The Circle Opens Quartet

In the background I’m still following Mark Reads, and we have just finished the Circle Opens quartet. I’ve loved the new journeys with the Circle of Magic characters, who are refreshingly committed to their own development and friendships, and being fourteen.

Circle of Magic

Time being what it is, the first few books are less fresh in my mind, and all I can think of is Shatterglass with Tris’s journey to become a mage-teacher, and take on adult responsibilites by choice.

If she had a motto it was “New learning couldn’t hurt anyone”

She of course finds the perfect student to tackle her own stubborness and we see how she has grown as a person from the Magic in the Weaving. She still has that hurt deep inside, but she has learnt what she can do in the world, and made a family of choosing to compensate for her earlier suffering.

“…My family deals in all kind of goods.” She smiled crookedly. “Except defective ones. Those they don’t handle very well”

The idea that a child left feeling such a way makes the progress Tris did is inspiring. That she is fictional just sets a template for others to follow.

Of course this book is primarily a murder mystery and about untangling Keth’s life, and letting him work out what his power permits. So there is glass magic, and playing with lightning and the odd new mage disaster. All the things I needed this book to be.

Niko is there too, being himself in the background. Not practical, but loving and supporting Tris as she develops a plan for who she will be as an adult.

When I first read them I was disappointed that the Circle kids were apart for the quartet. Now I understand just how perfect it is that they get the chance to find their own places in the world, safe in the knowledge that for each other they will always be home.

Misadventure – Richard Meier

Misadventure has an elegantly gothic cover, with siloutted crows flying from leafless trees. This sets expectations for a dark poetry collection. It called to me from the library shelf, and I scoped it up without even reading the back.

Whilst it opens in midwinter amidst turmoil, it covers the finding of love, of peace and of building a family. There are touching moments and moments of deep desperation, in short, well-paced poems.

so the gods will turn their gaze

on certain characters in offices,

on mealtimes in some marriages,

on the blank mornings of a new mother;

or rather on their victims who may

It is a lovely reflection that there is always an around the corner, and only change is constant.

I will be keeping an eye out for more of Meier’s work.

Knit The Sky – Lea Redmond

Playful Knitting Projects

When I’m not reading on the train to work, I’m knitting. Currently I’m 95% of the way through a cardigan that I started in early April. Knitting is how I clear my mind, and is much less tiring on days when I’ve done quite enough thinking and reading at work to want more. I’ve noticed through life that I actually read less when there’s a lot going on: I dropped to about a book a month whilst at university, but read two or three books a week when working in a farm shop.

Winter is coming, on train knitting

Redmond’s approach in Knit the Sky is that knitting doesn’t have to be about following a pattern rigidly, but to take what is going on in the world around us and turn that into a knitted item. I love this idea, as I never stick to patterns as it is, and have a tendency to put new ideas in as I go along. She suggests knitting a scarf, one row a day for a year, and picking the colour for that day that best reflects the weather. Or sending a friend a gift with butterflies knitted in, one for each year of your friendship.

At the end she challenges you to invent your own project.

I have decided that the next time I take a seriously long train ride (maybe child-free) I will knit a long narrow scarf/ loose belt, starting with the dark colours when I set off before dawn (its always before dawn) and knitting every row based on the colour outside my window. When that is a down, maybe it will be browns and greys, fields and woods will be greens and open moorland will be back to purples.

I received an ARC of this book via Netgallery in exchange for an honest review

The Map and the Territory 2.0 – Alan Greenspan

Risk, Human Nature and the Future of Forecasting

I borrowed this from the library in spite of knowing Greenspan’s strong right-wing leanings, because whatever his politics he is a respected economist. His insights into decision making at the Federal Reserve and on the boards of major US companies certainly illuminates the debate, but the book s limited greatly by his views.

He makes strong and convincing arguments for the removal of implicit government support from both large companies, including banks, and individuals. Unfortunately the human cost, or even economic cost in the case of Medicare, is not acknowledged. Instead he focuses on that as the only drag on the American, and wider developed world economy, since the middle of the twentieth centrury.

