Review – The Colour of Murder

Posted May 30, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Colour of Murder by Julian SymonsThe Colour of Murder, Julian Symons

This British Library Crime Classic is from later in the development of the genre than some others, with half the book consisting of the rambling story a man tells to a psychologist after being accused of a murder he can’t remember committing. It’s powerfully cringy, as you can see the narrator deluding himself, and pitiful too, because he’s half-aware of himself, and there’s (as someone later remarks) a sort of innocence about him. He seems to have ended up where he is by accident, and without quite understanding, and his mind seems to be gently unravelling… even though now and then he shows insight.

As a piece of writing, it’s excellent; it makes for discomforting reading.

The latter half of the book pulls back, finally admitting just who has been killed (it was one of the two characters I would’ve predicted), and showing the preparations for the trial (and finally the trial itself). This bit is more of a sketch, lingering on details here and there… but mostly just wrapping up the story implied by the opening narrative, which I found a lot stronger.

The ending is sort of predictable once you’ve seen all those details. It makes sense that the story needs wrapping up — you can’t leave that narrative on its own — and yet it all rather weakens and cheapens the effect. A bit of a mixed one for me, now I think about it in that light. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the Crime Classics series, though; this is definitely a stand-out for that narrative voice.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Around the World in 80 Words

Posted May 29, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Around the World in 80 Words by Paul Anthony JonesAround the World in 80 Words, Paul Anthony Jones

I think I’ve mentioned before that I normally try to join in with a series of challenges on Habitica called the “Keeping It Real” challenges. Each month, the creator picks a Dewey Decimal category and the participants get to pick any book they want from within that category. I did try a different book first this month, but I didn’t make much headway with this, but then I bethought me of Haggard Hawks. I know of that Twitter because Thea Gilmore’s gorgeous “Grandam Gold” (featuring vocals from Cara Dillon as well!) was based on one of those tweets… and I knew there were also books. Aha! I thought.

And lo and behold, Scribd had this one, so I downloaded it and set to work. I’ll admit, reading it straight through would not be my recommended way of reading this book: it’s more of a dip in-and-out book, one to read during odd breaks and at the bus stop (provided your buses are normally punctual). When you try to read it all in one go, it starts to pall rather.

The thing is, it feels a little random. There’s the theme of going round the world, but the countries that are chosen do often feel like afterthoughts, while there are several different entries for the UK (and I’m not just talking about one from Wales, one from Ireland, one from Scotland, etc — in fact, I don’t think there’s any mention of Wales whatsoever, and we could’ve managed at least cawl or even hiraeth!).

Anyway, some interesting facts, but not a total winner for me.

Rating: 3/5 

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WWW Wednesday

Posted May 27, 2020 by Nicky in General / 14 Comments

It’s that time again! Check out Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of The Colour of Murder by Julian SymonsWhat are you currently reading?

Fiction: I just started The Colour of Murder, by Julian Symons. It’s one of the British Library Crime Classics collection, one of the post-war ones; the first half at least consists of a sort of confessional meander to a psychologist about the events leading up to the murder. It’s interesting because it’s not a “whodunnit”, and you don’t even yet know who has been killed, though my two candidates are basically the female characters.

Non-fiction: I’m in the middle of How to Invent Everything, by Ryan North, and Around the World in 80 Words, by Paul Anthony Jones. The former is interesting, but the jocular tone and asides about pizza are starting to irritate. I don’t read non-fiction for the authorial voice to intrude quite so much, usually. Around the World in 80 Days is for the Dewey decimal challenge I think I’ve mentioned before, since How Language Began felt too heavy to finish in a week. It’s okay; a bit random, and sometimes really stretching. Some of these words are neither terribly interesting nor terribly relevant, whereas the author’s Twitter has a tendency to come out with a perfectly apposite word for the current political situation… which I like more.

Cover of Unfit to Print by K.J. CharlesWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think it was K.J. Charles’ Unfit to Print, which is a lot of fun; I do enjoy righteous, caring Vikram, even if Gil is a bit of a hedgehog (prickly to stop you getting too close) and rather reluctant to do the right thing. Not my usual sort of character, but Vikram is more to my taste, so they balance one another out.

