Posts by: Nikki


Review – Mystery in White

Posted 5 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mystery in White by J. Jefferson FarjeonMystery in White, John Jefferson Farjeon

I read this around Christmas, because it’s seasonal, and why not? It’s a set-up with tonnes of atmosphere: heavy snow falls, trapping trains on the tracks where they stand, and a group of travellers leave to try and walk to their destinations, or a working station, or just because of sheer boredom. The weather worsens, however, and one of them twists an ankle, and so they end up sheltering in a house they find empty, but open and ready as if for visitors. The mystery grows as a couple of other people join them, and as they explore the house. This is even one of the sort of mystery novels where there’s a hint of the supernatural, as a paranormal investigator is one of the group, and another susceptible member of the company finds herself experiencing weird episodes of pain and fear.

In the end, there’s some down to earth murder going on as well, and a touch of romance. To be honest, although I’ve enjoyed Farjeon’s other books, this one rang a little hollow for me and I wasn’t as keen. He does the atmosphere pretty well, but the characters are an odd bunch who wear their flaws rather openly, and I honestly just got confused by the comings and goings and mysterious happenings. It relies on coincidence a bit too much, and just… doesn’t in the end quite work for me. Sad, since I was sure it’d be a good one!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Breaking the Maya Code

Posted 4 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. CoeBreaking the Maya Code, Michael D. Coe

This book is, I’ll warn people right up front, also a history of how the Mayan specialists in the West failed to break the “Maya code” for far too long, due to petty jealousies and larger than life characters. Quite often Coe sketches a mini-biography of someone who was involved in the decipherment (or more often, the failure of decipherment); sometimes the biography isn’t so mini.

Still, I think it’s better written than his other book on the Mayans, which I read not that long ago — it certainly worked better for me, anyhow. Perhaps because there are glimpses of the scholars and larger than life characters who put in the work, erroneous though it often was.

The book is illustrated, both with full reproductions and sketches. For me, the full-page spreads of Mayan characters were meaningless, but I’m sure it would appeal a lot to some people to be able to have a crack at it themselves. I know I’m not visually inclined enough, so I tended to skip the examples and such, but they are there and I’m sure more visually inclined people could pick out some of the features Coe discusses.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Gaudy Night

Posted 3 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Gaudy Night looks to be the chunkiest of Sayers’ novels on my bookshelf: in effect, it’s a book-length musing on women and education, on equality in a relationship, and in doing the thing that you’re best suited to do — and making the sacrifices that may entail. Although there’s another book after this, it’s really the culmination of the series in some ways, resolving the romance between Peter and Harriet, and finally bringing the two of them into balance.

The plot itself takes Harriet to Oxford, a place she’s avoided since before she was tried for the murder of her lover. She didn’t think she could go back, after both taking a lover and being tried for his murder (even if she was acquitted), but she quickly finds there’s still a place for her there, and a life that has its charms of quiet contemplation and good hard work. She’s asked to stay there to help them track down something rather odd going on in their midst, a cross between a poison pen and a poltergeist, bent on causing disturbances that will reflect badly on the good name of the college — something that could be a pretty harsh blow to women’s education. In the meantime, she gets embroiled in various rivalries and misunderstandings, meets Peter’s nephew, and generally gets herself into trouble.

Really, the mystery isn’t as important to this book as Harriet’s struggle to forgive herself, and to begin to trust again after what happened to her. Although it’s been some time since the trial, she hasn’t really been confronting the demons and letting the wounds heal, and this book makes her do so. It also makes her really look at Peter, and discover how she actually feels about him.

It’s a book that dramatises badly: the BBC television adaptation is by far my least favourite of the three with Edward Petherbridge, despite the manifest delights of both him and Harriet Walter’s performance. The BBC radioplay is actually narrated by Harriet, and sticks much closer to the book, and so is more successful as a cohesive listening experience, though perhaps less so as a dramatisation. It’s a pretty insular book, and I think you may have to love Harriet, Peter, Oxford, or all of the above, to really appreciate it.

