Author: Nicky

Review – Annabel Scheme

Posted July 5, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Annabel Scheme by Robin SloanAnnabel Scheme, Robin Sloan

I’ve started trying out Storygraph, and one of the main features that drew me in was the ability to search for a book recommendation based on various inputs: not just genre, but pace, mood and length as well. So I thought I’d give it a try and buy one of the books it recommended — and thus, Annabel Scheme, “perfect for people who like Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Adams, ghosts and/or the internet”.

Annabel Scheme is a detective in a cyberpunk/horror landscape, with all kinds of weird and wonderful details. Hu is her assistant, an ex-Grail (think Google) server that just really wants to help and be a good sidekick. The story opens with a client, as this sort of story has to: a man wants to know what the heck is happening when new tracks of himself and his dead girlfriend are suddenly appearing across the internet, and he thinks Annabel Scheme can answer.

That mystery itself gets wrapped up very quickly, and obviously reveals itself as a portal into a larger story, which was… a little too tenuously connected, for my taste. It felt like the story fell into parts, and that was just a bit too much of a separate story.

Overall, though, it’s pretty entertaining: the Holmesian pastiche is there, but it’s not too much of a copy/paste of Holmes canon, style of character; though I can see what the comparison to Douglas Adams is there for, that’s not really the vibe I got. Ghosts, well, there are kind of some ghosts, but I didn’t really feel that was the key thing… In the end, the more I think about it the more it crumbles, I’m finding: there are loose ends and things that I didn’t quite get — but it was a fun enough read for the less-than-an-hour I spent on it. Score one for Storygraph.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , ,


Weekly Roundup

Posted July 4, 2020 by Nicky in General / 14 Comments

Happy weekend! I’ve actually been reading this week, mostly because I stuck to what is clearly working for my brain right now… and I also got quite a few new books, through friends, ARCs, giveaways and preorders (plus my own one book from my wishlist per week).

I also submitted my application to do an MSc in Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (via distance learning), so hey, wish me luck, restrict non-essential time outside the house, and wear masks when you’re out in public; even temporary cloth masks are proven to help, and if everyone masks up, we can cut transmission waaay faster.

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

Books acquired: 

Cover of Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks Cover of The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

These first two were received to review via Netgalley! Yaaay.

Cover of The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson Cover of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso Cover of A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy Cover of You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

Cover of How Contagion Works by Paolo Giordano Cover of The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso Cover of Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

The Murders of Molly Southbourne was via a giveaway (thank you again!) and a friend got me The Obsidian Tower and Seafire for being brave enough to actually press submit on my MSc application, ahaha.

(How do I have four other books when I’m meant to get one a week? Preorders don’t count in the one-a-week, and A River of Royal Blood and How Contagion Works were covered by promotional credit. Score!)

Books read this week:

Cover of The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard Horton Cover of Threshold by Jordan L. Hawk Cover of How Contagion Works by Paolo Giordano Cover of The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson Cover of A Ruin of Shadows by L.D. Lewis

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

Alright, I think that’s everything — and it’s only Saturday! Whew. Normally I end up doing this on a Sunday night. How’s everyone doing? Been stacking any great books lately?

Tags: , ,


Review – The COVID-19 Catastrophe

Posted July 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard HortonThe COVID-19 Catastrophe: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again, Richard Horton

The COVID-19 Catastrophe was written by the editor-in-chief of The Lancet. Most of the papers I needed to cite in my dissertation on tuberculosis were published in The Lancet, if the name doesn’t mean anything to you; it’s a prestigious medical journal, and Horton himself has a medical degree and a BSc in physiology. He knows whereof he speaks, in other words, and in this book he tears into the failings of governments (mostly the UK, somewhat the US) in coming to grips with the pandemic.

He is very clear in discussing these failings, though he more or less ignores the idea that China had any role to play here. There’s one brief reference to the doctor who tried to raise the alarm and was cautioned by the police, if I remember correctly… but if he does mention it at all, it’s a very bland reference with no further digging into why that occurred, and whether if people had listened at that point, we’d be in this position now. That’s a pretty grave lack.

If you’re curious for his position on matters in the UK, here he doesn’t hold back. I needn’t go over it all again, but suffice it to say that our government was slow to react, loath to give things the weight they deserved, and too quick to lift restrictions. People have died, are dying and will die as a result of the government’s actions; they are massively culpable for a lack of leadership and clarity. And he doesn’t even have to get onto the mess with Dominic Cummings, probably revealed as the book was already going to press.

The final section looks at what we can do to handle future pandemics better: as he rightly points out, this is only the first, and more are inevitable. Other books have done a better job on the whys (Spillover, by David Quammen) and hows (The End of Epidemics, by Jonathan D. Quick), but it’s not a bad high-level summary.

I do worry that one of his final remarks (that COVID marks an end to “sovereignty”) is going to be a massive red button for some people that leads them to just ignore everything he says. I don’t think he’s wrong; I think fragmenting into separate nations with wholly different ways of handling the virus is far from ideal, and I think the WHO has too little power (it has historically received so much of its funding from the US that its policies always have to consider “will this annoy the US?” first and foremost) and funding. We need more unity, not less, if we want to have all this trade and mixing of peoples between different countries… which Britain needs, because we don’t produce everything we need… and that call for unity clashes really badly with current politics.

But them’s the breaks. Pandemics don’t give a fuck about Brexit. If anything, it makes it easier for them as it erodes cooperation, goodwill and information-sharing.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,


Review – The Murders of Molly Southbourne

Posted July 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade ThompsonThe Murders of Molly Southbourne, Tade Thompson

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, but I was somewhat put off by the cover and by not really having enjoyed Rosewater — Thompson’s writing is great, but more visceral than I intend to enjoy. Still, The Murders of Molly Southbourne is a short book, and packs a heck of a punch, even though in the end we don’t really get very good answers.

The premise is simple: whenever Molly bleeds, a copy of her is born. They inevitably try to attack her, so her parents raise her to avoid bleeding as much as possible, destroy all traces of her blood, and kill the copies as fast and thoroughly as possible. They also teach her to hide her tracks, and set up a private security company to take care of any issues that crop up in future, tattooing the number into her arm so she’ll always have it with her.

This isn’t really a story about how that came to happen, although a potential explanation does get revealed at the end. It’s mostly about what you would do if you lived that life, how it might play out, and all the ways you might try to get away. It’s oddly flat and emotionless half of the time, in a way that feels like someone telling you a story in a very level voice to hide anything they might feel about it — a restrained, controlled sense, rather than a sense that there is no feeling there.

I know there’s a sequel, and I’m definitely curious enough to give it a try. If you like things to make sense and have all the answers in a self-contained story, it may not be for you so much, but I found it a fun and fast read.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,


WWW Wednesday

Posted July 1, 2020 by Nicky in General / 6 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?

Tags: , , , ,


Top Ten Tuesday: Upcoming Releases to Get Excited About

Posted June 30, 2020 by Nicky in General / 16 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?

Tags: ,


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?

Tags: , ,


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).

Tags: , , , , , ,


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?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


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

Tags: ,