Review – Heartstopper Volume 3

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice OsemanHeartstopper vol. 3, Alice Oseman

This series is just so more-ish and adorable. I can’t help but love both Charlie and Nick and their relationship. It’s not always perfectly fluffy and happy — bullying is a theme, and there are several instances of homophobia; in this volume, there’s also disordered eating and references to self-harm. But the two of them are great to each other, even as they’re feeling their way through a serious relationship for the first time, and navigating issues with parents, siblings, school friends and teachers.

This particular volume also features more development from some of their friends, including Tao and Elle… and also a cute little snippet of another potential love story between two of the teachers. None of the characters are perfect; they make mistakes and do stupid things… but they’re good, they show up for each other and they think over their issues and they learn. Even when they get things wrong (as Tao does in this volume, and arguably as Charlie does in trying to handle several situations), they’re not monsters… and even the worst characters have the potential to learn. It has such heart.

It’s also kind of nice to read something British, because the experience is close in some ways to what I had. Not all — I went to a tiny private school, and had no particular friends there… but still, there are things in common that are… not nostalgic, for all kinds of reasons — if I say everything I thought about my old school they’d probably want to sue me — but sort of like that. Study leave! School trip to France!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Small Robots

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Small Robots by Thomas Heasman-HuntSmall Robots, Thomas Heasman-Hunt

I helped to crowdfund this so was very excited to see my copies arrive yesterday! Small Robots is a Twitter account which regularly posts drawings of robots designed for very specific tasks. For instance, Booksbot swoops in and hides your new books so you don’t have to feel guilty about adding to the pile of books you already have waiting on your TBR! Teabot brings you tea (and only tea). Guestshowerbot helps you figure out the arcane controls on your friend’s shower.

This book contains 100 robot friends, along with crochet patterns for two of them (I haven’t tried the patterns yet). The drawings are adorable and often funny; sometimes the bots are uplifting (like Hopebot) and sometimes they’re bizarre (Bingliesbot); this collection includes commentary on their purpose and designs which is also often adorable and/or funny. It’s a chunky little book and one which can be dipped into at will.

True story: my copy fell open at Booksbot when I first picked it up, and given I hadn’t even previously been aware of this bot, it felt like fate. I need a bookmark with this friend on, at the very least…

Rating: 5/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

G’day, folks! This has been a much quieter reading week, but that’s also fine. I’ve been busy with work and with playing video games, and that’s fine. I’m still working on not criticising myself when I feel less like reading — it’s not like yelling at myself makes me read more, it just makes me unhappy.

Books acquired:

Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice Oseman Cover of Small Robots by Thomas Heasman-Hunt

Books read this week:

Cover of Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ Charles Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice Oseman

Reviews posted this week:

Sword of Destiny, by Andrzej Sapkowski. I didn’t think this was as good as The Last Wish; it’s more a collection of stories in the world, though it does sort of move towards setting up the novels. 3/5 stars
Gilded Cage, by K.J. Charles. I wasn’t convinced I was going to enjoy this because I didn’t love Templeton Lane, but I trust Charles and she didn’t steer me wrong. 4/5 stars
That Could Be Enough, by Alyssa Cole. I didn’t really believe in the relationship here. It was okay because it’s so short, but more and I might’ve given up. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly check-in, mostly about a book about Byzantium, one of E.C.R. Lorac’s British Library Crime Classics, and K.J. Charles.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘All about that base. A friend asked me to explain why humans have butts. I had a go.

And that’s it! How’s everyone doing?

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Review – That Could Be Enough

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa ColeThat Could Be Enough, Alyssa Cole

That Could Be Enough is a novella set in the post-Civil War US, following the story of Mercy Alston, maid to Elizabeth Hamilton and aiding her in putting together the stories of the men of her late husband’s battalion as a legacy for him. Despite all her writing in that cause, Mercy’s own writing is stilted and all but out of reach, as a legacy of a disastrous love affair. Into Mercy’s life comes Andromeda Stiel, a seamstress who goes her own way, loving as she wishes, without censure from the people she lives amongst. Sparks fly, despite Mercy’s intentions, and Andromeda quickly draws her into a relationship and out of her shell.

It doesn’t go smoothly, and that’s partly due to Mercy’s character and past, and partly because of bloody lack of communication, my least favourite trope ever. Just. Communicate! “I accidentally read this piece of paper and it says you’re going to be married, can you explain?” There! It’s that simple.

I did see another review that talked about not being sure what Mercy brings to the relationship, and despite the character’s individual qualities — her writing, her charitable work, etc — I have to agree. Andromeda is sufficient unto herself, even if she wants Mercy, and nothing Mercy has is something Andromeda lacks… while at the same time, Andromeda is picking apart Mercy’s trauma, encouraging and supporting her, pushing her to do better. Mercy’s affection is grudging, and her trust non-existant. It’s hard to believe the two can get along happily for long with that kind of imbalance.

