As I only read two books in January, I decided to save this post until February when I would make sure I read a bit more.
Bone Season – Samantha Shannon
I’d loved Samantha Shannon’s Priory of the Orange Tree so thought I’d delve into her back catalogue a bit, but in ‘good news/bad news’ she has clearly grown as a writer over the last few years, because this book isn’t very good. There’s a solid idea – the spirit world and people with clairvoyance are real but criminalised by the authoritarian government, but there’s more behind it than simple fear and there’s actually a complex conspiracy being hidden from the public. So far so good, but the story is told from the point of view of a 19 year old caught up in all this and she is deeply annoying. I don’t know if it’s intentional, or poor writing, but she’s very inconsistent in her thoughts and actions, very short sighted and not really engaging with the bigger issues. There’s a bit of jumping about with memories/dreams and a few lurches in the timeline when the plot moves forwards but the characters’ emotions don’t. The book is at least 100 pages too long and I found it really dragged. It’s a seven book series, but I don’t think I’ll even be bothering with the second.
Peter Swanson – Rules for a Perfect Murder
The central character of this book is a murder expert – he runs a crime bookshop, and he compiles a list of the perfect murders in crime fiction… which someone then seems to be using as a guide in the real world. It’s a really really good set up for a novel (or in fact a TV series with an odd couple of a detective and a book seller, I’m surprised no one has made that yet, Amazon would make a killing on tie-in book sales). Peter Swanson certainly knows his crime fiction and knows how to write a twisting and turning thriller. The things I didn’t like about it were personal preferences – the main character is quickly revealed to be not as innocent as he first appeared and I didn’t really like that, I wasn’t expecting there to be that much moral angst in the book and I felt a bit side-swiped by it. It’s a good book though, (maybe the ending is a bit contrived? A bit smug?) that’s a great page turner even if on occasions I didn’t want to go back to it because I didn’t want the internal conflict of trying to justify the actions of the narrator just because I liked him.
Madeline Miller – Circe
I’m reading a lot of classical history at the moment, non-fiction books that are re-evaluating how historians approach history and how much our view of myths and ancient histories have been tainted by being written and re-written by historians bringing their own baggage to the past, most notably their white, male baggage. This book stuck with that theme, but through fiction instead of non-fiction and it paints a much richer picture of a character that featured in multiple myths. Here Circe is made the hero of her own story, or sometimes the villain, or the victim. Miller creates an incredibly rich character, and in turn the surrounding characters become richer through her eyes too, bringing real human complexity where previously there’d only been basic characteristics necessary to get the messages and morals of the myths across. The book does occasionally drag a bit, although the slight meandering does fit the classical style of an epic and Circe’s story does at least deserves the page count.
Randall Munroe – What If?
Randall Munroe is a genius. Not only is he clearly incredibly smart, but he’s very curious and has a way with words and images that turns even the most complicated of ideas into something informative, entertaining and inspiring. In What If he takes the most weird and wonderful questions that the internet can throw at him and thoroughly researches them as if they’re completely viable academic questions, and not totally improbable craziness. Then he takes his comprehensive research and turns it into something understandable (usually) and funny (always) and (sometimes) really rather sweet. This book is an absolute delight, and while some of the explanations did rather get away from me, I learnt a lot of amazing stuff and laughed a lot along the way.
Humble Pi – Matt Parker
A book about maths errors – how ‘boring’ maths can have really quite serious impacts on the real world. I find I have rather muddled feelings on this book. On one hand it’s a fairly easy read, but part of that is because the chunks that go into the maths go so far that I found myself glazing over and just skimming it quickly rather than really understanding it because it was just a bit too hard (and I studied maths a bit at university). Also it’s got a jokey tone throughout which is really nice, but some of the examples used are really serious causing suffering and death. I did enjoy the book, and I did learn some stuff, it’s just that it felt a bit odd at times.