And so begins the first of my monthly book round-ups. April’s been quite the mix of genres, just the way I like my book diet.
I’ve written proper reviews for some of the books below as they were sent to me by Amazon Vine; the reviews are also on Goodreads, and that’s where I’ve provided the hyperlinks to.
- Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made by Gaia Vince – 7/10
An impeccably researched account and travelogue of various ways in which lives and landscapes are changing as a result of human activity – in particular climate change – and how individual people are adapting. Some of the facts are mind-blowing – for instance, we’ve literally altered the tilt of the Earth on its axis by the mass-scale redistribution of water using reservoirs and dams.
But the reason I couldn’t rate the book higher was that it failed to be as positive as the author clearly wanted it to be. I came away incredibly depressed, because the individual adaptations featured felt like nothing more than plasters on heavily-bleeding stab wounds. And Vince seemed in total denial about the need to act on overpopulation – she acknowledges that there will be huge challenges in meeting the needs and wants of a population of potentially 10 billion by 2050, but spares herself the pain of really grappling with the issue by saying that a global population slowdown is already in motion. In some places it is, but in others, it isn’t. It was awfully telling that one of the people she met on her travels was a Nigerian lady with seven children, and she made no comment on the unsustainable population growth across Africa – a growth that is undeniably going to cause mass suffering for its nations of people and wildlife.
- Smoke by Dan Vyella – 5/10
Stylist said that this book fills “that gaping hole left by both Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. Yes, really.”
No, not really. The person in charge of books at Stylist has clearly read neither Harry Potter nor Northern Lights.
A work of adult magical realism that has so much promise, but is dragged down by a plodding plot, bogs of detail, and the need to hoard all its mystery without ever offering the reader any satisfying nugget of understanding.
I’ll be interested to see what critics make of this when it’s published (in July). Read my full review here.
- Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane – 10/10
I’ve been meaning to try some Macfarlane for a while now, and he didn’t disappoint. One could call this book a precursor to many of the memoir-biography-nature ones that have come out more recently. In Mountains, Macfarlane combines his own passion and experiences of mountaineering with a study of its history. I took for granted that we (well, we Westerners) are in love with mountains. What I didn’t know was just how socially constructed this love affair is – centuries ago, mountains were considered something of an abomination.
This isn’t too long a book either, so if you’re after some new nonfiction, I really do recommend this.
- Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton – 7/10
Classic YA fantasy fare, although with the interesting fusion of Middle East and American Wild West. It wanders uncomfortably towards cultural appropriation at times, and the author has an annoying habit of making disorientating scene changes for the sake of what one suspects is mere convenience rather than story service, but overall I enjoyed it.
- Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future by Svetlana Alexievich – 10/10
Alexievich recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In this book, she gives voice to many of the people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the Chernobyl disaster. It’s essentially a series of monologues from the interviews she did. There’s so much to say about it that it’s probably just best to point you towards my full review.
I will never forget reading this.
- The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White – 6/10
I picked this book up in Oxfam because at the time, I’d just recently read about White in Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. So it was fun going straight to some of Macdonald’s source material, although, viewed without this lens, the book isn’t quite to my tastes. It has flavours of fairy tale, although it’s startlingly anachronistic (even more so than I’d been prepared for after Macdonald’s biographical musings on White and his books). There were some delightful moments though, such as the description of holding a snake (“dry and delicate”), and pretty much any time Archimedes the owl talks.
- The Girls by Emma Cline – 9/10
This book is due out in June and the publicity machine for it is in overdrive.
And it’s totally worth it. I bloody loved The Girls. I picked it up on a Saturday and finished it on the Sunday. A thriller packed with feminist anger. Read my full review here.
- Thin Air by Michelle Paver – 3/10
I was so, so excited to read this book, because Paver wrote Dark Matter – AKA “The Only Book That Has Ever Caused Me To Wake In The Middle Of The Night Utterly Paralysed With Terror”.
And I was so, so disappointed by Thin Air. A plot lifted almost scene for scene from Dark Matter, only shorter. And really crap.