Good morning, folks! I felt like this had been a dreadfully indulgent week with far too many books bought, but actually doing this post it seems… fair enough for someone who just had a birthday?! Though once I include the finished copies of books I had to review, it gets a little bigger…
I was kind of reluctant to read this one, though it’s been out for quite a while and I’ve picked it up in shops a few times already. Football in itself doesn’t interest me at all, so I wasn’t interested in the gimmick of it being set in Arsenal’s stadium or featuring real Arsenal players and staff of the time. It’s a bit of a curiosity, but not more than that. However, I’m not that interested in lawyers’ offices or farms or advertising offices, really, and I see plenty of those in fiction and read it anyway… so I decided to give it a go.
So in case anyone else is worried, there’s really no need to know anything about football. As with the farms and advertising firms, it’s mostly set dressing, and the motivations are love, hate, self-interest, vengeance, obligation, fascination… all the usual stuff. A player is killed during a game, and one of his teammates looks like the perfect culprit… too perfect, perhaps, thinks Inspector Slade from Scotland Yard.
It’s one of those where I didn’t really see the culprit coming; I knew who it wasn’t, from the clues and so on, but not who it was. The story spends so much time on the red herrings that I’m not sure the clues given for the real murderer are fair play. That said, I found it pretty enjoyable.
Brian Switek is better known, perhaps, for writing about palaeontology — and particularly dinosaurs. The Secret Life of Bone is all about a much more familiar skeleton in the closet — well, actually, it’s not even in the closet, so that’s really a bad joke. Ahem. Anyway. The point is, this book focuses mostly on human bone, though it gets there by way of our evolutionary history. Want to know how bones evolved? What bones can tell you about an individual? Freaky facts about bone growing inside soft organs? How bones are formed and reformed throughout your life? How bones fossilise?
This book is all of that, in a pretty breezy and entertaining style. It’s anecdotal, of course, as is common for popular science books — so if you have absolutely no interest at all in knowing Switek’s own thoughts, feelings and experiences, it probably won’t be for you. It makes the descriptions and explanations accessible, and I think really the thing that’s most lacking is some colour-plates to illustrate some of the skeletons he discusses from photographs.
Keeping it quiet for another week and just posting here and not going round other blogs in the link roundup… but looking forward to hearing what blog regulars are reading!
What are you currently reading?
I decided I wanted something light and fun, so I’m reading Deanna Raybourn’s A Dangerous Collaboration. I normally tear through these because I can read great big chunks at a time, and so it is proving this time.
Mind you, Skyrim is really distracting, or I’d probably have finished it already…
What have you recently finished reading?
Last thing I read was Brian Switek’s The Secret Life of Bones. He’s primarily known for his enthusiasm about dinosaurs, but this is actually largely about human bones. Other species come into it for illustrative purposes, and a good broad sweep of evolutionary history is discussed to explain how bones in general developed… but mostly it is about human bone. I enjoyed it.
What will you be reading next?
I’m gonna go with “goodness knows”, again. I just spent a birthday cheque from my grandma on a couple more birthday books… and there’s some library books… and books I fancy rereading. So I’ll just go “as my Whimsy takes me”, as ever.
The Contact Paradox is all about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and the various issues surrounding it: how are we searching? What are we looking for? Do we expect to find anything? Should we send out signals to help ET find us? How? Why haven’t we found anybody else yet? Are we looking in the right place? Etc, etc, etc. It’s mostly a good exploration of the options, though as always I find myself totally frustrated by the assumptions made on either side of the debate. As I’ve written before elsewhere, I don’t think we have enough data to speculate from. We have one dataset, Earth, and that’s all.
Not that this is the book’s fault; part of SETI is figuring out whether there is other life in the universe or not, and this stuff has to be thought out to know what we’re looking for. The book just discusses the arguments and tries to be reasonably balanced about it… it’s just that I find most of the arguments lacking, or rather, I find that they come to premature conclusions and that people’s attitudes tend to harden on their preferred end of the spectrum.
What I did really enjoy about the book is being reminded about how amazing the universe is — and how much we do understand about it. The stuff we know or can theorise about is mind-boggling in the best way.
This is popular science, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s shot through with references to popular science fiction, and even discusses the point of view of various science fiction writers. I couldn’t help but notice they were all dudes, though, and that in all the references to all kinds of science fiction, not one female author was named. Sigh and eyeroll. I’m sure there are dozens of excuses for that on the part of the author, and I’m not really interested in hearing them.
Though in terms of fiction that he could’ve referred to, I thought the author really missed a trick in not referring to the Mass Effect games, which have their own answer to Fermi’s paradox and the Great Filter.
Oh boy, how to review this chunkster? I actually started to read it back when it first came out, and was fascinated… and then got distracted, as happens so often for me. Then I ended up reading it at a pace of five pages a day, alongside other workerbees from Beeminder! Which was pretty cool, actually; I thought I would find it really frustrating, because I’m usually a fast reader. Granted, I didn’t exactly stick to five pages a day — it was more like a chapter every other day. Either way, it worked, and I found myself eager for my daily snippet instead of daunted by the size of the book, which has been a problem for me lately.
