Author: Nicky

Hobbit Birthday

Posted July 20, 2020 by Nicky in Giveaways / 6 Comments

31 days ’til I turn 31!

Every year, on Habitica, I do a whole Event for my birthday where I give away gems (the paid-for currency of the app) and spread a little joy through a challenge, which includes tons of self-care tasks and ideas for feeling connected, finding some joy, and helping your community. I’m still doing that this year, and if you’re a Habitica user, you can join that challenge!

Still, this year I felt like doing something a little bigger, even as I bring some of that joy and encouragement to take care of yourselves to this blog. So! This year, I’m doing a little giveaway: one person will win £50 worth of books from Portal Bookshop, and two people will win one book of their choice (£15 or under) from Portal Bookshop*. It will be a-okay to pick something that they need to order — you don’t have to choose from what they have in stock.

You can just put your details into the Rafflecopter giveaway and click on the freebie entry… or you can gain more entries by following my blog (if you don’t already) and doing some nice things! None of them should take too long or be too onerous, and there’s no obligation to do them in order to enter. It’s all on the honour system, but if you want to tell me about what you did, you can.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I do love giving people presents on my birthday, but if you’d like to make some return, I have some Amazon wishlists! Because of the nature of the internet, I’m not comfortable with giving out my address to all and sundry… but feel free to purchase things via Amazon, which should let you send them to me!

So there’s that! I hope the tasks I picked are somewhat enjoyable, if you choose to do them… and I hope everyone else enjoys my Hobbit Birthday as much as I always do.

* If it turns out that Portal Bookshop cannot ship to you, we’ll figure something else out. I’m hoping to use Portal Bookshop specifically because they’re great, they super deserve the support, and they’ve been amazing at facilitating my greedy love of books and my enjoyment of sending books to people I don’t know.



Review – Like a Gentleman

Posted July 19, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Like a Gentleman by Eliot GraysonLike a Gentleman, Eliot Grayson

I read a different book by Eliot Grayson on a whim a while ago, and thought it was okay, and I wanted something short and relatively low-stakes this evening, so I thought I’d give this a try! James Rowley is a writer, and the brother of an Earl. His editor, Leo, has been awfully rude to him, and the crowning insult is that he’s stolen James’ work. James sets out to get revenge, and when he learns that Leo’s attracted to him, he decides that will be the perfect revenge.

The bit that I don’t really get is Leo’s nasty letter to James, which is half-explained but seems way too angry and incongruous with Leo’s feelings and actions (even if he gives some excuse about it being due to irritability). The whole scenario felt very manufactured as a result, and it doesn’t help that Leo’s feelings for James are based on very little… and James’ for him on even less. I didn’t really believe in the relationship between the two, so I wasn’t invested in it — the scene where James uses Leo and makes him feel awful is well-done, but to believe in it, I’d need to understand much better where Leo’s feelings come from.

The best bit is actually the final chapter, where they’ve got their HEA and then bicker with each other. A lot of stories dismiss the issues of class in this period, and that last chapter unpicks that a little and deals with that barrier to their happy-ever-after. Their emotions and reactions to each other in that scene make a lot more sense to me!

It’s on Kindle Unlimited and not a bad fast read; overall it’s kind of sweet, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.

Rating: 2/5

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Weekly Report

Posted July 18, 2020 by Nicky in General / 17 Comments

Gooood morning, folks! How’s your week been?

A few weeks ago, I let you know I was applying to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Well, thanks for all your well wishes — I’m in! I’m still working out whether I can take some prior credit in so I can skip the intro to biology module (given I have an entire biology degree), but I should be commencing my studies (part time, via distance learning) in September. I’m really excited!

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

Books acquired:

Cover of The Man Who Didn't Fly by Margot Bennett Cover of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown Cover of Covid-19 The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened And How To Stop The Next One by Debora Mackenzie Cover of Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Cover of A Declaration of The Rights of Magicians by H. G. Parry Cover of The Secret Life of Bones by Brian Switek Cover of Solve Your Stress Cycle by Emily & Amelia Nagoski Cover of The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

Thank you to Moon Kestrel for A Declaration of The Rights of Magicians, Malou for Dangerous Remedy, and the bunnies for The Extraordinaries. I am being spoilt lately, and I love it! Also, thank you to K.B. Wagers for recommending Burnout — I’m normally pretty allergic to any kind of self-help stuff, but a) I need to read a self-help book for a reading challenge prompt, and b) there’s good stuff out there, it’s just hard for the genre to rise above some of the blatantly bad books.

Books finished this week:

Cover of The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole Cover of Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

I have a book voucher in need of using… and an order incoming from Portal Bookshop… so it’s going to be a busy week for my letterbox. What books have you been grabbing lately? Anything you’re ready to shake down the postman for?

