Weekly Roundup

Posted August 8, 2020 by Nicky in General / 11 Comments

Greetings, folks! This has been a good week for ARCs, and passable for reading… and I have my replacement ereader now, so I can get back to some neglected library books. Hurrah! It’s also been pretty busy in terms of posting reviews, which I hadn’t realised until starting this post. Whoa!

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Books acquired:

Cover of Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender Cover of Crowning Soul by Sahira Javaid Cover of Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire Cover of When the Tiger Came Down The Mountain by Nghi Vo

Cover of Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor Cover of A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel Cover of The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair

Thank you to the publishers who let me have ARCs (mostly Tor!) and also the two lovelies who have bought me books this week. You know how to spoil a Nicky, and it’s appreciated deeply.

Books read this week:

Cover of Mystery at Olympia by John Rhode Cover of Lock In by John Scalzi Cover of Head On by John Scalzi Cover of A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon Cover of The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

  • Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Colours in the Title. A motley bunch! Most of which I haven’t read yet, actually…
  • WWW Wednesday. The usual update, discussing A Scream in Soho and John Scalzi.
  • Hobbit Birthday. Giveaway still going on! Open worldwide; £50 to spend at Portal Bookshop for one winner, £15 for two others. (It’s possible to figure out a different bookshop if Portal don’t ship to you!)

Whoa, that took some rounding up.

So how’re you folks? Been reading anything good, or stacking your shelves with anything shiny? I got my finished copy of Seven Devils as well, this week, so that’s something to look forward to!

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Review – A Scream in Soho

Posted August 8, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Scream in Soho by John G. BrandonA Scream in Soho, John G. Brandon

Ooookay this one is just somehow really not my thing. It’s all Italian mobsters and German spies, slathered on thick with a side of racial determinism. The policeman at the centre of the story, McCarthy, is prone to violence to get his way — and has a rather Holmes-ian moves-in-mysterious-ways air about him, along with various sidekicks pulled off the streets and a disguise or two. It’s fairly obvious whodunnit, from pretty early on, and whydunnit comes pretty quickly after as well. After that, McCarthy just knocks some heads together and does some casual breaking and entering.

The joy of Golden Age crime fiction is often the sense of order, the sense that things in Britain are fundamentally good and just. It’s a total nostalgic lie, and always was, and the noble policeman as much as any of it… and this doesn’t have to be everybody’s thing, but I do think it’s a big part of what calls to me about E.C.R. Lorac’s series detective, or John Bude’s: they are decent men, doing a job which they believe to be serving justice, and doing it for the right reasons.

Needless to say, then, I did not enjoy McCarthy, even though he’s probably more realistic in many ways — particularly not since we’re supposed to be entirely on his side. Nope, nope, nope.

Not one for me. 1/5 stars feels kind of unfair, but… no, I can’t honestly point to anything I liked.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

Posted August 8, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen ChoThe Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, Zen Cho

I don’t usually get on well with books that are meant to be funny, or books described as satirical, but The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo was great fun. Jade (or Geok Huay, but Jade is a translation and the name she uses in Britain) has a great voice: it took me ages to decide what it reminded me of, until I saw someone else mention I Capture the Castle. Yep, really quite like that, though I think also I’m being reminded of Mori from Jo Walton’s Among Others… there’s something in the curious, practical, analytical tone (not divorced from dreaming, but approaching things with a sort of scientific curiosity) that is both endearing and entertaining.

The story does feature one moment of the sort of horrible miscommunication that makes me writhe with second-hand embarrassment… but Jade’s voice carries it beautifully, and though I wasn’t passionately interested in how things turned out for her (actually, I felt it could be entertaining no matter what), I was glad that she had her happy ever after. And in the meantime, I thought the descriptions of kissing with the guy she doesn’t really have any feelings for were quite hilarious:

In ordinary kissing one aligns one’s lips with the kissee’s lips, and presses them together, but in well – i can’t think of a better term – in sex kissing the insides of one’s mouth is involved, and it is quite difficult to make it so the respective lips are aligned. One folds one’s lips on top of the other’s. But caution is required: if everyone’s lips stray too far beyond the mouth it gets very damp and one feels as if one is being eaten by an excessively friendly lion.

And that is exactly why french kissing baffles me quite a bit, on a personal level, though I know very well that others don’t see it in quite such mechanistic bodies-are-silly ways. It’s such a great way of showing both the lack of emotion between the two characters involved (at least on Jade’s side), and Jade’s general attitude to sex.

All in all, very fun, and often funny — even to me, and I hardly have a sense of humour.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Head On

Posted August 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Head On by John ScalziHead On, John Scalzi

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this sequel to Lock In; I really liked the first book, and Scalzi’s work is always breezy in the best way. Unsurprisingly, when I got to this I steamed through it in two days (and I’d gladly have finished it in just one day, but bedtime is a thing that has to happen now I’m getting to the ripe old age of 31). Head On is set a year later than Lock In, and to some extent, I think you can read it without the previous book; it catches you up pretty well on the most pertinent information.

