The Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

The first two books in this series are covered in an earlier review.

After a wait for Voyage of the Basilisk (acquired through inter-library loan), I devoured the last three books of this series. The setup for the twist in Within the Sanctuary of Wings was sufficiently obvious through that I had spotted it mid-series. Especially once Isabella married.

But whatever the lack of surprise, it is more than made up for by the fast-paced adventures, foolishness and the Victorian woman willing to risk her family life in order to make scientific discoveries. The “science” is good fun, and the weaving in of other disciplines adds depth. Regular readers may recall I was quite taken by a drive to discover a lost language, and the Temeraire series which is another non-traditional “dragon history”.

If fast-paced fantasy novels are your thing, then these are good reads, and Isabella makes a fabulous heroine, always ready to try something foolhardy and usually win out. At a fair few points I could only bring myself to keep reading in the knowledge that as the writer of her own memoir, she surely couldn’t die in this adventure.

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I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

This is not a book to read for the writing style, but then English is not Malala’s first, or second language. But instead it is a story to read for inspiration, about a girl who didn’t give up in the face of insurmountable opposition, and who despite coming so close to paying the ultimate price, has made leaps of progress as a result.

This was a “quick read” abridged version from the library, and I’ll look out for the full version instead because I want to read that greater depth.

The Snow Tourist – Charlie English

This was picked up from a charity shop on our summer camping trip (in the same shop my son got 6 books as they were trying to clear down their children’s shelves with a 3 for £1 deal. His favourite was an old, small-type, paperback of The House at Pooh Corner.) I picked it up to read on the next camping trip, as it had been stored on the van bookshelf. I had to leave my misgivings about the cover of this book behind, as it was clearly sketched by someone who knew nothing about the geography of the places mentioned. But once I was in the pages I just kept reading.

I should hate this. English decides to deal with mid-life maudlin by abandoning his wife and children frequently and going in hunt of snow. But then again the temptation of snow is strong, and I can see the draw to keep going back. In fact it is only my own set of responsibilities that stops me from setting off now, and I’m hoping for snow on our planned winter walking weekends, with the van winterised and ready to go if we get some within reach on a weekend that we’re free.

This book is not a specialist on any subject, but meanders through the history of colonisation, scientific discovery, sports history and meteorology. It is the richer for that, for English lacks the depth in any of these to be a specialist, but has the passion to provide an overview woven into the narrative of his travels.

One of those gems that is found one in a blue moon, or July snowfall.

A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents – Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

As a lover of both science writing and fantasy, especially that not set in pseudo-medieval worlds, this appealed to me instantly when recommended, and was promptly ordered from the library. Lady Trent is a wonderful character, a wilful daughter of the aristocracy when scientific careers are only permitted for men, and finds her own way to happiness.

There are wild dragons, but in England they are tiny insects for a young girl’s imagination to be captured. But as she grows into a woman, she has a systematic study of the sparklings rather than just a habit of watching them. But as a woman she cannot (yet) speak in the scientific societies, but instead has to carve her own, more difficult route.

These books are wonderful for their dragons, Isabella’s passion, the science and the feminist journey. I am ordering book three as soon as I’ve made a dent in my TBR pile. For some reason that one is missing from the library set, so I can’t get hold of it that way.

the nearest thing to life – James Wood

I am not sure what to make of this collection of essays. They link the essential parts of life to a selection of works of literature. Potentially if I was better read in his type of literature I would take more from this. But even without knowing all the works, the writing is wonderful. Consider phrases such as this

…and sometimes blew their parsimonious horns – the British Rail minor third.

It is just wonderfully evocative of a moment in time, and the book is filled with this language.

Additionally there is a sense of how we grow apart from our childhood homes, and how doing so is essential, is how we grow and heartbreaking. And how modern technology has both changed this process and made it easier for us to go still further. And how no-one would ever leave if they already knew how hard it would be to come back.

Not a life-changing book, but one that leads to deeper thought and a great appreciation of the English language.

What not to do if you turn Invisible – Ross Welford

This is a very silly book, correlating teenage self-conciousness with a true desire to be invisible. The teenage years are always fun as a lack of ability to think through the consequences is so very believable to extremes which would be incredible for adults.

I was hoping that what she would discover about herself would be more introspective, but at least it was played well, and there were clear connections and good foreshadowing. But more importantly, I laughed. I laughed at bad gags, and at the foolish decisions that were being taken and the coincidences that made everything connect smoothly.

I’ll keep an eye out for more of Welford’s books at the library.

History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund

History of Wolves stands out for its sense of place. This is a book in which the setting stands out on its own, for its beauty and isolation. We are given a strong feeling that how the plot unravels is because of the lake between Linda and Paul.

The plot however is not one I enjoyed. There was too much blame placed on the teenager, although of course as the narrator she would look to blame herself. And it was generally just exploring the worst sides of human nature: weakness, selfishness and cowardice. Although the narrator’s lack of action is understandable, and she does somewhat redeem herself as she begins to forgive as an adult.

I think the three plots tied in here muddy each other, and despite the title there is a distinct lack of wolves within the story, with the “History of Wolves” itself being a very minor plot point. And despite the importance of religion to the direction the plot goes in, it is again barely mentioned.

However the writing was very good, and as mentioned earlier, the sense of place was brilliant. The impression is given that the place itself matures towards being more civilised as these actions were left behind.

Autumn – Ali Smooth

This is not any autumn, this is the drawing in of autumn Street the Brexit referendum, with the shock and disbelief spreading through the country and anger against imigrints at a high. But it is also about parenthood and nostalgia.

Elizabeth starts to understand her childhood, and how inspired she was by the musician who lived downstairs and frequently looked after her. At the same time her (previously presumed straight) mother falls in love with her female childhood icon from tv. This is intertwined with current affairs as the country tried to understand what it had just voted for.

The writing style is quite modern and detached, making the pages fly by. The sort of style that gets a book into a Man Booker shortlist.

I appreciated how at the end we just broke into the personal lives of the direct characters, and ended on a note of hope that maybe we could take the he best of the nostalgia with us.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands – Natasha Solomons

This has merely a single vanished husband, but a gallery full of portraits. A nice fluffy story, about love, loss and beauty.It is also about a small close Jewish community, motherhood, and the cost of family values. Most the the plot is about a husband who never appears in the pages of the book, and a bohemian artistic community that Juliet finds herself falling into.

This was the third book in a week to mention Constable’s sky studies, so I wandered down to the Manchester Art Gallery to see this one in real life. Its beautiful and I’ve been back twice since in my lunch break to visit it and tour the gallery a bit more.

The News: A User’s Manual – Alain de Botton

This thoughtful little book discusses how the news is chosen, and how this affects our world views. Taking topics by turn, the general theme is that light-touch headlines cause us to be less, not more, aware of the realities of the world around us.

I loved how it looks at good intentions of sharing important information can lead to a bias in how we view the world, and how news cannot allow depth of studying of decisions, but only outcomes.

It certainly has helped break me of my headline-watching habits, and after a couple of weeks I don’t think that is a bad thing. Instead I check a weekly news review, and don’t feel less aware of the world for it.