Time for Stacking the Shelves, hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! It hasn’t been that busy a week, really, though I went to the library twice, so it looks substantial. It was mostly a non-fiction week, it seems, but there were a couple of fiction books sprinkled in, and both my review copies from this week are fiction.
I really need to read the other Raksura books, but I am pretty excited about the Martha Wells one. Such glee when I spotted it on Edelweiss! I love her work.
I found this a bit more engaging than the first book, and more plausible besides in the way the murder is worked out, but I’m still not sure what I think of Marsh’s work, or perhaps specifically Alleyn. I haven’t got a handle on him at all; I can never quite tell what he’s meant to be thinking, what he’ll do, and whether he thinks it’s awful fun or perfectly awful, except when we’re directly told. Perhaps the alternating, alienating POVs of him and then Bathgate don’t help there. For all that they’re supposed to be friends, I can’t for the life of me understand why.
Still, I cared more about the mystery in this one, and read it all in one go. And I’ve ordered the second omnibus, because I sense that this ambivalence might go on a while. We’ll see, I suppose.
Love the idea of this one, hosted here. The idea is to share a couple of the books that have been waiting on your shelves for a while, as opposed to something like Stacking the Shelves, where you share books you’ve just picked up. So here’s three I’ve picked for this week.
Fly by Night, Frances Hardinge
A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution.
I’ve had this on my list for ages, since the first book by Frances Hardinge I read (which was A Face Like Glass, and absolutely excellent). I’ve nearly picked it up so many times since, but I keep wanting to pick the right time so I really get to savour it.
The Beacon at Alexandria, Gillian Bradshaw
In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctor at a Roman outpost in Thrace until, kidnapped by barbarian Visigoths, she finds her destiny to heal and also to be a woman and a wife.
I wouldn’t be sure about that “finding her destiny” part, normally, but I tend to trust Gillian Bradshaw — I’ve really enjoyed most of her work that I’ve read so far. She seems to do a lot of work on her settings, although as I think on it, she tends to focus more on male characters.
The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories, Vol. 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin
Outer Space, Inner Lands includes many of the best known Ursula K. Le Guin nonrealistic stories (such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” “Semley’s Necklace,” and “She Unnames Them”) which have shaped the way many readers see the world. She gives voice to the voiceless, hope to the outsider, and speaks truth to power—all the time maintaining her independence and sense of humor.
Companion volume Where on Earth explores Le Guin’s satirical, risky, political and experimental earthbound stories. Both volumes include new introductions by the author.
I’m looking forward to both volumes of this, but particularly to volume two. Ursula Le Guin has been a huge influence on me and this sounds like a pretty definitive collection. I’ve probably read a lot of them before, though not all. If you’ve never read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, I definitely recommend that one if you’re okay with discomforting ethical dilemmas.
I’m not wildly enthused about Ngaio Marsh and Inspector Alleyn, at this point. It’s a smooth enough read, but the murder is a little haphazardly imagined: some elements of it suggest premeditation, while others suggest a crime of opportunity, but it has to be one or the other or it just doesn’t work. Too much depends on opportunity — the availability of the weapon, the position of the murdered man, the way the murder game turns out — and yet the rest of it smacks of pre-meditation: the bizarre way the murderer sneaks downstairs to do it, planning out what gloves to use, arranging an alibi… And then there’s the whole mess of the Russian secret society plot. Just… what?!
I can’t say I really cared much about any of the characters. Alleyn seems… weirdly mercurial, but not in a believable way, flipping personalities more often than you’d change clothes. I don’t understand him a bit. And Nigel Bathgate is just too bland: a Watson type of sidekick who makes silly mistakes and can’t figure anything out.
I know I didn’t like Peter Wimsey incredibly much the first time I read Whose Body?, so I’m giving this series more of a chance, but I’m not sure I’ll go beyond the three books I have. So many books, so little time.
What did you recently finish reading? A Man Lay Dead, by Ngaio Marsh, and Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution, by Richard Fortey. I wasn’t overwhelmed by either, sadly. The mystery in the former didn’t work for me, requiring too much suspension of disbelief due to a muddle of whether the crime was premeditated or opportunistic (it had both elements, but needed to be one or the other). The science in the latter was okay, but Fortey’s personality seemed to get in the way, a bit like someone who really, really wants you to like a book and so shoves it in your face all the time, only with trilobites.