The investigation centres around the death of an athlete during a game in which people piloting robot bodies try to tear each other’s heads off. Something about what happens during play when one of them gets his head torn off causes him to die… and the league pull his details from the live feed, arousing the suspicions of Chris Shane. It gets worse: right before Vann and Shane go to interview him, one of the bigwigs apparently kills himself.

Curiouser and curiouser, as they say. Everything spirals from there, with Scalzi’s usual pace and wit. Some aspects of the mystery were obvious to me pretty early on, but it’s fun to watch Scalzi spin it out and complicate it before bringing it home.

It feels maybe a little less urgent than the first book, somehow, and I probably still prefer Lock In… but it’s a worthy sequel, and I’d love to spend more time following Shane and Vann around as Vann bulldozes her way through all opposition to solve the case.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted August 5, 2020 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of A Scream in Soho by John G. BrandonWhat are you currently reading?

Probably a bunch of stuff that I’ve accidentally put down when I didn’t mean to… but primarily, I’ve just started A Scream in Soho, by John G. Brandon. There’s so much period-typical racial stereotyping (largely about Italians, but Germans too), and the murdered person is… well, the way the story puts it is that it’s a man disguised as a woman. Which the plot will probably bear out, given they’re probably a spy. Still, it’s not exactly aged well in various ways.

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziWhat have you recently finished reading?

I devoured a reread of John Scalzi’s Lock In, and then followed it up with the sequel, Head On. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, and I didn’t really need the reread of the first book… but it was nice. I still need to sit down and do my review of Head On and think through it, but I tore through both books.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersWhat will you be reading next?

Goodness knows! I want to reread The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet for a Habitica book club readalong, so there’s that… but I also just got my replacement ereader and I had a bunch of books part-read on Libby that I need to get into the queues for again. If they’re not currently reserved, maybe I’ll be able to grab them and restart on those.

But as usual, it could really be anything.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Drowned Country

Posted August 4, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Drowned Country by Emily TeshDrowned Country, Emily Tesh

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 18th August 2020

Drowned Country is a follow-up to Silver in the Wood. Tobias Finch has left the wood, leaving Silver behind to… well, mostly mope, actually. It’s a bed of his own making and he has to lie in it: it’s slowly revealed that he managed to drive Tobias away, despite the deep affection between them. But he has a chance to make things right: Silver’s mother returns to the wood to get him, in order to help with a particular case of supernatural shenanigans she and Tobias are dealing with. There’s a vampire roaming around, a young girl is missing, and they require Silver’s particular talents.

It’s a little disorientating to start where we do, but it makes sense: it allows a slow unfolding of how exactly Silver could mess it up so badly. We’re also in Silver’s point of view now, and get to see Tobias from the outside; that’s rather enjoyable, and the close-third POV is livelier and a little more human in outlook than the close-third to Tobias from the previous book. It gives everything a little more depth, and a different colour; the light has changed in the forest, though the trees are all the same.

It’s not a simple adventure, and the relationship between Tobias and Silver isn’t the sole driver of the plot. Instead, we get a little glimpse of other things deep and strange.

And of course, you still have to love Silver’s mother.

The two novellas are very easy reading, and beautifully written. Very worth it!

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Colours in the Title

Posted August 4, 2020 by Nicky in General / 16 Comments

Sorry I missed last week, folks! It was a heckuva week, for sure. Anyway, this week is a bit like a scavenger hunt for me, because I’m not sure I can actually think of books I like with colours in their titles… so I’m going to survey my shelves for whatever I can find.

Cover of Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston Cover of The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff Cover of The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert Cover of Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James Cover of Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

  1. Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston. I haven’t read this one, and I really really want to.
  2. The Silver Branch, by Rosemary Sutcliff. This I have read, of course, though I wish I could find the editions I had as a kid. I read ’em to pieces, though The Eagle of the Ninth was my favourite.
  3. The Boy in the Red Dress, by Kristin Lambert. A recent acquisition, so one I haven’t read yet. It looks so fun, though!
  4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James. I haven’t read it yet, and I’m not entirely sure it’s going to be my thing based on reviews… but I’m eager to give it a go.
  5. Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse. Okay, this is actually on my wishlist and not on my shelves because it’s not out yet.
  6. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Oh, Murderbot. <3
  7. Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord. I’ve been meaning to reread this, I remember loving it but not much about it.
  8. The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark. Loved this novella so much!
  9. The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle. I was less of a fan of this Lovecraft retelling, but it kinda sticks in my head!
  10. A Pale Light in the Black, by K.B. Wagers. Another one that’s on my TBR but which I haven’t read yet…

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells Cover of Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord Cover of The Black God's Drums Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle Cover of A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

As you can see, I have a TBR problem, insofar as that can be considered a problem!

