reading

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

sapiensI’ve been obsessing about this book, telling everyone I spoke to about how fantastically interesting it is. I felt like I was reading a more objective Bill Bryson, and I think that if you like Bryson’s books you will love this.

This is a history of the human race from it’s origins to 2014, on the way we will discover foraging, the formation of settlement, transport, agriculture, economics, industrialisation and a bunch of other stuff along the way. You begin to realise that the links between all these are more complicated than you think, that throughout history people have benefited at the expense of other people and the machinations of how that works, who ultimately wins and who loses. Every time I thought I was reading my favourite chapter I found another one which was my new favourite. I love the tone of the book, slightly snarky and not taking itself too seriously, but not playing for laughs in an obvious way. Complicated ideas explained in a way that anybody can understand and linked together in ways that make you go oooohhhh!

I’m going to add his next book to my tbr pile, it might take me a while to get to it though.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

happinessUsually I reserve the category of favourite for those books which are a clear 5 stars -ooo just thought about that and updated it to 5, and here is why!

This book is a gigantic statement of Indian politics, attitudes and how the influences of the outside world have influenced society in India since the 1980s. It is bigger even than that, it is about the marginalised and the isolated, those who stand up for what they believe in, even being prepared to die for their causes. There are spies, soldiers and politicians and a cast of interesting characters. At times I lost track a little bit of whose story I was reading, but I found it best just to keep on going as things became clear in time.

The structure of the book is varied, the beginning is a story, we meet the wonderful Anjum, born with both male and female genitalia, I spend lots of time hoping we were getting back to Anjum and eventually of course we do, I loved everything about Anjum and wanted an entire novel about just her. But then there were the others, weaving in and out of the story are politicians and rogues the gentle and the violent. There are lists and itineraries and it is a book made up of lots of parts.

To me it felt like Arundhati Roy was writing her impressions of everything that has happened in India in the time since Indira Gandhi was running it. Her observations are definitely personal, this entire book is full of her, to the point where it almost isn’t a novel. It is an observation, a comment. It made me think deeply about society and how technology has changed India, the influences of western culture on India and politics in general. It is a big book which drew me in, confused me and made me think. This is an experience rather than a novel.

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

unearthedI completely loved this book. Nicely played Kaufman and Spooner! Science Fiction and archaeology combined in an action packed thriller set on a far away planet where aliens have left clues for the human race. Earth has huge problems with it’s environment and is gradually becoming destroyed to the point where people will have to find either a way of fixing it fast or will have to move to another planet. The race is on to be the person who will find the technology on another planet to bring back to Earth to save us all.

Deciphering the clues in massive temples though, provides vast challenges, they are puzzles with death as the outcome if you get them wrong. Amelia is a scavenger, raiding ancient sites on far off planets to sell for cash which she is using to pay her sister’s captors back on earth. She runs into Jules, who is the son of a disgraced historian, someone who said too much and who is now in jail. Jules has travelled to this planet to try and solve the biggest mystery ever and to prove that his father was right, but also for the personal satisfaction of being the guy who solved a massive mystery. Jules has studied the messages sent back to earth by the inhabitants deciphered the codes and is on a mission to find out what the clues in the messages mean for humanity.

This is going to be hugely popular, I hope it has an awesome cover with an androgynous cover on it. the fraught relationship between the two protagonists is great. The way that total mistrust leads to complete trust is so nicely done. I love the protagonists alternating chapters.

Secondary school libraries are going to want to buy lots of copies of this. And it is just the beginning of a series, one I will be following avidly.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

shock of the fallIt was the cover that got me.  The tree that didn’t look like a tree, twisted and slippery looking, odd spindly branches coming off it, rather like the odd spindly people who inhabit this book.  The cover also had a Joan’s Pick sticker on it and I have to say that she doesn’t usually let me down.  In this book we meet Matt and we witness his gradual descent into madness.  He has been teetering on the brink most of his life.  His brother Simon was born with intellectual difficulties and Matt feels that because of his actions he caused his death.  This is Matt’s story, which he is writing to tell us all in order that we understand what happened

 

in his childhood, how there is a history in his family of mental illness, and in order for us to understand what happened to Simon and why Matt can hear him calling to him.  Matt is a likable boy but his story is gut wrenching, you grow up with him, witness his mum withdraw him from school, cutting him off from his peers.  Meet his Nan who has her own tragic story but who cares so deeply for him even when he is at his most challenging.

