Review – The Widow of Rose House

Posted October 5, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Widow of Rose House by Diana BillerThe Widow of Rose House, Diana Miller

This was an impulse purchase that worked out very well for me! Alva Webster is notorious, a widow who supposedly held orgiastic parties right before her husband was murdered. She’s moved back to the US after his death, has bought a house called Liefdehuis, and wants to re-design it and create a lovely place to live… while writing a book about the process aimed at middle-class people. They’ll buy her book because of her notoriety, she reasons, and then some will enjoy her work.

She runs into Sam Moore, a scientist, who really wants to look into the local folklore surrounding Liefdehuis. There’s a ghost, supposedly, and he’s eager to put that to the test. Alva’s not keen, but is eventually driven to seeking him out for that.

If you’re a fan of the Veronica Speedwell books, I suspect this would be up your alley. Alva is a bit less independent than Veronica, partly due to her rather traumatic past, but there’s a kinship there. The love interest, Sam, is just a delight — bright and optimistic most of the time, oblivious to the stupidest societal things, protective and full of love. I could maybe wish Alva was a little less tentative in some things, but some of the breakthroughs of the story are hers and her slow but sure understanding that her past is done is well done. Sam’s family are also a delight, and I could definitely wish for a few more books with them and Henry…

The book does contain references to domestic violence, and some violent scenes. Alva is blackmailed, and her family are also abusive (though more in a neglectful sort of way). There are several fairly explicit sex scenes, which do somewhat further the relationship between Alva and Sam, but are probably skippable too. I don’t know enough about the period to say whether it’s historically accurate, but it felt like there was some license being taken about how Alva’s servants (for instance) would react.

Very enjoyable, all in all!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – X+Y

Posted October 4, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of X+Y by Eugenia ChengX+Y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, Eugenia Cheng

X+Y is a pretty accessible book, despite being written by a mathematician and professing to be a mathematical approach to the problem. It doesn’t involve much mathematics in the sense of numbers: instead, it uses “category theory”, Cheng’s particular specialism, to try to look anew at the problem of gender inequality. She writes well and makes the concepts very clear, sometimes with the judicious use of diagrams and examples. Not being a numbers person, I expected to be thrown by all of it, but actually I found it quite an enjoyable read.

In the end, what it does is take gender out of the question, and view the problem of inequality as being to do with traits that are associated fairly strongly with feminity and masculinity, but which don’t need to be. In the end, she calls the two extremes “ingressive” (competitive, self-focused) and “congressive” (cooperative), and her suggestions revolve around both individuals and society becoming more congressive.

It’s not that I disagree, because the situations she describes sound wonderful — I’d kind of like to see if she could teach me mathematics, or rather if an approach like this could teach me and get through my aversion. And she mentions disliking the feeling that she had become “ingressive” in order to succeed, and changing that, and I agreed with some of those points too. I think it could indeed be transformative to promote congressive behaviours in your everyday dealings and in the things you have responsibility over.

I’m not sure if it’s an answer to gender inequality per se; I think it is a bit overly optimistic in stripping away factors to claim that congressive behaviour is all we need. At best, what she suggests will be a slow climb.

So an interesting read, and I agree with her in principle — and I’m certainly happy to make the experiment in my own life. I think for many mired in the consequences of binary and gendered thinking, though, it’s a hard sell that it’s all about these simplified behaviours and that we can just promote better ones.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted October 3, 2020 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

Greetings, folks! Well, my time off is over and I’ve been back to work for a couple of days… but I think I did manage to unwind a bit and figure out some better ways of having a work/life balance. I didn’t finish a lot of books, but I managed to go “as my Whimsy takes me” more than usual. So maybe I’ve de-stressed a bit!

On the other hand, my course has now started and I’ve added an hour or two of studying per day to my schedule. Yipes.

Books acquired:

Cover of The Sugared Game by K.J. Charles Cover of The Stone Knife by Anna Stephens Cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yaaay! Thanks so much to the person who bought me Cemetery Boys<3

Books read this week:

Cover of The Story of Wales by Jon Gower Cover of X+Y by Eugenia Cheng Cover of The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley Cover of The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

Reviews posted this week:

Other posts:

That’s it for this week! How’s everyone doing?

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Review – The Firebird

Posted October 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Firebird by Susanna KearsleyThe Firebird, Susanna Kearsley

I normally love Susanna Kearsley’s work, in much the same way as I love Mary Stewart’s, but The Firebird didn’t really work for me. I stalled out halfway through, and then eked my way through a couple of hundred pages before I found my way back into it again. Partly it might have been mood, but partly I think it was the structure: The Firebird follows Nicola, in the present, as she searches out the history of an item for a client, and a girl called Anna, in the past — the girl who once was given the item, a firebird, by the Empress Catherine.

