Review – Death at Bishop’s Keep

Posted 1 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin PaigeDeath at Bishop’s Keep, Robin Paige

Death at Bishop’s Keep follows mostly two characters: the first one being Kathryn Ardleigh, a thoroughly modern and independent American lady, and the second being Sir Charles, an English gentleman with an interest in… well, all kinds of things, from murders to mushrooms. It opens with Kathryn, though, as she’s offered a job with her heretofore unknown British aunt, and travels across to England in order to become her secretary. She quickly finds that though the situation sounds ideal — with a generous salary — she has two aunts, one of whom is repressive and cruel, and plans to treat her like a servant instead of as family. All is not well in the household, as it’s clear that her Aunt Jaggers has some kind of hold over her Aunt Sabrina, and disapproves of the work Sabrina has employed Kathryn to do.

Meanwhile, Sir Charles finds himself investigating a murder, since the local police seem unlikely to do anything about it. Between that and neighbourly visits, he finds himself thrown into Kathryn’s company a lot. They don’t quite investigate together, but their paths keep crossing, and when Kathryn’s aunts both die violently of poisoning, Charles finds himself eager to help Kathryn discover exactly what happened.

The best thing about the book is the possibly too anachronistic Kathryn, who also happens to be a writer of lurid short stories (which is her motivation for getting involved in any trouble or intriguing situation she can — she mines it for her books!). The writing is mostly workmanlike rather than particularly exciting, and the solution to the mystery was pretty obvious from the moment a certain plot element was introduced.

Nonetheless, it was a fun enough read — though not one where I’m eager to read the rest of the series. Part of that is because I’m told Sir Charles becomes the main character to a greater degree, and part of it is that there was just something fairly pedestrian about this in the end. Kate’s an interesting character, but not in the same way as my other favourite mystery heroines. If the other books are on Kindle Unlimited, I might pick them up sometime, but I’m not in a hurry.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Local Habitation

Posted 28 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuireA Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire

Finally, I’m proceeding with my rereads to get on and maybe someday finish this series! This is the second October Daye book, featuring Toby and Quentin as they delve into a mystery in a neighbouring duchy. For one reason or another, Sylvester hasn’t been able to get in contact with his niece, January, and for political reasons among the other fae, he can’t go himself. Since Toby amounts to an independent contractor, sending her doesn’t count, and Quentin’s just along for the ride… so off October goes, quickly finding out that there are murders being committed at January’s computing company, and even the strongest of the fae who work there are being killed.

To me, the killer is fairly obvious all along, but then I do have the advantage of having read the book before. There are some delightful ideas and bits of fae lore here: I love what we discover about the night haunts, for instance, and the idea of a Dryad being maintained in a server after the death of her tree. There is a sense in which this book is just one continual long thrashing of Toby — if she’s not being attacked by an actual enemy, she’s being seduced by a fae who can drain her and leave her for dead; if she’s not worrying over Quentin being injured, it’s because she’s got to worry about Connor instead… But in a sense, that’s what the whole series is like.

It feels like this book could’ve been resolved faster if Toby was thinking with her brain instead of rolling around trying to avoid the next punch by instinct, and it’s certainly not my favourite of the series (though I haven’t read much of the whole series, my money is currently on An Artificial Night for that title, of the ones I’ve read before), but it’s enjoyable enough and has some fascinating stuff going on, like the idea of how to save Faerie.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith

Posted 27 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith by Mary BeardHow Do We Look / The Eye of Faith, Mary Beard

This volume is a slightly odd book in that the two halves aren’t really related, except by being companions to the same TV series, Civilisation. The first half looks at how the human body has been portrayed throughout history — so both what we look like and how we see ourselves — and the second half discusses portraying the divine, iconoclasm, and art history through that lens.

It’s a pretty quick read, with illustrative photos: this is a companion to a TV series, after all, not an in-depth academic treatise. That shows in the relatively broad, shallow approach it necessitates, but it’s nonetheless an interesting book. Mary Beard’s a good writer and respected academic, and the book does come with Further Reading and References, so it’s not as slight as it might look.

Nonetheless, there’s not much to say beyond that! Both topics are interesting, and I’d be glad to read more in-depth discussions — by Mary Beard or someone else.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 27 February, 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 Pale Rider by Laura SpinneyWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve just started reading Pale Rider by Laura Spinney, which is about the 1918 flu epidemic. I’m very curious whether this is going to teach me anything new, given I’ve already read The Great Influenza, and that was pretty in-depth. I’m excited to see, though! It does sound from the introduction like it might go a bit more into the political/social impact of the flu, as well as the medical aspect, which should be interesting.

Cover of Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin PaigeWhat have you recently finished reading?

