Review – Beauty

Posted 20 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Beauty by Robin McKinleyBeauty, Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley has written two retellings of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale; this one is the closest to what you might think of as the classic story (i.e. actually the version immortalised by Disney, albeit with touches like including Beauty’s sisters), and is also the youngest in terms of how it’s written. It follows the traditional set-up, and the retelling mostly relies on filling in the gaps — characterising Beauty’s sisters, playing with irony (Beauty is not, in fact, beautiful — at least not at first, though somehow she becomes very pretty over the course of the book), creating several secondary love stories — rather than being wildly transformative or creating a rich world. Rose Daughter… well, I’ll come to that when I’ve finished that reread!

I find it very enjoyable, partly because it’s kept fairly simple, and because I enjoy the characters. It’s an undemanding read, but it’s fun.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 20 March, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 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.

Cover of Watch the Wall, My Darling, by Jane Aiken HodgeWhat are you currently reading?

Most actively, Watch the Wall, My Darling, by Jane Aiken Hodge. I remember liking at least one of her romances before, and I wouldn’t mind this one if it finished soon… but instead, it has a climax-y feeling at 50% of the way through, and according to reviews it has a whole weird bit to go. I’m pretty sure I am going to stop enjoying it. But I’ll give it a bit more of a chance…

Cover of Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette KowalWhat have you recently finished reading?

Glamour in Glass, which was a reread; this series has really grown on me, and I enjoyed reading the author’s note about how the particular themes of this book came about. And I do enjoy Jane and Vincent’s relationship; it is certainly loving, but it isn’t perfect — but they communicate.

Cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha ShannonWhat will you be reading next?

I should read more of The Priory of the Orange Tree! It’s just so massive I can’t read it in bed, and that’s when I’ve been doing most of my reading, but I plan to get back into that because I was tearing through it when I had a quiet weekend.

What are you reading?

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Review – How the Irish Saved Civilization

Posted 19 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of How the Irish Saved CivilisationHow the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill

A more accurate, but less attention-drawing title, would be something like “How the Irish helped to preserve the literary records of the Greeks and Romans”. In parts, it’s more of a history of the fall of Rome than about the Irish, and in others, it’s more about the coming of Christianity to Ireland. Cahill’s portrait of St Patrick is rather tender and actually worth the read if you’re interested in reading about a saint who seemed to be a bit of a stand-up bloke, but… none of this is actually about saving civilisation in any kind of general sense.

Which all makes sense, because awesome as Ireland can be, saving civilisation is a bit too big a task. I don’t even agree with Cahill in the sense that Greek and Roman literature and philosophy were that necessary for later civilisation to exist — there would be civilisation, I’m sure: it just wouldn’t be Western civilisation. There’s way too much privileging of the Classical and Christian tradition in this book, in a way that’s kind of gross if you consider how many other civilisations have existed. He’s also a patronising dick about medieval people in general, spouting cliches all over about their views and inner feelings in a generalising and condescending sort of way. Meh.

Cahill is certainly invested in his subject matter, and fascinated by what he’s writing: he portrays St Patrick in particular with sympathy and care. However, there’s that basic premise being all wrong, the condescension towards whole peoples and ways of life, and the condescension to the reader in assuming they’ve never encountered Plato and couldn’t possibly understand what Plato is saying.

Meh.

Rating: 2/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 16 March, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Good morning, folks. I am writing this the night before, as usual, and very very sleepy. Thank you wife for once more coming to my rescue and setting most of this up!

Books acquired:

Cover of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Books read this week:

Cover of Spirals in Time by Helen Scales Cover of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers Cover of The Unexpected Truth about Animals by Lucy Cooke Cover of The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth Barber Cover of Beauty by Robin McKinley

Reviews posted this week:

The Hollow Man, by John Dickson Carr. I know Dickson Carr is the king of the locked room mystery, but this just wasn’t my thing. It’s all about the puzzle, not people. 2/5 stars
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford. Some interesting stuff, but a bit basic for me and very disorganised. 3/5 stars
A Kiss Before Dying, by Ira Levin. Meh, charming psychopath story. Well-written, but I’m sick of charming psychopaths. 2/5 stars
Threads of Life, by Clare Hunter. A fascinating history of embroidery and sewing; necessarily cherry picks some particularly interesting individual stuff, and no doubt misses out a lot of other things, but fascinating. 4/5 stars
The Copernicus Complex, by Caleb Scharf. I agree with Scharf mostly, but he takes a long time to get to actually expressing an opinion. It’s more a primer on factors that might be involved when you try and guess whether there’s life elsewhere in the universe. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. Such book, very update, wow.

How’s everyone doing? Good week?

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Review – The Hollow Man

Posted 14 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Hollow Man by John Dickson CarrThe Hollow Man, John Dickson Carr

In The Hollow Man, some thinly characterised people try to work out a locked room mystery, probably less paper-thin than they seem for some readers since it’s actually the sixth or so entry in a long running series, but really not sufficient for someone just starting out. Various implausibilities are discussed, unlikely red herrings crop up, and in the end there’s a shocking reveal, the trick is explained, and no one of any consequence to the reader has changed or grown at all.

