Watch the video or scroll down to read the text version.
[I’m trying to resurrect the habit of posting stuff over here, apologies it’s out of the blue and not the first in a series but baby steps.]
So there you go, a selection of morally dubious characters to suit any Slytherin’s heart. I hope you enjoy some of these books. Whether you identify as Slytherin or not, they are great novels. Bt it should also reveal to you some of that mixed bag of characteristics that give Slytherins there reputation of being a little bit on the dark side (whether that’s deserved or not).
I’ll be back soon with the next Hogwarts House Book Recommendations. But in the meantime happy reading!
Title: LOST BOY
Author: Christina Henry
Publication Date: June 2017
Length: 318 pages
Format I read: ARC
Rating: 4 stars
This is Lord of the Flies meets Lord of the Lost Boys; you really aren’t going to like Peter Pan any more.
Taking oh so familiar story and making you rethink the logic of it from a grown-up perspective is a common trope but this one was so clear, so painfully true-to-life and logical that you wonder how you’d never seen it before.
As a child I used to do all those ridiculously fearless things that children do. I leaped before I looked and it all turned out fine. And as a child I could think of nothing more fun, nothing more innocent and free than such an adventure as one with Peter Pan.
But I grew up and now I look before I leap because not everyone makes it safely over those rocks and maybe there’s a safer way around if only we thought to find it. And now I wonder what kind of a monster steals children from their homes to fight pirates and monsters and calls it a grand adventure? It’s Peter Pan; “full of fun and heartless with it”.
This book is a dark mirror of Peter Pan, telling the story of that time when we grow up and must suddenly start to see things differently. When we wobble at the precipice and learn to fear because, unlike Peter Pan, we cannot fly. And so we learn the story of Peter from the eyes of the first boy who loved him. And then grew up.
“Peter smiled and made me think there was only joy. Even when there was blood he made me think it was only play, until there was so much of it even Peter couldn’t pretend any more.”
One song spins round and round my head now I’m finished. Like the book itself it’s sweet and pretty and utterly horrifying. Enjoy…
Author: Carlo Rovelli
Publication Date: 2014
Length: 79 pages
Format I read: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars
Everything you need to know about the beauty of modern physics in less than 100 pages.
In seven brief lessons, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli guides readers with admirable clarity through the most transformative physics breakthroughs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This playful, entertaining and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, already a major bestseller in Italy, explains general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role of humans in the strange world Rovelli describes. This is a book about the joy of discovery. It takes readers to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds.
In those moments of life when the grim figures of anxiety, stress, or panic grip me tight and threaten to never let go, I have learned that the one thing sure to scare them off is a nice little face-off with the end of the universe.
That’s my super casual way of saying I’ve been having a bit of a hard time with anxiety recently. Anxiety is a fucker because it messes with my ability to concentrate which is something very necessary for actually reading and enjoying books rather than continually picking them up and putting them down and wandering around the house worrying about the fact that you haven’t read any damn books to talk about on your book-related social media and feeling like you should be doing something productive instead but not actually being able to do it and then worrying about that as well. BASTARD.
But back to the subject at hand: science books!
When none of my fictional favourites can hold my attention I find that often a little non-fiction does the job. And so on my latest foray to the book shops I spotted SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli and snapped it up. It’s such a wee little thing and yet so intriguing with its evocative title that it seemed perfect. 78 pages of basic science, what could possibly be more innocuous. Little did I know.
The tiny size of SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS belies the size of the utter mind-fuck that is held within.
Allow me to explain. It starts amicably enough:
“These lessons were written for those who know little or nothing about modern science.”
That’s me, right there. Little to nothing; me and Jon Snow are with you. The principle of the book is to give a tiny “overview” of the revolutions in the understanding of physics that have happened in the past century or so. It begins with lesson one – Einstein that fluffy haired moppet, who changed the world by suggesting that space isn’t, well, space. It’s not an empty area populated by waves and forces and things – it literally IS those forces. There was some visualising of rubber sheets which left me a little cross-eyed but essentially getting the gist of it. But then Rovelli happily hopped onwards to lesson two where he calmly announced that quantum mechanics means that reality only sometimes exists.
