WWW Wednesday

Posted February 19, 2020 by Nikki in General / 0 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 at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of Fell Murder by E.C.R. LoracWhat are you currently reading?

Fiction: Fell Murder, by E.C.R. Lorac. Normally I quite like Lorac’s books, as far as I’ve experienced them from the British Library Crime Classics reissues, and this one is appealing in several ways. My brain just isn’t doing fiction right now.

Non-fiction: When The Dogs Don’t Bark, by Professor Angela Gallop. It’s kind of bitty and disorganised, though roughly chronological through her career. I’m finding it interesting, but wouldn’t say I recommend it, because it’s pretty shallow and in some ways repetitive.

Cover of One Corpse Too Many by Ellis PetersWhat have you recently finished?

The second Brother Cadfael book, which was a reread. I don’t think I’ve read the third book, so it’s all-new territory from here. I think. I do enjoy the historical setting of it, the fact that it could only be set exactly when it is. I don’t know how accurate the portrayal of anybody real might be, but it worked for my level of knowledge.

Cover of The Great Pretender by Susannah CahalanWhat will you be reading next?

I don’t know, but I picked up Susannah Cahalan’s new book this week, so that’s a possibility. The Great Pretender is about a famous study of psychiatric wards by a guy called Rosenhan, which portrayed the wards as a place where perfectly sane people sounded mad. Cahalan was curious about how the study participants felt about it, but found that she couldn’t find them… and eventually concluded they may not have existed. A lot of people on Litsy seem to hate it, which gives me pause; I guess it depends on how she presents the relevance of this study now, for me.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – One Corpse Too Many

Posted February 19, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Corpse Too Many by Ellis PetersOne Corpse Too Many, Ellis Peters

The second Brother Cadfael book is more deeply rooted in the historical period it’s set in, with everything in it being touched by the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. We see quite a bit of Stephen in this book, in fact, since he is actually in command of the forces that enter the town and kill the garrison. Cadfael gets himself involved first by sheltering a daughter of the local nobility (dressed as a boy and acting as a novice) and then by investigating the murder of the mysterious extra corpse hidden among the bodies of the garrison.

It’s an interesting and nuanced vision of the time; Cadfael is pretty non-partisan (which I believe was actually very difficult to maintain at the time, but he’s a fictional monk, so he can do as he likes) and ends up aiding both sides of the fight through his interest in individual people. I shouldn’t say too much about the characters, because it deliberately takes quite a while to figure out where everyone stands: I ended up feeling very affectionate toward one particular character, in a way that’s very cleverly done.

The idea of a monk solving mysteries sounds kind of gimmicky, perhaps, but the strong roots in the time help make it feel realistic and serious. Both mysteries so far have been uncontrived — a crime of passion in the first book, and this one in a historical framework where the death makes sense and the only wonder is that someone cares — and Cadfael getting involved feels natural. There are so many books in the series that of course it could get a bit Daisy Dalrymple-ish, but it helps that in Cadfael’s times everyone was closer to the fact of death.

(I don’t mean to pick on Daisy too much, because I genuinely enjoy Carola Dunn’s books, but by this point my only explanation for how many independent murders she manages to involve herself with is that some mastermind is tugging the strings to involve her “accidentally” in dozens of otherwise unconnected murders. I somehow doubt that Daisy has a Moriarty, though.)

Definitely enjoyable, and I do rather hope to see some of these characters again.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Heartstopper Volume 3

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice OsemanHeartstopper vol. 3, Alice Oseman

This series is just so more-ish and adorable. I can’t help but love both Charlie and Nick and their relationship. It’s not always perfectly fluffy and happy — bullying is a theme, and there are several instances of homophobia; in this volume, there’s also disordered eating and references to self-harm. But the two of them are great to each other, even as they’re feeling their way through a serious relationship for the first time, and navigating issues with parents, siblings, school friends and teachers.

This particular volume also features more development from some of their friends, including Tao and Elle… and also a cute little snippet of another potential love story between two of the teachers. None of the characters are perfect; they make mistakes and do stupid things… but they’re good, they show up for each other and they think over their issues and they learn. Even when they get things wrong (as Tao does in this volume, and arguably as Charlie does in trying to handle several situations), they’re not monsters… and even the worst characters have the potential to learn. It has such heart.

It’s also kind of nice to read something British, because the experience is close in some ways to what I had. Not all — I went to a tiny private school, and had no particular friends there… but still, there are things in common that are… not nostalgic, for all kinds of reasons — if I say everything I thought about my old school they’d probably want to sue me — but sort of like that. Study leave! School trip to France!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Small Robots

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Small Robots by Thomas Heasman-HuntSmall Robots, Thomas Heasman-Hunt

I helped to crowdfund this so was very excited to see my copies arrive yesterday! Small Robots is a Twitter account which regularly posts drawings of robots designed for very specific tasks. For instance, Booksbot swoops in and hides your new books so you don’t have to feel guilty about adding to the pile of books you already have waiting on your TBR! Teabot brings you tea (and only tea). Guestshowerbot helps you figure out the arcane controls on your friend’s shower.

