Review – Death Came Softly

Posted June 24, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Death Came Softly

Death Came Softly

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 251
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

This crime puzzle features Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald, who is a “London Scot” and an avowed bachelor with a love for walking in the English countryside. But what will he make of the body found dead in a cave?

Death Comes Softly has a lot to recommend it; if it weren’t an E.C.R. Lorac book, it’d unquestionably be four stars, whereas as it is I’m weighing in the balance with her other books and wondering if four stars is quite fair. Sometimes when I’m reading classic crime, I’m just looking for a mystery with all the traditional bells and whistles, and that’ll be satisfying in and of itself. It feels like with E.C.R. Lorac’s work, I look for a little more.

Still, with her usual skill she summons up a landscape that feels beautiful, peaceful and real — and a group of characters who also feel like humans. Macdonald is, as ever, a fundamentally decent person, and Lorac’s usual ability to make her characters feel memorable and worth knowing is present too.

I tumbled to the why of the mystery quicker than the how, and feel like maybe it could’ve used a little more hinting. Mind you, maybe when it was written this kind of thing would’ve been more obvious. I’ve never handled a charcoal brazier at all, after all.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Foxes in Love vol 2

Posted June 23, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – Foxes in Love vol 2

Foxes in Love

by Toivo Kaartinen

Genres: Graphic Novels
Pages: 114
Series: Foxes in Love #2
Rating: five-stars
Synopsis:

This is a simple comic about simple foxes. Blue and Green continue their simple adventures in the second volume of Foxes in Love. This series is a heartwarming and humorous collection of comics exploring family, life, and relationships, told by two foxes living their lives together.

Volume 2 contains 9 exclusive comics which were never released online as well as 8 colorized comics which were previously only released in black and white.

I absolutely adore Toivo Kaartinen’s Foxes in Love comics. I’ve read most of them, over time, but I was glad to get a copy of this as well to keep on my shelf and support the author. The comics are sometimes just funny, sometimes really romantic, sometimes a little bit profound… it’s a mix.

It’s perhaps best not to read the whole thing in one sitting: charming as the comics are, they don’t have a storyline or anything, and it can get a little “samey”. I picked up volume 3, but I’ll give it a little time before I read it.

Obviously you can also just follow the comic online in various places if you want to see if it’s to your taste.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted June 22, 2024 by Nicky in General / 19 Comments

This week I’ve been substantially back to normal, which is great! I had a couple of cranky days, I’ll admit, but definitely life is a bit more fun right now. I haven’t been doing that much reading, admittedly, and it’s mostly been rereading… but perhaps more about that below.

Books acquired this week

Just one book this week, via Unbound on Netgalley:

Cover of The Secret Life of Lego Bricks by Daniel Konstanski

I know, perhaps not my usual fare, but really my usual fare is “whatever grabs my interest”, and this one piqued it today, perhaps because I semi-recently read Adrift: The Curious Tale of the Lego Lost at Sea.

Posts from this week

As usual, it’s time for a bit of a roundup. Here’s what I’ve been posting about this week:

Other posts:

What I’m reading

It’s been a week for rereading, more than reading new stuff to review. I’ve been rereading Juneau Black’s Shady Hollow series; I didn’t read them that long ago, and really what I want to be reading is the new book. Since that’s not out yet, this will do for a start! Over the weekend, I’m hoping to also finish rereading A Coalition of Lions (Elizabeth E. Wein), which I will review since it’s been so long since I read it.

Here are the covers of the books I’ve read in the last week that I’m planning to review sometime soon:

Cover of The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein Cover of Worn, by Sofi Thanhauser

Luckily I have a bit of a backlog of reviews — the blog won’t run short for a while yet, fear not!

How’s everyone else doing this weekend?

Linking up with Reading Reality’s Stacking the Shelves, Caffeinated Reviewer’s The Sunday Post, and the Sunday Salon over at Readerbuzz, as usual!

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Review – Email

Posted June 21, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Email

Email

by Randy Malamud

Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 184
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

Do you feel your consciousness, your attention, and your intelligence (not to mention your eyesight) being sucked away, byte by byte, in a deadening tsunami of ill-composed blather, corporate groupthink, commercial come-ons, and other meaningless internet flotsam? Do your work life and your social life, hideously conjoined in your inbox, drag each other down in a surreal cycle of neverending reposts, appointments, and deadlines?

