Category: General

Top Ten Tuesday: Non-Fiction I’ve Loved

Posted December 5, 2023 by Nicky in General / 36 Comments

It’s Top Ten Tuesday again, and this week’s theme is a freebie. I get comments now and then on how much non-fiction I read and how random some of my choices are, so this list is about the non-fiction books I’ve loved! It’s a topic I know I’ve covered before, so I’ll try to keep it to recent-ish reads. I’ll link the review, where I have one written.

I know that thumbnails of book covers are missing from some of my older posts. It’s probably been an error since I migrated to my new blog host, and we’re working on it. Sorry about that! Where a thumbnail is missing and you just see the fallback text, you can click on that to see the actual image if you want to check out the cover.

As a side-note, I’m behind on replying to comments and visiting people back, but I’m working through it steadily, I promise!

Cover of Overkill by Paul Offit Cover of The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes by Kate Strasdin Cover of Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori Cover of A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Emma Southon Cover of The Good Virus by Tom Ireland

  1. Overkill: When Modern Medicine Goes Too Far, by Paul Offit. I’ll start with the book I just absolutely inhaled last night. I was worried at first that this was going to be some kind of anti-medicine, unevidenced rant, but Offit is very careful to refer to specific studies and to specific numbers and stats from those studies. His introduction indicates that he wants to be fact-checked, and a quick skim through the topics reassured me a bit as well. Having read it now, I might not 100% agree (I need to read some of the original sources first), but the evidence he presents is definitely food for thought. I think doctors should read this, for sure, but patients should as well in order to be informed. In the end, I worry that it may erode a little too much trust in doctors (if a doctor tells you that you must keep taking a medication even though you feel better, it’s probably true), but it’s an important wake-up call.
  2. The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes, by Kate Strasdin. I haven’t actually finished this yet, but I’m enjoying it very much. Mrs Anne Sykes was a newly married Victorian woman who kept a record of her clothes and the clothes of people special to her through pasting in scraps of cloth. Kate Strasdin is an expert on the history of fashion, and has also dug deeply to find out who Mrs Anne Sykes was, so the book is a mixture of general social history, fashion history, and zooming in to look at the life of one person.
  3. Around the World in 80 Trees, by Jonathan Drori and illustrated by Lucille Clerc. This book (and the companion, Around the World in 80 Plants) is just beautiful, thanks to Clerc’s illustrations, and each mini-biography of a tree has interesting titbits about the trees, where they come from, how they’re used, and/or where they live now and why. If you’re interested in plants and trees particularly, or just curious enough to read anything, I recommend this. The illustrations are beautiful, and it’d make a good gift, too.
  4. A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, by Emma Southon. Ever been curious about murder in Ancient Rome? Before I read this book, me neither, but Southon’s humour and fascination with the topic carries the book. It’s a fascinating angle for a history of ancient Rome which reveals a lot about the lives and attitudes of the Romans, and I recommend it highly.
  5. The Good Virus, by Tom Ireland. We are approaching a crisis of anti-microbial resistance. For some infections, it’s already here. The Good Virus has some suggestions about where we go from here, with the help of viruses — to be more accurate, very small viruses that kill bacteria, called bacteriophages. They’ve been used for decades in some parts of the world, but they’re hard to regulate, hard to test in the kind of gold standard settings designed for non-living pharmaceuticals, and as such, rolling them out to people has been a big ask. Still, as someone who’s studying for my MSc in infectious diseases, we need them, and Ireland sets out to convince people of that.
  6. Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion, by Louise Willder. Willder is one of the people who writes blurbs for the books we read, the short and informative summaries of plot or the kind of information you can find in books. It’s been her job for years to tantalise and entice, and this is her book about that. I didn’t find any of that part surprising, but I really enjoyed her writing style.
  7. Personal Stereo, by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow. This is a book from the Object Lessons series, and I could happily choose half-a-dozen of those titles to include here, but I’ll stick to just this one, where I really got hooked. I love the idea of focusing in on a single object and figuring out its history, and sometimes relatively modern items — like a personal stereo or a fancy toaster — can have a surprising history. I found this particular book from the series a particularly easy read, despite having no actual interest in consumer electronics and the history thereof per se.
  8. Murder: the Biography, by Kate Morgan. This is a history of murder (mostly in the United Kingdom), illuminating how our laws about murder ended up the way they are through the historic cases that led us here. Each chapter is illustrated by at least one real-life case, usually more than one, which helps to explain both the law and the cultural reaction at the time which shaped it. It’s not just old brutal murders or something, but also modern issues like Grenfell. I have no particular interest in the law for its own sake, but of course this sheds light on my beloved mystery fiction too, and I’ve also handed my copy on to my sister (who studied law) because I think she’ll find her own interest in it.
  9. Immune: A Journey Into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive, by Philipp Dettmer. This book is beautifully illustrated, and goes through the way the immune system works from the basics to stuff I hadn’t been taught yet (bearing in mind that I’m doing an MSc in infectious diseases, that came as a surprise!). It’s very easy to read, everything is very well explained, and I have a terrible habit of trying to convince everyone that they want it because I was myself so fascinated with it. Did you know that some of our white blood cells, called neutrophils, can create a sticky net that captures invading pathogens? They do it by extruding their own DNA in big loops. We only discovered this in 2004, and learning about it in this book made me want to dance with fascination at how our bodies work.
  10. Index, a History of the, by Dennis Duncan. I know, I know, a history of indexes doesn’t sound too fascinating: aren’t they just a way of finding the information you need in a non-fiction book, often a textbook? Can there really be much to say about them? The answer is yes, and Duncan makes it a fun read. Also, you’d be surprised — someone has, in fact, managed to use an index to further their feud with someone else, which honestly gave me a giggle.

