Category: Uncategorized

Review – Unnatural Death

Posted October 10, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 2 Comments

Cover of Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. SayersUnnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers

I had a frazzling week or so there, and so naturally I turned to Dorothy L. Sayers for comfort. (You’ve all heard the story about when my mother used a Lord Peter audiobook to calm me down when I came out of anaesthesia after an operation, by this point, I’m sure.) Unnatural Death is a very clever story which I’ve never really considered a favourite, even though it contains so many things I love: Miss Climpson and the cleverness of her characterisation; quite a lot of banter and partnership between Peter and Parker; and yes, that ingenious murder method that puzzles Peter until almost the end of the book.

It begins in a restaurant: Peter and Parker are debating whether doctors report things they suspect to be murder, or whether any number of murders might be going unsolved and almost unsuspected. Peter says that doctors risk their livelihoods by making accusations, and someone overhears and breaks into their conversation to say it’s happened to him. Naturally Peter’s fascinated, and decides to look into it — and finds that by acting, he actually causes the killer to take further actions, intending to hide their tracks.

The murder method used is indetectable, even on autopsy, and the motive is completely unclear as well: the obvious suspect does not appear to benefit at all by the death of her elderly aunt. Nonetheless, Peter’s sure this is the perfect murder — a well-executed murder which almost defies detection — and he’s completely fascinated. It’s a bit ghoulish, honestly, and a little more examination of the mayhem he’s caused might be warranted on Peter’s part, but it makes for a fascinating story all the same. The motive and means are both ingenious, and we get some delightful bits of dialogue and character sketches along the way.

In short, though it doesn’t have a big hold on me as a sentimental favourite, nonetheless is a solid and clever read.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder by Matchlight

Posted October 7, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder by Matchlight by E.C.R. LoracMurder by Matchlight, E.C.R. Lorac

This is one of the British Library Crime Classics, and I think one of the better ones in some ways. Lorac is really good with invoking at atmosphere, and this one has the fear and feverish activity of London during the Blitz down so pat you can feel it. Some of the scenes in the darkness gave me… not quite a shiver, because they weren’t exactly creepy, but a breathless suspenseful feeling, and she really makes the most of that. She also uses that mid-war setting to shape the story: things are possible because of the darkness, because of the deaths, because of encounters in air raid shelters…

It’s not stunningly original, and it gets a little tortuous in avoiding really clueing you in as to who committed the murder, but when everything unfolds and the mystery’s all told, it hangs together well and you’re a little relieved that the likable characters come out of it okay. At some points it does actually genuinely conjure up a little anxiety about that: things look so bad for them, maybe they’ll be hauled off to jail… Though the detective is also intelligent, which alleviates that some.

Definitely good enough that I had no hesitation about picking up the rest of the republished books by Lorac! It’s not brilliant, but it’s exactly that kind of comfortable I expect from the British Library Crime Classics.

Rating: 3/5

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Discussion: Putting the Joy Back Into It

Posted September 17, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 10 Comments

Well folks, the time has come to talk of many things. Just up front: I’m not quitting blogging! Things just need to change, that’s all.

But let’s begin at the beginning, with the background: for the last year or two, or… no, let’s be honest, at least three or four years now, reading has started to feel like a bit of a chore. Not all the time, but more and more. When I do read, I enjoy it, but it’s become something I almost have to schedule time for. I’ve tried a couple of different things to make that better (Game of Books is one of them), but I think overall it’s become a bit too much of a boxticking activity. Every so often I get the urge to kick over the traces and ditch all my rules, and each time it’s resulted in a new set of rules and no net gain.

(Particularly because the average number of books I read in a year has fallen, despite all the lists, all the desperation to keep up with things!)

Balls to that, right? So, when was I happy with my reading last? I think in retrospect I’d put that at about the time I started leaving Goodreads, before I kept track of things with spreadsheets and before I started trying to keep some kind of regular blog schedule. (Actually, I pinned this solely to the spreadsheets, but the wife-creature kept poking me to think about what else might be in play.)

So, come the end of this year, I’m going to stop tracking my reading so obsessively. I don’t want to know how many books I’ve read this year. At the moment, my admirable wife is going to take over the tracking (and refuse to let me see it) so that at the end of the year, I can get a bunch of pretty graphs and pie charts to talk about my reading year with. That’s the plan for 2020, and if it doesn’t work out, well, maybe I won’t track my reading at all. I suspect I just need to get the numbers out of it, though; I was very happy when I was using Goodreads for it.

(I’d start now, but I need the spreadsheet to help me with my book blanket project, and I’m far too fond of that to let it go!)

I might also stop trying to track my progress vs my backlog. It’s never-ending, and it’s become about striking books off a list rather than enjoying them. We’ll see; it’s as the whim takes me.

More immediately, and more relevantly for you guys, I’m also going to stop scheduling my posts in advance. One of the things that was part of my routine on Goodreads was going to write a review as soon as I’d finished a book, and publishing it right away. That way I could share my feelings about the books I was reading more or less in real-time.