Sometime in the mid-1990s, we began, often with some trepidation, to enroll for a service that promised to connect us-electronically and efficiently-to our friends and lovers, our bosses and merchants. If it seemed at first like simply a change in scale (our mail would be faster, cheaper, more easily distributed to large groups), we now realize that email entails a more fundamental alteration in our communicative consciousness. Despite its fading relevance in the lives of the younger generation in the face of an ever-changing array of apps and media, email is probably here to stay, for better or worse.

Randy Malamud’s Email is a bit of a meditation on email and what it can be used for, with some glimpses into the history of the medium… but mostly it’s a little sceptical, a little dismissive. Now and then he gives into the wonder of the fact that we can almost immediately contact people all over the world and say anything… but mostly he harps on the fragmented focus, the lack of profundity, etc.

As someone who kept in contact with my now-wife mostly only through email for long months when they were teaching in a remote area in Finland, I think Malamud’s vision is sorely lacking. I had whole 100-email threads with friends full of ideas and chatter, which is the only reason I know that after 100 emails in a thread, Gmail starts a new one. I’ve written stories with other people going back and forth by email.

Of course I work with boring, transactional emails every day — and of course those emails aren’t wonders of the world. But I think there’s a lot more to it than Malamud’s willing to see, and more history he could’ve dug into. I know I always harp on about Personal Stereo and Blue Jeans as being my favourites so far from this series, but I crave more books like those two.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – This New Noise

Posted June 20, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – This New Noise

This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC

by Charlotte Higgins

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 288
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

'The BBC, to my mind at least, is the most powerful British institution of them all, for, as well as informing, educating and entertaining, it permeates and reflects our existences, infiltrates our imaginations, forms us in myriad ways.'

Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian's chief culture writer, steps behind the polished doors of Broadcasting House and investigates the BBC. Based on her hugely popular essay series, this personal journey answers the questions that rage around this vulnerable, maddening and uniquely British institution. Questions such as, what does the BBC mean to us now? What are the threats to its continued existence? Is it worth fighting for?

Higgins traces its origins, celebrating the early pioneering spirit and unearthing forgotten characters whose imprint can still be seen on the BBC today. She explores how it forged ideas of Britishness both at home and abroad. She shows how controversy is in its DNA and brings us right up to date through interviews with grandees and loyalists, embattled press officers and high profile dissenters, and she sheds new light on recent feuds and scandals. This is a deeply researched, lyrically written, intriguing portrait of an institution at the heart of Britain.

The BBC is a British institution, and one which has been agonised over a lot. It sometimes feels like that’s something which happened only in recent years, but Charlotte Higgins’ This New Noise makes it clear that we’ve agonised over the BBC for as long as it has existed — and we’ve never had the halcyon perfect days that I think many people imagine. It’s always been what it is now, and as contentious as it has been now.

At times, I think Higgins tells the story a bit out of order, making references to events she explains properly later. This might work well for someone who has been alive for a bit more of the BBC’s lifespan, but I was not yet very engaged with the news for some of these! I also wasn’t really aware of the various directors-general, so just mentioning their names didn’t really contextualise things.

It’s still an interesting history, especially where it discusses people I didn’t know about at all, whose roles have been forgotten, like Hilda Matheson. She sounded pretty great (though of course it’s easy to make idols of people). All in all, an enjoyable read, and a useful point of view.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Mirror Mended

Posted June 19, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Mirror Mended

A Mirror Mended

by Alix E. Harrow

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 128
Series: Fractured Fairytales #2
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can't handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White's Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she's desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

Will Zinnia accept the Queen's poisonous request, and save them both from the hot iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path?

A Mirror Mended follows more or less straight on from A Spindle Splintered, and Alix E. Harrow doesn’t give you a lot of background or reminding about the first book — they’re probably best read back-to-back. They don’t follow straight on in time, but they might as well: part of the issue in A Spindle Splintered is that Zinnia hasn’t really thought about what the events of the previous book mean for her. She’s running, still.

I found it all somewhat less, well, charming, without Charm so actively in the mix somehow — her love for Zinnia, her determination to help her, is a really strong part of the appeal. She’s not gone, of course, but for the majority of the story she’s in the background, and Zinnia is trying really hard not to think about her too much.

