athene (deinonychus_1) wrote,

Book bingo reviews - epic catchup!

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas, and didn't eat too much food (I did! I was at my parents' for Christmas, and sometimes I think my mum still thinks I live like a student and need feeding up every time I go to visit!). I'll try to have a catch-up on everyone's recent posts in the next day or two, I've not been online since the Thursday before Christmas, so I'm way behind!

Anyway, another thing I'm way behind on is book bingo reviews. As of today, I have filled 24 squares, and am *one* squares away from a blackout. The deadline is midnight on the 31st, right? I've still got time... maybe.

The Martian, by Andy Weir. Fills the 'favourite re-read' square.

I love this book, I've read it maybe four or five times in total. I've seen it described as 'science fiction for people who don't read science fiction', which I can kind of see. It's basically the story of an astronaut who, by a series of slightly improbable events, is thought to be dead by his crewmates and abandoned on Mars, alone. What follows is basically an entire book of Mark using science, inventiveness, and sheer gutsy determination to survive by any means possible, using whatever supplies he has available, until Earth can a) figure out that he is actually still alive, and b) get a rescue mission out to him.

What I love about this book is mostly the character of Mark Watney, and the humour - despite the circumstances Mark continues to keep a great sense of humour, and in places the book makes me laugh out loud. If you've seen the film, you get a little bit of that, but there's far more in the book. If you enjoyed the film, I highly recommend the book. If you've haven't seen the film, I highly recommend the book *before* you watch the film!

300, by Frank Miller and Lyn Varley. Fills the 'comic/gaphic novel' square.

I'll start this review by coming right out and saying that I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels. For some reason it's just not something that I 'get', and not something I would normally choose to read. However, many, many years ago some friends gave me the graphic novel 300, about the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae (this has also been turned into a film, which I have to admit I've never seen), so I decided that filling this square for book bingo was as good an excuse as any to finally read the thing.

Now in theory, it should have been right up my street. I've been fascinated with the Battle of Thermopylae for years, ever since we studied Herodotus in A level Class Civ, and I've read historical novels (Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield) and non fiction (Thermopylae, by Paul Cartledge - brilliant book!) about the battle and the events surrounding it. But... 300 didn't work for me. I found it difficult to work out what was going on a lot of the time, and would probably have struggled to follow the story if I hadn't already had quite a lot of knowledge of the events, and the main protagonists, and could fill things in as I went along. One of the problems was that practically all the characters looked the same - all Spartan soldiers dressed in the same armour, so that made it slightly confusing to tell them apart.

I wanted to like it, I gave it a try, but I just think the graphic novel format doesn't work for me. I'll probably have to wild card or substitute that square in the 2019 bingo.

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, by Barry Cunliffe. Fills the 'at or near the bottom of your to-be-read pile' square.

This book leapt out at me as obvious choice for that square, because I have owned it for literally years without ever having read it. I'm pretty sure I owned it before I last moved house, and that was in 2006, so that tells you how long it has languished on my bookshelf. I'm really quite glad that book bingo poked me into finally reading it, because I really enjoyed it.

It's another non-fiction book (I seem to have filled about half the card with non-fiction in 2018), and it is about a third century BC Greek scientist, Pytheas, who wrote a work titled 'On The Ocean' about his voyage from the Mediterranean port of Massalia (present day Marsaille) to the distant land of Britain, which he circumnavigated, and quite possible made a brief voyage from the Shetlands/Orkneys as far as Iceland. Unfortunately, not a single copy of 'On The Ocean' has survived to us, and all we have to go on are fragments of his work that were referenced or quoted by later classical Greek and Roman authors.

Given that we have so little information, Cunliffe's book is not so much a straight story of Pytheas' voyage, but more an excuse to explore the late Classical and Iron Age world of the third century BC, the Greek colonies such as Massalia on the Mediterranean coast, the trade networks between the 'civilised' Greek world and the 'barbarian' lands to the north. There is discussion of the science and geography as understood by the Greeks at the time, and suggestions of what Pytheas would have seen and encountered on his journey, such as the tin mining industry in Cornwall, and the Neolithic monuments of Orkney (already well over a thousand years old even then).