So, posts will no longer go live at 9:00am BST on the dot; reviews will be posted when I’ve finished a book, and that means there might be two posts on some days and then none for a week. When I get into obsessive mode and read five books in a row about influenza, there could be five reviews all in a row on books about influenza. So be it! I trust you’re all here for my reviews, in all their weird and wonderful variety, and not for a rigid posting schedule.

(For a few days or weeks I do have a backlog of reviews that haven’t been posted yet; I’ll publish those when there’s a day or two without other reviews, but once they’re gone, they’re gone. I do actually have a review for a book I finished today, but I’ll hold it just until morning so there aren’t too many posts on my blog, and more to the point in people’s notifications, in one day.)

I think I will still post a Weekly Roundup and What Are You Reading Wednesday, but I shan’t be obsessive about it either. Blogging isn’t my job — in fact, it has signally failed to produce any income at all on the occasions I’ve tried affiliate links and a donation button — and nor do I want it to be.

I’m trying to have no expectations about how this little project will go — maybe I will read less, not more! But hopefully I will be happier, and I’m sure you all want that for me!

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Weekly Roundup

Posted March 9, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 3 Comments

Hey guys! It’s been a good week for me, with plenty of reading! And Record of a Spaceborn Few is out in paperback, so I’ve snapped that up, obviously!

Books acquired:

Cover of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Books read this week:

Cover of How the Irish Saved Civilisation Cover of A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin Cover of The Etruscans by Lucy Shipley

Cover of The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr Cover of Space Opera by Catherynne M Valente Cover of The Golden Thread by Kasia St Clair

Reviews posted this week:

Fayke Newes, by Derek Taylor. Not a bad history of the press vs people in power, but not properly sourced and thus rather hypocritical. 3/5 stars
The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia McKillip. Beautifully written fantasy, as ever, with only a couple of hitches. 4/5 stars
The Case of the Murdered Muckraker, by Carola Dunn. Very different setting and feel for Daisy; includes an epic cross-country plane chase. 3/5 stars
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Yep, again. What can I say? 5/5 stars
Pale Rider, by Laura Spinney. A good history of the 1918 flu pandemic. 4/5 stars
My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This felt kind of predictable for me? Like most of it was just following an obvious path. The ending didn’t exactly surprise me, but it was nicely done. 2/5 stars
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente. Not a winner for me. Holy cow, I am tired of the TORRENT OF GLITTER just thinking about it. 1/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Blue-blooded. Ever wanted to know how copper-based blood works? Tahdah!

That’s it for the week! How’s everyone else been doing? Reading anything good?

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Review – Space Opera

Posted March 8, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 1 Comment

Cover of Space Opera by Catherynne M ValenteSpace Opera, Catherynne M. Valente

The plot of this book? A war-preventing intergalactic Eurovision contest in a decidedly Hitchhiker’s Guide-style universe world, where newbies who lose get obliterated and the rankings determine the distribution of galactic resources. It’s a sentience test, designed to figure out whether a species can be trusted to join the ranks of sentient species or needs to be nuked from orbit to prevent future wars. It’s full of glitz and glamour and impossibilities, and Valente has a hell of a lot of fun coming up with weird species and the ways they perform and relate to each other and get high and start wars and have sex.

In fact, she has so much fun with that that the story of Earth’s discovery and non-optional invitation to join the latest contest in order to save Earth is pretty eclipsed by the sheer torrents of verbiage about aliens shiny and strange. It takes a while to realise that Decibel Jones is pretty much the main character, and honestly he’s always pretty much secondary to the wild vagaries of Valente’s imagination.

If you know Valente’s writing, then you can imagine how this comes out. At times, it’s like a firehose of adjectives blasting straight at your eyes, and it takes five minutes to work through a page because the colours are all running — a metaphor, of course, but honestly that’s the indistinct impression I end up with. There’s just too much going on, and it never stops.

And I know it’s not meant this way, because it’s Valente, but it sounds like it’s making fun (in that “oh god SJWs what will they come up with next” way) of some of the language queer people use to describe themselves, and I really don’t find the joy in that. I know it’s meant to be playful, maybe even freeing, but knowing how people complain about LGBT alphabet soups already, it stings. Of course that’s a personal reaction; probably others are really enjoying the freedom from labels pasted onto the characters.

I didn’t connect to the characters or to the plot, and in the end it just felt like I was being hit repeatedly in the head with a discoball while being attacked from all sides with glitterbombs, while someone shouted “ARE YOU HAVING FUN? WHY AREN’T YOU HAVING FUN? IT’S SO QUIRKY AND OFF THE WALL! HAVE FUN DAMN YOU! MOOOORE GLITTER! WHY AREN’T YOU HAVING FEELINGS??” in my ear. So the big finale didn’t come off, I just rolled my eyes.

I do enjoy Valente’s prose in some instances, but nothing about this worked for me — particularly since I think the tone and humour is frequently ripped absolutely directly from Douglas Adams, do not pass go, do not add anything original beyond LOTS MORE ADJECTIVES and a spot of David Bowie. It feels like Hitchhiker’s Guide with the volume turned up to distortion point.

