Author: Paul (Page 3 of 107)

Not The Wellcome Prize Shortlist

And we have a shortlist:

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In ” The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate ,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary ” Exhalation ,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in ” The Lifecycle of Software Objects ,” a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: ” Omphalos ” and ” Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom .”

In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth—What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?—and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.


Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Pérez

Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.

Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives.

Award-winning campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the impact this has on their health and well-being. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women. In making the case for change, this powerful and provocative book will make you see the world anew.


Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson

I have come to think of all the metal in my body as artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal. A map, a tracing of connections and a guide to looking at things from different angles.

How do you tell the story of life that is no one thing? How do you tell the story of a life in a body, as it goes through sickness, health, motherhood? And how do you tell that story when you are not just a woman but a woman in Ireland? In these powerful and daring essays, Sinead Gleeson does that very thing. In doing so she delves into a range of subjects: art, illness, ghosts, grief, and our very ways of seeing. In writing that is in tradition of some of our finest writers such as Olivia Laing, Maggie O’Farrell, and Maggie Nelson, and yet still in her own spirited, warm voice, Gleeson takes us on a journey that is both personal and yet universal in its resonance.


The Nocturnal Brain by Guy Leschziner

For Dr. Guy Leschziner’s patients, there is no rest for the weary in mind and body. Insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, sleep apnea, and sleepwalking are just a sampling of conditions afflicting sufferers who cannot sleep–and their experiences in trying are the stuff of nightmares. Demoniac hallucinations frighten people into paralysis. Restless legs rock both the sleepless and their sleeping partners with unpredictable and uncontrollable kicking. Out-of-sync circadian rhythms confuse the natural body clock’s days and nights.

Then there are the extreme cases. A woman in a state of deep sleep who gets dressed, unlocks her car, and drives for several miles before returning to bed. The man who has spent decades cleaning out kitchens while “sleep-eating.” The teenager prone to the serious, yet unfortunately nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” stuck in a cycle of excessive unconsciousness, binge eating, and uncharacteristic displays of aggression and hyper-sexuality while awake.

With compassionate stories of his patients and their conditions, Dr. Leschziner illustrates the neuroscience behind our sleeping minds, revealing the many biological and psychological factors necessary in getting the rest that will not only maintain our physical and mental health, but improve our cognitive abilities and overall happiness.


The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman

Providing a cover for our delicate and intricate bodies, the skin is our largest and fastest-growing organ. We see it, touch it, and live in it every day. It is a habitat for a mesmerizingly complex world of micro-organisms and physical functions that are vital to our health and our survival. It is also a waste removal plant, a warning system for underlying disease and a dynamic immune barrier to infection. One of the first things people see about us, skin is crucial to our sense of identity, providing us with social significance and psychological meaning. And yet our skin and the fascinating way it functions is largely unknown to us. In prose as lucid as his research underlying it is rigorous, blending in memorable stories from the past and from his own medical experience, Monty Lyman has written a revelatory book exploring our outer surface that will surprise and enlighten in equal measure. Through the lenses of science, sociology, and history–on topics as diverse as the mechanics and magic of touch (how much goes on in the simple act of taking keys out of a pocket and unlocking a door is astounding), the close connection between the skin and the gut, what happens instantly when one gets a paper cut, and how a midnight snack can lead to sunburn–Lyman leads us on a journey across our most underrated and unexplored organ and reveals how our skin is far stranger, more wondrous, and more complex than we have ever imagined.


War Doctor by David Nott

For more than 25 years, surgeon David Nott has volunteered in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones. From Sarajevo under siege in 1993 to clandestine hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, he has carried out lifesaving operations in the most challenging conditions, and with none of the resources of a major metropolitan hospital. He is now widely acknowledged as the most experienced trauma surgeon in the world.

War Doctor is his extraordinary story, encompassing his surgeries in nearly every major conflict zone since the end of the Cold War, as well as his struggles to return to a “normal” life and routine after each trip. Culminating in his recent trips to war-torn Syria—and the untold story of his efforts to help secure a humanitarian corridor out of besieged Aleppo to evacuate some 50,000 people—War Doctor is a blend of medical memoir, personal journey, and nonfiction thriller that provides unforgettable, at times raw, insight into the human toll of war.


