Posts by: Nikki

Review – Shades of Milk and Honey

Posted 21 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette KowalShades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey is essentially meant to be the novel Jane Austen would write if a magic called “Glamour” was considered an art that gently bred women should practice as part of the small touches that make a house a home. Jane Ellsworth is a plain woman, almost old enough to be entirely on the shelf, but she has a good heart and a talent for magic. Despite her fears of being a spinster forever, her talents draw the attention of several men in this book. And despite her fears of being eclipsed by her pretty sister Melody, her good sense and her talent are what carries the day, as she finds romance with someone who initially overlooked her and disparaged her talents, but who grows to appreciate what she can do and the person she is.

I don’t know what it is about this book, but it’s really grown on me with each reading — and even though it wasn’t something I loved the first time I read it, it really stuck in my head somehow. Partly because Kowal does do a compelling job of weaving magic into a fairly Austen-esque Regency novel: she’s fit it into society, thought about the implications for various trades, for war, etc. Possibly I’m also a bit of a sucker for the romance, for the way plain Jane and surly Vincent come together.

Also, it’s just really good to sink into and read all in one go.

I suspect it also helps that the later books use the setting but go on to fill it out: it’s not just magic and manners, but also political implications, and a bit more of the alternate history that would result. Having read Glamour in Glass and Without a Summer, this sets up a larger plot about progress and change; this book doesn’t contain much of it, but without it the themes couldn’t be developed so easily in the other books. If you do find Shades of Milk and Honey a little slight, but find the world interesting, the other books definitely expand on that!

But I’ve come to appreciate it for itself, as well. Possibly I was still being a snob about romance the first time I read it…

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 20 February, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 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 Space Opera by Catherynne M ValenteMost actively, it’s Space Opera, by Cat Valente. It feels way, way too beholden to Douglas Adams in terms of the tone and humour, while Valente’s usual adjective-vomit is in full spate. It’s a style choice, and I’ve enjoyed some of her other books despite that being very much her usual style… but in Space Opera it feels like I’m standing in front of a firehose of adjectives. I lose the point of sentences before I’ve got to the end. I know some other people have really enjoyed this, but… gah. I’m not sure I can find the plot for sheer adjectival profusion.

I mean, it’s also very much the style of and critical reaction to the musicians she’s writing about, so it’s probably intentional, and I’m probably a joy-stealing curmudgeon, but… all the same, you can’t make yourself enjoy something.

I’m also reading Heartstone, by Elle Katherine White. I’m enjoying that and figuring out what various characters’ deals are, and thinking I could use reading some more fantasy romance in this vein. (Which is, in summary: Pride and Prejudice, but with dragons.)

Cover of The Case of the Murdered Muckraker by Carola DunnWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was, uhh… The Case of the Murdered Muckraker, which was a fairly typical Daisy Dalrymple book, only with death-defying aerial stunts and a chase across the country, set in the USA. Ms Geneveieve/Eugene Cannon was a particularly interesting glimpse of a character.

Cover of The Dark Days Club by Alison GoodmanWhat will you be reading next?

I have no idea. I have a book on Aztecs from the library, so maybe that. Or maybe I should get back to my neglected read of The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman? I was enjoying that, but it kind of got shelved and I didn’t pick it back up. Whoops.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

Posted 20 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by SWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali

My experience of this book is positive, but it is about rape, all kinds of rape, and it’s not skimpy on the details. If you’re going to find the topic of rape viscerally upsetting, please don’t read this review! I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe, although I think the book in itself is potentially really helpful.

The title pretty much encapsulates what the book is about: Sohaila Abdulali thinks that rape has been a taboo and difficult subject for too long, leaving too many struggling in silence, and now is a perfect moment to let in some more light and talk about the issue. This isn’t some academic pronouncement from on high: Abdulali herself was the victim of a violent rape, many years ago — something she is frank about, and an experience that retains its horror in the telling, although it is now an event she has healed from.

Despite that, she’s matter-of-fact, in a way that means my primary feeling about the book was not horror or despair or any such emotion, but the hope that I think she wanted to convey. I found the whole thing oddly comforting: she recognises so many different kinds of rape, so many different reasons and reactions and aftermaths. There’s no one right way to have been raped, here: she accepts all kinds of stories, whether it’s a child being raped by someone they trust or a prostitute who tried to say no after money had already changed hands. There’s no one type of victim she thinks is more justified in being hurt and feeling unsafe, no situation she singles out as being better or worse than another. Honestly, to me, the narrative here says: “What happened to you was bad, whatever it was. It’s awful, but we can look at it and unpick it and it doesn’t have to be this one big monolith dominating your whole life. But whatever it is, it’s okay.”

