Author: Nicky

Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted July 20, 2024 by Nicky in General / 1 Comment

Happy weekend! There’s still not a lot going on for me reading-wise, but it always goes in phases for me, and I’m not sweating it. Reading’s not my job, it’s meant to be for fun, after all.

Plus, the fact that I’m not acquiring more books is not so bad: I have a bookshop trip with a friend coming up next week (most likely), and my birthday coming up in August (definitely), so… quiet weeks are good, if only because I’m running out of space.

Books acquired this week

N/a! I did look at requesting some on Netgalley, but I didn’t feel the excitement, so I decided to give it a miss (for now at least).

I should’ve pre-ordered KJ Charles’ new book, but I forgot. Hoping to pick that up next week!

Posts from this week

Here’s the usual roundup of what I’ve been posting!

Other posts:

What I’m reading

I’ve still been mostly re-reading the Narnia books, which I’m not going to review here again, but I did this week finish one new book I’ll review soon:

Cover of Summer's End by Juneau Black

It’s a fun addition to the Shady Hollow series; I enjoyed it a lot.

I did start picking up some other new-to-me books this week as well, though I haven’t finished them yet, including Sue Black’s Written In Bone, which is fascinating (if sometimes gruesome) and Victoria Finlay’s Colour, which is pretty fascinating. Perhaps I’ll finish them in the week ahead!

Hope everyone’s having a good one!

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 – Hands of Time

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

Review – Hands of Time

Hands of Time: A Watchmaker's History

by Rebecca Struthers

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

Hands of Time is a journey through watchmaking history, from the earliest attempts at time-keeping, to the breakthrough in engineering that gave us the first watch, to today - where the timepieces hold cultural and historical significance beyond what its first creators could have imagined. Acclaimed watchmaker Rebecca Struthers uses the most important watches throughout history to explore their attendant paradigm shifts in how we think about time, indeed how we think about our own humanity. From an up-close look at the birth of the fakes and forgeries industry which marked the watch as a valuable commodity, to the watches that helped us navigate trade expeditions, she reveals how these instruments have shaped how we build and then consequently make our way through the world.

A fusion of art and science, history and social commentary, this fascinating work, told in Struthers's lively voice and illustrated with custom line drawings by her husband and fellow watchmaker Craig, is filled with her personal observations as an expert watchmaker--one of the few remaining at work in the world today. Horology is a vast subject--the "study of time." This compelling history offers a fresh take, exploring not only these watches within their time, but the role they played in human development and the impact they had on the people who treasured them.

Timepieces have long accompanied us on our travels, from the depths of the oceans to the summit of Everest, the ice of the arctic to the sands of the deserts, outer space to the surface of the moon. The watch has sculpted the social and economic development of modern society; it is an object that, when disassembled, can give us new insights both into the motivations of inventors and craftsmen of the past, and, into the lives of the people who treasured them.

An award-winning watchmaker--one of the few practicing the art in the world today--chronicles the invention of time through the centuries-long story of one of mankind's most profound technological achievements: the watch.

Rebecca Struthers is a watchmaker in the traditional mould, and The Hands of Time is a history of time (or at least, timekeeping) from that point of view. It’s not just about watches, but also about the things that shaped our need to keep time, and the times when watches have been showpieces, groundbreaking inventions, solutions to problems, etc.

It’s the kind of book I really love, focusing in on one object (a watch) to tell us about wider society, using the theme to discuss people and events of the past. I don’t know anything about watchmaking, I’m not personally very interested in it, and I don’t wear a watch — but I found Struthers’ reflections on watches and watchmaking fascinating nonetheless.

There was something focused and meditative about it, like spending all day carefully adding details to a very small model: I know real watchmaking is much more painstaking, but one can recognise the feeling, at least. It was very satisfying, even though I’m sure I’ve retained nothing about the actual process of building a watch.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Nefertiti’s Face

Posted July 18, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Nefertiti’s Face

Nefertiti's Face: The Creation of an Icon

by Joyce Tyldesley

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 240
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Little is known about Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen whose name means "a beautiful woman has come." She was the wife of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who ushered in the dramatic Amarna Age, and she bore him at least six children. She played a prominent role in political and religious affairs, but after Akhenaten's death she apparently vanished and was soon forgotten.

Yet Nefertiti remains one of the most famous and enigmatic women who ever lived. Her instantly recognizable face adorns a variety of modern artifacts, from expensive jewelry to cheap postcards, t-shirts, and bags, all over the world. She has appeared on page, stage, screen, and opera. In Britain, one woman has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on plastic surgery in hope of resembling the long-dead royal. This enduring obsession is the result of just one object: the lovely and mysterious Nefertiti bust, created by the sculptor Thutmose and housed in Berlin's Neues Museum since before World War II.

