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Not so much a blog; just lots of books

Currently reading

The Furthest Station
Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Chasing New Horizons
David Alan Stern
The Rule of Luck
Catherine Cerveny
Engineering Animals: How Life Works
Alan Mcfadzean, Mark Denny
Progress: 125/314pages
The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization
Nicholas P. Money
Conservation of Shadows
Yoon Ha Lee
Progress: 22%
Le premier jour
Marc Levy
Progress: 180/496pages
Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (Penguin Classics)
Herman Melville
Manifold: Time
Stephen Baxter, Chris Schluep
Progress: 99/480pages
The Long War
Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett
Progress: 68/501pages

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (abandoned)

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture - Roxane Azimi

The essays that I read were excellent, but this is just too hard to read at the moment.


Previous updates:

page 2 of 339

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (abandoned after first chapter)

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Finished the first chapter, and I take what I said back. Sam Kean isn't condescending; he's trying to imitate his earlier terrible teachers and mystify us.


I thought I understood the periodic table, but Kean's explanations were all over the place and diverged into so many tangents about Plato and various early chemists and atomic physicists that I'm not sure that he actually explained anything. He threw around some facts but that's about it.


The endnotes, such as they are, are useless since they don't appear to contain any actual references, just stuff that Kean decided he didn't want in the main text. And he throws around references to temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit, an entirely useless unit. If Kean isn't going to try to appeal to an international audience by including sensible units, I don't see why an international audience should bother to read him. I think I'm throwing in the towel. I don't see the point of this book.


Previous updates:

page 11 of 346 (update after introduction)

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye (audiobook)

Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye, Susie Riddell

I'm not sure who it was who described this book as being for those who thought the novel Jane Eyre could have benefited from a higher body count, but they were right. I was only middling in my opinion of Jane Eyre, but I quite liked this odd book inspired by it. I'm not sure what to call it, although I'm not sure I agree with those who describe it as satirical.


Anyway, it was lots of fun, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. (I know I initially decided that I wanted to read it because I kept seeing others reading it, but usually these popular novels fall flat for me.) Oh, and I quite liked Quillfeather in the end.

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

A Christmas Party - Georgette Heyer

This took me quite a while to get through, and I didn't finish it in time for the 24 Festive Tasks game, but I still really enjoyed it. The idea is that the master of the house is murdered at Christmas when the house is full of guests; suspicions ensue. I had guessed the murderer but I couldn't quite work out how they had done it, but that added more to my enjoyment than it detracted from it. It was quite clever overall.

Reading progress update: I've read 11 out of 346 pages.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Well that wasn't condescending at all. /sarcasm


I suppose we should be thankful that the author's mother didn't dispose of the mercury by pouring it down the sink, but to keep it so many years later?


I'm not sure whether I should try to make room for two books in my bag so I can switch back to Chasing New Horizons if necessary or whether to grit my teeth and risk the next chapter, which promises blatant condescension as we're explained at the structure of the periodic table as if we never paid attention in science or chemistry class.


I also dislike how the endnotes are done. Endnotes in themselves are fine, but to not number them at all and to rely on a sea of asterisks is just lazy.

Death Without Tenure by Joanne Dobson (audiobook)

Death Without Tenure (A Karen Pelletier Mystery #6) - Christine  Williams, Joanne Dobson

Series: Karen Pelletier #6


I haven't read the rest of this series but this one was available from the library and it seemed like it might be a cute cozy. It wasn't great, but I don't think its problems are worse than for other books in the genre. I don't think this was a great option for audio because the narrator almost seemed to be barking the dialogue at times and the pronunciation of Karen Pelletier's last name was egregious. Sure, it was an Americanized pronunciation and Karen is American, but every time that "tier" was pronounced "teer" instead of "tiay" or "tsiay", it was like there were fingernails on the blackboard of my soul.


Overall it was your typical lacklustre mystery where the main character is suspected of murder by the policy because she had an altercation with the victim. I wasn't hampered by jumping in part way through the series though, so that was good.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Kate Reading, Marie Brennan

Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1


I've been meaning to read this for quite a while, so when I saw it in my library's overdrive offerings, I figured it would make a good choice for my next audiobook (I seem to find it so much easier to get through audiobooks these days). Now I can finally return the print copy that my friend lent me...


Anyway, what we have here is a retrospective story of the main character's early days after having led a prestigious career as a natural historian who specialized in dragons. The world is a Victorian clone with different place names (England is Scirland and so on) and with actual dragons in the world.


I think this probably worked better for me as an audiobook, so I think I'll be continuing the series that way. I thought it was pretty good, and the MC thought trousers felt weird the first time she put them on (I'm referring to the trope of the woman wearing trousers for the first time finding them comfortable that I brought up in one of the 24 Festive Tasks task), but I just don't have much to say about it.

