Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted July 13, 2024 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Life’s just about back to normal after my holiday, though I’m due to spend much of my weekend on the new Extreme fights in FFXIV, so I’m not sure how much reading I’ll fit in! And hopefully I’ll be able to do some blog visiting; it’s been quiet around here!

Books acquired this week

This week I got both my British Library Crime Classic book for this month and Juneau Black’s new release, Summer’s End. I’m pretty excited about the latter, though the crime should be fun too!

Cover of Tour de Force by Christianna Brand Cover of Summer's End by Juneau Black

I’ve already started on Summer’s End!

Posts from this week

As usual, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been posting.

And a throwback freebie Top Ten Tuesday post:

What I’m reading

As mentioned, I’ve been digging into Summer’s End, but otherwise this week it’s been mostly rereads (including a reread of the Narnia books, inspired by the Top Ten Tuesday post). I did finish one new-to-me book, though:

Cover of Threading the Labyrinth by Tiffany Angus

I’m sure I’ll post the review soon, but… I was unfortunately pretty underwhelmed by this one.

Hope everyone’s having a great 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 – In Deeper Waters

Posted July 12, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – In Deeper Waters

In Deeper Waters

by F.T. Lukens

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 307
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

A young prince must rely on a mysterious stranger to save him when he is kidnapped during his coming-of-age tour in this swoony adventure that is The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

Prince Tal has long awaited his coming-of-age tour. After spending most of his life cloistered behind palace walls as he learns to keep his forbidden magic secret, he can finally see his family's kingdom for the first time. His first taste of adventure comes just two days into the journey, when their crew discovers a mysterious prisoner on a burning derelict vessel.

Tasked with watching over the prisoner, Tal is surprised to feel an intense connection with the roguish Athlen. So when Athlen leaps overboard and disappears, Tal feels responsible and heartbroken, knowing Athlen could not have survived in the open ocean.

That is, until Tal runs into Athlen days later on dry land, very much alive, and as charming--and secretive--as ever. But before they can pursue anything further, Tal is kidnapped by pirates and held ransom in a plot to reveal his rumored powers and instigate a war. Tal must escape if he hopes to save his family and the kingdom. And Athlen might just be his only hope...

F.T. Lukens’ In Deeper Waters is a fun story in which (spoilers ahead, kind of, but they’re mild and obvious ones) a prince falls in love with a merman, while struggling with his own hidden magic. There’s a bit of a Little Mermaid retelling woven in with Tal’s story, giving Athlen some background and helping round out the denouement.

It’s a quick read and obviously not really aimed at an adult fantasy reader, so it’d be unfair for me to judge it by the same yardstick as I would a book aimed at my usual reading tastes. For me, the romance all felt a bit quick and superficial (though very like my memories of being a teen), and the fast pace made the danger and peril seem pretty low-key (even though it’s life and death for Tal).

I did like Tal’s relationships with his siblings, which felt genuinely warm, but felt the theme of the royal family’s treatment of their people was very lightly treated and could’ve gone further. It’s made clear to Tal that something’s up, but it’s like his one gesture fixes that problem and it slides into the background.

World-building wise, there’s nothing here that isn’t required for the story, giving it a bit of an empty feeling round the edges of the map. Again, that’s probably asking too much of what this book is meant to do. Bottom line is that it was a fun quick read, all the same!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Garden Jungle

Posted July 11, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – The Garden Jungle

The Garden Jungle

by Dave Goulson

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

The Garden Jungle is about the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet. Wherever you are right now, the chances are that there are worms, woodlice, centipedes, flies, silverfish, wasps, beetles, mice, shrews and much, much more, quietly living within just a few paces of you.

Dave Goulson gives us an insight into the fascinating and sometimes weird lives of these creatures, taking us burrowing into the compost heap, digging under the lawn and diving into the garden pond. He explains how our lives and ultimately the fate of humankind are inextricably intertwined with that of earwigs, bees, lacewings and hoverflies, unappreciated heroes of the natural world.

The Garden Jungle is at times an immensely serious book, exploring the environmental harm inadvertently done by gardeners who buy intensively reared plants in disposable plastic pots, sprayed with pesticides and grown in peat cut from the ground. Goulson argues that gardens could become places where we can reconnect with nature and rediscover where food comes from.

For anyone who has a garden, and cares about our planet, this book is essential reading.

The Garden Jungle is Dave Goulson’s paean to the richness and diversity we can create within our own gardens. Some of what he describes feels beyond out of touch — I have no idea if he realises how unlikely it is for other people to own enough land for a whole orchard, but you couldn’t tell from reading it — but his enthusiasm is genuine. He’s mostly interested in the insects, to be honest, with only brief mentions of other wildlife (like hedgehogs) that can thrive in our “garden jungles”. I’m pretty certain one thing our own tiny wildflower meadow is doing is providing shelter to the local hedgehogs as they forage, and that’s great.