Have you read any of these? Do you now want to read them? Let me know in the comments

May 2020 TBR

I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do or would like, but I fully intend to read as many of these as possible this month

Finishing Off

Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty

A Tall History of Sugar Curdella Forbes

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Lands Of Lost Borders – Kate Harris

Hollow Places – Christopher Hadley

Lotharingia – Simon Winder


Review Copies

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins (wavering on this one a little with all the publicity about this)

A Good Neighbourhood – Therese Anne Fowler

Mother: A Memoir – Nicholas Royle

The Dictatorship Syndrome – Alaa Al Aswany

The Birds They Sang – Stanisław Łubieński

The Bystander Effect – Catherine A. Sanderson

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

30-Second Elements – Eric Scerri

Elementary – James M. Russell

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers – Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific Robert – Dean Frisbie

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century – Fred Pearce

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Sunfall – Jim Al-Khalili


Library Books

The Stonemason – Andrew Ziminski

Sea People – Christina Thompson

The Way To The Sea – Caroline Crampton

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan – Pico Iyer

Pie Fidelity – Pete Brown

The Bells of Old Tokyo – Anna Sherman



Challenge Books

Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett

Herbaceous – Paul Evans


Own Books

Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers – Peter Marren

Water and Sky – Neil Sentance

Ridge and Furrow – Neil Sentance



The Mizzy – Paul Farley

White Light White Peak – Simon Corble


Science Fiction

I ended up reading Agency last month so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

The Breakdown by Tatton Spiller

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one. ― Billy Connolly

In the last three years if you were ever brave enough to mention politics to anyone else then you would probably have a fairly heated discussion right up to a full-blown row. Unless they happened to share your point of view that is and then your point of view is often heard, amplified and echoed back to you. There are lots of people who have had enough too, and never intend to vote for anyone ever again.

Opinions are polarised, nationalism is on the rise, partly fuelled by people who are scared about change and the pace of the modern world and we have lost the ability to see a point from anyone else’s perspective. We have reached the point of Breakdown according to Spiller. This book has come from his work on Simple Politics, a project that is striving to make politics, clear interesting and most importantly, still relevant.

To do this he looks at a variety of different subjects that have caused strife over the past few years; immigration, privatisation, taxes, austerity and that political football of the past few years, Brexit. He takes each and look at it from the range of political viewpoints, considers some of the details like is tax good or bad, are immigrants taking our jobs or just doing some of the jobs we are keen on doing?

We all listen to voices that we are comfortable within our own echo chambers, regardless of what we think that we are doing. These are all complex and nuanced subjects that do not have a simple binary solution and as Spiller says, we have lost the ability to see the point of view from the other side that we used to have. What he is trying to do here is demonstrate how listening to an alternative point of view in an argument is not being shouted down by the other side, rather it is learning as we do as a small child that other people can know, feel and understand different things.

It is written in an easy-going conversational style that he has deliberately not made threatening. He has some reasonable suggestions to help us get on better politically, sadly though, I think that the people that really need to read this won’t ever consider picking it up. I would have preferred to have the How It All Works section at the beginning. I feel this would have set the framework of how everything works (or at least should do) and set the framework before moving onto the how others think and the main battlegrounds at the moment. I was slightly surprised that he doesn’t mention royal prerogative – the power of the prime minister to completely overrule and ignore, his cabinet, parliament and party, but that was a minor detail. Just remember to buy a different paper every now and again just to see where people that you might not agree with are coming from.

Marram by Leonie Charlton

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Some mother-daughter bonds are hugely strong and able to resist the traumas of all that life can through at them, others have much more traumatic relationships with their mothers, and Charlton was one of them. She took the brunt of her stepfather wrath too, as he blamed her for all sorts of things that were almost nothing to do with her. She left home at the age of 16, heading over to Australia to be a cowgirl, teaching in Japan and Catalonia to do a degree. She forged her own way in the world, but she knew she would never be safe or close to her mother again.

