Category: General

Readalong – The Sparrow (Week One)

Posted November 13, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

So it’s SciFi Month on some blogs, and okay, I’m not really properly participating, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick The Sparrow back up and read it again. I’ve only reread about 8 chapters at this point, and technically this post is for the first week of the schedule (up to chapter 11), but ssshh. Go read other people’s thoughts on week one here!

So, right, where are we. When I first read this, it was the first ebook I ever owned, and I read it more or less in one go (yes, all 500 pages of it) on my computer screen, so hooked was I. I didn’t even own an ereader yet. The site I bought it from no longer exists and the format is obsolete. I must’ve been 16, 17? 18 at the most, because I certainly read it before I went to university. I am wondering if I will get more out of it now from this perspective — though I got plenty out of it back then, and though I haven’t reread it before now, I have consistently recommended it as an excellent sci-fi novel.

Here goes, let’s see if it’s just as good now. Suck Fairy, stay away.

Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell“They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm.” What was your initial/gut response to the Prologue?

“Oh god, it’s gonna kill me all over again, isn’t it.”

That’s really it. I’ve read this book before and I remember what a glorious horrible amazing gut punch it all is, and it starts it right there.

How are you getting on with the split timeline and the many points of view? How about Mary Doria Russell’s predictions for 2019?

I had totally forgotten that it was set in 2019. I did just read one bit that made me laugh, given the whole “ok boomer” meme: “The whole damned baby boom is retiring. Sixty-nine million old farts playing golf and complaining about their haemorrhoids.”

There are definitely disturbing parallels with things I see in the real 2019. It feels like a parallel universe where things just happened a little differently; not like she guessed terribly, laughably wrong. Her technology is a bit too far ahead in some ways, while other things are absent (the ubiquity of mobile phones, for instance), but all in all, it doesn’t feel too strange.

What are your first impressions of the characters? Any favourites so far?

I feel odd about how little I remember! Of course, I’m not really having first impressions, since I’ve read this before. I’d forgotten how little we get to see inside Sandoz — okay, obviously it preserves some of the mystery, but the memory of the book was that it was mostly about him, and so far, well. It does revolve around him, but right now we’re still seeing him entirely from the outside, with pity (in some sections) and with curiosity (how is he going to end up that broken from here?) in others.

It does feel rather like we don’t get inside the characters often in general, though, beyond one or two scenes for Jimmy and Anne, where we get to know what they’re thinking (mostly about Sandoz).

From what we learn of Emilio’s training and what we see in the ‘present’ day (2050s), what do you make of the Society of Jesus as portrayed here?

Like most things, it’s both the best and worst of humanity. Behr and Candotti, the best; Voelker and (in a more complex way) Giuliani, the worst. At times, it shows the irony of that they meant no harm line; clearly, harm is meant (for example during Sandoz’s training, just for starters) and committed in hope of a later, greater good.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share so far?

Edward Behr being nicknamed “Teddy Bear” is the best thing. Over and out.

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Weekly Roundup

Posted November 9, 2019 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Welp, it’s been a quiet time on the blog since I’ve been doing plenty of work — and doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in years! Last weekend we went out on a trip to the lovely Portal Bookshop in York, which I thoroughly recommend, so I have a few new books! (Also some dead tree copies of beloved books I only had in ebook, but I won’t list those too. Still, have this lovely pic of Biscuit investigating my haul!)

Pic of a small brown bunny standing up against a pile of books

Books acquired:

Cover of Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk Cover of Murder on the Titania by Alex Acks Cover of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Books read since the last roundup:

Cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard Cover of Provenance by Ann Leckie Cover of Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull Cover of Murder at the Fitzwilliam by Jim Eldridge

Cover of Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown Cover of Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola Dunn Cover of It's All In Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan

Reviews posted since the last roundup:

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. This remains a great favourite of mine, and one I’m sure I’ll come back to again. 5/5 stars
Murder at the Fitzwilliam, by Jim Eldridge. Kind of meh, despite a promising setting. 2/5 stars
Excellent Intentions, by Richard Hull. Slightly odd format, interestingly carried out but a bit lacking in personality. 3/5 stars
Women & Power: A Manifesto, by Mary Beard. The first essay is very worth the read; the second a bit less sure ground. 4/5 stars
Lord Roworth’s Reward, by Carola Dunn. An unsurprising but sweet Regency romance. 4/5 stars
It’s All In Your Head, by Suzanne O’Sullivan. Interesting discussion of psychosomatic illness, but simplifies things rather through idealised cases, and the chapter on ME/CFS would make folks I know see red. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. This week’s update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Pain and hunger.‘ Can the sensation of hunger change how you perceive pain? Yep, there is good evidence that it can — in both directions.
NEAT science: ‘The biopsychosocial model of mental health.‘ A pet peeve and a cry for holistic care…

And whew, that’s everything. How’re you folks?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted November 6, 2019 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. Since this post isn’t pre-scheduled, the exact post is up so go here to join in for this week!