It’s a fun read, and some of his footnotes made me smile. I was a bit less enraptured than I was by his book about bees, to be honest; I couldn’t say what would’ve made it better, but perhaps a little more attention to continuity between chapters. It’s a bit funny to read him in one chapter telling you that garden centres are selling plants laden with pesticides that will kill the insects in your garden, and in the next suggesting that you can go to buy plants at a garden centre and just look at the ones the insects land on… I’m certain that both are good suggestions in their way, but, hmmm.

I was interested by his stance on non-native plants. I personally feel that in some cases we’d be merely closing the barn door, and also that if we want anything to grow and thrive at all, we may need to bend with the conditions. The way humans ferry seeds about has been a part of how nature works for a very long time — it’s hard to draw a line now and say “this plant is a native, even though it was brought to the UK by the Romans” and “this plant is non-native, because Victorians brought it”. In the end, we need to focus on what thrives, and nurture as much biodiversity as we can — wherever it will grow. Goulson is rightly cautious about that, but not as preachy as some can be, accepting that some non-natives fill a valuable niche here.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Curiosity Killed The Cat

Posted July 10, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Curiosity Killed The Cat

Curiosity Killed The Cat

by Joan Cockin

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 276
Series: Inspector Cam #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Little Biggling: a village that had been taken over by The Ministry of Scientific Research during the Second World War ... and after the War the Ministry had stayed on, much to the annoyance of several of the residents. However, being annoyed was one thing, being murdered quite another. It seemed that one of the members of the Civil Service who billeted in the village had been a little too curious about everybody and everything in Little Biggling, and there was a terrible price to pay. Inspector Cam found that he wasn't getting much help in finding the person who had most to hide...

Joan Cockin’s Curiosity Killed the Cat was pretty good: set in the aftermath of WWII, but still echoing with it, as many of the characters are part of a scientific unit doing research related to the war/recovery from the war, and living with a lot of secrets and inconvenience. That made for an interesting setting.

The characters were enjoyable enough too: Inspector Cam isn’t too fond of working hard, and would rather stay an Inspector and avoid working on such big cases as murder — but he does his duty and works hard at figuring out the mystery, which makes him perhaps a little more real than detectives who just enter the stage as police officers without much real life around them. I wouldn’t say that the characters are all really fleshed out, but there’s enough there to be enjoyable, and to care about Charity and Robarts and Ratcliffe.

It’s hard sometimes to say what counts as a three-star or a four-star book, and to compare between books to figure out what to rate them. In the end, though, I kept wanting to read more, “just a little bit more”, and figure out the mystery, and I do want to read Cockin’s other books — so four stars it is.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Reread Forever

Posted July 9, 2024 by Nicky in General / 3 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie for missed TTT themes. I have no idea if I’ve done this one before, but I love rereading, so I picked #379, “books I could reread forever”.

I know some people feel that there’s just not enough time in the world for rereading, and if that’s you, that’s totally fine! But I love to reread, because I think the books I’ve already read can hit differently in the future. Sometimes you notice different things, sometimes you’re a different person, sometimes your experiences change how you understand things.

And, to be frank, reading is not a job. It’s usually meant to be for pleasure, for most people. If you feel like you have to be reading all the latest books, are you having fun or just kicking yourself in the shins?

Which is not to say that everyone needs to enjoy rereading, but it’s a pretty common response when I talk about rereading, and I don’t have time for that in my own life. I read what I enjoy, for fun, and I’ll happily encourage anybody to say “stuff that” to obligation and doing things because you “have” to.

Without further ado, here are some of my iron-clad rereads.

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper Cover of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis Cover of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