It's actually a very difficult book to describe, and I don't think I'm doing it justice. Because there is so little to go on, a large part of it detective work, teasing out clues from what later writers have said, but ultimately there is so much that we can never know for sure (unless an intact text of Pytheas' work is found one day), so a great deal of it comes down to 'Pytheas *might* have seen this', 'Pytheas *might* have visited this place'. And there is much debate as to whether he did actually physically go to Iceland or whether he just heard about it from Shetland sailors who had been there. There is not even agreement as to whether 'Ultima Thule', as Pytheas calls is, is even Iceland at all, or whether it refers to Scandinavia, or the Orkneys themselves.

I really enjoyed it, but I have to admit, unless you have a particular interest in Late Iron Age north western Europe, or ancient Greek explorers, it's probably not a book with massively wide appeal. Which is a shame, as it's a very good book.

Tamed, by Alice Roberts. Fills the 'one word title' square.

Alice Roberts seems to be everywhere on TV at the moment. She presented this year's Royal institute Christmas Lectures (which I still need to watch), and she seems to be the BBC's go-to presenter for anything even remotely connected with archaeology, evolution, early humans, or even general biology/medical programmes. I actually saw her in real life in February of this year, she came and gave a talk at a local wildlife organisation, and the talk was linked with (and promoting) this book, Tamed, which is about human domestication of various species of plants and animals. She was a very good speaker, if you're interested, which shouldn't be surprise as she's always very watchable on TV.

Roberts selects ten species, such as cattle, dogs, wheat, rice, and uses archaeology and the latest genetic and DNA research to explore where, when, how and why humans domesticated these species as part of the Neolithic/farming revolution. Given that one of my major interests when I studied archaeology at university was the early neolithic and the spread of farming, this book was right up my street, and I did really like it. Again, probably a bit of a niche audience, bu if you're at all interested in the subject matter, it's a perfectly good, readable, largely non-technical popular science book, by a very good promoter of popular science.

The Thirty-nine Steps, by John Buchan. Fills the 'classic' square.

By this point in the year, I was struggling a bit, with to many squares to fill and not enough time to fill them. The 'classic' and the 'never judge a book by its movie' squares in particular were giving me difficulty. I had plenty of options for things which fit either one, but most of them were too long, or looked too heavy-going for me to want to start them with so little time left at the end of the year. So I was quite pleased when I found this in a charity shop, as it is both a classic, and it's barely over 100 pages, so I managed to read it in something like three hours in total, split over two sittings.

It's a classic thriller, which I believe has been made into a film or TV series with the rather lovely Rupert Penry-Jones at some point, so I was imagining him as the main character throughout. It was written in 1914, and you can tell - modern thrillers wouldn't spend half as much time describing the Scottish countryside, not when there are exciting chases and escapes and cat-and-mouse spy games to be getting on with. Also, the attitudes are very clearly of their time - there are far too many occasions when a complete stranger aids the hero for seemingly no other reason than because he seems like a jolly decent upper class chap, rather than treating him like the renegade from the law that he actually is at that point!

It was alright, it wasn't a bad story, but I did feel that any novel that relied so much on coincidence, and where experienced military and politicians and intelligence officers were wiling to let a complete layman take over their investigation and operation, probably wouldn't get past a modern publisher's slush pile.

To Those that Walk in Darkness, by Somniare. Fills the fanfic of 100k square.
fic on AO3 here

This is a fic in the Lewis fandom, and I've read quite a lot of fic by Somniare before, so when I saw they had a fic that was over 100k it was an easy choice to use it for this square.

It's basically a long plotty case fic, involving a drugs and multiple-murder case, but it also has an AU twist to it. The world is entirely normal as per the TV show, but James is not entirely what he seems, which has ramifications for the case, and for his relationship with Robbie, when it impacts on the investigation. It was a good read, but possibly not one of the author's best (to be fair, I didn't finish it until nearly three in the morning last night, so the last few chapters I possibly wasn't concentrating as much). But I do enjoy a well researched and well written case-fic, with a good plot, and making use of the supporting and minor recurring character from the show, and this fic had all of that in spades.

So, I now only have one more square - the movie tie in. I have a book, and it's a short book - The Woman in Black (I see the film with Daniel Radcliffe is actually on tonight!). The question is whether I can read the entire thing before midnight tomorrow.

Apologies for the long post, I really ought to have updated these ages ago. I think I read The Martian in September!

lj book bingo card 2018
2018 reading list 32 books read in 2018

Tags: book bingo

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.