The romance in this book feels a little too speedy, though I think it could’ve worked for me with a bit more time. I still enjoyed what Harrow did with the meta nature of the story, though, and it’s a fun read.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reading List

Posted June 18, 2024 by Nicky in General / 20 Comments

Well, well, well — it’s been a while since I participated in a Top Ten Tuesday! I’ve been super busy with my exams, but I’m starting to get back on track and have a bit more time to chat.

And read! So here’s a glimpse at some of the items on my summer reading list.

Cover of Summer's End by Juneau Black Cover of The Duke at Hazard by KJ Charles Cover of You Should Be So Lucky by Cat Sebastian Cover of Necrobane by Daniel M. Ford Cover of A Breviary of Fire by Marie Brennan

  1. Summer’s End, by Juneau Black. No question, this is the first thought on my mind. It’s out on 11th July (in the UK at least), and I’m going to grab it on release day. I had a lot of fun reading the series so far (check out my enthusiastic reviews!), and it’s going to be perfect light reading.
  2. The Duke at Hazard, by KJ Charles. KJ’s work is an auto-buy for me, so when this comes out on 18th July, I’ll grab it straight away. I did actually request the ARC on Netgalley, but no luck so far. It sounds like a fun romp, and I’m eager to get started.
  3. You Should Be So Lucky, by Cat Sebastian. This one I already have, and it should be a fun romance read. Cat Sebastian’s work is always a good time.
  4. Necrobane, by Daniel M. Ford. This is, uh, less light reading, since it involves necromancy and all. I’m keen to start on it soon, since I enjoyed The Warden so much. It’s queued up ready on my ereader — I just want to finish one or two more of the stalled books on my “currently reading” list before I return to Aelis’ problems.
  5. A Breviary of Fire, by Marie Brennan. I love pretty much everything by Marie Brennan, and this new short story collection is pretty short, so it should be a nice pick while I’m still steadily recovering brain function after the epic marathon that was my exam period.
  6. The Bloodless Princes, by Charlotte Bond. I quite liked the first book, and I’m curious where this one will go. It should be a relatively short read, as well, which works well with my current attention span, though it won’t be light reading as such — I found the first book surprisingly grim in some ways.
  7. The Undetectables, by Courtney Smyth. With the tagline “be gay, solve crimes, take naps”, this certainly sounds like a fun romp, and I could do with that. Definitely on my shortlist for the summer.
  8. The Spellshop, by Sarah Beth Durst. It had me at the comparison to Legends & Lattes, let’s be honest, and I’ve seen it described as a “fluffy blanket” of a book. Sounds lovely, and just what the doctor ordered right now.
  9. The Hands of the Emperor, by Victoria Goddard. This would actually be a reread, but I’m holding a place for it anyway because it’s a chonker, and summer’s the perfect time to read those, before the academic year starts again. I’d like to refresh my memory for the other books in this world, and also just spend some more time with Tor and Cliopher. I loved this book. I’ve realised that inexplicably I never posted my review here, so I’ve put that in my queue to post (good thing I have a copy on StoryGraph) — though I might just wait and post a whole new review after a reread.
  10. A Coalition of Lions, by Elizabeth E. Wein. This is also a reread, albeit of a book I read longer ago. I just reread The Winter Prince, and now I’m revisiting the whole series. I feel like I remembered The Winter Prince quite well, but I don’t remember anything of the following books except that I enjoyed them (perhaps because only the first is solidly Arthurian).

Cover of The Bloodless Princess by Charlotte Bond Cover of The Undetectables by Courtney Smyth Cover of The Spellshop by Sarah Beth Durst Cover of The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard Cover of A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth E. Wein

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and I haven’t even touched on any of the non-fiction I might read, because what catches my attention can change so rapidly. I’m looking forward to all of it, though!

How about you? Any plans for the summer, readers?

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Review – The Lost Gallows

Posted June 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – The Lost Gallows

The Lost Gallows

by John Dickson Carr

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 288
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

John Dickson Carr lays on the macabre atmosphere again in this follow up to It Walks by Night in which Inspector Bencolin attempts to piece together a puzzle involving a disappearing street, a set of gallows which mysteriously reveals itself to a number of figures traipsing through the London fog, and the bizarre suggestion that a kind of fictional bogeyman, Jack Ketch, may be afoot and in the business of wanton execution. An early gem from one of the great writers of the genre. Also includes the rare Bencolin short story "The Ends of Justice."