Cover of Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola DunnWhat are you currently reading?

As ever, I have several books on the go, but most actively I’m reading Lord Roworth’s Reward. It’s actually the second in a series of Regency romances by Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple books, and it’s really sweet. The male lead is an idiot, of course, but it has a surprisingly (but naturally) diverse cast. I’m definitely intending to get my hands on the first book (though it’ll be weird to read about a younger Felix being an antiSemitic idiot before he learns better), and the third is already on my stack.

Cover of Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie BrownWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished Ivory Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown. It was… okay. If you accept her identification of the person who made the chessmen as Margret the Adroit, some of her detours make more sense. If she’s wrong about the person or even just the general location, a lot of the geopolitical context she discusses is only very, very distantly related to the pieces. I’d have preferred more analysis and descriptions (and photos) of the actual Lewis chessmen, instead of such pure guesswork.

Cover of Heartstone by Elle Katharine WhiteWhat will you be reading next?

Probably something that’s been languishing on my pile half-read. I’m feeling contrary and reading a lot of romance since events conspired to hear a lot of people dissing romance novels, so it’s possible I’ll pick Heartstone back up. Or even Her Royal Spyness, which definitely seems to have a heavy romance subplot, if the unsuitable Irish man is any indication. (Though more serious than the title sounds, that book is bothering me, though — maybe just a slight embarassment squick!)

What about you? What are you currently reading?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted October 24, 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.

Cover of Barbary Station by R.E. StearnsWhat are you currently reading?

Lots of things at once, as ever. I just started Barbary Station last night, more or less on a whim: I’d forgotten everything about it except the space pirates, and so I was surprised and pleased to remember that it involves lesbian space pirates. I’m not seeing hugely positive reviews for it when I cast around quickly, but I’m only 10% into it and haven’t really made a decision myself yet. Candidate for my sister’s Christmas present, perhaps (it’s the lesbians).

Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann LeckieWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finally sat down and finished my reread of Ancillary Sword. Every time, it surprises me how quiet these books are really — most of it is not civilisations crashing into each other, or high octane combat: it’s Breq drinking tea, talking to people, managing relationships. There is an action-filled climactic scene, and one or two in the middle, but this isn’t sensawonder space battles, and it’s even less so than the first book. Which is a thing I enjoy, but is possibly another reason some people don’t get along with these books. You expect something earthshaking, but Breq’s not going to bring down the Radch alone, and doesn’t even want to try. She’s lit the fuse, but now she’s off in another system protecting those important to her and letting what will happen go on without her.

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesWhat will you be reading next?

Ancillary Mercy is probably a good bet, but also K.J. Charles’ Gilded Cage came out today, so that’s high on my list! I didn’t get into either of the characters that much from the first book, but I trust Charles to deliver what I didn’t know I wanted.

What are you currently reading?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted October 19, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This has been a slow reading week, and a week for getting those backlogged reviews out there! Only three books read this week, booo. I’m not even sure why, but there you go — sometimes it happens that way.

Acquired this week: 

Cover of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles

Read this week:

Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw Cover of Making Eden by David Beerling Cover of Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville

Reviews posted this week:

The History of Life in 100 Fossils, by Paul D. Taylor and Aaron O’Dea. Not solely a coffee table book, but the details can be annoyingly focused on other unpictured specimens, or just not quite the thing I wanted to know. Still, lovely presentation. 4/5 stars
Making Eden: How Plants Transformed a Barren Planet, by David Beerling. I loved Beerling’s other book, The Emerald Planet, and bought this on the strength of his enthusiasm and clear communication in that book. I don’t know what was different here, but it just didn’t really work. It wasn’t uninteresting, but didn’t have the joy. 3/5 stars
Dreadful Company, by Vivian Shaw. A reread to get ready for the final book! Deeply enjoyable, as ever; Greta is an awesome character. 4/5 stars
The Gendered Brain, by Gina Rippon. I think there’s a lot of genuine value here, but I also had questions about the way Rippon seems to view sex as a genuine binary, when a scientist should know darn well it isn’t. 3/5 stars
The Border, by Diarmaid Ferriter. Darn near unreadable if you don’t already know the topic, in my opinion. 1/5 stars
Weekend at Thrackley, by Alan Melville. Somewhat less than cosy, but pretty enjoyable. A country house mystery, of a sort… 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Feeding bread to ducks FAQ.‘ There’s a thing going round on Twitter about how you should feed ducks bread because they’re starving without it. So I decided to explain 1) why bread is bad, 2) why bread can be fine in moderation and 3) several other options to try feeding ducks that would be more healthy. Please feel free to share it…

