Posts by: Nikki


Review – The Magpie Lord

Posted 23 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. CharlesThe Magpie Lord, K.J. Charles

As always with Charles’ work, this book is entertaining, sometimes funny, and an almost distressingly quick read. I wanted more! Not that the story isn’t complete: that isn’t it. It’s just that I ended up wanting to spend more time with the characters: not just Crane and Stephen, though the tension between them and their back-and-forth is undeniably fun, but Crane’s man Merrick as well. Crane is the remaining scion of a dissolute family; Merrick has been with him since he was banished to China, and is as faithful to him as a hound. They’ve been through all kinds of adventures before Crane is ever cursed, so he trusts Crane and wants to save him from the curse. Stephen Day, a magician who says he can help Crane, hates him on principle due to the depredations of his father and brother.

Of course, Stephen quickly finds out he’s wrong to assume the present Lord Crane is the same as his family, and he finds himself drawn into Crane’s orbit as he struggles to figure out the magic that surrounds him and unwind the hatred and dark magic that seems to be choking Crane and his estate. As an additional draw, Crane turns out to be the descendant of a powerful magician, one all English practitioners know of. Also, surprise surprise, he’s physically attracted to Crane. (If you know Charles’ work, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all — nor is it a spoiler that they get together.)

The background story is pretty dark and icky, and there’s one awful scene — well-written, but horrible to read — in which another magician forces Crane to choke on his own cut hair. All’s well that ends well, though, with plenty of room for more stories. Which I know exist, so I’ll be off in search of those now.

Obviously not one for people who aren’t into LGBT romances, but a fun fantasy-mystery for those who are. There are sex scenes, which didn’t seem to be absolutely necessary for the plot, but did add to character development.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ballad of Black Tom

Posted 22 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValleThe Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle

It would probably help me appreciate this if I’d read Lovecraft’s original story, but on the other hand, I don’t really ever want to read Lovecraft, so there’s that! LaValle rewrites one of Lovecraft’s short stories, partly from the point of view of a young black man. Unsurprisingly, it comments on racism in the US both modern and longer entrenched: that part is easy enough to appreciate, even for an outsider. The response to Lovecraft is a bit beyond me: I don’t know if Black Tom is a character from Lovecraft or invented for the purpose, even.

It doesn’t feel like a novella about a character or a place or even an event, in the end: it does feel very much like a response — to the original, and to the world. I enjoyed that, though I imagine plenty of people will be complaining about stupid SJWs, etc.

There are some genuinely icky-squicky bits (well-written, but difficult to read) and moments of horrid claustrophobia, along with the awful and all too familiar treatment of people of colour by the police, which is equally horrifying. It’s well written, but I feel like I’m missing the point through not knowing the original.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 21 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 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 The Teamaster and the Detective by Aliette de BodardWell, me and Lisa are listening to the radioplay of Strong Poison again while we’re crafting in the evenings, which is very soothing. I know the story so well now… and we get to grin and anticipate the good bits of piffle. “I’m told I make love rather nicely,” indeed.

Other than that, I just started a book on the Sumerians. It’s primary intent is to be a textbook, but I don’t mind an academic slant, so I’m hoping I’ll still enjoy it. I’m interested so far, anyway! I also fired up The Tea Master and the Detective on the Kindle app on my phone, which I’ll probably read while on the treadmill tonight. (Plantar fasciitis means I’m about limited to a brisk walk on the treadmill at the moment for exercise; normally I’d be running, but…)

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Testament of Loki by Joanne HarrisThe Testament of Loki, by Joanne Harris. I’ve enjoyed the rest of her Norse-inspired books, but the concept of this one was a little too goofy for me, somehow. I just couldn’t get into it, even though I love modern takes on mythology. This one just felt cringy for me — Loki in a teen girl’s body, with the teen girl present and conscious and afraid — ugh at that part, and then meh at the video game bit.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of Authority by Jeff VanderMeerI should dig into another library book, so either the one I have on Otzi the Iceman and the archaeology around his body, or possibly John Man’s books on samurai or ninjas. They should be pretty quick reads, based on past experience with his work! And I really, really should finish rereading Authority.

What about you? What are you reading?

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Review – Angkor and the Khmer Civilisation

Posted 20 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Angkor and the Khmer Civilization by Michael D. CoeAngkor and the Khmer Civilisation, Michael D. Coe

One of the complaints in reviews about this book seems to be that it reads like a textbook. It does: if you’re looking for something more casual, a tourist’s guide, then I’m sure there are books out there, but this isn’t it. It’s a scholarly consideration of the ruins of Angkor, the way the Khmer civilisation developed and the context in which it did so. It is illustrated with photographs and drawings, but it’s not a coffee table book for sure.

