WWW Wednesday

Posted 15 August, 2018 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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersI’m partway through rereading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, since the new book in that world is out now. I keep picking it up meaning to read a couple of pages and just sinking back into it, and suddenly, boom! I lost half an hour. Not that I mind that too much!

I also accidentally picked up Circe, by Madeline Miller, after reading people’s raptures about it on Litsy. I meant to just read a couple of pages (I know, I know, it’s a theme with me) and then found I’d read over 100 while my game was paused. Oops.

Then I accidentally picked up A Study in Honor, too. It’s an interesting choice for a Sherlock Holmes retelling. It’s actually reminding me somewhat of Witchmark, but I think that’s partly the main characters being doctors in both books.

Cover of Think Again: How To Reason And Argue by Walter Sinnott-ArmstrongWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Think Again: How To Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. I’m not sure yet quite what I think of this: it’ll probably become clear to me as I write the review! It definitely has good tips on how to understand other people’s arguments and put together a strong argument yourself, but it also has a lot of commentary on the right/left divide in politics.

Cover of At the Table of Wolves by Kay KenyonWhat will you be reading next?

Well, chances are I’m going to succumb to a new shiny and pick up Kay Kenyon’s At the Table of Wolves. It mentions Marvel’s Agent Carter in the blurb, and the cover is basically Peggy Carter with some colours switched round, and I’m kind of into that (even though I still haven’t actually watched Agent Carter).

What are you reading?

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Review – Dreadful Company

Posted 14 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian ShawDreadful Company, Vivian Shaw

I was so excited to get this, and then I didn’t want to be over, and took longer than I should’ve to actually finish it. But while I was reading it, I was mainlining it: chunks and chunks of it all at once. I find Vivian Shaw’s writing just really easy to read, and it helps that I adore the characters. I was sad that there wasn’t more of Fass in this book, and I didn’t love some of the newer characters as much (Grisaille, but that’s obvious; Emily needs more development; more St. Germain wouldn’t go amiss; etc, etc), but I loved some of the little details — like the croissant-baking demon.

I think I prefer the first book, because it has more teamwork, more togetherness. This book is less comfortable, somewhat, even though I find myself sure Greta can get herself out of anything with her knowledge and her level head. On the other hand, Varney and Greta are just sweet — this is a romance that kinda works for me, though I feel like some development was missed out on in the time between books. (A bit unavoidable without making it a romance straight up front, though, and it isn’t: the romance is just part of it. Friendship is a far bigger part, to my mind, particularly that of Ruthven and Greta.)

All in all, I had a lot of fun and I think it lived up to how much I loved the first book. I’m looking forward to more with great eagerness! Also, I kind of want a whistler of my own. And a wellmonster.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Swearing is Good For You

Posted 13 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Swearing is Good For You by Emma ByrneSwearing is Good for You, Emma Byrne

Yes, really, and this really is a serious book, referring to studies and discussing them in a sober and mostly non-profane fashion. At times the casual swearing seemed a little much (a bit of a gimmick, rather than me feeling bad about swearing at all), but there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in here. There’s a chapter on Tourette’s, for example: although Byrne explains that it doesn’t really belong in a book about swearing being good for you, because in the case of Tourette’s it ends up being alienating and awful, but it goes into what causes people with Tourette’s to swear, and a little bit about what that tells us about swearing in general.

There’s also a really horrifying (to me) discussion of the fact that women with cancer who swear (due to their cancer but not necessarily about their cancer) tend to lose the support of the people around them, even their close female friends. They’re dealing with something fucking horrifying, they’re probably in pain and exhausted, but they’ve got to watch their language too? I hope Byrne’s hypothesis that this effect will fade with more recent generations is correct.

There’s also discussion of swearing and gender, and my favourite bit, the discussion of swearing in toilet trained chimps. (Teach a chimp that poop is dirty and it will see it as such, act ashamed if caught pooping somewhere it shouldn’t, and start using dirtiness as an insult!)

It’s all pretty fascinating, and while I’m not a major swearer unless I’m doing the final missions in Mass Effect, at which point the brain to mouth filter drops out of the picture, I’m glad to acknowledge that sometimes, it turns out it really is good for you — helping you to bear pain and stress, bonding you with teammates, etc, etc.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Who are reviews for?

Posted 13 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

I saw this on Twitter (this thread) and immediately had a ton of thoughts, especially after I saw the tweet claiming that reviews (in general) are for everyone: authors, readers, other reviewers… And in one way, that’s true; there’s no way I can stop authors coming to my blog and reading my reviews, and maybe they’ll be useful to authors too! I don’t begrudge them to authors, if they’ve got thick skins and can keep themselves from arguing with me.