So that’s that. Today the bunnies’ new custom hutch is arriving and I will be spending the day tetrising it into our flat. Wish us luck!

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Weekly Roundup

Posted October 12, 2019 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Good morning, folks! Luckily, I am connected to the world again: we left Virgin Media and signed up with a new ISP whose service has, so far, been seamless. Zen Internet have a thumbs up from us so far!

It’s been a quiet week in terms of book purchases, in that I have made none! But I have got some reading done.

Books read this week:

Cover of The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne Cover of Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews Cover of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

Cover of Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac

Reviews posted this week:

The Red House Mystery, by A.A. Milne. An okay but not astounding foray into detective fiction by A.A. Milne, decidedly shaped by his preferences (for instance, for a solution based on pure deduction, not forensic evidence, and for the main character to be an amateur detective). 3/5 stars
Magic Slays, by Ilona Andrews. The latest in my reread of the series! I continue to marvel at how often people write it off when it has so much to offer. 4/5 stars
Murder by Matchlight, by E.C.R. Lorac. Very atmospheric and of its moment in a positive way: it evokes London during the Blitz beautifully, and the mystery uses every ounce of that atmosphere. 3/5 stars
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, by Olivia Waite. A lovely historical romance featuring female scientists, and mostly steering away from the guilt and shame sometimes attendant upon LGBT fiction set in that era. Wish the rival love interest wasn’t so immature and manipulative, though. 3/5 stars
Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers. A beloved reread with much to recommend it, though with period-typical hints of racism and a hefty dollop of class snobbery. 4/5 stars
Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright. Part history, part memoir, part political treatise, this book gives a good overview of what fascism looks like, sounds a warning about various current regimes, and points several accusing fingers straight at Trump. It’s very readable, if not surprising in its slant and what it covers. 4/5 stars
Fire in the Thatch, by E.C.R. Lorac. This one is really very sad, because we meet the victim in the first chapters and really get to like him. Mystery-wise, it’s well-written without being groundbreaking, as I’m coming to expect from Lorac. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual mid-week update!

So that’s it for this week! How’s everyone doing?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted October 9, 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.

Cover of Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. SayersWhat are you currently reading?

It’s been a long week and I haven’t been sleeping enough, so I’ve turned to a solid and beloved reread: Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers. It’s not my favourite of the series, but on reflection I’m not sure why I’ve always downplayed this one: Miss Climpson is a delight, and there’s so much good Peter-Parker bantering. And a good Bunter scene, though not enough of him on the whole.

Cover of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia WaiteWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, which was overall enjoyable but frustrated me in the home stretch with a stupid miscommunication thing, my least favourite trope in the whole wide world.

Cover of Grave Importance by Vivian ShawWhat will you be reading next?

I really want to finish rereading Dreadful Company and get to Grave Importance (Vivian Shaw). My wife’s been reading it and giggling away, and I’m feeling left out! Also, you know, I’ve been looking forward to this so much.

Luckily, we have an internet connection at home again (hi Zen Internet! bye Virgin Media!) and I don’t have to get up at an hour my body and brain don’t work at anymore, so that should be good for my reading after a rather slow week.

What are you currently reading?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted October 5, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

G’morning folks. It’s been a tiring week, as my sleeping schedule has been topsy-turvy. I had to go to my parents’ house to get internet every day this week so I could work, which meant getting a lift with my wife in the morning. My circadian rhythm is… not calibrated for this. Gah. And now I’ll be up early on a Saturday for the engineer. Bah!

Anyway, here are the other titles from last week!

Acquired:

Cover of Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron Cover of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Cover of Grave Importance by Vivian Shaw

Cover of Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer Cover of The Rat-Catcher's Daughter by K.J. Charles Cover of Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Some stuff I’m really excited for, some a bit less so, some I’d barely heard of… a nice mix!