I feel like I haven’t really been reading much, and indeed, I finished Unfit to Print on Saturday. Yipes. My 500-books-a-year days are so far behind me, and I miss them rather.

Cover of The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin LambertWhat will you be reading next?

Goodness knows, but the book I picked up this week was Kristin Lambert’s The Boy in the Red Dress, which sounds like a lot of fun. Someone called it a queerer Phryne Fisher, which sounds right up my street. I also intend to pick up the book I got last week as soon as I’m reading slightly fewer non-fiction books concurrently.

What are you currently reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Opening Lines

Posted May 26, 2020 by Nicky in General / 26 Comments

This week’s prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is “opening lines”, and I definitely have some favourites to share, ranging around my shelves! I’m sure I’ve done a favourite first lines before for TTT, but it’s been so long — and I have some new answers.

Cover of Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles Cover of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

  1. Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.”

    This one gets me every time — it’s funny and playful, and though the mystery at the heart of this book is rather sad and pathetic, there are some amazing bits playing Peter and Harriet off against each other for wit and banter, and I adore it.

  2. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, by K.J. Charles: “I am, my friends agree, a fairly easy-going sort of chap, not quick to anger or to fear. Thus, when I came to live in Caldwell Place, I paid no mind to the screams in the night, which could well have been foxes or cats (never mind that they sprang from the empty air of my bedroom). I scarcely objected to the muffled moans, which could have come from a neighbour’s pleasures (if the house had not stood alone, with no neighbour for a mile to either side). But I did feel it was a bit much when the walls began to bleed.”

    Bahahaha. This is not technically quite the opening lines, but shush.

  3. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab: “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
    It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”

    Had me at hello.

  4. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    It’s not just that I love the book, but also that I love the story of that opening line (scribbled on a student’s exam paper during marking) and I love the way it immediately begs a whole bunch of questions.

  5. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell: “The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.
    They meant no harm.”

    Technically not the opening lines, but from the very brief prologue, and a complete oh shit what — …which the book amply lives up to!

  6. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

    I will never be over this book, though it’s been a long time since I read it. “Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” Opening and closing lines are burned into my heart!

  7. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente: “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her eleventh birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shanty-towns where the Six Winds live.”

    Whimsical and fairytale-like and yet also with unusual details. Sign me up!

  8. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: “I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

    Murderbot, your style speaks to me from the very first moment.

  9. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”

    I still haven’t read this book properly, but this opening line still sticks in my head.

  10. The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff: “From the Fosseway westward to Isca Dumnoniorum the road was simply a British trackway, broadened and roughly stalled, strengthened by corduroys of logs in the softest places, but otherwise unchanged from its old estate, as it wound among the hills, thrusting further and further into the wilderness.”

    This is perhaps a more personal choice than the others: not the most compelling opening for someone who doesn’t know the delights that lay ahead (Marcus! Cottia! Cub!) — this book is a window into my childhood, when this was one of the books I read to bits, and one of the ones that has stood up best because of Sutcliff’s careful sketching in of the Romano-British world as she understood it. I have no visual imagination and yet there are some scenes in this book I could almost draw.

Cover of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith Cover of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin Cover of The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

So there you go! What are your favourite first lines? Did you do something different for this week’s theme, if you joined in? Link me!

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Review – The Ghosts of Sherwood

Posted May 26, 2020 by Nicky in Uncategorized / 3 Comments

Cover of The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie VaughnThe Ghosts of Sherwood, Carrie Vaughn

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 9th June 2020

I was eager to snap this up when I saw it on Netgalley, because Robin Hood stories are kind of a Thing for me. I did a module on Robin Hood stories during my BA, wrote a handful of my essays about it, and have always rather enjoyed Robin Hood stories. (Starting in childhood with Enid Blyton’s Tales of Daring Adventure, which is the only book handed down from both my parents. I believe I still have both their copies, with Dad’s in a better state and retaining its dustcover. I have also frequently heard the stories of my mother as a child deeply concerning her parents by sobbing inconsolably over the death of Robin Hood.)

