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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Unfinished: The Journal of Beatrix Potter transcribed by Leslie Linder

Yet another library oddity – a collection of Potter’s journals, which were originally written in code, transcribed by Linder. Unfortunately although the cracking of the code was interesting, the journal entries themselves had value only for dipping in and out of. Potter had kept a private diary for her own purposes, and as such this was not written from prosperity, but instead just a collection of very human comments.

I do want to see if I can hunt out the Beatrix Potter collection at the V&A next time I am in London though. Linder donated much of it as part of his fascination with Potter.

Travels with My Sketchbook – Chris Riddell

As I ordinarily take my young son to the library, we always turn first to the children’s section so he can pick his books out to look through whilst I browse. As a Gaiman fan, I was therefore drawn to Riddle’s doodled journal, and borrowed it for me.

His daily doodles inspired me to pick up a new sketchpad, and they are often humerus and light. His role as Children’s Laureate was presented as both hard work and a dream come true as he trotted around the country giving talks and drawing on library and bookshop walls. Then there are bits and pieces from special events, or from projects going into publication which were absolute gifts. My favourites were generally illustrated quotes and poems.

Given its prominent placement in the library, I expected this to be very much a children’s book. It isn’t: it covers his children’s material, yes, but also current affairs commentary and his weekly Observer cartoon. Much as it stretches and humanises the Mediterranean crisis, the below is not an image that should be in a book in the junior (not even teenage) section of the library. There are many (every 3-4 pages) of these images humanising or mocking current affairs. I am glad they are there, they put his life into context against the events of 2015-16, but they change the tone of the book.

So don’t give this to your children, but do get it for yourself and share it with them as appropriate.

Bye Bye BnB – Joan Campell

Following two quite heavy-going books, Bye Bye B&B is a humorous anecdotal biography on the last year of operation of a B&B near Thurso in the far north of the Scottish Highlands. This had me laughing aloud at times, especially when Campbell is dealing with BT and their notoriously dreadful customer services. Or when she lets guests ride her own horses and they get carried away by them

The life of a B&B owner is not for everyone, and even for those who choose it certainly has its challenges. Not least the tourist board Visit Scotland’s changing standards and methods of inspection. This is hard enough for a woman who ultimately leaves her B&B for a career with VisitScotland, so you are left wondering just how those less connected to the organisation feel.