Discussion: Book Club

Posted 19 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

I’m somewhat convinced to post an opener for my book club choices on Habitica here, starting in December, but in the meantime I wanted to ponder a little about picking books for a book club. It can be really difficult: do you want to pick something people will like, or something people will discuss? Often those won’t be the same thing at all: a book group I was in had months of fruitful discussion about a book we universally loathed, while a book we loved had maybe five comments in the whole thread. The discussion is often better if a book is divisive, too: if one person criticises it and another digs in to defend it, and nobody’s feelings get hurt, there are hours of discussion to be had.

Confession: mostly, I pick the books for the Habitica book club with three criteria: 1) it’s a different genre to the last two months’, 2) I own it and 3) I want to read it sometime soon. The whole intent was to cut out the difficult bit where people vote on a choice or someone forgets that it’s their month to pick or whatever, and just make sure that it’s a book I already own, want to read, and think could prompt some discussion if anyone feels into it. (Most successful pick in a while for the latter is this month’s pick: The Genius Plague, by David Walton.) To a great extent, it’s a commitment device: I told these people I’ll read it, so I guess I’m gonna have to.

(Sometimes it works.)

If I’m picking for a book club in the real world, discussion is probably the primary thing on my mind — but also trying to balance everyone else’s known likes and dislikes. Is this book going to provoke a political argument? Is this book going to just bore X silly? Is Y going to be a child about what happens in chapter ten? Just sharing a book I enjoyed or expect to enjoy has never really worked, mostly because I feel like other people expect something worth discussing.

I’d love a book club where people abandoned lists of discussion questions or considerations of what other people would like. Every month, a different person would bring along a book they just really loved. Okay, discussions would sometimes just be handflappy “omg the bit with X and Y doing the thing!”… but that sounds kind of nice, and I have no doubt that discussions would still arise organically, not due to intent but simply because books are like that, if you give them half a chance. There would be a strict rule about never telling someone else their taste sucks just because it differs.

To be quite fair, my favourite book club is pretty much like that and consists of two people: me and my wife. Discussions are random, tastes mostly align without total agreement ever being likely or desired, and I’ve never had to offer to crown her with a tub of guac. (Sorry, Robert.) Someday, for the sake of Wife Book Club, I might even get round to reading Republic of Thieves.

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 17 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning folks! Thank goodness, the issue with adding images on my site is fixed now, so I can actually get this post done. It’s been a quiet week, partly because I’ve been in a terrible mood and didn’t want to get anything done…

Anyway, here’s the stack this week.

Received to review:

Cover of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Bought this week:

Cover of The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

Books read this week:

Cover of The Roman Forum by David Watkin Cover of The Mycenaeans by Rodney Castleden Cover of The Crucible of Creation by Simon Conway Morris Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Reviews posted this week:

War Cry, by Brian McClellan. This felt a little unsatisfying, because it didn’t feel like a whole story. It’s an interesting world, though. 3/5 stars
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Read for the comfort of familiarity, and thus as satisfying as ever. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Regular Features. Do you like joining in on things like Top Ten Tuesday, WWW Wednesday, et al?
WWW Wednesday. This week’s update on what I’ve been reading.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Llama vs flu‘. News about a potential innovative vaccine (made with the help of llamas) to beat flu, without the need for new vaccinations every season.

So how’re you all doing? Big plans for the weekend, or just a nice big book?

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Review – The Hobbit

Posted 15 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

A long-time love of mine, I reread this because I wanted the Werther’s Originals taste/feel of the book, because stresss (which is over now, hurrah!). The main charm for me lies in what came of it later, along with the paternal and knowing tone of the narrator. The narrative voice has always felt warm to me — cognisant of the characters’ faults, and sometimes gently pointing them out, but always with a deep good-naturedness. And then, of course, there’s the world: perhaps not quite fully realised by the time of writing The Hobbit, but stretching out before and beyond it, even if the brushstrokes are broad.

There are many things tone-wise that don’t quite fit with The Lord of the Rings, and the text itself was revised to fit in with the later material — but so cleverly, playing with the textual history of the story, tying together the real with the imagined. I love all the things Tolkien did with creating texts within his stories: that too is part of what makes his world real, that there are books and histories that are relevant to the world… there are few people who do it quite as well, and it’s always a delight.

Of the story itself: a rather ordinary middle-class hobbit, comfortable in his world of small social engagements, good food and convenience, ends up swept into an adventure involving trolls, goblins, magic rings and (in the end) a dragon. He’s the most clearly delineated of the characters, with many of the dwarves being mere thumbnail sketches: nonetheless, it works (with one or two dwarves picked out for slightly more detail here and there to keep them from being entirely props, and Gandalf being the enigmatically fascinating sorcerer of somewhat unknown motive in the whole affair). It’s definitely pitched more at children, though there’s something about the tone that I think makes it a delight at any age. As a fantasy book, taken alone, it’s not all that astounding. It mingles some lore together, barely hinting at the more cohesive and seriously built world Tolkien would later introduce to us.