It can be a bit slow going, but there’s plenty of interest, to my mind. It’s better than the other book I read on Ankor, which was rather focused on this and that ruined building, and this and that inscription: there’s more of a sense of a people behind the monuments, in this book, which was welcome. It’s still slow going, but fascinating all the same for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Discussion: Book Club

Posted 19 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

I’m somewhat convinced to post an opener for my book club choices on Habitica here, starting in December, but in the meantime I wanted to ponder a little about picking books for a book club. It can be really difficult: do you want to pick something people will like, or something people will discuss? Often those won’t be the same thing at all: a book group I was in had months of fruitful discussion about a book we universally loathed, while a book we loved had maybe five comments in the whole thread. The discussion is often better if a book is divisive, too: if one person criticises it and another digs in to defend it, and nobody’s feelings get hurt, there are hours of discussion to be had.

Confession: mostly, I pick the books for the Habitica book club with three criteria: 1) it’s a different genre to the last two months’, 2) I own it and 3) I want to read it sometime soon. The whole intent was to cut out the difficult bit where people vote on a choice or someone forgets that it’s their month to pick or whatever, and just make sure that it’s a book I already own, want to read, and think could prompt some discussion if anyone feels into it. (Most successful pick in a while for the latter is this month’s pick: The Genius Plague, by David Walton.) To a great extent, it’s a commitment device: I told these people I’ll read it, so I guess I’m gonna have to.

(Sometimes it works.)

If I’m picking for a book club in the real world, discussion is probably the primary thing on my mind — but also trying to balance everyone else’s known likes and dislikes. Is this book going to provoke a political argument? Is this book going to just bore X silly? Is Y going to be a child about what happens in chapter ten? Just sharing a book I enjoyed or expect to enjoy has never really worked, mostly because I feel like other people expect something worth discussing.

I’d love a book club where people abandoned lists of discussion questions or considerations of what other people would like. Every month, a different person would bring along a book they just really loved. Okay, discussions would sometimes just be handflappy “omg the bit with X and Y doing the thing!”… but that sounds kind of nice, and I have no doubt that discussions would still arise organically, not due to intent but simply because books are like that, if you give them half a chance. There would be a strict rule about never telling someone else their taste sucks just because it differs.

To be quite fair, my favourite book club is pretty much like that and consists of two people: me and my wife. Discussions are random, tastes mostly align without total agreement ever being likely or desired, and I’ve never had to offer to crown her with a tub of guac. (Sorry, Robert.) Someday, for the sake of Wife Book Club, I might even get round to reading Republic of Thieves.

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 17 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Good morning folks! Thank goodness, the issue with adding images on my site is fixed now, so I can actually get this post done. It’s been a quiet week, partly because I’ve been in a terrible mood and didn’t want to get anything done…

Anyway, here’s the stack this week.

Received to review:

Cover of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Bought this week:

Cover of The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

Books read this week:

Cover of The Roman Forum by David Watkin Cover of The Mycenaeans by Rodney Castleden Cover of The Crucible of Creation by Simon Conway Morris Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Reviews posted this week:

War Cry, by Brian McClellan. This felt a little unsatisfying, because it didn’t feel like a whole story. It’s an interesting world, though. 3/5 stars
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Read for the comfort of familiarity, and thus as satisfying as ever. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Regular Features. Do you like joining in on things like Top Ten Tuesday, WWW Wednesday, et al?
WWW Wednesday. This week’s update on what I’ve been reading.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Llama vs flu‘. News about a potential innovative vaccine (made with the help of llamas) to beat flu, without the need for new vaccinations every season.

So how’re you all doing? Big plans for the weekend, or just a nice big book?

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Review – The Hobbit

Posted 15 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

A long-time love of mine, I reread this because I wanted the Werther’s Originals taste/feel of the book, because stresss (which is over now, hurrah!). The main charm for me lies in what came of it later, along with the paternal and knowing tone of the narrator. The narrative voice has always felt warm to me — cognisant of the characters’ faults, and sometimes gently pointing them out, but always with a deep good-naturedness. And then, of course, there’s the world: perhaps not quite fully realised by the time of writing The Hobbit, but stretching out before and beyond it, even if the brushstrokes are broad.

There are many things tone-wise that don’t quite fit with The Lord of the Rings, and the text itself was revised to fit in with the later material — but so cleverly, playing with the textual history of the story, tying together the real with the imagined. I love all the things Tolkien did with creating texts within his stories: that too is part of what makes his world real, that there are books and histories that are relevant to the world… there are few people who do it quite as well, and it’s always a delight.

