Review – The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Posted September 25, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers

There’s no book in this series that doesn’t have its pleasures, and there is much wittiness and cleverness and warmth in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club… but to me, it isn’t one of the more distinctive of the series. When I think about individual elements, like the way it throws Peter into confusion around potentially betraying one of his own class (a fellow sufferer of shellshock, too), it seems pretty good… but it doesn’t shine for me.

It particularly bothers me that I don’t think Sayers ever really examined her noble hero’s tendency to try and let people take their own way out (i.e. suicide) by warning them or talking them into it. Of course, Peter’s not wrong in the people he accuses, and we know he never really will be because Sayers made him a little too perfect… but if he were real, he could be wrong, and justice would not be served if that happened, and he caused someone to confess and take their own life because they felt backed into a corner.

I think that’s a big part of my unease with this one, and this time I reread it I actually stalled on it for quite a while!

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted September 23, 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 The Firebird by Susanna KearsleyWhat are you currently reading?

Fiction: I’ve gone back to Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird after a long time away. It’s not capturing me (or in this case recapturing me) as her other books usually do. I’d hoped it was just my mood, and coming back to it now would let me slip back into it… but apparently not. It might still be my mood, but it’s a bit disappointing.

Non-fiction: I’m back to The Story of Wales, by Jon Gower. I think that was a mood problem, because I’m digging into it more now… and getting angry about the historical treatment of the Welsh, of course. People forget, or never knew, that before English rule suppressed native languages on other contents, they started in Wales.

I’m also a good chunk of the way into How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics. So far it’s talked a lot about the promise of psychedelics for treating depression, anxiety, stress in people with terminal illnesses, etc… but it hasn’t gone into the science much. It’s been more of a history, so far, along with an exploration of the user’s personal feelings and experience,

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersWhat have you recently finished reading?

I finally finished my reread of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. It’s not one of my favourite Wimsey novels, though there are definitely fun bits, so I bogged down in it a while ago. Which means Strong Poison is next! Yay!

Cover of X+Y by Eugenia ChengWhat will you be reading next?

I’m slowly working through my “shelf of abandoned books”, so the next up on that shelf look to Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind, by Colin Renfrew, Feed by Mira Grant, and The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman. I’ll probably read a new-to-me book in tandem with trying to finish those; maybe Eugenia Cheng’s X+Y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender.

What are you reading? What’s got you enthusiastic at the moment? Let me know!

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Top Ten Tuesday: My Fall TBR

Posted September 22, 2020 by Nicky in General / 17 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a nice broad one: what’s on your fall TBR? Well, I don’t strictly have a TBR for fall, and honestly these days I try not to be too strict and just follow my whims. However, here are some books I’m planning to pick up really soon, for one reason or another…

Cover of Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James Cover of This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender Cover of Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas Cover of Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko Cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

  1. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James. I’m a little worried from the reviews that this isn’t going to be my thing, but it’s my bookclub choice for October, and I plan to give it a good solid try. Other parts of it sound really great — like the influence from African mythology — so we’ll just have to see!
  2. This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kacen Callender. This is the November book club choice, if I remember rightly, and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now. I’m particularly interested in how the sign language is handled (because one of the characters is deaf).
  3. Catherine House, by Elisabeth Thomas. Aaand this is December’s book club choice, which sounds weird and kinda creepy. Looking forward to it.
  4. Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko. I swear my sense of object permanence is lacking, because I was dying to read this but now I’ve put my copy away on the shelves in the other room, I keep forgetting! I heard a lot about this right when it came out, but haven’t actually seen many reviews…
  5. Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas. I’m super excited for this, and I should be getting my copy soon. (Thank you to the person who bought me a preorder! <3)
  6. Phoenix Extravagant, by Yoon Ha Lee. I loved the Machineries of Empire books so much, and I’m excited for this new book by Yoon Ha Lee! I have an eARC, but I should also hurry up and make my preorder… there, done! I was sold at “mighty dragon automaton”.
  7. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T.J. Klune. This sounds so warm-hearted as a read, from everyone’s reviews? I am a sucker for the families you make yourself in stories, so I’m excited for it.
  8. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, by K.S. Villoso. I’ve peeked at the first few pages and my eyebrows rose and I’m eager to give this a try.
  9. Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse. I’m hearing so much excitement about this one, and I know I’ve enjoyed Roanhorse’s writing, so I’m quite eager to see whether this works plot/character-wise a bit better for me than her other books.
  10. The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin. Not sure if I’ll get to this, actually, because I’m finally catching up with The Fifth Season and sequels. But it’s N.K. Jemisin, so I don’t want to leave it lying too long!

Cover of Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee Cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune Cover of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso Cover of Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

So what’s on your autumn TBR, folks? Do you even have a TBR? Let’s be real, we know I probably won’t finish all of these… chances are, I won’t even read half. That’s okay by me. Something about the anticipation is sweet too!

