Posts by: Nikki

Discussion: Interacting with Authors

Posted 18 June, 2018 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

So today’s discussion post is something that used to come up all the time when I was on Goodreads, and has happened a couple of times here: interacting with authors. On Goodreads it was nearly always a bad experience, though Tony Hays (author of Arthurian mysteries) was great and a couple of others too, plus of course authors who just wanted to offer me a copy of their books to review. But quite often the author would come by to argue with my rating.

There’s always exceptions, so it’s hard to come up with simple rules. But here’s a couple I think authors could stick to:

  • Don’t react to reviews unless people have indicated they’re willing to discuss them with you.
  • Don’t spam people with offers of copies to review.
  • Don’t spam people with anything.
  • Don’t make everything about your book — other interactions may not seem like they’re directly gonna sell your book, but I’m more likely to buy your book if I’ve had meaningful interactions with you. Even if that’s about other books. Maybe especially if that’s about other books.
  • Remember that nobody owes you interaction, nobody owes you an explanation, nobody owes you their time.

Buuut sometimes I think reviews could use some rules in reply. Mostly I think they’re common sense, but then someone always comes along and ruins my idealistic dreams. So hey:

  • Don’t beg for freebies.
  • Don’t draw the author’s attention to a review unless they’ve indicated they’re interested in reading reviews of their work.
  • Remember there’s a difference between the author’s voice and their character’s voice and even, depending on the narratorial choices they’ve made, their real opinions.
  • Don’t, for goodness’ sake, proudly announce that you’ve pirated the author’s book. There are some authors who don’t mind this much (Cory Doctorow) or have found that their books sold better after one was available free (Neil Gaiman). But for the most part, you’re telling them that they’ve lost revenue. Even if it wasn’t illegal (it is), then telling people you’ve pirated is just poor taste.
  • Review the book, not the author. (It’s fair not to read something because the author is a raging homophobe, but then you don’t need to review the book, because even doing that is getting them oxygen to keep on raging to an audience.) Sometimes biographical details can be important in understanding a book, and sometimes you’re just making douchy assumptions or being a bully.

…Not that this is an exhaustive list (either of them, actually), but these are some of my pet hates.

How about you?

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Review – The Templars

Posted 17 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Templars by Piers Paul ReadThe Templars, Piers Paul Read

This is a rather exhaustive account not only of the Templars, but of the Crusades and the interactions between Popes and Kings during that period. That’s not a bad thing, though I had expected something a little more focused on the Templars as a group, and maybe more discussion of individual Templars as examples. Instead, there was a lot about individual kings and their reactions — fair enough, there’s probably more material available on them, but I still found it a little disappointing.

Still, it’s kind of fun reading it as someone who has played Assassin’s Creed, and playing spot-the-name-I-know and spot-who-got-assassinated-by-Altair.

I think it was a bit stodgy in places, but informative. And dude, you totally protested too much in the other direction that Templars weren’t ever gay. Let’s be real: the reality is that some of the Templars will have been gay, some bi, many straight, and some will have remained celibate while others won’t have done so.

Rating: 3/5 

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Review – The Secret of High Eldersham

Posted 16 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles BurtonThe Secret of High Eldersham, Miles Burton

The Secret of High Eldersham is a bit of a weird one, really, with a lot of rather sensational stuff going on. It seems like it’s going to be one of those sleepy little village mysteries, but then there’s a whole mess of occult stuff coming in! Not that it’s unenjoyable, as aside from occasionally rolling my eyes at the drama I did rather enjoy it. It’s fairly typical in many ways of the period, with the intrepid amateur detective (who doesn’t quite run rings round the police, but they’re definitely indebted to him) and a love interest, terrible peril, etc, etc.

Miles Burton makes it work, though, and I’ve enjoyed another of his books too (finding it, on the whole, less sensational and more realistic). I’d recommend at least giving this a try! The pacing isn’t 100% perfect, but for the most part it ticks along pretty nicely.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 16 June, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Good morning, folks! I’m back in Belgium with the bunnies, and they are precious clingy creatures right now. It’s the best. And I had quite a book splurge this week with my sister, celebrating the end of our exams. I’m going to split it up into a couple of posts by category, though, just so I don’t have to spend too long uploading things and such. So this week, here’s a review copy received this week, and the SF/F books I picked up.