The Lost Gallows is, I think, one of John Dickson Carr’s earlier novels, so I went in with fairly low expectations — the melodrama and bombast of his other Bencolin books isn’t entirely for me, but he’s still a plotter of ingenious mysteries. I don’t know if it was because I went in fully prepared for that, or maybe I’ve learned more sympathy through enjoying his later books, but this one wasn’t so bad.

It is of course very colourful and highly dramatic, with some surprisingly prosaic explanations; it’s full of atmosphere, using the London fog as a device in a similar way (though a very different tone) to Christianna Brand’s London Particular. It’s funny thinking about how ubiquitous that fog was, and yet I can barely imagine fog being so thick, so awful.

If you like a bit of adventure in your mystery novels, this one has that as well — the narrator puts himself in the thick of things, and there are a couple of very breathless scenes.

It all ends up feeling almost too prosaic for the fantastic atmosphere, but it works out interestingly enough.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Across a Field of Starlight

Posted June 16, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Across a Field of Starlight

Across a Field of Starlight

by Blue Delliquanti

Genres: Graphic Novels, Science Fiction
Pages: 345
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

An epic sci-fi graphic novel romance between two non-binary characters as they find one another through time, distance, and war. An amazing story that explores the complexity of human nature and what brings us together.

When they were kids, Fassen's fighter spaceship crash-landed on a planet that Lu's survey force was exploring. It was a forbidden meeting between a kid from a war-focused resistance movement and a kid whose community and planet are dedicated to peace and secrecy.

Lu and Fassen are from different worlds and separate solar systems. But their friendship keeps them in each other's orbit as they grow up. They stay in contact in secret as their communities are increasingly threatened by the omnipresent, ever-expanding empire.

As the empire begins a new attack against Fassen's people--and discovers Lu's in the process--the two of them have the chance to reunite at last. They finally are able to be together... but at what cost?

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is an epic science fiction romance between two non-binary characters as they find one another through time, distance, and war.

I really wanted to like Blue Delliquanti’s Across a Field of Starlight a lot, because there’s a lot to like about it. The sheer diversity of body types, the queer normativity, the different types of relationships… there’s so much here, and the art is lovely, and the sheer energy in some of the facial expressions and body language is great.

Unfortunately, I found it a little hard to follow at times — the jumps felt too sudden, so that I wasn’t always sure if scenes were supposed to be connected or not. I adored the whole roleplaying game the two main characters set up between them, and I’d have loved a little more of that context to understand more of why they act the way they do together. A little more world-building would’ve been nice, too, to understand a little more than “evil Empire is evil” and “the resistance can be just as bad”.

I still did enjoy it, and I’m sure some of the deficiencies are mine: I’m not as adept at reading visual media as I’d like to be. But for me, I was left with some questions.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted June 15, 2024 by Nicky in General / 14 Comments

I’m freeeeeeee! Yes, my exams are over, and the academic year too. I’ll start up again fairly soon, trying to get ahead on studying for the next year, especially since I’ll be sitting one of the hardest modules. But for now I’m taking some well-deserved time off!

Reading-wise I’m not entirely back in the swing of it yet, and I need to do some catchup with comments and saying hi to folks, but I’m back.

Books acquired this week

I haven’t got much new, but I did get this month’s British Crime Classic book from my subscription, the theme of which (academic stories) seems… a little on the nose for me right now.

Cover of Lessons in Crime: Academic Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards

I’m looking forward to digging into it, though I admit I haven’t read last week’s book yet.

Posts from this week

I didn’t do great at posting this week, missing two days, but here’s the roundup of the reviews that did go live!

What I’m reading

I haven’t been reading a ton this week, since I’ve been busy, and at least one of the books I did read I won’t be reviewing on the blog again (since it was a reread). But here’s a glimpse at the books I’ve read that I do plan to review on the blog sometime soon:

Cover of In Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens Cover of The Brutish Museums by Dan Hicks Cover of Foreign Bodies, edited by Martin Edwards

I’m not sure what I’ll be reading this weekend, to be honest. I think I’ll probably read more of Worn: A People’s History of Clothing (Sofi Thanhauser), reread Record of a Spaceborn Few (Becky Chambers), and… otherwise completely follow my whims.

How’s everyone else doing?

Linking up with Reading Reality’s Stacking the Shelves, Caffeinated Reviewer’s The Sunday Post, and the Sunday Salon over at Readerbuzz, as usual!

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