Review – Death of a Clone

Posted 21 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death of a CloneDeath of a Clone, Alex Thompson

Received to review via Netgalley

This has been out for, um, ages now. I did actually start it as soon as I got it, and then I had my dissertation and moving and a thousand other excuses. When I actually sat down to finish it, though, it’s a very easy read and went by quickly. It was a little bit predictable to me, but it comes together nicely, and I do enjoy the constant references to Golden Age crime fiction (or at least Agatha Christie; now I think about it, I’m not sure whether any others were mentioned).

I probably shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoiling the reveals — it is kind of fun to just read and let things fall into place for yourself, after all. But I do find it weird that it has a lot of similarities with another recent book, One Way (S.J. Morden). There’s a slightly different angle, but nonetheless a lot of similarities, right down to the ending (which I peeked at in the case of One Way, which I haven’t quite finished). If I remember rightly they must have been being published at the same time, so it’s not a matter of plagiarism — just a kind of synchronicity, I think, but it definitely gave me deja vu!

Not bad, but nothing particularly astonishing either.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Seeds of Science

Posted 20 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Seeds of Science by Mark LynasSeeds of Science, Mark Lynas

I’m pro-GMOs, so you could say it’s typical that I’d like this book, and I’m really the only kind of audience it would reach — but I think Lynas is genuinely attempting to dispell myths and introduce other people to the actual science behind GMOs, for all that. He was himself once very much anti-GMO, and participated in the crop destructions and demonstrations against people who tried to grow genetically engineered crops in the UK; he was “converted” by actually looking into the science behind it, and finding that behind the scaremongering, there’s very little real science.

He does also (perhaps somewhat weirdly) mount a defence of Monsanto; some aspects are like a case study of the problems of GM crops in action, but at other times he seems to be conflating the rise of GM crops as a whole with Monsanto — not quite the same thing; one doesn’t need to defend Monsanto to prove that GMOs are no threat. (Although he’s also not wrong that many of the kneejerk claims against Monsanto are on shaky ground. For example, the idea that Monsanto deliberately sell sterile seeds in order to force farmers to purchase new seed every year. That idea is just poor understanding of genetics: the second generation of seed may not actually carry the Roundup-resistant gene, in the same way that the seeds of hybrid crops don’t necessarily breed true.)

Lynas writes well and clearly, and often evocatively; his struggle with becoming pro-GMO isn’t drawn out in angsty detail, but it’s plain that it wasn’t an easy change for him and that he made the decision based on facts he could no longer ignore. Perhaps for some people, his presentation of the known facts will be enough to tip the scales. I’m somewhat doubtful (I think a lot of people who are anti-GM will automatically reject this book as being by a sellout, particularly because of the defence of Monsanto), but maybe it’ll help. If you’re on the fence, it should definitely help to clarify your views.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 19 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 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 Death of a CloneWhat are you currently reading?

A bit of a variety. I’m actually back to reading fiction as well as non-fic as the stress from the move settles down; I’m halfway through rereading Under Heaven, for one — not my favourite of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels (though the opening chapter has always stuck with me), but I had a craving after the books on Genghis Khan and the origins of paper I was reading. I’m also reading One Way by S.J. Morden, which is pretty compulsive reading although not striking me as anything special, and Death of a Clone, by Alex Thompson — the Agatha Christie references in the latter are endearing, at least!

Non-fiction wise, I’ve started on Spying On Whales, since it’s due back at the library. One of those random picks of something I’m not constantly fascinated by, but which is nonetheless an interesting topic.

What have you recently finished reading?

I’m… not doing so good at actually finishing books. I think the last thing was Men Explain Things To Me, by Rebecca Solnit. Less inflammatory than people would have you think, and while the title essay is good, the others are more uneven — they seem thrown together just to make a book.

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonWhat will you be reading next? 

Who knows? But I did promise a buddy read of The Division Bell Mystery to someone on Litsy, so maybe it’ll be that. Then I have a bunch of books on the Mayans and Incas that I’d like to get stuck into, a book on feathered dinosaurs… plenty to be getting on with.