Excession by Iain M. Banks (audiobook)

Excession - Iain M. Banks, Peter Kenny

Series: Culture #5


This was another audiobook reread and a revisiting of my first Culture book (I know it's fifth in the series, but I started reading them out of order), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrator was quite good, so I may consider audio versions of Banks in the future, although I'm not sure I'd do anything other than a reread because some of the ship discourse can be confusing in this medium.


I loved the ships, disliked the immature characters (I think Ulver is the only who shows any personal growth throughout, and she was a tantrum-throwing drama queen to start), and wasn't fussy over the Affront (although I do like how they got their name), but it was a fun romp overall and I enjoyed it.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

The Poisoned Chocolates Case (Golden Age Classics) - Anthony Berkeley

This is a golden age mystery where a Detective/Criminology Club decides to test their mettle by having each member present their solution to a case of poisoning that has the police stumped. It had the potential to be clever, but I found the writing to be dry and curiously stiff (I wanted to write impenetrable but that's not quite the word), so that sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of it. And I was right that it all came down to poor, meek Mr. Chitterwick in the end.


All in all, I'm not sorry to have read it, but I'm not sure it's one that I'll be recommending.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (audiobook)

The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) -  Mark Bramhall, Lev Grossman

Series: The Magicians #1


I've seen the TV show, so I was interested in checking out the original books, and although it was better than I expected, based on some of the reviews, I wouldn't say that this is one of the cases where the book is better than the show. The show actually does a better job at explaining some things than the book. Plus it's more diverse. I just can't picture Penny as a blue-eyed punk, but that's ok.


Anyway, we have a magical school for university students and a Narnia knock-off series that Quentin is/was still obsessed with. Quentin stumbles into this world of magic users when he's invited to sit an exam for the school. Overall it wasn't bad although I think if I had read the book rather than listened to it, I would have found that it dragged. As it was I was checking the points where the show deviated from the book, so that was part of my interest as well. The finale and wrap-up fell a bit flat for me, so instead of 3.5 stars I'm settling for just 3.


My first review of the year, but is one of those books that I started last year and am only finishing up now.

A Disastrous 2018

I'm calling it early and declaring that I won't finish my book tonight, so I'm posting this instead. It's been a disastrous year because I've had to lower my reading goal twice. Now, I should stress here that my reading goal isn't so much a target as a number that I reasonably expected myself to meet fairly easily so that I can use the nice annual book-tracking features here and elsewhere. I've had to lower it twice, so I only managed to read 139 books this year.


Now, you may think that that sounds pretty impressive still, but so many of those were audiobooks that when they're taken away we get a total of only 76. Ouch. I've never read that little since I started keeping track.


Now for the pretty graphs:






Simple Gender Breakdowns:



Now for the genres!



My hopes for 2019 are merely to read more than I managed this year.


Do I get one point or two for the 24 Festive Tasks for this post?



24 Festive Tasks Update Post 6

Total Points: 30 29



Summary of points:


Door 1 - Task 1 (silly poem) 

Task 2 (favourite epitaph)

Book (new) - Re-read an old favorite from a now-deceased author: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie


Door 2 - Book set in the UK: The Jane Austen Project


Door 3 - Task 1 - Pick your ponies (done)


Door 4 - Task 2

Task 4

Book: Faking It by Lux Alptraum


Door 5 - Task 3


Door 6 - Task 2


Door 7 - Task 1


Door 8 - Task 1

Book: Read any book concerning a man / woman of the cloth: The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters


Door 9 - Task 4


Door 10 - Book - Read a book with water on the cover: The Grave is a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley


Door 11 - Book: Read a book set in Russia: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (it's pre-Russia Russia, but I'm counting it)


Door 16 - Task 1

Task 2

Task 4


Door 17 - Task 4 +1 bonus (I wasn't clear in my post, but I meant that I guessed that it survived)


Door 18 - Task 1

Book: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley


Door 19 - Task 2 (re-titling my Grinch tree as a Festivus pole)

Task 4


Door 20 - Task 1

Task 3


Door 23 - BookHogfather by Terry Pratchett (audiobook)

White Heat by M. J. McGrath

White Heat - M.J. McGrath, Kate Reading

Series: Edie Kiglatuk Mysteries #1


I came across this in my most recent scouring of my library's currently available audiobook offerings although I admit I was mostly looking for audio versions of stuff I had been meaning to read and hadn't gotten around to. The author appears to have done her research, and I certainly don't know the Canadian arctic well enough to find fault with her writing. The setting is what drew me to the book, actually, since it's set in a small community on Ellesmere Island. So, bonus points for Canada and an obscure setting.


The main character, Edie, is an on the wagon/off the wagon Inuit hunter who teaches part-time, and although the book starts off with a hunting death, it takes a while to see that it leads anywhere.


