This is a bit out of date now, in that there are emerging viruses it doesn’t touch on and scientific advances in studying them that it doesn’t include, but it’s still a fascinating glimpse into some of the emerging diseases of the last century or so, how the outbreaks were handled and what they mean. If you’re read David Quammen’s Spillover, it’s somewhat along the same lines, discussing many of the same diseases; it’s been a while since I read Spillover, so I found this a good refresher on the diseases mentioned and the early stages of their emergence.
If you find this whole subject a little stressful, this won’t exactly be reassuring; it does show that the world simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with the kind of pandemics that are coming our way. We’ve been lucky so far — I’m honestly shocked there’s been nothing worse since this book was published.
I don’t quite know what to make of this book. It starts off well, and throughout it’s atmospheric and leaves me curious. The bit about the power of books is creepily powerful, and there’s some great description in the most uncanny bits. The main character is handled well, too, in my opinion: he has a past which he never has to elaborate on, but which nonetheless colours everything he does and says. But then you get to the end of the book and it suddenly… stops. As my wife pointed out to me, the ending is pretty classic horror stuff, with no closure, but… Then you’ve got the narrator, telling his story. To whom? How? Why? That aspect all rather broke my engagement with the story, because I like there to be a reason.
If you’re a fan of John Connolly or of creepy crustaceans in horror novellas, this might be your thing, but I don’t think I’d recommend it in general.
Libraries in the Ancient World contains a not too surprising round of historical libraries, including of course the Palace of Ashurbanipal and the Library of Alexandria, but nonetheless I found it interesting to read about exactly who libraries were for and how they worked in various societies. Casson’s style is engaging, and I found it just overall the kind of relaxing read about a thing I love that fills an excellent gap without being wildly exciting or revelatory.
I know that seems like faint praise, but I really can’t think of anything else to say! If you want to look at the history of libraries, this makes a good start.
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?
Kushiel’s Dart and Camelot’s Blood are still on my currently reading pile, but I haven’t touched them this week. Oops? I really need to dig back into both; it’s not that I don’t want to, even, it’s just that I’m reading them in paperback part of the time and it’s sometimes easier to just read something else in bed (and thus on my ereader).
What have you recently finished reading?
The Stone of Farewell, by Tad Williams! I thought it would take me forever, because it looks so long and daunting, but I read faster than I think and I ate it up in about 3-4 days. It’s funny how little of it I remember now, considering I found it so predictable when I first read it! (Which is not to say not enjoyable — I enjoyed it very much, or I wouldn’t be rereading it now.)
What will you be reading next?
To Green Angel Tower: Siege, most likely, though goodness only knows where my grasshopper mind will go next, sometimes.
Five Red Herrings does a couple of things that really annoy me, like having a long section of people positing obviously wrong ways the crime unfolded, and the whole “the reader will of course know what the missing object was” bit — no, I don’t! I’m not a painter, I don’t have that education, and I don’t know how common it would’ve been in Sayers’ time, but knowing that fact has not lasted.
In any case, reading it this time, I did enjoy Five Red Herrings more than I did last time, perhaps. The introduction in the new edition drew my attention to the fantastic sense of place and character, and to appreciate again the way that Peter is embedded in the mystery, caring about the people involved. Plot-wise, it’s very clever again, literally written according to train timetables and precise distances between places. It might not be my favourite, but I can appreciate all the work that went into it. Sayers may not have thought her detective novels terribly literary or worthwhile, but hindsight says they are.
The description of this book weirdly states that one of the laws Mukherjee proposes is that “Rumours are more important than tests.” That’s not what he suggests: instead, he’s talking about intuition and putting two and two together so that you use the right tests in the right circumstances, reducing the number of needless false positives. He gives an example of realising that one of his patients who didn’t fit the profile was actually a drug addict, leading to being able to use a test for AIDs to figure out what was wrong with him. But doing the test for AIDs makes no sense when there are no risk factors: what really made things come together in this case was a little bit of intuition.
I’m definitely a strong believer in the power of intuition as a diagnostic tool in general. You should always check when you can, of course! But from my vague medical knowledge as a doctor’s daughter and a reader, at seventeen years old, I once realised from something about the way his face looked that someone I knew a little had a serious heart problem. I described what I saw to my mother (the doctor!) and she agreed with my intuition. But when he went to the A&E, they didn’t admit him and didn’t operate. He had an aneurysm, and yes, he died. I wish I could give that moment of intuition and insight to the doctor who saw him in A&E; I’m pretty sure my mother will agree that that intuition, that ability to connect the faintest of dots, can turn an academically good doctor into a great one.
(Yes, Mum, I know. I should be a doctor, but I’m a little old to go through medical school now and maybe my intuition will serve me well in a microbiology lab, too.)
So that rule in particular struck a chord with me, and made reading this worth it just on its own. The other two laws Mukherjee mentions are interesting and important too, but that first one was what really got my interest.
Not all of these stories are related to the Onyx Court stories, but enough of them are to make me really want to pick that series back up. I love the way Brennan weaves history with fantasy in these books, and especially her self-imposed rule about not allowing faeries to be the primary cause of human historical events — that way, she avoids having anything too neat and convenient, and has to find clever ways to write her faeries in. And oh, she does.
I found pretty much all of these stories satisfying, and there were none that I felt were too long or too short; Brennan really has a feel for how to write a self-contained story, even in her more sprawling worlds like the Onyx Court.
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Good morning, folks! It’s been a quiet week around here, with me getting into the swing of doing more work and trying to balance things a little more. Which has not meant very much reading, alas. But here’s what I have read — no new books this week!
I read the last book in this series first, but it doesn’t matter too much, because they’re linked but don’t follow the exact same characters. This book features Clem and Rowley, and it’s a delight: Clem’s obvious ADHD and the way he and Rowley work with that in their relationship, and also the way that the sex scenes are not just “insert tab A into slot B”, but have feeling and thought behind them and don’t feel mechanistic at all. I’m not interested in the tab A/slot B type, but when it deepens characters’ relationships, and especially when it isn’t a mechanical write-by-numbers scene, it can still be worth reading — and such is the case here. I remember the same being true of An Unsuitable Heir.
It’s an enjoyable romance on its own, and the mystery adds a little, but I do think you might need to read all three books to really find the mystery satisfying. I need to read the middle book, and I’m honestly curious about how those two characters meet and get along, because from their appearances in this book and the third… nope!
If you’re not a fan of m/m romance at all, this won’t be for you, but if you’re looking for something in that genre which is thoughtful with rich characters, this should qualify admirably.