Death at Bishop’s Keep, by Robin Paige, which was… okay. The main female character is an interesting idea, though perhaps a little anachronistic by way of wishful thinking, but the main male character is kind of meh. I also finished Fayke Newes, by Derek Taylor: it’s all about the media vs those in power, from Henry VIII through to Trump, and it was pretty fascinating to read about how the press developed. It ends on a bit of a paean to unbiased reporting that kind of belies all the evidence presented within the book that really objective reporting that doesn’t bow to power is, um, rare to say the least.Cover of Fayke Newes by Derek Taylor

What will you be reading next?

Well, I just got The Priory of the Orange Tree in the mail today, hurrah! But I’ll probably also read My Sister, the Serial Killer, since it seems quite short and I’ve heard enthusiastic things. The Priory of the Orange Tree is a bit of a huge book, so I predict it’ll take me some time, and won’t exactly be my bedtime/treadmill/out and about reading.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Kill The Queen

Posted 26 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Kill the Queen by Jennifer EstepKill the Queen, Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep’s Kill the Queen is joyfully tropetastic: after Lady Everleigh witnesses the massacre of everyone who stands near to the throne before her, except one traitor, she escapes due to her hidden magic and plans to disappear, becoming just plain old Evie, despite her promise to the previous queen to take back the throne. She falls in with a group of gladiators and ends up training as a gladiator herself, not noticing the parallel with the fact that the first queen of her bloodline rose to the throne via combat as a gladiator. Throughout the book, she discovers that skills she learned as the seventeenth in line to the throne are useful — things that dealt with certain customs that nobody more important had the time to cater to, like baking a particular kind of pie and learning fiendishly complex dance steps.

It continues in that vein throughout: it’s readable, and fairly well-paced, and it has all the obligatory spices like a fairly obvious deeper plot, and a hate-to-love romance. It’s basically brain candy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reading the second book or not, but it was fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Stars Uncharted

Posted 25 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Stars Uncharted by S.K. DunstallStars Uncharted, S.K. Dunstall

Stars Uncharted features a ragtag crew getting into trouble, slowly becoming a found family, dodging around the universe to avoid bad guys of various stripes. If that sounds somewhat familiar, then you’re right. It has a very Firefly-ish, Expanse-ish, Long-Way-To-A-Small-Angry-Planet-ish, Dark Run-ish feel… which didn’t hold any surprises for me or stand out in its little sub-genre, but did scratch an itch… and make me want to read more like it again. (Firefly is such a comfort thing for me!)

It does have its different features, such as the body modding plotline that is such an important part of the plot and understanding various characters: everyone is infinitely plastic in appearance, and a good modder can do anything — changing you right down at the molecular level if necessary. This is woven into the plot pretty inextricably, featuring in several characters’ secrets and motivations, holding up the action at times, and enabling the next twist in others. It’s used pretty well, honestly, and the skills of the two modder characters help to steer the story in a slightly different direction, avoiding it being mere chase scene after fight scene after chase scene.

I did find that I’d figured out Roystan’s secret well, well before any of the characters had cottoned on at all, which was a little frustrating. Not sure if the authors plan to write another book and make it a series, but I suspect I’d read it if they did. And I thought that the hints of romance between two of the characters were a little… well, it felt like a cut and paste job. I did understand why those two characters, but it all felt a bit cookie-cutter predictable, like it wasn’t quite about those two people in particular, but just about adding a bit of extra spice along the way.

(My kingdom for a story with strong bonds without romance being required — oh right, my wish has already been granted: I’m thinking of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.)

It’s fun enough, and I’ll probably read future books by these authors or in a series with this book, if I come across them… but I probably won’t be in a hurry.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Rosewater

Posted 24 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Rosewater by Tade ThompsonRosewater, Tade Thompson

I struggled with this book so much. I’d read such glowing reviews from a whole range of people, but I just couldn’t get into it. Probably part of that is my own fault for reading it on the treadmill (though that normally isn’t a problem) and in little bits, but a lot of it was the narrator’s obsession with sex. I don’t know how many orgasms he had during the book, some of them spontaneous, let alone the number of erections he talks about (seriously), but everything for him seemed to revolve around sex. That’s what women mostly seemed to be for, for the narrator: the first question through his mind always seemed to be a variant on “can I fuck her?”

I especially did not enjoy him in gryphon form fucking a butterfly-winged stranger on what amounts to the astral plane. Just… no thank you.

There is some fascinating stuff here with the setting (Nigeria), the isolation of the US, the xenoforms, Wormwood… but for me it was buried under the general unpleasantness of Kaaro. He’s not particularly ashamed of using his talents to become a thief, and he’s definitely not ashamed of his objectification of women and his complete shallowness. There was an awesome potential whole different book here about Oyin Da, or Aminat, or Femi, but instead they’re sidelined and putting up with Kaaro’s shit.