The only review I found among people I follow had it down as abandoned because nothing was happening, and although I had misgivings, I was working on a knitting project, so I continued. It does take about halfway through the book for the reader to be confident that there has been foul play, so I can see why someone might drop it, and I personally found some of the instances of the author having characters wave Edie on just because they're both Inuit a bit convenient, but overall it was a half-decent listen and I'm considering continuing on with the series (or at least putting the next book on my library overdrive wishlist so that I consider it when I'm next looking for a new audiobook).


I'm not sure whether it fits any of the Festive Tasks squares but if I think of one I might use it.



Lost Connections by Johann Hari

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions - Johann Hari

This was the second book that was due at the library just after Christmas, and I admit I raced through it in order to be able to return it just in time. Phew. Overall I found it to be well-written, although there were a few chapters that ended rather abruptly, one sentence I couldn't parse without mentally deleting a world, and possibly a few extra (unnecessary?) details in some of the chapters.


But all that didn't really distract from the main message of the book, which basically boils down to a re-examination of the drug trials done on depression medications and what studies have shown about the causes of depression and how they tie into life events. One of the things that Hari tries to show through his various studies and examples is that although antidepressant medications do help in the short term by alleviating symptoms, depression isn't just broken brain chemistry that can be reset by a pill. If you follow that thinking, then you risk going down the rabbit hole of higher and higher dosages and swapping medications until you find one that works for you...until you need to switch again. He goes on to explore how different types of emotional disconnection and trauma can be a precipitating factor in depression and discusses different forms that therapy can take (gardening, meditation, etc).


Anyway, I thought it was quite interesting, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. Hari does talk about his own experiences and describes many therapy stories that he's come across in his research, but he also relies a lot on a range of studies on both drugs and mental health in general.

Buzz by Thor Hanson

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees  - Thor Hanson

I liked this book about bees, but I should point out that I know basically nothing about bees so all of the information that was new to me in this book may be old hat to those of you who actually have an interest in them. I suspect that if you've been inclined to open more scholarly tomes about bees you won't find much of interest here. This is definitely not a scholarly tome.


At first I thought that this book would escape my criticism of what passes for general science books, but although it does much, much better than some of the books that have inspired one- and two-star rants from me, it still reads more like a series of magazine articles, complete with descriptions of people like:


With tanned features and a perpetual, blue-eye squint, he certainly looked like someone very much at home in the desert.

(p 168)


Wearing a floppy sun-hat and tinted glasses, with his snow-white beard cropped short, he looked something like Santa Claus on vacation—assuming the old elf spent his off-season in California doing a lot of hiking.

(p 176)

Sometimes descriptions like these work, but they started standing out to me more and more once I realized he did it all the time. And there are a lot of people who get introduced to the reader. Really, I'd say that this book is more about the people who work to study and use bees than the bees themselves.


Sometimes the humour works well, like in the update I posted, and sometimes it falls flat, like when the origin of the phrase Doh! is discussed on page 105:

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of the expression "Duh!" to a Merry Melodies cartoon from 1943. The similar time "Doh!"—popularized by Homer Simpson—got its start on a BBC radio program a few years later. Either phrase would have been appropriate for me in that forehead-slapping moment.

Just a lot of filler, really. I'd also count many of the author's asides with his son as unnecessary filler. If you do decide to read this book, be prepared to be a subjected to a series of Noah's bee-capades as he grows up. They're related to bees and what is discussed in what I'd consider the "main" text, but the way they're presented makes them feel like they're being used to flesh out a rather thin volume on bee facts—and this isn't a long book. For that reason, I'm nominating this book for Task 3 for Door 9 (Thanksgiving): Name a book you’ve read this year that you thought was full of “stuffing”.


Oh, and at one point, to illustrate how dependent humans are on bees for helping to pollinate our food, the author describes how he got up early to be able to go to McDonalds to order a Big Mac for lunch but disassemble and dissect it to take out anything whose production may have been helped by bees. He actually took a picture of the result, but I was left wondering, why ruin your lunch when you could just use the burger as a point of discussion? Admittedly, I was also wondering who still went to McDonalds in 2018, since that also seemed somewhat odd.


Previous updates:

35 of 216 pages (asking an ornithologist about chickens)

24 Festive Tasks Update Post 5

Total points: 27 (I think)


I still have several squares without any tasks completed...


Summary of points:


Door 1Task 1 (silly poem) 

Task 2 (favourite epitaph)

Book (new) - Re-read an old favorite from a now-deceased author: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie


Door 2 - Book set in the UK: The Jane Austen Project


Door 3 - Task 1 - Pick your ponies (done)


Door 4Task 2

Task 4

Book: Faking It by Lux Alptraum


Door 5 - Task 3 (new): Tell us: What author’s books would you consider yourself a veteran of (i.e., by which author have you read particularly many books – or maybe even all of them)?