Marram – A coarse grass found on sandy beaches. From Old Norse maralmr, a compound of marr (“sea”) and halmr (“straw, reed”).

She had been out to the Outer Hebrides with her dad a long while ago for a fortnight’s holiday and it was a time that still meant so much to her many years later. He was a rock in her life, offering her the stability that living with her mother never gave her. Seven years after her mother had died, an act that she thought would loosen the bonds between them, she still felt the grief of her death was becoming overwhelming. What she did get from her mother that gave her some comfort was a love of horses, and in the planning for a long-distance trek through the islands of the Outer Hebrides with her friend, Shuna, she came up with the idea leaving a trail of beads as they trekked through.

Getting there with a truck and horsebox is not the easiest journey and the weather is not always the kindest as they were to find out over their two week trip from Barra all the way up to Lewis. However, it is a beautiful part of the world to travel through, and they were to be equally blasted and drenched as well as having glorious days of riding their horses, Chief and Ross. She had a small purse of beads from her mother, who was a jewellery maker. From here Charlton selects one or two beads at certain points on the journey to leave them; a bothy, on a gatepost, on the beach where the sea is just reaching and in some faerie milk holes.

My memories of her are a palimpsest like the sea-licked Lichens on the rocks at our feet, merely a thin breathing skin over the unfathomable story of the rock

I really liked this book because it is very different from a regular travel book. Several themes inhabit the prose; friendship, travel, memory, relationships, landscape and Charlton has deftly folded them together in such a way that they enhance each other, rather than one element becoming overbearing. Charlton is not relying on the natural world as a cure for her past life, rather the journey and the symbolism of placing the beads at significant points in the landscape is a release from the trauma of the past. There are moments of humour and anguish in equal measure, but mostly this is a book that is permeated with human kindness and warmth. Her evocative descriptions of the landscape that they are trekking through make this a special read too. It is one of those parts of the world that I’d love to go to when we’re allowed out again.

Not the Wellcome Prize Tour

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for the Not the Wellcome Prize Tour organised by Rebecca Foster of BookishBeck

The official Wellcome Prize is on hiatus this year. This is not the first time that they have done this, but I don’t think that they knew about the pandemic in advance! It is an anxious time for many, and what it shows is that we need books that can talk honestly and truthfully about the science of health and wellbeing and not succumb to the snake oil salesmen.

Here is how the website describes the Prize’s purpose: “a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. … At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.

We have selected 19 books for this tour:

Two of which I am going to be highlighting today.

Chasing the Sun: The New Science of Sunlight and How it Shapes Our Bodies and Minds by Linda Geddes

Since the dawn of time, humans have worshipped the sun. And with good reason.

Our biology is set up to work in partnership with the sun. From our sleep cycles to our immune systems and our mental health, access to sunlight is crucial for living a happy and fulfilling life. New research suggests that our sun exposure over a lifetime – even before we were born – may shape our risk of developing a range of different illnesses, from depression to diabetes.

Bursting with cutting-edge science and eye-opening advice, Chasing the Sun explores the extraordinary significance of sunlight – from ancient solstice celebrations to modern sleep labs, and from the unexpected health benefits of sun exposure to what the Amish know about sleep that the rest of us don’t.

As more of us move into light-polluted cities, spending our days in dim offices and our evenings watching brightly lit screens, we are in danger of losing something vital: our connection to the star that gave us life. It’s a loss that could have far-reaching consequences that we’re only just beginning to grasp.


About the Author

Linda Geddes is a London-based journalist writing about biology, medicine and technology. Born in Cambridge, she graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Cell Biology. She has worked as both a news editor and reporter for New Scientist magazine, and has received numerous awards for her journalism, including the Association of British Science Writers’ awards for Best Investigative Journalism. She is married with two young children, Matilda and Max.


My Review

The sun rises every single day and has done so for the past few billion years. This source of energy has played a pivotal part in the development of life on Earth and not unsurprising, it has been a focus of our collective attention for time immemorial. Many cultures have worshipped it or have tracked its regular path through the heavens and tried to elucidate meaning from it.

