Review – Priam’s Gold

Posted 16 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Priam's Gold by Caroline MoorheadPriam’s Gold, Caroline Moorehead

This book is actually more of a biography of Heinrich Schliemann than a discussion of the excavations at Troy; although it does follow “Priam’s Treasure” and what has happened to it since Schliemann excavated it, including commentary on the politics that surrounded its loss and (eventual) subsequent retrieval, the main focus is Schliemann, his life, and his work as an archaeologist. There’s a lot of it taken up with Schliemann’s life before he found Troy, and a fair amount of time spent on evaluating the truth of his account of the excavation and indeed other aspects of his life.

There is some discussion of Troy and specifically the treasure found there, and there are some insights to other excavations led by Schliemann, but if you’re looking for an archaeology book, this isn’t quite it. There’s a lot more time spent on what languages Schliemann could speak and his relationships with his wives than on actual archaeology. It’s interesting, but not entirely what I hoped for.

Rating: /5

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Review – Unnatural Death

Posted 15 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

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

It’s fun approaching these books now I’ve introduced my wife to them, via the radioplays and Edward Petherbridge TV series. (I think most of my gifts from her this year have been Wimsey themed… a bunch of the new editions of the books for my birthday, and then the Petherbridge series on DVD for Christmas!) It gives me a bit of a fresh eye to appreciate things all over again; the wittiness of Sayers’ writing, the cleverness of the plot, the way the characters all work together. Miss Climpson is a delight, up to and including the wry observations on how she’s actually rather nosy, despite saying she’s not. Parker is the perfect partner for Peter when investigating, willing to put in the hard graft which Peter is constitutionally unsuited for. And Bunter… well. I don’t know what Peter would do without him.

The murder/mystery part is rather fun, because it has two key problems: there’s no discernible motive, and there’s no discernible method. Peter has to track down both, and without saying too much, the legal problem on which the plot hangs is rather clever once you work it out, though infuriating while you’re trying to get there. The murder method… well. Embarrassingly simple, but just sneaky enough that it’s difficult to prove.

It’s not my favourite of Sayers’ books, but it’s witty, cleverly written, and definitely worth spending time with.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Arabella of Mars

Posted 14 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Arabella of Mars by David D. LevineArabella of Mars, David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars has that classic adventure romp feel — something a little bit Jules Verne-y, I guess, though what I thought of was Martha Wells’ Emilie & The Hollow World. I was told it’d be a fun read, and it didn’t disappoint: I finished it in one hour and forty minutes, when I should’ve been sleeping. The action ticks along at speed; Arabella is a fun character, if not perhaps unique in as a character in her unique independence for her world, and I especially appreciated the fact that although she’s a female character who dresses up as a guy and then found out, she isn’t sexually assaulted at any point. It’s such a staple of the genre, I was half-expecting it to ruin my fun any minute.

Instead, Levine goes a less easy route where the crew don’t really accept Arabella, by and large, after she’s discovered — but nobody tries to assault her either. It feels a little unsatisfying, because heck, you know she’s proved herself… but it also feels more real, and gives us that tiny bit of bitterness to help the sweet wish fulfilment go down. (And it is sweet wish fulfilment — Victorianesque society, girl becomes the hero and travels by airship to Mars, finds love along the way.)

It was very much a fun and light read, and I appreciate it a lot for that. If you’re looking for the utterly grim, relentless grind of a fantasy/sci-fi world where everything goes wrong at every turn, this isn’t it — and if that’s all that feels real to you, you might find this unsatisfying.

Me? Well, it felt more like a snack than a full meal, but a little bit of choux pastry makes a nice change.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Power of Babel

Posted 13 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Power of Babel by John McWhorterThe Power of Babel, John McWhorter

It’s been a little too long since I read this to write a detailed review, but on the whole I found it readable and interesting. At times it began to feel belaboured in terms of the examples given and the detail gone into, though of course, I’ve also read various other books about linguistics and so I had some grounding in what I was reading already. For the most part, McWhorter avoids being prescriptive about language and tracks change in language as how language works — which you’d expect, or hope for at least, in a linguist, but it isn’t always the case.

There’s some interesting stuff particularly on creoles and pidgins, which somewhat debunks the idea that a pidgin becomes a creole through children speaking it, etc. Not that there’s no truth to it, but McWhorter complicates the picture a little.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 13 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

Good morning, folks! I sort of haven’t got new books to show off today… but I sort of have, as a preorder arrived on my Kindle this week and I realised I didn’t feature a book I bought just after Christmas. So here they are!

Cover of Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan Mcguire Cover of Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby

Books read this week:

Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn Cover of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan Cover of The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukharjee Cover of Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Two stars: Heroine Complex.
Four stars: In Other Lands, Arabella of Mars.
Five stars: The Emperor of All Maladies.

Reviews posted this week:

The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It, by Christopher Hastings et al. Not quite my thing, but fun and great colours. 3/5 stars
Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell. A reread just for the pure fun of it, and it was very satisfying. 5/5 stars
Tutankhamen, by Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt. I loved this as a kid, and even now it still fascinated me. It’s a great account of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the earliest theories about his life. 4/5 stars
Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn. It’s fun in many ways, but not for me. 2/5 stars
Bones of Contention, by Paul Chambers. A fascinating retrospective of the Archaeopteryx fossils and what they’ve meant to the scientific community. 4/5 stars
The Sutton Hoo Story, by Martin Carver. A survey of the Sutton Hoo site and the archaeology done there since excavations began. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Sell me a book! The catch is, it’s gotta be a book from my backlog.
WWW Wednesday. What I’ve been reading, what I’m going to read.