How’d everyone else do with the scavenger hunt? Or could you think of enough books with colours in the title that you could pick out your favourites? I’m looking forward to seeing all the obvious ones I’ve missed…

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Review – Lock In

Posted August 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziLock In, John Scalzi

My review is going to discuss a certain aspect of this book that you might like to make your mind up about yourself, in case you haven’t read it. It’s not a spoiler per se, but it’s something you might like to bring a fresh perspective to!

So that said, Lock In follows Chris Shane, a brand new FBI agent… who happens to have had “Haden’s syndrome” as a child, leaving Chris “locked in”. It’s pretty much how it sounds: some people who get Haden’s syndrome after a bout of a particular pandemic strain of flu find themselves unable to communicate, unable to move their own bodies, but awake and aware. Back when it happened, Chris was just a child… and all kinds of funding and research was thrown at the situation to render Hadens (people who were locked in) to communicate, and eventually to pilot robot bodies around and interact with society in much the same way as anyone else.

Chris joins the team that deals with Haden-related crimes. The first week… does not go smoothly. Therein lies the story of a conspiracy, some real nastiness, and some familiar-feeling events and issues.

The first time I read this book, I read Chris as male; I’ve since experienced the narrator as female, having listened to the Amber Benson version of the audio (there’s a version with Wil Wheaton as well, a clever gimmick). This time… I didn’t really bother either way? Having realised that it wasn’t part of the narrative, I read Shane as being more like myself… but only now I know about the gimmick. Before that, even I couldn’t help myself!

Anyway, Lock In is a pacy and entertaining mystery, with some thrilling action scenes, banter and clever quips, and moderately high stakes. The characters are likeable enough, inasfar as you’re meant to like Vann, and in retrospect it’s an obvious set-up for a series (now with a follow-up, Head On). I’ve read it before, so I steamed through it knowing all the twists and turns, and just kind of enjoying watching Scalzi experiment with this narrator and with a near-future world.

He missed some tricks with his portrayal of the pandemic and its aftermath, in some ways; it’s surprising that Haden’s is caused by an influenza and there’s no reference to vaccines or anything… and somehow that same strain of flu is still burning on, still causing the same disease, when someone who caught it as a child is old enough to be an FBI agent. Other stuff is pretty on point, and one can only hope the funding and government initiatives that help Hadens in the book are coming for “long COVID” and vaccine research. I won’t hold my breath; I think Scalzi’s vision was really optimistic here (though I suspect partly based on initiatives like the March of Dimes for polio).

Enjoyable, even on a reread when it couldn’t spring surprises on me and I’d read all Shane’s lines before.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mystery at Olympia

Posted August 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mystery at Olympia by John RhodeMystery at Olympia, John Rhode

I enjoyed John Rhode’s work under the name of Miles Burton, so I snapped this and two others up when I spotted them. Rhode is a fairly workmanlike writer, without the exquisite turns of phrase of Cox or Sayers, or the deep sense of place and character of someone like E.C.R. Lorac. They’re puzzles to be solved, with an ingenious method of murder and all kinds of twists in the tale (four separate attempts to harm the victim, any of which could have killed him… and not all by the same culprit, for instance). There are some nice little character sketches (primarily Mrs Markle, but with neat little impressions of several other characters and how they think).

The way it works out is surprising, mostly because I think there are really insufficient clues; it’s one of the school where the detective is utterly reasonable in his suspicions, but hopelessly wrong, and the big man of the story (Sherlock in some, Dr Priestley in this) has it all figured out in actuality… and it’s so Machiavellian and labyrinthine that you can’t guess. That’s not something I enjoy greatly in too big a dose, but it was nice to settle back and let the story carry me to its conclusion in this case. I knew I probably wouldn’t work it out and that there’d be a surprise, so thus prepared, I just passively followed the process.

Probably I’ll avoid reading Death at Breakfast or Invisible Weapons too soon, and come back when I’m ready to be told what the non-obvious “obvious” solution is.

Oh, and if you’re just picking it up and wondering if you need to follow all that explanation about how the fancy new transmission works in the cars at the Olympia show… the answer is no. You can skip that whole spiel. Someone got too pleased with his own idea there.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted August 1, 2020 by Nicky in General / 16 Comments

Well, folks, it’s been quite the week. No new books, and we’ve been in quarantine after Lisa (my wife) developed some potential-COVID symptoms. We’ve both tested negative now and she’s on the mend, but phew it’s been tiring.

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

So here’s what I have managed to read (not bad, though they were short!):

Books read this week:

Cover of Return of the Earl by Sandra Schwab Cover of Alike As Two Bees by Elin Gregory Cover of The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

  • WWW Wednesday. A quick update, mostly mentioning the books above.
  • Hobbit Birthday. Giveaway still going on! Open worldwide; £50 to spend at Portal Bookshop for one winner, £15 for two others. (It’s possible to figure out a different bookshop if Portal don’t ship to you!)

So that’s me for the week. How’s everyone else doing?

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