Stacking the Shelves

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.

Hay Haul

Cover of Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams Cover of The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams Cover of Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke Cover of A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke Cover of The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

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.

Ebooks

Cover of Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey Cover of Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan Mcguire Cover of Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald Cover of Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Saints Astray by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

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…

Original covers of the first three Kushiel books by Jacqueline Carey

Ah well.

Review copies

Cover of The Gas Sealing by Andrew Leon Hudson Cover of A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle

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!

Cover of Ms Marvel issue four

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.

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Review – My Beloved Brontosaurus

Cover of My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian SwitekMy 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.

Rating: 3/5

What are you reading Wednesday

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.

Review – Spillover

Cover of Spillover by David QuamnemSpillover, David Quammen

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.

Rating: 5/5

Top Ten Tuesday

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!

  1. 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.
  2. Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. I just recall finding this one really fun, and enjoying the romance plot.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. 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.
  10. 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?

Review – The Riddle-master of Hed

Cover of The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia McKillipThe Riddle-master of Hed, Patricia A. McKillip

This is beautifully written, as all of Patricia McKillip’s work is. However, something in the density of it makes it difficult — not to read; I sped through it, in that sense, but to understand exactly what it going on and how we should feel about it. I’ve had that problem with one or two of McKillip’s other books, so I think it’s something about her style which may or may not be a problem for other people. I wouldn’t actually start here, with McKillip: I first fell in love with The Changeling Sea, I think, and I’d start there if I could begin with her work again.

Nonetheless, it is beautifully written and a joy to read in that sense. You might find yourself lingering over a sentence, a paragraph, because of the way it’s put together.

I can’t help but think that Le Guin’s Ged and McKillip’s Morgon have a certain amount in common. They’re both driven by their destinies, rather than following them willingly. They baulk more than a hero-type like, say, Aragorn or Frodo. Maybe slightly more in common with Bilbo, wishing he could be back home listening to his kettle sing, and Morgon especially shares that unwillingness and the sense that the goal is not really his own.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the world-building. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff here, revealed in a careful way (avoiding any info dumps like “as you know, Bob, the wizards disappeared seven hundred years ago”). But the story is so clearly unfinished, so clearly part of a trilogy — maybe not even a trilogy, I can’t see how this could be a complete book on its own in any sense, it doesn’t really come to any conclusion. So I’ll reserve broader judgement for later. Onwards!

Review – A Mind of Its Own

Cover of A Mind of Its Own by Cordelia FineA Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine

If you’ve read much on the subject, this doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but it’s presented in a readable, well-organised format, meticulously footnoted, and adopts a pretty light tone. If you’re anything like me, you’ll smile in recognition of some of the things she says — in the middle of describing the brain’s unreliability, Fine points out that precisely in line with what she’s saying, your brain is probably insisting you’re different. It doesn’t apply to you. You’d ignore the researcher in the obedience to authority experiments, you can see through your brain’s attempts to make you believe you’re better than you are.

(And if you’re honest, you’ll admit at this point that you do want to think you’re different. My favourite bit was putting some of this together. For example, when it talked about experiments where people were told that extroverts do better at something, they went through their memories and pulled out only ones that corresponded with an extroverted image of themselves. On the other hand, I ruefully thought about all the ways I am a hopeless introvert — thereby illustrating one of the brain’s ways of protecting itself from failure, by providing myself with an excuse, i.e. ‘if I’m less successful, it’s because I’m not extroverted’.)

Not revelatory, but pretty fun.