So, this fairly gentle story fits right into that warm and cosy spot in my heart. Robin and Marian are married and respectable, with three children; it’s sort of inserted into real history, with King John signing the Magna Carta in part because of Robin’s insistence and William Marshall showing up to say hi. The story also tries for realism in discussing their relationship, Marian’s pregnancies, the way they fit into the world.

At the start of the novella, they’re returning from London, with Robin having decided that their eldest daughter will marry — and Marian isn’t happy. It carries on in this rather domestic way, until the children are kidnapped by a band of men… and a much-missed friend, long absent from Robin’s circle after his first decision to respect King John’s succession to the throne, witnesses the kidnapping and rushes to Robin for help.

Things move a lot faster at that point, and from the blurb it feels like that’s meant to be the centre of the story. It doesn’t feel like it, though, and I was surprised to learn there’s meant to be another linked book. I was happier with it as a sort of coda to the Robin Hood story; as the introduction to something more, it actually feels lacking for me, because I didn’t connect to the original characters in that way. I thought it was about Robin’s group, his relationship with Marian, and how an outlaw steps out of legend and becomes part of the world. I’m less interested in reading for the kids — I just liked seeing the old gang come back together.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted May 24, 2020 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

Squeaking in at the end of the weekend, here’s my usual weekly roundup!

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Books bought:

Cover of Network Effect by Martha Wells Cover of Goldilocks by Laura Lam Cover of When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey Cover of Dangerous Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

Cover of Guardian Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan Eatherley Cover of Princess Princess Ever After by Kate O'Neill Cover of The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert

A weird mix, as ever! 😀 And this really truly is my last spree for a while; I’m now on a steady diet of one book per week.

Received to review:

Cover of Human kind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Breman Cover of The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky

I… I still need to read The Fated Sky, I’ll be honest. It’s just that my brain is stupid sometimes.

Books read this week:

Cover of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff Cover of Princess Princess Ever After by Kate O'Neill Cover of Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles

Reviews posted this week:

The Replacement Husband, by Eliot Grayson. This is okay but not stellar; enjoyable in the moment but not something that will linger with me, and with which I had a couple of bones to pick. 3/5 stars
Finna, by Nino Cipri. This has some fun stuff in the background and mostly was just too slight for me in the end to bear the weight of the complaints about capitalism, which sort of overshadow everything else now I’m thinking about it over a week later. 3/5 stars
84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. This is really sweet and often funny, though there is a rather sad surprise waiting toward the end of the first section for those who didn’t immediately look up Helene Hanff… 4/5 stars
Princess Princess Ever After, by Kate O’Neill. Really short, but cute. 4/5 stars
Unfit to Print, by K.J. Charles. As fun as you’d expect from K.J. Charles, and I rather like the two main characters. It all works out a bit quickly, though… 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons Why I Love Romance. So many reasons! #10 will surprise you. (Or not, actually, if you know me at all.)
WWW Wednesday. Featuring me rambling around reading too much at once, as ever.

How’s everyone doing? Been buying anything shiny?

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Review – Unfit to Print

Posted May 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unfit to Print by K.J. CharlesUnfit to Print, K.J. Charles

I was feeling fidgety, so I decided to read for a book by K.J. Charles I hadn’t read yet. Unfit to Print is a standalone, following Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, the owner of a dirty bookshop and a high-flying lawyer, respectively. They knew one another at school, but have been separated for quite a long time, with Vik believing Gil to be dead. He’s looking for the son of a local Indian family, though, and that takes him to the street where Gil keeps his bookshop… and there they run into one another again.

Gil’s been hurt a lot and is as prickly as a hedgehog, while Vik’s not been interested in anyone since Gil’s disappearance from their boarding school. They quickly fall into their old intimacies, though Gil finds it hard to offer anything other than the physical and Vik finds it hard to take the physical aspect without the feelings getting in the way. At the same time, Gil needs to help Vik find out what happened to the boy he’s looking for, while trying not to get his reputation all smeared up for him…

It’s a lovely little second chance, and I quickly fell for both characters and their silly desperate attempts not to get hurt more when they’re already stumbling along with plenty of hurt to spare from their pasts. Their interaction smoulders as usual — holding hands was never so sexy — and it was a really fun read overall. The mystery aspect was a little bit perfunctory; it felt a bit of a letdown for the answer to be that easy, but it did make sense as well.