Cole’s end note with sources helps somewhat with my feeling that they can’t be this blatant as a couple in this time period, but I’m still not convinced. Speaking from experience, even now, people will tolerate you as long as you don’t “rub it in their face”. Say the words “my wife” in casual conversation while being female and you can watch someone’s attitude change in an instant, even if you know this person must have realised before. Andromeda and Mercy aren’t just quietly getting on with it — Andromeda is blatant. I question it, knowing it’s hard enough now sometimes.

Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I might have; Andromeda’s great, but Mercy just doesn’t come alive for me. She sounds great on paper, but… I can’t see what she brings to Andromeda, or really believe there’s a beating heart behind the words on the page. Because it’s so short, it’s still entertaining, but I don’t know if I could have stuck with a longer story.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted February 12, 2020 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. This week’s check-in is here!

Cover of Fell Murder by E.C.R. LoracWhat are you currently reading?

Non-fiction: Michael Angold’s Byzantium: The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, which is kind of slow and not really capturing my imagination. Ever since I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium, I’ve wanted a really good book on Byzantium, but I’ve never really found one that hits the right note for me. I guess I need one that’s heavily about the reign of Justinian I…?

Fiction: E.C.R. Lorac’s Fell Murder. I’m not very far into it, but it has a really strong sense of place already, and a rather likeable arrangement of characters — even the crotchety old guy is actually rather honourable and decent, in his own way.

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was K.J. Charles’ Gilded Cage; I wasn’t sold on Templeton as a hero, but she made it work. Which is not surprising — even when it takes me a while to warm up (as with Jackdaws), Charles always delivers a solid story and twists me round her little finger as far as characters go.

Cover of The Voodoo Killings by Kristi CharishWhat will you be reading next?

Insert shrug emoji here! I don’t really have a queue right this second. I have a list of books I “should” read soon that’s as long as my arm, which makes the list kind of pointless. I just asked the oracle (aka held up one of the bunnies) and maybe it will be The Voodoo Killings (Kristi Charish) or Exhalation (Ted Chiang)…

Or maybe not. Who knows.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Gilded Cage

Posted February 11, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesGilded Cage, K.J. Charles

Gilded Cage is the follow-up to Any Old Diamonds, featuring Templeton Lane. From the first book he didn’t appeal to me too much, although the defenestration thing in The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter was great; Jerry felt the more compelling of the two characters to me, and I wasn’t sure I could get to like Templeton. Well, I didn’t, really; he still seemed like a thug with the emotional awareness of a brass doorknob… but the history of James Vane as revealed in Gilded Cage did work for me. It felt like a bit of a quick flip from the thug to the sensitive, thinking, feeling man, and the transition didn’t entirely work for me… but predictably, Charles was able to pull me along and sell it to me anyway.

It helps that Susan Lazarus is awesome, and that this book features a lot of brief glimpses of the characters from Sins of the Cities (and of course from the other Lilywhite Boys stories). I loved seeing Justin again, and I’d have loved to see more of Mark and Nathaniel as well, but I suppose they would have stolen the show. Susan is relentlessly practical, determined, and closed-off; it’s a delight to watch her realise that she can trust James after all, and to see them open up and talk about their feelings and actually figure things out.

The plot also ties together both other books in this series, and gives a satisfactory ending to a certain adversary of the Lilywhite Boys — satisfactory in that someone gets Susan’s hairpins in very tender places, and also gets captured and trialled.

It all works out well, and we get a happy ending that feels true to who Susan is. We also get some glimpses of Jerry and Alec’s life, which is nice. All in all, I suspect and hope there’s little more to be said for the Lilywhite Boys: they both have their happy endings. That said, I wouldn’t object to Jerry and Alec and Susan and James having to come together to heist their way out of trouble again, so I’ll slam the preorder button hard if that comes about!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sword of Destiny

Posted February 10, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sword of Destiny by Andrzej SapkowskiSword of Destiny, Andrzej Sapkowski

Unlike The Last Wish, this collection of short stories doesn’t have a frame-story helping it hang together. It does slowly move toward a conclusion, in that the last two stories set things up for the novels (as I understand it), but some of the stories feel like they have less of a point. Some of them develop things between Yennefer and Geralt a little more, while others introduce Ciri (following up on a story in The Last Wish, and introducing a key character for the novels), but it just felt a little more lacking in direction. ‘Eternal Flame’, while funny, didn’t seem to advance things much, and ‘A Little Sacrifice’ does develop Geralt’s character a little, but feels kind of flat.

Overall, I’m a lot less impressed than I was with The Last Wish, because I feel like the frame story there made things hang together much better. There were still some clever references (‘The Little Mermaid’, for one), but overall it just didn’t do that much for me. I’m not sure if you’re meant to view it like The Last Wish, or just as a collection of stories in the world; if the latter, then I’m probably being a little unfair.

I’m still going to try the novels, since they’re going to be quite different just by nature of the form, but I might take a little break before I pick those up.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted February 8, 2020 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Happy Saturday! I’m less happy this Saturday because of Wales’ loss to Ireland (there go our Triple Crown/Grand Slam hopes!), but I’ll live. At least it’s been a good reading week!