The book did have a couple of downsides — at times it felt a little scatterbrained, unfocused in its approach. It’s very personal, rather than being just academic or just political or just feminist — it’s Sohaila Abdulali sitting down and taking a look at the world, and making sure some things we keep in the dark are really seen for what they are and what they mean. She has plenty of statistics to quote, but in the end it feels like she’s sitting and working through a mass of trauma — not all her own — conversationally, opening up a space for it, and making us see it. Perhaps it makes sense, in that way, that it’s a little disjointed at times.

I’m very glad I read it. It sounds like a heavy topic, but somehow in Abdulali’s hands, it’s not. Or rather, it is, but it’s one we can handle, and must handle, and stop trying to look away from (either from fear or from respect for victims).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – To Davy Jones Below

Posted 19 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of To Davy Jones Below by Carola DunnTo Davy Jones BelowCarola Dunn

In this book, Daisy and Alec have got married and they’re off on a cruise to the US. Because Daisy is Daisy, she quickly runs into a murder, and Alec is unwillingly drawn into the case because he’s the only policeman on board, and everyone turns to his experience (not to mention his rank). We get to spend some more time with Gloria and her father, and endure one of those typical “gold digging girl from the stage marries a millionaire with ill-intent” plots.

Mostly meh, in retrospect, though Daisy and Alec’s relationship and interactions remain fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Raven Tower

Posted 18 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Raven Tower by Ann LeckieThe Raven Tower, Ann Leckie

Received to review from the publisher

I was so excited when I first heard about this book, and extra excited to come back from a weekend away to a pre-publication copy waiting for me, along with a bag, pin and bookmark! So you can imagine that I was super-eager to dive into it — and dive I did.

To get it out of the way straight away: yes, the point of view is second person. But there is a character telling the story, not to the reader but to a character within the story, for a reason. I thought the narration was brilliantly handled, especially at such length. In retrospect, perhaps some of it came across a little exposition-heavy, but I was so fascinated with the ideas that it worked perfectly for me. Yes, the point of view does limit certain things, particularly the understanding of what characters (other than the Strength and Patience of the Hill) are thinking and feeling — but that would be the case with an ordinary first-person narrative as well, if you think about it.

This didn’t turn out the way I expected, really — I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, really, but certain characters drove events with a strength of feeling and stubbornness I wasn’t expecting. I don’t want to say too much, because spoilers at this stage are really unfair, and I do think that you need the whole book’s build-up to give you the slightly stunned daaaamn but also of course that I had at the end of the book!

I think the world-building is beautifully handled without relying on medieval fantasy tropes. I especially enjoyed that one of the main characters (the “you” the story is addressed to, in fact) is trans, in a way that is essential and authentic for the character, without the plot leaning on it. It flavours the interactions and decisions of the character without being a huge issue. I know for some people the question would be “is it necessary” — and to that, the answer is no, but my answer is “perhaps not, but is it necessary for the character to be cisgender?” (Also no.)

Also, it took me far too long to pick up on the fact that this is essentially Hamlet, in many ways.

All in all, for me, the hype was justified. Leckie hasn’t written a typical fantasy novel as some people expected, but she didn’t write typical SF, either. I’m not sure this one will have the impact of the Imperial Radch books, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience, and I’m so glad and grateful I got to read it early.

Rating: 5/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 16 February, 2019 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Today I’m going to keep this quick, because one of my rabbits has been sick* and I’m really tired and worn down. And starting to get a cold myself! Gah. So, keeping it quick…

(*It’s Biscuit. She was spayed on Wednesday and hasn’t been eating too great since then. Cross your fingers for her!)

Books acquired: 

Cover of Threads of Life by Clare Hunter Cover of The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Books read: 

Cover of Threads of Life by Clare Hunter Cover of Stars Uncharted by S.K. Dunstall Cover of The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Reviews posted:

Stitches in Time, by Lucy Adlington. A restful read that goes into some details about the history of the clothes we wear. 4/5 stars
Busman’s Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers. This might not be the height of the series, but it’s lovely for those who know and love Peter and Harriet. They are my idea of romance. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Book Blanket. A progress pic (with a scene-stealing hedgehog) and some pondering on how to fit it together.
WWW Wednesday. The usual update.

How’s everyone else doing? Read anything good this week?