All in all, plenty of fun, though not for all the family!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Princess Princess Ever After

Posted May 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Princess Princess Ever After by Kate O'NeillPrincess Princess Ever After, Kate O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After is a short graphic novel which features a familiar fairytale trope (a princess in a tower)… with a few additions, such as the fact that another princess comes to rescue her, and the fact that her sojourn in the tower was of her own choosing (to some degree) thanks to her sister undermining her and making her feel worthless. The prince they come across needs help from them… and in the end, the two princesses get married!

It’s really really cute, and I appreciate Sadie’s anxieties and difficulties — Amira is completely kickass, but Sadie is strong in her own sweet soft way; they’re very different people and yet both strong. The art is cute too, and I want Amira’s haiiir. (Also I don’t, because long hair is a pain in the butt, but it looks cool.)

It is a bit expensive for how slight it is, but it’s full colour and beautifully presented, and suitable for quite young readers.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted May 20, 2020 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

It’s that time again! Check out Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

What are you currently reading?

Too much at once, in far too scatterbrained a fashion. Let me think…

Cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha ShannonFiction: I have both Network Effect and Goldilocks on the go, and am really excited about both, but also a ball of anxiety. It’s making reading books where I care about what happens (and am not assured of a happy ending) quite the ride. The anxiety’s fading off a bit again, but I’m still in more of a non-fic or romance mood. I am very slowly working my way through The Priory of the Orange Tree with the other Beeminder workerbees; it’s actually quite nice reading it in little sips like this, though it’s not my usual style. I am enjoying how Sabran is being slowly developed and we’re seeing little glimpses of more. I wish there was more of Tané.

Non-fiction: Digging Up Armageddon is still around on a backburner, but I’ve also started How Language Works by Daniel Everett on the go, because it’s for a reading challenge. How To Invent Everything by Ryan North as well, as a matter of fact, also for a reading challenge; it’s interesting in parts but I am bogged down in a list of useful plants going “uhhh this is just a list with slightly amusing commentary”.

Cover of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene HanffWhat have you recently finished reading?

84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, which is rather sweet and often funny. I just love Helene’s funny letters to Frank and how she huffed at him for being slow with her new books. It seems so weird that these were real people; it really does feel like something you’d read in a book that’s trying very hard to be quirky and cute.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of When We Were Magic by Sarah GaileyWell, on the one hand I just got Invasive Aliens by Dan Eatherley, which I’m intrigued by, particularly as it annoyed someone on Amazon by containing opinions on Brexit and Nazis with which it sounds like I may agree (though the detail was sparse). But no, in all honesty, I’m curious about the topic as well.

I did however also get in an order from Portal Bookshop, which means I now have Sarah Gailey’s When We Were Magic

What about you?

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Review – 84 Charing Cross Road

Posted May 19, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff

I actually stumbled across this book on someone’s wishlist for a book swap, and then immediately got sucked into reading the opening pages. It took me a while to pick up my own copy, but now I have… and it’s really, really sweet, and funny as well. It’s actually a collection of real letters between Helene Hanff, a writer in the US, and a London bookseller. Starting in 1949, she wrote regularly to the shop asking them for books she wanted, and they wrote back… and slowly a correspondence developed, as they found her beautiful copies of the books she wanted and she ordered them boxes of food and sent friends round to do them favours.

It’s hard to believe that these letters were real, sometimes — it’s just so sweet, and so much like something you’d see in a movie. But it did happen — and typically of reality, Helene didn’t get quite the happy ending one would want. Frank Doel, the man whom she corresponded with, died suddenly of appendicitis before she ever went to London. When she did go to London, the bookshop itself had gone.

The original letters close after the notification of Frank Doel’s death, but my copy had another book in it: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is Helene Hanff’s journal of her time in London just after the release of the first book. It’s lovely to read how she saw England and London, and the little character-sketches of everyone she met.

Rating: 4/5

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