WWW Wednesday

Posted 4 October, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 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 The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno BettelheimA couple of things, as usual. For non-fiction, I’m reading The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim. I know that his views on autism, etc, are very much criticised now, but this is about fairytales and how they help to develop a child’s brain. He’s very much a psychoanalyst, which I tend to take with a grain of salt, but he still has some interesting theories about the appeal of fairytales.

Cover of Summerlong by Peter S. BeagleIn terms of fiction, I’ve just started Peter S. Beagle’s Summerlong. I have to say, I’m raising my eyebrows a little at the fact that like In Calabria, he has an older man in a romance with a younger woman. It’s less creepy-feeling than in that book, but it still has a bit of that hmmmm to it. Especially in his attraction to Lioness, the even younger character who is really the centre of the story. Not that I expect older people to turn off their attraction to younger people as such, it’s just… since that comment from Jo on In Calabria, I can’t stop noticing.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Bring Back the King by Helen PilcherNot very much! The last thing I finished was Helen Pilcher’s Bring Back the King, which is about de-extinction efforts. It’s light-hearted (though not hilarious, as the cover-copy might have you believe) but informative, though I knew most of the info from reading Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone A Mammoth. Very similar info about the same range of species as that book, so unless you’re absolutely mad about T-rex and Elvis (yes, she discusses “de-extincting” Elvis), I think I’d skip it if you’ve already read that.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of The Red Threads of Fortune by JY YangI’ll probably read the two books just out from Tor.com by Jy Yang, The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven. The covers look beautiful, I’m intrigued by the summaries, and I received them to review last week. I also need to get back to reading Andy Weir’s Artemis, of course! And given that I’m still not quite well, and I’m at my parents’ house with my copies of the Phryne Fisher books, I’m tempted to dive into a reread of Away with the Fairies

What are you reading?

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Review – Leonardo: The First Scientist

Posted 3 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Leonardo by Michael WhiteLeonardo: The First Scientist, Michael White

I’ve found myself quite enjoying White’s biographies, and this is no exception. I think it’s difficult to argue that da Vinci wasn’t a scientist, when you look at the kinds of things he was interested in and the methodical way he went about it, including (as White points out) using the scientific method. I have to confess I picked up this biography after playing Assassin’s Creed II, and I did spend the entire time trying to work out how the chronology fit in with Ezio’s adventures…

White’s books are definitely very readable, and they seem to be sourced and well thought out. I’ll probably pick up other biographies written by White in the future; I enjoyed his one on Machiavelli, too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Rare Book of Cunning Device

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

Cover of A Rare Book of Cunning Device by Ben AaronovitchA Rare Book of Cunning Device, Ben Aaronovitch

Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, this is a short story set in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London world. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a great narrator and sounds just perfect for Peter, and while it’s a short story, it’s fun and features Toby and Postmartin… and the British Library. And, of course, a rare book of cunning device.

I won’t spoiler you if you haven’t listened to it, but it really is fun, helped by Holdbrook-Smith’s delivery. If you enjoy Peter Grant and his brand of humour, you’ll be in for a treat. And as I recall, it’s free on Audible…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mask of Shadows

Posted 1 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Mask of Shadows by Linsey MillerMask of Shadows, Linsey Miller

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 29th August 2017

I was intrigued by the sound of Mask of Shadows, because the main character is non-binary and throughout the story, asks to be addressed by pronouns that match what they’re wearing — and by neutral pronouns (they/them/their) if they’re ambiguous. I thought it was reasonably well done; people didn’t get too obsessed with finding out, and not everyone was a total douche about it either. The narrative didn’t linger on it, either.

On the other hand, it’s basically Throne of Glass with a bit of The Hunger Games, apart from maybe the figure of the queen, who is intriguingly ambiguous in the end, although she starts as a saviour figure. There is some interesting world-building — the shadows — but really, it feels so much like Throne of GlassI enjoyed Throne of Glass well enough, but I don’t want to read it again.

There’s a couple of issues with pacing too — sometimes the story seems to jerk forward, leaving me wondering where something came from. But for the most part, it’s fun; just not original.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Wimsey Family

Posted 30 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Wimsey FamilyThe Wimsey Family, C.S. Scott-Giles, Dorothy L. Sayers

This is quality piffle, right here. It’s a short volume, and perhaps better in concept than actually in execution, at least as something to read straight through. It assembles a bunch of stories that Sayers and her correspondents came up with, explaining Peter’s family and where exactly he came from. It untangles some inconsistencies, and basically rationalises everything.

A nice thing for a collector of Sayers’ work to have, and for a major fan of Lord Peter, but perhaps not the most entertaining just to sit and read.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 30 September, 2017 by Nikki in General / 21 Comments

Good morning, folks. I’m currently in London, about to attend the New Scientist Live event, and completely full of cold. Wife brought it home last week, but now I’m in the thick of it too. Bleh. So anyway, I might not reply to comments/other people’s posts until tomorrow, but I promise I’ll get to them, as always!

Books received to review:

Cover of Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren Cover of The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang Cover of The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang Cover of The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt

Thank you Tor and Angry Robot! Exciting stuff.

Books bought:

Cover of Keeping Their Marbles by Tiffany Jenkins Cover of Provenance by Ann Leckie Cover of A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Thank you, Mum! I’ve been wanting all these for ages.