As a puzzle story, it’s not bad, but I don’t quite get the hype about John Dickson Carr if this is typical of his work. It feels like the story and characters are thin layers of papier-mâché covering what the author really wanted to do, which was just play with that puzzle. It’s not unusual for a Golden Age crime novel, but from the enthusiasm of other readers I assumed there would be more to it than this. I’ll probably try another book or so by Carr — series detectives like his Gideon Fell can be a difficult proposition, but other books not featuring this character might be okay (reader, I hate Poirot, but Agatha Christie is really not bad when you leave him out of it). This wasn’t bad, I just didn’t care.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

Posted 13 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam RutherfordA Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford

It’s an ambitious title, and it should come as no surprise that that’s not really a history of everyone who ever lived. It’s really a story about some of the things we know from our genes, and it’s a bit of a random sampling at that, covering ear wax (those who have studied genetics will find this no-shocker, since wet vs sticky earwax is a fairly common example of a certain kind of genetic trait), kings, disease, migration, redheads, and all kinds of things in between. To me, it read like a grab bag of interesting facts we know about genetics: yes, the facts are interesting, but a coherent argument leading through a book it is not.

Rutherford’s not a bad writer, and he clearly has an eye for a good story, but… first of all, this level of pop-science is a bit too pop for me now, and secondly, it’s a disorganised mess.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 13 March, 2019 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

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.

Cover of Lucy: The Beginnings of MankindWhat are you currently reading?

At this very moment, typing this the night before, Beauty, by Robin McKinley. I’m very sure I’ll have finished it by morning, though! I’m also partway through Donald Johanson’s book, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. It’s out of date in terms of the conclusions, of course: much has moved on since Lucy was found. But it’s still a fascinating insight into the early days of palaeoanthropology, and into the conditions out on a dig.

What have you recently finished reading?

The Unexpected Truth About Animals, which is okay, but contained a lot of stuff that was not unexpected for me, and was not in fact that interesting. There were some titbits, but mostly… nah, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.

Cover of Rose Daughter by Robin McKinleyWhat will you be reading next?

Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley; I always enjoy reading her two takes on Beauty and the Beast at around the same time, to watch what she does differently each time.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – A Kiss Before Dying

Posted 12 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Kiss Before Dying by Ira LevinA Kiss Before Dying, Ira Levin

A Kiss Before Dying is basically about a charming psychopath, and it feels same-y because I find that whole concept really overdone and boring at this point. The story is cleverly structured, and Levin’s writing isn’t bad or boring, but… the choice of topic and the twists are just kind of meh. Basically, a young man is dating a girl because her father has money. He has her totally hooked, everything’s in the bag, and then she gets pregnant. Her father’s old-fashioned and would’ve disowned her, so he knows that the jig is up — and he can’t ditch the girl, because then her father would probably ruin him. So he decides to kill her.

We jump forward to the girl’s sister investigating her death, sleuthing around the campus where her sister died and generally threatening to open up a whole can of worms for the killer. After that — well, this is one of those books where you probably want to read the reveal for yourself, so I won’t spoiler. (Everything I’ve mentioned so far is pretty surface-level stuff that might even be in the summary, don’t worry!)

I did enjoy looking out for the scene that Chelsea Cain, in the introduction, says is completely innocuous to someone who just opens the book at that page, and is a shocker for anyone who has been reading the whole thing. She’s right, it is a pretty awesome moment, if you’re keeping an eye on the details.

So meh, because I’m bored with the allure of a charming psychopath, but the writing and structuring is good, and it’s probably right up a lot of people alleys.

Rating: 2/5 

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Review – Threads of Life

Posted 11 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Threads of Life by Clare HunterThreads of Life, Clare Hunter

Threads of Life is a history of the world through sewing, from the Bayeux Tapestry to modern protest banners. Obviously, part of the reason it caught my attention is that I’m doing a fair bit of sewing (cross-stitch) myself at the moment — but also, I’m a sucker for this kind of micro-history that focuses in on one particular element of the human experience of history. In this case, there’s a lot of personal musing too: the author has been involved with a lot of community projects and art initiatives encouraging people to sew, bringing communities together through sewing, etc. There’s a healthy amount of history too, though, discussing how embroidery is viewed and how that has changed, discussing the roles embroidery has played in all kinds of situations.

Overall, it’s an interesting book, and there are all kinds of things I had no idea about that I’d love to see, like the quilts made by women in captivity during wartime. All of it makes me want to sew, and to be political with my sewing as well — if I could design worth a damn, I’d be cross-stitching Jo Cox’s (somewhat paraphrased quote): “We have much more in common than that which divides us.”

Overall, the author tries to get more than just a Western perspective, and to include people from all walks of life and how they’ve used sewing — both as something that is useful in itself, and as a form of self-expression. The abridged BBC programme about this book is good, but very much abridged: it’s more of a taster than a full idea of everything Hunter covers.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Copernicus Complex

Posted 10 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Copernicus Complex Caleb ScharfThe Copernicus Complex, Caleb Scharf

Ostensibly, this book is about a simple question: are humans alone in the universe? It has to go the long way around to come to any answers, exploring other arguments by way of figuring out whether the Earth is or isn’t rare in the universe and whether or not life is as tightly constrained as some people say, but the core principle of the book is that we need to find a middle ground between the current main ideas — the Copernican view that we can’t be unique, and the Rare Earth view that says life in the universe must be unusual.

Mostly, my wife got to watch me mutter “yes, obviously”, and I’m tempted to quote Lord Peter on Chief Inspector Parker here — it takes Scharf a desperately long time to someone who already has a somewhat formed opinion to “crawl distantly within sight of a conclusion”. That conclusion, in the end, is basically where I stand: not enough data, come back later (with a side of Scharf being pretty sure that neither extreme is going to turn out to be correct, with which I disagree — I think it’s all up for grabs at this point).

So anyway, if you want to know why I came to the conclusion I’ve written in my science blog recently (i.e. “we don’t know and we can’t know based on the current data we have”), this book has a good roundup of the evidence. Scharf isn’t bad at explaining it.

But if you’re looking for answers, I find it as unconvincing as all the other attempts at answering this question.

Rating: 3/5

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