OKAY THEN, RIGHT, THAT’S FINE. YOU CARRY ON. I’LL LEAVE MY BRAIN IN THIS PUDDLE.
By lesson five time itself had gone out the window and the entirety of the universe followed shortly thereafter. Physics, it seems, does not fuck around. But it was the seventh chapter that really leaves you staring into the void.
Rovelli uses this final lesson to grapple with the relevance of physics to our lives. Or, more accurately, of the relevance of our lives in the vast and uncaring strangeness of the cosmos. With the same sparse simplicity of words that he used to set out the mind-bending reality that is revealed by physics, he touches on the concepts of thought, learning, philosophy, ethics, and, of course, of death. Like many of the books where science meets philosophy, the wording gets close to religious in its solemn beauty.
We are born and die as the stars are born and die, both individually and collectively. This is our reality….
That’s dark stuff, man. COLD. But actually I found myself weirdly comforted. Rovelli takes pains to explain that however dark and weird the universe may seem, we are not alien to it, but part of it. We are at home in its weird unreality. It’s quite a moment when you can look into the void and the only thing that comes to mind is that old song by Simon and Garfunkel…
Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube.
It reminded me of THE GOOD BOOK, that strange and lovely conglomeration of scientific ideas, literature and philosophy compiled and presented by A.C. Grayling as a secular bible. Like a religious person seeking succour in a religious text I find my calm in the place where science meets philosophy.
Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.
The concepts set out in this book are mind-bendingly weird. I’m not sure I really comprehended the full meaning of it all (which is probably the point, temptations to learn more and all that) but it was completely and utterly engaging. My only criticism was, really, its brevity. For some of the more complex concepts just a little more time spent trying to give me a better mental grasp of these slippery thoughts would have been perfect. A page, maybe two. No more.
The writing style is excellent – elegant, flowing, and measured. And a translated text I can only suppose that this is a sign of both an excellent author and some damn fine translators. It balances the need for simple explanations of complex ideas with evocative, beautiful prose – it’s a science book written for readers, not scientists after all.
It’s worth reading for the madness of the physics alone but for my anxious brain it was the strange, warm bath in the restaurant at the end of the universe that it needed. And for that, Carlo Rovelli, I thank you.
Buy it here: SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Gollancz (and various others)
Publication Date: Originally July 1992.
Length: Novel (578 pages approx)
Format I read: Audiobook
For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.
But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.
A really wonderful in-depth story of time-travel and the very real difficulties of trying to survive in the past. Remember that old adage – “the past is a foreign country” – well if nothing else brings that home then this book will. The uncanny similarities and differences of life in the middle ages, the horrible reality of a world without modern medicine – they’re just for starters.
Because then there’s that extra layer of cleverness. In the 1990s Willis wrote this book in an imagined future of the 2050s and we can read with amusement how the comparatively recent years of the 1970s were already becoming misremembered (and fearsome because of it). But through the joys of time actually passing the additional pleasure of a strangely alien future also emerge. Willis’s vision of a future with video phones tied to landlines and almost impossibly small file-sizes seems charmingly naive now but only serves to emphasise the sheer impossibility of the historian’s (and futurist’s) task of understanding another era. It is only Kivrin, who ventures into the 14th century who can understand it, and only then through total, terrifying, assimilation. She does not simply learn about the past, she becomes part of it.
And, damn me, if it isn’t also entirely heart-wrenching.
P.S. If you’re prone to hypochondria I’m going to give you a heads-up: this is not the book for you. I am now totally paranoid about every sneeze and considering investing heavily in antibacterial gel.