This is then combined with a stated desire to return the US to its world-leading position at the end of World War Two, which Greenspan takes for granted as its natural place. There is little introspection into why these countries have gained, aside from an examination of China. Even when looking at how the Chinese economy has succeeded, he is arguing why it is unable to reach its full potential due to political climate. There is no mention of attempts within China to change this, or that maybe the American system that has been world leader for 5-6 decades may not be the only way for an economy to succeed.

Of course, I am expecting too much from someone who’s entire life has been spent trying to maximise economic growth, and that growth itself has undoubtedly improved life for millions. Its just that he lists a few examples of when government intervention has worked well, but writes off the rest as stopping growth.

The writing quality is acceptable, but nothing fabulous. You can tell he has spent a lifetime writing formal reports, with short sections and subheadings every half-page in places. Of course anything else might end up impenetrable.

Remarkable Minds – Pendred E. Noyce

17 other remarkable women in science & medicine

Noyce has decided not to mess with her formula, and has produced a second book full of essays outlining the lives and careers of historical women scientists. It is enough to make a modern woman feel inadequate, reading about women who continued scientific research in the face of not only sexism, but also in secret as Jewish women against the rise of fascism or African-Americans before the civil rights movement.

The message definitely comes through loud and clear that anyone sufficiently intelligent and determined can contribute to the world, just that some barriers have been swept away.

Sophie couldn’t stay away from her mathematics. She smuggled in more candles, wrapped herself in blankets, and managed to study through the night anyway, even when her ink froze in its pot. Finally her parents gave in, and once convinced he couldn’t stop her, her father supported her study of mathematics for the rest of her life.

This is a powerful message for young people working out who they are, and who they want to work to be, especially girls. I appreciate Noyce noting that family life is possible, although careful choices have to be made, and that some of these scientists were noted as elegant and beautiful. If this was a statement made in isolation it would be problematic, but combined with the acknowledgement of their achievements it tackles some unhelpful stereotypes.

I had only heard of two of these women before: Germain (I am a mathematician by training) and Franklin, but many of the rest had made discoveries I am familiar with, and it was fascinating to read how they managed their lives to achieve what they did. It was also a sterling example of how parenting makes a difference, with almost every woman having had supportive parents who encouraged ambition, even if they were reluctant at first.

Each essay was prefaced by a timeline showing how wider history intersects key points in that woman’s life, putting them into a historical and cultural context. This may however have worked better woven into the margins/headings rather than on a standalone page.

My only quibble is that I wanted a bit more of the detail of the science for many of the essays, as opposed to hinting about the science then swinging back to discuss personal and academic further, even if that was the actual subject of the book.

 I received Remarkable Minds as an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review

Today’s Library Haul (29 July 2015)

Library books: picture books and adultWe manage to get to the library most weeks, although my choices are usually made at speed. With the cardigan I started knitting in early April nearly finished, I’m looking for my next knitting project, and like to grab a recipe book to try and mix up our meal plans as well as the books to sit down with and enjoy.

Note the entirely unseasonable Christmas book. Our son clearly operates on retailer Christmas. We also had Henry last week, in the more usual small form, but he wasn’t to be dissuaded from it being one of his books and I remember the pleasure of starting to choose my own books.

Politics: A Very Short Introduction – Kenneth Minogue

I am quite a fan of the OUP very short introduction format. Its satisfying to pick up a book which both assumes no prior knowledge but also intelligence. This combines nicely with a low page limit and pocket-sized form so that you are only committing an hour or two’s worth of reading to a subject for which you might not necessarily want begin reading about at length.

My reading has however been tracking my rising increase in politics for some time. It is after all field which has so much influence on our lives, security and choices, but also one where individuals making decisions today can shape the world we live in. This is true both of the politicians and the aggregate data of voting decisions of every franchised person combined.

I like that Minogue acknowledges current issues on welfare and Europe, in both a current and historical sense.

Power has always found its balance, but the costs have been great. That is why so many Europeans have favoured transposing this whole endeavour into a new key, and creating a unified Europe by agreement rather than conquest.

