Posts by: Nikki

Review – The Bear and the Nightingale

Posted 11 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

I struggled a bit with this book, which surprised me. It’s not the fairytale-like narration, because that worked for me, nor the choice of setting (semi-historical Russia), or the characters, or the choice of fairytales to invoke. Perhaps it’s just that I felt I knew where it was going and how it would unfold, and I am so very tired of stories all about taming a wild young woman who doesn’t belong among her people.

It’s well written, and I enjoyed the Russian flavour – probably helped by the fact that I don’t know Russian well at all, so the words chosen to give a flavour didn’t contradict each other in the way they were Romanised or used. I do enjoy Vasya and her determination, her basic goodness, her love for her family and duty to the people who, unknowingly, relied upon her. I enjoyed the little snippets that joined it to history.

I just… didn’t quite click with it in some way I can’t put my finger on. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably pick up the second book to see how I get into that, but… something didn’t work for me.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 11 October, 2017 by Nikki in General / 2 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 A Sting in the Tale by Dave GoulsonA Sting in the Tale, by Dave Goulson. It’s a non-fiction/pop-science book about bees, and is part of a new project of mine to get less scared of insects by becoming curious about them. It worked for me when it comes to pathogens (starting with David Quammen’s Spillover), so I’m hopeful. So far I’m learning a lot of interesting facts — for instance, bumblebees have smelly feet — and I’m not grossed out or anxious. On the other hand, bees are relatively harmless anyway and aren’t a major fear of mine. I’ve got a book on ants lined up, and that might be more problematic. Ideally, I should find something on spiders…

I’m also reading a few other books, but most actively it’s Kushiel’s Dart, which I finally found the time to pick up again. I forgot how long it takes before Joscelin actually appears!

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Away With the Fairies by Kerry GreenwoodI think the last thing I finished was a reread of Kerry Greenwood’s Away with the Fairies. It’s a blatant homage to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, in some ways, and it also features Phryne being terribly daring and heroic in rescuing her lover, Lin Chung, from pirates. These books make for great comfort reading, because you can pretty much be sure everything will be okay, and also I’ve read them before so I know how they turn out. And Phryne is awesome.

(I needed comfort reading because my cough got so bad I pulled muscles in my ribcage. I’m doing better now, before I had to bring out the big guns and reread The Goblin Emperor.)

What will you read next?

Cover of Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. CoreyI’m going to focus on finishing Abaddon’s Gate, for a start. I also have a stack of library books to read while I’m visiting my parents, including some books in the 300s of the Dewey Decimal System for a Habitica challenge. I can’t remember the titles, but they’re about multiculturalism and immigration, so not my usual thing, but rather topical given the world at present and the political preoccupations of our time.

Other than that, I’m not sure. I might pick up Nine Coaches Waiting, since I’m about due for another scheduled dose of rereading Mary Stewart’s work.

What are you reading at the moment?

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Review – The Man Who Fell to Earth

Posted 10 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter TevisThe Man Who Fell to Earth, Walter Tevis

Ouch. I was sort of enjoying this, but not really bowled over — and then that ending. Of course that’s the way the US government would end up treating an alien. Of course it’s not that easy to save the world.

To start at the beginning, this is a short novel which imagines what would happen if an alien came to Earth with the intent of saving our world, in order to save his own. Newton is from Anthea, which sounds like it’s probably Mars (back when we thought Mars might have had intelligent lifeforms), and his people need a new world. So they send him to Earth to kickstart technology, enough to build an ark to fetch them to Earth. And from there, they’d take over Earth quietly, guiding humans to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, etc, etc.

To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t quite go as planned, but the way that works out is fascinating. The weird thing for me was how much people drank, and how routine alcoholism was for the characters. Just… not a world I’m used to. But it’s an interesting book, and I enjoyed it — and it gets an extra star for that ending.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Machiavelli: A Man Misunderstood

Posted 9 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Machiavelli by Michael WhiteMachiavelli: A Man Misunderstood, Michael White

Like White’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci, I’ll confess I picked this up mostly because Machiavelli is an important character in the game Assassin’s Creed 2 (and at one point he even makes a reference to The Prince in the game). I haven’t read The Prince, but I had a certain idea of the content. White’s key point in this biography is that despite the aura of disreputable scheming around Machiavelli, that wasn’t his intent in writing The Prince, and he served Florence well and faithfully. Mostly, he was a shrewd strategist and diplomat, and an observer of human nature, who doesn’t seem — at least in White’s account of it — to have got the respect he deserved.

