Weekly Roundup

Posted 10 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning folks! It’s been quite a week, with one of the new buns rather suddenly becoming a teenager on us and needing to be separated from his sister. They get play dates, but they can’t live together now. It’s a bit sad, but on the other hand one cage now lives next to me so I have tons of awesome pictures of them just hanging out close by.

It would’ve been a quiet week, book-wise, except that a few I ordered last week have come in and I have one new ARC!

Received to review:

Cover of The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

New books:

Cover of This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova Cover of Murder of Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey Cover of Wychwood by George Mann Cover of The Dragon's Legacy by Deborah A Wolf

Cover of Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn Cover of Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn

Cover of The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth Barber Cover of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David Cover of The Bull of Minos by Leonard Cottrell

Read this week:

Cover of The Greeks by H.D.F. Kitto Cover of Unearthing the Dragon by Mark Norrell

Reviews posted this week:

Magna Carta, by David Starkey. Not bad, but seemed basic to me. 2/5 stars
Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse. I liked this when I first read this, but apparently that moment can’t be recaptured! 2/5 stars
One Way, by S.J. Morden. I’d have liked this more if it wasn’t so very much like another book I read recently, though I found the characters thin and mostly distinguishable by their crimes. 2/5 stars
The Ancient Celts, by Barry Cunliffe. Beautifully presented, but for some reason Cunliffe’s writing seems to put me to sleep. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Film Adaptations. Yay or nay?
WWW Wednesday. The usual update!

So how’re you all doing?

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Review – The Ancient Celts

Posted 9 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ancient Celts by Barry CunliffeThe Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe

This book is a gorgeous object, lavishly illustrated with photographs of Celtic artefacts and finds. The book was written by a well-known expert in the field, and I have no doubt of his credentials or his accuracy in laying out what we know and the interpretations that can be drawn (fairly cautiously) from that. This certainly isn’t the kind of book that looks at the mythology about the Celtic peoples written by the Romans and swallows it whole; Cunliffe bases the book on all kinds of different evidence, drawing it together to provide a picture of the groups of people one could confidently consider part of the same Celtic race.

The only problem is that something about Cunliffe’s style sends me to sleep. It’s not that I doubt that he’s fascinated by the subject matter, but he doesn’t communicate a good sense of that enthusiasm, to my mind — there are writers who can make the minutiae really speak even to a layperson, and there are those who can’t. Cunliffe is rather the latter. It’s still an excellent resource about the Celtic peoples, but it wasn’t the best for light reading by a curious outsider to the field.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Way

Posted 8 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of One Way by S.J. MordenOne Way, S.J. Morden

One Way was, in the end, too like a grimmer version of Death of a Clone for me to really enjoy. Even though I’m fairly sure neither was trying to copy the other, the similarities made One Way less enjoyable, mostly because it was the second one I read, and partly because it was rather darker in tone. I’ve seen comparisons with The Martian, but again, I think it was darker in tone than that, and less fascinated by the technical minutiae.

The book follows Frank, a convict who killed his son’s drug dealer in a pre-meditated fashion, and went to prison for it. He’s offered a way out by a company who are trying to build a base for NASA on the moon: he and several other convicts must ship out to Mars, there to spend the rest of their lives, and build the base. It’s cheaper than robot labour for them, and it’s a way out for Frank and the other convicts, so of course they say yes. They go through some gruelling training, but only six months of it (which should probably be a hint right there about how expendable they are, but they don’t seem to twig that fact), and then off they go.

Once they’re woken up from cryosleep on the other end, though, people start to die. As each team member finishes their job and becomes expendable, there’s an equipment failure, a weird leak in the hab… and there’s Frank, slowly realising that these deaths really aren’t accidents.

It’s not a cast particularly designed to arouse sympathy: they’re not out and out bastards in everything they do, but you know that each of them killed people, and each of them is capable of some terrible things. The camaraderie between them is fragile, and so is the reader’s willingness to root for them. In the end, I was mostly sitting back to see how each one of them died and when, without really caring much about the outcome. Not ideal!

