The Fractal Prince – Hannu Rajaniemi

I’d forgotten what a colourful romp The Quantum Thief was until I spotted The Fractal Prince in a bookshop and remembered I’d planned to look out for the sequel.

This is the sequel Quantum Thief deserves. Fast-paced, complex and laden with future tech. It did require a careful reread of both together to understand what was going on and catch up with the contexts again. There are all the twists and setups that can be expected, with characters delighting in their own cleverness.

In addition a new race (or species?) is introduced with their own history, culture and practices to preserve themselves. This adds new intricacies to the dance for power, and a refreshing narrative to weave throughout this book.

Why We Run: A Natural History – Bernd Heinrich

I’m not quite sure what I expected from Why We Run, but how it opened up wasn’t it. The structure of the book is very much of why/how Heinrich decided to train as an Ultramarathon runner. So we start with how he started doing cross-county running as a chilld and how he dealt with injuries.

But as the chapters slip by we benefit more and more from Heinrich’s academic knowledge as a zoologist, looking at styles of running and movement across nature. We find out how antelopes run, and how humans can catch them if they have the intelligence to co-ordinate and the stamina to run for longer than antelopes, even if we can’t beat them in a sprint.

He then moves away from the mammals to look at migrating species and how they sustain swift movement for days at a time in terms of energy and muscle usage.

There is definitely some psuedo-science in here, with a use of E=mc² to describe eating, weight and running speed which is not quite the speed or mass that are referred to! But he is open about being a zooligist, but should probably have stayed away from special relativity!

He then explores how he trialled different training styles, diets and lifestyles to understand what works for him as a runner, and how he turns that into racing strategy, and what that means in terms of racing results.

I may never be even a conventional marathon runner, but this exploration of our bodies’ running capability definitely inspires me to keep heading out for a run in the country.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

This year’s summer holiday was a tour of Europe in our camper van. The most important part of packing for this was obviously a trip to the local bookshop and I had travelling on the mind.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage is less light than the cover suggests, but still a long way from heavy literature.

Harold receives a letter from a woman he knew decades previously who is now dying. He then feels an urge to make a journey, or pilgrimage, across England. We then explore how this affects those around him and his reflections on how his life ended up how it has.

He also understands the different ways of travelling, what equipment is necessary, his needs in terms of companionship and what just doesn’t matter for the purpose of his journey.

We also travel through the perspective of his wife, the woman left behind, and the shame and uncertainty of being in that position

There are a couple of twists at the end, both of which are well set-up, but I certainly found one to be unnecessary and setting the ending up to be a disappointment.

The Mumsnet Rules – Natasha Joffe and Justine Roberts

Where I browse in the library each week depends to a great deal on where my son settles in a chair to read his books whilst I zip around a few stacks in the adult section. This week he may have been trying to tell me something as he settled right next to the parenting books section.

Being a regular of Mumsnet, I avoid such things, but sat on a stand was The Mumsnet Rules, which was irresistible.

It has all the dry humour and wisdom that would be expected, advising a balanced approach to life and concentrating on the important things and accepting what is beyond control in getting children from babyhood into their teens whilst retaining a life and a sense of humour.

In summer may we suggest you consider putting  little bubble bath in your paddling pool… and thus avoiding formal bathing altogether….And then water the plants with the contents of the pool – the soap apparently has mild insecticidal properties.

Pragmatic, fun and less stressful!

Aya of Yop City – Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Set on the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, this graphic novel is half childhood memoir, half cultural commentry. Abouet grew up on the Ivory Coast before leaving in late childhood.

This work reflects changes ongoing, from sexual liberation to development of big business, and how these echo through individual’s lives. THere is also a dry humour twisting throughout, and an absolutely perfect closing page. The whole cast interact and interweave seemlessly, drawing up a society in turmoil, with old cultural standards changing and being forgotten.

The art quality is good, with realistic vivid images.

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