As the sun has been a central part of almost all the Earth’s inhabitants, lots of creatures have evolved in tandem with it, including us. Research has shown that the sun is key to our mental well being, sleep, immune systems and circadian rhythms. Too much sun is bad for us as it can cause skin cancers but then so is too little, those that rarely see the sun do not generate enough vitamin D that is essential for their health.

One of the biggest disrupters to our health in the modern day is artificial light. Ever since the light bulb was invented, cheap affordable light has been available to all so we have retreated indoors turning pallid in the glow of the modern screens. Office lighting is a good example. The output from the ceilings lights is fairly poor, you only get a fraction of light, around 200 to 300 lux, which is nothing when you compare it to the amount light on a bright day which can reach around 100,000 lux. All of these effects are cumulative, and if you live in northern Europe, then you are much worse off in winter because of the very short days.

I liked this book a lot, it does what a good popular science book should do, gives you a good overview of the subject and touches on lots of different subjects without becoming too academic. On certain elements, for example, on our body clocks and how to improve lighting for those on shift work, in particular, Geddes explores them in a little more depth. Worth reading.


The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, and the Secret World of Sleep by Guy Leschziner

For Dr Guy Leschziner’s patients, there is no rest for the weary in mind and body. Insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, sleep apnea, and sleepwalking are just a sampling of conditions afflicting sufferers who cannot sleep–and their experiences in trying are the stuff of nightmares. Demoniac hallucinations frighten people into paralysis. Restless legs rock both the sleepless and their sleeping partners with unpredictable and uncontrollable kicking. Out-of-sync circadian rhythms confuse the natural body clock’s days and nights.

Then there are the extreme cases. A woman in a state of deep sleep who gets dressed, unlocks her car, and drives for several miles before returning to bed. The man who has spent decades cleaning out kitchens while “sleep-eating.” The teenager prone to the serious, yet unfortunately nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” stuck in a cycle of excessive unconsciousness, binge eating, and uncharacteristic displays of aggression and hyper-sexuality while awake.

With compassionate stories of his patients and their conditions, Dr Leschziner illustrates the neuroscience behind our sleeping minds, revealing the many biological and psychological factors necessary in getting the rest that will not only maintain our physical and mental health but improve our cognitive abilities and overall happiness.


About the Author

Guy Leschziner is a consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London, where he leads the Sleep Disorders Centre, one of the largest sleep services in Europe, and a reader in neurology at King’s College London. He also works at London Bridge and Cromwell Hospitals. Alongside his clinical work, he is the presenter of the Mysteries of Sleep series on BBC Radio 4, is editor of the forthcoming Oxford Specialist Handbook of Sleep Medicine (OUP), and is Neurology Section editor for the next edition of Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (Elsevier)


My Review

Thankfully I have never had any issues in sleeping. I put my head on the pillow and almost always I am asleep within a few minutes. I sleep deeply too, I missed the entire Great Storm in 1987 and was totally oblivious to a massive lightning storm that struck an oak tree opposite where I lived. My father has always called it a short course in death…

Sleep is essential to our health, but no one can say with any conviction exactly why we need it. If we are sleep deprived then there is a finite time that we can survive, hence why it is used as a form of torture. So what happens to our brain at night? A lot of what we can learn about the brain when it is resting is by studying those that struggle with all manner of sleep-related issues.

Guy Leschzineris well placed to explain these sleep issues as he is the head of the Sleep Disorders Centre at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals. In this book, he explains the various types of disorders that he has come across, such as sleepwalking, apnoea, night terrors and narcolepsy through the stories of the people that he has met and treated. Some of the things that these people have to suffer sound horrendous, paralysis, tremors and hallucinations for example. The story of a lady who would wake in the middle of the night and drive around whilst asleep and be utterly unaware what she was doing is terrifying.

This book by Leschziner is a fine addition to the discussion and understanding of this little-understood habit that we have to undertake every day for our health. His compassionate writing about the people that he is treating will help those that have been suffering from insomnia and other sleeping disorders to understand that they are not alone. There are several books out there now about sleeping. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is a really good explanation of why we need sleep and this accessible book is a fine addition to the knowledge of sleep.


Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour. There are quite a few of them! Follow the hashtag on Twitter too, #NotTheWellcomePrize.

The shadow panel (Annabel, Clare, Laura, Rebecca and myself) will choose a shortlist of six titles to be announced on 4 May. We will then vote to choose a winner, with the results of a Twitter poll serving as one additional vote. The Not the Wellcome Prize winner will be announced on 11 May.

Buy these at your local independent bookshop if possible. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

Follow the authors and publishers on Social Media:

Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes



published by @ProfileBooks

Insta: @profile.books

The Nocturnal Brain by Guy Leschziner


published by Simon & Schuster UK



Liquid Gold by Roger Morgan-Grenville

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

It was getting caught helping himself to a tomato from his grandfather’s vines and a conversation with Mr Fowler, the gardener, that he first became aware of bees. This led to a promise of tea at Mr Fowler’s and a visit to his hive. Having been stung the odd occasion before, being shown 50,000 of them is a wooden box was almost too much, but the gentle reassurance of his mentor meant that his worries ebbed away. Mr Fowler shut the hive up and promised a return visit when it was time to harvest the honey. He never went back.

Roll on a few decades later and he is looking out the window with his friend, and Jim says that is the third one he has seen recently. Third what? is the question; swarm is the reply. Thankfully Jim was once a beekeeper and suggested that Roger tried to take it off the branch and get it into a box. It was going well until he dropped something in the middle of the swarm and it was not long after that, that he spots a couple of bees inside the veil…

Taking Jim’s old hive and with several thousand irritated bees in the boot of the car, he heads home to start his beekeeping adventure. It was one of those pivotal moments though, that little spark that was almost extinguished years earlier was fanned into life once again. It would become a flame after meeting Duncan, a new guy in the village. As they head out of the pub, Duncan picks up a pot of honey from the shelves where people sell a few bits and pieces and nearly falls over at the price. He mentions the failed attempt with the swarm earlier and together they concoct a plan to get a couple of hives.

What could possibly go wrong…

It is the beginning of a warm friendship between the two men as they try to get their heads around these tiny insects as they produce this liquid gold. It is very amusing at times especially when they are at the auction or trying to decide the next plan of action. It is a steep learning curve too, the initial budget is blown out of the water and they suffer setbacks and celebrate successes in equal measure. It is full of poignant moments, a spot of cricket, an expensive bottle of whisky and the odd hangover. I’m not totally sure what the price per pot of honey worked out at, but this isn’t about the money. It is a book about forging friends for life and a growing respect for these amazing insects. It did remind me a little of Allotted Time: Twelve Months, Two Blokes, One Shed, No Idea by Robin Shelton which is a book in a similar vein but about allotments.

Agency by William Gibson

4 out of 5 stars

Verity is known as the app whisperer and even though she doesn’t like working for big corporations this startup seems more interesting than most assignments, besides she needs the money. They want her to evaluate and test a set of glasses with a phone and an earbud. She’d chosen the plainer grey pair, but plugging them all in and turning on gave her a bit of a shock when the voice talks to her. It is not a recorded voice, rather it is a personal AI that calls herself, Eunice.

Unnerved by this, she decides to head to her local coffee shop, 3.7 sigma, as she walks in the door the barista pushes her favourite drink across the counter to her. It is starting to dawn on her that Eunice is not the usual digital assistant, she is much smarter than anyone she has ever met and is continually scanning everything, what makes her certain of that though is after coming out of the show a courier knocks on the door and hands her a package. In it is $100,000 that Eunice says Verity is going to need very soon…

If that was unexpected, she is contacted by a guy called Netherton, but what she really is not prepared for is to be the fact that he is from 100 years in the future from a different timeline where Brexit and Trump happened. This is very different from her timeline and he is there to stop something nasty happening with Eunice’s particular skills.