White’s biographies all seem to be pretty well sourced, and they’re very readable. I’d recommend them.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Very British Murder

Posted 8 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Very British Murder by Lucy WorsleyA Very British Murder, Lucy Worsley

A Very British Murder is an extremely readable, sometimes gossipy survey of the development of crime/mystery literature in Britain, up to the Golden Age of Sayers and Christie. It examines why people loved a good murder story, and what kind of murder story they wanted, while also reflecting on some of the real murders that occurred and the anxieties surrounding them.

I especially enjoyed Worsley’s sympathy for Sayers and Christie, and her defence of Gaudy Night against a male critic’s boredom about it. Quite right, too!

It’s not deep lit crit, or a totally in depth micro-history, but there’s interesting stuff and it’s entertainingly written.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Hammer and the Cross

Posted 7 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Hammer and the Cross by Robert FergusonThe Hammer and the Cross, Robert Ferguson

If you’re looking for a dynamic and riveting history of the Vikings, this isn’t really it — Neil Oliver’s book might be more your speed. It’s quite slow and thorough, covering a lot of ground in terms of both time and space. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing, since I know my medieval history tolerably well and my Viking history better. A better knowledge of geography might have served me well, but I suck at that.

From all I know, this is well researched and accurate, and there’s a ton of extra reading and footnoting to back that up. If you’re looking for something to bring the Vikings to life, no, but if you’re looking for something by someone who seems to know everything about the period he can find to cram into a book, then that’s definitely this book.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 7 October, 2017 by Nikki in General / 22 Comments

Good morning, folks! I’m not quite over the cold yet, since I have a horrible cough that won’t shift, but I’m doing better. And, I ended up with a whole stack of books from London/friends/etc. Woo!

Update on the me:

As you can see below, it still hasn’t been a good reading week. I’m just so tired. I have a few books on the go, but nothing’s sticking very well. Mostly I feel like reading non-fiction, but I’m mindful of the fact that most people are here for my fiction reviews, and don’t even read non-fiction, so I do need to keep up with the fiction content!

Although, maybe that’s the problem. I do view keeping my blog interesting as being a job, and reading ARCs as a job, sometimes. Maybe that’s taking the fun out of it a little — but on the other hand, I get fun back from running a blog people enjoy and engage with, so… Hm.

Anyway, other than that, you may have noticed that I’ve got my green lock showing my site is now secure! With the help of Lynn O’Connacht, who is very patient and hosts my blog for free, my site is now secured and fit for anything.

In other news, I’m away from the bunnies again, and you know what that means. Here is Hulk, showing everyone she’s a civilised lady and can sit at (well… under) the dinner table.

New books:

Cover of Built on Bodies by Brenna Hasset Cover of Science and the City by Laurie Winkless Cover of Goldilocks and the Water Bears by Louisa Preston Cover of Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher

Cover of Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews Cover of The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo Cover of After the Bloodwood Staff Cover of The Occasional Diamond Thief by J.A. Mclachlan

Cover of Going For Stone by Philip Gross Cover of Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

Some good non-fic picked up at the New Scientist Live event, and a bunch more fiction to keep me occupied. Hurrah!

Read this week:

Cover of Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher Cover of Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn Cover of The Servants, by Michael Marshall Smith


Reviews posted this week:

The Wimsey Family, by C.S. Scott-Giles & Dorothy L. Sayers. A little piece of, well, whimsy, covering the background of Lord Peter’s family in bits and bobs pieced together from letters and piffle. 4/5 stars
Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller. Mostly, this felt a little bit too much like Throne of Glass and The Hunger Games, though the genderqueer protagonist was an interesting touch. 3/5 stars
A Rare Book of Cunning Device, by Ben Aaronovitch. A fun audio-exclusive. Not essential to the broader plot of Peter Grant’s story, but a good aside and a perfect narrator. 4/5 stars
Leonardo: The First Scientist, by Michael White. A readable and apparently well-sourced biography of a great thinker. 4/5 stars
Drawing Breath: the Making and Unmaking of Tuberculosis, by Kathryn Lougheed. A lot of stuff I didn’t know about TB itself, and a wake-up call if you didn’t know that TB is very far from being unmade. 4/5 stars
The Secret History of the World, by Jonathan Black. Not about what I thought it was about from other reviews, sadly. 1/5 stars
The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach. A reread of a carefully crafted favourite. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW WednesdayThe weekly update on what I’ve been reading

So how’re you?

