K. Jemisin’s next one…

Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

A Book On Your TBR That Basically Everyone’s Read But You

Gotta go with Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but there’s others too…

Cover of the special UK Collectors Edition of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Cover of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart Cover of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

A Book On Your TBR That Everyone Recommends To You

One of the above, probably! But also these, particularly Ancillary Justice.

Cover of Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

A Book On Your TBR That You’re Dying To Read

Oh, so many. I’d like to catch up on some of my comics, actually.

Cover of Dark Reign: Young Avengers Cover of Avengers Assemble: Science Bros Cover of Avengers Assemble: The Forgeries of Jealousy

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

None. I don’t like the way they use that shelf. I have a bunch of specific shelves, but really I’m not keeping up with it very well since I started this blog.

I tag:

Whoever would like to do it!

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Thursday Thoughts: Covers

Posted 11 September, 2014 by in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme from Ok, Let’s Read is about covers:

Are you someone who likes your books to look very uniform or do you usually not care to much about that? How do you react when there’s a cover change in the middle of a series? What are your opinions on movie-tie-in covers with the actors from the movie adaptation? Which book covers are your favorites?

I’m not too bothered about covers. It does annoy me when I’ve been collecting a series for a long time and then the covers change — Robin Hobb, sorry, I’m looking at you. I had nine books and then the covers changed, what’s with that? Also, I quite liked my old set of Neil Gaiman books: I sometimes find the old editions still on sale, but there’s a lot more variation in the covers now. Probably because he’s written more children’s books, graphic stories like Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, but still, rar! But it doesn’t bother me too much, especially when I’m collecting the series in ebook. I’m pretty resigned to it, I think: I can be quite obsessive about other things, and it’s not particularly good for me!

Movie tie-in covers… I’m not a big fan, because I usually think they’re not as nice as the original covers, and sometimes I am so not in favour of the casting, etc. Especially when it’s white-washed. I don’t know if they ever made tie-in covers for the Earthsea TV series where Ged was white, but I wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole.

My favourite book covers tend to be ones with really pretty fantasy art. Kinuko Craft and Thomas Canty do good stuff. Just pulling from the covers I already have loaded on here, here’s some Kinuko Craft and Thomas Canty…

Cover of The Sun and Moon and Stars by Steven Brust 81075 Cover of Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillip

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 10 September, 2014 by in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
On My Way to Jorvik, by John Sunderland, which is an autobiography by one of the people involved in creating the Jorvik museum, talking about how he got there considering he actually had no experience with museums at all. It’s okay, but it gets more interesting once he actually gets onto Jorvik — I was less interested in his personal life. And there was also Radio Free Albemuth, which I’ve already posted my review of.

What are you currently reading?
We Are Here, by Michael Marshall Smith. Which I got spoilered for a bit, but spoilers don’t tend to bother me, and I was already figuring it out anyway. I love the way this guy writes, and have really enjoyed everything of his I’ve read, but this one is kinda slow — well written, but slow. It’s driving me a little batty because I really want to love it, and there’s so much to like, but… not enough happening. Or not enough happening that makes sense, anyway.

I’m also still reading Manon Lescaut, and next week in Fiction of Relationships is (I think) Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, which I love and adore. So I’m partway through a reread of that.

What will you read next?
For once, I’m pretty sure — my books from the library ’round here, since soon I’m going back to where I normally live. So Timescape (Gregory Benford), Book of Skulls (Robert Silverberg) and, if there’s time, Magic Strikes (Ilona Andrews). If not, I know I can get that one from the local library.

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Review – Radio Free Albemuth

Posted 10 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K DickRadio Free Albemuth, Philip K. Dick

I think I’ve only read one Philip K. Dick book before, and that was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I didn’t really get on with that. I wonder now if that was due to different interests at the time, not settling down with it enough… because I did enjoy Radio Free Albemuth, and it’s making me want to try going back to Do Androids Dream and to some of Dick’s other work, and have another try.

It’s a smooth read, confidently written, and easy to follow — which as I recall, was my problem with Do Androids Dream; I just couldn’t keep a handle on what was happening and why, for whatever reason. I was braced for that with this book, but actually, it unfolded reasonably easily. The sci-fi aspects are well done, and the dystopian setting is sketched in so that you can imagine the whole world from the little bits you do see. There’s something very 1984 about it, obviously, but with — well, I won’t spoiler it.

The discomforting thing is really the fact that this is semi-autobiographical, and Dick really believed this, or some of this anyway, was happening to him. When I didn’t know that — I didn’t know much about Dick, other than something about Harlan Ellison saying he used drugs? — it was fine, but once I did, I found myself looking for what he was trying to say with it, trying to find his line between fact and fiction.

The bad news is, I’m pretty sure he was bonkers. The good news is, I don’t think it was a harmful kind of bonkers, and he could tell me about Valis all day if he wanted. I’d probably just feel a little cringy at the total disconnect from reality, outside of a science fiction novel. In a way, if Dick really did believe all that… well, he lived in a universe that was full of different possibilities. You’ve got to envy him that a little.

Rating: 4/5

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