What are you reading?

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Review – Verdict of Twelve

Posted 18 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond PostgateVerdict of Twelve, Raymond Postgate

This book isn’t really about the crime itself, but about the jurors who sit to judge it in court. Each of them has their own experiences, some of them shadier than others, all of them changing the way they look at the woman in the dock. The mystery itself is wholly second to the examination of why each character decides to vote guilty or not guilty. It’s a clever story, albeit rather shallow — after a few characters on the jury, the author gives up really giving them backgrounds and personalities, because twelve is too many to really handle. It makes sense, but it also makes some parts of the deliberation of the jury rather perfunctory.

Overall, it’s clever enough and entertaining, if not massively difficult to figure out, or really all that good a psychological examination of juries.

Warning: one thing that may be distressing for some folks is that a pet rabbit is brutally killed (in a way designed to distress its owner). I honestly found that bit rather disturbing. Yeesh.

Rating: 3/5

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Discussion: Shelving

Posted 17 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 3 Comments

So I’m in the new flat and getting everything sorted, and of course the big question arises: how should I categorise my books?! I know some people who don’t bother, or even weirder to me, sort them via totally arbitrary criteria like spine colour, or the size of the book.

To me, the whole point of the shelves is to make the books accessible, so it needs to be useful as well. My books get roughly separated by genre and then alphabetised by the author’s surname — and within an author, I tend to go by publication order if I’m feeling really obsessive. Series definitely need to be together and sorted in order! Size and colour don’t matter to me, unless they don’t fit on the shelf, in which case taller books do go on a separate, taller shelf.

The breakdown for my books is pretty unsurprising: there’s four bookcases in the living room full to the brim with fantasy and sci-fi…

There’s a half-size bookcase in my office which is two thirds full of pop history books…

Comics go on the unit above, and I do have a separate section for library books as well…

Then the full size bookcase behind me is a bit of a miscellanea: a few shelves of crime fiction, some historical fiction, some romance, and then two shelves of pop science.

So how do you categorise your books? Please tell me it’s not by colour… (I mean, I kid. Do what you like. But what earthly use is that?!)


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Review – The Paper Trail

Posted 16 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Paper Trail by Alexander MonroThe Paper Trail, Alexander Munro

Possibly I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much of the history of papermaking and paper usage is focused on China and the surrounding countries, but I was still somehow surprised — and I definitely hadn’t known about the key role Buddhist sutras players in popularising paper there. I did enjoy that the book didn’t just focus in narrowly on paper-making, but discussed its usage, the people who used it, and explained the contexts. It’s one of those books that might seem to be a microhistory, but in the end tells you a lot about various different things.

Of course, in later chapters it discusses the Reformation and the rise of literacy in the population, and the invention of the novel. But a lot of it isn’t about the West, which is… actually, probably a good thing for a complacent Westerner like me to run into. Paper was already established, understood and used fully well before we started printing Bibles and novels on it. It’s obvious, when you say it like that.

I found Munro’s style pretty compelling and definitely clear, and I enjoyed the fact that he didn’t hurry to the more familiar parts of paper’s history.

Rating: 4/5 

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 15 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

Slowly, slowly, we’re coming to the end of the moving nightmare. I’m writing this from my new office space, and all my books are on shelves… if not quite the shelves they will finally be on (and the comic books aren’t unpacked at all). Here’s a sneaky shelfie… (and a bun checking his email).


So much left to do, but we’re here and the bunnies are here and everything’s gonna be good.

Books read this week:

Cover of Genghis Khan by John Man Cover of The Paper Trail by Alexander Monro

They were both pretty fascinating — learned a lot more about the impact of Buddhist sutras on the history of paper than I ever expected to.

Reviews posted this week:

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Nobody writes quite like Chandler, though some of his views on women and people of colour are sickening. I wouldn’t recommend him to anyone without caveats, but boy oh boy he could write. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Too many books at once? Is there such a thing?
WWW Wednesday. The latest update on exactly what I’m reading right now.

