Category: General


WWW Wednesday

Posted 22 August, 2018 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 A History of Ancient Egypt Volume 2 by John RomerWhat are you currently reading?

Most actively, the second volume of John Romer’s A History of Ancient Egypt. I’m up to a lot of discussion of hieroglyphs in tombs now, which is kind of fascinating, and Romer has a quite refreshing pragmatic view of Egyptian society instead of seeing it as totally mystical and magical — he talks about some of the rituals being part of the state and as such, more secular than we imagine, because it’s to do with supply and so on. I’m not explaining it very well (it’s late and I’ve been travelling all day as I write this ready to go up in the morning!), but it’s really interesting.

I’ve also finally picked up Blackout by Mira Grant, and I’m excited to finally find out what happens. I’m hoping for a particular reunion in the next 50 pages or so (I know it does happen because spoilers, but not when!) so… eeeh.

Cover of Moral Tribes by Joshua GreeneWhat have you recently finished reading?

Moral Tribes, by Joshua Greene. The most interesting thing about this is that it’s a defence and elucidation of utilitarianism than does deal with a lot of the reflexive dislikes I have about utilitarianism, while acknowledging that it’s not necessarily the perfect value system — just one that enables us to answer most of our moral conundrums in the real world.

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha WellsWhat will you be reading next?

The third Murderbot novella, I think! I’ve finally actually put it on my ereader. I also bought myself one book for my birthday: Seeds of Science by Mark Lynas. It’s about GM crops, which he used to vehemently oppose (including taking physical action to destroy GM crops), and which he’s now in favour of. I think it’ll be fascinating. So I definitely plan to pick that up soon!

What are you reading?

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Discussion: Half Stars

Posted 20 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

It’s come up a couple of times lately when I’ve rated a book — I experience a fleeting wish for half stars. I used to be pretty active in the Goodreads Feedback Group, and that was perennial plea: give us half stars! And I don’t really actually get it, most of the time, if I’m honest. I mean, the Goodreads rating system goes like this:

5 stars: it was amazing
4 stars: I really liked it
3 stars: I liked it
2 stars: it was OK
1 star: terrible

I can’t remember if that’s the exact wording or not, but you get the gist. Now I don’t really see how that leaves room for intermediates (unless you’re just not using the scale at all, but then you can do whatever you like anyway and state that you’re awarding half stars in your review). Making it more granular makes it harder to decide, for me at least — and yet the cry was always, “well, I need half stars because I can’t decide between four and five!” To me, I don’t see how that helps: now you have more stars and they have ambiguous meanings (“I half really liked it!”) and surely that could lead to infinite regression. Quarter stars, eighth stars, sixteenth stars…

Nah, I’ll stick to full stars. If I was rating something to suggest whether a publisher should pick it up, maybe there’d be more need for precision. But it’s not like the ratings are actually precise anyway: how many times can you say you liked two books exactly the same?

I just don’t get it, I guess. A simple five star scale is enough for me in terms of giving a sense of where I am on the continuum — and having the stars weighted towards the positive end makes sense, too, because it’s not as important to know how much someone disliked a book as how much someone liked a book.

Probably this is all just me, but hey, now you know why I don’t use half-stars and rarely talk about wanting to use them: if I do, I really am on the fence, and usually it’s because I think a book deserves a higher score for technical merit, but I didn’t like it. (And all my star ratings are based on liking, so giving some things four stars is just lying, no matter how technically brilliant I think they are.)

So how do you rate books? Do you have a system, or do you go with your gut?

And hey, happy birthday to me!

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Weekly roundup

Posted 18 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Good morning, all! It’s been a heck of a week, but hey, since we last spoke I’ve signed a contract on a flat for me and my wife, I’ve started sorting out getting some furniture in so we can actually live there, and I’ve aaaalllllmost finished my dissertation. And then on Monday, it’s my birthday! The last birthday of my 20s, in fact (and yet I still don’t feel like an adult).

Before the books, I’m still away from the bunnies (only for a few more days!), so here’s Breakfast enjoying his castle before it’s gone (we’re not moving it with us; it’d fall apart), and a pic of both Breakfast and Hulk, both demanding grooming from each other at the same time (that’s how bunnies roll).