I really do. The thing that excites me most about Harriet and Peter as a couple is the fact that from their first meeting, everything hinges on them becoming equals and seeing each other as such — this isn’t a relationship where either of them subordinates their own wishes. Both are fully formed people, and Peter wants it that way — and Harriet doesn’t know or believe that he does, instead believing that any relationship will involve the subjugation of one to the other. Her realisation is beautiful, and Peter’s patience with bringing her there likewise.  I think that aspect of the books has aged well, even if the concern about educating women to a high level seems much less relevant.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 2 February, 2019 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

Hey folks! Another week, another… total lack of new books?! What’s wrong with me??

Anyway, so that was January, I guess. I read 15 books, bought only a handful, and generally behaved myself pretty well.

Books read this week:

Cover of The Cobbler's Boy by Elizabeth Bear and Katherine Addison. Cover of Seahenge: An Archaeological Conundrum by Charlie Watson Cover of How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith by Mary BeardCover of Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

Reviews posted this week:

The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Beautifully atmospheric, and always one of my favourites of the series. I love how much work Sayers did to integrate change ringing into the fabric of the story. 4/5 stars
Seahenge, by Charlie Watson. Definitely a good primer on what Seahenge was and what was done to preserve it; Francis Pryor’s book does more work on interpretation, though, if that’s your interest. 4/5 stars
Styx and Stones, by Carola Dunn. Okay, one aspect of this book really annoyed me: that stupid scene where Daisy and Alec briefly break up. What’s the point? Otherwise a fairly standard entry in the series, with a couple of twists you may not expect. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

A Personal Note. In lieu of a discussion post this week, I wrote about my feelings on Brexit.
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT Science: ‘Is there any (intelligent) life out there? My answer is ‘I really don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else has any idea how likely it is either’ — and I touch a little bit on why I think so and why other people think it might be likely or unlikely.

So that’s this week. How’s everyone else been doing? Any good books? Anything you’ve been dying to get your hands on finally fall into your lap?

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Review – Styx and Stones

Posted 31 January, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn

Styx and Stones, Carola Dunn

Styx and Stones is basically the same as the other Daisy Dalrymple books in its basic outline: somehow, Daisy ends up finding a dead body, and getting embroiled in the case to discover exactly what happened, despite Alec’s best efforts. In this case, she gets involved because her brother-in-law asks for her help in a little matter of someone writing poison pen letters to him — and perhaps to various other people in the village. Taking Alec’s daughter Belinda with her for a holiday, Daisy charges right in to see what can be done.

It’s a generally enjoyable book, with Daisy enjoying the quiet village life and poking her nose in everywhere. Her reactions to the local Scarlet Woman are, as you’d expect from her character and the fact that she’s designed to appeal to a modern reader, tentative but overall positive. As usual, she quickly decides who can’t have done it, based on personal feelings, and lets that colour her whole view of the case — and lead her somewhat astray at times.

My enjoyment of this book is mostly marred by the fact that there is a patently ridiculous chapter in which Alec decides Daisy’s been dragging his daughter into danger, Daisy has a tantrum about it and returns the engagement ring, and then they swiftly make up because Belinda gets sad about it. I’m not sure Alec ever really deals with the fact that he’s mad about Belinda getting into danger, and Daisy never really answers the accusation that she got Belinda into a nasty atmosphere (because I do think Alec has a point that maybe a village where someone is writing nasty and potentially threatening poison pen letters is maybe not the best place to take a child), and basically proper communication and discussion never really happens. I mean, it’s cute and all, but hmm. If there was an issue to begin with, it never does get resolved.

That being said, still a mostly enjoyable book, with a couple of little twists on the subject of who is writing the letters and who did the murder, for variety.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 30 January, 2019 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette KowalI’m partway through a reread of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass; I’m being a little irritated by the lack of communication between the two main characters, which I seem to remember would solve a lot and just require a bit of trust on both sides. I hate communication issues driving plots, honestly. I don’t recall it ruining the book for me before — if I remember rightly, I quite liked it overall — but it’s a bit annoying right now.

I’m also reading Roszika Parker’s The Subversive Stitch, which is about how embroidery came to be associated primarily with women and femininity; it’s a little dry and scholarly in tone, but I am enjoying learning more about an art/craft that I’ve been getting into myself. (And which is assumed to say a lot of things about my femininity, which makes me laugh.)