Cover of Blurb Your Enthusiasm by Louise Willder Cover of Personal Stereo, by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow Cover of Murder: The Biography by Kate Morgan Cover of Immune by Philipp Dettmer Cover of Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan

There! I tried to bring to this list some of the weird randomness of my own reading, jumping from topic to topic in a way that may not make much sense, but works surprisingly well to ensure that I have interesting background to a lot of things. I know some people prefer to read only about their pet topics, but I mostly just let the random searchlight of my interest pick out things that I don’t know, and then learn about them. I hope there’s something of interest here for others!

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted December 2, 2023 by Nicky in General / 22 Comments

Good morning, folks! My weekend away was lovely, but this week I have relatively little going on, and I’m excited to settle down and do some reading and talking about books.

Because Stacking the Shelves is way quieter than it used to be (so I ought to have time for comments elsewhere!), I’ll be linking up with a few different memes each week: Reading Reality’s Stacking the Shelves, Caffeinated Reviewer’s The Sunday Post, and the Sunday Salon over at Readerbuzz. Hoping to reconnect with other bloggers and readers a bit more after my quiet time of the last year or two!

Books acquired this week:

As I predicted in last week’s post, I went on a bit of a bookshopping spree while I was away for the week in lovely Bath. I’ll start with my haul from the lovely Topping & Company, and save my other acquistions for another week, since I don’t expect to get more new books until Christmas now!

Topping & Company have a pretty great mix of everything; I think Edinburgh and Bath are my favourite branches in terms of selection, but Edinburgh is the most magical (somehow, it’s bigger on the inside, and there’s always another corner round which there are yet more books), though Bath’s might be the nicest building. I love the ladders (on rails so you can easily move them) and the fact they wrap the books in plastic. I liked the Ely branch too — it was surprisingly big considering the narrow store-front — but Edinburgh probably wins overall.

Not that I didn’t have fun in the Bath branch! I let the friend I was with choose a couple of the non-fiction books for me based on both his random interests and mine, so this should be fun. (His picks were Rebel Cell and Overkill. The others are my own fault.)

Cover of Rebel Cell by Kat Arney Cover of A Fish Caught in Time by Samantha Weinberg Cover of Ten Birds That Changed the World by Stephen Moss

Cover of Sticky by Laurie Winkless Cover of Overkill by Paul Offit Cover of A Short History of Tomb Raiding by Maria Golia

Of course, I didn’t stick to non-fiction only. I also grabbed a couple of the older Christmas-themed anthologies of short stories from the British Library Crime Classics series, this year’s Christmas mystery from Ada Moncrieff (I’m always sceptical of gimmicky things, but the previous two didn’t come across as gimmicky), and a couple of books from the SF/F section. Unnatural Magic was my friend’s recommendation, while A Portrait in Shadow has been on my wishlist for a while.

Cover of Final Acts ed. Martin Edwards Cover of Silent Nights, edited by Martin Edwards Cover of The Christmas Card Game edited by Martin Edwards Cover of Murder at Maybridge Castle by Ada Moncrieff

Cover of Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner Cover of A Portrait in Shadow by Nicole Jarvis

All in all, it was quite the haul, as you can see!