  1. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is a classic and deservedly so. I do love The Lord of the Rings too, but there is something special about the warm tone of The Hobbit. Mind you, I had to take just one book to a desert island, The Lord of the Rings would be in strong contention. I’ve never read it without noticing something new (and I’ve read it quite a few times, since I studied Tolkien’s work during my MA). It’s very rereadable, in my view.
  2. The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. Technically all of this series, and maybe most of all The Grey King. I listened to the BBC radio adaptation as a kid and adored it (though it scared the pants off me too), and it’s remained something I read and reread fondly. Though it’s a children’s book, there are details on many levels.
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. I think a lot of people felt betrayed to realise it was an allegory, but I don’t think I was ever “fooled”. I knew it was an allegory and still loved it. In fact, some of the sentiments in The Last Battle helped to form some of my thoughts about life and religion, even though I’m not a Christian. I still think these books are a delight and worthy of rereading. In fact, I might be tempted to do just that right now.
  4. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I hope this one will never wear thin for me, because so far each time of reading has been a total delight. I love how intentional and thoughtful Maia is, and how some of the people around him respond to that and start to build a better world.
  5. Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I don’t think any of the choices on this list are a surprise coming from me, and this one certainly isn’t. The radioplay adaptations and the BBC adaptation with Edward Petherbridge are all wonderful.
  6. A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. I recently reread this, in fact. It’s a relatively personal story, focused less on political events in the galaxy (though they happen) and more on the immediate effect on the people of the Wayfarer, and also on the interpersonal stuff between the people on the Wayfarer. It’s a lovely novelised discussion of how we can treat different people with different beliefs and different needs with equity and dignity. There are aspects I’m conflicted about, but even those are good to think over.
  7. Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. I think I like this book more each time I read it. It’s hard to separate which book of the trilogy is my favourite, but I love Breq and I love to feel conflicted about Seivarden.
  8. A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. You can tell this list is in no particular order, because I adore this series. I love Isabella and her deranged practicality, and the serious attempt to imagine what it would be like to be a naturalist studying dragons, and the different cultures and peoples one might encounter. It’s also a rare example of a book I’ve loved more and more with each reread, starting from not rating it very highly.
  9. Feed, by Mira Grant. This one’s pretty uncharacteristic for me in many ways, but the book fascinates me. I found it deeply disquieting at first, but now I find myself hankering to revisit now and again, and discover all of the details again (horrific as some of them are as scenarios). It’s also one of those books I rated low at first, but which grew on me.
  10. Chalice, by Robin McKinley. Also among that number, I didn’t “get” Chalice right away, and I’m still not entirely sure I do. There’s something warm about it, though, and I love to reread it and ponder over again how everything comes together. Also, the magic system is pretty unique and fascinating (based around honey, for the main character).

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of Feed by Mira Grant Cover of Chalice by Robin McKinley

Oof, those were difficult choices! I feel like there are others I should surely include (Murderbot comes to mind) — and my choices are likely no surprise to long-time readers — but for now, this is it!

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Review – Petra: The Rose-Red City

Posted July 8, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Petra: The Rose-Red City

Petra: The Rose-Red City

by Jean-Marie Dentzer, Christian Auge

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 128
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Deep in the desert of Jordan lies the hidden city of Petra, one of the greatest marvels of the ancient world. Carved from rose-red rock, Petra’s monuments, dwellings and temples were for centuries the centre of a splendid civilization.

Later the city fell into ruin and its location was lost, until the Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812. Petra’s mysterious beauty and dramatic story have long captivated the imaginations of historians and art lovers. Excavations by the authors Christian Augé and Jean-Marie Dentzer provide new information about this unique city.

Before reading this, I knew very little about Petra — I’d seen a few images of it, knew roughly where it was, etc, but I didn’t know anything about the Nabateans and their lives in their city. Christian Auge and Jean-Marie Dentzer’s Petra: The Rose-Red City is a pretty slim volume, but richly illustrated, and carefully contextualises the images in terms of what we know.

Which is less than I expected, to be honest. Not much archaeological work had been completed in and around Petra relative to the size of the ruins at around the time of writing, and preservation work had barely begun, if at all. I’d love to find something more up-to-date about Petra, but it was fascinating to get this glimpse.

That said, sometimes the organisation of text, images and captions left something to be desired. The pages are very busy, and the flow is unintuitive sometimes.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Heirs of Locksley

Posted July 7, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Heirs of Locksley

The Heirs of Locksley

by Carrie Vaughn

Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 128
Series: Robin Hood Stories #2
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

We will hold an archery contest. A simple affair, all in fun, on the tournament grounds. Tomorrow. We will see you there.

The latest civil war in England has come and gone, King John is dead, and the nobility of England gathers to see the coronation of his son, thirteen year old King Henry III.

The new king is at the center of political rivalries and power struggles, but John of Locksley--son of the legendary Robin Hood and Lady Marian--only sees a lonely boy in need of friends. John and his sisters succeed in befriending Henry, while also inadvertently uncovering a political plot, saving a man's life, and carrying out daring escapes.

All in a day's work for the Locksley children...

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Heirs of Locksley is a follow-up to The Ghosts of Sherwood, and focuses even more on the children of Robin and Marian. What would they be like? Would they live up to their parents, and try to shape their world? They’re a little more grown-up now than in the previous book, and beginning to step out of the parents’ shadow — and there’s a new king on the throne, which has the potential to complicate everything.

I really liked Vaughn’s take on it, once I settled into what she’s trying to do with these two novellas. The children have to grapple with the legacy of their parents’ legend, and of course that leads them into trouble. In some ways it was all a bit obvious/contrived (of course they would happen to run into that one person, of all the possible people, for example), but it was satisfying nonetheless.