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Review – Ring Shout

Posted July 17, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ring Shout by P. Djeli ClarkRing Shout, P. Djèlí Clark

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 13th October 2020

I’ve pretty much had Clark on my “must-read” list since I picked up The Black God’s Drums, but I was less sure about reading this one. I wasn’t sure about the idea of the Ku Klux Klan being literal monsters: it seemed a bit unsubtle? And I don’t know much about the Ku Klux Klan beyond the very basics, and I just don’t have that deeply American background where they’re a part of my story. That said, I’m gathering that a lot of (white) Americans don’t either, and I don’t normally let a lack of context stop me! Just I’m not always sure what’s really clever and what actually happened, when books blend reality and fantasy like this, and I was worried it’d matter particularly with a book like this, grounded in the pain of Black people and the real horror of history.

I’ll admit, I’m still not entirely sure the literal monsters worked for me. I stayed a bit too conscious of how apropos it is, almost to being a cliché… But laying that aside, it was a quick read, albeit a challenging one: trying to parse the Gullah dialogue kept me busy, especially since I’m not actually good at sounding out what I read, and the dialogue sometimes gave me pause at first. I think it’s probably a good thing I read it in one go, because it gave me a chance to get into the swing of the dialect!

The horror is genuinely horrifying, and I quickly got fond of Maryse and (mostly) Chef. I can’t say any of the twists of the story really surprised me, but they unfolded in such a way that they felt like the only natural way for things to go — not that they felt forced, but that it all flowed from one decision to another. I loved the quoted bits about ring shouts, which illuminated the story and gave me the background I needed… while teaching me a bit of history that I didn’t know about at all.

I can’t say I liked it as much as The Black God’s Drums, but it might stick with me more in terms of the story and images (there’s some really gory bits). I’m not quite sure how to rate it, being honest: my first instinct is three stars, but other aspects (including a worry that I just don’t “get it”) make me want to bump it up… and reading other people’s reviews and what they pick out (particularly the use of folklore, including the shouts) I think that’s more than fair. I’m just a wuss and still cringing at some of those descriptions!

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 15, 2020 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuWhat are you currently reading?

Fiction: The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu. I was warned by friends who found it really slow that I might not like it… well, I’m not sure about the liking it or not, but I’m definitely not finding it too slow. I haven’t read for a day or two because I wasn’t feeling like it, but I’ve been reading it in chunks whenever I do.

Non-fiction: The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries, by Donald R. Prothero, which the library ordered for me in ebook on my request. It would probably be better in pbook format because it’s got a lot of pictures, but it’s not so bad in ebook; I’m glad I’m reading it, but also glad I didn’t buy it for £27! It’s nothing I haven’t read before, but it’s always fun to spend some time with dinosaurs.

Cover of Ring Shout by P. Djeli ClarkWhat have you recently finished reading? 

Uhhh, interesting question.  Oh: Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark. I’m still thinking this one over. I found the idea of members of the Ku Klux Klan being literal monsters a bit… simplistic? That’s not quite the word I want. Obvious? And I never wholly warmed to it, though I appreciated a lot of aspects of the novella. I want to read around some other reviews and see if they help it click into place for me, before I write my review. (And of course Tor used to say not to post a review until two weeks before publication; I still stick to that, though most bloggers don’t… I’m auto-approved on Netgalley, though, so I don’t see that approval message anymore.)

Cover of The Lost Boys by Gina PerryWhat will you be reading next?

Still Ninth House, most likely; I’m also eyeing The Lost Boys, by Gina Perry — I was eager to read it anyway, and now it fits a book club prompt (as a book in the 300s in the Dewey Decimal System). I loved Perry’s book on Stanley Milgram’s experiments, and it looks like she’s done much the same here with pulling apart Sherif Muzafer’s experiments a bit and examining how they tick and where they go wrong.

So what are you reading at the moment?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make Me Smile

Posted July 14, 2020 by Nicky in General / 26 Comments

Tuesday again already! And this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “books that make me smile”. Which is… honestly, most books. Just being around books makes me smile — even books I personally wouldn’t enjoy, it can be really exciting to look at someone else’s books, or browse through a shelf… But there are some specific books that put a smile on my face for various reasons, so let’s do this!