It’s not a bad idea for a novel, but peopled with such generally terrible people, it’s not something I found particularly compelling either. And I never believed in the promise of a second chance that Frank was offered: it was too obviously too good to be true. That left me feeling like it was just going through the motions, and I was glad to be done.

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 November, 2018 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 Roman Forum by David WatkinThe Secret of Chimneys, by Agatha Christie. I’m trying to whittle down my library pile and Christie’s a good quick read, so, tada. I’m not a little confused at this point, partly because I read the first two chapters a couple of weeks ago and then tried to pick up where I left off, but hopefully I’ll get up to speed soon…

Also, The Roman Forum, by David Watkin, which takes a view less archaeological (and less focused on the Romans exclusively) than a lot of other writers. He talks about the afterlife of the forum too, the way its been used over time — something I honestly find more interesting, especially for being a rare approach, though I think he’s too down on archaeology.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Greeks by H.D.F. KittoThe Greeks, by H.D.F. Kitto. Out of date in information and decidedly so in attitude, and yet his enthusiasm is boundless and kind of worth reading anyway, if you can handle him being very much of his moment re: issues like enfranchisement of women. (He’s not anti, but he’s so condescending about it that you almost wish he’d straight up say that women are too stupid for the vote, so you could be properly fully annoyed at him.)

What will you be reading next?

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonGoodness only knows. There’s the next Murderbot, there’s a whole range of library books… Oh, I do know I need to start on The Division Bell Mystery, because I’m buddy reading that with someone on Litsy. Better grab that off the shelf!

What are you reading at the moment?

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Review – Labyrinth

Posted 6 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Labyrinth by Kate MosseLabyrinth, Kate Mosse

I read this ages ago alongside my sister, and while we both had problems with it, we did enjoy it. I always kind of wanted to recapture that reading moment, so I gave it a try.

The book follows Alice, in the present, and Alais, a medieval woman living in Carcassone at the time of the Cathar heresy. Alice gets caught up in what happened to Alais, who turns out to have been her ancestor, as history replays itself in the modern world, everyone focused on obtaining the secrets that Alais found herself guarding. The secret, of course, of the grail.

Now, being a medievalist for the most part as a student, I have strong feelings about grail stories. The way people take them seriously as if there really was a Holy Grail drives me batty: I’ll show you the textual origins of the grail, if you like. They’re no older than Chrétien de Troyes, greatly enlarged upon by the continuations of his unfinished tale, and often taking their cue from Robert de Boron, who wove the whole explicitly religious tapestry around a bare mention of a graal in Chrétien’s unfinished story. Labyrinth… does not irritate me too terribly on this front. The problem is that the writing is not great, explaining things that are obvious and ruining the impact of any similes and metaphors by promptly just stating what they meant afterwards.

(One example, pulled from someone else’s review: “Baillard … felt the years falling away, a sudden absence of age and experience. He felt young again.”)

It’s pretty humdrum in execution: there are no surprises in the links between Alais and Alice, and there’s a whole romance element that just feels cheap. There is a good sense of place and the impression that research has been done in the portrayal of medieval Carcassone, and then that’s undermined by the opening where Alice is working on an archaeological site and just… pulls things out of the ground, without recording context, without any preparation for conservation… nothing.

In this case, looks like you can’t go back: my enjoyment of the book was of its moment, and can’t be recaptured. Ah well.

Rating: 2/5

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Discussion: Film Adaptations

Posted 5 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed how I feel about movie adaptations in general. It’s a bit of a hot button topic among book lovers, isn’t it? “The book is always better” purists and those who just don’t trust Hollywood on principle (smart move)… Me? I don’t watch films or TV much at all, so it’s a bit of a moot point. I think comic book movies work really well: it’s a visual medium being adapted into another visual medium, so it’s not quite as tricky, and actors like Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans have done a good job at somehow embodying the larger than life characters from comics. When it’s done well, it can even bring a new cohesiveness to disparate material — I don’t follow how the fuck most of Marvel’s comics fit together most of the time, but the Cinematic Universe has allowed a lot more interlinking.

