Category: Reviews

Review – The Bone Chests

Posted February 22, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – The Bone Chests

The Bone Chests: Unlocking the Secrets of the Anglo-Saxons

by Cat Jarman

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 356
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

In December 1642, during the Civil War, Parliamentarian troops stormed the magnificent Winchester Cathedral, intent on destruction. Reaching the choir, its beating heart, the soldiers searched out ten beautifully decorated wooden chests resting high up on the stone screens.

Those chests contained some of England's most venerated, ancient remains: The bones of eight kings, including William Rufus and Cnut the Great - the only Scandinavian king to rule England and a North Sea Empire; three bishops; and a formidable queen, Emma of Normandy. These were the very people who witnessed and orchestrated the creation of the kingdom of Wessex in the 7th century; who lived through the creation of England as a unified country in response to the Viking threat; and who were part and parcel of the Norman conquest.

On that day, the soldiers smashed several chests to the ground, using the bones as missiles to shatter the cathedral's stained glass windows. Afterwards, the clergy scrambled to collect the scattered remains.

In 2014, the six remaining chests were reopened. A team of forensic archaeologists, using the latest scientific methods, attempted to identify the contents: They discovered an elaborate jumble of bones, including the remains of two forgotten princes. In The Bone Chests, Cat Jarman builds on this evidence to untangle the stories of the people within. It is an extraordinary and sometimes tragic tale, and a story of transformation. Why these bones? Why there? Can we ever really identify them? In a palimpsest narrative that runs through more than a millennium of British history, it tells the story of both the seekers and the sought, of those who protected the bones and those who spurned them; and of the methods used to investigate.

Cat Jarman’s The Bone Chests takes the investigation of the chests of bones held in Winchester Cathedral as a starting point to explore some of the events that began to form what we know now as England. (Blurbs and so on talk about “British” history, but it really isn’t. There’s a handful of references to Scotland and one that I can remember to Wales, and pretty much no reference to Ireland at all.) Jarman discusses the figures that may now lie splintered and scattered in the bone chests, the kings, queens and bishops that shaped what we think of as the Anglo-Saxon period.

I had been hoping, I’ll admit, for a lot more discussion of the analysis of the actual bones. But that’s relegated to little slices in between the overall narrative of “this is how England was formed, through this king and that king and sometimes a queen or two”. That’s something that I’ve read elsewhere — sometimes with slightly different details, it’s true, but in general, a history I was fairly aware of already. But a focus on the bone chests and the process of sorting through them, trying to identify who is there and what we can find out about them — that would’ve been really interesting.

So it was okay for what it was, and it’s certainly very readable, but I was hoping for slightly more focus on the promise of the title.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Impact of Evidence

Posted February 21, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Impact of Evidence

Impact of Evidence

by E.C.R. Lorac, Carol Carnac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 221
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Near St Brynneys in the Welsh border country, isolated by heavy snow and flooding from the thaw, a calamity has occurred. Old Dr Robinson, a known 'menace o the roads', has met his end in a collision with a jeep at a hazardous junction. But when police arrive at the scene, a burning question hints at something murkier than mere accident: why was there a second body - a man not recognised any locals - in the back of Robinson's car?

As the local inspectors dive into the muddy waters of this strange crime, Chief Inspector Julian Rivers and Inspector Lancing are summoned from Scotland Yard to the windswept wilds, where danger and deceit lie in wait.

Puzzling and atmospheric, this exceedingly rare mystery from one of the masters of crime fiction's Golden Age returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1954.

It’s always exciting when the British Library Crime Classics series bring out another of E.C.R. Lorac’s books, especially the rare and out of print ones. I’m slightly less fond of Lorac’s work under the Carol Carnac pseudonym, perhaps because I’m not as fond of the detective — though Lorac’s McDonald doesn’t show us a lot of his personal life, he does show a constant decency and patience, and that impression has been cumulative through the books in which he’s featured. Lancing and Rivers don’t really compare (and don’t really stand out to me, either, though nor did McDonald at first).

In any case, Impact of Evidence is the latest, a book which is out of print and almost unattainable until now. The setup is intriguing: details are drawn from Lorac’s own experience of Lunesdale, but transplanted to the Welsh borders, and she depicts farm life with her usual care for what’s needed and how those communities worked. As usual, she’s idealised the working farmer a little here, with her usual “salt of the earth” rock-solid decent characters — but having read more of her work, one’s always aware of the tension there, and when those people might do wrong.

I admit I was onto what happened fairly early on just because of certain details that were drawn to the reader’s attention multiple times, but it was still interesting to see how it worked out, and how some things were subverted (like the Derings matter-of-fact behaviour about the accusations of them).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Heartstopper: Become Human

Posted February 20, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Heartstopper: Become Human

Heartstopper: Become Human

by Alice Oseman

Genres: Graphic Novels, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 126
Series: Heartstopper #0
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Alice Oseman reimagines the scenario of Detroit: Become Human with Nick and Charlie, where Charlie is a grumpy detective and Nick is his android police partner.

