Throwback Thursday

Posted 13 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Since I liked doing this last week, here it is again — a little highlight of some books that have been lurking on my shelves for a while.

  Cover of The Adamantine Palace by Stephen DeasThe Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemically was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-plays that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses.

Dragons! Dangerous dragons! I’ve read some less than glowing reviews since I impulsively bought this book, but I’m still pretty hopeful. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how this take on dragons works out.

Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds

Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to a technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust. Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landCover of Century Rain by Alastair Reynoldsscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose. Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late – for the past and the future of two worlds.

I’ve actually read this before, but something like eight years ago. Eep. Now I feel old. Anyway, I picked this up again when I went to a signing by Alastair Reynolds, and it’s high time I got round to rereading it. It is, after all, the book that got my sister back into reading.

A Sudden Wild Magic, Diana Wynne Jones

Our world has long been protected by “The Ring” – a benevolent secret society of witches and conjurers Cover of A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jonesdedicated to the continuance and well-being of humankind. Now, in the face of impending climatic disaster, the Ring has uncovered a conspiracy potentially more destructive than any it has ever had to contend with. For eons, the mages of a neighboring universe have been looting the Earth of ideas, innovations and technologies – all the while manipulating events and creating devastating catastrophes for their own edification. And unless the brazen piracy is halted, our planet is certainly doomed.

It’s the words “kamikaze sex” later in the blurb that really get my attention. Diana Wynne Jones does a more adult novel, which sounds like a sexier version of her usual quirky worlds. It’s not gonna beat Fire and Hemlock, but it should be fun.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 12 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 3 Comments

Running a little behind on answering email, returning comments, etc. Soon!

What have you recently finished reading?
Artists in Crime (Ngaio Marsh). I’m really tearing through these books. I don’t think they’re as accomplished or interesting as Sayers’ Lord Peter books — not least because Alleyn is plainly reading from Wimsey’s crib sheet — but they’re just right to tuck myself up with and spend a few hours. I’m slowly getting fond of Alleyn, too.

What are you currently reading?
As usual, far too much, but only three things really actively. One is the current Ngaio Marsh I’m onto, of course, which is Death in a White Tie. Then I’m a chunk of the way into Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, which is interesting. I don’t know enough about linguistics to really argue with Pinker, but I’m not completely convinced that language is genetically coded into us. Mind you, it shares some features with other things — in the same way as it becomes harder to learn a new language as you get older, it’s also hard to learn to use senses you didn’t have at a formative age. Still, that might be more to do with the way we learn and the plasticity of the brain… Anyway, the third book is Out on Blue Six (Ian McDonald). I feel quite deja vu-ish about this one, though. Or maybe it’s just that people have copied it since: it was originally published in the year I was born.

Oh, and I’m also dipping into Long Hidden (ed. Daniel José Older and Rose Fox). I actually got myself a print copy since I was taking so long to get to the ARC and felt guilty. Interesting that there’s a Welsh story in here.

What will you read next?
Well, it’s a reasonably good guess that Overture to Death (Ngaio Marsh) is coming up next. Other than that, there’s tons of stuff from previous weeks that I keep ignoring, so I probably should refrain from starting anything new.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 10 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Hooray, another Top Ten Tuesday post, run by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far This Year. Luckily, I have no lack of awesome books that I’ve been reading. I’ll link to my reviews on this blog. These are not in order of awesomeness, I couldn’t manage that! I’m not including rereads, or Jo Walton would swamp everything.

Cover of The Winter Soldier comic by Ed Brubaker Cover of Spillover by David Quamnem Cover of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton Cover of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, by Ed Brubaker et al. I just. All the feels.
  2. Spillover, by David Quammen. This one was fascinating. Lots and lots of stuff about not just the way animal diseases spill over into humans, but on the way humans interact with the environment, how we come into contact with these kinds of diseases.
  3. The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence. I loved this, and really didn’t expect to. The quirky friendship, the bonding over books, and the things Alex ends up doing for that friendship. It’s beautiful and I’m pretty sure I cried. It deals with a topic that’s really important to me, too — as it happens, my tithe this month went to Dignity in Dying, campaigning for the right to voluntary euthanasia in this country.
  4. What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton. I love this as a resource for more books to read, and as a way to read insightful discussions about books and get a different perspective on them. Also, it’s just a really good read.
  5. Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell. I think this one may have surprised people who know me, but somehow I just adored it. Good building of characters, and I like the way the love story comes about.
  6. Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge. Got this as an ARC, had it finished before the end of the day. Just captivating. I love that it’s a changeling story, and the story itself doesn’t work out the way you might expect.
  7. My Real Children, by Jo Walton. Can’t miss this one out. I was uncertain how I felt about the style and structure, and then right at the end Jo pulled everything together and made it work. And despite a certain simplicity about it, I cried — multiple times.
  8. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien. I’ve been waiting for this for, literally, years. I always hoped Christopher Tolkien would publish this, and stop holding it back. The translation is interesting, but actually what really excited me were Tolkien’s in depth notes on just about every aspect of the poem, including close reading of the actual Anglo-Saxon words.
  9. Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues, by Gail Simone et al. I only really knew of Red Sonja as a sexist symbol whose image caused some trouble in the SF/F community. So I wasn’t sure about trying this out, but I’d heard good things about Gail Simone. And it turns out she created a good story with fun characters, full of powerful women who are not perfect, but who are compelling and are not just fan service.
  10. The Broken Land, by Ian McDonald. I wasn’t expecting to love this one so much, but it fascinated me. It creates a world that’s different to pretty much anything else I can think of, and comments on civil wars and the rifts they can create. It’s not light reading, but I thought it was good.