This book contains 100 robot friends, along with crochet patterns for two of them (I haven’t tried the patterns yet). The drawings are adorable and often funny; sometimes the bots are uplifting (like Hopebot) and sometimes they’re bizarre (Bingliesbot); this collection includes commentary on their purpose and designs which is also often adorable and/or funny. It’s a chunky little book and one which can be dipped into at will.

True story: my copy fell open at Booksbot when I first picked it up, and given I hadn’t even previously been aware of this bot, it felt like fate. I need a bookmark with this friend on, at the very least…

Rating: 5/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

G’day, folks! This has been a much quieter reading week, but that’s also fine. I’ve been busy with work and with playing video games, and that’s fine. I’m still working on not criticising myself when I feel less like reading — it’s not like yelling at myself makes me read more, it just makes me unhappy.

Books acquired:

Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice Oseman Cover of Small Robots by Thomas Heasman-Hunt

Books read this week:

Cover of Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ Charles Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice Oseman

Reviews posted this week:

Sword of Destiny, by Andrzej Sapkowski. I didn’t think this was as good as The Last Wish; it’s more a collection of stories in the world, though it does sort of move towards setting up the novels. 3/5 stars
Gilded Cage, by K.J. Charles. I wasn’t convinced I was going to enjoy this because I didn’t love Templeton Lane, but I trust Charles and she didn’t steer me wrong. 4/5 stars
That Could Be Enough, by Alyssa Cole. I didn’t really believe in the relationship here. It was okay because it’s so short, but more and I might’ve given up. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly check-in, mostly about a book about Byzantium, one of E.C.R. Lorac’s British Library Crime Classics, and K.J. Charles.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘All about that base. A friend asked me to explain why humans have butts. I had a go.

And that’s it! How’s everyone doing?

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Review – That Could Be Enough

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa ColeThat Could Be Enough, Alyssa Cole

That Could Be Enough is a novella set in the post-Civil War US, following the story of Mercy Alston, maid to Elizabeth Hamilton and aiding her in putting together the stories of the men of her late husband’s battalion as a legacy for him. Despite all her writing in that cause, Mercy’s own writing is stilted and all but out of reach, as a legacy of a disastrous love affair. Into Mercy’s life comes Andromeda Stiel, a seamstress who goes her own way, loving as she wishes, without censure from the people she lives amongst. Sparks fly, despite Mercy’s intentions, and Andromeda quickly draws her into a relationship and out of her shell.

It doesn’t go smoothly, and that’s partly due to Mercy’s character and past, and partly because of bloody lack of communication, my least favourite trope ever. Just. Communicate! “I accidentally read this piece of paper and it says you’re going to be married, can you explain?” There! It’s that simple.

I did see another review that talked about not being sure what Mercy brings to the relationship, and despite the character’s individual qualities — her writing, her charitable work, etc — I have to agree. Andromeda is sufficient unto herself, even if she wants Mercy, and nothing Mercy has is something Andromeda lacks… while at the same time, Andromeda is picking apart Mercy’s trauma, encouraging and supporting her, pushing her to do better. Mercy’s affection is grudging, and her trust non-existant. It’s hard to believe the two can get along happily for long with that kind of imbalance.

Cole’s end note with sources helps somewhat with my feeling that they can’t be this blatant as a couple in this time period, but I’m still not convinced. Speaking from experience, even now, people will tolerate you as long as you don’t “rub it in their face”. Say the words “my wife” in casual conversation while being female and you can watch someone’s attitude change in an instant, even if you know this person must have realised before. Andromeda and Mercy aren’t just quietly getting on with it — Andromeda is blatant. I question it, knowing it’s hard enough now sometimes.

Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I might have; Andromeda’s great, but Mercy just doesn’t come alive for me. She sounds great on paper, but… I can’t see what she brings to Andromeda, or really believe there’s a beating heart behind the words on the page. Because it’s so short, it’s still entertaining, but I don’t know if I could have stuck with a longer story.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted February 12, 2020 by Nikki in General / 4 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 at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. This week’s check-in is here!

Cover of Fell Murder by E.C.R. LoracWhat are you currently reading?

Non-fiction: Michael Angold’s Byzantium: The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, which is kind of slow and not really capturing my imagination. Ever since I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium, I’ve wanted a really good book on Byzantium, but I’ve never really found one that hits the right note for me. I guess I need one that’s heavily about the reign of Justinian I…?

Fiction: E.C.R. Lorac’s Fell Murder. I’m not very far into it, but it has a really strong sense of place already, and a rather likeable arrangement of characters — even the crotchety old guy is actually rather honourable and decent, in his own way.

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was K.J. Charles’ Gilded Cage; I wasn’t sold on Templeton as a hero, but she made it work. Which is not surprising — even when it takes me a while to warm up (as with Jackdaws), Charles always delivers a solid story and twists me round her little finger as far as characters go.

Cover of The Voodoo Killings by Kristi CharishWhat will you be reading next?

