WWW Wednesday

Posted July 1, 2020 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

It’s Wednesday again already! Check out Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now… and here’s my answers.

Cover of Brit(ish) by Afua HirschWhat are you currently reading?

Mostly non-fiction; I’m having a hard time settling down to anything. Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch is due back at the library, so I’m trying to finish that on time; I’m not very far into it, and mostly I was struck by realising how strongly my view of people of colour in Britain was informed by growing up where I did, in an area where there are a lot of Muslim and Hindu immigrants. The Ghanaian context Afua Hirsch speaks about is not something I ever really came into contact with growing up. So, yeah, I’m getting the different perspective I hoped for from Brit(ish), even if it is disappointing to see a total blind spot I have.

I’m also still reading Dan Eatherley’s Invasive Aliens, but I don’t think I’ve actually picked it up since last week…

Cover of The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard HortonWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Richard Horton’s The COVID-19 Catastrophe, which is pretty short. Most of it is preaching to the choir, for me, but I hope his clear elucidation of what went wrong helps other people see it. I think he could’ve spent a bit more time on the “how to stop it happening again” part; it feels a bit abbreviated. I think there’s a lot you can say about how to build strong and effective surveillance systems, and on what public health initiatives need to take place.

Still, it’s a pretty good analysis of how we got here and what went wrong in the process.

What will you be reading next?

Nobody knows, least of all me.

What are you currently reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Upcoming Releases to Get Excited About

Posted June 30, 2020 by Nicky in General / 12 Comments

This week’s theme from That Artsy Reader Girl is about upcoming releases for the rest of 2020! There’s so much to look forward to, but let’s see if I can remember some of the highlights…

Cover of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik Cover of Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam Cover of Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark Cover of Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles Cover of Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston

  1. A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik. I just got an e-ARC in the last couple of weeks, so this one leapt to mind. I always find Novik’s work enjoyable and unputdownable (even when I have serious reservations about it as well), and a magical school story hits a spot for me.
  2. Seven Devils, by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam. I’ve been looking forward to this since I first heard about it… and I have an e-ARC of this, too. Yep, I’m spoiled! Feminist space opera — seven resistance fighters against the Empire. Classic.
  3. Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark. I’ve loved his novellas, so I am super excited for this. It’s dark fantasy woven into the history of the US; I worry I might miss some stuff because I’m not American and not particularly interested in American history, but I’m ready to be schooled!
  4. Where Dreams Descend, by Janella Angeles. Compared to Phantom of the Opera with a touch of The Night Circus? I’m innnn.
  5. Master of Poisons, by Andrea Hairston. I’ve been meaning to read Hairston’s work forever, and this apparently uses a lot of African folktales? Sounds fascinating!
  6. The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I will shame-facedly admit that I haven’t read The Fated Sky, because my brain is just a stupid place sometimes, but I let my wife read my ARC of The Relentless Moon and she outright tore through it.
  7. Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas. Trans Latinx teen accidentally summons the wrong ghost! I’m in.
  8. The Lefthanded Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix. A Garth Nix book is always a good time, and anything to do with books is a winner to me.
  9. Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse. I don’t actually know much about this yet, but though I have some problems with Trail of Lightning and the sequel, they made for really addictive reading. I’m looking forward to this!
  10. Boyfriend Material, by Alexis Hall. It sounds so deliciously tropey and fun, and it’s out very very soon!

Cover of The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas Cover of The Lefthanded Booksellers of London by Garth Nix Cover of Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

How about you? What’re you looking forward to?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted June 28, 2020 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

Greetings, folks! Welp, I’m sort of caught up for right now, but I don’t know if it’ll stick. How’s everyone else doing?

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Books acquired this week:

Cover of The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper Cover of The Falling In Love Montage by Ciara Smyth Cover of The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard Horton Cover of The Woman in the Wardrobe by Peter Shaffer

Thank you to the kind folks who have bought me books this week… and the customer service folks at Waterstones who managed to get The COVID-19 Catastrophe shipped to me in the end!

Books read this week:

Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

Alrighty, that’s all done! And how about you folks? Got any awesome new books?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted June 24, 2020 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Hey folks! I keep saying I’m going to be better this week and it turns out I’m still burnt out, so I’m not linking up and being super social this month, but I totally welcome a chance to chat about books and will do my best to comment and visit in return. I know I’ve been saying this a lot; turns out it takes time.

Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan EatherleyWhat are you currently reading?

I’m in the middle of Invasive Aliens, by Dan Eatherley, which is all about how non-native plants got to Britain and established themselves. There are some surprises in here — I think I knew at some point about rabbits being non-native, but I’d forgotten it, and I also didn’t know that when they were first imported they were helped a lot by landowners. They didn’t establish themselves well at all, compared to their reputation now!

I have a few other things on the backburner, but nothing else jumps to mind as something I want to talk about.

Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. LoracWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think it was Murder in the Mill-Race, by E.C.R. Lorac. She’s one of my favourite writers whose works are being reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series; there’s something very reliable about her ability to portray characters and particularly the landscape and the way people interact with it, and how it shapes people. Most of her novels feature a pretty strong sense of place, if not outright love of the land (it was less prominent in Murder in the Mill Race than in Fire in the Thatch, for example).

Cover of Brit(ish) by Afua HirschWhat will you be reading next?

I don’t know, but my library just purchased a bunch of books I’d requested, which is exciting. There are a few books I want to focus on finishing first, though, including Daisy Jones & The Six (Taylor Jenkins Reid) and Beneath the World, A Sea (Chris Bennett). We’ll see, though — as usual, I do want to try and listen to my whim, and stop if something isn’t working for me, and read according to what sounds good right now.

There’s a couple of library books I’ve had a bit longer and need to read soon, too, like Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish).

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Could Read Again For the First Time

Posted June 23, 2020 by Nicky in General / 17 Comments

Ten years of Top Ten Tuesday! Wow. This week I’m turning to an old one… that I probably did before, knowing my interests. Here are the ten books I wish I could experience again with fresh eyes. I’m mindful that the suck fairy may have visited books I loved when I was less mature, so I’ve steered away from childhood favourites.

Cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. Charles

  1. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Everyone knows I loved this one, I think! I wish I could read it again and then compare notes with myself. Did I love the same characters? Did I suspect the same characters? What different things would I focus on, being a different person now than I was then? Honestly, that goes for all of these, though: I’d love to know how things would stack up if I could experience them anew from where I’m standing now. The Goblin Emperor is a special favourite, though.
  2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. This book has been around for 10 years now, and had 12 reprintings! Whoooa. I remember the first time I read it, it was so compulsive — I had to know what happened, how everything was going to work out, why things we’re happening… I’d love to have that experience again.
  3. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My mother made me wait to read this until I was eleven, to try and ensure I was mature enough to understand some of the subtleties. I know I didn’t get it all, and my readings of it more recently have been layered with those early impressions, and also with studying it. I’d love to be able to read it for the first time with all the stuff I know now about mythology and Tolkien’s intentions.
  4. The whole Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood. I’ve read all of the Phryne books now, some of them twice, and I’d love to be able to recapture the first time reading them and falling in love with the characters. Some of it’s getting a little too familiar now!
  5. Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. It was just so sweet and funny and I laughed so much. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy reading it knowing what happens… but I’d love to recapture that breathless ack, how are they going to deal with this?!
  6. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. I’m not sure I can take rereading it in full knowledge of where it’s going, but I remember being so blown away by it.
  7. Fledgling, by Octavia Butler. I feel like I’m better equipped to handle Butler and where her work was coming from now, but I know this book had a lot of impact on me because it was uncomfortable to read. I don’t know if it’s lost that uncomfortableness now… but I don’t feel like it should. I’d like to get uncomfortable all over again, as an older and wiser adult.
  8. A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. The first time I read this book I didn’t love it, and that feels like a waste now. I’d also love to know if it’s something you have to read again to love, or if I was just a crankypants that day.
  9. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Same! I ended up loving both these series, and yet… did not love the book first time through. I was just drawn back by something to give them another try. I’d love to give them another first try and see what happens!
  10. Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I feel like this one actually gains from rereading, because I felt like I understood it better on a second read, when I’d absorbed more of the world… but also I remember the way it completely grabbed hold of my brain the first time. I’d like to have a clear schedule and a rainy day, and just… give it a second first try.

Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell Cover of Fledgling by Octavia Butler Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Some of these are probably obvious choices, but… it’s not just books I like to reread (actually, I’ve struggled to reread The Sparrow). It’s about recapturing that first impression, and I’ve no idea if I would love all these books the same way if one could do that… but I’d love to find out.

