Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 11 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

There’s still no official themes from The Broke and the Bookish, so this week I’m going to cover rereads — the books that, for me, have been tested to destruction. Not all of them are books I love right now; some are books I read to bits as a kid (and which I should maybe look at reading again?).

Cover of The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff Cover of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper Cover of The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

  1. The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. This used to be a favourite. It’s still a book I love very much, if not a favourite exactly. I just love the way Sutcliff took a real weird event (the discovery of a Roman Eagle) and wove a story around it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, of course. What else did you expect, from me?
  3. Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. If Sayers’ writing ever gets old for me, that’s when I’m done living, I think.
  4. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. The most recent addition to the list, but one I’m confident will stick around. I just… I love pretty much everything about it.
  5. The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell. This is probably the only portrayal of Galahad I’ve ever loved, and sadly you don’t see many Galahads like him. Arthur’s pretty great, too, and it all feels… real and possible. A great interpretation of the Arthurian myth, even if sometimes it stretches.
  6. The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I didn’t actually read this as a child — I was probably 16 when I finally read it. But the BBC audio adaptation was seriously formative.
  7. The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. I think my copy has vanished again, but when I was about nine or ten, I had a copy out of the library (on my mother’s library card, because they wouldn’t let me borrow adult books). I think the fine I ran up with this book alone had to be the worst I’ve ever incurred — and I got some pretty steep ones as a student.
  8. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Oh my goodness, I read at least two copies to death.
  9. The Railway Children, by Edith Nesbit. Also this one. It made me briefly consider watching trains as a child, one boring summer. Of course, the lack of train tracks anywhere too nearby put a damper on that.
  10. The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay. In fact, pretty much everything by Guy Gavriel Kay, since I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently.

So what about you? What do you read and read and reread?

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Review – Walking on Knives

Posted 10 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Walking on Knives by Maya ChhabraWalking on Knives, Maya Chhabra

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date is 26th July 2017

When the warning says “Walking on Knives contains some explicit content and a scene with dubious sexual consent”, it’s not kidding. I know there’s a whole debate about whether you can say consent is “dubious”, but I think I see why in this case — in both cases the characters explicitly consent, in pursuit of a goal, without actually wanting the sex itself.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I buy any of the emotions here. It has the potential to be dark and twisty, but because I don’t believe in any of the love stories, it doesn’t work; it’s still too much in the fairytale style, with none of the characters named. Worse, it gets confusing between all the epithets; ‘the little mermaid’, ‘the sea-witch’, ‘the strange woman’… and then all the ‘she did this and she did that’. In the end, I just… nah.

Honestly, I feel most sympathetic toward the Prince. I wanted to root for the little mermaid and the sea-witch’s sister, but that didn’t feel real. The Prince’s conflict was the most real part of it, and I felt like he deserved more of an ending.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – NeuroTribes

Posted 9 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Neurotribes by Steve SilbermanNeuroTribes, Steve Silberman

This is a bit of a slog to read, because it spends a lot of time lingering on details that you may or may not feel are relevant. It goes into the lives of the people who ‘discovered’ autism and described it clinically, much more than it goes into the lives of actual autistic people, and there’s one chapter I found rather troubling which follows the family of an autistic child. It focuses on their anguish and confusion, and their increasingly desperate attempts to “treat” their son with whatever unpleasant, pseudo-scientific methods they could find. By the end, I was desperate to hear that someone had actually ever asked the child what effect it had on him. (As far as I can tell, nobody did.) Those particular parents weren’t extreme, but nonetheless, I got very tired of their desperation to have a “normal” child.

It also does some retrospective diagnosing of a couple of scientists and thinkers from days before there was such a diagnosis. I’m always a bit iffy on that: there do seem to be good grounds to make those judgements, but… most of the people I know now don’t know much about what goes on in my head and why I react the way I do. I don’t want them diagnosing me once I’m dead. Still, at least it does provide autistic models and heroes for people now.

I’m also a little leery of the ubiquity of being on the spectrum in Silberman’s view. Lots of fandom, lots of engineers, maybe even most in the picture he’s painting — it’s a stereotype of fandom and of STEM that I haven’t necessarily found to be true. And fandom hasn’t been so very welcoming of actual neurodiverse people, either. If it’s ever been the perfect home for them, it isn’t now.

All in all, though, I did find the book interesting, and the perspective on neurodiversity as something to be accommodated and used productively is one that’s definitely timely. Despite my criticisms, I found it an interesting book — and it definitely treats autism as a spectrum, touching all kinds of people. This definitely isn’t the attitudes of Autism Speaks: instead, Silberman urges understanding, accommodation and respect.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 8 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 18 Comments

Good morning! This has felt like a long week for some reason — maybe because I have no class and not much work to have been worrying about! Fortunately, there’s always books.

Received to review:

Cover of The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Dragons and dragon-slayers? I’m in!

Finished this week:

Cover of The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard Cover of Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Bloodshot by Cherie Priest

Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie Cover of The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers Cover of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Five stars to: Ancillary Sword.
Four stars to: The House of Binding Thorns, Whose Body?, Bloodshot, The City of Dreaming Books and A Closed and Common Orbit.