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Review – Utopia for Realists

Posted September 20, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Utopia for Realists by Rutger BregmanUtopia for Realists, Rutger Brenman

Utopia for Realists set out the case for three major things which would build a better world, a utopia in which we not only have unprecedented prosperity but that prosperity is more evenly shared, and people do worthwhile work:

  • A shorter workweek
  • Universal basic income
  • Open borders

As far as I can tell, Brenman has his facts in order, citing studies and real-world circumstances which support the suggestions he makes. Giving homeless people free cash, no strings attached, seems to have a better result than any other intervention, according to the studies he cites; shorter work weeks were almost actually implemented before they slipped off the political agenda; the numbers suggest that immigration will boost economies…

There are a lot of studies mentioned and footnoted, and a lot of sources to check; I did a little digging, but not more than that. I feel like I know so little about economics that Brenman could be saying “we should dye all ducks green” in economics-ese and I would just be nodding along. He writes very convincingly (with a few slip-ups like calling people with disabilities “cripples” — hopefully something introduced by the book’s translator rather than baked into the original text) and often aligns with my own ideas and ideals, so it’s not surprising that I feel the urge to nod along.

I did have a couple of criticisms that even I noticed, though. One example was his claim that immigration doesn’t harm social cohesion… only to claim that open borders couldn’t be introduced immediately because of the impact on social cohesion. Yikes, dude. You literally just said there’s no effect, two pages before. He also explicitly mentions rejecting a study because of his own opinions on the subject, and never actually discusses the results of that study and why he would rationally put it aside. There are a couple of other bits and pieces like that — inconsistencies and eyebrow-raising moments.

He also exhorts people at the end to be idealists, after setting out his case that utopia is achievable. I see what he means — it is achievable, if his data and theories are correct, but it requires people willing to commit to it and believe it, and in the face of so much opposition that does take an idealist, not a realist. It’s still a bit of a contradition, though…

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted September 20, 2020 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Good evening, folks! It’s been a better week for me, with my anxiety medication kicking in and lots of reading getting done. No new books this week, but I’m expecting some from Portal Bookshop any day now…

Books read this week:

Cover of Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris Cover of Digging Up Armageddon by Eric H. Cline

Cover of Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart Cover of Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman

A good week!

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

How’re you folks doing? Reading anything great?

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Review – Digging Up Armageddon

Posted September 20, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Digging Up Armageddon by Eric H. ClineDigging Up Armageddon, Eric H. Cline

Digging Up Armageddon discusses the archaeology of a fascinating site: Megiddo, better known as Armageddon. Alas, despite wanting to know more about the archaeology and that area of the world, I struggled a bit with Digging Up Armageddon. Much of the book involves the exact composition of the digging team in the Oriental Institute Megiddo expedition, what they said and did and complained about. It’s all relevant — it affected the excavation, and shaped the entire approach to the dig… but it overshadows the actual archaeology in this volume, leaving me hard-pressed to talk about the archaeology!

As a result, it took me quite a long time to read it. It’s best approached as a history of that specific expedition and their legacy, with some discussion of how things have changed (how they misinterpreted or outright messed things up) — it’s definitely not about the archaeology alone, though you could in theory read each alternate chapter and focus more on the archaeological side. Still, things are so entwined that personally I wouldn’t recommend it, and I have no idea how you’d follow all the names and why they’re involved without reading it all. The disagreements were sometimes a bit byzantine.

In the end, I’m glad I read it, but it wasn’t so much the kind of non-fiction I really enjoy. If you’re looking for info on that particular expedition, it’d be a great resource.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Nine Coaches Waiting

Posted September 19, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary StewartNine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart

I had really fond memories of Nine Coaches Waiting, and while I wasn’t wholly wrong that I enjoyed it a lot, it wasn’t as great as I remembered — perhaps because I found that the tension was drawn out just a little too long, and the fiendish plot of the bad guy a little too convoluted. It took a while to get to the payoff of the scenes between Linda and Raoul as they find their understanding… though the payoff is pretty fun, classically dramatic as it is.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. Linda is the protagonist, a half-English half-French girl orphaned quite young, and travelling to take up a post as a governess to a small boy in France. There’s something a bit weird about it all, including the suggestion that they don’t want her to be able to speak French… but she needs to escape her boring life of teaching in England. The boy she becomes governess to is shy, unhappy, orphaned himself — and his guardians don’t seem to like him, and have a rather proprietary attitude to the house and grounds he actually owns, and which they only take care of during his minority.

It takes quite a few suspicious accidents to really put Linda on the alert, though, and in the meantime she falls in love with the son of her charge’s guardians. I felt like, reading it this time, this relationship really wasn’t given room to breathe at all; that’s the case with all of Mary Stewart’s books, to be honest, and I don’t know why it struck me so much here — perhaps because, at over 400 pages, you’d expect a bit more depth.

What Mary Stewart always did well was evoke a sense of place, and she does beautifully here, from the house to the woodland to the little village; I can never “picture” anything, but she doesn’t just describe anyway. She can also make you feel a place, and it works here, from the woodlands to the house to the little villages.