Cover of Kill the Queen by Jennifer EstepI’m also about halfway through Kill the Queen, by Jennifer Estep. It’s frustrating me at the moment because I just want Everleigh to admit who she is; I’m not actually sure of the timeline of these novels (whether she’ll have revealed herself by the end); maybe I should read the summary of the next book to see whether I should be moderating my expectations!

What have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing I finished was Mary Beard’s How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith — fascinating stuff, really. We tend to think that all ancient art is leading up to a sort of Greco-Roman realism, and interpret it accordingly; it’s worth remembering that people haven’t always thought the same way or had the same expectations of art!

Cover of Hild by Nicola GriffithWhat will you be reading next?

I have no idea. I need to pick my next bookclub choice for the Habitica book club, and I’m not entirely sure what genre I’ll pick. I just got a copy of Hild, by Nicola Griffith, from a book swap… so maybe I’ll set that as the month’s book. It’s certainly high time I got to reading that; I’ve wanted to for ages.

What are you reading?

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Review – Seahenge

Posted 29 January, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Seahenge: An Archaeological Conundrum by Charlie WatsonSeahenge: An Archaeological Conundrum, Charlie Watson

A short and beautifully illustrated book on Seahenge, mostly focusing on the practical issues of how it was made, how it was found, how it was excavated, and the hard facts discovered since from analysis of it. There’s less concentration on the speculations about a ritual landscape in the area, etc, than you find in Pryor’s book on the same site, and a lot more illustrations and photographs. The two complement each other, I think, though I am reading them quite far apart — this is much more ‘just the facts, sir’ than Pryor’s book, while Pryor did the work of interpretation.

If you’re just looking for some background on Seahenge, you’re definitely safe with this one!

Rating: 4/5

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A Personal Note

Posted 28 January, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I don’t often post exclusively about personal things, though I think readers here know a fair bit about me; I think it’s even more rare for me to post about politics, although I suspect you also have a fair idea of my political stance. This post is a one-off, and unlikely to be repeated, but it’s something that I felt I needed to write, and and an occasion on which I felt it necessary to use my limited platform to say the things that only I can say.

We’re often told that personal stories are what sway people, more than statistics or politicians’ speeches. I’m not sure I believe anymore that there is anyone from the other side of things listening: it’s become so polarised, so fractious, with both sides so very convinced they’re right. And of course, I’m still convinced I was in the right in voting to Remain, and I would do so again — though at the same time I recognise that there’s a reason the country is going this way, and the outright bare-faced lies of the Leave faction have appealed to a real need in people to be heard and to see certain things happen. The division in this country needs to be healed, somehow.

The problem is, the disinformation is still happening. People around me — Leave and Remain voters alike — have this strange idée fixe that Brexit isn’t going to affect them or anyone they know. Even when they know darn well that my wife is Belgian, they cling to the idea that it won’t affect me because we’re married (and thus obviously safe) or it won’t affect me because it doesn’t actually mean people like my wife (who has a job here and speaks perfect English and doesn’t look or sound different).

It does mean her as well. The fact that we’re married actually has no effect on whether she’s allowed to stay or not. Having a job, no effect. Perfect English, no effect. The fact that she didn’t get here until September 2018 is a definite black mark against her (regardless of the fact that it was due to our decision to delay the move until we were financially ready for it, so that we haven’t required any benefits, etc). People with far better claims to remain in the UK — years of paying taxes, families all born here — are being rejected for “settled status”, and despite all the government’s assurances, I remain painfully aware that we have hoops to jump through: pre-settled status, settled status, citizenship… all with associated fees and inconvenience and outright invasion of privacy.

And that’s just what we’re currently being told. Who knows what is actually going to happen. We did all the right things: I had my degree(s!) finished, I had a job, she had a job, we had savings, we didn’t do anything on a whim. And this situation punishes us for it.

