Author: Nikki

Review – A Hidden Hope

Posted January 6, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of A Hidden Hope by Laura AmbroseA Hidden Hope, Laura Ambrose

A Hidden Hope is such a familiar love story; I’ve been to a couple of SF/F cons; I could almost imagine the panels, the nervous debut authors, the stupid and not-so-stupid questions about the attendees. I definitely remembered the whirlwind romance-ness of sharing story critiques, loving each other’s writing, fiercely supporting one another — and then just as fiercely falling out, over stupid things that only a few years later I’d feel daft about, and now would solve by talking. This is a story about getting past that and learning: Natalie and El get a second chance when they meet at a convention in London, having expected that they’d be totally safe from running into each other there, and Natalie lets El sweep her back off her feet despite the bruised feelings.

It feels a little rushed, partly because I didn’t get much of a feel for the characters outside their relationship — even within fandom, there’s only a little glimpse of that. It means they didn’t quite feel real to me, despite how much I recognised their relationship and how they worked together. It felt like it was a little sketched in.

It’s sweet enough, and I’m glad of the HEA that they get, though Natalie’s negativity and self-sabotage is a bit of a downer and makes me wonder if I believe they’ll make it as a couple. There are several sex scenes, and I think the relationship seems rather built around sex and their sexual connection in a way I’m not interested in, so perhaps that didn’t help me connect to it. I’m not sure I particularly recommend it, but it’s not bad either. I’m pretty sure the same story wrapped in just a few more details would have worked for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Sorting the Beef from the Bull

Posted January 5, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sorting the Beef from the BullSorting the Beef from the Bull, Nicola Temple & Richard Evershed

This book is about the science of food fraud — the way food fraud is committed, hidden, and detected. It has chapters on various staple foodstuffs, from meat (Horsegate, of course, but also other meat-related frauds like the injection of extra water into meat so that the consumer pays for water in the alleged weight), spices (you don’t want to know what happens with many ground spices), wine (mostly affecting rich people, but also some of the lowest end stuff), oil (olive oil is a big target), milk… Apparently it’s endemic in the UK, at least in Lancashire, that pizza takeaways almost universally do not use mozzarella — it’s not even cheese at all, with actual cheese only being added as a flavouring. And if you’re in the US, I have bad news about the likelihood that any red snapper is actually red snapper. 80% odds say it isn’t.

Most boggling to me, the idea that you can make a synthetic egg that fools people to the extent that they’ll crack the eggs, fry them up and consume them. (You can tell they aren’t real eggs because they lack a membrane inside the eggshell. That’s about it, to hear these authors tell it.)

It’s not just horror stories, of course: the authors also discuss the science at work in detecting these frauds, and the best ways for a consumer to avoid them. Mostly, it comes down to awareness, buying things whole (fish with the heads on; whole spices; recognisable cuts of meat, etc) buying seasonally, and buying locally from sources you can trust.

It’s all a bit horrifying, but fascinating as well. Definitely worth a read.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted January 4, 2020 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Well, Happy New Year! It’s been a quiet-ish week, but I did pick up a new book today. I don’t watch much TV, but hearing people talk about The Witcher made me curious. So, of course…

Cover of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Books read: 

Cover of Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole Cover of Wanted, a Gentleman by K.J. Charles Cover of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles Cover of Sorting the Beef from the Bull Cover of A Hidden Hope by Laura Ambrose

Reviews posted:

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, by Alyssa Cole. Author does not seem to know the meaning of ghosting (the breakup is emphatic and final, kind of the opposite of ghosting), but the relationship is sweet. 3/5 stars
Wanted, a Gentleman, by K.J. Charles. This didn’t go anywhere I didn’t expect, but I enjoyed it anyway; it’s very Regency in some ways, and yet of course a black former slave and a poor man would not be the heroes of a Regency novel. 4/5 stars
The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay. Actually a repost, because something went awry somewhere. A Christmas-themed mystery, but like most sold that way, doesn’t feel Christmas-y; too sordid and full of family squabbling. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Game of Books 2020. The rules and my set-up for this year.
2019 Stats. A bit of a breakdown of last year’s reading!
How to Meet Your 2020 Reading Goal. My tips and tricks for reading as much as I do (and more).