Posts from this week:

I reviewed quite a few books this week, so here’s a quick recap:

I also posted a guide to some crime fiction:

What I’m reading:

Right now I’m between books, but it’s December now, so I expect to start tucking into some of the Christmas-themed crime novels I have. I’ve been waiting for December to start on John Dickson Carr’s The White Priory Murders, and also to read my November book from the British Library Crime Classics subscription, so… iiiit’s time!

I’ve finished a few books this week; I haven’t written the reviews for most of them yet, but here’s a glimpse of the line-up:

Cover of The Waking of Angantyr by Marie Brennan Cover of Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn Cover of The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson Cover of Peter Cabot Gets Lost by Cat Sebastian Cover of The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù

Cover of Dragons' Teeth and Thunderstones by Ken McNamara Cover of The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell Cover of Adrift by Tracey Williams Cover of Daniel Cabot Puts Down Roots by Cat Sebastian

Clearly the holiday time was good for me!

And that’s it from me; how’s everyone else been getting on?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Gratitude

Posted November 21, 2023 by Nicky in General / 12 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is a US-centric one, in honour of Thanksgiving, but it’s never a bad idea to think about the stuff we’re grateful for. So the theme is “reasons why I’m thankful for books”.

  1. They help me learn new things. I always like to be learning stuff. And sure, I’m studying for my MSc at the moment, and that’s a lot of stuff to learn… but even in my downtime, I like to learn, and informal learning from books is a lot of fun. I’ve been reading a lot of the Object Lessons and Edible books for bite-size non-fiction, for example.
  2. They’ve often given me stuff to talk about. Sometimes that’s in an awkward moment, but I also mean the in-depth rambling conversations with like-minded people where books allow us to just… ramble around in each other’s minds for a while. Many, many conversations about books with my mother, for example.
  3. They help my mental health. The more I’m reading, usually, the better I feel. It’s all about making time for myself, and also about taking my mind away from whatever I’m lingering on. Also, it’s just fun.
  4. They’re exciting… in a way that doesn’t involve me having to do adrenaline-inducing things. Okay, sometimes even reading about it is a little much. But really, it’s fun to have adventures without much skin in the game, beyond my own emotional involvement.
  5. Books are literally always there as an option. They’re never too busy, they don’t get tired or get headaches or have crises in their own lives. So if I need a break from reality, or to read something comforting and familiar, books always have the time.
  6. They make any room look nice and lived in. First thing I move into a new place is at least some of my books…
  7. Some of them smell really nice. Some glue smells are bad, and old books can get really musty. But books that are just right smell delicious somehow.
  8. Books are an experience you can revisit. Sometimes it’s a whole new experience the second time (there are several books I didn’t like at first and tried again and loved them!), but still, books are there for you to come back to, to re-experience, or experience anew.
  9. Books make a lovely gift that you can personalise to a high degree. I can choose books for most of my family that make meaningful, exciting gifts! (Spoiler: if it has dragons, my sister is thrilled.)
  10. You can put a book aside and pick it up easily, at any moment. Reading can be as flexible an experience as you need it to be, whether you’re reading a page a day, a chapter, a whole book… you can pause, restart, etc.

And after I finished all ten, here’s a bonus thought: books make a lovely excuse to be an introvert. You’re not just going off on your own, you’re reading. People find that much more acceptable!

Okay, I struggled a bit with this and what to share, but I think that made a good start. Fascinated to see what other people have come up with!

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted November 18, 2023 by Nicky in General / 24 Comments

Well, folks, it’s been a looong time since I did one of these! Lately I don’t get books every week, so I’m not sure what I’ll do on “off” weeks — maybe I’ll go back to showcasing what I’ve read that week, instead.

Books acquired this week:

For this week I do have some books to show off: my British Library Crime Classics subscription book came in for this month, which is always exciting. Sadly, there was no bookmark with it this month (I hope they haven’t stopped doing the matching bookmark thing!

Cover of Big Ben Strikes Eleven by David Magarshack

Aaaand I got hooked on the Shady Hollow series, thanks to somebody’s Top Ten Tuesday post making me curious about it, so after devouring the first one, I quickly grabbed the three sequels and the two short stories.