I was interested in both the historical fiction and in Nicola figuring out her issues — including her psychic talent, which sits sort of awkwardly next to the grounded reality of the historical plot — but… well, that’s the problem, I think: for me, it sat oddly. The time wasn’t evenly divided between the two, with odd stops and starts of action and then long, long stretches spent with the past.

I don’t mind the past/present juxtaposition in principle, and there are books that pull it off. This one, though, just didn’t come together for me, and I didn’t remember enough about the other books this one is related to in order to be pleased by the cameos and references, either. A bit sad, honestly; I wanted to love it. I think there’s a lot there for other folks, particularly those interested in the Scottish and Russian parts, and there’s a solid romance as well, in both the historical story and the part set in more-or-less the present.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Story of Wales

Posted October 1, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Story of Wales by Jon GowerThe Story of Wales, Jon Gower

The Story of Wales is an attempt to tell (some of) the history of Wales, and come to some kind of understanding about what shaped the nation as it is now. A lot of this history is familiar to me, but only vaguely and through literature, so it was nice to get it all laid out and clarified.

Well, “nice” is a very bad word for it, since the history of Wales quickly becomes a history of oppression of the language and customs. People don’t like hearing this, but what are the Welsh Not, Brad y Llyfrau Glaision, the wanton drowning of Capel Celyn to get water to Liverpool, but the oppression of a native people? And these events aren’t all hundreds of years in the past: Capel Celyn was drowned in 1965, after Liverpool put it through Parliament to avoid having to get planning permission from the local council (who would have denied it). All the Welsh protests against the drowning mattered not at all; only what the English Parliament said.

It was a little funny to see my tiny part in history mentioned there: I voted in the 2011 referendum, and voted “yes”. I wonder if one day I can go home to live in an independent Wales — I’ve never particularly wanted the end of the United Kingdom, but if an independent Scotland and an independent Wales can re-enter the EU, I’ll head home like a shot to get my rights back. It’s nice to know a little more of the history of my home, for sure, though The Story of Wales was at times a little dry or unengaging.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted September 30, 2020 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of X+Y by Eugenia ChengWhat are you currently reading?

Non-fiction: X+Y, by Eugenia Cheng, which is — well, the subtitle is “A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender”, which is a pretty good summary. Cheng works with a field of mathematics called “category theory”, and is applying that technique to unpick a lot of gender inequality and offer solutions. My thoughts are so far are mostly that I’d love to see if she could teach me maths, based on her discussions of how she tries to apply her understanding when it comes to teaching! Seems like an environment that might suit me better.

Fiction: I’m struggling through Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird, and I couldn’t honestly put my finger on why. I’ve enjoyed her other books and on the surface, I can’t see why this one isn’t working for me. I guess I’m just not connecting so well with the characters?

I’m also reading Kushiel’s Dart, still, and it’s coming up to time for another big heartbreak. Gah!

Cover of The Story of Wales by Jon GowerWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing I finished must’ve been Jon Gower’s The Story of Wales. I was surprised by how much I knew already, through having studied Welsh fiction (in English) and cultivated an interest since. I still had some serious gaps and surprises, though. Overall, it made me really annoyed with how little I was taught about that part of British history, attending a school in England. You’d think they could at least mentioned that David Lloyd George was Welsh, for instance, while teaching me about the part he played in WWI.

Cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden ThomasWhat will you be reading next?

As ever, I don’t really know. I’d like to pick up Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, and I’m still working my way through the Shelf of Abandoned Books. Then there’s a bunch of other new books I got recently…

I have found that I have a sort of “out of sight, out of mind” problem with books sometimes. I want them and want them and want them and then when they get here and I shelve them, I forget to go grab them off the shelves! So I’m keeping my options open to wander along my shelves and choose at random, as ever.

How about you folks?

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Weekly Blogging Challenge: Non-fiction

Posted September 30, 2020 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge

I’ve decided to take part in a new blog hop, hosted by Long and Short Reviews. This week’s topic is “the non-fiction book you think everyone should read, and why”.

So the answer is David Quammen’s SpilloverIt’s a little old now, I guess, since it’s what kinda set me on my current trajectory (just about to start my MSc in Infectious Diseases!) — but the points he makes about how “spillover” events occur and why are still as valid as ever, and it’s a good survey of some emerging infectious diseases which could cause huge problems. It basically predicts the current situation with COVID-19, which has burst out of its bat reservoir and become pandemic shockingly swiftly.