Still a very enjoyable read, but not as great as I’d remembered, anyway; perhaps it’s best if you read it all in one go, which this time I didn’t. Maybe I just had too much time to quibble!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Beneath the World, A Sea

Posted September 16, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Beneath the World, A Sea, Chris Beckett

I was fully on board with the premise of this: a British policeman is sent to a mysterious area in South America, tasked with finding a way to stop the killing of duendes. Duendes have been deemed to be sentient and to be protected under the law, but local people hunt them down and kill them because of their ability to bring out people’s suppressed emotions, often rage and shame. To reach the area, you have to go through the Zona, on a boat, and everything you do inside the Zona… you’ll never remember once you leave it again. The book starts as Ben emerges from the Zona, to find that he wrote some mysterious journals… and probably left the boat, as everyone was advised not to do.

It doesn’t really go anywhere from there, unfortunately. There’s plenty of weirdness, some great little thumbnail sketches of people with all their insecurities bared, and it feels like there’s a plot leading toward some kind of climax, a confrontation between Ben and the weirdness. I didn’t necessarily expect answers to the weirdness, or at least not all of it, but it felt for a while like it had a fairly traditional plot trajectory — and then just at the point where you’d expect action to be taken, Ben decides to run away. He just runs away. That’s it. That’s the story.

Sure, he’s learned stuff about himself that he never knew and didn’t want to know; the Zona and the world within its circle have scared him and changed him… but essentially, he just decides to run away, and there’s no real feeling that there’s any kind of resolution.

Now maybe there isn’t intended to be, but it felt weak to me, especially after the inklings that there was more to come. It’s not that it was a bad reading experience, but despite the promise of the setting… I was left cold by this. I don’t mind weird, and I don’t mind non-traditional stories, but the sense that this was going somewhere and didn’t really made the ending limp for me.

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted September 16, 2020 by Nicky in General / 1 Comment

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!

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Digging Up Armageddon by Eric H. ClineFiction: I’m neck-deep in Kushiel’s Dart, and just finally getting to the bits which I always struggle to read because aaaaaahhhh nooooo. I forget how long it takes Joscelin to really start being amazing! I haven’t really been taking part in the readalong discussions, because my brain is just tired and I’m probably reading too much at once.

Speaking of which, I’m also reading The Fifth Season, and working on my shelf of abandoned books. I’m closing on finished with my reread of Nine Coaches Waiting, which is still fun but… I don’t know, the melodrama of this one doesn’t work for me as well as (say) Madam, Will You Talk? Perhaps it’s also because it’s longer.

Non-fiction: I’m finally back to reading Eric H. Cline’s Digging Up Armageddon, which I stalled on because I wasn’t in the right mood before. I’m enjoying the details of the digs and the team a bit more this time, and closing on the end… despite feeling that the team had so many questions left to answer. Gah.

What have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Beneath the World, A Sea, by Chris Beckett. It was… okay. I actually originally said it’d be something my wife was likely to love, but I think it floundered around a bit and then petered out, despite the original promise. It lacks any kind of resolution — I didn’t necessarily need an explanation, but something better than the sense the characters are running away.

Cover of The Lost Plot by Genevieve CogmanWhat will you be reading next?

I’m planning to work more on the shelf of abandoned books, but there’s still quite a bit of scope there. I could get back to my reread of The Lost Plot, by Genevieve Cogman, or of Feed by Mira Grant. Or I could finish a book that’s new to me, like Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird.

Probably I’ll pick two and chip away at them by setting myself a goal of reading a minimum of five pages a day. It seems to be the key to unlocking a book I’m struggling with — with all of them I’ve suddenly had a moment of getting back into it and finishing it all in one go.

So what’re you reading? 

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Review – Orfeia

Posted September 16, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Orfeia by Joanne M. HarrisOrfeia, Joanne Harris, Bonnie Helen Hawkins

Orfeia is a fairy tale, drawing the main character Fay from a world of late-night runs (recorded diligently on a Fitbit) to the world of Faerie, pulled on a line of Childe’s ballads and longing. Fay’s husband died when their daughter was young, and now her daughter is gone too — unexpectedly, through suicide. The runs are less a method of coping or escaping than just dulling herself to non-existence… and then one night as she runs she sees light through a crack in the pavement, and sees her daughter, alive but sleeping.

So begins Fay’s quest, driven by her love as a mother even as Faerie slowly steals away her memories and her shadow — and that love really drives the whole story. Her clues are fragments of ballads and riddles, and her weapons are her wits and her voice. She doesn’t remember or understand the world she’s drawn into, even as the other characters insist she’s a queen.

Some of the songs I was familiar with, and others less so, but I enjoyed the way they were used. It can be hard to do something new with something that retells or uses or references old ballads, because you may need to hew pretty close to the original story for anyone to recognise it… but you also want to bring your own twist to it. Harris is well-used to retellings, and doesn’t let source material hamper her one bit.

And alright, it’s a quest story: I was pretty sure of the answers of some of the big questions, but the ride was the important part, along with some of the details along the way. Some of the scenes are so vivid to me — I’m not blessed with a visual imagination at all, but the illustrations help there, and there are other senses to imagine…

Speaking of which, the illustrations are gorgeous, and worth lingering over for the little details.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. I always find Harris’ prose gripping — she has a way with words, or at least her words have a way with me. I ended up reading it in three sittings, and regretting each time I had to put it down.

Rating: 4/5

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