Cover of Cold Clay by Juneau Black Cover of Mirror Lake by Juneau Black  Cover of Twilight Falls by Juneau Black

Cover of Evergreen Chase by Juneau Black Cover of Phantom Pond by Juneau Black

I must confess I’ve already got through Cold Clay, Evergreen Chase and Phantom Pond, and I expect Mirror Lake to follow in short order. And then I suppose I’ll be bereft!

Reviews posted this week:

And while we’re here, a quick recap on the reviews I’ve posted this week. Each thumbnail links to the review of the book!

Cover of Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of Buzz by Thor Hanson Cover of Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand Cover of Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen

Cover of Basilisks and Beowulf by Tim Flight Cover of Evidence of the Affair by Taylor Jenkins Reid Cover of The Seat of the Scornful by John Dickson Carr

So that’s what’s new around here. I expect I’ll miss this post next week, since I’m away and I’m not taking a laptop with me (gasp!), but otherwise… I think I’m back! How’s everyone doing?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Mainstream Authors

Posted November 14, 2023 by Nicky in General / 42 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is one I’m not totally sure how to answer, because I don’t really know what counts as “mainstream” for these purposes, and I have pretty eclectic taste. Let’s have a shot: the theme is “Mainstream Popular Authors that I Still Have Not Read”.

  1. George R.R. Martin. Okay, he’s a fantasy writer, but pretty much a household name by now, right? Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him — and I definitely haven’t read the Game of Thrones series.
  2. James Patterson. I do have one of his books on my to-read list because it involves postcards (and I review books about postcards for Postcrossing’s blog), but I haven’t read any yet.
  3. Zadie Smith. I think I audited a course that had one of her books on the list, back in university, but I wasn’t actually sitting the course so I didn’t do all the reading.
  4. Elena Ferrante. I try most stuff, but her books don’t really appeal to me, so I doubt I’ll give them a shot any time soon.
  5. Hilary Mantel. I’ve got a couple of her books to read, but I’ve not touched them yet. Oops?
  6. Jonathan Franzen. Something about his work just super does not appeal.
  7. Michael Chabon. I own a couple of his books, I’ve even intended to read them very strongly at times… but I’ve never actually got round to it.
  8. Sally Rooney. I don’t actually know much about her books? They’re not squarely in my wheelhouse, or I’d know more about them from others at the very least, but it’s not like I’ve made a firm decision not to try them. Rather, what I’ve seen/heard is fairly limited, and I’ve made no decision, but nothing’s drawn me in either.
  9. Amy Tan. I have a copy of The Joy Luck Club somewhere, or I used to, but I never touched it. Oops.
  10. Steig Larsson. His books never really called to me from all I heard about them, though they were such a thing for a while that I had my eye on them.

Do I have surprising gaps here? Is there something you’re curious about whether I’ve read it or not?

Just… don’t try to argue with me whether these are mainstream or not. I just found a list or two of mainstream authors and cherry-picked from that!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Headlines

Posted November 7, 2023 by Nicky in General / 24 Comments

It’s been a while since I participated in Top Ten Tuesday, but I’ve been kind of a hermit for a bit and I’d love to get back in touch with the wider blog-o-sphere, so let’s give this a go! This week’s list theme is “titles that could be headlines”. Hmmm…

Well, first up, a lot of mystery novels are perfect for this task. I’ll stick to only a few of those, and see if I can find some other neat ones as well, but to get us started…

  1. Requiem for a Mezzo, by Carola Dunn. One of the early Daisy Dalrymple novels. I could actually use the titles of this series for quite a few answers — Murder on the Flying Scotsman, Fall of a PhilandererDeath at Wentwater Court, anyone?
  2. Murder in the Dark, by Kerry Greenwood. I do love the Phryne Fisher series, but I think I’ve only ever read this one once. I should carry on with my reread of this series!
  3. Post After Post-Mortem, by E.C.R. Lorac. You can just picture a headline with that kind of snappy alliteration and mystery-causing, right? Also, this is a really good book, though personally I found it a bit harrowing due to the themes.
  4. A Very English Murder, by Verity Bright. I haven’t read this one, but I can still picture it on the front page of some newspaper or other.
  5. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I can see a particular sort of “respectable” newspaper choosing something kind of… restrained to refer to a murder.