And now we’re onto the non-fiction section of my recent hauls! Hold on to your hats.

Acquired:

Cover of The Spartans by Paul Cartledge Cover of Alexander the Great by Paul Cartledge cover of Praetorian by Guy de la Bedoyere

To Be a Machine by Mark O'Connell Cover of 4th Rock from the Sun by Nicky Jenner Cover of Swearing is Good For You by Emma Byrne

Cover of The Human Planet by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin Cover of Think Again: How To Reason And Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong Cover of Think Like An Anthropologist by Matthew Engelke

Books finished this week:

Cover of The Regional Office is Under Attack Cover of Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg Cover of Think Like An Anthropologist by Matthew Engelke Cover of Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuire

Cover of Think Again: How To Reason And Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong Cover of A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell Cover of Ancestral Journeys by Jean Manco Cover of Circe by Madeline Miller

Reviews posted this week:

Witchmark, by C.L. Polk. I feel like I should’ve liked this more, but I was left a little bit lukewarm by some aspects, particularly the romance. It’s sweet, but I wanted more substance. 3/5 stars
The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman. For a second book in a series, I think this is really strong and keeps all the best things about the series going strong. 4/5 stars
Swearing is Good For You, by Emma Byrne. Lots of information — really fucking interesting, actually. 4/5 stars
Dreadful Company, by Vivian Shaw. It lived up to how much I enjoyed the first book, and I found myself really gulping it down. 4/5 stars
The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales. I feel like I missed something. What was the point? It feels like it just peters out. It’s a fun enough read, but it doesn’t answer many of the questions you’ll have on finishing it. 2/5 stars
Death of an Airman, by Christopher St John Sprigg. Not my favourite in this series of reissues: there’s something dry and characterless about it, from my point of view. 2/5 stars
Think Like An Anthropologist, by Matthew Engelke. A bit unfocused and not sure of what it’s trying to do, with some interesting bits. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Who are reviews for? Other readers? The authors? Publishers? In the end, I feel like it’s “whoever I damn well say it is”.
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading, in which I’m reading too much at once (as always).

Out and about:

NEAT science: Do sunbeds cause cancer? I really did see that as a headline in the Daily Mail (sorry, my parents take it). The answer is yes (and I do explain why, if you’ve always wondered!).
Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘Strange Heroes’. A short story in which a superhero called Flechette saves one woman, which did not go where I expected when I started writing it.

How’s your week been? Any exciting news? Any exciting books?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 15 August, 2018 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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersI’m partway through rereading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, since the new book in that world is out now. I keep picking it up meaning to read a couple of pages and just sinking back into it, and suddenly, boom! I lost half an hour. Not that I mind that too much!

I also accidentally picked up Circe, by Madeline Miller, after reading people’s raptures about it on Litsy. I meant to just read a couple of pages (I know, I know, it’s a theme with me) and then found I’d read over 100 while my game was paused. Oops.

Then I accidentally picked up A Study in Honor, too. It’s an interesting choice for a Sherlock Holmes retelling. It’s actually reminding me somewhat of Witchmark, but I think that’s partly the main characters being doctors in both books.

Cover of Think Again: How To Reason And Argue by Walter Sinnott-ArmstrongWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Think Again: How To Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. I’m not sure yet quite what I think of this: it’ll probably become clear to me as I write the review! It definitely has good tips on how to understand other people’s arguments and put together a strong argument yourself, but it also has a lot of commentary on the right/left divide in politics.

Cover of At the Table of Wolves by Kay KenyonWhat will you be reading next?

Well, chances are I’m going to succumb to a new shiny and pick up Kay Kenyon’s At the Table of Wolves. It mentions Marvel’s Agent Carter in the blurb, and the cover is basically Peggy Carter with some colours switched round, and I’m kind of into that (even though I still haven’t actually watched Agent Carter).

What are you reading?

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Discussion: Who are reviews for?

