Posts by: Nikki


Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 2 April, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

It’s been a while since I did a Top Ten Tuesday post, almost since That Artsy Reader Girl started hosting, but this theme was irresistible to me. This week, the prompt is Ten Things That Make Me Pick Up A Book. The first five relate to what makes me buy a book in the first place; the second five refer to what makes me read the book in a particular moment!

Getting a purchase

  1. An author I love. You say “N.K. Jemisin”, “Marie Brennan” or “Guy Gavriel Kay”, and I say “now plz”. I’m not saying that these authors are infallible (why Ysabel, GGK?) but they have a good track record with me, and at the very least I know I enjoy their writing on a mechanical level.
  2. A series I love. Even more so than #1, this is key! I was devouring Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books, and I will pounce on the latest in a series I’m loving.
  3. It caught my eye. Mostly due to the cover. I mean, that’s what they’re designed for; I’m not ashamed of that! A bad cover won’t put me off, but a good one might just pique my interest. It won’t be the only factor, but it’ll definitely prompt me to give the book a longer look. One book I picked up on that basis was Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead! Hell of a cover.
  4. Enthusiasm from certain friends and bloggers. I don’t think there’s a person in the world who shares my taste exactly (my wife isn’t a fan of Cherie Priest; my mother didn’t get why I love The Goblin Emperor so immoderately) but there are definitely people whose opinions will prompt me to check out a book. They include Mum, Lisa, my sister (though the influence mostly goes the other way), Calmgrove, imyril, Mogsy, anyone I know from of old in the Alternative World book club, and Jo.
  5. It’s on a topic I’m currently interested in. Right now, if it’s about embroidery, fabric, sewing, Egypt, Byzantium, mummies, CRISPR, tuberculosis or flu, I want it! Honestly, if I don’t know much about the topic, I might well want it anyway (I love learning new things!), but my current preoccupations have an even better chance.

Time to read!

So, book. You’ve made it past the purchasing filter. How do you get me to read you? Well… some or all of the above should be true, and then it’s down to:

  1. The first few pages. I’m terribly prone to picking up a book, reading a couple of pages out of mild curiosity, and then ending up reading the whole thing.
  2. Book club pick. I run a book club based on my own total whim. There’s usually no voting on the exact book (though at the moment I’m asking for guiding votes on the genre to pick), and mostly I just pick up a book off my shelf that I would like to have read. Sometimes it’s something I’m hesitant about for no real reason, or something huge. Whatever it is, the book club pick usually persuades me to get on with it and read the book. Same goes for other book clubs — if I was a member of any at the moment — and readalongs. Which reminds me that I want to join the Wyrd and Wonder readalongs!
  3. Comfort. This is mostly a reread thing, though there are some authors I’d read for comfort just on principle. If I’m reaching for Earthsea or The Dark is Rising, or particularly The Goblin Emperor and Dorothy L. Sayers, I might well be going through a rough time.
  4. Mood. I don’t quite mean the same thing as #3, here. It’s more like what theme or tropes I’m in the mood for. Space opera, fantasy, non-fiction… I tend to go on a spree reading books of a certain genre or on a certain topic.
  5. Contrariness and whim. If I’m not supposed to be reading it — say I’m supposed to do a readalong next month — I’ll probably read it now. Because… because I’m me. So there.

So there you have it!

What makes you pick up a book?

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Review – The Mummies of Ürümchi

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

Cover of The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth BarberThe Mummies of Ürümchi, Elizabeth Wayland Barber

The Mummies of Ürümchi discusses the rather Caucasian looking bodies found, naturally mummified by sand and salt, in the Tarim Basin, northwest China. These bodies were found with amazingly well-preserved textile grave goods, and that is the main focus of this book. Barber tries to discover where these people came from, linking their technology, customs and textiles to what we know of other related people’s.

I wasn’t expecting to read another book so strongly focused on textiles right after I read The Golden Thread, but I guess I came well-equipped. And I love that there’s colour plates with good photos of some of the discussed items — they haven’t fallen prey to the urge to just show the mummies, although several of the plates do.

A little out of date by now, yes, but fascinating.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Watch the Wall, My Darling

Posted 30 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Watch the Wall, My Darling, by Jane Aiken HodgeWatch the Wall, My Darling, Jane Aiken Hodge

I’ve found this author’s romances entertaining before, so I expected this to be a fairly solid entry in that vein. And indeed, it began as expected with the rather Gothic setting on the coast. The hero and heroine are immediately obvious, and the fact that they’ll end up together just as clear. It went more or less as I expected for the first part of the book: Christina arrived at the house, met her cousin, quickly realised he was the smuggler she met on the way to the house, gets sucked into what he’s doing…

It felt like it was all about to wrap up, at around 50% of the way through. And then it took a left turn and went off to do some more plot things… not very coherent plot things. The hero comes off extremely badly, being fickle and tasteless, while Christina shows very little backbone for someone previously so stubborn. Of course, things end as you expect, which is more than a little whiplashy after Ross’ inconsistency in the second half of the book.