Cover of Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola Dunn Cover of Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Post after Post-Mortem by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of A Very English Murder by Verity Bright Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers

Now let’s see if we can get a bit more adventurous and grub up some other headlines…

  1. Black Ops and Beaver Bombing, by Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall. It sounds kinda weird, definitely like one of those headlines they use to pique your interest. As it happens, it’s about British wildlife. I haven’t read it, so I can’t honestly answer you about what the beaver bombing is about.
  2. Unmasked by the Marquess, by Cat Sebastian. Okay, this probably isn’t a modern headline… but nobody specified that, right? And the book is fun, too.
  3. How Long Till Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin. A pertinent question, after all.
  4. Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson. I haven’t read this one yet, but I can envision this being the big blocky headline of the Daily Mail or whatever.
  5. The Dos and Donuts of Love, by Adiba Jaigirdar. What headline can resist a pun? Cute book, too.

Cover of Black Ops & Beaver Bombing by Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall Cover of Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian Cover of How Long Till Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin Cover of Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson Cover of The Dos and Donuts of Love by Abida Jaigirdar

There, whew, I did it.

Have any of the titles piqued your interest? I’ve reviewed a bunch of these, so let me know if you’re interested in my take and I’ll grub up the links!

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…And we’re back!

Posted October 20, 2023 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

Did you miss me?!

Yep, unfortunately enough this blog has been down for almost a month, due to hosting problems. Many many (many many) thanks to Adam Wolf for taking over the hosting, making everything work, and having infinite patience with the fact that I’ve never really learned to manage my WordPress installation on my own. (And many thanks to my old host, of course, for taking me on for so long!)

We should be back in business right now, but some things might not quite work perfectly (like for now I won’t get notifications for your comments in my email). I have an enormous backlog of reviews, so I’m going to start putting those up at a sensible rate of one a day, and be pretty selective about which ones I choose to share.

Hope everyone’s doing great!



Happy New Year!

Posted January 1, 2023 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Greetings, everyone!

I know, it’s been a long time since I showed my face around here, and I’m sorry. Everything got a bit too much, reading including. But I have a bunch of resolutions for the year ahead, and one is doing better by my blog and trying to reconnect with you all.

I don’t think I’ll be posting every review I write (some of them are brief; I’ve given myself permission to do that going forward) but I hope to post a selection of reviews where I have some (hopefully interesting) thoughts to share and books I wanna big up.

Hope to hear from you all, and spend some time visiting you all too!



Wyrd and Wonder 2022

Posted May 1, 2022 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Wyrd & Wonder
Image credit: tree wolf image by chic2view on

Well, here we are again!

I know I’ve been missing from the blog for a while, due to some downtime caused by my host, and burnout on my part. I’m hoping I’m back, with a backlog of reviews to post, and the Wyrd & Wonder event to join in… especially now that I have full weekends off work, and a bit more time for myself. (Same number of hours, actually, but it still feels somehow like more time to myself.)

What will I be reading? Well, I don’t know. As usual, it’ll be “as my whimsy takes me”, but I’m planning on joining in the Fionavar Tapestry reread, and I have a few fantasy books on my BookSpinBingo card for May. I think there are some unposted fantasy reviews in my backlog, so I’ll queue those up to post soon, too.

But otherwise, I’m just here to hang out, and if I read plenty along the way — well, good.

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WWW Wednesday

Posted January 20, 2022 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

And here we are again, it’s Wednesday!

Cover of The Grey King by Susan CooperWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished the only non-fiction book I had on the go, so now it’s The Councillor (E.J. Beaton), my reread of The Grey King (Susan Cooper), and The Absolute Book (Elizabeth Knox). I’ve been meaning to read the latter for quite a while now. It starts off feeling like a thriller, or maybe like Labyrinth (Kate Mosse), which it namechecks… but then it takes a left turn into fairyland, which feels like a significant shift in tone. I’m not sure yet what I think.

What have you recently finished reading?

Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century (Serena Dyer), which feels quite academic — it’s talking to an audience that’s very comfortable with phrases like “while the affective resonance of the wedding doll is explicit”, which just reminds me of my English literature days and how really simple points can be obfuscated behind fancy word choices. Just… say what you mean. You mean it’s obvious that the wedding doll refers to an emotional event.

What will you be reading next?

Don’t know! Maybe I’ll take a look at what I’d have to read to get a second bingo line in the Litsy #BookSpinBingo challenge, or maybe I’ll reread Emily Tesh’s novellas, since my wife’s going to read them soon and I could use some bite-size reading.

How about you?

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