Received to review:

Cover of The Black God's Drums 

Lucky as ever — thank you, Tor and Rebellion! <3


Cover of Moonshine by Jasmine Gower Cover of Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott Cover of The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

I’ve heard mixed things about all three of these, actually, but they intrigue me all the same, so we’ll see!

Books read this week:

Cover of Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea Cover of Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston Cover of Kin by John Ingraham 

Cover of The Amazons by John Man Cover of Against Empathy by Paul Bloom Cover of The Templars by Piers Paul Read Cover of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Reviews posted this week:

Murder in Piccadilly, by Charles Kingston. Not the best of the British Library Crime Classics so far, definitely. I found the characters unpleasant, almost all of them, so it was no fun, and the mystery itself was never a mystery, yet nor was it never satisfactorily wrapped up. 2/5 stars
Koko Takes a Holiday, by Kieran Shea. Bloody gorey fun, but not really more than that. And the portrayal of depression doesn’t really bear a longer look. 2/5 stars
The Telling, by Ursula Le Guin. It was nice to revisit this as an adult and understand more of what it was driving at. I got distracted by all the wrong things, as a kid. 4/5 stars
Against Empathy, by Paul Bloom. A fascinating dissection of why empathy may not be the best guide to morality. 5/5 stars
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. A reread, and I’m so glad to spend time with the narrator again! 5/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Blog Tours. When they work for me, and why they often don’t.
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update on what I’ve been reading.
Blog tour and giveaway for Jacqueline Carey’s Starless. There’s an international prize as well as a US/Canada one! There’s also an excerpt exclusive to this blog tour.

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Review – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Posted 15 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente

This is a reread for me, for the sake of pure delight, and it definitely worked to uplift me during my exam period. I know these books show up in the young adult section, sometimes even the children’s section, but I really don’t think they’re primarily meant for kids: the knowing, clever narrator is surely aimed at someone with years of experience of books, including books where people go to fairyland. Surely the references — like September being Ravished — are there for the clever reader with a wide background. There are kids who have that background already, but I still can’t help but feel that it’s a book (well, a whole series) that’s really meant for adults.

Which is not to say that it’s not pure magic. Valente’s writing is just delicious, and I enjoy the heck out of her narrator. I love A-Through-Ell and I love the complex nature of the Marquess and her background; I love Saturday and the way Marids live; I love all the little details we catch glimpses of while the narrator hurries us along. (And I’m sure they’re meant for exactly that tantalising purpose.)

Perhaps some of it just a little too whimsical to really swallow, but I think that’s my fault for having too much of a grown up heart. I want to love the velocipedes, I do.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Against Empathy

Posted 14 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Against Empathy by Paul BloomAgainst Empathy, Paul Bloom

“Against empathy? How could anyone be against empathy?”

That was probably my first reaction too, because I and the people around me are all focused on being good to other people, and empathy seems to offer a way to do that. It seems to offer us insight, so we know the right things to say and do. But Paul Bloom’s contention is that empathy doesn’t always lead us in the right direction: he reminds the reader that empathy is what makes us focus on one sick child whose name and face we know, even if we don’t actually know the child is even real, over tens or hundreds of other sick children. Empathy can focus us powerfully on feeling how a single other person “must” be feeling — and therein lies the problem. It’s hard, if not impossible, to empathise with everyone in a whole crowd, and our instincts aren’t always accurate in guessing how other people feel. If they were, then we’d never say exactly the wrong thing when we want to comfort someone who is sad — we’d know what to say.

What Bloom isn’t against is compassion: he speaks admiringly of the Buddhist ideal of compassion without attachment, for instance. Compassion linked with reason can indeed guide us to do good, to do the moral thing, to ensure he hurt the least number of people. But empathy — pure “I feel what you feel” emotional attachment leads us astray, and Bloom argues that point well.

