Author: Nicky

Review – Lock In

Posted August 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziLock In, John Scalzi

My review is going to discuss a certain aspect of this book that you might like to make your mind up about yourself, in case you haven’t read it. It’s not a spoiler per se, but it’s something you might like to bring a fresh perspective to!

So that said, Lock In follows Chris Shane, a brand new FBI agent… who happens to have had “Haden’s syndrome” as a child, leaving Chris “locked in”. It’s pretty much how it sounds: some people who get Haden’s syndrome after a bout of a particular pandemic strain of flu find themselves unable to communicate, unable to move their own bodies, but awake and aware. Back when it happened, Chris was just a child… and all kinds of funding and research was thrown at the situation to render Hadens (people who were locked in) to communicate, and eventually to pilot robot bodies around and interact with society in much the same way as anyone else.

Chris joins the team that deals with Haden-related crimes. The first week… does not go smoothly. Therein lies the story of a conspiracy, some real nastiness, and some familiar-feeling events and issues.

The first time I read this book, I read Chris as male; I’ve since experienced the narrator as female, having listened to the Amber Benson version of the audio (there’s a version with Wil Wheaton as well, a clever gimmick). This time… I didn’t really bother either way? Having realised that it wasn’t part of the narrative, I read Shane as being more like myself… but only now I know about the gimmick. Before that, even I couldn’t help myself!

Anyway, Lock In is a pacy and entertaining mystery, with some thrilling action scenes, banter and clever quips, and moderately high stakes. The characters are likeable enough, inasfar as you’re meant to like Vann, and in retrospect it’s an obvious set-up for a series (now with a follow-up, Head On). I’ve read it before, so I steamed through it knowing all the twists and turns, and just kind of enjoying watching Scalzi experiment with this narrator and with a near-future world.

He missed some tricks with his portrayal of the pandemic and its aftermath, in some ways; it’s surprising that Haden’s is caused by an influenza and there’s no reference to vaccines or anything… and somehow that same strain of flu is still burning on, still causing the same disease, when someone who caught it as a child is old enough to be an FBI agent. Other stuff is pretty on point, and one can only hope the funding and government initiatives that help Hadens in the book are coming for “long COVID” and vaccine research. I won’t hold my breath; I think Scalzi’s vision was really optimistic here (though I suspect partly based on initiatives like the March of Dimes for polio).

Enjoyable, even on a reread when it couldn’t spring surprises on me and I’d read all Shane’s lines before.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mystery at Olympia

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

Cover of Mystery at Olympia by John RhodeMystery at Olympia, John Rhode

I enjoyed John Rhode’s work under the name of Miles Burton, so I snapped this and two others up when I spotted them. Rhode is a fairly workmanlike writer, without the exquisite turns of phrase of Cox or Sayers, or the deep sense of place and character of someone like E.C.R. Lorac. They’re puzzles to be solved, with an ingenious method of murder and all kinds of twists in the tale (four separate attempts to harm the victim, any of which could have killed him… and not all by the same culprit, for instance). There are some nice little character sketches (primarily Mrs Markle, but with neat little impressions of several other characters and how they think).

The way it works out is surprising, mostly because I think there are really insufficient clues; it’s one of the school where the detective is utterly reasonable in his suspicions, but hopelessly wrong, and the big man of the story (Sherlock in some, Dr Priestley in this) has it all figured out in actuality… and it’s so Machiavellian and labyrinthine that you can’t guess. That’s not something I enjoy greatly in too big a dose, but it was nice to settle back and let the story carry me to its conclusion in this case. I knew I probably wouldn’t work it out and that there’d be a surprise, so thus prepared, I just passively followed the process.

Probably I’ll avoid reading Death at Breakfast or Invisible Weapons too soon, and come back when I’m ready to be told what the non-obvious “obvious” solution is.

Oh, and if you’re just picking it up and wondering if you need to follow all that explanation about how the fancy new transmission works in the cars at the Olympia show… the answer is no. You can skip that whole spiel. Someone got too pleased with his own idea there.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted August 1, 2020 by Nicky in General / 13 Comments

Well, folks, it’s been quite the week. No new books, and we’ve been in quarantine after Lisa (my wife) developed some potential-COVID symptoms. We’ve both tested negative now and she’s on the mend, but phew it’s been tiring.

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

So here’s what I have managed to read (not bad, though they were short!):

Books read this week:

Cover of Return of the Earl by Sandra Schwab Cover of Alike As Two Bees by Elin Gregory Cover of The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

  • WWW Wednesday. A quick update, mostly mentioning the books above.
  • Hobbit Birthday. Giveaway still going on! Open worldwide; £50 to spend at Portal Bookshop for one winner, £15 for two others. (It’s possible to figure out a different bookshop if Portal don’t ship to you!)