Yep, this has been a good reading week!

Reviews posted this week:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I’m definitely not best-placed to comment on the accuracy/authenticity of this book, but I think it’s a powerful and timely one. 5/5 stars
Spaceman, by Mike Massimino. Basically Massimino’s memoir of his experiences in the space program, and how he got there. Interesting though mostly not about the science. 3/5 stars
Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts, by Philip Ball. A fascinating exploration of patterns in nature, biological, geological and chemical. 4/5 stars
Newt’s Emerald, by Garth Nix. Basically a classic Georgette Heyer plot with a magical twist, I found this a lot of fun. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: The Stuff I’ve Gotta Know. Things about people and books I always like to find out.
WWW Wednesday. An update on what I’ve been reading and what I think about it!

What’ve you been reading? Any exciting new books in your stacks?

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Review – Newt’s Emerald

Posted 7 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Newt's Emerald by Garth NixNewt’s Emerald, Garth Nix

I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’m not entirely sure what finally prompted me to pick it up — but hurrah that I did. If you enjoy Georgette Heyer’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s a little adventure very much along the same lines, only with magic as well. Girls disguising themselves as boys, a Pride and Prejudice moment for the romance, and daring escapades. The tone is light and witty, and okay, it’s not as though as it’s as deeply committed to being authentic as Heyer was, but you wouldn’t expect that from a book that injects magic as well!

I found it really fun, and a surprisingly quick read too. The romance is… well, Heyer-ish, so if dislike-turns-to-love and capricious young ladies who deny they have any feelings for That Odious Man bother you, it probably won’t be your thing. It’s definitely not much like Nix’s other books (at least the ones I’ve read).

It’s a little magical cream puff, and I enjoyed it greatly. It helps that the main character gets to be kickass and daring, and she’s also really smart. She’d verge on too perfect if she didn’t have the odd immature and petulant moment too, but as it was, she was a lot of fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts

Posted 6 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Shapes by Philip Ball Cover of Flow by Philip Ball Cover of Branches by Philip Ball

Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts — Shapes, Flow, Branches, Philip Ball

There’s a lot of info in these three books about patterns formed both by life and by other, non-living natural processes. Sometimes it got a little too much for me to process and I started glazing over — mostly when math came into it. EVen given that, it’s still a fascinating look about how patterns form, and a good note of caution to sound about genetic determinism. Just as the colours of a calico cat aren’t determined genetically — so a clone of one calico cat would not have the same patterns as the first — neither are many other patterns in nature, whether in pelt colour and pattern or the building of nests. Instead, there seem to be sets of rules built in: processes that will occur in all genetically normal members of a species, but which won’t produce the same pattern time and again.

It’s also a good reminder that even with Batesian mimicry, there’s no intent behind it. The genetic code just happens to code for proteins which work in a particular way, ultimately producing a particular pattern. That’s obvious when we see the way other natural systems create the same patterns — rivers, sand dunes, chemical reactions.

Worth reading, definitely. And personally, I was really intrigued to learn that it was Alan Turing who actually proposed some theories of how animals get their patterned fur. Not just a code-breaking genius, clearly. Individually, I might rate each of these three books a ‘3’, but together… a 4, I think.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 5 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post here (once it’s up, if it isn’t already) if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Dragonbone Chair by Tad WilliamsWell, a polite fiction says I’m currently reading all kinds of things, including (but not limited to) The Dragonbone Chair and The Godless and The Essex Serpent. But really, the only thing I’m actively reading is Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People, by Philip Ball. It’s popular science, supposedly, but so far it’s mostly been a survey of literature and myth that involves homunculi, Frankenstein’s monster, and such things. I’d like more on the science end, soon; I’m already over 100 pages in…

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Whose Body? by Dorothy L. SayersAll the books I’ve finished most recently are rereads: Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers; Bloodshot, by Cherie Priest; Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. All of them stand up pretty well to the reread, though I was a bit more impatient with Bloodshot this time — I still love the characters, but it does take some time to come to the point. Whose Body? is charming, of course — prompted by watching the Edward Petherbridge adaptation with my wife, who has finally seen the light re: Lord Peter through this means. And Ancillary Sword is great; I need to process what I want to say about it this time, though, cause I literally just read the last page.

What are you going to read next?

Cover of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky ChambersUsing Bunny DivinationTM, I’ve determined the next book to read is A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. Which I’ve been meaning to read for ages, so no arguments here.

Bunny divination, for the curious, involves catching one of my rabbits, placing them on the top floor of their cardboard castle, and seeing how long they take to jump out. Under 30 seconds, I was to read… I forget what. Over 30 seconds, and I had to read the Becky Chambers. The bunnies (Breakfast, in this case) have decided.

What are you reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 4 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

There’s no official Top Ten Tuesday theme this week, but I thought I’d post something anyway. Here’s ten things I need to know about people I like (and their books).