To empathise is a human emotion that many of us share, and Bloom isn’t claiming it’s inherently a bad thing. That would be to misread the book entirely. Honestly, despite often thinking that empathy is a virtue and people can do more of it, I find it difficult to disagree with Bloom’s conclusions. Part of that is that he writes really clearly, which makes it easy to knee-jerk believe that he’s right, but I think I’ll still be thinking about (and agreeing with) this in a few days, weeks, months.

Time to look up Effective Altruism again, and do something with the information this time.

Rating: 5/5

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Blog Tour: Jacqueline Carey’s Starless

Posted 13 June, 2018 by Nikki in Giveaways / 9 Comments

Cover of Starless by Jacqueline CareyYES! Jacqueline Carey has a new book out, and you and I can get our hands on it right now. But before you rush off to the bookstore, I do have some chances here for you to win a copy of the book and, if you’re in the US or Canada, a bag full of extras! And that’s not all: below is an excerpt exclusive to this blog tour, just to whet your appetite…


A hundred yards from us, Pahrkun the Scouring Wind loomed out of the desert. For the space of a few heartbeats, my wits ceased to function altogether. Cloaked in swirling sand, Pahrkun stood mountain-tall. High in the sky, his great black head, long and inhuman, turned this way and that, glowing green eyes set in deep hollows surveying the landscape. I dropped the reins in my hand and fell to one knee, genuflecting without thinking. Beside me, Brother Merik did the same.

I forced myself to my feet, only to fall and genuflect again as Pahrkun moved with slow, graceful strides to reveal a vast tower of flame behind him: Anamuht the Purging Fire. One skeletal bone-white arm emerged from the flames to lift high, lightning crackling in her fist.

Brother Merik was shouting in my ear and pointing.

Anamuht flung her arm forward and a bolt of blue-white lightning struck the barren earth between us. In its sudden glare, the small figure of a man struggling to keep his seat in the saddle of a terrified horse was illuminated.

Brother Yarit.

“. . . with the horses!” Brother Merik shouted. “I’ll get him!” Dumbstruck and nigh frozen, I did as he said, gathering up the fallen reins. The horses tossed their heads in protest, fretful and fearful. Brother Merik ran unerringly toward the Shahalim, unwinding his head-scarf as he ran. He wrapped it around Brother Yarit’s mount’s eyes and began leading them back.

The wind howled.

“Let’s go!” Brother Merik cried. “Go, go, ride!”

I tossed his reins to him. Carrion beetles crunched underfoot as I hopped about in an effort to mount my horse. A strong hand grabbed the back of my tunic and hauled me belly-down across my saddle. From this undignified perch, I managed to scramble upright, my feet fishing for the stirrups.

“Watery hell!” Brother Yarit wheezed. His face was coated with a rime of dried sweat and sand, his eyes bleary and bloodshot. “All right, kid. I guess we’re stuck with each other.”

We rode, the wind dying in our wake.

I glanced over my shoulder once as we fled. The Sacred Twins had vanished into the desert.

You can read more of the excerpt by downloading this Word file!

US/Canada giveaway

Thanks to Tor Books, for folks in the US or Canada I have a hardback of Starless to give away, with a bag of swag featuring a Starless quote postcard, hawk feather, #FearlessWomen sticker, #FearlessWomen pen, and star confetti. Enter below for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

International giveaway (not US/Canada)

For those outside the US and Canada, I’m providing a prize of my own — the lucky winner will receive a hardback copy of Starless sent to them via Book Depository. Please do not enter this one if you’re from the US or Canada, because you have a chance at the prize above!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on this blog tour:

Monday, June 11              Fantasy Cafe
Tuesday, June 12              Utopia State of Mind
Tuesday, June 12              If the book will be too difficult
Wednesday, June 13        Bibliophibian
Thursday, June 14             Between Dreams and Reality
Friday, June 15                  Her Graces Library

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 13 June, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

My exams are over, and all is freedom and binging on books! 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 Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne ValenteWhat are you currently reading?

