Review – Jhereg

Posted 14 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Jhereg by Steven BrustJhereg, Steven Brust

Ages ago, I read Jo Walton’s reviews of the Vlad Taltos books and resolved to read them immediately. I did pick up this first book, but after that failed to carry on, even though the first book is good and Jo’s reviews fascinating. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I really want to read more of the books to get a better grasp on it. In the meantime, Vlad Taltos himself is snarky, moderately capable, and definitely capable of getting himself into trouble. A winning combination – even without Looish, his jhereg companion.

It’s a fun beginning, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered (and sometimes even barely posed). This time, I mean it; I’ve gotta get on and read the rest!

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 14 October, 2017 by Nikki in General / 34 Comments

Good morning, folks! I’m finally better from my cough… at least mostly, though if you look at me wrong I might go off into a little coughing fit, alas. I’ve just ordered a bunch of background reading for my course, but it hasn’t all arrived yet, so I only have a small stack of books to share this week: a couple of ARCs and a novella.

Oh, and here’s the obligatory away-from-buns bunny picture:

Photo of my bunnies sat together.

Double Trouble.

Received to review:

Cover of Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee Cover of Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

I’ve already read Close Encounters with Humankind, which is pretty fascinating; I can’t remember the summary of Valiant Dust, so that one’s going to be a surprise…


Cover of The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

I’ve been curious about this since N.K. Jemisin mentioned it in her column, so I picked it up with what was left of an Amazon voucher after buying stuff related to my classes.

Read this week:

Cover of Away With the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood Cover of A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup Cover of Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee Cover of A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson Cover of The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

A bit better week for reading, this week! Here’s hoping I get back into top form soon…

Reviews posted this week:

The Hammer and the Cross, by Robert Ferguson. A little dry and very detailed; a very good read for someone who’s really interested, though. 4/5 stars
A Very British Murder, by Lucy Worsley. A fun book covering the evolution of crime fiction in the UK, and people’s love of it. 4/5 stars
Machiavelli: A Man Misunderstood, by Michael White. Another good biography from White. 4/5 stars
The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis. I didn’t love this, but the way it ended was perfect — it made so much sense with what we see in reality. Hence, 4/5 stars
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. This didn’t quite work for me, and I’m not sure why. I guess it felt rather predictable/typical in some ways. 3/5 stars
How We Got To Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson. Good points and a pretty entertaining read, but nothing earth-shatteringly surprising. 3/5 stars
The Lost City of Z, by David Grann. Really, I want the book about the archaeology being done now, rather than about Victorian explorers, but it’s reasonably entertaining all the same. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW WednesdayThe weekly update on what I’m reading.

How’re you doing? Comment here to let me know, and don’t forget to provide a link so I can visit you in return!

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Review – The Lost City of Z

Posted 13 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Lost City of Z by David GrannThe Lost City of Z, David Grann

I’ve been meaning to read The Lost City of Z for ages, especially since I read Douglas Preston’s The Lost City of the Monkey God. I’m not here for the exotic diseases and epic endurance of hacking through the jungle, though: I’m interested in the archaeology, and the resolution of the mysteries. Where are these cities, and did they exist at all? The Lost City of Z is interesting in terms of the exotic diseases, larger than life explorers and hacking through the jungle, along with some history of that drive to explore, and less so in actually finding the archaeology. It’s mostly focused on figuring out what happened to Percy Fawcett and his son on their final attempt at finding Z, as well as tracing their lives up to that point; less interesting to me, though it has its moments.

The last chapter, in which an archaeologist who lives in the Amazon actually explains where he thinks the great vanished cities are, is the most interesting to me. There’s echoes of the ritual landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury in his description of the palisade walls and ditches dug around the settlement — combined with the power of the jungle just reaching up and strangling all those remaining signs. That’s the book I find I really want, written by a Francis Pryor or Mike Parker Pearson of the Amazon.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How We Got To Now

Posted 12 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How We Got to Now by Steven JohnsonHow We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson

How We Got to Now is a reasonably entertaining and easy to read survey of six topics which shaped the world we live in now, in various ways. The main benefit is that Johnson tries to look across disciplines and from different angles, and tries to capture the whole of the picture. The six topics he picked make sense: glass, (artificial) cold, (the understanding of) sound, hygiene, time (and the accuracy thereof) and (artificial) light — they’re summarised under six headings: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, light. That does sound a little odd with the title, since sound is hardly something we invented. Nonetheless, he makes good points about the way science and technology surrounding those topics has made our modern lives what they are.

Not world-shattering, but entertaining enough!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Bear and the Nightingale

Posted 11 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

I struggled a bit with this book, which surprised me. It’s not the fairytale-like narration, because that worked for me, nor the choice of setting (semi-historical Russia), or the characters, or the choice of fairytales to invoke. Perhaps it’s just that I felt I knew where it was going and how it would unfold, and I am so very tired of stories all about taming a wild young woman who doesn’t belong among her people.

It’s well written, and I enjoyed the Russian flavour – probably helped by the fact that I don’t know Russian well at all, so the words chosen to give a flavour didn’t contradict each other in the way they were Romanised or used. I do enjoy Vasya and her determination, her basic goodness, her love for her family and duty to the people who, unknowingly, relied upon her. I enjoyed the little snippets that joined it to history.