Books acquired:

Cover of The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis Cover of Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Books read:

Cover of Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs Cover of The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie Cover of West Nile Story by Dickson Despommier

Cover of The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis Cover of Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood Cover of A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

Reviews posted:

Flying too High, by Kerry Greenwood. The second book of the series, with the usual acts of derring-do by our all but flawless heroine. 4/5 stars
Murder on the Ballarat Train, by Kerry Greenwood. The third book! More of the usual fare, with a delightful found-family building itself up. 4/5 stars
Surfeit of Suspects, by George Bellairs. Typical of the Golden Age crime stories, but I found it satisfying all the same. 4/5 stars
The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie. Interesting relationships and yay, kaiju! But a bit thin in terms of the development; I didn’t always believe how quickly characters got to certain mindsets. 3/5 stars
West Nile Story, by Dickson Despommier. A nice companion to having listened to This Week in Virology’s episode on West Nile virus. 3/5 stars
The Edge of the Abyss, by Emily Skrutskie. Wraps up the story well, and keeps the pleasing ambiguities in the relationships/characters. 3/5 stars
Moontangled, by Stephanie Burgis. The kind of misunderstanding in relationships that happens in this book drives me nuts, but it’s a sweet story all the same. 3/5 stars
Death at Victoria Dock, by Kerry Greenwood. Again, solid and entertaining, and a quick read. 4/5 stars
A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters. I forgot quite how this resolved, so it was good to reread it. Still very enjoyable! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. Discussing the latest I’m reading, as usual; this week featuring Kerry Greenwood, Stephanie Burgis and Andrzej Sapkowski.

Out and about:

NEAT science: Spillover: Avenues for Zoonotic Disease.‘ Why is a Chinese food market the perfect spillover point for all kinds of animal diseases? I’ve tried to explain!
NEAT science: ‘Featured in New Scientist! (Sort of.)I answered another reader’s question in New Scientist and it got printed!

How’re you doing? What’s been stacking your shelves?

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Review – A Morbid Taste for Bones

Posted February 7, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis PetersA Morbid Taste for Bones, Ellis Peters

It’s been ages since I first read this book, but the series has always stuck in my mind — not least because it is the only series that both my parents have ever recommended to me. So after someone mentioned reading them on Pillowfort, I ended up grabbing the ebooks via the library (though none of the libraries I’m a member of has the full series, ugh) and settling down to a reread of the first one. I think I’ve read the second one too, but that might be where I stopped.

In any case, the Brother Cadfael books are mysterious whose main character is a Benedictine monk with a rather colourful past. Content now in the cloister, Cadfael nonetheless manages to get himself taken along to Wales on a small matter of stealing a local saint for the greater glory of the monastery. He’s Welsh, so he’s useful as an interpreter — and he understands the people and the passions stirred up by the Benedictine delegation. He has faith, but a cynical eye, and he doesn’t for a moment accept that gentle Saint Winifred is behind the dastardly murder of a local landowner.

It’s a fun little mystery; the characters are mostly more types than fully drawn people, but with a touch of Cadfael’s cynical view of them to enliven things. The genuinely pious but deeply ambitious Prior is well-done; we don’t see into his heart directly, but his actions and words lay him bare. Likewise, there’s something rather touching about Peredur and his thwarted passion for Sioned.

I do enjoy the setting in Wales, and the us-vs-them mentality that’s so quickly sketched out. It’s carefully dealt with, despite the temptation to put them at each others’ throats; there’s respect and a will to work together, alongside the misunderstandings and stiff-necked pride.

It all wraps up nicely — very nicely and conveniently, but in a way that’s enjoyable because it’s poetic justice — and Cadfael settles back into the status quo, napping through meetings and tending to his garden. Until the next mystery, that is.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at Victoria Dock

Posted February 6, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry GreenwoodDeath at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood

Death at Victoria Dock opens with the death of a young man, shot at as Phryne drives past on a cold night. After he breathes his last in her arms, she obviously can’t let it rest — she decides that she must know why he was killed, and avenge him if she can. At the same time, she takes up the totally unrelated case of a missing young girl, meaning this book features the contrasting locations of an Anglican convent and a revolutionary hideout! It’s all pretty high-stakes, with kidnappings and shootings, and Bert and Cec wandering around armed.

It also features the first appearance of Hugh Collins. I did find the Catholic/Protestant drama in the show (what I’ve watched of it) contrived and a little annoying (I know it’s for the drama, but argh, they’re so sweetly uncomplicated in the books, and it’s nice), so it’s nice that he and Dot are both Catholic and all in all quite steady and without drama (although maybe they get it all out here with Dot’s kidnapping and the daring rescue).

As always, it’s an easy read; fairly light (though there is drama and death), and full of Phryne’s ingenuity and practical approach to all matters of life, death and in between.

Rating: 4/5

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