But. With every piece of writing, you have an audience in mind. That’s part of what makes the writing effective: you tailor it to the people you want it to be useful to. It’s no use me posting here talking about the MIC of bedaquiline against Mycobacterium tuberculosis — you’re a smart bunch, so I’m sure some of you know what the MIC is and what it’s about, but it’s simply not relevant to most people — and likewise there’s no point in me using a chatty style in my dissertation. The audience distinction between other readers and the author of the thing being reviewed is not necessarily that large, but I’m definitely not keeping the author in mind when I review. I’m talking about what I liked and what I didn’t, and often don’t even touch on anything beyond personal taste. Now, unless an author’s planning to write a book just for me, that’s not exactly useful, is it?

Now, reading the actual thread, I don’t think me and the writer of that thread are actually too far apart in our opinions. I don’t disagree that reviews are open to and worth scrutinising, etc, etc. But all the same, I have an audience in mind for my reviews and it’s not authors (and it’s not really non-readers, either: I don’t see why a non-reader would be interested in my reviews). So sure, my reviews can be read by anyone who comes along and maybe they’ll be of interest or even useful for people whom I don’t expect to find them so.

But still, saying my reviews are for anybody I don’t think they’re for is putting a bit much of a burden on the rather slender shoulders of my typically 200-word-ish summaries of what I thought of a book. And I don’t think most people who are saying that reviews aren’t for authors or aren’t for xyz are saying that their reviews can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t be read by those people — they’re saying, fucking Christ, will authors please stop commenting on my reviews to browbeat me because I didn’t like their book. So in that sense, yeah. Reviews are for other readers. Fight me.

(Please don’t.)

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Review – The Masked City

Posted 12 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Masked City by Genevieve CogmanThe Masked City, Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City follows on admirably from The Invisible Library, providing the same madcap mix of genre with aspects of metafiction (one of the main characters is a Great Detective; the Fae are living archetypes who really get on best by living up to their cliches) and the same pacy narrative. Vale, Irene and Kai continue being a heck of a team, although they’re all separated for a while. There’s some fascinating new layers to the Fae, there’s more contact with the world of dragons…

If you didn’t enjoy the first book, I can’t imagine this would really hit any new notes for you. But as the second book of the series, it works quite well. There’s an element of middle-bookness, in that Alberich doesn’t play any kind of serious role, after being set up as a Big Bad. But there’s plenty of adventure and interest, and I mainlined it the second time just as much as I did the first.

Rating: 4/5 

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Review – Witchmark

Posted 11 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Witchmark by C.L. PolkWitchmark, C.L. Polk

Received to review via Netgalley

Witchmark is a little bit of a lot of things — a romance, a mystery, a family power struggle against a fantasy background, dealing with social upheaval and war… It feels like quite an odd mixture of things if I think about it from outside, but while I was reading it I had no quibbles.

Miles is the only character who I feel is really well fleshed out, and I really could use knowing more about Tristan before I can really fully buy into the romance and the Big Romantic Thing that happens near the end. Grace is… interesting, and surprisingly weak — and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. It’s just that she comes along and takes command and she’s meant to be the strong one, and yet she’s so led by her family and by adhering to the social customs. It’s interesting as a character study, and I think there was a surprisingly good job done of making her likeable if only she wouldn’t participate in what’s expected of her.

Everything builds together pretty well for the finale, except maybe that romantic plot. I felt like we needed less of the magical attractiveness and more of the two talking to one another and figuring each other out: there wasn’t enough to make me really root for them. It’s the interplay between Grace and Miles that really made the story, for me.

I’ve kind of been avoiding getting this review written, because I wasn’t wholly sure what to say. I wasn’t as wowed as I hoped to be, but I think on reflection it was enjoyable and I’d read more. If I went in for half-stars, this would probably get another 0.5.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 11 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 16 Comments

Good morning! Just a week and a bit until I have the bunnies again — time is flying. In the meantime, here’s the traditional photo of (one of) them…

Breakfast is all about dat bass.

As well as this being my general weekly roundup, I participate in Stacking the Shelves, courtesy of Tynga’s Reviews and Reading Reality, so if you comment here, rest assured I’ll be commenting back!

And here’s this week’s highlights from recent hauls, focusing on the crime/mystery section:

Acquired:

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville Cover of Quick Curtain by Alan Melville Cover of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson Cover of Family Matters by Anthony Rolls Cover of Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Cover of Mystery at Olympia by John Rhode Cover of Invisible Weapons by John Rhode Cover of Death at Breakfast by John Rhode

And nope, that’s not the end of my broken-up-into-bits hauls yet. I’ve been lucky lately!