And that’s it for this week! How’re you guys doing? Bought your first books of 2020 yet, or holding out?

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Review – The Santa Klaus Murder

Posted January 3, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel HayThe Santa Klaus Murder, Mavis Doriel Hay

The Santa Klaus Murder is a competent but (for me) uninspiring mystery; I don’t know whether I’m just reading too many Golden Age crime novels at the moment, and should therefore stop — but then, I don’t think I absolutely loved the other book I read by Mavis Doriel Hay, so perhaps it’s just that. In any case, it’s another case of Christmas in a dysfunctional family, with a controlling patriarch and issues of inheritance looming.

It is told in an interesting way, at least at first, with the opening chapters being different points of view on the early events of the story written by the characters, and that’s a sort of exercise in sketching out characters that’s pretty entertaining. It doesn’t sustain that through the book, though; the later chapters are all from the perspective of the investigator.

Not really sold on it, in any case; it felt a little like going-through-the-motions, and I found the misdirection onto a particular character obvious and rather silly. Not one that worked for me, in the end!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Wanted, A Gentleman

Posted January 2, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wanted, a Gentleman by K.J. CharlesWanted, a Gentleman, K.J. Charles

This one is a slim volume, but it’s just as satisfying as the longer stories I’ve read by K.J. Charles! Theo runs the Matrimonial Advertiser, a lonely hearts publication which allows ladies of some means to put in an ad seeking gentlemen of the right sort, gentlemen to put out an ad for a wife, and so on. One day Martin comes in because of some ads placed by a young woman of his acquaintance, and it all ends with Theo entangled in a quest to follow the young lady to Gretna Green to prevent her from making a decision about marriage that she can’t undo.

I won’t spoil the ups and downs of the plot, but “oh Theo no” and “oops” and “ohhhh no” were all things I said while reading! Theo and Martin’s relationship develops quickly, without ever being treated with sentimentality, and you can root for their HEA despite the mess-ups along the way. There are several explicit sex scenes; they build the rapport between the characters, and given the shortness of the book, I’d say they’re not really skippable — how the characters interact in every scene is important to the payoff.

It was especially interesting that Martin is a person of colour, a former slave, and indeed one who was previously owned by the family for whom he’s doing a favour. It changes the narrative and provides an interesting way of looking at the period in its discussion of gratitude and privilege.

I suppose my one critique was that the twist in the middle — or at least, the way it plays out — is pretty obvious, but then, this is a romance, and you know there’s a HEA in store somehow.

Rating: 4/5

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How To Meet Your 2020 Reading Goal

Posted January 1, 2020 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

Because I read a lot (once upon a time I managed 500 books in a year; now it’s more like 200), I frequently get asked what the trick is. People seem to think I have a lifehack or something that I can share with other people. I’ll break that down a bit more below, but here’s what I think (looking back) is the biggest driver for me meeting my reading goals…

I do best when I don’t care about the goals at all.

My reading has slowed down more and more with every goal I add, every challenge I decide I have to meet. It’s also slowed down because I’m an adult working 30 hours a week and studying and trying to be a healthy person with a tidy house — there’s no denying that. And the increased amount of non-fiction I read now is a factor as well. But there’s a fairly large correlation between when I started really worrying about meeting reading goals and when my reading speed abruptly dropped.

Now, I do have some habits which I think help me read a lot, so I’ll summarise them below:

  1. Always have a book with you. You never know when you’re going to have a tedious hour stuck by the side of the road waiting for a bus or a towtruck. Or a 30-minute wait at an appointment. Even a five-minute wait for the train gives me time to fit in a chapter.
  2. Pick up the book, not your phone (unless the book is on your phone). It goes without saying, really.
  3. Give yourself at least a little room to read based on whims. Reading isn’t meant to be a chore. You don’t need a pre-planned TBR. If you’re really excited to read a book, you’ll remember it. You won’t be able to keep your hands off it.
  4. Buy books you’re excited about. If it’s just a case of “I feel like I should read this”, that book is destined to moulder on the TBR pile forever. And my TBR pile is daunting as heck now because of exactly the wrong kinds of purchasing decisions.
  5. Make the time. It’s been a shit day, but you can still turn some pages. And if you like reading and you’re reading a book you’re excited about, that’s only gonna make your day better.