I also enjoyed Vaughn’s author’s note, which is satisfyingly clear about what exactly the Robin Hood legend is and what “historical correctness” is worth, or adherence to how the story “should” be. The truth (as Vaughn knows) is that there’s never been a single unifying Robin Hood story, much as Disney makes people think otherwise. It was always a handful of stories, tattered round the edges and not always fitting together. That’s part of the joy of it, and Vaughn adds a worthy little square to the tapestry.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted July 6, 2024 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Greetings! I’m beginning to surface from the total immersion in the new story in FFXIV, having finished the main plot. There’s loads more to do, of course, but the week off I took was enough to get through the main story.

I still haven’t done much reading this week, but I imagine soon things will tend back toward normal.

Books acquired this week

N/a! Though I’ve added a few to my wishlist (which my wife will probably welcome, since my birthday is in August).

Posts from this week

This week, just the usual review posts, since the Top Ten Tuesday prompt didn’t inspire me!

My backlog of reviews is steadily diminishing! Guess I better get back to my reading groove soon.

What I’m reading

As I mentioned, not very much at the moment. I’m a bit stalled with Threading the Labyrinth, by Tiffani Angus, which I really wanted to like — but I did read a couple of things.

Cover of The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson Cover of Curiosity Killed the Cat by Joan Cockin

So reviews for those will be coming soon! I’m also in the midst of a reread of Record of a Spaceborn Few… and after that I might get on to pastures new.

Hope everyone’s doing okay!

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Review – The History of the World in 100 Animals

Posted July 5, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The History of the World in 100 Animals

The History of the World in 100 Animals

by Simon Barnes

Genres: History, Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 416
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

We are not alone. We are not alone on the planet. We are not alone in the countryside. We are not alone in cities. We are not alone in our homes. We are humans and we love the idea of our uniqueness. But the fact is that we humans are as much members of the animal kingdom as the cats and dogs we surround ourselves with, the cows and the fish we eat, and the bees who pollinate so many of our food-plants.

In The History of the World in 100 Animals, award-winning author Simon Barnes selects the 100 animals who have had the greatest impact on humanity and on whom humanity has had the greatest effect. He shows how we have domesticated animals for food and for transport, and how animals powered agriculture, making civilisation possible. A species of flea came close to destroying human civilisation in Europe, while the slaughter of a species of bovines was used to create one civilisation and destroy another. He explains how pigeons made possible the biggest single breakthrough in the history of human thought. In short, he charts the close relationship between humans and animals, finding examples from around the planet that bring the story of life on earth vividly to life, with great insight and understanding.

The heresy of human uniqueness has led us across the millennia along the path of destruction. This book, beautifully illustrated throughout, helps us to understand our place in the world better, so that we might do a better job of looking after it. That might save the polar bears, the modern emblem of impending loss and destruction. It might even save ourselves.

I really enjoy books that try to tell a history through a number of objects or people or, in this case, animals. Simon Barnes’ A History of the World in 100 Animals is more or less that, but it was marred for me by the fact that I couldn’t actually determine any governing organisation here, not even alphabetical. The stories did all pick up on the theme of how humans have interacted with animals, of course, but they didn’t lead into each other — animals which shared a similar theme could be separated by most of the book. They weren’t organised by type of animal, or location, or type of interaction… any organising principle that I could think of.

As such, it felt like a bit of a weird read, whipping from one topic to another. There are certainly ways to organise this kind of book (chronologically, for instance), which would’ve made it flow better.

That said, there are certainly some fascinating stories of human interaction with animals (and it is pretty much all about human interaction with animals in one way or another). Where I know my stuff, it’s accurate, though the utter lack of footnotes or bibliography is worrisome.

It’s beautifully presented, with matte colour images accompanying many (if not all) of the stories).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Side Character’s Love Story vol 18

Posted July 4, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Side Character’s Love Story vol 18

A Side Character's Love Story

by Akane Tamura

Genres: Manga, Romance
Pages: 160
Series: A Side Character's Love Story #18
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

"My worries may be different, but I'm happier with her than I've ever been."

After their trip to Kamakura, Hiroki begins thinking of his future once again, his summer internship helping him realize what's most important for his future with Nobuko. Meanwhile, Nobuko and her coworkers each take their own steps forward, determined to do what they must to stay with the ones they love.

Volume 18 of A Side Character’s Love Story doesn’t really take any big steps forward for the characters — at least, not for Nobuko and Hiroki, though there are some developments for their friends, finding their own way through negotiating relationships.

It’s a sweet volume, though, with Hiroki spending more time with Nobuko’s family. There’s a cute bit where Nobuko is actually comfortable enough with him to sulk a bit about something, which her family correctly recognise as showing how much she trusts him with her inner self. (And Hiroki, as usual, tries to communicate about it, which is something I really love about them as a couple.)

So nothing startling, just a continuation of watching the two of them grow up and develop as a couple.

Rating: 4/5

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