The gist is that, due to destroying habitat, increasing usage of land, and climate conditions… we’re increasing the contacts between humans and animals we previously didn’t come into contact with so much. Every species has their own share of diseases, and some of them can be transmitted to humans too. When that happens, that’s “spillover”, and we should expect to see that happen more and more.

So I think everyone should read that, to really understand what’s currently happening and why, and what should be done about it.

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Review – Piranesi

Posted September 29, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Piranesi by Susanna ClarkePiranesi, Susanna Clarke

I didn’t read anything about Piranesi before starting it, though I was vaguely aware of some reviews and reactions from friends. I’m one of the people who found Clarke’s previous novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, really fascinating — for all that it’s 1,000+ pages long, I ate it up in great big chunks. I wondered if the magic could be repeated, especially in a novel as slim as Piranesi. I’d say it has, and even that I like the worldbuilding of Piranesi even more.

That said, if you didn’t like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, there’s a chance Piranesi will be more for you: though I said the magic is repeated, I mean the magical captivating quality that had me riveted to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Piranesi is rather different in tone and scope, at a quarter of the length. For one thing, it has a relatively cramped cast, made up essentially of four characters, one of whom only appears once, and one of whom doesn’t appear until quite late on. The other people mentioned are all dead, and only tangentially important. Well, unless you consider the House a fifth character.

The House is the most fascinating thing, and I could happily have spent at least another fifty pages visiting the Statues, travelling to far-off Vestibules, and watching the Tides. The whole idea of it, this strange house with the sea in the lower levels and thousands of rooms filled with mysterious Statues — argh, I really loved that part! Piranesi himself (it’s the name used for one of the characters, as well as the title) is rather delightful in his innocent inquiry and his love of the house.

I’m trying not to be spoilery, but this bit talks about the ending: without saying too much about what exactly happens, I found the ending rather sad, because of the change to Piranesi. There was such joy in his exploration of the House, it was really awful to think of that joy being shattered by his discovery of his past. In a way he keeps it, but in another way everything has changed. It makes sense as an ending, and the whole book comes together pretty well… but ouch.

Overall, though, I loved it — and just as with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I practically inhaled it.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Book Quotes

Posted September 29, 2020 by Nicky in General / 12 Comments

This week’s theme via That Artsy Reader Girl is “favourite book quotes” — which I’m pretty sure I’ve done before. So instead, I’ll put a tiny spin on it and pick out my favourite quotes from the last ten books I’ve read. I just skipped ones which aren’t very quotable… or which didn’t have Goodreads quotes yet, if I couldn’t immediately think of something.

Cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke Cover of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman Cover of Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

  1. Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke. “Perhaps that is what it is like being with other people. Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the world in ways you would rather not.”
  2. Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado-Perez. “It’s not always easy to convince someone a need exists, if they don’t have that need themselves.”
  3. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy L. Sayers. “Books… are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ’em, then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.”
  4. Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Brenman. “You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.”
  5. Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart. “There was one thing that stood like stone among the music and moonfroth of the evening’s gaieties. It was stupid, it was terrifying, it was wonderful, but it had happened and I could do nothing about it. For better or worse, I was head over ears in love.”
  6. Driftwood, by Marie Brennan. “Paggarat was less doomed than they wagered, not because of how long it lasted but because of how it went out. Because of Aun and Esr, smiling at each other until the end of the world.”
  7. The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu. “Do you see how much power you have when you act without fear?”
  8. The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon. “I do not sleep because I am not only afraid of the monsters at my door, but also of the monsters my own mind can conjure. The ones that live within.”
  9. The Last Smile in Sunder City, by Luke Arnold. “I like books. They’re quiet, dignified and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.”
  10. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chamber. “We cannot blame ourselves for the wars our parents start. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is walk away.”

Cover of Drift Wood by Marie Brennan Cover of The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu Cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon Cover of The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I didn’t love all those books, but those quotes capture something that did work for me from each!

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Weekly Roundup

Posted September 27, 2020 by Nicky in General / 12 Comments

Greetings, folks! This weekend’s roundup has been delayed by extreme laziness during my holiday (although laziness is perhaps the wrong word when I spent ~2.5 hours climbing up onto the moors today). How’s everyone?

Books acquired this week:

Cover of In the Black by Patrick S. Tomlinson Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey Cover of Stealing Thunder by Alina Boyden Cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Cover of Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst Cover of The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez Cover of The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller Cover of The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

Finished this week:

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez Cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Reviews posted:

Other posts:

So how’re you all doing? Get any great books lately?

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