In Nefertiti's Face, Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley tells the story of the bust, from its origins in a busy workshop of the late Bronze Age to its rediscovery and controversial removal to Europe in 1912 and its present status as one of the world's most treasured artifacts. This wide-ranging history takes us from the temples and tombs of ancient Egypt to wartime Berlin and engages the latest in Pharaonic scholarship. Tyldesley sheds light on both Nefertiti's life and her improbable afterlife, in which she became famous simply for being famous.

Joyce Tyldesley’s Nefertiti’s Face tackles not (as I think some other readers have hoped) who Nefertiti was, where she came from, what she might have been like, and how she died — though some of that is discussed as well — but the specifics of the famous limestone and gypsum plaster bust of her, currently on display in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. It accepts the attribution to the artisan Thutmose (or at least to his workshop in Amarna), and has a guess at aspects of the life of Thutmose and his workmen as well as at the purpose and meaning of the bust.

That does of course involve some contextualisation for people who might be coming to this fresh, so it includes a chapter about Akhenaten and the establishment of Amarna. Tyldesley rather squashes the hope that Nefertiti was equal to Akhenaten in some way, pointing out her position in the art is usually subordinate to his, and her exceptional actions like smiting enemies are always in the context of his absence — disappointing, but a good analysis.

Obviously there’s always the conjectures about where her tomb might lay (or have lain), and about who might’ve been related to whom and how among the Amarna family.

There is also inevitably discussion about repatriation, which Tyldesley seems somewhat against (claiming that the exhibition of the bust in Berlin benefits Cairo by encouraging people in their love of Egyptian archaeology, and thus boosting tourism). Ho-hum.

Overall, I found this one enjoyable, though obviously aimed at a popular audience. It does have footnotes and a fairly detailed bibliography; always a good sign.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Winter Prince

Posted July 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Winter Prince

The Winter Prince

by Elizabeth E. Wein

Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 216
Series: The Lion Hunters #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

The story of Medraut - strong, skilled, daring, and never to be king...

Medraut is the eldest son of Artos, high king of Britain; and, but for an accident of birth, would-be heir to the throne. Instead, his younger half-brother, Lleu, is chosen to be prince of Britain. Lleu is fragile, often ill, unskilled in weaponry and statesmanship, and childishly afraid of the dark. Even Lleu's twin sister, Goewin, seems more suited to rule the kingdom.

Medraut cannot bear to be commanded and contradicted by this weakling brother who he feels has usurped his birthright and his father's favor. Torn and bitter, haunted by jealousy, self-doubt, and thwarted ambition, he joins Morgause, the high king's treacherous sister, in a plot to force Artos to forfeit his power and kingdom in exchange for Lleu's life. But this plot soon proves to be much more - a battlefield on which Medraut is forced to decide, for good or evil, where his own allegiance truly lies...

It’s really hard to know what to say about Elizabeth E. Wein’s The Winter Prince, because I’m still muddling through what I think about it — even though I’ve read it before. It’s an Arthurian story, written from the point of view of Medraut, reflecting largely on his relationship with his brother (Arthur’s legitimate son), Lleu, and his relationship with his mother, Morgause. Morgause haunts the story, scarring Medraut’s mind as much as on his body.

In a way, a good quarter of the narrative feels like a fever dream (which makes sense, given that Medraut literally has a fever throughout most of it). The relationship between Lleu and Medraut never entirely makes sense, fraught with jealousy and hurt and anger, weighted by things that shouldn’t be said (and which Lleu says anyway).

It’s beautifully written, and the darkness of Morgause’s hold over Medraut is well done. Nobody here is a particularly good person, with a streak of cruelty deep in them all (some of the things Artos does and says to Medraut are not just). As an examination of that cruelty, it’s powerful.

I don’t know if it quite comes together for me fully, but I remember loving the following books quite a lot, and I’m looking forward to revisiting.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Things I Loved About The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System

Posted July 16, 2024 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Ten Things I Loved About [Insert Book Title Here]”.

The obvious choice for me would be to tell you all about the things I love about Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor — and there’s so much I could tell you about that I love, from the world-building to some of the descriptions, like one character looking at another (whom she has underestimated) “like she’d been bitten by a pillow”.

But it would be terribly obvious for me to pick The Goblin Emperor, and I’ve talked about it plenty before. So instead, here’s my list of things I love about The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System. It’s technically released as a series of four volumes, but it’s really a single story (originally a webnovel), so I’m going to talk about the whole thing.