What are you currently reading? Darwin’s Ghost, by Steve Jones, which is an update on The Origin of Species. I wasn’t getting on with it at first, but I seem to have got into the swing of it, now. And Enter A Murderer, by Ngaio Marsh, because I have it and I thought I’d give Marsh a good chance. Oh, and also Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots, by Seanan Mcguire, because superheroes! An author I keep getting recced! Hijinks! It’s fun enough so far.
Oh, and I’ve nearly finished The King of Elfland’s Daughter (love Dunsany’s style) and A Fall of Moondust (Arthur C. Clarke), the latter of which I’m finding somewhat less enjoyable than 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I’m still enjoying it.
What will you read next?
Need to get back to Steven Brust, feeling an itch for Martha Wells’ work, ever present urge to reread The Lord of the Rings… Who knows, though? I also have books from the library by Steven Pinker and David Quammen that look very interesting.
It’s been a busy week! I’ve been saving up for this, since I went to the Hay Literary Festival this week, and wanted to explore some of the many bookshops in Hay (which is, after all, called “the town of books”). I didn’t buy much while I was in Hay, though, ’cause it was raining and I needed the bus back, etc, etc, so I ended up spending the money I saved on other books which I wanted to read/reread.
I haven’t actually read anything by Walter Jon Williams yet, I think, but people I trust have been very enthusiastic about his work, so now I seem to have a backlog. Whoops! Arthur C. Clarke is a classic, of course, and 2001: A Space Odyssey was much more fun that I expected, so I’m looking forward to these. And as for Lord Dunsany, well, I’ve read one of his books and snatched that one as soon as I saw it.
Yep, I am a big fan of Jacqueline Carey’s work (though I know it isn’t for everyone). Most of these are rereads, apart from Saints Astray. I’m not sure what I think of the new covers for the Kushiel books, though. I think the first and third ones look like they’re supposed to be for a vampire book of some kind, which… these definitely are not. I’m very fond of the old covers…
The Glass Sealing was sent to me by the author, very kindly, and A Call to Arms was sent to me after winning it on LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Can’t remember what it’s about, but look forward to finding out…
Last but not least, a new issue of Ms. Marvel is out!
And of course, the entire Hugo Voter Packet, which of course is far too huge to list here.
So what’s everyone else been getting their hands on? Anyone else been to Hay? I was at the Gillian Clarke/Carol Ann Duffy poetry reading, loved it.
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs, Brian Switek
My Beloved Brontosaurus is exactly the sort of book I wanted about dinosaurs. Chatty, personal, but still closely focused on the creatures and how they lived (and died). I know a fair bit about dinosaurs thanks to another Coursera course, Dino 101, so not a lot of the information was new to me, but it was interesting to read it in another context, and to read slightly different angles on it. Switek’s enthusiasm for the subject is kind of adorable, and actually made me smile a lot.
In terms of the content, it’s not exactly on the cutting edge, or any kind of exhaustive survey of research on dinosaurs. It picks out interesting facts and theories, discusses some of the historical theories that are of interest or contributed to modern theories, and generally works fine even if you’ve never heard of Torosaurus, didn’t know that the Velociraptor portrayed in Jurassic Park is actually Deinonychus, or couldn’t tell the difference between an ornithischian and a saurischian dinosaur if your life depended on it.
What have you recently finished reading? My Beloved Brontosaurus, by Brian Switek, which is a sort of memoir of involvement with dinosaurs. Switek’s enthusiasm is endearing. Before that, Spillover by David Quammen, which was excellent and makes me want to be an infectious disease researcher. (Yes, I am impressionable. Shush.)
What are you currently reading? The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, and The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff. They’re my current rereads, at any rate; my most current reading-for-the-first-time books are Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell), which I’m still not very sure about, and Yendi (Steven Brust), which I have been neglecting horribly. Tomorrow, perhaps?
What will you read next?
Heaven knows! I do need to get round to reading The Islands of Chaldea (Diana Wynne Jones), so quite possibly that; I think the library want it back soon, and it should be a fun read.
I found this book fascinating. When I originally got it out of the library, some of my friends were a biiiit concerned that given my GAD was health-focused, this would just make me have a panic attack. I’m happy to report that I was simply happily curious, digging around with great enthusiasm, stopping to google things, etc.