In conclusion, not one I’d recommend.

Rating: 1/5

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Weekly roundup

Posted 30 March, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! I missed my STS post last week due to sporadic posting, which was mostly because my WordPress install (or rather, the security enabled by my host) occasionally decides to not allow me to insert images into my posts. But here I am again!

Also, I know I’m doing badly at returning comments and dropping by people’s blogs. I’m still adjusting to some schedule changes with work, and doing a bad job of keeping everything balanced. I haven’t forgotten you all!

Books received to review:

Cover of Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Books read in the last two weeks:

Cover of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine Cover of Lucy: The Beginnings of Mankind Cover of Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Cover of Watch the Wall, My Darling, by Jane Aiken Hodge Cover of Without a Summer Cover of The Lost Girls by Sarah Painter Cover of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

Cover of Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Human Planet by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin

Reviews posted since the last roundup:

How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. Rather misleadingly titled: it’s more about how Irish monasteries copied Greek and Roman works so they weren’t lost. So a very specific definition of civilization. 2/5 stars
Beauty, by Robin McKinley. A relatively simple retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but effective! 4/5 stars
The Etruscans, by Lucy Shipley. Not a subject I knew much about, and this book makes a beautiful introduction to various Etruscan objects and what we understand about the people. 4/5 stars
The Lost Girls, by Sarah Painter. I’m honestly still pondering the review and rating, even though it’s already posted. There’s definitely interesting stuff, but I found the ending kind of unsatisfying, and the romance particularly so. But then, that’s not really what the book was doing, in the end… 3/5 stars
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. This didn’t quite work for me, partially because it’s very like two series I really love and admire. 3/5 stars
T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, by Walter Alvarez. Engaging and surprisingly riveting for me, given I knew the theory in quite a bit of detail. Alvarez is great at explaining the evidence. 4/5 stars
The Golden Thread, by Kassia St Clair. A history of fabric, from Viking sails to modern high performance fabric. Pretty riveting, from my point of view! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The update on what I’ve been reading this week.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘The Red Queen.‘ Inspiration from classic children’s literature in the world of biology.
NEAT science: ‘A cool customer.’ Another vertebrate without haemoglobin!

So that’s it; that’s the update. How’s everyone else doing? Busy week? Reading anything good?

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Review – The Golden Thread

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

Cover of The Golden Thread by Kasia St ClairThe Golden Thread, Kassia St Clair

This was exactly my kind of pop-history: a narrow focus on a particular subject in various different time periods and geographical locations. In this case, Kassia St Clair looks at the development and importance of fabric throughout history, from the earliest fabrics known to modern stretch fabrics used in the Olympics and high tech designs used on the Moon. The obvious fabrics like linen and silk and wool obviously get plenty of play here, with peeks at their influence on history (and the influence of history on them). I found it very absorbing, and enjoyed the way she gave a glimpse of the importance of fabrics in a lot of different contexts.

If you enjoy the Great British Sewing Bee, some of this will be familiar already, but there’s also plenty more to learn…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – T. Rex and the Crater of Doom

Posted 28 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter AlvarezT. Rex and the Crater of Doom, Walter Alvarez

In this book, Walter Alvarez discusses the problem, process and solution in figuring out how the KT boundary extinction happened (yep, that’s the death of the dinosaurs). Despite the rather sensational sounding title, it’s a thoughtful book: aimed at the layperson, undoubtedly, but still discussing the process of obtaining evidence, and what that evidence means, in some detail. I found his writing incredibly clear, and though I’m not exactly the right person to judge, I think any intelligent and interested person should be able to follow his arguments.

It’s also oddly charming that instead of talking about Luis Alvarez (Nobel prizewinning scientist) by name, or even as “my father”, he’s called “Dad” throughout. “Dad thought up this idea… I spoke to Dad…” etc.

Obviously, Alvarez doesn’t present many downsides to his own theory, and I imagine there have been more refinements and adjustments since this was published in 1997, but it’s still a surprisingly compulsive read. The opening is surprisingly literary, revealing a love of Tolkien.

My kinda guy, clearly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Memory Called Empire

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

Cover of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady MartineA Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine

Received to review via Netgalley

Arkady Martine’s debut novel is an exploration of identity, colonialism and loyalty, pitting the main character Mahit against a culture she loves — the culture of an empire waiting to swallow up her own home, Lsel Station. She’s the ambassador from Lsel Station, taking over after the unexpected death of her predecessor. She has one secret weapon: within her she carries a recording of her predecessor’s personality, partially integrated into her own, though somewhat out of date. At least, she has that weapon until something breaks, and she loses touch with that barely-integrated personality within her.

You can probably see from this description already why I was reminded powerfully of the work of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee. This is very much in their vein of work, and that sense of familiarity left me a little disengaged. You’re not going to beat Jedao in that role of a shadow from the past half-integrated into a new, younger, female body, and it’s just too darn similar!