Heartstopper: Become Human is an alternative universe comic based on the characters of Heartstopper, by Alice Oseman herself. It’s based on the video game Detroit: Become Human, but you don’t need to know the game in order to understand the story — it’s pretty self-evident, though I’d bet there are some lovely touches if you know the game as well. It’s available for free on Alice Oseman’s Tapas page.

It’s Nick and Charlie, but not as we know them. They’re adults, they’re in a much more serious situation, and at first it takes a long time for Charlie to warm up to Nick (who is an android, and thus isn’t supposed to have feelings, warm or otherwise). As ever, their connection is something special, and I really enjoy Oseman’s art style: it’s distinctive but always clear, with unmistakable character in each panel.

I read this in a flash, and had a lot of fun. Some of the same Heartstopper feels, in a tiny AU package.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Where the Drowned Girls Go

Posted February 19, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Where the Drowned Girls Go

Where the Drowned Girls Go

by Seanan McGuire

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Series: Wayward Children #7
Synopsis:

"Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company."

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.

It isn't as friendly as Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children.

And it isn't as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her "Home for Wayward Children," she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming...

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Seanan McGuire’s Where the Drowned Girls Go as much as as I did: I haven’t been totally all-in on this series for a few books now, or so it feels, and Cora goes to some pretty dark places in this book. It’s probably important to know going in that there are potential triggers for those with eating disorders, and probably any kind of abuse, especially anything relating to a boarding school.

But all the same, Cora rises above it. She finds the strength to own her experiences, and to finally Be Sure, and that’s a journey I enjoyed. Eleanor West’s school is warm and quirky and endlessly accommodating, but here Cora (and the supporting cast, including Sumi) have a bit more adversity to stand up to, and it’s a stronger book for it. And we get to see Regan, from Across the Green Grass Fields, tying her into the ongoing story of the school and the loose collection of kids that we know from it.

I’ll admit there was one point in the story I didn’t 100% follow, how Cora suddenly realised that the headmaster wasn’t the real one, and how they’d all get out of there. I don’t know if I missed something, or whether it just was meant to be a bolt of intuition… But that didn’t take away the fun of watching Cora come into herself and emerge strong.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Soonish

Posted February 18, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Soonish

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything

by Zach Weinersmith, Kelly Weinersmith

Genres: Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 368
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

What will the world of tomorrow be like? How does progress happen? And why do we not have a lunar colony already? What is the hold-up?

In this smart and funny book, celebrated cartoonist Zach Weinersmith and noted researcher Dr. Kelly Weinersmith give us a snapshot of what's coming next -- from robot swarms to nuclear fusion powered-toasters. By weaving their own research, interviews with the scientists who are making these advances happen, and Zach's trademark comics, the Weinersmiths investigate why these technologies are needed, how they would work, and what is standing in their way.

New technologies are almost never the work of isolated geniuses with a neat idea. A given future technology may need any number of intermediate technologies to develop first, and many of these critical advances may appear to be irrelevant when they are first discovered. The journey to progress is full of strange detours and blind alleys that tell us so much about the human mind and the march of civilization.

To this end, Soonish investigates ten different emerging fields, from programmable matter to augmented reality, from space elevators to robotic construction, to show us the amazing world we will have, you know, soonish.

I didn’t love Kelly and Zach Weinersmith’s Soonish as much as I liked A City on Mars: I think that’s partly because the latter is much more of a deep dive, whereas the chapters here are necessarily a bit shallower, since they’re looking at multiple different technologies, and don’t have the time to get into the nitty gritty as much. There’s also some information (and even jokes) that feels repetitive if you’ve already read A City on Mars already, as well.

That said, they pick an interesting raft of likely technologies and start picking into why we don’t have them yet, why they feel within reach, and what we need to figure out to make them reality. The tone is fairly light, but they explain things pretty well.

After a certain point the humour does start to grate a bit, I must admit; I didn’t find that in A City on Mars, and of course, your mileage may vary.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Digging Up Britain

Posted February 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Digging Up Britain

Digging Up Britain: Ten Discoveries, A Million Years of History

by Mike Pitts

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 288
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Digging Up Britain traces the history of Britain through key discoveries and excavations. With British archaeologist Mike Pitts as a guide, this book covers the most exciting excavations of the past ten years, gathers firsthand stories from the people who dug up the remains, and follows the latest revelations as one twist leads to another.

Britain, a historically crowded place, has been the site of an unprecedented number of discoveries--almost everywhere the ground is broken, archaeologists find evidence that people have been there before. These discoveries illuminate Britain's ever-shifting history that we now know includes an increasingly diverse array of cultures and customs.

