Review – The Tea Master and the Detective

Posted 14 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Teamaster and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard

This is basically a Sherlock Holmes retelling, set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe of short stories and novellas, where Watson is actually a sentient ship, and the mystery involves a body dumped into the equivalent of hyperspace, through which humans can’t travel without a ship to protect them and a cocktail of drugs (served in teas, traditionally, though presumably the format doesn’t necessarily have to be a tea) to keep them from going insane.

Of course, the ship, The Shadow’s Child, is less blindly fascinated by the Holmes character (Long Chau) than Watson is in the original stories, and there’s a certain friction between them throughout. The ship doesn’t like Long Chau’s attitudes (she can be abrasive) and is suspicious of her past. The Shadow’s Child has her own tragic past, in which she lost her crew, her family, in an accident — in those deep areas of space that the mindships are able to navigate and from which humans need protection. Naturally, the mystery — and Long Chau’s incisive commentary on her understanding of The Shadow’s Child — end by drawing the ship into the space she fears, in order to prevent further tragedies. Likewise, there are links to Long Chau’s own history and her past disgraceful involvement in the disappearance of a young woman she was tutoring.

Ultimately, the story is perhaps less about the actual mystery and more about that interplay between the two personalities — and The Shadow’s Child eventual decision to face her fears in order to rescue Long Chau and another human, at the conclusion of the mystery. There’s definitely room for more in this world (of course, since it’s part of a whole series of not-necessarily-connected stories) and with these characters: I’ll be interested to read whatever might come of that in future.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Greeks

Posted 13 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Greeks by H.D.F. KittoThe Greeks, H. D. F. Kitto

This book is kind of outdated in its information and definitely so in many of its attitudes, but nonetheless it remains a bit of a classic. I think that’s mostly because of the author’s sheer enthusiasm for the people about whom he writes, their land and their customs. I studied Athenian democracy in excruciating detail for a Classics A Level, but Kitto manages to actually get excited about it, to show all the best things about it and the way the Greeks behaved and thought. It’s mostly about the Athenians, honestly; you can consider the two basically synonymous in this book — Kitto does talk about the Spartans, for instance, but with significantly less approval and interest.

Kitto’s style is mostly engaging due to his enthusiasm, but I do warn that he quotes extensively from various sources (rather than summarising them, he lets them stand for themselves to illustrate his points; this can get tiresome).

Just as a warning, though, if you were thinking of picking this up: though I do think there’s something charming about Kitto’s complete adoration of the Athenian people, he definitely held some less than charming opinions about the place of women and the treatment of slaves — he thought that most things were justified because it allowed the Athenians to have their genuine democracy (which just so happened to exclude much of the population).

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 12 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 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 Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-LodgeI’m still partway through Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. There are no major surprises for me, but despite knowing better I’m still a little surprised by how recent some of these racial issues are, and how recently there have been really, really gross racist views going unchallenged. The issue about policing… I thought it was better in the UK than in the US, but aside from fewer fatalities, some of it sounds very familiar from the US news.

We’re also listening to Rivers of London while doing crafts various,

Cover of A Most Novel Revenge by Ashley WeaverWhat have you recently finished reading?

A Most Novel Revenge, by Ashley Weaver. Amory isn’t as charming to me as Daisy, and Milo’s far from being the kind of character I enjoy, but the mysteries are a nice way to while away an afternoon or two, so I’ve stuck with them so far. They’re a bit lukewarm in many ways, and my reviews are probably gonna end up damning them with faint praise.

Cover of Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel KayWhat will you be reading next?

I don’t know. I’m tempted to read Sailing to Sarantium, since my wife’s reading it at the moment. Then there’s always the Daisy Dalrymple books, and a plethora of library books I’ve been telling myself I’ll get to any minute now. Or there’s one of the British Library Crime Classics I haven’t read… Or one of the books I already have in progress but half-abandoned.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Murder on the Flying Scotsman

Posted 11 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola DunnMurder on the Flying Scotsman, Carola Dunn

This installment of the Daisy Dalrymple series features Alec’s daughter prominently: she decides to run away and find Daisy as she’s getting on a train to Scotland, and ends up witnessing key facts in a murder case (of course). The murder takes place on the Flying Scotsman, so of course Scotland Yard have to be called in, and of course, Alec is in the neighbourhood and concerned because of his daughter. There’s the usual sort of cast of characters with perhaps a few more unpleasant folks than usual, with the leavening ingredient of Dr Jagai. I had my eyebrows raised a little over him using yoga to help treat a shellshock case (not that it’s a bad idea, but seemed like it was a bit of a stereotype and had the potential for being a magical Negro type moment), but it mostly came off okay.