(On the other hand, maybe too much. Civil War was billed rather awkwardly as a Captain America movie when it was clearly an Avengers movie. It was about the whole team, not Cap as such. You wouldn’t get away with that in comics; a lot of people follow particular headline characters, not teams and crossovers.)

Books, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier. They’re not a visual medium, and the translation can be harder. I think some movies have done it extremely well — Lord of the Rings, but not the Hobbit, for instance — by taking pains to be as close to the source as possible. Some have been super boring because they stuck close to a book that didn’t translate well, either through narrative voice or through much of the action being in thought rather than deed. Others have benefitted by going off at a right angle (Stardust, Howl’s Moving Castle). Some have just bombed by doing that (The Seeker).

All in all, I think adaptation is an art in itself, which you have to keep in mind as well as film-making. The same goes in the opposite direction — I’m sure a very good book can be written based on a movie, but it can’t just repeat the action word for word. It’s an act of translation to a new medium, and really you need to understand the needs of both media.

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Review – Magna Carta

Posted 4 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magna CartaMagna Carta, David Starkey

This was a fairly basic survey of what the Magna Carta was, how it came about, and what it means to us now. I won’t say it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, because it does go into a bit of the back-and-forth and negotiations about what the Magna Carta actually contained and why, but it felt very slight. The subtitle of this book is “The Medieval Roots of Modern Politics”, and I didn’t think it really dug into that very much at all, in fact.

So not a bad book, but not exactly a deep dive either. Readable, but. Shrug.

Rating: 2/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 3 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Happy weekend! It’s been a rollercoaster of a week for me — new bunnies, degree results, dentist appointments… But in the end, it’s pretty good. And worth celebrating with an immense book-spree, obviously, because hey! I’ve gone and graduated with first class honours (again).

Also, these guys. Meet Biscuit and Eclair! The left pics are Eclair, our new baby boy, and right is Biscuit, a girl who is already planning to rival Hulk in size.

It was super hard to pick which photos to share. They’ve had their first vet checkup and are doing well.

Received to review:

Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuire Cover of In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Aka AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I am so excited.

New books:

Cover of King Arthur: The Making of the Legend by Nicholas J Higham Cover of Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt by Chris Naunton Cover of Inheritors of the Earth by Chris D Thomas Cover of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Cover of Pale Rider by Laura Spinney Cover of Breaking The Chains of Gravity by Amy Shira Teitel Cover of A History of Histories by John Burrow Cover of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

Cover of The Amazons by Adrienne Mayor Cover of The Lost World of Byzantium by Jonathan Harris Cover of China A History by John Keay Cover of The Roman Forum by David Watkin

Read this week:

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles Cover of War Cry by Brian McClellan Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

 Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells Cover of A Little History of Science by William F BynumCover of Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Reviews posted this week:

The Winter Garden Mystery, by Carola Dunn. A good follow-up to the first book, though the phonetic Welsh accent is a bit comical (and bad) and I wouldn’t be inviting Daisy round to my house anytime soon… murders follow her! 4/5 stars
The Incas, by Craig Morris, Adriana Van Hagen. This is great — detailed, but absorbing all the same, and richly illustrated too. 4/5 stars
In The Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette De Bodard. I didn’t get it, alas. 2/5 stars
Daughter of Mystery, by Heather Rose Jones. This might’ve been mediocre as a fantasy, mystery or romance story on its own. The combination of the three made it really absorbing. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Likeable Characters. How do you feel about the importance of characters in fiction? Super important, or is the plot or the writing quality more important to you?
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Gravitational Waves’Have they really been detected? What about that controversial article and coverage saying that there’s something up with the results?! Answer: the team are being tardy in full publication, but… well, read the post!

This post was brought to you by WifePress, aka Lisa did most of the formatting and left me free to do other things. Much gratefulness.

How’s everyone doing?