Books finished this week:

Cover of Fury of the Tomb by S.A. Sidor Cover of The Civilization of Angkor by Charles Higham Cover of Swearing is Good For You by Emma Byrne Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Reviews posted this week:

Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers. There are some parts of this which get a little long-winded, but I still can’t help but adore it. 5/5 stars
Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow. Nothing new if you’ve been reading around about the brain and the weird ways humans think. 2/5 stars
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. Another beloved reread. I just adore the characters and the way they work together and so much about the world and… yeah. 4/5 stars
The Voices Within, by Charles Fernyhough. A really fascinating discussion of what happens when we think. 4/5 stars
At Amberleaf Fair, by Phyllis Ann Karr. A rather gentle fantasy/mystery/romance with some interesting features in the worldbuilding. 3/5 stars
Fury from the Tomb, by S.A. Sidor. Pulpy fun, but not quite as much fun as I might’ve hoped. 2/5 stars
The Civilization of Angkor, by Charles Higham. A fascinating site, but this is less archaeology and more an extensive study of inscriptions, which comes off a little flat. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: The Rites of the Reader. What are your quirky habits surrounding reading?
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading lately, almost guaranteed to be out of date by the next day at the rate I read and hop around picking up new books!

Out and about:

Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘Buttercup and Primrose Save The Day’. A short story featuring two determined young women, and a mystery of sorts.
Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘Take Care’. A creepy short story in second person POV.
NEAT science: Why predators are a good thing. It’s a bit more complicated than the standard story a lot of people know about wolves and Yellowstone, but predators are a key part of food webs.
NEAT science: Blue light danger. There was a somewhat alarming article in the Guardian talking about the damage blue light from screens can do your eyes. I read the source research and dissected things a bit. (Surprise! The newspaper article had some sweeping and so far not fully supported conclusions.)

So how’re you doing? Any good books this week?

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Review – The Civilization of Angkor

Posted 10 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Civilization of Angkor by Charles HighamThe Civilization of Angkor, Charles Higham

I love reading books on archaeology. A lot of the information doesn’t sink in — the names and dates and precise contents of tombs — but the interpretations that come out of it do, and I have a great time reliving my childhood dreams of being an archaeologist. (Blame Time Team.) In the case of this book, it’s mostly based on inscriptions and ruins actually found standing, rather than excavations, and I ended up tiring of the succession of names and vague facts, and of being told over and over again what a linga is (it’s a giant stone penis). There’s definitely magic in the ruins of Angkor Wat, and I did enjoy some of the understanding I gleaned of how that society worked… but it got pretty repetitive, just lists and lists of who was related to whom, the gods they venerated and the piles of treasure and groups of workers they supplied for temples.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important stuff to know in the interpretation of the site, but it’s a little… bloodless. It all seemed to be summed up rather neatly in the final 20-page chapter, which was the bit where most of the analysis came in.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Fury from the Tomb

Posted 9 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Fury of the Tomb by S.A. SidorFury from the Tomb, S.A. Sidor

Received to review via Netgalley

I loved the idea of this, a pulpy horror story in the tradition of something like The Mummy (not that I’ve seen that film). And honestly, it was quite a lot of fun, in a fast-paced way, with interesting stuff going on with the various mythical stuff brought into the story. It’s fairly tropey and predictable, and the pacing is a bit jerky, but I stuck with it and had a reasonable amount of fun. Not something that I’d recommend unless you really love pulpy Penny Dreadful type stories with mummies and vampires and all kinds of weirdness, but it wasn’t the worst way to spend the time either.

Things that would have made me like it more… more of Evangeline, less of Evangeline being an object of desire for Rom and apparently everyone else; more flesh on the bones of McTroy and what went on in his head; and… some kind of change to Rom’s character. He struck me as stuck up and ignorant in many ways, and the effect was something like Simon Tam from Firefly, except with no willingness to get his hands dirty (except maybe with grave dirt) and no trust of the people around him. Basically, Simon Tam without the good bits.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – At Amberleaf Fair

Posted 8 August, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of At Amberleaf Fair by Phyllis Ann KarrAt Amberleaf Fair, Phyllis Ann Karr

This is a relatively quiet fantasy with a spot of mystery and romance, with a rather fascinating world. I didn’t follow the economics entirely, but the magic, the metaphors, the people’s roles in lives — it was very clear that this was all set up with a great deal of thought and care. I didn’t absolutely love the characters — and I have no idea why Torin liked Valdart at all, or thought he wanted to marry Sharys — but some of the interplay was pretty good, and I enjoyed the fact that the gender of the judge was never mentioned at all.

If you read the author’s note, it’s obvious she envisioned it as our world, post-apocalypse and a lot of growing up for the species. In that light, it’s interesting to see what she thought would change and what she thought would stay the same, and why she thought that (for example, she thought that theft would continue to be a problem, largely because the idea of individual property was breaking down; I’m not sure that follows, since we have a pretty robust idea of individual property now and plenty of theft).

All in all, it’s not groundbreaking, but it works as a gentle read for a quiet evening.

Rating: 3/5

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