Insert shrug emoji here! I don’t really have a queue right this second. I have a list of books I “should” read soon that’s as long as my arm, which makes the list kind of pointless. I just asked the oracle (aka held up one of the bunnies) and maybe it will be The Voodoo Killings (Kristi Charish) or Exhalation (Ted Chiang)…

Or maybe not. Who knows.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Gilded Cage

Posted February 11, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesGilded Cage, K.J. Charles

Gilded Cage is the follow-up to Any Old Diamonds, featuring Templeton Lane. From the first book he didn’t appeal to me too much, although the defenestration thing in The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter was great; Jerry felt the more compelling of the two characters to me, and I wasn’t sure I could get to like Templeton. Well, I didn’t, really; he still seemed like a thug with the emotional awareness of a brass doorknob… but the history of James Vane as revealed in Gilded Cage did work for me. It felt like a bit of a quick flip from the thug to the sensitive, thinking, feeling man, and the transition didn’t entirely work for me… but predictably, Charles was able to pull me along and sell it to me anyway.

It helps that Susan Lazarus is awesome, and that this book features a lot of brief glimpses of the characters from Sins of the Cities (and of course from the other Lilywhite Boys stories). I loved seeing Justin again, and I’d have loved to see more of Mark and Nathaniel as well, but I suppose they would have stolen the show. Susan is relentlessly practical, determined, and closed-off; it’s a delight to watch her realise that she can trust James after all, and to see them open up and talk about their feelings and actually figure things out.

The plot also ties together both other books in this series, and gives a satisfactory ending to a certain adversary of the Lilywhite Boys — satisfactory in that someone gets Susan’s hairpins in very tender places, and also gets captured and trialled.

It all works out well, and we get a happy ending that feels true to who Susan is. We also get some glimpses of Jerry and Alec’s life, which is nice. All in all, I suspect and hope there’s little more to be said for the Lilywhite Boys: they both have their happy endings. That said, I wouldn’t object to Jerry and Alec and Susan and James having to come together to heist their way out of trouble again, so I’ll slam the preorder button hard if that comes about!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sword of Destiny

Posted February 10, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sword of Destiny by Andrzej SapkowskiSword of Destiny, Andrzej Sapkowski

Unlike The Last Wish, this collection of short stories doesn’t have a frame-story helping it hang together. It does slowly move toward a conclusion, in that the last two stories set things up for the novels (as I understand it), but some of the stories feel like they have less of a point. Some of them develop things between Yennefer and Geralt a little more, while others introduce Ciri (following up on a story in The Last Wish, and introducing a key character for the novels), but it just felt a little more lacking in direction. ‘Eternal Flame’, while funny, didn’t seem to advance things much, and ‘A Little Sacrifice’ does develop Geralt’s character a little, but feels kind of flat.

Overall, I’m a lot less impressed than I was with The Last Wish, because I feel like the frame story there made things hang together much better. There were still some clever references (‘The Little Mermaid’, for one), but overall it just didn’t do that much for me. I’m not sure if you’re meant to view it like The Last Wish, or just as a collection of stories in the world; if the latter, then I’m probably being a little unfair.

I’m still going to try the novels, since they’re going to be quite different just by nature of the form, but I might take a little break before I pick those up.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted February 8, 2020 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Happy Saturday! I’m less happy this Saturday because of Wales’ loss to Ireland (there go our Triple Crown/Grand Slam hopes!), but I’ll live. At least it’s been a good reading week!

Books acquired:

Cover of The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis Cover of Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Books read:

Cover of Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs Cover of The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie Cover of West Nile Story by Dickson Despommier

Cover of The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis Cover of Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood Cover of A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

Reviews posted:

Flying too High, by Kerry Greenwood. The second book of the series, with the usual acts of derring-do by our all but flawless heroine. 4/5 stars
Murder on the Ballarat Train, by Kerry Greenwood. The third book! More of the usual fare, with a delightful found-family building itself up. 4/5 stars
Surfeit of Suspects, by George Bellairs. Typical of the Golden Age crime stories, but I found it satisfying all the same. 4/5 stars
The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie. Interesting relationships and yay, kaiju! But a bit thin in terms of the development; I didn’t always believe how quickly characters got to certain mindsets. 3/5 stars
West Nile Story, by Dickson Despommier. A nice companion to having listened to This Week in Virology’s episode on West Nile virus. 3/5 stars
The Edge of the Abyss, by Emily Skrutskie. Wraps up the story well, and keeps the pleasing ambiguities in the relationships/characters. 3/5 stars
Moontangled, by Stephanie Burgis. The kind of misunderstanding in relationships that happens in this book drives me nuts, but it’s a sweet story all the same. 3/5 stars
Death at Victoria Dock, by Kerry Greenwood. Again, solid and entertaining, and a quick read. 4/5 stars
A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters. I forgot quite how this resolved, so it was good to reread it. Still very enjoyable! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. Discussing the latest I’m reading, as usual; this week featuring Kerry Greenwood, Stephanie Burgis and Andrzej Sapkowski.

Out and about:

NEAT science: Spillover: Avenues for Zoonotic Disease.‘ Why is a Chinese food market the perfect spillover point for all kinds of animal diseases? I’ve tried to explain!
NEAT science: ‘Featured in New Scientist! (Sort of.)I answered another reader’s question in New Scientist and it got printed!

How’re you doing? What’s been stacking your shelves?

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