So if I’m ever found with a lost memory… you know what to sit me down with! What would you want to re-experience for the first time?

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Review – Mr Popper’s Penguins

Posted June 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Mr. Popper's Penguins by Florence and Richard AtwaterMr Popper’s Penguins, Florence Atwater, Richard Atwater

I’ve never read this one, so when I was in the market for something short last week I just mainlined it. I think overall it’s neither something particularly special nor anything objectionable, except perhaps for the penguins being used as performing animals. There are some rather cute bits with Mr Popper’s pride and excitement in the penguins, and cute/funny descriptions of their performances… and the illustrations are pretty fun.

I don’t really have more to say, though — I bet I’d have enjoyed it as a kid, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer an adult reader beyond a bit of escapism. There’s nothing bad about that, and it filled the hole I needed it to fill, but I can’t exactly gush with praise either!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Murder in the Mill-Race

Posted June 22, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. LoracMurder in the Mill-Race, E.C.R. Lorac

Lorac starts this book by setting the scene, with a young doctor and his wife moving to an idyllic little village on the moor, self-contained and insular. They’re quickly accepted because of the doctor’s skills, of course, but there’s a little friction with a staple of the place: Sister Monica, a rather severe woman who rules over a little children’s home with an iron fist. Everyone says she’s “wonderful”, and yet there’s something forced about the superlative.

Since it’s a Golden Age crime novel, no surprises that Sister Monica is the one found dead, and that it unravels a whole snarl of issues in the little village. Lorac’s series detective, Macdonald, comes in to take a look — understanding the ways of a small village, but not bound by then, and able to cut some of the knots with plain-speaking and an inability to be rattled.

As always, Lorac is great with a sense of atmosphere: you can practically hear the sounds of the village, smell the scrubbed barren children’s home, feel the spray of the water in the mill race. The killer was the person I guessed, but Lorac avoided tying things up in too neat a bow: there are a couple of questions unresolved, and there’s no “sit all the culprits together in a room” moment. You do get a sense for how her detective works and how she likes to shape a mystery, after reading a few of her books — there are commonalities between this and her other books that felt a bit fresher the first time you read them.

Overall, though, Lorac’s ability to portray a place and a bunch of complicated characters remains a big draw, and I think her books are among the finer ones in the British Library Crime Classics collection (contrast Bude, for example, who I find entertaining but unremarkable as far as style goes).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Books

Posted June 22, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah PriceWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Books, Leah Price

This book is less concerned with what’s inside books and more about what we do with the actual physical book. Leah Price is a book historian as well as a literary critic, and the reason I bought this book was for her insights on how we read and how you delve into how people in the past read. With some old books it’s easy: you can tell by whether the pages are cut or not. In cookbooks, you might be able to tell from where the pages are stuck together or splattered with ingredients. There’s also folded-over corners, of course, and just letting the book fall open and see where it opens to… Price talks a little about these considerations, but mostly this isn’t what the book is about.

She discusses the physical form of a book in the first chapter, the joys of pre-owned books and scribbling in the margin, and even how those habits have evolved over time. Much as we like to think of the book as a well-worn and traditional object, we haven’t always read from folded wood-pulp paper folded into covers, and our habits around books have changed accordingly. Books haven’t always been affordable, either: subscription libraries where people clubbed together to buy and share books were once very common. Scribbling in the margins and doing underlining was a lot more common before modern libraries discouraged the practice.

(I fear Price wouldn’t think much of my shelves, which are loaded which books kept in almost mint condition, even when I’ve read them. I think she’d see them as lacking personality and even love, instead of finding my rather obsessive, jealous, hoarding love of books on every single shelf. Not much room for nuance in her words here, approving most of books where she can clearly see the fingerprints of previous readers.)

Price also discusses the big one: pbooks versus ebooks. She’s fairly nuanced, and mentioned some fascinating insights about how different countries consume their ebooks. (In France, apparently, mostly via laptop screen; in the UK, dedicated readers giving way to reading on phones.)