Cover of The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. Charles Cover of Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Small Robots by Thomas Heasman-Hunt

  1. The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer. Most Heyer novels have me giggling throughout, but this was one of the first I read, and the reread was just as good. The Reluctant Widow, too. She has some annoying heroes and some repetitive plots/themes… but in general, I’m always going to smile at a Heyer novel.
  2. Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. Most K.J. Charles books would fit the bill actually… but Band Sinister is one of the rare ones that doesn’t also have a massive bodycount, so it’s the one that fits most readily on a list about smiling! Though A Fashionable Indulgence is also worth mentioning. And A Gentleman’s Position. Ugh, no, they all make me smile.
  3. Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers. From the opening paragraph onwards, there’s so much cleverness and wit. And it features two of my favourite characters in fiction, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. How could I not smile? Also, memories of the radioplays and BBC TV adaptations, and so many good conversations with my mum and my wife…
  4. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Alright, not all of it is happy or comfortable reading, but Maia is a delight and so are many of the characters who surround him. I’m trying not to reread it too often, but honestly, when I’m stressed it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
  5. Small Robots, by Thomas Heasman-Hunt. There’s a Small Robot for almost every occasion, and they’re so often so cute… or so apt for the moment. Check out their Twitter!
  6. The Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. The series has been so much fun, and the accompanying art (including on the cover) is so good. Isabella and her deranged practicality really stick with me.
  7. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. I can’t help remembering being sucked in and just ZOOMING through it, whenever I see this book! And so many great conversations about it, and just… yeah.
  8. Catching Breath, by Kathryn Lougheed. One of the many books about disease (like The Emperor of All Maladies, or Spillover) that a) helped me get over irrational fear through fostering curiosity instead, and b) really set me on my current path when it comes to studying. Of course I smile when I think about this one! There’s so much out there to learn, and I never have to stop. Plus, I wrote my dissertation on TB basically because of this book. I know a lot of people hate their dissertations by the end, but I did not; I’d gladly research and write several more chapters!
  9. This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kacen Callender. I haven’t actually read this yet, but it looks like fun and I’m really excited to finally get through my TBR pile to it. (Not that I am reading a set number of books before I pick it up, just that my brain is like a very crowded train station, and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story has not — yet — managed to get on the attention-trains zooming through.)
  10. Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston. Ditto the above! It looks and sounds so cute, aaahh.

Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin Cover of Catching Breath by Kathryn Lougheed Cover of This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender Cover of Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

I’ll be interested to see what books make other folks smile — and hopefully why! Leave me your links if you’ve done this TTT as well!

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Review – The A.I. Who Loved Me

Posted July 12, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa ColeThe A.I. Who Loved Me, Alyssa Cole

Trinity Jordan is recovering from an accident she can’t wholly remember, traumatised and struggling to get back on her feet, despite her physical recovery. She’s thrown out of her usual, comfortable(ish) routine when she meets Li Wei, the nephew of the scientist who lives in the same building. He is, Dr Zhang says, recovering from a terrible accident of his own, and relearning almost everything. There’s something powerfully attractive about Li Wei, for Trinity, and she’d almost forgotten what that’s like; they find themselves drawn together, even before Dr Zhang suffers a stroke and begs Trinity to take care of Li Wei.

The thing is, Li Wei is an AI in a synthetic biological body, learning to express himself and unlock his past memories — and his progress accelerates around Trinity, who is still powerfully drawn to him when she discovers the truth. The problem is that he’s beginning to pick at the inconsistencies in her life: why does she say she frequently leaves the area, when he’s never known her to do so? Why does she describe a childhood memory and then immediately forget it?

I wasn’t quite expecting the turn the story took, from the description, but it was definitely an interesting way to twist the expectations from the cover and description. There’s more sci-fi lurking under the hood than I’d expected, though it builds up toward that point pretty well.

Apparently this was originally written for Audible and recorded with a full cast, which I think might be a better way to experience it (or at least some of the dialogue-heavy sections). If you’re looking for a sci-fi romance to listen to, it sounds like it’d be fun — and the story itself is definitely fun. I didn’t expect to find myself reading non-stop for just over an hour to read it in one go, but whomp! It happened.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Ruin of Shadows

Posted July 12, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Ruin of Shadows by L.D. LewisA Ruin of Shadows, L.D. Lewis

General Édo is a stone-cold killer, brutal and inspired in crushing the enemies of the Boorhian Army. The elite Shadows who cluster around their General boast about their number of kills, and tell stories of her power and ferocity… but she’s getting a little older, and tireder, and the Emperor’s demands finally go too far. Even her own Shadows will come after her… but Édo has some tricks up her sleeve, and a Djinni on her side.

I was a little confused by other reviews who found this funny; I didn’t get the joke, if there was one. It’s fairly brutal and there are long stretches of action sequences — beautifully choreographed, and never boring, but definitely not funny. Édo makes for an interesting character: she doesn’t really seem to regret her brutal past, or have very strong feelings about having to kill: what she’s asked to do seems more like it’s demeaning for her, or at least unfitting, because it’s unnecessary.

It’s not that she’s tired of killing per se, but it no longer seems worth it: she wants more, now, and the Empire won’t let her have it. It’s not a moral stand, exactly; in fact, it’s rife with her ego and her need to be recognised as powerful, as worth all the adulation and everything she’s been paid. She’s a strong female character, and yet profoundly flawed in a way I’m more used to seeing for male characters.