I was recently asked by the lovely Renay (from the Lady Business blog & Fangirl Happy Hour podcast – both favourites of mine) for some recommendations of science fiction and fantasy booktube channels. I started to compose a tweet of names and then realised that this was something that might take a bit more than 160 characters to get through. And so here, for Renay and anyone else in need of some speculative fiction vlogs, is my hastily put together master list.
Obviously there are channels who I will have inevitably forgotten and I will add them as and when I remember. Or if you want to remind me feel free to comment or tweet me. Remember babies, I love you all very much!
[Addendum – already edited to add a few more!]
Author: Corrine Duyvis
Publication Date: 8 March 2016
Length: Novel (456 pages)
Format I read: ARC trade paperback
Note: I requested and received an advanced reader copy of this for free from the publisher but all views are very much my own.
January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.
Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.
A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?
When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?
Fast paced, well-written and kept me gripped to the end whilst making me ask some very pointed questions about the value of life. Opening minutes before the big comet hits, this book makes you a very different look at the apocalypse and what it means to survive.
In fact, my overwhelming sense of this book was that it asks you to think beyond the binary of so many disaster stories.
There is no tale of pre-disaster panic and preparation, but nor is it the story of survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the vast grey inbetween.
This is not a story that ends in fire. This is not the survivor’s tale, spoken in noble but tragic isolation as they leave behind the dead earth and the humanity that was unable to escape. Those stories are easy to tell, easy to cry a poignant tear over the death of millions when you’re boldly going where no man has gone before.
Instead this story keeps us on earth and asks us to imagine that maybe the end of a civilization doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life. It asks difficult questions about the ease with which we accept that the survival of the lucky must come at the price of the complete sacrifice of all others. It asks what it means to survive if there is no place for help, for community, for a middle road. And this large scale struggle is replicated in the smaller story of Denise and her family, and the decisions she must make to stay alive, to protect her family, and to protect herself from her family.
It’s a fascinating book where the plot keeps you flying through but the ideas stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. All in all, a damn fine read.
In this week’s video I’m talking about all the lovely things I read in November. You can watch the video below or keep scrolling to read the text version.
Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/gAcr9u3dftM
Lets work from least favourite to favourite so I can work my way up to the serious levels of emotion I’m going need at the end!
To begin we have The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu.
I was super excited to get to this book – it was in my priority TBR for the end of the year, I’d been told it was even more amazing than the rather excellent first book in the series The Three Body Problem – and I couldn’t read it. Seriously.
I do not know what is up with the writing style in this book but it is jarring as hell and just unpleasant to read. Maybe it was down to a change in the writing style from books 1 to 2 in the original Chinese version or maybe it’s to do with the changed translator but reading this made me sad. Somebody please tell me what’s going on with this. I swear it’s not just me.
The story is set in a fantastical version of Paris where fallen angels waged a huge war destroying most of the city. The war is over but the factions remain locked in elaborately polite political power games and the dark deeds of the past are emerging to haunt the angelic houses and destroy everything the hold dear.
You can read my full review in an earlier post:
The Awesome by Eva Darrows is all about Maggie, a seventeen year old apprentice monster hunter in a world where all the supernatural beasties have come out of the proverbial closet.
Maggie is badass and awesome, or at least according to Maggie she is. The only problem is that Maggie is stuck being an apprentice until she can rid herself of her rather pesky virginity. So now Maggie has to negotiate the rather trickier world of social skills and dating all the while dealing with ghosts, and zombies, and monsters, oh my.
It’s hilarious, honestly I was laughing out loud within a couple of pages. Maggie is the narrator so we see the world through her eyes and it’s a gloriously uncomfortable experience that had me squirming in cringey delight at the memories of my far less awesome teenage self. It’s not perfect, there were a few moments where I felt some of the language was a bit problematic, but it was largely delightful, romping fun.
Well damn me. This was clever, cunning, and dark as hell.
It tells of Baru Cormorant whose homeland is invaded when she is a child. She swears to revenge herself on the empire that destroys her country’s way of life but chooses to do this by working her way into a position of power. In order to gain this trust and power Baru is faced with a life of betrayals and lies to her family, her country and to herself.