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Review – The Sutton Hoo Story

Posted 12 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sutton Hoo Story by Martin CarverThe Sutton Hoo Story, Martin Carver

If you’re interested in the Sutton Hoo burials and the history of the whole site, including a detailed examination of how the sites were excavated and when, this is definitely a good resource. If you’re more interested in the more spectacular finds at Sutton Hoo, i.e. the contents of Mound 1, then that isn’t the focus here and although there are lots of helpful illustrations and a fair number of colour pictures, it’s not all about treasure.

For me, as with a lot of archaeology books, I find myself wondering about some of the author’s assertions. For example, that over a century people would ‘undoubtedly’ remember who was buried in a particular place. I find myself pretty doubtful about that, especially in earlier times when generations were rather shorter than they are now.

Overall, though, there’s some interesting information and speculation here, and I’d say it’s worth reading.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Bones of Contention

Posted 11 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Bones of Contention by Paul ChambersBones of Contention: The Archaeopteryx Scandals, Paul Chambers

I never quite realised before I read this how much controversy Archaeopteryx stirred up, or the petty quarrels between opposing professors and palaeontologists. I found it interesting that Chambers gave serious consideration to the ideas of people who say that birds aren’t descended directly from dinosaurs; as he says, some of the arguments against that direct relationship do make sense and are worth considering, even though there’s also plenty of evidence on the other side.

Altogether, this is a great analysis of Archaeopteryx, its impact, and what it symbolised. There’s mini biographies of various scientists, including Huxley (Darwin’s Bulldog), and some of them are surprisingly fascinating. In a way, this is more about arguments about evolution via natural selection and “missing links” than it is specifically about Archaeopteryx, although there is plenty of info here about the fossil itself as well.

Readable and interesting, though at times there’s a bit too much about the feuds of ridiculous scientists who just wanted to prove each other wrong.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 10 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 12 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 In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanI’m partway through Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands. I haven’t enjoyed her work that much before, but this one is working quite well for me. I love the main character’s snark and how he uses it in self-defence, and also the commentaries on the genre (because of course).

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah KuhnI haven’t actually been reading very much in the past week or so. Suddenly got all tired and had to focus on just getting work done! The last thing I read was Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn; enjoyable in many ways, but I just didn’t want to stay with the main character given the running joke about her being dead inside.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of Arabella of Mars by David D. LevineI don’t know yet! Per my “sell me a book” promise, my next fiction book will be David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars, but I’m tempted to read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies first. I’ve been doing a lot of transcription work involving stuff about cancer, and I feel like knowing more about it — from a less clinical point of view, perhaps, since this has all been about clinical trials and five year survival rates.

So what are you reading, folks?

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Review – Heroine Complex

Posted 9 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah KuhnHeroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn

I got this to review at some point, but I also bought a copy… a fact which I now regret. Okay, there’s a lot of cool things about it: female Asian protagonists who kick ass in different ways, a casually queer character, bitey flying cupcakes, the main character talks frankly about anxiety… And for quite a while I was enjoying it a lot.

It’s just, I don’t like reading books where people like me are called dead inside, even in jest. I’m sure the main character isn’t intended to be read as asexual — it’s mostly that she’s forced herself not to feel in order to control her powers (let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…) — but the lack of sexual attraction to people she describes is my every day and whole life. And I’m okay with that; it doesn’t bother me or my partner, and I don’t think I’m broken because of it (anymore). It’s just the way I’m made.

It’s not my “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”.

Yes, that’s what Evie calls her lack of sexual attraction — her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”. Neatly calls up two stereotypes about people who aren’t interested in sex: that we’re robots, and that we’re dead inside. And before you protest that nobody says that, I saw it twice on my twitter the day I was reading this book.

I kept going for a while with the book, but when I put it down to go out and came back, I found that I was just tired of it. Tired of the romance scenes punctuated by Evie wondering why her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron” had stopped working. I can get a person feeling that way and calling it that; I can understand that it’s not targeted to hurt people like me by reiterating the whole “you’re dead inside” meme. It doesn’t mean I can keep enjoying the book.

Reader, I put it down. I have plenty of books to read that don’t remind me constantly that people think I’m a dead-inside robot.

The flying bitey cupcakes are still a cool image, though.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Tutankhamen

Posted 8 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Tutankhamen by Christiane Desroches-NoblecourtTutankhamen, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt

I read this when I was a kid — I think I got my copy from my mother, who was about as fascinated by Tutankhamen as I was. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt’s book is a serious, albeit now somewhat outdated, analysis of the objects found in Tutankhamen’s tomb and their significance, along with how Howard Carter found the site and the context of Tutankhamen’s reign. It can be pretty dry and serious, describing some of the artefacts in detail; I was surprised to realise that I read it with as much attention as a child as I did now as an adult. Clearly, Tutankhamen’s treasure cast a spell on me!

If you’re looking for the very latest information, of course this isn’t going to help. But if you’re looking for a solid introduction to the tomb and the early interpretations of the objects found within, I suspect this is one of the best. More so where the objects are concerned than where the mummy itself is concerned, though.

Despite the fact that some of it is dry, it’s worth remembering that this book kept me spellbound as a nine or ten year old, and again as a twenty-eight year old. It’s fascinating stuff.

Rating: 4/5

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