That’s it. That’s my magic bullet. Everything else comes and goes, but these things are constant and always help toward meeting my goals.

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2019 Stats

Posted December 31, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Welp, here we are at the end of the year, and I don’t think I’ll be finishing another book before midnight. How’s it been? Well. I’ve read less than I have in a long time. I think I’ve enjoyed my reading more than maybe last year, when I was starting to feel painted into a corner with silly rules. I don’t know if I’ve fixed that, exactly, but I’m hoping I have.

Here are some neat figures from my organisational spreadsheet:


Total read: 213
Number of rereads: 51 (24%)
Total page count: 62,991 (-10,090 from last year)
Most-read genre per month:

  • January: History
  • February: Science
  • March: Science & History (tied)
  • April: Fantasy
  • May: Fantasy
  • June: Fantasy
  • July: Fantasy
  • August: Fantasy
  • September: Fantasy
  • October: Mystery
  • November: Mystery
  • December: Romance

Number of ratings:

  • Five stars: 17
  • Four stars: 97
  • Three stars: 66
  • Two stars: 27
  • One star: 6

First book read: The Bell at Sealey Head (Patricia A. McKillip)
Last book read: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal (K.J. Charles)
First book bought: A Murder Most Unladylike (Robin Stevens)
Last book bought: Sorting the Beef from the Bull (Nicola Temple & Richard Evershed)

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Game of Books 2020

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

A "Game of Books" image, based on the Iron ThroneIt’s almost that time again! This is the fourth year of Game of Books, intended to incentivise reading and focus not on the total number of books read, but balancing a variety of goals like reading longer books, finishing up books in a series, reading books I’ve had on my TBR for longer…

In any case, everyone’s welcome to join in! I suggest you read through my ramble about how it works if you haven’t encountered the idea before, but skip to the end if you just want the spreadsheet!

So this year I’m personally trying to lean really hard on reading things I enjoy. Accordingly, the “joy factor” I’ve previously used has been scrapped — I’d get more points for reading books I hated, which was silly! I don’t think I did read anything I hated for that, but I did keep on with books I would probably have stopped. Also, I was supposed to guess the joy factor of a book before reading it, and that just never really worked.

So, instead I have the “enjoyment” column, which rewards me for DNFing, for being so excited about books I babble at my wife about them, for picking up a book to read the first page and accidentally getting halfway through, etc.

I’ve also nixed the one that rewards me for taking longer over reading a book, because if I can’t read a book in a couple of days, I’m probably not having fun, and that is not good.

I do also want to read books I’ve owned for longer, keep up with reading books in a series, and reward reading longer books.

Here’s my full setup:

PointsAcquisitionLength (pages)SeriesEnjoymentBonus
12020, reread, ARC, library book0-100Not in a series/not going to read more of the seriesFinished itFor each 100 pages over 500
22018-2019101-200First book in a seriesDNFed itARC 2019-2020
32016-2017201-300Middle book of a trilogyWas so excited I infodumped at LisaARC 2018 and older
42014-2015301-400Last book of a trilogy, middle book of a seriesRead the first page and accidentally ended up halfway throughBook club book read on time
52011-2013401-500+Last book of a series (to date)Read in 1-3 sittingsRead within a week of purchase or borrowing

I’ve made my monthly goal 220 points. To work that out, I tallied up how some random books I enjoyed from 2019 would score in the new system, and figured out the average score (11), and then multiplied that by how many books I would want to read each month if I was setting a simple reading goal. In theory, then, I can read fewer than 20 books as long as I enjoy them a lot or finish series I’m reading or whatever scores the high points. This usually gets revised a bit when I have a feel for how it’s going.