The Djinni was a fascinating bit of the story that didn’t quite work for me — the story could have functioned almost the same without the character entirely, and yet I wanted to know so much more about the Djinni.

All in all, a fast and entertaining read; if I gave half-stars, I’d bump it up higher, but I didn’t quite connect with it enough to give it a four.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted July 11, 2020 by Nicky in General / 24 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a while since I was able to do this, but… this post was prepared on Friday evening! It’s nice to be ahead — and I’m even all up to date on writing reviews, and it’s been a good reading week! I know the cool, rainy summer is really disappointing to some folks, but I’m revelling in it; I loathe heat. (I wouldn’t mind a bit more sunshine, just keep the daytime temperatures below 25°C and the nights cool enough to be refreshing, and I’ll still be happy… but if I have to choose between hot weather and dreary rain, I’ll choose the rain!)

In any case, what have I been stacking my shelves with and reading this week? Here we go! Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Books acquired:

Cover of The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows Cover of Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland by Lisa Schneidau Cover of Written In History: Letters That Changed The World by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Cover of This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev Cover of Period by Emma Barnett Cover of A Good Time to Be Born by Perri Klass Cover of Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi

Thank you to the publishers for the eARCs of A Good Time To Be Born and Eight Detectives!

Finished reading this week:

Cover of Annabel Scheme by Robin Sloan Cover of Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette De Bodard Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan Eatherley Cover of The Dead Shall Be Raised & Death of a Quack by Goerge Bellairs

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

  • Top Ten Tuesday: The Authors I’ve Read The Most Books By. As usual, it’s what it says on the tin — I mostly guessed rather than looking at actual stats, which would be dominated by the author of the Rurouni Kenshin manga I read when I was 17, and probably GetBackers as well. Not entirely representative of my current taste!
  • WWW Wednesday. The usual update on what I’m reading, with my thoughts on a couple of the books already mentioned here.

Out and about:

  • Postcrossing: Book Review – The Documents in the Case. It figures that my official introduction on the Postcrossing blog is about books! I’ve written a couple of posts for the blog before, but this little series will be my Thing, where you can see me reviewing books about post and mail systems. If you have any recommendations for epistolary novels or books that revolve around post in some way, can you drop a comment over there? (Or here works too!) In any case, I did a whole review of Dorothy L. Sayers’ epistolary mystery, The Documents in the Case. I’ve reviewed the book here before, but my write-up on the Postcrossing blog is all new, and hopefully still worth checking out!
  • Beeminder: Beeminding the Fuzzy Friends. If you don’t know about Beeminder, basically you set goals… and if you don’t meet them, you pay! My latest contribution to the Beeminder blog discusses how I track spending time with my rabbits, and how those efforts have paid off. If you want to hear about the really cute trick Biscuit can do, you want to read this post!

Full disclosure: I help out at Postcrossing and I’m the Support Czar for Beeminder, so obviously I have Ulterior Motives in boosting these blog posts. I hope they’re interesting, though — I don’t always highlight my blog posts elsewhere, but these seemed like they’d have some crossover appeal!

So that’s everything for this week — how’re you folks doing? Grabbed any new books, or been grabbed by any?

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Review – The Murder of a Quack

Posted July 10, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dead Shall Be Raised & Death of a Quack by Goerge BellairsThe Murder of a Quack, George Bellairs

The Murder of a Quack is another murder mystery in much the same vein as Bellairs’ others: for all that Inspector Littlejohn is chasing murderers, there’s something gentle about the whole thing. I suppose it’s the tenderness and affection with which Bellairs draws some of the characters, even as he makes them funny. The feud between the two oldest men in the village, the village bobby and his squeaky shoes, the foibles of the postmistress and her love of France and all things French… There are some more ugly characters, of course, but even those show glimmers of humanity.

In this particular instalment, Scotland Yard in the shape of Inspector Littlejohn is called in to investigate the death of a local bonesetter, highly respected by most of his community, though hated by the local properly qualified doctor for being trusted and preferred when it comes to minor ailments by most of the villagers. Though he’s a “quack”, that mostly refers to his lack of official qualifications: the story makes it very clear he was an experienced and careful healer, and worthy of trust. Littlejohn has to really poke around to get hold of the murderer in this case, but once he finds the right thread and gives it a good pull, his conscientious work pays off, as always.

Littlejohn isn’t a flashy detective, but that makes him the more enjoyable in a quiet, methodical way. Bellairs’ books lack the drama of some of the other Golden Age writers, but I think more highly of his warmth and ability to draw characters with each book. And this one even made me laugh a few times!

Rating: 4/5

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