The Venetian Masquerade by Philip Gwynne Jones

Cover of The Venetian Masquerade

Third in a series that I’m enjoying. One of those books I’d hesitate to recommend to anyone else though because I think the things that I like about it are a bit too “it just hits the right note for me” and might not work for others. A couple of months after reading I find that I’ve forgotten most of the details and am just left with the memory of a good read with characters who are becoming good friends, and that’s just fine. I don’t feel like I have enough ongoing series in my reading timeline at the moment and this is a welcome addition.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Cover of The Lost Man

I was pleased to see this wasn’t a series book as I’d found the second of the Aaron Falk books less engaging than the first, though not enough to put me off reading it if it had been! I enjoyed this as much, if not more, than I did The Dry.

The atmosphere and heat of Australia really came through in this book. For those of us who live in far more compact locales it’s difficult to imagine the distances involved but the explanations of how people could drive for several hours and still be on their own land, of the houses having refrigerated storerooms the size of village shops with only very occasional deliveries and of how much water and supplies you take out in the car with you every time you leave home really got over to me just how isolated the places in the book are. It’s one of those books where the location is almost the star of the show, so the plot needs to be really good to stand up to it.

And I’m glad to say that I thought the mystery was pretty decent here too. The characters seemed like real people, mostly likeable but sometimes flawed, and thought that the way that their backstory slowly pieced itself together and changed your opinion of some of them as you learnt new details was laid out very well.

After three books Jane Harper’s definitely made it onto my list of must-buy authors.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado P?rez

Cover of Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men

I just saw Caroline Criado Perez tweet that she wasn’t sure how she felt about becoming “the head of feminism’s toilet division.” and there is so much more to this book about equality that I understand her equivocality to this title. But first, about the toilets…

Toilet facilities are a case where it is blindingly obvious to almost everyone that equal provision of utilities between genders results in inequality – everyone has at least seen a long queue for the ladies loo when there’s no queue at the gents. Those queues are your data and the data are mostly ignored. Women simply take longer in the toilet (we have more clothes to remove, we have periods, we get pregnant, we are more often the ones taking small children with us, we don’t usually have the option of going up against the wall outside etc.) and this isn’t taken into account when planning buildings. I think the conclusion was that you need double the floor area of female toilets to male to make things fair. And yet it’s still rare to find a public building that’s taken this into consideration.

And this book is piled high with examples of other things where “a level playing field” turns out to be heavily skewed in favour of males when you look at the data, as well as plenty of examples where we can see women are being shortchanged but the data about the shortchanging isn’t even being collected. I was expecting to spend my time reading this book nodding my head and agreeing, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so outraged by some of the things I discovered.

I’ve lived my life as a woman in a man’s world, aware of it but mostly just trying to get on and be “as good as the boys”. That’s something I was often told as a child which rankles in retrospect, why did the boys get to be perceived as good at boy-things by default and I had to try to keep up? Why did I feel guilty when I liked doing girl-things because they weren’t seen as important as boy-things? Anyway, self-psychoanalysis aside, even as someone who thought she was doing pretty well in the world as it is, I was shocked to find how steeply sloped the playing field can be and I think everyone ought to read the book.

One example that’s stuck with me in the weeks since I read the book is about medicine. Most drugs are tested on young men, and the reasoning behind this seems to be basically “women are too complicated, they menstruate and might get pregnant” which whilst you can see that no one wants to repeat what happened with Thalidomide and controls on drug trials are a good thing, they are also no excuse for ignoring half the population entirely. As a result of the bias in testing, drugs tend to work well in men and you can see the difference if you look at the side effects reported by men and women. Men’s side-effects tend to be very rare (though sometimes major effects) whereas a very common side-effect for women is “the drug doesn’t work”. But plenty of drugs don’t get past the first stage of testing in men if the men report that they don’t work, how many of those might have greater efficacy in women? I’m utterly horrified by this before you even start to look at how drugs for conditions like period pain, PMT, endometriosis have been investigated less than ones for conditions that also affect men. I remember being alarmed by the “not for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women” labels on over the counter drugs, plenty of these were taken by women I knew anyway, there needs to be better data collected to make better advise than a blanket ban.

All round it’s an excellent read, as well written as it is researched and deserves a place on your bookshelf. (Though it hasn’t been shelved here, it’s sat on my coffee table so I can easily pick it up and quote bits of it, it’s that sort of book.)

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Horseman: The West Country Trilogy by Tim Pears

Cover of The Horseman: The West Country Trilogy

I’ve really enjoyed plenty of Tim Pears’ other books, and this one seems to be coming in for mountains of praise, so I wasn’t expecting to feel so ‘meh’ about it. It’s set just before the first world war and is the first volume of a trilogy. I felt like I should have waited a few years until there was a three-in-one edition. I’d agree that the writing, the atmosphere, the characters are all top-notch, but still. This felt like a prequel rather than like a whole book and I don’t currently feel any desire to pick up the second and/or the third.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Last of the Greenwoods by Clare Morrall

Cover of The Last of the Greenwoods

I find I’m not clicking “read” on my books on Goodreads because I want to say things about them – my future self really loves it when she can remember what she actually thought of books – but my current self is really, really bad at writing things down. So anyway, I promise to try to do better. Maybe.

I discovered Clare Morrall when she was on the Booker shortlist a few years back (a quick search tells me my definition of “a few” is actually 16 and this realisation makes me realise that there are other places where I use the term “a few” where other people might use “quite a lot”). I found this one as a poor quality paperback hiding in among the mostly junk books in The Works. That’s how it goes I guess, but I liked the story as much as I liked all her other books I’ve read.

The titular Greenwoods are a pair of rather dysfunctional brothers who live in adjoining railway carriages but haven’t spoken for years, another major character is their postwoman who is also involved in restoring a steam railway. I read the book long enough ago that I don’t want to start summarising the story in case I give away too much of the plot that isn’t obvious in the beginning. I thought the characters were brilliantly drawn and it all felt perfectly English, in a very twenty-first century way. And there’s a murder mystery of sorts here too (but it’s not a mystery book). It just had so many elements that I liked and combined them in an esoteric but realistic manner.

I need to see whether I’ve missed any other of Clare Morrall’s books, or maybe whether there are any other gems lurking in The Works.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.