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Review – Daughter of Mystery

Posted 2 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose JonesDaughter of Mystery, Heather Rose Jones

It took me ages to get round to reading this, but it turned out to be pretty delightful once I finally did, and I want to read more set in the same world. (Good thing there is more!) It’s basically around (I think) 18th century Europe, only with magic, and it’s set in a Ruritania-like fictional European country, with mixed European elements to the language and culture. The two main characters are two rather different girls: one girl from a well-off but not noble family, and one girl with no family name who serves the nobility as a swordswoman. The general cultural attitude toward women is somewhat straitlaced, and Margerit is headed for a dancing season and then marriage as quickly as possible, despite her scholarly tendencies — while Barbara is an oddity and not exactly socially acceptable, though protected by the patronage of the baron she serves.

Of course, the Baron has it in mind to meddle, and the two girls are quickly thrown together after he dies, leaving his title to an annoying relative but all the non-ancestral lands — and his wealth — to Margerit, his goddaughter… along with Barbara, who remains in service and thus can be more or less given to Margerit through the terms of the will.

As the story unfolds, it slowly becomes apparent that there’s a deeper game going on, with political implications — and also that Margerit is more remarkable than those around her thing, as she’s able to see and manipulate the ‘mysteries’ by petitioning the saints. There’s a solid and satisfying story there even without the relationship that develops between Margerit and Barbara. In itself, the romance is a fairly slight story, with the standard impossibilities and misunderstandings and lack of communication: it kept my attention because of the larger story within which it plays out.

It’s a fascinating take on the usual ‘medieval European fantasy’ type setting (although not quite medieval, I know), and I enjoyed it. It mostly steers clear of tarring any character with too black a brush, though I found it weird that Margerit’s cousin is quickly forgiven by her for attempting to sexually assault her, and I wasn’t entirely keen on how often the threat of rape and abduction arose (often just to explain why Barbara would need to stay so close to Margerit, I think). Some of the side characters are fascinating, and I’ll be glad to see more of them in the other books, particularly Antuniet.

Overall, as a fantasy novel alone it’s not groundbreaking, and as a romance alone it’s probably too focused on the other plot. Taken together, and with the fact that it’s a lesbian romance, it turns into something quite absorbing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In the Vanishers’ Palace

Posted 1 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 10 Comments

Cover of In The Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de BodardIn the Vanishers’ Palace, Aliette de Bodard

Received to review via Netgalley

I wanted and expected to love this story. It’s a queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast, based on Vietnamese folklore with sci-fi elements as well, and dragons. There’s even a sci-fi library that I really want to exist. I pre-ordered it, requested it on Netgalley, and generally waited on tenterhooks. How did I find it? Well.

It opens promisingly enough: Yên, the daughter of a healer, is traded to a dragon in exchange for her healing powers. It’s clear they live in a post-apocalyptic universe, with viruses wracking the human population and contagion spreading from person to person. As a failed scholar, she’s just not valuable to her village, and so she’s traded away in order to save one of the leaders’ daughters. Off she goes to live with Vu Côn, the dragon, to look after her children — and it turns out that Vu Côn lives in a palace made by those who wrecked the world and disappeared, and the children aren’t any ordinary dragons.

After the start, though, I rarely felt like I understood what was happening or why. Or rather, I could give you a running summary for the whole story, but I felt all adrift; I didn’t know why things were happening, I didn’t catch the undercurrents, and the relationship between Vu Côn and Yên came completely out of nowhere from my point of view. I do like a story where I have to work for it, where I have to figure out where I stand and how this world is different to ours, but I don’t think that was the problem. It was more the characters and their motivations that never worked for me (or when they did, it was only for a few pages). The setting itself was fascinating, but. But.

I seem to be fairly alone in that, looking around at bloggers I trust, which makes me almost reluctant to admit that I just really did not get it. And it makes me reluctant to give this a poor rating, but… my ratings have to be my ratings, not how I think I ought to rate a book.

It’s clear there’s plenty here that’s enchanting other people, and in many ways I’m an aberration. I’ll be passing on my copy to my sister and seeing if it ticks her boxes!

Rating: 2/5

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