Alec’s interactions with Daisy remain delightful, and this book includes some slightly steamier scenes (insofar as these books ever get steamy) — the biggest indicator being Alec rather firmly going off to take a specifically cold bath. I laughed at that bit, I must confess. Belinda makes a fun addition too, though she was also used as a bit of a prop for a “diversity is good” moment (on race instead of sexuality, which was covered in The Winter Garden Mystery; yeah, I know, I’m getting cynical in my old age).

I hope I don’t get tired of this series, because it does delight me in the same sort of way as the Phryne Fisher books, albeit with a more conventional (i.e. less sexy and more sexually inhibited) female main character. It’s nice that Daisy has to get by on her wits, too — no pearl-handled revolvers for her.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: When To Give Up

Posted 10 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

It’s probably not a shock to anyone reading this that I have a large number of books I own, in both ebook and dead tree, that I haven’t yet read. Somewhere around 1,200, I would guess. No, I don’t mean that’s the number of books on my wishlist. I own them, and will quite possibly be crushed to death by them if I’m not careful. My darling wife (who knew full well what she was in for when she married me) kindly went through and figured out exactly how many I have remaining from each year, after Chuckles’ post breaking down her TBR inspired me!

2011: 28 unread (60 listed) – 47% unread
2012: 152 unread (208 listed) – 73% unread
2013: 363 unread (519 listed) – 70% unread
2014: 198 unread (392 listed) – 51% unread
2015: 103 unread (255 listed) – 40% unread
2016: 109 unread (228 listed) – 48% unread
2017: 101 unread (233 listed) – 43% unread
2018: 158 unread (210 listed) – 75% unread

It looks like I was amazingly bad at picking books I actually wanted to read at some point in the last five years in 2012 and 2013 — but it’s not quite so, since the pre-2013 lists don’t include books I bought and had read before the blog started in late 2013. 2018, I put down to the year not being finished yet. The dust hasn’t settled!

The reason this entry is titled “When To Give Up” is because I don’t know when that is. It’s very rare for me to strike off a book on my backlist without trying it, and sometimes even when I have tried it. I guess I’m just reluctant to miss out on something that could be good through feeling like I should have fewer books. Also, I know I’m a mood reader and that you never can guess when I’ll suddenly want to read something obscure from the backlog.

Still, as a little experiment in public accountability, I’m going to include some stats in my Weekly Roundup posts from now on: number of books in, number of books read, and number of books from the backlog read. Let’s see how that goes! I suspect it’s going to find that I am easily distracted by — oh look, a library!

Anyway, there, Mum — was it as bad as you thought? And other readers, how do you think you compare? Do you read books right away, or hoard them like a book dragon?

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 8 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s starting to look kind of like Christmas here — me and my wife have our very first Christmas tree (since this is the first time we’ve lived together and been together at Christmas), and we have the very best (if unconventional) topper.


Books bought this week:

Cover of Rattle His Bones by Carola Dunn Cover of To Davy Jones Below by Carola Dunn Cover of The Case of the Murdered Muckraker by Carola Dunn

Books read this week:

Cover of Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn Cover of Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

Reviews posted this week:

Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells. A fun entry in the series, though I miss ART and feel it’s a little… episodic for my tastes. 4/5 stars
Requiem for a Mezzo, by Carola Dunn. One of those cosies where the dead person is so awful you can’t really help but root for whoever did them in… Fun, but not demanding. 4/5 stars
Pax Romana, by Adrian Goldsworthy. Definitely an interesting re-examination of the Roman Empire and its benefits for those under its banner. 4/5 stars
The Division Bell Mystery, by Ellen Wilkinson. Mostly stands out because of the setting, but has some surprising moments of pathos near the end. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Habitica Bookclub: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About RaceAn intro post about my pick for December’s readalong.
WWW Wednesday. The usual update on what exactly I’m reading right now.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Gecko Jesus‘. Or, “how exactly do geckos walk on water?”

So yeah, how’s everyone doing? Getting Christmas-y, if you celebrate? Any good books lately? Tell all!

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Review – The Division Bell Mystery

Posted 7 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonThe Division Bell Mystery, Ellen Wilkinson

I was fascinated to read about the background of the author of this book: she sounds like a really interesting person, one of the first female MPs, and really dedicated to her work and her constituents. Respected across party lines, too! I was a little worried that her work was included for the novelty of the author being an actual MP writing about a mystery set in the Commons, but it’s competently done and the little personality sketches feel so real. She didn’t overwhelm the work with her actual knowledge, but she definitely used it to advantage.