Posted 13 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

I saw this on Twitter (this thread) and immediately had a ton of thoughts, especially after I saw the tweet claiming that reviews (in general) are for everyone: authors, readers, other reviewers… And in one way, that’s true; there’s no way I can stop authors coming to my blog and reading my reviews, and maybe they’ll be useful to authors too! I don’t begrudge them to authors, if they’ve got thick skins and can keep themselves from arguing with me.

But. With every piece of writing, you have an audience in mind. That’s part of what makes the writing effective: you tailor it to the people you want it to be useful to. It’s no use me posting here talking about the MIC of bedaquiline against Mycobacterium tuberculosis — you’re a smart bunch, so I’m sure some of you know what the MIC is and what it’s about, but it’s simply not relevant to most people — and likewise there’s no point in me using a chatty style in my dissertation. The audience distinction between other readers and the author of the thing being reviewed is not necessarily that large, but I’m definitely not keeping the author in mind when I review. I’m talking about what I liked and what I didn’t, and often don’t even touch on anything beyond personal taste. Now, unless an author’s planning to write a book just for me, that’s not exactly useful, is it?

Now, reading the actual thread, I don’t think me and the writer of that thread are actually too far apart in our opinions. I don’t disagree that reviews are open to and worth scrutinising, etc, etc. But all the same, I have an audience in mind for my reviews and it’s not authors (and it’s not really non-readers, either: I don’t see why a non-reader would be interested in my reviews). So sure, my reviews can be read by anyone who comes along and maybe they’ll be of interest or even useful for people whom I don’t expect to find them so.

But still, saying my reviews are for anybody I don’t think they’re for is putting a bit much of a burden on the rather slender shoulders of my typically 200-word-ish summaries of what I thought of a book. And I don’t think most people who are saying that reviews aren’t for authors or aren’t for xyz are saying that their reviews can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t be read by those people — they’re saying, fucking Christ, will authors please stop commenting on my reviews to browbeat me because I didn’t like their book. So in that sense, yeah. Reviews are for other readers. Fight me.

(Please don’t.)

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 11 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 16 Comments

Good morning! Just a week and a bit until I have the bunnies again — time is flying. In the meantime, here’s the traditional photo of (one of) them…

Breakfast is all about dat bass.

As well as this being my general weekly roundup, I participate in Stacking the Shelves, courtesy of Tynga’s Reviews and Reading Reality, so if you comment here, rest assured I’ll be commenting back!

And here’s this week’s highlights from recent hauls, focusing on the crime/mystery section:

Acquired:

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville Cover of Quick Curtain by Alan Melville Cover of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson Cover of Family Matters by Anthony Rolls Cover of Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Cover of Mystery at Olympia by John Rhode Cover of Invisible Weapons by John Rhode Cover of Death at Breakfast by John Rhode

And nope, that’s not the end of my broken-up-into-bits hauls yet. I’ve been lucky lately!

Books finished this week:

Cover of Fury of the Tomb by S.A. Sidor Cover of The Civilization of Angkor by Charles Higham Cover of Swearing is Good For You by Emma Byrne Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Reviews posted this week:

Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers. There are some parts of this which get a little long-winded, but I still can’t help but adore it. 5/5 stars
Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow. Nothing new if you’ve been reading around about the brain and the weird ways humans think. 2/5 stars
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. Another beloved reread. I just adore the characters and the way they work together and so much about the world and… yeah. 4/5 stars
The Voices Within, by Charles Fernyhough. A really fascinating discussion of what happens when we think. 4/5 stars
At Amberleaf Fair, by Phyllis Ann Karr. A rather gentle fantasy/mystery/romance with some interesting features in the worldbuilding. 3/5 stars
Fury from the Tomb, by S.A. Sidor. Pulpy fun, but not quite as much fun as I might’ve hoped. 2/5 stars
The Civilization of Angkor, by Charles Higham. A fascinating site, but this is less archaeology and more an extensive study of inscriptions, which comes off a little flat. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: The Rites of the Reader. What are your quirky habits surrounding reading?
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading lately, almost guaranteed to be out of date by the next day at the rate I read and hop around picking up new books!