Meh, meh, and meh again. I’m not entirely sure why I stubbornly finished this book, to be honest.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The World Without Us

Posted February 27, 2017 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 6 Comments

Cover of The World Without Us by Alan WeismanThe World Without Us, Alan Weisman

This book tries to imagine what the world would be like if we were just raptured away or abducted by aliens, with little or no warning. Despite being ostensibly a book about the world without us, it turns out to mostly be a book about us. Or, more accurately, what we’ve done to the world, which the world will have to cope with whether we’re here and part of that or not. If you’re science-aware, there’s probably not much to learn — in fact, if you’re up on your climate science, what’s here is very basic when it comes to that. It does muse interestingly on certain specific animals and habitats which would benefit from a world without humans. There’s some good stuff on places where humans don’t go, which are proving to be wildlife sanctuaries even when they’re utterly radioactive.

But mostly, I think I hoped for a bit more of the future, and a bit less of the past and present. Of course, the past can tell us what some environments used to be like without human intervention, or after specific types of human intervention. And of course, the present shapes what will come. And we can’t really predict evolution — look at the differences between the stuff in the Burgess shale and later forms, for example. Or even the way that mammals succeeded the dinosaurs. But I still hoped for a bit more about the future, what kinds of animals might thrive, what it might look like.

If you’re already depressed by what humans have been up to, this will make you feel worse. A lot worse. None of it was news to me, but still… Yeesh, we’ve messed up.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

Posted September 23, 2016 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 4 Comments

Cover of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan GarnerThe Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Alan Garner

Originally reviewed August 12th, 2009

I remember reading some of Alan Garner’s books when I was much younger. I found them creepy as hell then, and he certainly does know what kinds of images to evoke to have that feeling of danger and creepiness. There’s a lot of claustrophobia in this book — tunnels and water-filled passages and being packed in tight. There are parts of the description that are just brilliant.

The mythology aspects are pretty cool, too. The references to Ragnarok, etc. I don’t know whether it’s that whole ‘younger readers can accept the unnatural much better than adults’ thing that people mentioned when reading Diana Wynne Jones, though, but I found it hard to follow and it all piled in on top of everything else in a haphazard, difficult to process manner. Didn’t help that I read parts of it when everyone was around talking, and parts in a cafe, but I think part of it was the writing.

Overall it’s pretty fun, but the characters aren’t terribly well developed. I know it’s a trope of fantasy for younger readers that the kids get to tag along, and be equal to adults, etc, etc — I love The Dark is Rising, which is almost as guilty of it — but it makes me shriek, the way the adults easily accept the kids being dragged into it, and the way the kids seem to just… deal with it. Realism, you can not has it.

I’m going to read the sequel, since I have it, but I can’t say I exactly recommend it. It doesn’t come together very well for me, for all that bits of it are brilliant/cool/fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted April 23, 2016 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 12 Comments

Despite the busy week, I did find time to get to a bookshop — aided and abetted somewhat by Robert @ Bastian’s Book Reviews, of course. I haven’t had time for much reading — you wouldn’t believe how many random clothes I seem to have acquired to sort through — but I have squeezed in a few minutes here and there. Soon, of course, I shall be off to stay with my partner for a few months, and I intend to start out by luxuriously flopping on the floor with our bunny and a book.

Anyway!

Books bought this week:

Cover of The Fold by Peter Clines Cover of Planetfall by Emma Newman Cover of Children of Time by Adrian Tchiakovsky Cover of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Cover of The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente Cover of Rat Queens vol 3 Cover of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

These have all been on my wishlist for a while, so I was happy enough to finally pick them up! I was very good and resisted other books which haven’t been on my wishlist.

Books read this week:

Cover of Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear Cover of Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott Cover of The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan

Reviews posted this week:

Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan. Predictably, loved this reread. Yay for plots and intrigue and deranged practicality! 5/5 stars
Forest of Memory, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I got more into this than I expected, and wanted to know more4/5 stars
Fated, by Benedict Jacka. Solid urban fantasy, which handles a complex power surprisingly easily (the protagonist can see potential futures). I want to read more. 3/5 stars
The Skeleton Cupboard, by Tanya Byron. Avoid. Horrible disrespect/dismissal of trans people in the very first chapter. 1/5 stars
In the Labyrinth of Drakes, by Marie Brennan. Last book for now in this series. I loved it to bits, and it’s really important in the development of Isabella and answers so many questions. 5/5 stars
SPQR, by Mary Beard. A good survey of Roman history, focusing on the rise of the Empire rather than its decline. 4/5 stars
Flashback Friday: Liar, by Justine Larbalestier. This is a book I devoured and still find myself pondering at times. 5/5 stars

Other posts: 
Top Ten TuesdayThis week was meant to be funny books, but I’m bad at humour, so instead I did ‘books that made me make delighted noises’.

How’s everyone doing? Lots more reading than me, I hope!

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