Each chapter of the book tells the story of a single excavation or discovery. Some are major digs, conducted by large teams over years, and others are chance finds, leading to revelations out of proportion to the scale of the original project. Every chapter holds extraordinary tales of planning, teamwork, luck, and cutting-edge archaeological science that produces surprising insights into how people lived a thousand to a million years ago.

It took me a while to get through Mike Pitts’ Digging Up Britain, because there’s a lot to take in. Pitts discusses various sites across Britain representing dozens of discoveries each, and tries to analyse what they mean, reimagine their contexts, and also provide the context of the modern excavations, the techniques used, etc

The book is illustrated by maps, black and white images, and two inserts of colour images too — I didn’t always find myself flicking through to look at those, because I was more interested in following the sense of the text, but it does let you get a look at what’s being discussed, and adds a bit more context.

In the end, I wasn’t too surprised by any of the findings discussed: after growing up eagerly awaiting new Time Team episodes, I’ve stayed a little big plugged in to the big archaeological discoveries. That said, sometimes later analysis has discovered fascinating but not newsworthy things, so I learned some new stuff too.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted February 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 20 Comments

Somehow it’s the weekend again already! It caught me by surprise, and yet it’s felt like a very long week, not helped by my own problems with sleeping. Here’s to a restful weekend!

As usual, linking up with Reading Reality’s Stacking the Shelves, Caffeinated Reviewer’s The Sunday Post, and the Sunday Salon over at Readerbuzz.

Books acquired this week:

It was release week for the latest British Library Crime Classic reissue. I have the subscription, so I got my book this week… and because it’s E.C.R. Lorac (under the Carol Carnac pseudonym), I devoured it right away.

Cover of Impact of Evidence by Carol Carnac AKA E.C.R. Lorac

That’s all for now, though yesterday I managed to finish up a first draft of my parasitology class assignment, so I should reward myself with a good book for next week — maybe Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands?

Posts from this week:

As ever, it’s been a busy week: I have to keep up posting one review a day, or I’ll only fall further behind, since I read ~400 books last year and I’m on track to do the same this year! So in case you missed it, here’s the roundup:

And the non-review posts:

What I’m reading:

I did some rereading this week (which I don’t plan to re-review, since I read the book so recently), and read a couple of manga I don’t plan to review. So it looks like kind of a slow week (by my usual standards), but actually I read quite a bit! Here’s a sneak peek of the books I read that I do intend to review:

Cover of Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire Cover of Britannia vol 1 by Dave Sharpe et al Cover of Impact of Evidence by Carol Carnac AKA E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time, by James Suzman Cover of Breaklands Season One by Justin Jordan

Over the weekend I’m planning to read Seanan McGuire’s Mislaid in Parts Half-Known, which should bring me up to date with that series, and Gina Perry’s The Lost Boys, a non-fiction book about a psychology experiment that pitted groups of boys against each other. I liked Gina Perry’s work on Stanley Milgram’s experiments, Behind the Shock Machine, so this should be good.

Other than that I’m not sure! How about you folks? Any big plans for the weekend?

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Review – The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, vol 3

Posted February 16, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, vol 3

The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System, vol 3

by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 408
Series: The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System #3
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

To save his sect from destruction, Shen Qingqiu has at last submitted to Luo Binghe—though he wishes people would stop saying it like that! Unfortunately, they're not wrong.

Luo Binghe has finally made his desire for his old master clear. For all that Shen Qingqiu longs to return to their peaceful days together on Qing Jing Peak, he knows it's impossible now that Luo Binghe has darkened into a true demon lord. But as Shen Qingqiu begins to uncover more of Proud Immortal Demon Way's hidden plot, including his host body's own backstory, he realizes he must learn to see Luo Binghe for who he truly is if either of them is to survive.

Oof, what to say about volume three of MXTX’s The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System? I suppose one thing to address up front, which I didn’t really discuss in my initial reviews, is that this isn’t a straightforward romance novel/series in the way I think some Western readers expect when they see others’ enthusiasm. If you read it because you’re a fan of Western romances, there’s a lot in this series that just won’t make sense, because it’s part of a bigger tradition, and that tradition is required for understanding some of what’s going on. The story does explain a lot of it along the way, as do the extras in the back of the book, but it’s not a straightforward ride… and another thing is that despite this being the last part of the series proper (the fourth volume has extras), the happy ending is fairly understated.