Right. Writing this the night before, so hello from the wrong side of sleep, and goodbye!

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Review – Busman’s Honeymoon

Posted 13 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. SayersBusman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers

Busman’s Honeymoon isn’t the most substantial story, though it does have insights into married life and the kind of compromise necessary to couples. Harriet and Peter talk out the problems they encounter, and it’s a delight. In this book they finally get married — mostly covered in excerpts from letters and diaries, including some delightful glimpses into Peter’s mother’s life and way of thinking — and go off to spend their honeymoon in their new house, a place Harriet knew as a child. When they arrive, the owner is unexpectedly absent, and things are all at sixes and sevens… and of course, it turns out that the owner is actually dead.

Naturally, Harriet and Peter are drawn into the investigation, finding that it quickly disturbs their married bliss… and that they can find a way through it by communicating, being patient with one another, compromising (although never in a way that compromises their values). Anyone who knows my usual rants about the issues with romance novels and indeed with people in general will see how that delights me!

And as always, it’s cleverly and often wittily written, full of allusions and references. Sayers isn’t afraid of making you work at it, sometimes, and that’s also fun.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 13 February, 2019 by Nikki in General / 7 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 Threads of Life by Clare HunterWhat are you currently reading?

Way too much at once, as ever! Most actively, Threads of Life, by Clare Hunter. It’s about the history of embroidery and its meaning/use in different cultures/contexts, so it’s covered all sorts from banner-making for political events to traditional sewing. The BBC radio thing is very very abridged and the book contains a lot more interesting things, in case anyone was wondering!

Cover of The Copernicus Complex Caleb ScharfWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing was The Copernicus Complex, by Caleb Scharf. Not bad, but I felt like I came to more or less the same conclusions long ago, and thus I was the choir, being preached to. Basically, he’s pointing out that we can’t rely on our world being mediocre (i.e. not the centre of the universe in any sense), but we also have no good evidence that it’s especially rare in the sense of being fine-tuned for life. Which to me is so obvious I find it frustrating.

Cover of The Raven Tower by Ann LeckieWhat will you be reading next?

The Raven Tower! I got a copy from Orbit and I’m pretty excited to get right to it. I’ve been excited for this for waaaay too long now, I need to tuck in as soon as I can. There’s a couple of things I already have on the go that I should probably finish first, though.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Stitches in Time

Posted 12 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Stitches in Time by Lucy AdlingtonStitches in Time, Lucy Adlington

Stitches in Time is a delightful look at the clothes we wear and how they’ve developed over time, from the general fit of women’s clothes down to the specifics of fashion. A lot of it I knew already, partly from the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee (I cannot wait for a new season of that! and oh hey, it starts tonight!) and partly from other books, but it was still a charming read and a nice break from the awful things that happen in fiction. Adlington writes clearly and sometimes wittily, and it’s a good tour through history in general as well at times, contextualising what exactly drove fashion.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Book Blanket

Posted 11 February, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

It’s been a few weeks since the last update, so how’re things going?

Here it is! It’s 10 hexagons in width, about a metre long, and currently has 19 hexagons joined. (Thank you to Hogglestock, my large inflatable hedgehog/seat, for his patience in modelling this.) I quite like the way the joining is working out — that ridge works nicely in defining each square and in just adding a little bit of oomph. I think I’m probably going to add a white border around the outer edge, though I’ll have to ponder how to give that the right texture. (Probably either front post crochets, or just crocheting into the front loops only.)

Things that’ve changed since my last post: I added a colour, in a sense, in that for a book which I read a significant amount of (over 25% minimum), if I feel it was still significant enough to record, I’m adding a motif with a white centre. You can actually see one there in the second row: that’s Jaine Fenn’s Hidden Sun, which I DNF’ed after discovering it came over all rape-apologism at the end.

I’ve also moved the categories slightly: books from my backlog from 2016 are now also using the dark green “bottle” colour, to try and balance out the sheer amount of the 2017-2018 books in “petrol”.

Finally, I’ve been deciding on how exactly to shape the blanket, just today! Right now there are 10 motifs in the first row and 9 in the second, and I actually tied off in order to take a fairly neat picture. However, there are two possible ways to do this — or really, way more, but I already decided I wanted it to be more or less straight rather than off-setting each row. Here’s the image I whipped up in Paint to show my wife:

I’ve decided to go with #2, I think — for one thing, it’ll help control the length of it, even if I read an absolute ton!

So that’s where we are right now!

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