There is a lot of entertaining and interesting stuff here, despite that sense of over-familiarity. I definitely enjoy Nineteen Adze and her power; Three Seagrass and her relationship with both Mahit and Twelve Azalea (“Reed” and “Petal”, ahahaha); all the little glimpses we get of how things work… There was also that big barely-defined threat in the background, so it’ll be interesting to see how things go on. I assume it’s going to pick back up the threads of the relationship between Mahit and Three Seagrass, as well; that barely started before it felt cut off by the ending.

In the end, though, I don’t know. I never got quite that engaged with it, though once I hit around 57%, I did enjoy it enough to keep on reading to the end in one go. The similarities to Ninefox Gambit and Ancillary Justice eclipsed a story I might’ve enjoyed on its own terms. I’ll probably pick up the next book, but… there’s definitely no compulsion to do that, for me.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 27 March, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 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.

Cover of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter AlvarezWhat are you currently reading?

Whose Body, again, because we’ve been rewatching Strong Poison and Have His Carcase while I was stitching something and needed familiar background noise. It’s as entertaining as always. Equally entertaining is T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, by Walter Alvarez. Sounds sensational, from the title, but it’s a pop-science explanation of the evidence for the KT boundary impact — better known as the extinction event in which the dinosaurs perished. It’s really easy to read; I’m enjoying it.

Cover of The Lost Girls by Sarah PainterWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing was Sarah Painter’s The Lost Girls, which I just posted the review of. Other than that, it was my reread of Without a Summer; I love the way Kowal examines the issues of the historical period with a fantastical twist, and explores the implications of her changes.

Cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha ShannonWhat will you be reading next?

I should get stuck back into The Priory of the Orange Tree, honestly! Maybe I need to grab an ebook version, so I can read it in bed…

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Lost Girls

Posted 26 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Lost Girls by Sarah PainterThe Lost Girls, Sarah Painter

Received to review from the author

Let’s see if I can do this without any serious spoilers! The Lost Girls is a standalone fantasy with two protagonists. One, Rose MacLeod, is an ordinary student in Edinburgh, in her first year, living with her parents. Well, ordinary apart from the fact that she regularly has blackouts, which can last for days, even weeks, which nobody else around her seems to notice. And the other protagonist is Mal, a decidedly non-ordinary bloke who can see magic, hunts demons and does dodgy errands as a kind of freelance supernatural hitman.

There are strong resemblances to the story of Supernatural, from Mal’s upbringing by a strict father and his older brother, to the fact that bereft of his dad and then his elder brother too, he ends up going down a fairly dark and morally dubious path. He even thinks of himself as a hunter. Sam Winchester, is that you? Part of the resemblance is probably just that it’s completely unavoidable if you want to have humans hunting down supernatural creatures, but the parallels were a little eyebrow-raising.

Rose is a bit more of a non-entity, due to the flashbacks and the sketchy, blurry idea she has of who she is. It’s a bit weird, then, that there’s a romance subplot centering her, because there’s not much to build on.

Anyway, over the course of the novel, obviously the two get drawn together, as Mal looks for Rose to hand her over to the supernatural crime boss he’s contracting for, and also tries to figure out what’s happening to girls who are being murdered under mysterious circumstances. Rose finds herself remembering things she shouldn’t, and dreaming of girls dying… and tries to escape Mal, with the help of her friend Astrid. Inevitably, they end up together, and the story does a flip as it races toward the end.

I enjoyed reading this, for sure; I read it all in two sittings, and it kept me interested throughout. I wouldn’t say I was riveted, but to be fair to the book, it’s relatively rare these days for me to sit down and read straight through something, and that’s definitely worth considering. The ending, though, felt unsatisfying: it’s better when I think about it, but at first it struck me as wasting some of the stuff that had only barely been built up (the romance subplot, the characterisation of two characters in particular). I’m still unsure of quite how to rate the book, to be quite honest!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Etruscans

Posted 25 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Etruscans by Lucy ShipleyThe Etruscans, Lucy Shipley

This is part of a series on “Lost Civilisations”, but Shipley pushes back on that idea from the start — Angkor Wat, for example, was never “lost” to local people; it was “discovered” by non-local people who acted as though locals had no connection to it, and this is a pattern that keeps repeating: Westerners find something monumental and assume that it has been “lost” and the civilisation that created it is dead, etc, etc. I don’t want to get into the truths and lies about that or debate it too much, but I found it interesting and refreshing to view history and archaeology this way.

The Etruscans are pretty enigmatic, and frequently portrayed as such, partly because we don’t have much insight into their language. The amount of Etruscan we have to work with is steadily growing as finds are made, though, and maybe someday soon we’ll know more. Shipley takes the reader on a tour of the finds we have got, focusing each chapter on a single find or site to tease out what it says about the Etruscans on various topics, including the position of women in their society (often portrayed as rather egalitarian). I enjoyed it very much: Shipley writes well and makes her points very clearly. It helps that the book has a lot of colour photographs as well, and the finds are well-chosen: I love the “Sarcophagus of the Spouses”, in particular.

Definitely what I was looking for. I wonder how good the other books in this series are…

Rating: 4/5

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