The mystery itself isn’t exactly revolutionary, and her female femme-fatale style character (and the male reactions to her within the story) were so very, very typical of the period, but the ending brings in a surprisingly real note of pathos, and the setting is somewhat unique. It comes together into an enjoyable little amateur detective story, with some funny lines, some interesting details, and some surprisingly vivid thumbnail sketches of a few characters. I enjoyed it enough to rank it a cut above the sort of baseline enjoyment I’ve had with other British Library Crime Classics.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Pax Romana

Posted 6 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Pax Romana by Adrian GoldsworthyPax Romana, Adrian Goldsworthy

Pax Romana is a popular history style examination of the peace imposed by the Roman Empire, and how peaceful it actually was, as well as how it benefitted or oppressed the lands and peoples that fell under Roman sway. Although I called it popular history, it’s not super popularised: the evidence is meticulous, and the pace slow. It’s popular history in the sense of being perfectly comprehensible to the interested outsider to the field, rather than being simplistic.

The overall theory of the book is that the Pax Romana really was, in general, beneficial — and that Rome’s rule really was relatively peaceful and benign, with exceptions being just that rather than the overall rule. A lot of the time the evidence suggests that benignity was due to basically ignoring local squabbles and leaving places to govern themselves with minimal interference, while the legions only marched in for serious matters.

How far do I agree with Goldsworthy’s views, based on the evidence presented? Well, he definitely makes a good case for it, though I think he takes the long view to a great degree and I think there were likely people within the Roman Empire who felt oppressed by it, as well as people who were relatively unaffected by it. I do agree with his view that the Roman Empire wasn’t ruled simply through brutality: it certainly wouldn’t have had the longevity it did, if that were the sole basis, and it wouldn’t have been something people actively wanted to be part of — and it was something people wanted to be part of, more often than not.

It’s definitely a worthwhile look at whether the Roman Empire is really so degenerate as its painted.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 5 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 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 Rosewater by Tade ThompsonWhat are you currently reading?

At the gym (where I go on the treadmill and sulkily walk 45 minutes, at the moment) I’m reading Rosewater by Tade Thompson; I got a good chunk read last time, so I’m starting to get a handle on the world. I’m slightly put-off by the amount of sex; it’s not actually excessive if I try to enumerate the number of times it’s come up, but it sticks in my mind when I think about the book.

At home, I’m reading Dead in the Water, the next Daisy Dalrymple book I’ve got to. That’s rather more restful!

Cover of Damsel in Distress by Carola DunnWhat have you recently finished reading?

Ugh, I think the last thing I finished might just have been the last Daisy Dalrymple book, Damsel in Distress! It was fun too, with Phillip Petrie getting a bit more development and a little story of his own. He may not be the brightest, but he is a dear.

Cover of Styx and Stones by Carola DunnWhat will you be reading next?

I’d like to say any one of the many books I’ve been wanting for ages and desperate to pounce on, or one of the books I’ve been intending to reread, or whatever. But apparently my stress levels say it’s cosy mysteries all the way, so I’m going to guess it’ll be Styx and Stones and then Rattle His Bones, the next two Daisy Dalrymple books! I might try and finish rereading Murder Must Advertise as well, though…

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Requiem for a Mezzo

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

Cover of Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola DunnRequiem for a Mezzo, Carola Dunn

The Daisy Dalrymple books are definite cosies: mostly victims the reader will dislike, while the real culprit is never someone the reader is meant to like, or had a really good reason if they are; a ‘clean’ romance, with Alec and Daisy decorously falling in love with only hints here and there of physical lust; blood and guts minimised. Requiem for a Mezzo continues in that vein as expected, with the poisoning of a woman who rather made the lives of everyone around her miserable — a literal diva who has made a career for herself as a singer at the expense of her sister. The villain is not quite as expected, mind you — but I won’t spoil that part for you.

The investigation goes along as expected: various suspects, the weird complication of a Ukrainian terrorist group (an issue mostly skirted around and not used to full potential), plenty of red herrings. Daisy remains likeable, though not someone I’d ever invite round to my house (someone would be sure to die). She’s a little bit too perfect, despite her unfashionably rounded figure and her freckles (it all just makes her sound comfortable and cute to the modern reader), but she gets away with it. Alec isn’t too clever, but avoids ever relying hopelessly on Daisy’s help. It’s all within the bounds of tolerability — this makes it sound like I’m damning the books with faint praise, which is not my intention: I deeply enjoy them for the cosy mysteries they are.

I found the resolution of this one maybe a little too pat. I don’t believe in the motive, and feel like we ended the book without an answer as to who was the real culprit. But it’s still fun, and there were some lovely character moments: not just Daisy and Alec, but little glimpses of other people’s thoughts and feelings that make it feel a little more real.

Rating: 4/5

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