I don’t know. I don’t get it, guys. I appreciate some aspects of it — SF set somewhere other than the US (or to a lesser extent, the UK/Europe)! The concept of a network of fungal infection allowing mindreading in sensitive people! Awesome! But.

I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Murder Most Unladylike

Posted 23 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder Most Unladylike by Robin StevensMurder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens

I picked this up because the author had a delightful thread on Twitter, basically. It’s not something I would normally pick up, perhaps, given that it’s sort of middle-grade-ish in target audience — but it’s a mystery story and I was told it was entertaining (and inclusive!) so I thought I’d just go ahead and give it a shot. And it was enjoyable: Daisy and Hazel are at a boarding school and become friends, and this term they’ve decided to imitate Holmes and Watson and become a crime-investigating duo. Daisy considers herself the brains of the outfit, while Hazel is the heart (and more often than not has some smart ideas of her own) and the writer, following Sherlockian custom. When Hazel finds a dead body which disappears by the time she goes back to show someone, they realise they’ve found the perfect case.

As befits the audience, it goes along at a hefty clip, and the mystery isn’t too difficult for the audience to get into themselves. It does a nice job of evoking the historical setting without getting into too much detail, using Hazel’s outsider status as a foreign student to explain what might not be familiar (although it all is if you were into Enid Blyton’s books as a kid, as I was). All in all, it still wasn’t my thing, but it was fun as a change, and it is something I’d happily recommend to someone of the right sort of age and/or interests.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 23 February, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Almost forgot to set this up — in fact, have snuck out of bed because I know I’ll forget in the morning! 2019 continues with me being very good about book purchases, and better about what I ask for to review — only one new book this week, from Pan Macmillan!

Books acquired:

Cover of The True Queen by Zen Cho

I’m not sure whether I want to reread Sorcerer to the Crown first. Hmm…

Books finished this week:

Cover of The Case of the Murdered Muckraker by Carola Dunn Cover of Rosewater by Tade Thompson Cover of A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire

Reviews posted this week:

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie. I was so excited to get this advance copy, and it did not disappoint me. 5/5 stars
To Davy Jones Below, by Carola Dunn. Fairly typical Daisy story with a slightly different setting and some recurring characters. 3/5 stars
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, by Souhaila Abdulali. A frank and freeing look at a taboo subject, treating rape as the violence it is and as something that doesn’t have to be defining, while looking at the social issues surrounding it. 4/5 stars
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. This novel actually grows on me every time I read it. This one is primarily romance, but the later books expand the world and feature a lot more politics and world events. 4/5 stars
Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. Like Georgette Heyer, but with more free-thinking and queerness. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual update, featuring my thoughts primarily on Space Opera by Cat Valente.

How’s everybody doing? Read anything good this week?

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Review – Band Sinister

Posted 22 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. CharlesBand Sinister, K.J. Charles

“Georgette Heyer, but queer,” they [being people on Twitter] said.

“I’m there!” I said.

That’s pretty much the summary of this book, though there’s significantly more sex in this than Heyer would’ve got away with, and a lot more free-thinking, philosophy and queerness. The situation, though, is kind of classic: Guy and Amanda live in significantly straitened circumstances, trying their best to be as quiet as possible while a relative holds the purse strings, making them live on her charity. Amanda chafes at this somewhat and hits on a way she can earn them some money: she writes a Gothic novel and easily sells it. The hitch? Well, she based it on the stories about a neighbouring family — with whom her family has a long, storied and unpleasant history.

Then she decides to ride over there to do research, falls from her horse, is seriously injured, and her brother has to go join her in the den of iniquity as a chaperone. Thus do Guy and Phillip meet — and of course, Phillip is in fact much-maligned and really not at all as dreadful as he’s painted (albeit admittedly being queer, and atheist, and fairly promiscuous).

What follows is mostly a delightful exploration of a relationship based on communication — albeit with one or two snags — and consent. If anyone tries to claim consent isn’t sexy, send them this: it absolutely is in this book, and makes the sex scenes worth reading even for those who have no interest in the mechanics, because the emotional content is there. It’s not insta-luv, but the respect and carefulness is there throughout.

The happy ending is decidedly Heyer-ish in tone and effect, and it delighted me. The characters also delighted me — Guy is a dork, and Phillip a sweetheart, and both of them care immensely about the things close to them in a way that draws you into their feelings and motivations just perfectly.

And you know, I was going to automatically give it 4/5 stars, but I didn’t actually have any quibbles. It was deeply enjoyable from start to end, both for the pastiche and on its own merits, and K.J. Charles can write more Heyer-esque stuff any day and just set up a direct debit on my bank account for it.

Rating: 5/5

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