Oops, I know it’s February now! But only just…
If you’ll forgive the slight delay, here are the three books I read in the second half of January. I’m enjoying the two-parter posts for ‘3 books 3 points’, so think I’ll head on with that for now and see how it goes! Also, I’m updating more and more on Goodreads, please come and find me!
The House on Half Moon Street, by Alex Reeve**
-The House on Half Moon Street follows Leo Stanhope as he desperately tries to work out who killed the love of his life, Maria, who worked as a prostitute.
Set in Victorian London, coroners’ assistant Leo has to deal with the attitudes of the time – as he is transgender, daily life is fraught with the danger of being discovered. The realities of living as a transgender person in an era that is wholly unaccepting is dealt with well – we see the misogyny and abuse that Leo has to endure, and how it affects him. I liked that Leo himself also had somewhat blinkered views- it made him more real as a character, rather than a ‘perfect hero’.
-The other characters in the story are brilliantly drawn – I wanted to find out more about every single one of them! I felt like each could have an entire story of their own and I would read every one. This didn’t mean that the characters were dealt with lightly – there was depth to each, enough of their stories revealed to give this book a layer of detail that made me intrigued for more. Rosie’s strength (and pie-baking skills), Constance’s curiosity and loyalty, Maria’s intriguing past – even the jagged, acerbic personality of Mr Hurst, the coroner. Each brought something to the story, and something to Leo, too.
-The storyline is a reflection of the dark side of Victorian London, and doesn’t shy away from the terrible things women experienced during that time – violent rape, illegal abortion, and prostitution are very real, and their occurrence in the book gives us an insight into living through these horrific acts and the damage they do to a person. I liked Leo as a protagonist – his story, his humanity, his character. I felt he was very real and I was really happy to discover there will be more books featuring him as a lead character – Leo has much more to give and I’ll definitely join him on his future adventures!
The Human Planet-How We Created The Anthropocene, by Simon Lewis & Mark Maslin
-This book takes a lot of concentration but is really, really worth it. It’s the most interesting, relevant book I’ve read for a long time. Starting with an overview of the evolution and development of human civilisation and ending with a discussion of the ‘anthropocene’, global warming and the future of the planet, the authors show their expertise in clear arguments.
-I loved the graphs and charts throughout the books, especially the detailing of differing timescales in Earth’s history. I’m a sucker for anything ‘deep history’ so to learn more about the classification of epochs, eras and ages along with the stages of evolution was mesmerising for me. I found myself reading interesting bits aloud to anyone who would listen – the layered history of the global climate and the factors affecting it was particularly compelling.
– Towards the end, I found myself a little lost in the arguments for and against the naming and classification of the holocene and anthropocene. I felt this was a specialised argument and it went slightly over my head – but its inclusion was relevant to the book and it opened my eyes to how the process of naming periods of time is carried out, alongside the issues that this throws up. If you’re interested in the current ecological crisis, species extinction, global warming and the future of the human race, then I urge you to read this book.
Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life, by Peter Godfrey-Smith
-I’ve had this book in my ‘to read’ pile for a few months! I was expecting a deep exploration of the octopus and it’s behaviour, but instead this book is an account of intelligence in species other than our own. Godfrey-Smith brings his philosophical view to the subject, which works well, bringing two fields together that on the surface seem quite distant. I found myself thinking about how we define intellectual ability in other animals, how this could manifest, and just how different we are from other species.
– I picked up the book being particularly curious about octopuses (Octopi?) and there were enough 8-legged anecdotes to keep me happy! I found myself learning much more about the octopus than I had expected to, even though the book has a wide-ranging focus. From their evolutionary history, to where they keep their brains (you won’t believe it), I found myself exclaiming out loud in wonder.
– On reflection, I really liked the different angle that the author bought to the discussion of intelligence and evolution. It sets the book apart – it’s not just a study of one animal group, it’s not even a book about evolution. It asks us to consider what we think we know about intelligence and sentience, questioning the definition of pain, asking us to look at how we anthropomorphise other species and if this is relevant, even if we can grasp the concept of how it must feel to live as another species. Can there be any common experience between humans and other animals? A wonderful book, totally recommended. I’m still thinking about it now.