Cover of Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge Cover of My Real Children by Jo Walton Cover of Beowulf trans. J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of Red Sonja by Gail Simone Cover of The Broken Land by Ian McDonald

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Review – Death in Ecstasy

Posted 9 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio MarshDeath in Ecstasy, Ngaio Marsh

Well, I guess I’d better give up the disclaimer about what I think of these. They’re harmless, easy fun, concerned with setting up a puzzle and then working it out, with lots of red herrings and interesting people along the way. Nothing ground breaking, but comfortable.

This one did give me a little bit of unease because of the swishy, blatantly queer couple who were a walking, talking pair of stereotypes. At least they were harmless, but Marsh wrote about them rather unpleasantly and nobody thought any good of them. At least Alleyn, as I imagine him, wouldn’t be an ass to them in person about it, but would respect their relationship (as long as he thought it was real, not just theatrics and melodrama). I suppose I am getting to like him, though I think I’m building on him in my own mind more than Marsh is in the text.

This one only slightly breaks the trend — there’s no reconstruction, though the group do gather together again to talk it over, which is pretty close.

The statement I spotted in another review that Nigel Bathgate does nothing and could he please be murdered now is sadly accurate. The one point I liked was when Alleyn rings up and tells him to act as if he’s talking to Angela. That was a bit amusing.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Nursing Home Murder

Posted 8 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio MarshThe Nursing Home Murder, Ngaio Marsh

This is my third Ngaio Marsh novel and I still have somewhat mixed feelings. I’m not into her detective character at all — there’s been too little personality and depth, just a lot of surface shine — and the structure is now formulaic. Set-up for a murder with many potential motives -> murder which is very awkward for lots of people -> Alleyn investigates without explaining much to anyone -> Alleyn has a reconstruction done -> this flushes out the murderer, who incriminates himself without need for a trial, and who is the least suspected person -> an epilogue in which Alleyn explains everything.

I have got the next three books now, though. There’s something relaxing and easy about these, even a little compulsive, perhaps because I don’t care much for the characters and so for me, there are no high stakes. Generally the plots are full of coincidence, misdirection, and meta-nods at the genre (“if this were a murder story, you would suspect the least obvious one, of course!”).

I think you could pretty much class these as cozy mysteries.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 7 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 38 Comments

Time for Stacking the Shelves, hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! It hasn’t been that busy a week, really, though I went to the library twice, so it looks substantial. It was mostly a non-fiction week, it seems, but there were a couple of fiction books sprinkled in, and both my review copies from this week are fiction.

Bought

Cover of Sidekick by Auralee Wallace

Library

Cover of The language Instinct by Steven Pinker Cover of Genes, Peoples and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza Cover of Monster of God by David Quammen Cover of Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott Cover of The Kiwi's Egg by David Quammen Cover of Fated by Benedict Jacka

For review

Cover of Stories of the Raksura by Martha Wells Cover of Space Opera anthology

I really need to read the other Raksura books, but I am pretty excited about the Martha Wells one. Such glee when I spotted it on Edelweiss! I love her work.

What’s everyone else been grabbing?

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Review – Enter a Murderer

Posted 6 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Enter a Murderer by Ngaio MarshEnter a Murderer, Ngaio Marsh

I found this a bit more engaging than the first book, and more plausible besides in the way the murder is worked out, but I’m still not sure what I think of Marsh’s work, or perhaps specifically Alleyn. I haven’t got a handle on him at all; I can never quite tell what he’s meant to be thinking, what he’ll do, and whether he thinks it’s awful fun or perfectly awful, except when we’re directly told. Perhaps the alternating, alienating POVs of him and then Bathgate don’t help there. For all that they’re supposed to be friends, I can’t for the life of me understand why.