  1. Can you name a favourite? It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t, but one hopes you know the answer! I can’t, but if I was pressed I’d name The Goblin Emperor as one of my favourite recent books, and The Lord of the Rings or The Grey King for an older one.
  2. Do you dog-ear pages, use a bookmark, or just remember the page number? I’m not a fan of dog-earing, myself. I use bookmarks — more than one, usually. (Where I’ve read up to, and where I’d like to get to before I put the book down next.)
  3. Do you bend the spines, or keep your books pristine? Honestly, there’s arguments on both sides. I keep a lot of my books pristine, but there are some old beloved copies that aren’t.
  4. Do you buy second-hand books? Possibly you’d think I don’t, given that I do like to keep many of my books pristine. But actually, I don’t care as long as it’s consistent. Don’t bend just half the spine, ugh.
  5. What genre do you read? I’m pretty eclectic, myself, so I’ll often know at least some books in common with anybody. This just gives me a direction!
  6. Do you use the library? I love libraries, having volunteered in one myself and used them as a lifeline at times.
  7. Do you buy books at all? Some people only use libraries, and I don’t get that. I’m too impatient for new books!
  8. Do you believe that there are books everyone should read? Not actually sure where I stand on that; we could have a good chat about it. I think there are books that help you understand the world better — the Bible is so influential, for example; Shakespeare, too, in a different way — and it’s a good idea to read them. But then I don’t necessarily think it’s a must.
  9. Do you reread? I reread books a lot, and nearly always find something new to enjoy in them (or I find the familiarity comforting), but some people think there isn’t enough time in the world. I can get that, but I love to reread.
  10. Comics? I didn’t get into comics myself until a few years ago, really, and I get that they just aren’t for some people. But I do like to know if I can ramble about Marvel’s latest direction with someone or not…

Honestly, if I know all those things about someone, I feel like we’re already pretty close! Books are pretty darn important, yo.

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Review – Spaceman

Posted 3 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spaceman by Mike MassiminoSpaceman, Mike Massimino

I blame (or credit) my mother entirely with my interest in space and astronauts. I’m not the exploring type myself, but I love reading about those who have, and their unique experiences. Mike Massimino puts himself across as a fairly ordinary guy, from a fairly uninspiring background, who made good in the end despite not being the smartest, best prepared, most qualified, etc. Obviously, given the source, one has to keep a grain or two of salt in the mix to counter both self-deprecation and potential self-aggrandization, but mostly Massimino struck me as a straightforward sort of guy.

I actually found some parts of the story extremely touching. The thing that gets me about NASA and like ventures is the sense of family — the way the astronauts are there for each other and one another’s families. That’s definitely in evidence here, not just in Massimino’s accounts of his training and working life, but also in terms of his private life. His father’s cancer is treated with help from NASA people, and from the sound of it, half the staff contributed in terms of giving blood, platelets, etc. That section is rather touching.

Technical this memoir is not. There are a few bits of interest about Massimino’s training and adaptation to zero-G, etc, but mostly it’s about the path he took to get there — trying to correct his vision with lenses, dealing with classes he didn’t understand, etc. Which is not to say it’s not interesting, it’s just not popular science; it’s definitely a memoir.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Hate U Give

Posted 2 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this one; contemporaries are often not really my thing, and it did seem a bit long and daunting. But everyone gave it such good reviews, and it really is topical — a window into a world I don’t really get, being British and honestly fairly sheltered. Sometimes it felt a little unbelievable because of that — so many shootings? Gangs? The danger that seemed to hover around Starr’s life all the time? I mean, I know about it in theory; I’ve followed the trials surrounding the deaths of Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown… But it still seems so far away and weird to me.

Actually, I’d like a British-Muslim version of this book, in the sense of one which explores that community and how it interacts with our police, etc. Not just the ones who went to a private school like me, but less privileged ones. It’d probably be eye-opening.

I liked that this book was fairly even-handed; although the cop who shoots Starr’s friend is obviously not the good guy, there are good cops as well, including Starr’s uncle, who part raised her before her dad got out of prison. I don’t quite get the people complaining this is completely anti-police; it’s not. It’s anti-the-system, the one in which police can get away with things like this — like shooting a brown kid on a traffic stop because he reached into the car slightly and his hairbrush looked like a gun.

I also enjoyed Starr’s family; not always perfect, with her dad having been to prison and her parents arguing — but always there for her. It explores their family dynamics, including Starr’s half-brother and his siblings, in a way which allows for them to be flawed while denying that they’re dysfunctional in the way some people see black families.

I’ve seen people complain, too, about Starr’s sense of drama. Come on, she’s a teenager. And while Hailey is a bit… overdone — you could predict what came out of her mouth because it was all of the stereotypes of people saying ‘I’m not racist, but…’ — she’s still realistic in that, well, I think we all know someone who acts like that. Who leans on stereotypes and then claims she can’t be racist because she has a black friend.

I found The Hate U Give pretty absorbing, and I think it’s a good portrayal of life in the kind of community it portrays — the kind of community Angie Thomas seems to know intimately. It does seem to contain a lot of things other people consider to be stereotypes, but I’m gonna trust that Angie Thomas probably knows better than I do.

Rating: 5/5

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