Read this week:

Cover of Snowdrift & Other Stories by Georgette Heyer Cover of Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey Cover of Bog Bodies Uncovered

Again, not the greatest reading week. It started okay, but then I got sick…

Reviews posted this week:

The Warrior Princess, by K.M. Ashman. Disappointing in execution, but still pretty awesome to see someone dealing with Welsh history. I learnt something! 2/5 stars
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. It started out entertaining, but I got tired of the brand of humour, which mostly revolves around sex and bodily functions. 2/5 stars
Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf. About the science of how we read. I have serious questions about some of the research described. 3/5 stars
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I couldn’t wrap my head around it as science fiction, but once I treated it as fantasy and just accepted the world, I loved it. 4/5 stars
Neanderthals Rediscovered, by Dimitra Pappagianni and Michael A. Morse. Not as in-depth as I’d hoped, but interesting stuff. 3/5 stars
Starlings, by Jo Walton. Unsurprisingly, I loved this collection of Jo’s short work. 4/5 stars
The Planet in a Pebble, by Jan Zalasiewicz. Not as poetic as Richard Fortey’s work, but an enjoyable survey of the rock cycle. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

The cost of reading: Books ARE expensive. Apropos of a throwaway tweet stating that books are not expensive. (Spoiler: it depends.)

No WWW Wednesday post this week, see also: I was sick! Hopefully there’ll be more activity round here in the week to come. How’s everyone else doing?

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Review – The Planet in a Pebble

Posted 29 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Planet in a Pebble by Jan ZalasiewiczThe Planet in a Pebble, Jan Zalasiewicz

There are some authors who can make me feel enthusiastic about reading about geology — Richard Fortey being the obvious name that jumps to mind. Jan Zalasiewicz is not quite on that level, though I found the book interesting enough; sometimes it drags somewhat, but I think that somewhat comes with the subject. There are parts of a rock’s life cycle that aren’t exactly scintillating drama, if any part of the rock cycle could be called scintillating given the pace it happens at.

Probably not the first book I’d recommend for geology, but useful enough for understanding the rock cycle and the history of the Earth through rocks.

Rating: 3/5

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The cost of reading: books ARE expensive

Posted 28 September, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Apropos of a twitter conversation, here is some data on the assertion that “books aren’t expensive”. Folks, please remember this is relative. Books may appear cheap to you, but they may not to someone else, and this depends on at least three factors.

  • Cost of books where you are (including availability of second-hand books)
  • Your income
  • How much you read

This post is intended to offer you some data on how the amount you read can make books pretty darn expensive for you.

I keep stats on my reading. For every book I read, I add how much it cost me, and get totals per month, per quarter and per year. So I enter £7.99 for a new paperback, £3 for a book that I got second-hand, and £0.00 for an ARC or library book, etc, etc. Two-thirds of my reading material, probably, is stuff I’ve bought, while another third is library books, ARCs or stuff I’ve borrowed or am rereading (which I don’t count again). To make it clearer, here’s an example: my reading material in the first week of August, and how much it cost.

You can see that Babylon cost me £9.99, for instance; I bought that in the UK. Catching Breath cost me £21.15 — I bought that in Amsterdam, so that’s a direct conversion from euros done on the day I bought it. In the UK you can get it for £12.99, by the way. Hengeworld cost me £2.00, because I had a second-hand copy, and Acadie cost me nada because Tor sent me an e-galley (thank you, Tor!).

All clear?

Here’s the very rough guide to how much the books I read in a quarter have cost me: £300+. So you can basically call my reading speed £100+ worth of books per month, not counting anything I get for free (a significant portion of what I consume). That means that just to keep up with my own reading speed, I need to spend £100 or more per month on new books — I’m sure you can agree that that’s too much for many people’s budgets.

I barely need to point out, too, that while books are pretty affordable in Britain, often under £10… if you live in a non-English-speaking country you can pay twice that or more for a single book. Or that many people have tiny incomes which certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up with a reading speed like mine. And that libraries are great, but may not have great stocks of the books you want to read (sorry, Leuven library, but your English-language selection isn’t expanding fast enough to keep up with me).

This isn’t a justification for piracy. It’s just noting that books are actually expensive and a luxury for some people. Just because books are easy and cheap for you to obtain doesn’t mean that holds true for everyone. Stick to the stuff that’s indisputably true — piracy deprives authors of earnings.

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Review – Starlings

Posted 28 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Starlings by Jo WaltonStarlings, Jo Walton

Received to review via Tachyon; publication date 30th January 2018

It’s no secret that I love Jo Walton’s work, and I’d better add here that I’ve spent time with her as well — I’d call her a friend. Still, I knew her work first, and this is a fun collection. Jo may say she doesn’t know how to write short stories, but all the same everything here works pretty well. I only knew ‘Relentlessly Mundane’ and some of the poetry before, I think. It was nice to re-encounter the poetry here and spend some time with it — reading it online wasn’t the same at all. I hadn’t read the play, either, ‘Three Shouts on a Hill’; entertaining stuff.

My favourite of the short stories… hmm, possibly ‘Sleeper’, and I liked ‘What Joseph Felt’ a lot too.

Really, I never know quite how to review short story collections: suffice it to say that I enjoyed it, and I think it’s worth it, especially if you’re already a fan of Walton’s work. I’m glad I got to read it ahead of time.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Neanderthals Rediscovered

Posted 27 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthals Rediscovered by Dimitra PappagianiNeanderthals Rediscovered, Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse

For a book that promises to be all about Neanderthals and not so much about our ancestors, this didn’t totally deliver. The Neanderthals are compared to our (more direct) ancestors in pretty much every chapter, and not just where the two may have met and interacted. Nonetheless, it’s a good survey of what we currently know about Neanderthals thanks to work by people like Svante Pääbo who’ve taken it to the lab, and people who work in the field.

Honestly, it’s not as in-depth as I hoped, but it is an interesting subject and some of the photos in the full-colour plates are well worth a look — reconstructions, sites, skeletons, etc.

Rating: 3/5

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