Out and about:

NEAT science: Vive la Pluto. My entry into the debate over whether Pluto’s a planet or not. (Spoiler: yes. As my sister says, with an appalling lack of concern for whether it’s actually correct French, “vive la Pluto”.)

So how’re you all doing? I miss checking out other people’s blogs — I have a list of posts to check out as long as my leg (we overflowed my arm a couple of weeks ago)!

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 12 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 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 The Paper Trail by Alexander MonroWhat are you currently reading?

Mostly non-fiction, as is my habit during stressful times. So at the moment it’s John Man’s book on Genghis Khan, and Alexander Monro’s The Paper Trail, about the invention and spread of paper as a technology. The latter surprised me in how very heavy it was on the linkages between the origins of paper and the popularisation by Daoism and Buddhism, through its use for sutras. Did not know anything about that before, despite knowing that China was the origin of paper made from mulberry trees.

Cover of Seeds of Science by Mark LynasWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Mark Lynas’ Seeds of Science. It’s pro-genetic modification, pointing out that there’s no reputable science to suggest there’s any harm being caused by the production of GM crops. He was once a major critic and protestor of GMOs, so it’s interesting from that perspective as well. Sadly, I doubt he’ll change anyone’s mind, but it was interesting to read up on it from the point of view of someone who was once a sceptic.

(I’m pro GMOs, obviously; science says they’re safe, I don’t believe that science should be guided by religious taboos, and I think — as Lynas points out — they can help ameliorate food insecurity.)

Cover of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel KayWhat will you be reading next?

I have a massive craving to reread Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven — and finally get round to River of Stars! — probably due to the Genghis Khan book and The Paper Trail. So maybe I’ll pick those up — I just got them out of their boxes today! The unpacking has begun, and nearly all the bookcases are in place.

How about you? What are you reading?

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Review – The Big Sleep

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

Cover of The Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerThe Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

Whatever else you can say about Raymond Chandler, he was a hell of a writer. He didn’t use tired old imagery — I could probably easily find dozens of phrases and descriptions throughout his book which are specific, precisely calculated and completely fresh, without trying too hard in any way. That and the pace of his novels makes them just roll along at an incredible speed; I don’t always follow his mystery plots entirely, but I’m hooked on them.

Of course, his writing about women is just gross nowadays, objectifying and patronising and just plain unpleasant. There’s not too much that I recall of his racial politics either, but they come up in Farewell My Lovely, and are beyond gross. I don’t think calling him a man of his time excuses it, per se — it’s not that difficult to understand that other people are human, and bother to speak to them for five minutes. But I can’t help but enjoy his work anyway for his writing, for the way he sketches out Philip Marlowe and his reactions to the world around him so that all of it is very clear and in focus. I can almost visualise his scenes because he makes it so easy: you get an idea of what everyone is doing, without him taking a million words to do it.

Honestly, it’s wizardry. I can’t help enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Too Many Books At Once

Posted 10 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

Too many books spoil the broth? Hmm… not quite right. Well, I mean, they would, but it’s not quite in the spirit of the proverb.

…Anyway, this week’s discussion post is about reading multiple books simultaneously. I know a lot of people hate doing that, feeling that they lose the thread of the plot or there’s just too much to pay attention to, and I get it. I just can’t sit still for long enough — I’m very much a mood reader, and that means if a book is taking me ages and isn’t something I’m super in the mood to read, I’ll pick up something else to fill in the gaps. The problem occurs when I then pick up another book to supplement that, and… on and on it goes.

Personally, I think you all know my Golden Rule of Reading: have fun, and don’t ever let it become a chore. I did try to reduce the number of books I had on the go at once, because sometimes it is a little stressful or I end up not making progress on a book for ages even though I was enjoying it… but overall, I prefer to give myself the flexibility to just put a book down and come back later, because I don’t ever want to feel resentful about reading or annoyed that I’m dying to pick up Book X but I’m stuck on Book Y. I don’t think it’d work if I read books all in the same genre — they might blur into each other — but maybe it helps that I’m all over the reading map.

So yeah, I refuse to have shame about my currently-reading pile. Vive la stack!

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