And that’s it! Feel free to share, join in, modify it however you wish (the idea is to ignore simplistic targets of books read to incentivise your ideal reading experience — which won’t be the same as mine!) and have fun with it!

You can find the spreadsheet here, and then:

  • Claim a sheet that isn’t already named (or duplicate the template sheet)
  • Rename it to your name/blog name/a unique identifier
  • Click on the arrow next to it and select “Protect the sheet”
  • Set it so only you can edit your own sheet
  • Copy over anything you want from the template
  • Personalise
  • Fill in throughout the year!
  • Profit???

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Review – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy, Alyssa Cole

It’s probably bit weird to come to this book without reading the main series, but the cover is so lovely! Likotsi is essentially the personal assistant (“Advisor Most High”) to the prince of a fictional African country. She was in New York working for the prince a while before the story opens, where she met Fabiola through a dating app. They clicked quickly, and were well on the way to falling in love when suddenly Fabiola decided, out of nowhere, to tell Likotsi that it was over between them. Back in New York, Likotsi’s planning to forget her… and of course a chance meeting makes that impossible.

(No, there is no actual ghosting in this story. Fabiola makes the end of the relationship explicitly clear, and then enforces her boundaries in not wanting to talk to Likotsi.)

There’s something too much about the narration at times — here’s an excerpt from early in the book: “New York City didn’t have majestic mountains or roaring waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than to be the receptacle of memories that impeded her forward motion like a badly tailored suit that was too tight at the knees and elbows.” It would be perfectly fine — and smoother to read — if it was more like this instead: “New York City didn’t have mountains or waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than just to provoke the memories that kept constraining her at odd moments, like a badly tailored suit.” That’s not the best, but it makes the point: you know mountains are tall and waterfalls roar, you know that a badly tailored suit fits badly.

I don’t normally nitpick too much at the prose level, and thankfully it did smooth out once it stopped being self-conscious and the leads started going around the city together. It ended up pretty cute, and Fabiola’s reasons for the abrupt breakup are obviously such that she is not in fact an asshole.

There is one sex scene which is very explicit; it’s totally fine to skip, it’s just a culmination of their relationship, without significant character development or plot relevance. It’s pretty clearly signalled and at the end of the book.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted December 28, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Greetings, folks! It’s been Christmas, so I’ve got quite a few new books… for instance, I got my wish for more physical copies of K.J. Charles’ work! 😍 (Some of these I bought myself, mind you.)

Stack of KJ Charles books with a stuffie hedgehog on top

(Sssh, don’t disturb the Librarian Hog, he’s been deliberating for days about how to shelve these!)

So here’s a selection of my new books…

Newly Acquired:

Cover of Romancing the Duke Cover of The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare Cover of Proper English by KJ Charles

Cover of Death in Fancy Dress Cover of Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger Cover of Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Cover of The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly Cover of The Pursuit of by Courtney Milan Cover of This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan

In no particular order, because why not enjoy the eclectic way things come into my brain?

Thank you again to the anonymous friend who bought me Steel Crow Saga via Portal Bookshop. Also the anonymous friend who bought me The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, because you only identified yourself as “a Habitican book blogger”, and I know a few. Much much love to you and to everyone who’s bought me books lately. <3

Reviews posted:

Magic Rises, by Ilona Andrews. This book drives me a little bit mad because there’s a lot of awesome, but then also a stupid miscommunication plot between Kate and Curran, just when they were acting like sensible people. 4/5 stars
This Wicked Gift, by Courtney Milan. I have (serious) issues with the male love interest, but there is a lot to enjoy here as well. 3/5 stars
The Pursuit of…, by Courtney Milan. Okay, this one’s really cute. 4/5 stars
The Christmas Egg, by Mary Kelly. Rather meandering and unfocused, but not a bad seasonal read. 2/5 stars

And that’s it for this week! How’s everyone doing?

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