It’s a retelling of George and the Dragon, but it doesn’t really show unless you already know that; you can also just sink into it as a story about dragons, alchemists with dubious backbones and morals, pirates, witches, queens, friendship and love. I didn’t know anything much about the characters and their relationships before starting, so I very much enjoyed watching them unfold. I never expected Sabran to grow on me so much, or for her relationship with Eadaz to work for me; her moodiness and even capriciousness made her really unattractive to me as a character from the start, but as she opened up to Ead, I came to pity her and understand her a little better… and slowly I could at least see part of what Ead saw, even if I’m not wholly convinced by the depth of the relationship given the timing.
I do agree with some other reviewers that there are pacing issues; Tané’s parts feel almost sketched in compared to Ead’s, which really dominated all the others for me. I’ve read about the book having to be substantially cut and revised, and it makes sense for it to linger on Ead the way it does… but it makes it feel like the others are both secondary and have not enough to say given their significance. I really felt like Tané needed a bit more time to grow, given her completely self-centred and self-righteous behaviour at the start.
I’m not wholly sure I followed the sterren and siden magic system, but this was partly the piecemeal way I read the book, I think. It’s certainly a world I’m sad to leave and interested to potentially revisit.
I’ll agree with other reviewers that comparisons to Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings are completely inappropriate, and if you’re looking for those worlds, you should probably just reread the originals. The Priory of the Orange Tree is not that close a comparison, and you’ll definitely be disappointed if you’re just looking for more Tolkien or GRRM. I’m not saying that as a value judgement, though; The Priory of the Orange Tree is its own thing.
Good evening, folks! Last week I took off owing to the confluence of a sick rabbit and damaging myself by falling onto the corner of a coffee table, but my ribs are fair to middling now and the rabbit seems back to normal, and it’s been my birthday, so I should catch up!
This post was supposed to go up this morning, but the infamous WordPress “missed schedule” issue bit me. Booo.
The Man Who Didn’t Fly has a fairly unique set up for a mystery: a plane has crashed, with three men and the pilot aboard. There were supposed to be four men, but one didn’t fly. The bodies are lost… so who exactly died, and who survived? And why has the survivor stayed quiet all this time?
It’s an intriguing set-up, but it doesn’t end up really working for me. Most of the book is recounting the everyday life of a family who are involved with the case, as it slowly reveals clues to what happened, who exactly died… and what crime was committed. It took a while to see the solution, for sure, but that’s partly because it felt rambly, and because so much time was given over to Hester mooning over one of the male characters. Said male character being an obvious scrounger and pain in the butt, who goes from one house to the other in search of freebies and handouts, it was not a very enjoyable experience.
I just couldn’t believe in the supposed depth of feeling there… and there is another romance in the book, and it comes more or less out of nothing. The whole emotional life of the book is lacking, and it leaves the ending pages hollow. Like, who cares?
Aside from the premise, I can’t say I really liked this at all. I ended up reading to the end because I wanted to know how things turned out, but I felt like I’d been blundering around in a directionless morass. I don’t find Hester particularly likeable, though there are glimpses of likeability (she wants to study medicine; she honestly cares for her father, even as they fight) — and there’s something just so… irritating about the prose. Solidly not for me, despite the effusive preface and the award this book almost won at the time.
From the cover onwards, The Last Smile in Sunder City is a patchwork of influences. Ben Aaronovitch, obviously and brazenly; my bets are on Jim Butcher as well. And, if not directly from Raymond Chandler, then his brand of noir and his style of imagery — there’s something about his comparisons that make it feel like a cut-rate Phillip Marlowe. It’s a very readable book, even though Arnold doesn’t have the control of language that Chandler did (none of his coinages are as good as “shop-worn Galahad”, even though Fetch Phillips suits the description as well as Marlowe does).
Sunder City is just one city in a world that used to be full of magic, but the source of magic has been destroyed by humans. Elves have aged suddenly and cruelly, anyone who uses magic is bereft, vampires are shrivelling to nothing… and Fetch Phillips is a man for hire amidst all this, tracking down missing folks and contemplating oblivion, at the bottom of a bottle or a long, long drop.
You know from the start that Fetch has done something godawful, and you can see it coming in the flashbacks, and you kind of want to stop it or ameliorate it somehow — and that’s when I knew it was really working for me. Fetch is not a good person, but you can see in him the ability to be so much better than he is… and even though he keeps making the stupidest mistakes, and you know nothing can be alright for him again, you can’t help but hope along with him that he can salvage something.
I’m kind of eager to read the next book right now; I don’t know how much this first one will stick with me, but it was a quick and enjoyable read, and I’m really curious to see where Arnold goes next with Fetch.
The Last Smile in Sunder City, by Luke Arnold. The cover is so blatantly copying from Ben Aaronovitch’s fairly iconic covers that it raises my eyebrow every time, the narration is trying so hard to be Raymond Chandler without his absolute knowledge of where every word should go, and if Jim Butcher isn’t an influence as well I’ll eat my bookshelf. That said, it’s fun as well, and when it gives trying to coin a phrase a rest for five minutes, I’m settling into it well.
What have you recently finished reading?
The Woman in the Wardrobe, by Peter Shaffer, and before that, The Seventh Perfection. The latter is very cleverly narrated, and I really need to sit down and put my review into words before it slips away. I sense that the narration is going to drive a lot of people absolutely up the wall, but I thought everything was worked out pretty cleverly.
What will you be reading next?
There’s a good chance it’ll be one of the books I got for my birthday! The one I’m probably most excited about is Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes… but The Contact Paradox (Keith Cooper) is also calling to me.