I have liked Gibson’s writing since I first came across his in Neuromancer, he has a knack of picking up the trends and projecting them into a future that might happen. It is often a future that has some positives and also some downsides. It is the same in this book, it is dripping with cool tech, drones and AI. Coupled with all of this is a deeply layered plot that is full of moments that happen and make no sense until 50 or more pages later. Snappy chapters keep the pace fast and it has this slightly sinister black ops vibe running all the way through it. The main characters have depth but the rest are a little two dimensional. I liked the use of stumps; alternative storylines to regular time travel episodes in world history that branched the other way to the timeline that you are on, it is a technique that fully messed with my head. Great stuff from Gibson once again.

Holding Unfailing by Edward Ragg

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the author in return for an honest review.


This is the second collection of poems that Edward Ragg has written and these are about his life in China as it undergoes a rapid and dramatic change. It is a wide-ranging collection, from poems that cover anxiety, travel, his mothers birthday, the sinister surveillance society of China, the pleasure of just watching things happen and the mysteries of punctuation.

Some revelations grow
From the ground,

Some from the
Burning hearth,

Some from
the inquisitive mind 


To me, all the poems feel rooted in things that Ragg has experienced, both here and in China. I like his use of short lines of prose that are full of meaning and very much to the point regardless of whether he is writing about leaving Shanghai or finding and following a path. There are poems with longer verses to that add a decent heft to a book that feels refined. Really enjoyed this, and I am reliably informed by the author that there is a third collection, but not sure when that is going to be out this year which I am looking forward to reading in due course.

Three Favourite Poems
Punctuation Points
Day of Reckoning
A Dawning

The Ice House by Tim Clare

3 out of 5 stars

Delphine Venner has been around a long time, whilst some people the same age as her have fading memories, she has not forgotten anything. She remembers being a child of war, and fighting for her life, she remembers the gateway and the world and terrifying creatures that live the other side of it. Most of all she remember those that she lost. She is offered a chance to pass through the gateway once again. On the other side of the gateway is someone who has been an assassin for centuries. She is waiting for her.

This assassin, Hagar, is planning one last kill, and this death will cost demand from her everything she has, but to do it she needs Delphine. She is there to find her father but is dragged unwittingly into this, the whole society descends into chaos. Venner must learn the art of fighting once again in the battle to destroy an ageless evil.

I hadn’t read the first in the series before picking this book up, and while you didn’t have to have read the first one, I think that the context from the first books would have helped me with a greater understanding of the characters. It has a complex plot with lots going on too and occasionally you have to put the books down and take a moment to get it clear in your head just what was happening. It has a frantic pace at the end and probably not one for the squeamish at times. At times it was very weird but in a Miéville sort of way. That said, this is a richly imagined book of two linked worlds and a very different fantasy from what you might have read in the past. It has a sumptuous cover too.

Origins by Lewis Dartnell

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

We may think that we are a separate species from all the others but we are as much a part of the earth as the rocks and soil that we stand on. To start with we are made from the same elements and all the things that you can see around you we are an integral part of this planet. Secondly, if you know where to look and how to interpret the data you can see the traces of our long development in the rocks too.

To begin this story, Dartnell takes us back to that moment in time when we moved down a different and new branch of the family tree, along with other primates. This happened in East Africa in the rainforest belt around the equator, but instead of being dense forest, this part of the world was dry savannah grasslands and it was this difference that altered the trajectory from swinging primate to bipedal creatures. Why this part of the planet was so very different to similar latitudes was down to plate tectonics several million years earlier that led to the East African Rift, a wide deep valley with high mountainous ridges. These cause a rain shadow and stop the formation of forests, hence the dry landscape that was there.

This theme is repeated throughout the book. He looks at the geology of different regions and sees how human beings have exploited the water that seeps up through fault lines or taken advantage of the rich soils close to volcanoes. He explains why the civilisations of the Mediterranean were mostly on the northern coastlines, how we used the rocks beneath our feet to build our homes and how we used cooking to get more nutrients from food. He can even trace the voting patterns of the UK and US in the geology.

This is a book about deep time, how long some things take to come to fruition and pulling together these tiny but significant moments in our history. It also reinforces the view that I have that we are this complex interdependent system and that as a species we have pushed it to the very edge. It makes for a fascinating read and I really enjoyed it. Dartnell is an eloquent and engaging writer and I can highly recommend this.

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