Out and about:

Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘Buttercup and Primrose Save The Day’. A short story featuring two determined young women, and a mystery of sorts.
Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘Take Care’. A creepy short story in second person POV.
NEAT science: Why predators are a good thing. It’s a bit more complicated than the standard story a lot of people know about wolves and Yellowstone, but predators are a key part of food webs.
NEAT science: Blue light danger. There was a somewhat alarming article in the Guardian talking about the damage blue light from screens can do your eyes. I read the source research and dissected things a bit. (Surprise! The newspaper article had some sweeping and so far not fully supported conclusions.)

So how’re you doing? Any good books this week?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 8 August, 2018 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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian ShawDreadful Company, still. For all my excitement, so much else has been happening that I really haven’t been reading enough. Actually, most of the books I talked about last week are still in progress, and a couple more. For a book club read, I’m partway through Death of an Airman, but primed by Murder Must Advertise and Cocaine Blues, I pretty much know the plot, I think. Still, one of the detectives is a Bishop, which is different.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Civilization of Angkor by Charles HighamThe last thing was The Civilization of Angkor, which was interesting but a bit repetitive. A lot of the interpretations are made from the tons and tons of inscriptions we’ve apparently found in Angkor and the environs, which isn’t my favourite kind of archaeology/history. There’s surprisingly little about burials in and around Angkor Wat in this book! Boo.

What will you read next?

One thing at a time. I have no idea right now. I want to finish Death of an Airman and Dreadful Company, and then I’ll think about it!

What are you reading?

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Discussion: Rites of the Reader

Posted 6 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Because I love my puns.

I don’t know about other people, but over time I’ve had quite a few different quirks and rituals about reading (hi, my name is Nikki, I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies). When I was a kid, I actually used to read sitting on the staircase (I don’t know why) and so the ritual was to move down a step with every chapter finished. I got through many a Famous Five book that way. The only hitch was that I couldn’t leave the stairs until I’d finished a book. That could be… awkward.

I also had a thing where I couldn’t stop on an odd-numbered chapter, or in the middle of a page. (But for some reason, it was okay to stop at the end of the first paragraph on the page, as long as it was a continuation from the previous page, and not a new paragraph.) And then there was the thing with putting bookmarks ahead of myself in the book, and then I couldn’t stop until I got to them.

I’m mostly over all of those now, actually. I do still prefer to finish a chapter, but I can be pulled away from my book when necessary. I do like putting a bookmark ahead of myself to mark a stopping point or something that I want to get to. My main rituals surrounding reading now, though, are “bookbed” — me and my wife go to bed early to read — and the fact that I inevitably can’t sleep when she does, and so normally stay awake long into the night reading! I can’t really think of anything else.

So what’re your little quirks — the things you have to do when reading, or your ways of storing books, or… anything like that?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 4 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

G’morning, all! I’m back in the UK. For a few days it was blissfully cool, but the temperatures are climbing again, alas. And in just three weeks (less now), I’ll be bringing our bunnies across the channel with my wife — we’re finally going to be settled here in the UK! Well, me and the bunnies, at least: the wife is following for good a little later.

But for now, of course, there’s the obligatory away-from-bunnies pic. Here’s Breakfast gearing up to come with me, before he was gently evicted, and another pic of him sporting some new bunny fashion… and Hulk, who would really like some banana now, please.

My babies. <3

Anyway, it’s been a busy week, so as I’ve been doing a fair bit lately, I’m going to split this haul into multiple posts. Maybe that will encourage me not to add to it in the meantime. This week’s is the SF/F section (featuring stuff to review from Tor.com as well as books I bought).

(By the way, this weekly post is now the ‘weekly roundup’, though I also participate in Stacking the Shelves, courtesy of Tynga’s Reviews and Reading Reality.)

Acquired:

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells Cover of Descent of Monsters by JY Yang Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell Cover of An Unkindness of Ghosts

All of these are pretty exciting, and I’ve been anticipating them for a while, so yay!