Read this week:

Cover of The Rat-Catcher's Daughter by K.J. Charles Cover of Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson Cover of The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch Cover of Making the Monster by Kathryn Harkup

Reviewed this week:

The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter, by K.J. Charles. Lovely, though the Lilywhite Boys kinda stole the show. 4/5 stars
Lost Languages, by Andrew Robinson. An interesting primer on undeciphered scripts and the progress we (might) have made in deciphering them. 4/5 stars
The October Man, by Ben Aaronovitch. Very similar to the Peter Grant books in voice, as well as (obviously) content. Fun, but not great. 3/5 stars
Making the Monster, by Kathryn Harkup. Takes a while to get onto the actual science behind Frankenstein, but not bad once it does. 3/5 stars
Too Like The Lightning, by Ada Palmer. The narrator is very gender essentialist, and this book barely stands alone enough to even begin to judge what it’s doing there, but overall not my thing and I doubt I’ll continue the series. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

That’s it for this week! How’s everyone doing?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted October 2, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 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 Making the Monster by Kathryn HarkupWhat are you currently reading?

I’m most actively reading Making the Monster by Kathryn Harkup. So far it’s more a biography of Mary Shelley and the writing of the book than really being about the science behind it, but it’s starting to get into the background a little more. I loved Harkup’s book about Agatha Christie’s use of poisons in her fiction — it gave me a whole new appreciation, actually — so I’m hoping this will be the same!

Cover of The October Man by Ben AaronovitchWhat have you recently finished reading?

Oof, I’m not sure — it’s been a couple of days. The October Man, I think? Which was okay, but the voice was so similar to that of the main series, it kind of dampened my enthusiasm. My review is up for that, anyway, so you can read all my thoughts here.

Cover of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia WaiteWhat will you be reading next?

Who knows? But I’m sort of tempted to dig into Olivia Waite’s  The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. Romance and classic crime fiction seem to suit my mood at the moment, because you know that typically they will set the world to rights by the end, and there’ll be a happily ever after in the case of romance (and often in crime fiction as well, really).

I think we can really use the world being set to rights. Oof.

What are you reading?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted September 28, 2019 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Busy week! And lots of reading too, which is nice. Politics in the UK are… interesting at the moment, but for the comfort of all, let’s not discuss them here. Rugby World Cup also, but, samesies, unless you’re supporting Wales.

Here are some new books!

Acquired this week:

This week has been rather massive on the books front, so I’m splitting it into two! Next week will have this week’s fantasy/SF or other books, while this week is solely for crime/mystery books, most of them from the British Library Crime Classics series!

Cover of Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert Cover of Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac

Cover of Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert Cover of The Belting Inheritance by Julian Symons Cover of Calamity in Kent by John Rowland Cover of Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Cover of It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr Cover of The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers

Read this week:

Cover of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark Cover of Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert Cover of It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr Cover of In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

Cover of The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell Cover of The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of First Contact / The Cult of Progress by David Olusoga

Reviews posted this week:

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark. I didn’t love this as much as the other novella I’ve read by Clark, but the setting makes a nice change, and I’d love to know more about  the world. 3/5 stars
It Walks by Night, by John Dickson Carr. Definitely not impressed by this — I’ve tried two novels by John Dickson Carr, and I don’t get the hype. 2/5 stars
Smallbone Deceased, by Michael Gilbert. This was a much better classic crime novel! Reminded me a little of Sayers in the way that Gilbert was obviously intimately familiar with the kind of office he was writing about. 4/5 stars
In the Night Wood, by Dale Bailey. I was not impressed by the angst and woe of the protagonist who let his daughter drown in the bath while arguing on the phone with his lover, and is all upset that his wife doesn’t want to speak to him. Even in a fantasy setting, that’s old now. 2/5 stars
The Interstellar Age, by Jim Bell. Some interesting stuff here! A bit too much about Bell himself at times, and not heavy on scientific detail, but a good history of the Voyager program on a high level. 3/5 stars
The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Interesting format, and Sayers’ usual deft touch with character and dialogue. 4/5 stars
Civilisations: First Contact / The Cult of Progress, by David Olusoga. Felt unfocused and kinda perfunctory at times. Meh? 2/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Brain juice.‘ I explained what norepinephrine is, and how SNRI antidepressants work!

So that’s all for now! How’s your week been, folks?

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