So that’s me for the week. How’s everyone else doing?

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Review – The Secret Lives of Colour

Posted July 31, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St ClairThe Secret Lives of Colour, Kassia St. Clair

This was perfect for a kind of scatter-brained mood: the stories about each colour are short, and it’s easy to dip in and out. Actually, it’s better that way, since there’s some repetition here and there between the colours, and it can get a bit samey to just sit down and read multiples. It seems to be well sourced and squares up with what I know about the history of colour and optics, though admittedly that isn’t much!

I would definitely recommend reading it on a colour screen, or preferably in a physical book, where you can see the colours right beside the images. It was OK on my phone screen, but not great.

Overall, enjoyable and informative… but also kinda repetitive. Not something I’m wildly enthusiastic about, even though it came at a good time for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Alike As Two Bees

Posted July 31, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Alike As Two Bees by Elin GregoryAlike As Tw0 Bees, Elin Gregory

Not a period I’ve read romance for (that I can think of), so when my automatic recommendations turned this up I pounced on it! Philon is an apprentice stonemason, and as he works on portraying Castor and Pollux, he’s copying from a horse he’s seen on the beach. Her rider Hilarion is clearly interested in him, and Philon’s apprehensive and eager about that… even as Hilarion’s brother, Aristion, starts to bully Philon’s fellow apprentice. Hilarion comes to his rescue, and Philon… well, he falls a bit head over heels.

It’s sweetly done, and avoids the issue of an age gap (since in Greek tradition, it would be a rather older man and a fairly young boy) by having Philon be more or less an adult. Though he gets a serious crush, it’s not “instalove” — it’s quick, but he even acknowledges himself that for now it’s just the beginning of something. I’d be interested to see more of Hilarion’s point of view here, since we only see him from Philon’s point of view.

It’s nice that it doesn’t feel like the story is just there as a wrapper for the romance: the work of the stonemasons goes on and surrounds the budding romance, and each gives the other meaning.

It’s a quick read, and I’d gladly check out more by this author.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Deep

Posted July 30, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Deep by Rivers SolomonThe Deep, Rivers Solomon

The Deep is a novella which the afterword describes as part of a game of “narrative telephone”, inspired by the work of clipping., an American hip-hop group. I know absolutely nothing about the music, to be honest, so The Deep was my introductory point.

The story follows Yetu, the Historian of the wajinru, a mermaid-like people who were born by magic from pregnant women tossed overboard from slave ships. They have few memories, leaving all of it to be held by their Historian — and Yetu is too fragile, losing her sense of self and drowning in the accumulated memories of her people. During an event in which she passes all the memories on to other wajinru, Yetu flees, hoping to be free of the burden…

There’s an awful lot going on in this novella, especially given it’s pretty short: coming to terms with the past, mental and chronic illness/neurodiversity, moving forward despite trauma, finding your place and your people… Obviously, some things are just taken for granted (there’s no real reason given for why the wajinru were born like that), and some bits of the story are painted in broad strokes. Yetu’s point of view is rather dark and hopeless at times, and she has suicidal impulses as well, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend this if you’re feeling unwell yourself. Nevertheless, it’s not an especially dark novella, somehow — it’s not about wallowing in past awfulness, despite the provocative idea of a human-like people being born from the corpses of pregnant slaves. It could be a lot darker than it is, but actually it finds a way to shine a light.

I enjoyed the character of Yetu in some ways — her determination to make space for herself — and in other ways she frustrated me so much. She just… runs away, leaving her people in the torment she’s fleeing, and that’s not really something I can relate to. The whole bit flopping around in the tide pool was extra frustrating. Like, of course she needed a period of healing, but… gah, the self-pity. I did like her matter-of-fact conversations with Oori, at the same time.

Overall, I found it beautifully written, and the structure works well, despite the repetitions (which I think bothered some folks). I was surprised how much got told and felt in such a small space. I found the ending came a little easily… but then of course that’s what anxiety and mental illness is like: it holds you back from seeing an obvious possible solution.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 29, 2020 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

Hey folks! I’m not linking this one up, because I know I don’t have the energy to answer many people… but I’d love to hear from regulars. Lisa’s sick, and there’s an outside chance it might be COVID… so it’s quarantine for us.

Cover of The Lost Boys by Gina PerryWhat are you currently reading?