Cover of The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù Cover of The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System vol 2 Cover of The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System vol 3 by MXTX Cover of The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System vol 4 by MXTX

  1. The illustrations in the English translation! I usually have trouble imagining characters, as I have total aphantasia, but the illustrations in these books are gorgeous and expressive.
  2. Luo Binghe’s curly hair. I know it’s not actually in the text of the books, as far as I can remember, but it looks pretty lush in the illustrations.
  3. Shen Yuan/Shen Qingqiu’s total lack of self-knowledge. Bless him, he’s an idiot, he has no idea he’s gay, he doesn’t understand his own motivations, he’s just a mess. But he gets there in the end!
  4. Shen Yuan/Shen Qingqiu is a total nerd. He tries to hide it, but he has so many opinions about the story and the monsters, and he’s unabashedly fascinated by so much of it.
  5. Liu Qingge. He becomes so protective and supportive of Shen Yuan (as Shen Qingqiu), and he doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything. When he thinks Shen Qingqiu is worried about being a burden to the sect, he doesn’t try to say he isn’t — but he says he doesn’t fear that burden. How supportive can you get?!
  6. The fact that Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu canonically get married, and that Shen Qingqiu’s total idiocy doesn’t stop him from trying out calling Luo Binghe his husband one more time, even when they aren’t having sex.
  7. None of Luo Binghe’s love interests from the original story are demonised, and the fact that the story becomes about Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu’s love story allows those characters to grow and shine.
  8. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Shen Qingqiu is constantly commenting about the dramatic moments and silly plots, lampshading it all. And it’s so aware of fandom: the story knows what the fans are thinking (indeed, that’s kind of the point).
  9. It’s one of the few stories where the love interests have bad sex, not just once or as a plot point, but continually. It makes sense with their characters and levels of experience, and the constraints of the world — and they are getting a bit better at it in the extras… They’ll get there. It just feels surprisingly realistic, all things considered, that things aren’t magical for them right away.
  10. It has a happy, unambiguous ending. Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu are in love, together, married, and will work things out, whatever life throws at them. I won’t say no tragedy here, because they go through a lot to get there — but despite everything, they get their happy ending.

Now, would I recommend this series to everyone? Mmm, no. I thought I wouldn’t like it myself, reading the first book, and there are things about it which are tricky (a teacher having a relationship with his former student, whom he met when he was a lot younger, for example). But it wormed its way into my heart, and dealt with all of that surprisingly well, and I could use about three books more (especially if they feature Liu Qingge and Luo Binghe having to wear a metaphorical get-along shirt).

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Review – Out of the Depths

Posted July 15, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Out of the Depths

Out of the Depths: A History of Shipwrecks

by Alan G. Jamieson

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 320
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Out of the Depths explores all aspects of shipwrecks across four thousand years, examining their historical context and significance, showing how shipwrecks can be time capsules, and shedding new light on long-departed societies and civilizations. Alan G. Jamieson not only informs readers of the technological developments over the last sixty years that have made the true appreciation of shipwrecks possible, but he also covers shipwrecks in culture and maritime archaeology, their appeal to treasure hunters, and their environmental impacts. Although shipwrecks have become less common in recent decades, their implications have become more wide-ranging: since the 1960s, foundering supertankers have caused massive environmental disasters, and in 2021, the blocking of the Suez Canal by the giant container ship Ever Given had a serious effect on global trade.

A highly illustrated voyage through shipwrecks ancient and contemporary.

There are parts of Alan G. Jamieson’s Out of the Depths which are fascinating, particularly in the last few chapters where he begins to talk in a bit more detail about excavation and ownership of wrecks. It does feel like the first chunk of the book — and the majority of it — is a long list with some scant details about as many wrecks as he could think of. There are some interesting examples, but it can get samey.

It did get more interesting as he got onto more modern wrecks, where we know more about the causes and the human factors, and can say more about survivors, who might be at fault, etc. At least, that’s how I feel, of course: if what fascinates you are the ships themselves, then this might be right up your alley. It’s hard to judge.

It felt a bit uneven, ultimately, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that it isn’t one of my particular interests. (I’m fascinated by underwater archaeology, but less fascinated by how things got underwater, I suppose.) But I can imagine it being a fascinating read and a good resource.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Foxes in Love, vol 3

Posted July 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Foxes in Love, vol 3

Foxes in Love

by Toivo Kaartinen

Genres: Graphic Novels
Pages: 114
Series: Foxes in Love #3
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

This is a simple comic about simple foxes. Come join Green and Blue once again for their simple adventures through everyday life in the third heart-warming volume of Foxes in Love.

Toivo Kaartinen’s Foxes in Love is an adorable comic with a simple format. It doesn’t really have a story, it just follows two foxes (Green and Blue) and their daily lives, their quirks, their problem-solving techniques, their silly conversations, etc. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen one of their comics and thought, “yep, this is just like me and my wife.”

I feel like the strips are really best experienced one at a time, or a few at a time, rather than in a book like this — I like having the collections, because the internet for sure isn’t forever, but because there’s no story and the character development is more cumulative than chronological, it’s not so much one for sitting down and reading straight through.

If you’ve never given Green and Blue a try, then I recommend it! Take a look.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted July 13, 2024 by Nicky in General / 20 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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