I just… didn’t quite click with it in some way I can’t put my finger on. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably pick up the second book to see how I get into that, but… something didn’t work for me.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 11 October, 2017 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 A Sting in the Tale by Dave GoulsonA Sting in the Tale, by Dave Goulson. It’s a non-fiction/pop-science book about bees, and is part of a new project of mine to get less scared of insects by becoming curious about them. It worked for me when it comes to pathogens (starting with David Quammen’s Spillover), so I’m hopeful. So far I’m learning a lot of interesting facts — for instance, bumblebees have smelly feet — and I’m not grossed out or anxious. On the other hand, bees are relatively harmless anyway and aren’t a major fear of mine. I’ve got a book on ants lined up, and that might be more problematic. Ideally, I should find something on spiders…

I’m also reading a few other books, but most actively it’s Kushiel’s Dart, which I finally found the time to pick up again. I forgot how long it takes before Joscelin actually appears!

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Away With the Fairies by Kerry GreenwoodI think the last thing I finished was a reread of Kerry Greenwood’s Away with the Fairies. It’s a blatant homage to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, in some ways, and it also features Phryne being terribly daring and heroic in rescuing her lover, Lin Chung, from pirates. These books make for great comfort reading, because you can pretty much be sure everything will be okay, and also I’ve read them before so I know how they turn out. And Phryne is awesome.

(I needed comfort reading because my cough got so bad I pulled muscles in my ribcage. I’m doing better now, before I had to bring out the big guns and reread The Goblin Emperor.)

What will you read next?

Cover of Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. CoreyI’m going to focus on finishing Abaddon’s Gate, for a start. I also have a stack of library books to read while I’m visiting my parents, including some books in the 300s of the Dewey Decimal System for a Habitica challenge. I can’t remember the titles, but they’re about multiculturalism and immigration, so not my usual thing, but rather topical given the world at present and the political preoccupations of our time.

Other than that, I’m not sure. I might pick up Nine Coaches Waiting, since I’m about due for another scheduled dose of rereading Mary Stewart’s work.

What are you reading at the moment?

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Review – The Man Who Fell to Earth

Posted 10 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter TevisThe Man Who Fell to Earth, Walter Tevis

Ouch. I was sort of enjoying this, but not really bowled over — and then that ending. Of course that’s the way the US government would end up treating an alien. Of course it’s not that easy to save the world.

To start at the beginning, this is a short novel which imagines what would happen if an alien came to Earth with the intent of saving our world, in order to save his own. Newton is from Anthea, which sounds like it’s probably Mars (back when we thought Mars might have had intelligent lifeforms), and his people need a new world. So they send him to Earth to kickstart technology, enough to build an ark to fetch them to Earth. And from there, they’d take over Earth quietly, guiding humans to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, etc, etc.

To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t quite go as planned, but the way that works out is fascinating. The weird thing for me was how much people drank, and how routine alcoholism was for the characters. Just… not a world I’m used to. But it’s an interesting book, and I enjoyed it — and it gets an extra star for that ending.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Machiavelli: A Man Misunderstood

Posted 9 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Machiavelli by Michael WhiteMachiavelli: A Man Misunderstood, Michael White

Like White’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci, I’ll confess I picked this up mostly because Machiavelli is an important character in the game Assassin’s Creed 2 (and at one point he even makes a reference to The Prince in the game). I haven’t read The Prince, but I had a certain idea of the content. White’s key point in this biography is that despite the aura of disreputable scheming around Machiavelli, that wasn’t his intent in writing The Prince, and he served Florence well and faithfully. Mostly, he was a shrewd strategist and diplomat, and an observer of human nature, who doesn’t seem — at least in White’s account of it — to have got the respect he deserved.

White’s biographies all seem to be pretty well sourced, and they’re very readable. I’d recommend them.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Very British Murder

Posted 8 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Very British Murder by Lucy WorsleyA Very British Murder, Lucy Worsley

A Very British Murder is an extremely readable, sometimes gossipy survey of the development of crime/mystery literature in Britain, up to the Golden Age of Sayers and Christie. It examines why people loved a good murder story, and what kind of murder story they wanted, while also reflecting on some of the real murders that occurred and the anxieties surrounding them.

I especially enjoyed Worsley’s sympathy for Sayers and Christie, and her defence of Gaudy Night against a male critic’s boredom about it. Quite right, too!

It’s not deep lit crit, or a totally in depth micro-history, but there’s interesting stuff and it’s entertainingly written.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Hammer and the Cross

Posted 7 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Hammer and the Cross by Robert FergusonThe Hammer and the Cross, Robert Ferguson

If you’re looking for a dynamic and riveting history of the Vikings, this isn’t really it — Neil Oliver’s book might be more your speed. It’s quite slow and thorough, covering a lot of ground in terms of both time and space. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing, since I know my medieval history tolerably well and my Viking history better. A better knowledge of geography might have served me well, but I suck at that.

From all I know, this is well researched and accurate, and there’s a ton of extra reading and footnoting to back that up. If you’re looking for something to bring the Vikings to life, no, but if you’re looking for something by someone who seems to know everything about the period he can find to cram into a book, then that’s definitely this book.

Rating: 4/5

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