Of the story itself: a rather ordinary middle-class hobbit, comfortable in his world of small social engagements, good food and convenience, ends up swept into an adventure involving trolls, goblins, magic rings and (in the end) a dragon. He’s the most clearly delineated of the characters, with many of the dwarves being mere thumbnail sketches: nonetheless, it works (with one or two dwarves picked out for slightly more detail here and there to keep them from being entirely props, and Gandalf being the enigmatically fascinating sorcerer of somewhat unknown motive in the whole affair). It’s definitely pitched more at children, though there’s something about the tone that I think makes it a delight at any age. As a fantasy book, taken alone, it’s not all that astounding. It mingles some lore together, barely hinting at the more cohesive and seriously built world Tolkien would later introduce to us.

In the end, it’s a typical quest story  — it’s Tolkien’s world and his narrative voice that make it for me.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 14 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 5 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?

The Crucible of Creation, by Simon Conway Morris. He did a lot of work on the Burgess Shale, so he’s got an interesting perspective on evolution, and he’s pretty sharply critical of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins’ perspectives, so I’m pretty fascinated. I’m onto the middle chapters where he’s doing an imaginative reconstruction of the Burgess Shale lifeforms when alive, which is a bit weird, though. (Interesting thought experiment, I guess, but I’m not sure what it adds?)

What have you recently finished reading?

The Mycenaeans by Rodney Castleden. I need to read around a bit to decide how in or out of date the book is, though it’s obviously a step-up from Kitto’s book on the Greeks. He weirdly manages to talk about Alexander and Achilles, and the affinity Alexander felt for Achilles, without mentioning Hephaestion once. Patroclus is mentioned, but only in passing (Achilles organises his funeral games, Achilles seeks revenge, etc) — it’s not an important point in the context, but it feels so weird to just ignore that aspect of Alexander and Achilles. Instead he talks about Alexander’s fascination with Roxane as being like Achilles’ with Briseis…!

What will you be reading next?

I’m not sure. I have rather weirdly and for no apparent reason been told that I’m not to use one of my local libraries anymore, without explanation, so I need to finish the books I have out from that one. So possibly The Traitor God, by Cameron Johnston. Or maybe the book on the Sumerians… Who knows!

This week this post goes live without cover thumbnails, because WordPress is being super weird and suddenly no longer letting me add images. 🙁

What about you? What’re you reading?

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Discussion: Regular Features

Posted 12 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

A lot of bloggers participate in various features every week — Stacking the Shelves, Top Ten Tuesday, What Are You Reading Wednesday… Personally, I kind of cooled on the Top Ten Tuesday themes I was seeing, but there’ve been a couple I liked recently, and maybe I should keep a better eye on that. I prefer to keep my blog mostly reviews, though at the moment it’s kind of half-and-half as I’m not posting a review as well on most days (been reading kind of slow, I guess — I don’t have reviews to post!) that I have another feature running.

At the same time, with features like this I get kind of lazy. I turn out my posts for the regular features and then don’t go and comment on others, and that just feels unfair. It helps if there’s interesting topics and I’m likely to meet other thoughtful bloggers who actually want to discuss (rather than just drop a random comment to get a follow), though.

So, out of curiosity, any you’d like to see me do? And conversely, any that you really hate and wish people would stop posting? I can’t think of any in the latter group for me, though I’m unlikely to participate in any that are just about posting covers.

Really, I’d like to participate in more that encourage talking about books and reading (or sometimes blogging) in a way that promotes discussion and exposure to other people’s thoughts. I do a monthly readalong on Habitica, for instance, and I keep wondering if I should post about that here as well, maybe even come up with some discussion questions, and try and make a bigger thing of it…

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Review – War Cry

Posted 11 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of War Cry by Brian McClellanWar Cry, Brian McClellan

Received to review via Netgalley

I haven’t read any of McClellan’s longer work yet, so this novella from Tor seemed like a good point to jump in, really! It’s set during a war in a fantasy setting, with very familiar attributes — there’s propaganda, there’s airplanes, everyone’s running short and coaxing coffee out of months’ old grounds… but there’s also wizards, of at least two kinds: shapeshifters, and those who can cast illusions. We don’t get some big overview of the war: it’s fairly tight in to a little squad who have been taking losses, fighting hard, and living right on the edge. They get a chance to do a risky mission to get some supplies so they have food and maybe even coffee. And, predictably, it goes wrong.

It feels like there’s a lot more room for story in this world, whether that be an extended version of this story or a series of novellas. It’s not terribly unsatisfying on its own, because there is a kind of end to the immediate plot, but there’s so much more in the world that we don’t get to see, so much more for the characters to do, that it doesn’t feel like a stopping point (more just a pause). There’s room for awesomeness, but it feels like it’s mostly potential right now — an opening act, rather than a story in itself.

Rating: 3/5

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