Art from The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System, vol 3. A curly-haired young man with an uncertain expression grasps the hand of a smiling, elegant older man who is looking at him with acceptance and love.In addition, the relationship between Shen Qingqui and Luo Binghe is extremely problematic: SQQ is older and knew LBH as a child, and is also his teacher/master. SQQ could do a lot of harm to LBH due to that childhood crush turned obsessive love (and does, albeit against his will and by refusing to have a relationship with LBH). Consent is also a massive problem, in both directions (SQQ has sex with LBH while LBH is out of his mind, to save him; the sex is painful and awful for SQQ, who sees it as the only way to save LBH). So if anyone got this far to volume three thinking it was going to change, or has been curious because of my reviews and is now getting tempted to dip a toe in, be very very aware that this isn’t a romance novel and there are a lot of tropes and cultural things that would never be OK in Western romance. The whole dynamic is a mess.

All the same, there’s also a lot to enjoy here, when you take it in its context. There’s a fair bit of action and swordplay, which is all a lot of fun. The art pages are beautiful, and SQQ’s stupid inner narrative makes me giggle a lot (though, trigger warning for his internalised homophobia). SQQ’s slow acceptance of LBH’s love, and his slow steps toward trusting him and loving him in return, produce some genuinely lovely moments. I absolutely love the last piece of art (shown on the right):

“This time, no matter where you wish to go, this master will accompany you.”

I really want to read the last volume now, from what I’ve heard about it.

[And indeed, I’ve read it since I wrote this review, and loved it… but that’s a story for another day.]

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Eorzea Academy

Posted February 15, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Eorzea Academy

Final Fantasy XIV: Eorzea Academy

by Esora Amaichi

Genres: Fantasy, Game, Graphic Novels
Pages: 192
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Join all your favorite Final Fantasy XIV characters in this rollicking, modern-day high school comedy!

Alisaie is a student attending Eorzea Academy, an exclusive institution created by the merger of former rival schools the Academy of Light and the Academy of Darkness. However, frequent quarrels between the students prove that a bitter divide remains between the Class of Light and the Class of Darkness. Worried about the ongoing conflict, headmistress Tataru decides it's time for some bold solutions to raise morale. Let the school games begin!

Eorzea Academy is a fun manga placing Final Fantasy XIV’s Scions of the Seventh Dawn in a school setting as the Class of Light, alongside the Class of Darkness, after a recent merger between two schools. Headmistress Tataru has a plan to get people to cooperate and forge a friendly rivalry between the two classes, which (of course) leads to plenty of hijinks.

If you don’t yet know the characters of Final Fantasy XIV, this probably isn’t for you. If you do… well, then you get to see them all running around in an alternative universe as students, with lots of funny moments that reference their canon appearances. Estinien never does his homework, G’raha seems to have a crush on him, Alphinaud’s a goodie-goodie, Y’shtola’s secretly nicknamed “mommy”… If you know the characters, then it’s worth a smile.

Obviously it’s pretty light stuff, and even Zenos, Yotsuyu and Asahi aren’t so bad here (fans of any of them as villains might be disappointed). I found it fun to see the references to the game, and the art is cute.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Someone from the Past

Posted February 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Someone from the Past

Someone from the Past

by Margot Bennett

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 256
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

Sarah has been receiving threatening anonymous letters, seemingly from a former lover. Just one day after revealing this information to her co-worker Nancy, Sarah is found shot in her bedroom by one of her past flames, Donald. Hearing the news and desperate to clear any evidence of Donald’s presence at the scene due to her own infatuations, Nancy finds herself as the key suspect when she is discovered in the apartment.

As the real killer uses the situation to their advantage, Bennett crafts a tense and nuanced story through flashbacks to Sarah’s life and loves in this Gold-Dagger-award-winning, Hitchcockian story of deceit and murder.

It’s rare that I give a British Library Crime Classic a really low rating, but Margot Bennett is one of those writers I don’t really get on with… and Someone from the Past got on my last nerve. The introduction is all about what a fine book it was thought and how amazing it is, but I found it really tiresome.

The main reason was that the main character does some completely daft stuff, lies badly, tries to be witty and fails, and then tries to run away to Ireland like the police don’t know all the tricks and all the ways you might try to skip the country. She has these long dialogues with people that Martin Edwards (the editor of the British Library Crime Classics series) thinks are great, and which to me just end up being set pieces for the sake of showing off how oh-so-wittily Bennett thinks she writes dialogue.

One or two scenes like that might be okay, but I just don’t believe this character has a braincell in her head, and I’m not interested in her sparring with people. And then the book goes and ends with a get together where the man in question literally spends the whole book manipulating her “for her own good”, and sometimes being physically threatening to the point of terror for her. And I’m supposed to believe that’s a happy end?

Maybe not: maybe the point is to look at Nancy getting back on the merry-go-round of stupid and think “oh boy”. But it felt more like an attempt to tidy up loose ends, to let the reader feel like things are going to be okay now — and either way, I just didn’t enjoy it.

Rating: 1/5

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