Still, I cared more about the mystery in this one, and read it all in one go. And I’ve ordered the second omnibus, because I sense that this ambivalence might go on a while. We’ll see, I suppose.

Rating: 3/5

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Throwback Thursday

Posted 6 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Love the idea of this one, hosted here. The idea is to share a couple of the books that have been waiting on your shelves for a while, as opposed to something like Stacking the Shelves, where you share books you’ve just picked up. So here’s three I’ve picked for this week.

Cover of Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly by Night, Frances Hardinge

A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution.

I’ve had this on my list for ages, since the first book by Frances Hardinge I read (which was A Face Like Glass, and absolutely excellent). I’ve nearly picked it up so many times since, but I keep wanting to pick the right time so I really get to savour it.

The Beacon at Alexandria, Gillian Bradshaw

In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctoCover of The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshawr at a Roman outpost in Thrace until, kidnapped by barbarian Visigoths, she finds her destiny to heal and also to be a woman and a wife.

I wouldn’t be sure about that “finding her destiny” part, normally, but I tend to trust Gillian Bradshaw — I’ve really enjoyed most of her work that I’ve read so far. She seems to do a lot of work on her settings, although as I think on it, she tends to focus more on male characters.

The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories, Vol. 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin

Cover of The Unreal and the Real by Ursula Le GuinOuter Space, Inner Lands includes many of the best known Ursula K. Le Guin nonrealistic stories (such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” “Semley’s Necklace,” and “She Unnames Them”) which have shaped the way many readers see the world. She gives voice to the voiceless, hope to the outsider, and speaks truth to power—all the time maintaining her independence and sense of humor.

Companion volume Where on Earth explores Le Guin’s satirical, risky, political and experimental earthbound stories. Both volumes include new introductions by the author.

I’m looking forward to both volumes of this, but particularly to volume two. Ursula Le Guin has been a huge influence on me and this sounds like a pretty definitive collection. I’ve probably read a lot of them before, though not all. If you’ve never read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, I definitely recommend that one if you’re okay with discomforting ethical dilemmas.

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Review – A Man Lay Dead

Posted 5 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio MarshA Man Lay Dead, Ngaio Marsh

I’m not wildly enthused about Ngaio Marsh and Inspector Alleyn, at this point. It’s a smooth enough read, but the murder is a little haphazardly imagined: some elements of it suggest premeditation, while others suggest a crime of opportunity, but it has to be one or the other or it just doesn’t work. Too much depends on opportunity — the availability of the weapon, the position of the murdered man, the way the murder game turns out — and yet the rest of it smacks of pre-meditation: the bizarre way the murderer sneaks downstairs to do it, planning out what gloves to use, arranging an alibi… And then there’s the whole mess of the Russian secret society plot. Just… what?!

I can’t say I really cared much about any of the characters. Alleyn seems… weirdly mercurial, but not in a believable way, flipping personalities more often than you’d change clothes. I don’t understand him a bit. And Nigel Bathgate is just too bland: a Watson type of sidekick who makes silly mistakes and can’t figure anything out.

I know I didn’t like Peter Wimsey incredibly much the first time I read Whose Body?, so I’m giving this series more of a chance, but I’m not sure I’ll go beyond the three books I have. So many books, so little time.

Rating: 2/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 4 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
A Man Lay Dead, by Ngaio Marsh, and Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution, by Richard Fortey. I wasn’t overwhelmed by either, sadly. The mystery in the former didn’t work for me, requiring too much suspension of disbelief due to a muddle of whether the crime was premeditated or opportunistic (it had both elements, but needed to be one or the other). The science in the latter was okay, but Fortey’s personality seemed to get in the way, a bit like someone who really, really wants you to like a book and so shoves it in your face all the time, only with trilobites.

What are you currently reading?
Darwin’s Ghost, by Steve Jones, which is an update on The Origin of Species. I wasn’t getting on with it at first, but I seem to have got into the swing of it, now. And Enter A Murderer, by Ngaio Marsh, because I have it and I thought I’d give Marsh a good chance. Oh, and also Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots, by Seanan Mcguire, because superheroes! An author I keep getting recced! Hijinks! It’s fun enough so far.

Oh, and I’ve nearly finished The King of Elfland’s Daughter (love Dunsany’s style) and A Fall of Moondust (Arthur C. Clarke), the latter of which I’m finding somewhat less enjoyable than 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I’m still enjoying it.

What will you read next?
Need to get back to Steven Brust, feeling an itch for Martha Wells’ work, ever present urge to reread The Lord of the Rings… Who knows, though? I also have books from the library by Steven Pinker and David Quammen that look very interesting.

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