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Review – The Carpet Makers

Posted 6 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Carpet Makers by Andreas EschbachThe Carpet Makers, Andreas Eschbach

I loved this, the first time I read it, and it’s stayed with me ever since — not all the details, but an overall impression of great craft in the writing (and no doubt on the part of the translator, too) and a mystery which, once solved, seemed amazing. It’s not a format I’d usually like, since it doesn’t follow a single character or handful of characters through a story, watching them develop and react; instead, each chapter is linked to the previous, but has different characters. Some of the characters, you just don’t know how they end up, or you only see a little glimpse of it. Each story has its own arc, arousing sympathy, horror, curiosity, anger.

It’s a great book — not a collection of short stories, as you find once you’re halfway through. No: it cleverly unravels the mystery in little pieces, revealing it piece by piece until at the end you say — ah!

I won’t say more about it, because the plot needs to be discovered for itself. The writing is beautiful, though; each word feels like it’s in its exact right place, carefully laid out and planned in advance like one of the carpets made by the people of the title. It’s almost fable-like in some places — and honestly, I found that my suspension of disbelief didn’t matter. It was all so clever, and it expected the reader to disbelieve, to feel staggered by the scales, the things suggested.

It’s great. I find it unforgettable.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Secret History of the World

Posted 5 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret History of the World by Jonathan BlackThe Secret History of the World, Jonathan Black

I’m honestly not sure why I have this book — some people have reviewed it as a serious synthesis of all that secret societies have believed, so possibly I ended up with it hoping to read something about that and understand secret societies a little more. Whether the book works for that is arguable: to my mind it mixes together esoteric beliefs more or less at random. The author admits in the first chapter that he’s chosen the societies he thinks had the right idea pretty arbitrarily: “I have also made cavalier judgements as to which schools of thought and which secret societies draw on authentic tradition” — what, in other words your “history” is based on the gut feeling of a single person, you, the author? Hmmm!

It isn’t really a history, though, but a sort of textbook promising to combine all these ancient ideas and show the truth. It handwaves at quantum effects briefly as being part of it, but mostly states that scientists just won’t believe in it anyway. It’s easy enough to read, but just… profoundly wrong and bad scholarship on every subject I know anything about. Hardly inspires confidence, even if it didn’t raise your eyebrows within the first page.

And now I really want a book that actually delves into the why and wherefores of the history of secret societies…

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Drawing Breath

Posted 4 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Catching Breath by Kathryn LougheedDrawing Breath: The Making and Unmaking of Tuberculosis, Kathryn Lougheed

Or mostly the making of it, since unmaking it has been so far beyond human powers.

If you think of TB as something that happens to other people, in other countries, or even only in the past, then this is a necessary corrective. It highlights the disease burden borne in particular countries (usually where poverty and poor nutrition support it), among particular groups (refugees finding it hard to access care; homeless people in London) and in people already suffering reduced immune function (people who have HIV). TB is still very much with us, and there are already strains out there which are completely drug resistant.

Let me say that again: we’re so far from beating TB that there are completely drug resistant strains out there which can only be treated with a Hail Mary approach of toxic antibiotics like kanamycin or surgical intervention. And there have only been two new anti-TB agents in recent years, and neither of them are ready to deploy on a large scale. Oh, and by the way, we don’t even have sufficient global supply of the current first line drugs.

I appreciated Lougheed’s focus on mentioning the fact that this drug resistance isn’t due to people not complying with their medication schedules. Antibiotic resistance naturally arises in TB, even if a patient is observed 24/7 and every pill or shot is administered on a precise timeline. We can’t just put this down to people being careless, though there’s no doubt that in some cases that could cause antibiotic resistance.

If you’re a fan of UKIP, you won’t like Lougheed’s commentary on racism, etc; she shares my views, as far as I can tell from this book, but she’s very vocal in giving little respect to that area of the public. I found her likeable for it, but your mileage will no doubt vary.

Anyway, all in all, this is an interesting, timely, not too technical history of the science of TB, and it’s a bit of an eye-opener even for someone relatively aware of the state of things. I found it very readable and illuminating.

Rating: 4/5

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