I’m not saying that anyone should change their minds based on our story alone, but it’s worth remembering that I planned my life based on European free movement, a right I’m now losing, and I’m far from alone. It’s worth remembering that these same uncertainties and barriers apply to NHS nurses and doctors who were born in other EU countries, and every other kind of skilled European worker. It’s worth remembering that it doesn’t just apply to stopping the free movement of unskilled workers who don’t speak English — it stops everyone’s free movement. It’s worth remembering that the UK gains very little political power by removing itself from the EU, and loses a lot — the power of veto we used to hold, the voice we had in European issues. It’s worth remembering that if we want to trade with the EU, which we will need to do, we’re going to need to abide by their trading standards anyway, so you can put away that old canard about becoming free of the EU regulating things right down to the curvature of bananas. It’s worth remembering that with the best will in the world on both sides, they’re big, and we’re small, and we’ve forfeited our right to direct their policies.

It’s worth noticing where the big companies and the millionaires are going, even the ones who said Brexit was good for Britain.

Leavers complain about the EU taking their rights away, but Brexit itself takes away rights central to my life, and gives me nothing worth the loss. I hope understanding that will help Leavers I know understand what the problem is for me, both personally and in a wider sense. At the very least, please don’t pretend to me that I’ll be better off. You know I will not, and you’re lying to yourself and to me when you pretend that things are going to work out fine for everybody.

Nonetheless, in the words of Jo Cox — murdered not far from where I grew up for her pro-EU stance: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Let’s try and justify her faith in us.

Note: I’ve turned comments off on this post because I don’t really want to debate it any further right now — I’m stressed out enough about the whole situation as it is: I don’t trust myself to be the kind of level-headed voice of reason I want to be — and because this is still a blog about books primarily, not a place for political debate.

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Review – The Nine Tailors

Posted 27 January, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. SayersThe Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers

In The Nine Tailors, Peter and Bunter find themselves stranded in the Fen country due to their car being driven into a ditch. Taking shelter for New Year’s Eve in a small vicarage, Peter gets pressed into joining the vicar and his bellringers in ringing in the New Year, literally, with a complex and record-breaking peal. The reader might be slightly confused by this beginning, which features no crime, but after a while things become clear: the vicar writes to Peter later, asking for his help. A body has been found in the grave of a woman who died that New Year’s Day, and nobody knows who he is, who killed him, or even exactly how he died.

This was one of my favourite of the Peter Wimsey books from the start of my acquaintance with them, when I was rather less under the spell of Peter, and more inclined to be sceptical — I think I might’ve given Whose Body? two stars, so thank goodness I didn’t have a blog then: my mother would’ve had a fit. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why this book is a favourite, though. Part of it is a sense of place — the desolate power of the Fenlands, the beauty of the church, the brooding menace of the bells… Part of it is that refrain from the book: “Nine tailors make a man.” For me, anyway, there’s a kind of magic in that phrase, in the idea of the bell slowly tolling to announce a death. And there’s also a good deal to love in the care Sayers took in using the bellringing for so much, weaving it into the plot inextricably, and making all the infodumps about change ringing useful to the rest of the story. There’s a powerful melancholy in the whole book.

(I’m sure for some people that’s also a reason to dislike the book; it’s a fairly measured and slow-paced story.)

For me, there’s also significant pleasure in the ironies of the story, and to elaborate would be to spoil the story. It’s a rather literary effort, compared to the snappier books from earlier in the series: for me, that’s a positive thing, though I like the earlier books as well. Could use more active involvement of Parker, though…

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 26 January, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a heck of a week, as I think I already said; thank goodness it’s over, and I can start the next one fresh. In theory, anyway! I’m ending/starting the week with the #24in48 readathon, so that’ll be good.

Books read this week:

Cover of Ninja by John Man Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. Charles Cover of Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn

Reviews posted this week:

Greenwitch, by Susan Cooper. Never a favourite of the series, but there’s a lot to love all the same. 4/5 stars
A Little History of Science, by W.F. Bynum. Did not finish this one, because inaccuracies. Meh. 1/5 stars
Hidden Sun, by Jaine Fenn. Did not finish this one, because despite some intriguing stuff, the characters decide that rape isn’t so bad as long as you don’t kill anyone, and I’m not into that. 2/5 stars

Discussions:

Discussion: Book Blanket. This week, I shared a photo of one motif, and the pattern I’m using to make them! The photo at least is worth it, I promise; it’s a very pretty colour combination!

Out and About:

NEAT science: ‘Gum Disease causes Alzheimer’s? You heard me! It’s a theory so far, but from what I’ve read, it’s kind of convincing!

So how’s everyone else been doing?

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