She’s also got some things to say about the uses books are put to, discussing the book prescriptions service provided in Wales (which I’ve used!) and so on. To be honest, this seems like a bit of a mish-mash of subjects, and it doesn’t really come together very coherently. I was most interested in the first chapter and her commentary on ebooks, and I’m glad to have picked up her term for physical books (pbooks) — way easier to say than “dead-tree books” — but… overall… I wasn’t that enthused? It took looking at the contents to refresh my memory on what she even said, which isn’t a super great sign.

In the end, I’m not sure what she wanted to say and whether she ended up saying it.

Rating: 2/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted June 21, 2020 by Nicky in General / 14 Comments

Hey folks! I keep thinking I’m on top of things again and then crumbling by the end of the week, but I swear there’s progress — and I’ve been reading a lot! I’ve also been getting a lot of books! I haven’t included them all this week, only up to Saturday morning, so I’ll still have something to show off next week. 😀

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Received to review:

Cover of The Conductors by Nicole Glover Cover of The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow Cover of How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi Cover of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Cover of Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam Cover of The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates Cover of Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark Cover of Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

I missed Ring Shout and Boyfriend Material off last week’s post, so here they are now! I’m so excited for these books.

Books bought/gifted:

Cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price Cover of Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

Read this week:

Cover of Mr. Popper's Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater Cover of How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Cover of Pet by Akwaeke Emezi Cover of The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude Cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price

Reviews posted this week:

Think of England, by K.J. Charles. A whole new pair of flawed idiots to adore and want to smack. Exactly as I hoped. 4/5 stars
Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. A deceptively light read that gets to grips with some problems in a utopian society. 4/5 stars
The Sussex Downs Murder, by John Bude. Pretty much what you’d expect from a British Library Crime Classic, which is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. 3/5 stars
How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. If you’re hoping for a step by step manual, this ain’t it: it’s more of a memoir, though I think it’s helpful to guide you through your own journey. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Summer TBR. Okay, it was mostly just an excuse to do a list, I’ll admit.
WWW Wednesday. Chatting about Beneath the World, A Sea and How to be an Antiracist.

How’s everyone doing? Been getting any new books? Looking forward to any new releases? Let me know!

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Review – How To Be An Antiracist

Posted June 21, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. KendiHow to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

Received to review via Netgalley

I think a lot of people are picking this up expecting it to be a handbook, from the title — a list of actions you can take, a discussion of prejudice and the prejudiced things people can inadvertently do: something, in short, that tells you what to do. It isn’t that. How to be an Antiracist is a memoir, which charts the journey of Kendi himself through both racist and antiracist thoughts, through all the things that shape his response today. There are definitely things here that can point to what you need to do (primarily taught through example: one of the important things to do is reflect on how your thoughts and actions could contribute to or fight against racism), but it isn’t a recipe book.

Which is good: I don’t think any single book can tell us what needs to be done, because Black people are not a single organism with one mind. Kendi believes that racism against white people is possible, for instance, which I know a lot of Black people disagree with (using the definition that racism requires power). Kendi lays heavy stress on changing racist policy (a term he prefers to “institutional racism”) rather than confronting racist people or even racist actions. His theory is that social attitudes are informed by what policy dictates: he suggests that the changing of minds and hearts will come after a change in law, and changes to laws should not be held up to wait for the changes of attitude.

Kendi’s also looking mostly at the way racism operates in the US; my impression is that while there are commonalities, things play out differently in different countries because of the different histories and policies. If you’re going to read just one book on racism, I’m not convinced this is the right choice for everyone, even though the title makes it sound like a panacea.

It’s true too that it isn’t just a memoir: Kendi sets out each chapter carefully, beginning with a definition and then using examples (often from his own experiences) to illustrate the problem, how it affects people, and how he grapples with it and has grappled with it in the past. In some ways, you can treat it as a template — because you can go through it and substitute your own experiences or those of people you know, and understand the same issue from where you’re standing. But still, I’d say it’s primarily memoir, and that accounts for the fact that it can be a little repetitive (we see the same issues and themes examined in different parts of Kendi’s life) or unfocused.

For me, there were some snippets of history and culture that were new to me, partly because I’m not from the US; I think it’s also worthwhile on that level, though it isn’t a history book and doesn’t delve deeply into it.

Overall, my feeling is that it’s a worthwhile read, alone or as part of a little self-taught curriculum of books about racism and how it impacts people — and how to be better, taught through example.

Rating: 4/5

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