In terms of the level this is at, it’s perfectly comprehensible to anyone, I would say. Granted, I do have a background in reading plenty of popular science, an A Level in biology, and various science/medical courses online, but I don’t think that puts me much above the layman, really. Where something needs explaining, Quammen does so quite clearly. (Although if you do find this fascinating but a bit dense for you, this course on Coursera might be worth a look the next time it runs. I enjoyed it, anyway.)
So, granted I already find this topic fascinating, but I think this was a good read. It avoided sensationalism, aside from the couple of chapters where Quammen imagined the life of the Cut Hunter from the cut-hunter theory of the origin of HIV, which were a little much for me. That goes beyond adding a bit of human interest into a flight of fancy, which jars with the rest of the book. If you want to think delightedly of Ebola victims as being a sack of liquefied matter, I gather you want to read The Hot Zone (Richard Preston).
It’s well-structured, taking us through various different zoonotic pathogens and their implications. The search for the “Next Big One” (the next pandemic) isn’t the primary focus, despite the title, and instead Quammen focuses on how the diseases are tracked, particularly how they are tracked to the reservoir species that safely harbour the pathogens until they spill over into other species. It’s not hysterical about the fact that there will be another pandemic, but treats it in a matter of fact way. Of course there’ll be another pandemic: we’re overcrowded, highly connected, highly social, and fairly careless.
I know there are people out there who will be complaining about Quammen’s bias when he notes that we are, to a great extent, making the problem worse. We destroy habitats, bring animals into closer contact with us, and thus bring ourselves into closer contact with their pathogens, which may spill over into humans. Not biased, and not hard to understand, just a fact.
It’s apparently a freebie week for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I saw someone else talk about the top ten books/series they want to get round to rereading if they have time, which sounds like a good idea. I’m a chronic rereader, with some favourites I never get tired of, but I feel guilty doing it because I have so much I should be reading already!
Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series. I’m actually trying to work on rereading this, since I have the new one as an ARC, but there’s so many books out there, it’s hard to find the time. I remember being utterly enchanted back when I first read the books, though, so I hope the shine hasn’t worn off.
Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. I just recall finding this one really fun, and enjoying the romance plot.
Cherie Priest’s Cheshire Red books. I love these. I have them to reread, it’s just getting round to it. Adrian is the most badass ex-navy SEAL drag queen you could wish for, and I love the unconventional family Raylene builds up around herself.
Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. I ate these up the first and second time, but it’s been a while now. I’m looking at the new, cheap editions as ebooks and thinking it might be about time. I’m not a big fan of Imriel’s series, but I adore Phèdre and Joscelin, and the politics of it all. “I’ll be damned in full and not by halves” is one of the more memorable quotes in any book I’ve read.
Jo Walton’s Sulien books. Plus A Prize in the Game, which isn’t strictly about Sulien. Asexual protagonist who is a kickass woman in the Arthurian world, what’s not to love? Plus interesting relationships with the people around her. I remember this really fondly.
Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. There’s something about Sunshine and the unrelated Chalice that pull me back again and again. It’s the characters, I think, the way people interact, the way magic works. And the focus on homely things as well, like Sunshine baking and the heroine of Chalice keeping bees.
Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan. Well, actually all of his books (I’m revisiting them in publication order, to watch the development of his style), but especially Lions because I think that’s the only one apart from Under Heaven and the latest that I haven’t read at least twice, and I invariably appreciate GGK’s work more on the second go.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. This is more or less a permanent state of being for me. Having studied the books, I can see so many more layers and bits of interest than I ever did before. It’s also interesting because I’m exploring the world via a different medium, in Lord of the Rings Online, which no doubt will make me pay attention to different details.
Joe Abercrombie’s First Lawtrilogy. I have the ebooks, all ready for a reread, it’s just getting round to it. I remember enjoying these books a lot, and my partner’s just recently read them and feels the same, so I have high hopes.
Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles. I loved Cornwell’s take on Arthur and his men, and this is another case where I’ve bought e-copies for my collection and for an excuse to reread, and… am taking forever to get round to it. Well, hopefully not forever.
So, what interesting top tens are you seeing around, people? Any you’d like to see me do?