Magic Shifts, Ilona Andrews
It’s been a while since I read this, and I’m not sure why I didn’t write a review at the time. Since it’s been a while since I read it (eek, a year!) I can’t comment in much detail, but it’s a worthwhile addition to the series, starting a new chapter in Kate and Curran’s lives — and spending more time dealing with who exactly Kate is, what Roland can do, and what Kate and Curran are going to do without the Pack.
Not that they’re entirely without their old allies, of course…
It’s pretty much what you’d expect from this series, in other ways: pacy writing, Kate and Curran being badass but also idiots, and some really weird shit going on that they really should deal with. If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you’ll enjoy this one too.
One Renegade Cell, Robert Weinberg
One Renegade Cell is a classic by now in terms of pop science books which explain cancer for an interested but non-specialist audience. It’s a little out of date, and some of the hopes Weinberg talks about in terms of treatments to come haven’t come to pass at all. But the basics are still true, and you can get a good basic understanding of how cancer works by reading it. It’s clear and accessible, and I didn’t find it prone to fear-mongoring either — sometimes when someone is writing about cancer, it seems like they can’t help but try to scare the reader silly.
One Renegade Cell doesn’t try to mystify cancer or play up its impact; the impact of cancer pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a solid read, even though it’s out of date now.
Camelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel
Camelot’s Honour might be my favourite of the quartet, now that I think about it. Okay, Camelot’s Shadow has Gawain, and the clever weaving together of the story of the Green Knight and the story of the Loathly Lady… but this is the most Welsh-inspired book of the quartet, including characters from the Mabinogion and weaving together various strands of mythology which aren’t necessarily Arthurian. I’m not a purist about that; I loved it.
It might not be the most stirring of the love stories, but the quiet strength Elen and Geraint have together is great. He’s the strong and silent type, less susceptible to a pretty face, and a bit less lionised as completely amazing by Zettel, which makes him more interesting.
Maybe I could wish for a few more of the themes of this book, not to mention the characters, to carry through into others of the series. But it’s still great fun.
Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin
Outer Space, Inner Lands is the second of two volumes collecting together the best of Ursula Le Guin’s short fiction. It’s also the one containing all the SF work, or at least all the less realistic work, and it contains stories like ‘Those Who Walk Away from Omelas’, one of Ursula Le Guin’s most famous stories (at least among people I know) — though not my favourite, as I think the moral is obvious from the beginning.
As always, Le Guin’s writing is clear and strong, and the stories chosen here span her career and showcase all kinds of different ideas and different phases of her work. I prefer it to the first volume, because I find Le Guin’s speculative fiction more accessible.
She’s brilliant. Do yourself a favour.
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.