My wife’s sick, so I’m pretty brain-dead. I’m supposed to be finishing up The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu before the end of the month, but I think the chances are slim. I’ve tried to pick up The Lost Boys, by Gina Parry, which is about the Robbers Cave experiment by Muzafer Sherif; I really want to be interested, but I don’t have enough brain.

Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Colour is going down better, because it has very short chapters.

Cover of Return of the Earl by Sandra SchwabWhat have you recently finished reading?

The Return of the Earl, by Sandra Schwab, which was kind of cute but won’t prove memorable. I had to look up the eponymous Earl’s name again to write my review two days later, eek.

Before that it was Rivers Solomon’s The Deep, which was less forgettable but which I haven’t quite managed to review yet.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersWhat will you be reading next?

I really have no idea. I’m being gently urged to reread some favourites, whether that’s Dorothy L. Sayers or Becky Chambers or something else, in the hopes that whatever it is will better suit my brain at the moment through its familiarity. Probably a solid plan, but who knows if I’ll stick to it.

What are you reading?

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Review – The Return of the Earl

Posted July 28, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Return of the Earl by Sandra SchwabThe Return of the Earl, Sandra Schwab

Con has been away from his father’s estate for thirteen years, after his father caught him with the stableboy. In the intervening time, he’s inherited the estate and the title… but he has no wish to return home, having been told by his father that his stableboy lover repudiated him harshly and had to be paid for his silence. Matters need to be handled, though, so reluctantly, he returns to the place he grew up… to find Bryn still there, waiting for him, and apparently totally brazen about his actions.

Needless to say, I don’t think there’s a spoiler here to say there has been a grave misunderstanding. It’s understandable in the context, but Con spends the entire time refusing to trust Bryn, looking desperately for the evidence that Bryn really did have to be paid off, instead of realising that, hey, his dad was a git and Bryn was always true. Once that gets through Con’s head, the story turns sweet, but until that point he’s rather petulant… and his about-face felt a little odd.

Bryn would almost have been a more interesting POV character; he has his head on straight, knows what he wants, and while he isn’t impervious to pain, he knows he’s not the only one suffering.

Anyway, a fun and quick read, overall, but not super memorable.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted July 25, 2020 by Nicky in General / 26 Comments

Greetings, folks. I wasn’t as organised this week, but I’m still getting this posted on Saturday instead of Sunday! It’s good enough for me. It’s been a quiet week as I haven’t been feeling 100% well.

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

Books bought this week:

Cover of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Cover of Alike As Two Bees by Elin Gregory Cover of The Deep by Rivers Solomon Cover of Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Cover of Murder in Vienna by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Murderer's Mistake by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Death Came Softly by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Accident by Design, by E.C.R. Lorac

Cover of Rope's End, Rogue's End by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman Cover of Return of the Earl by Sandra Schwab Cover of Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian

As you can see, I discovered a bunch of E.C.R. Lorac books that haven’t been reissued in the British Library Crime Classics series… are available in ebook for a couple of quid each. Yoink!

Books read this week:

Cover of Like a Gentleman by Eliot Grayson Cover of The Man Who Didn't Fly by Margot Bennett

 

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

  • Hobbit Birthday. For my birthday, I’m giving away £50 to spend on books (preferably at Portal Bookshop, but I can be flexible if they can’t ship to you) to one person, and one book under £15 to two people! You can get entries (apart from a freebie and one for following my blog) by doing some little self-care/fun/charity stuff.

That’s it for this week? How’re you folks doing?

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Review – The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries

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

Cover of The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries by Donald R. ProtheroThe Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries, Donald R. Prothero

This one is quite an expensive tome, so I was pleased when the library got it for me in ebook! It’s not quite as good as being able to see the full-colour, full-size illustrations, but I’m not very visual so I was here for the text anyway. I could get a quick look at the interesting ones, and that’s enough for me; I recommend experiencing it in colour, though, and probably in pbook form instead of ebook.

Overall, it was… pretty much as I’d expect, from a fairly generalised dinosaur book: there was a lot that I already knew, with some nuggets that I didn’t, and different interpretations of some fossils while trying to portray a fairly broad consensus. There are some gossipy stories about palaeontologists and work in the field, enough to give you a little taste of the conditions fossils get collected in and the history around their study.

There’s nothing particularly surprising, if you’re interested in dinosaurs and tend to pounce on books about them… but for me it was nice to wander through the Cretaceous landscapes for a while and let it wash over me. It’d be great if you were interested in dinosaurs as a kid, don’t know much about them now, and would like a refresher that brings up to date whilst being informative and fairly thorough.

Rating: 4/5

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