Finished reading this week:

 Cover of The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson Cover of The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon Cover of Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow Cover of At Amberleaf Fair by Phyllis Ann Karr

Reviews posted this week:

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo. Found this a bit of a slow starter, but once it picked up the pace — whoa. 4/5 stars
The Battle of the Sun, by Jeanette Winterson. Just really slapdash (at least it felt that way) and disappointing, albeit with some nice turns of phrase. 2/5 stars
The Murder of My Aunt, by Richard Hull. Despicable characters trying to outwit one another. Fun, if not entirely comfortable to spend time with. 3/5 stars
The Zoo, by Isobel Charman. Not totally focused on the founding of the zoo (it gets distracted in a whole chapter about Darwin, who was rather tangential), but mostly interesting stuff. A little too fictionalised for me at times, maybe. 3/5 stars
The Gallows in the Greenwood, by Phyllis Ann Karr. A Robin Hood retelling with a female sheriff, this has a cute if somewhat sudden romance plot and tries to work with the original ballads in an interesting way. 4/5 stars
The Planet Factory, by Elizabeth Tasker. Lots and lots of information, reasonably well presented. Could’ve done with some more diagrams, in my opinion. 3/5 stars
The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman. It’s a madcap mixture of all kinds of things, and that works well for me. There’s mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, folktales, and the kitchen sink as well. It’s incredibly fun. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: The Rights of the Reader. Building out of Daniel Pennac’s ten rules, a post about the things that should always be permitted for a reader.
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update, in which I’m reading far too much at once.

Out and about: 

Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘A Mile From The Castle’. A short story set in a fairytale world, but following those outside the story. I’m really proud, actually — Aliette de Bodard tweeted about liking this, Genevieve Cogman liked the tweet where I posted it, and Stephanie Burgis said some really sweet things. (Not to mention the stuff my friends have said, because they’re biased, but also sweet.)
Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘Message in a Bottle’. Humanity’s been reaching out to the cosmos for a while now. This story is about when someone wants to reach back.
Once Upon a Blue Moon: ‘Mrs Gawain’. If you’ve ever read Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife collection, this poem was very much inspired by the intent and style of that collection. Dame Ragnelle has her say on the issue of ‘sovereignty’ and what all women really want…
NEAT science: What’s with this heatwave? Answer: global warming. Yes, really, what a shock — but this is one of those longer term effects that we’re now starting to really see.
NEAT science: A crack in creation. What is CRISPR, and why does it look like a good answer to all our gene editing dreams?

As I said, it really has been a busy week! Remember that the titles above are links which will let you jump to a given review (or post, or in the case of the new ‘Out and about’ section, story/poem/etc).

How’s everyone doing?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 1 August, 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 Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuireUhoh, where do I start? Okay, so last night (well, Monday night, since I’m writing this on Tuesday evening) I started reading Phyllis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair, because I read The Gallows in the Greenwood at the weekend and felt like maybe reading another of her books was indicated. Also, someone on Goodreads said the main character’s gender is never revealed, so I was a bit intrigued about how that was handled. They must have a very different copy from me, because Torin is definitely a guy in my copy.

Then on the train I started rereading Seanan McGuire’s Rosemary & Rue, because my wife is mainlining that series right now and I need to reread and then get onto reading the ones I haven’t read yet. Devin is a creep, such a creep, ughh. Then I also started Think Like An Anthropologist, by Matthew Engelke, because it sounded interesting and it totally leapt into my bag of my own accord while I was in St Pancras today.

And then I arrived at my parents’, where my copy of Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw was waiting, so of course I dived right in and I just got to the part with the pastry-baking demon, and I just love these books so much.

Cover of Strange Practice by Vivian ShawWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing I finished was probably Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice, a reread I engaged in for a) pure fun and b) because I knew I’d be getting my paws on Dreadful Company. I also read Leonard Mlodinow’s Subliminal, but that was kind of disappointing and pretty much the same as every other book on the weird way humans actually think.

Cover of Blackout by Mira GrantWhat will you be reading next?

Once I’ve finished Dreadful Company, I’ll focus back in on Rosemary & Rue, and then after that there’s the whole October Daye series to be dived into. Other than that, I would like to polish off something from my backlog, so I’ll probably pick up Blackout by Mira Grant and finally finish that. I’ve had a bookmark in the first chapter for far too long now. On the other hand, A Study in Honor just hit my ereader. I’d forgotten that I preordered it but I’m excited.

So yeah, that’s me. How about you?

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