In the end, it’s a typical quest story  — it’s Tolkien’s world and his narrative voice that make it for me.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 14 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 5 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.

What are you currently reading?

The Crucible of Creation, by Simon Conway Morris. He did a lot of work on the Burgess Shale, so he’s got an interesting perspective on evolution, and he’s pretty sharply critical of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins’ perspectives, so I’m pretty fascinated. I’m onto the middle chapters where he’s doing an imaginative reconstruction of the Burgess Shale lifeforms when alive, which is a bit weird, though. (Interesting thought experiment, I guess, but I’m not sure what it adds?)

What have you recently finished reading?

The Mycenaeans by Rodney Castleden. I need to read around a bit to decide how in or out of date the book is, though it’s obviously a step-up from Kitto’s book on the Greeks. He weirdly manages to talk about Alexander and Achilles, and the affinity Alexander felt for Achilles, without mentioning Hephaestion once. Patroclus is mentioned, but only in passing (Achilles organises his funeral games, Achilles seeks revenge, etc) — it’s not an important point in the context, but it feels so weird to just ignore that aspect of Alexander and Achilles. Instead he talks about Alexander’s fascination with Roxane as being like Achilles’ with Briseis…!

What will you be reading next?

I’m not sure. I have rather weirdly and for no apparent reason been told that I’m not to use one of my local libraries anymore, without explanation, so I need to finish the books I have out from that one. So possibly The Traitor God, by Cameron Johnston. Or maybe the book on the Sumerians… Who knows!

This week this post goes live without cover thumbnails, because WordPress is being super weird and suddenly no longer letting me add images. 🙁

What about you? What’re you reading?

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Discussion: Regular Features

Posted 12 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

A lot of bloggers participate in various features every week — Stacking the Shelves, Top Ten Tuesday, What Are You Reading Wednesday… Personally, I kind of cooled on the Top Ten Tuesday themes I was seeing, but there’ve been a couple I liked recently, and maybe I should keep a better eye on that. I prefer to keep my blog mostly reviews, though at the moment it’s kind of half-and-half as I’m not posting a review as well on most days (been reading kind of slow, I guess — I don’t have reviews to post!) that I have another feature running.

At the same time, with features like this I get kind of lazy. I turn out my posts for the regular features and then don’t go and comment on others, and that just feels unfair. It helps if there’s interesting topics and I’m likely to meet other thoughtful bloggers who actually want to discuss (rather than just drop a random comment to get a follow), though.

So, out of curiosity, any you’d like to see me do? And conversely, any that you really hate and wish people would stop posting? I can’t think of any in the latter group for me, though I’m unlikely to participate in any that are just about posting covers.

Really, I’d like to participate in more that encourage talking about books and reading (or sometimes blogging) in a way that promotes discussion and exposure to other people’s thoughts. I do a monthly readalong on Habitica, for instance, and I keep wondering if I should post about that here as well, maybe even come up with some discussion questions, and try and make a bigger thing of it…

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Review – War Cry

Posted 11 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of War Cry by Brian McClellanWar Cry, Brian McClellan

Received to review via Netgalley

I haven’t read any of McClellan’s longer work yet, so this novella from Tor seemed like a good point to jump in, really! It’s set during a war in a fantasy setting, with very familiar attributes — there’s propaganda, there’s airplanes, everyone’s running short and coaxing coffee out of months’ old grounds… but there’s also wizards, of at least two kinds: shapeshifters, and those who can cast illusions. We don’t get some big overview of the war: it’s fairly tight in to a little squad who have been taking losses, fighting hard, and living right on the edge. They get a chance to do a risky mission to get some supplies so they have food and maybe even coffee. And, predictably, it goes wrong.

It feels like there’s a lot more room for story in this world, whether that be an extended version of this story or a series of novellas. It’s not terribly unsatisfying on its own, because there is a kind of end to the immediate plot, but there’s so much more in the world that we don’t get to see, so much more for the characters to do, that it doesn’t feel like a stopping point (more just a pause). There’s room for awesomeness, but it feels like it’s mostly potential right now — an opening act, rather than a story in itself.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 10 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning folks! It’s been quite a week, with one of the new buns rather suddenly becoming a teenager on us and needing to be separated from his sister. They get play dates, but they can’t live together now. It’s a bit sad, but on the other hand one cage now lives next to me so I have tons of awesome pictures of them just hanging out close by.

It would’ve been a quiet week, book-wise, except that a few I ordered last week have come in and I have one new ARC!