Minogue was a well-respected academic, known for his conservative views. These do come across in places, and he both acknowledges that every generation has thought it has the best system and morals so far, whilst placing an argument that the current Western two-party system is the best available.

The historical position of much of politics is considered, and one part in particular caused me to think of “In the game of thrones you win or you die.”

Staking one’s life in the game of politics remained a deadly option until the middle of the eighteenth centenary… In the modern world it is only despotisms which have recourse to the firing squad or the noose.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I work in a great office. We are all quite technical (1/3 of us have maths degrees and most of the rest have some kind of engineering), but also geeky and very into books. Books are passed around with a recommendation on a regular basis and its perfectly acceptable to have new boxes of books delivered there.

The Great Gatsby was one such book. I’m the third person in our office to read this copy. It came with no more description than “one of my favourite books” so, like a good book borrower, I accepted it then put it in the tbr pile for a good few weeks (it also came with a no hurry to return statement). Yesterday I finally got around to picking it up, and this morning it was finished.

It is a beautifully written book, full of foreshadowing and metaphor to the extent that I feel almost inspired to write an English literature essay on it. Beyond that it is also a book of its time, setting a scene of life for privileged upper class Americans on the east coast in the twenties. There is acceptance that this is their place in the world, unthinking use of the less well-off and excess.

Prohibition is mentioned breifly, but does not remotely limit the drinking and excesses. Instead it is used to put down those whose illegal activities enable life to continue.

The novel opens with the narrator introducing himself directly, and explaining why he finds out all of these things. Then he fades away, and becomes pretty much inconsequential aside from as a pawn to enable events to pivot. Instead he is simply a blank slate for the reader to project themselves into. We know how he is connected to key characters, but about him as a person, despite viewing everything through his snarky viewpoint.

Gatsby himself is a wonderful classic character. I am loath to explain further due to not wanting to spoil the novel, but his behaviour and reaction to his position is fabulous.

I read the Penguin Modern Classics edition. It is not worth reading for the introduction, which I gave up on after 6 pages because I haven’t read the book this is apparently a new take on. I sort of expected the introduction to give more of a sense of place and time, and literary devices, rather than a comparison to a book few of the readers will know.

The Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch

Book three of the Gentleman Bastards (following The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies). This is where an author really needs to avoid the trap of books seeming repetative, especially in a series like this where the central characters have already reached adulthood and are following their natural place in the world.

Unlike the second book, this The Republic of Thieves returns to linking back and forth to the Bastards’ past, drawing out parallels and links between a child-like dilemma where they were fumbling and finding themselves, and the current life-and-death set-up. Of course the children of Shades Hill have never known safety, and the Gentleman Bastards are trained to cope with anything, so the contrast may not be as great as would be expected.

We see the return of the Bondsmagi, politics and trickery as would be expected. But life is trickier than before, and the stakes are moved ever upwards.

And there is Sabetha. Otherwise known as “Her”, because Locke has spent a lifetime unable to comprehend of being in love with anyone else. Being thrown in with your first love again is just another layer of trickery in life.

“Stand down Jean, it’s the same hard sell we use… Astonishing promises first, important disclaimers second. Just get on with it Patience.”

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Part 1 – Akira Himekawa

I haven’t read any new manga for years, but happened to be by the graphic novels section of the library today, so picked up pretty much the only thing they had part 1 of on the shelf.

It is a little young (aimed at the players of Zelda), and something seems to have been sacrificed to matching the narrative of the game itself. Of course a good narrative for a game has very little scene set-up and lots of meandering plot where the characters move through puzzles. This makes a somewhat dull structure for a novel: I definitely wasn’t a fan of Lord of the Rings for example!

Also a main plot point in this manga is that there are four (five?) identical characters whose main differential is the colour of their clothes. It is printed in black and white, so at every scene change it disrupts the reading to work out who is actually present.

This is clearly not my sort of reading material

This said, I’m eyeing up my Wii and wondering if I have the time to start a new game. And I will be glancing over the small graphic novel selection in the future in hope of the library having something I’d rather read in it.