Leonardo: The First Scientist, Michael White
I’ve found myself quite enjoying White’s biographies, and this is no exception. I think it’s difficult to argue that da Vinci wasn’t a scientist, when you look at the kinds of things he was interested in and the methodical way he went about it, including (as White points out) using the scientific method. I have to confess I picked up this biography after playing Assassin’s Creed II, and I did spend the entire time trying to work out how the chronology fit in with Ezio’s adventures…
White’s books are definitely very readable, and they seem to be sourced and well thought out. I’ll probably pick up other biographies written by White in the future; I enjoyed his one on Machiavelli, too.
A Rare Book of Cunning Device, Ben Aaronovitch
Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, this is a short story set in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London world. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a great narrator and sounds just perfect for Peter, and while it’s a short story, it’s fun and features Toby and Postmartin… and the British Library. And, of course, a rare book of cunning device.
I won’t spoiler you if you haven’t listened to it, but it really is fun, helped by Holdbrook-Smith’s delivery. If you enjoy Peter Grant and his brand of humour, you’ll be in for a treat. And as I recall, it’s free on Audible…
Mask of Shadows, Linsey Miller
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 29th August 2017
I was intrigued by the sound of Mask of Shadows, because the main character is non-binary and throughout the story, asks to be addressed by pronouns that match what they’re wearing — and by neutral pronouns (they/them/their) if they’re ambiguous. I thought it was reasonably well done; people didn’t get too obsessed with finding out, and not everyone was a total douche about it either. The narrative didn’t linger on it, either.
On the other hand, it’s basically Throne of Glass with a bit of The Hunger Games, apart from maybe the figure of the queen, who is intriguingly ambiguous in the end, although she starts as a saviour figure. There is some interesting world-building — the shadows — but really, it feels so much like Throne of Glass. I enjoyed Throne of Glass well enough, but I don’t want to read it again.
There’s a couple of issues with pacing too — sometimes the story seems to jerk forward, leaving me wondering where something came from. But for the most part, it’s fun; just not original.
The Wimsey Family, C.S. Scott-Giles, Dorothy L. Sayers
This is quality piffle, right here. It’s a short volume, and perhaps better in concept than actually in execution, at least as something to read straight through. It assembles a bunch of stories that Sayers and her correspondents came up with, explaining Peter’s family and where exactly he came from. It untangles some inconsistencies, and basically rationalises everything.
A nice thing for a collector of Sayers’ work to have, and for a major fan of Lord Peter, but perhaps not the most entertaining just to sit and read.
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.