These are characters who will stay with you and for whom I felt a huge sympathy.  There are funny moments amongst the grim and the love of these people for each other is what lifts the book and makes you consider how incredibly difficult peoples lives are when their brain is behaving in a way over which they have no control.  It is a lovely book and I recommend it highly.

This video was inspired by the book, I think it rather lovely

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Yellow birds 2It isn’t often I read a book about modern warfare, or any kind of warfare, but this book was recommended to me so highly I thought I’d read it.  I’m so glad I did, this small book packs a powerful punch.  It moved me.  Reading the memories of John a soldier, from country Virginia USA, and his reflections on what happened when he was in Iraq has been gripping, moving and thought provoking.  The writing in this book is poetical with imagery which is vivid, clear and bleak.  You know he speaks from personal experience being a veteran himself of tours of duty in Iraq and while I’m sure it is even more horrific than the picture he paints here this book makes you think you have some idea of the experience.  The dirt, dust, architecture and bleakness.  The attitudes of the locals to the American soldiers and their attitude to them.

Bad things happen at war and these bad things affect you, make you unable to cope with life when you come home and they twist and turn in your mind and make you a different person to the boy you were when you left home.  Read this book to get a tiny bit of understanding of how this would be.  Of how you would feel when your friend is killed in a horrific way – but then there are so many horrific ways to die in Iraq – and how you would deal with the promise you’d made to his Mother that you would watch out for him.

It is a stunning book.  I highly recommend it and will be singing it’s praises for a long time to come.

This is life by Dan Rhodes

I’ve been very slack in writing about the books I’ve been reading on here.  I’ve been a bit slack on here all round to be fair.  But spurred on by other work avoidance I am going to tell you about This Is Life by Dan Rhodes.  Regular readers (I know there are three of you – Hi Mum!) might remember my penchant for Dan Rhodes’ books.  This author makes me happy.  Happy in an ‘I don’t want this to end’ kind of way.  I was worried about this book, which is a great big one for him.  Previously his books are lightweight little numbers which have fitted slimly into your bag, I was worried he couldn’t sustain the fun for a weighty tome.  I was worried needlessly.  It was a lovely whimsical story, exactly as I had hoped.

Young art student Aurelie, is working on her big assignment, short on inspiration she takes a punt, and decides to throw a stone into the middle of a square in Paris, whoever the stone (it’s a small one) hits, she will spend a week with that person and draw them in their surroundings to get to know them and use them as a muse.  Unfortunately the stone lands on a baby, as if this wasn’t bad enough the mother of the baby hands it over and walks off, with the promise of returning in a week.  Aurelie has no experience with babies, little experience of the world in general and it is all a little overwhelming for her, as you would expect.  Thus begins their adventure.

It is also the beginning of some large adventures for her friends, her best friend who leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her, the professor and his wife who take her in temporarily, a Japanese family whose lives will completly change as a result of meeting Aurelie, her friends and the baby.  Funny, whimsical, cute, clever and a little bit silly this is a light hearted romp through Paris.

I loved it, wanted it to last longer, and can’t wait for Dan Rhodes to give me some more treasures.  Disappointingly I bought it as an e-book and am now going to have to spend more money and buy a paper copy to keep.  Great news for Mr Rhodes, not great news for my wallet.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern

Well first I discovered the website for this book.  Have a look here (you’ll have to sign in with a Facebook or Twiter account) and tell me you aren’t a little intrigued.  A friend of mine had read this book and just loved and adored it so I thought “best I give it a whirl”  The Night Circus is the result of a challenge, a long standing competition between two magicians.  In this case a young girl, Celia and Marco a young boy in the early days, rescued from the streets and trained to high levels of magicianship.  The two have studied, trained and honed their skills, which are then shown off in the Night circus.  The mysterious circus all in black and white which arrives in a town in the middle of the night and then after a few days, just as mysteriously disappears only to turn up in another location.

This is however a love story, Celia and Marco despite themselves, fall in love.  This is not in the plan!  They have a dilemma.  They compete for superiority of magic within the confines of the circus, the performers and the public love the circus and don’t want it threatened, and yet there must be a winner in the competition of skill which will probably lead to the destruction of the circus.

It is a lyrical book, magic and imagination run wild in it.  I found myself liking it instantly but then getting a bit bogged down in the details in the middle, I put it down, wandered off reading something else for a bit, then came back to it and polished it off in an afternoon.  It is a gorgeous story, full of the mystical and mysterious and if you are looking for that in a book then this is bound to be a treat.  My favourite characters were the twins and Bailey.  Read it to find out who they are.  Book trailer below.