You can read my full review in an earlier post:
And finally came The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This book is about the crew of a small spacecraft on a long journey. That’s it. And well, I’ve already done a separate review post and I’ll be putting out another review video for this one (extended review) but here’s the the short version of that:
I LOVE IT. IT IS AMAZING. IT IS THE NICEST SWEETEST BOOK ON EARTH AND ALL MUST READ IT.
You can read my short review in an earlier post:
And that’s it for November. What did you read last month? I’m off to keep reading my December reads starting with His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
Keep reading, sugarplum.
Author: Becky Chambers
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: 13 August 2015
Length: Novel (404 pages)
Format I read: hardback
Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.
But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.
Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.
I tried to write a coherent review but all I can say is I LOVE IT WITH ALL MY HEART.
I love the universe that has been created, the elegant way it is created through little details of life and habits. I love the food and the soap and wine and small intricacies of life in space rather than just war in space.
I love the interaction of the alien species, the coming together, the falling aparts, and the (mis)understandings.
I love the characters, their complex lives outside the plot, the expansive ideas of what a person can be, and their beautiful, beautiful relationships.
And I love the love; the many ways of different people being together – as friends, as family, a colleagues and collaborators, as lovers, pairs, triads, and more. I love that love so much; that love for the universe, for the potential offered by the future, love for all kinds of love.
This book won my heart. Because, in the end, love wins.
Title: The House of Shattered Wings
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Publication Date: 20 August 2015
Length: Novel (402 pages)
Format I read: audiobook
In a ruined Paris, fallen angels live together in rival Houses – each vying for power in the crumbling, poisonous city that was brought down by their own war. The fighting has given way to politics but the threat to life is still very real. Angels are hunted for their magical essence, the house leaders scheme and plot in elaborately polite power-games, and the dark deeds of the past will not lie quietly in their graves.
House Silverspires stands tremulous. Its magic is ailing; the founder, Morningstar, has been missing for years; and now a murderous presence, seemingly darkness and malevolence incarnate, stalks them inside their own walls.
Of the many characters whose lives revolve around Silverspires, three become central to the struggle against the darkness: a human alchemist addicted to forbidden and deeply taboo drugs that are killing her, a newly fallen angel with immense power combined with innocent naivety, and the man from Annam whose powers and anger toward the angelic houses are alien to the fallen.
Whilst always enjoyable and readable this book never really gripped me in the way I wanted and expected. The story itself is intriguing and clever – a grand tale of murder, politics, and revenge. And yet for all that bigness it somehow felt small and a bit underdeveloped.
Another reviewer very aptly put it that this is an ‘aftermath story’. It tells us what happened after the fall, and after the war, and after the disappearance of a great leader. It’s a bold move for any writer to make and not one that I think was necessarily pulled off to best effect in this book.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a story that expands beyond its frames. A story that suggests that more happens after the last page is turned, that life was going on in the background of every line, just around the corner. But you do need the present moment of the story to hold my attention at least as much as the elements going on out of sight. It needs to fit inside hole that’s been cut out of the bigger picture and I can’t say that this always did. There was too much gap between the story we were told and the story outside it. Maybe there will be more to fill out the gaps in the future but for now it’s like a kid with clothes too big for them: there’s potential for them to grow into them over time but the excess fabric is going to trip them up.
On a positive note I thought that the character of Philippe – his experiences and interactions with the angelic houses during and after the war – did a phenomenal job of demonstrating how the structures of power – race, class, wealth, etc – are often unseen and continue to be upheld by those who benefit from them. Sometimes it’s easier to face a hard truth through fiction, and Isabel and Philippe’s argument about the necessity of the continued existence of angelic houses prompted some serious reflection.
Clever, beautiful, and big in scope this book is very much worth reading but offered me more story than it could give
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – 3.5 stars.