It feels like cheating, but I think that if you go by just the sheer number of books (and possibly by number of re-reads), it's safest to say that I'm a veteran of Terry Pratchett's books. I haven't quite managed to read all of them yet, but I've read most and most of them more than once.

An honourable mention should go to Emma Newman's books, however, since I think I've read every single novel or novella that she's published (this is admittedly a much more modest number than Terry Pratchett's body of work)


Door 6 - Task 2 (new): Tell us: What are the tropes (up to 5) that you are not willing to live with in any book (i.e., which are absolutely beyond your capacity for tolerance) and which make that book an automatic DNF for you? 

I'm not very good at DNFing and there isn't really any trope that will trigger an automatic DNF for me, so I'm going to treat this list more as the things that will piss me off and probably encourage me to write a long rant review if I don't actually abandon the book.


1) First person present tense (exception: if it takes me a quarter of the book to actually notice it, I'll admit it's actually been done well and can be justified. If I notice on the first page, the odds of abandonment skyrocket).


2) Mentions of cholera in historical fiction novels prior to the 19th century (especially egregious if the books contends to be non-fiction)


3) Chatty descriptions of what the people the author interviews are wearing


4) Women in historical fiction or fantasy novels (especially fantasy novels) who put on trousers for the first time after living their lives comfortably in skirts and:

a. think that they're more comfortable

b. think that they're warmer

c. don't go "omg you can see my legs" and try to cover up or something along those lines (I'm just really skeptical on this point)


5) authorial misogyny (I can handle misogynistic characters, but when it comes from the authorial voice or just the setup of the novel, it gets in my craw. I just don't have the patience for it anymore.)


Door 7Task 1


Door 8 - Task 1 (new): My comfort reads include Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, the Discworld series, and increasingly the Rivers of London series on audiobook (I just keep relistening to them).


Book (new): Read any book concerning a man / woman of the cloth: The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters


Door 9 - Task 4: Show us your 2018 book “harvest” – the books you newly acquired this year, regardless whether bought, received as gift or in whichever other way.

I may be missing a few, and I may have miscategorized a few, but this is a good part of my "bought in 2018" shelf on GR:


Door 10 - Book (new) - Read a book with water on the cover: The Grave is a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley


Door 11 - Book: Read a book set in Russia: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (it's pre-Russia Russia, but I'm counting it)


Door 16Task 1

Task 2

Task 4


Door 17 - Task 4


Door 18 - Winter Solstice / Yuletide (December 21):

Task 1 (new): Bibliomancy: Grab one of your larger books and flip to the indicated page and line number to answer the following questions - then post those answers for us.


I chose to use The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a Trilogy in Five Parts by Douglas Adams. When the line was only partial, I reproduced the full sentence and put the required line in bold.


1. Will I read all the books on my TBR?
(page 378, line 29)

'Do what you did a moment or two ago,' he murmured.

- This does not sound promising.


2. Will any of my 2019 reads be 5 stars? 
(page 227, line 31)

Zaphod leapt to his feet and started prodding and feeling the animal's shoulder appreciatively.

- I'm going to read this as promising.


3. Will I discover a new favorite book / author / series?
(page 309, line 23)


Line 23 doesn't exist. Page 309 is a title page: 

Life, the Universe, and Everything

- I'm not sure what this means. Possibly yes, since the phrase "life, the universe and everything" is in itself kind of affirmative.


4. Will I discover that a major twist (hopefully, for the [even] better) has occurred in one of my favorite series? 
(page 459, line 16)


Line 16 doesn't exist. The last line on the page reads:

'I've done you before haven't I?' it said.

- I'm not sure what I should do with the line not existing. If I follow the substitution rule of taking the last line on the page, the answer to this question sounds quite promising.


5. Will I finish all of my reading challenges in 2019? 
(page 69, line 7)

[The Infinite Improbability Drive] was discovered by chance, and then developed into a governable form or propulsion by the Galactic Government's research team on Damogran.

- I'm not sure what to make of this. Characters in books never get nonsense answers like these.


6. Will I stay within my book budget in 2019? 
(page 98, line 5)

In the centre a spiral staircase, leading nowhere in particular, stood in a spray of ferns and yellow flowers and next to it a stone sundial pedestal housed the main computer terminal.

- I think my budget just imploded?


Book: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley


Door 19 - Task 4 (new): Google the word “Festivus” and tell us or take a screenshot of what you see at the left border of the results page.


Book: Read any comedy, parody, or satire: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett


Door 20 - Task 1: Post a picture of your Christmas decorations.   Yeah, this is about as festive as I get. :)


Task 3: Watch a favorite Christmas movie.

Not quite a Christmas movie, but I think it counts that I watched the Hogfather adaptation the other day.


Door 23 - BookHogfather by Terry Pratchett (audiobook)