Received to review:

Cover of The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

New books:

Cover of This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova Cover of Murder of Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey Cover of Wychwood by George Mann Cover of The Dragon's Legacy by Deborah A Wolf

Cover of Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn Cover of Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn

Cover of The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth Barber Cover of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David Cover of The Bull of Minos by Leonard Cottrell

Read this week:

Cover of The Greeks by H.D.F. Kitto Cover of Unearthing the Dragon by Mark Norrell

Reviews posted this week:

Magna Carta, by David Starkey. Not bad, but seemed basic to me. 2/5 stars
Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse. I liked this when I first read this, but apparently that moment can’t be recaptured! 2/5 stars
One Way, by S.J. Morden. I’d have liked this more if it wasn’t so very much like another book I read recently, though I found the characters thin and mostly distinguishable by their crimes. 2/5 stars
The Ancient Celts, by Barry Cunliffe. Beautifully presented, but for some reason Cunliffe’s writing seems to put me to sleep. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Film Adaptations. Yay or nay?
WWW Wednesday. The usual update!

So how’re you all doing?

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Review – The Ancient Celts

Posted 9 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ancient Celts by Barry CunliffeThe Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe

This book is a gorgeous object, lavishly illustrated with photographs of Celtic artefacts and finds. The book was written by a well-known expert in the field, and I have no doubt of his credentials or his accuracy in laying out what we know and the interpretations that can be drawn (fairly cautiously) from that. This certainly isn’t the kind of book that looks at the mythology about the Celtic peoples written by the Romans and swallows it whole; Cunliffe bases the book on all kinds of different evidence, drawing it together to provide a picture of the groups of people one could confidently consider part of the same Celtic race.

The only problem is that something about Cunliffe’s style sends me to sleep. It’s not that I doubt that he’s fascinated by the subject matter, but he doesn’t communicate a good sense of that enthusiasm, to my mind — there are writers who can make the minutiae really speak even to a layperson, and there are those who can’t. Cunliffe is rather the latter. It’s still an excellent resource about the Celtic peoples, but it wasn’t the best for light reading by a curious outsider to the field.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Way

Posted 8 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of One Way by S.J. MordenOne Way, S.J. Morden

One Way was, in the end, too like a grimmer version of Death of a Clone for me to really enjoy. Even though I’m fairly sure neither was trying to copy the other, the similarities made One Way less enjoyable, mostly because it was the second one I read, and partly because it was rather darker in tone. I’ve seen comparisons with The Martian, but again, I think it was darker in tone than that, and less fascinated by the technical minutiae.

The book follows Frank, a convict who killed his son’s drug dealer in a pre-meditated fashion, and went to prison for it. He’s offered a way out by a company who are trying to build a base for NASA on the moon: he and several other convicts must ship out to Mars, there to spend the rest of their lives, and build the base. It’s cheaper than robot labour for them, and it’s a way out for Frank and the other convicts, so of course they say yes. They go through some gruelling training, but only six months of it (which should probably be a hint right there about how expendable they are, but they don’t seem to twig that fact), and then off they go.

Once they’re woken up from cryosleep on the other end, though, people start to die. As each team member finishes their job and becomes expendable, there’s an equipment failure, a weird leak in the hab… and there’s Frank, slowly realising that these deaths really aren’t accidents.

It’s not a cast particularly designed to arouse sympathy: they’re not out and out bastards in everything they do, but you know that each of them killed people, and each of them is capable of some terrible things. The camaraderie between them is fragile, and so is the reader’s willingness to root for them. In the end, I was mostly sitting back to see how each one of them died and when, without really caring much about the outcome. Not ideal!

It’s not a bad idea for a novel, but peopled with such generally terrible people, it’s not something I found particularly compelling either. And I never believed in the promise of a second chance that Frank was offered: it was too obviously too good to be true. That left me feeling like it was just going through the motions, and I was glad to be done.

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 November, 2018 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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Roman Forum by David WatkinThe Secret of Chimneys, by Agatha Christie. I’m trying to whittle down my library pile and Christie’s a good quick read, so, tada. I’m not a little confused at this point, partly because I read the first two chapters a couple of weeks ago and then tried to pick up where I left off, but hopefully I’ll get up to speed soon…

Also, The Roman Forum, by David Watkin, which takes a view less archaeological (and less focused on the Romans exclusively) than a lot of other writers. He talks about the afterlife of the forum too, the way its been used over time — something I honestly find more interesting, especially for being a rare approach, though I think he’s too down on archaeology.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Greeks by H.D.F. KittoThe Greeks, by H.D.F. Kitto. Out of date in information and decidedly so in attitude, and yet his enthusiasm is boundless and kind of worth reading anyway, if you can handle him being very much of his moment re: issues like enfranchisement of women. (He’s not anti, but he’s so condescending about it that you almost wish he’d straight up say that women are too stupid for the vote, so you could be properly fully annoyed at him.)

What will you be reading next?

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonGoodness only knows. There’s the next Murderbot, there’s a whole range of library books… Oh, I do know I need to start on The Division Bell Mystery, because I’m buddy reading that with someone on Litsy. Better grab that off the shelf!

What are you reading at the moment?

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