Far too much, as ever, but most actively I’m finishing up rereads of Howl’s Moving Castle and The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, plus a first-time read of The Templars by Piers Paul Read — I am finding the latter interesting, but I doubt it’ll ever be a book I’d read over and over again! I think I originally picked it up because of my interest in learning the actual history behind the Assassin’s Creed games, but honestly it’s amazing how little Robert de Sable or the Assassins actually figure into it. It seems more like a general history of the Crusades than specifically focused on the Templars.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Against Empathy by Paul BloomI just finished Against Empathy, by Paul Bloom — now, I know the kneejerk reaction is to go “what the hell? Against empathy?“, but it really is worth a read, pointing out that in many cases, empathy is a poor guide of moral decisions. At its best, it can focus the spotlight of our attention on something worthy — but it’s also true that then the spotlight isn’t focused on something else equally worthy. Bloom isn’t saying there’s anything bad about compassion (in fact, he advocates it), only that the idea we’ll attain moral perfection by feeling each other’s feelings seems to be a little unfortunate.

Cover of Starless by Jacqueline CareyWhat will you be reading next?

Goodness only knows. I might pick up Jacqueline Carey’s Starless (blog tour post for that coming later today!) or I might just go completely off-piste. I’ve been tempted to read The Prisoner of Zenda, to get the proper background for reading K.J. Charles queer rewriting of it — maybe it’ll be that! I don’t know.

What are you reading?

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Review – The Telling

Posted 12 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Telling by Ursula Le GuinThe Telling, Ursula Le Guin

It’s been a long time since I read this — longer than I thought, in fact, and I’ve come to the conclusion I must have read it originally as a very young teen. I’m not sure how well I really took it on board, then: I wasn’t as much into the kind of cerebral, considering, anthropological fiction that Ursula Le Guin did so beautifully. Granted, I was excited about Sutty being a lesbian, and I found aspects of the world interesting, but I really wasn’t ready to enter into the spirit of the teaching. I was more worried about the man who walked up into thin air than about the tradition he was part of — which fortunately, the POV character never does lose sight of.

Now, well, the love of books and the desire to save a lost language and lost ways of being hits a lot closer to home. (Partially through knowing, for example, about the Welsh Not and the Treachery of the Blue Books — knowing that Welsh history, language and culture have been lost through the feeling that they were not civilised, not focused toward advancement.) I’d completely forgotten the ending and what Yara does to reconcile his conflicting loyalties, but now I’m not sure I can get the image out of my head.

It’s beautifully written — of course, it’s Le Guin — and though Sutty as a character is a bit passive at times, when you know what you’re in for there’s a lot of beauty in Le Guin’s work, in the quiet spaces around her words (“to hear, one must be silent”, after all) that let the imagination breathe.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Koko Takes A Holiday

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

Cover of Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran SheaKoko Takes a Holiday, Kieran Shea

Koko Takes a Holiday is definitely fun, in a rip-roaring blood and guts and plenty of sex sort of way. It rolls along at a tremendous speed, and it’s a really fast read because of it: there’s very little sitting around and thinking about what’s going to happen next, because what’s going to happen next comes straight through the door at you ready to pounce. That said, I was never really in any doubt that Koko would make it and probably shack up with a particular other character at the end, and I never really felt like her losses were earthshaking. She’s all ready to slide back in the status quo, no introspection, no bad memories, nothing.

Also, Flynn has the potential to be an interesting character, with his diagnosis of Depressus (which is basically depression only everybody encourages you to go top yourself because life’s not actually worth living and it’s untreatable, blahblahblah) and how he handles it, but since it’s basically handwaved away through danger and sex (“you’ve just got to change your life!” is almost literally what Koko says), it actually comes across as a little insulting (that’s not how depression works, even the ordinary kind). Depression can be a big problem, we don’t have any surefire treatments that will fix you right up, and this book’s portrayal of a society which is just all casually “yep, go kill yourself together in a regularly scheduled jump into the atmosphere from really high up” as a reaction sits really badly with me. More badly the more I think about it, actually.

Also, much grossness, like people literally pissing themselves with fear (described in loving detail) and biting people’s eyes out (also).

Ultimately, it’s popcorn, and that’s fine once in a way for me, but I can’t see myself reading any of the sequels. And I do have serious questions about the flippant treatment of depression implied in Koko’s “cure” for Flynn, now that I think about it. Ugh.

Rating: 2/5

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