Review – Hacking the Code of Life

Posted 24 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hacking the Code of Life by Nessa CareyHacking the Code of Life, Nessa Carey

This is a pretty slim volume which introduces the latest in gene editing technology, mostly but not exclusively referring to CRISPR, and its potential uses and implications. I was a little surprised there isn’t more to say about it, but Carey’s explanation of how CRISPR works is beautifully easy to comprehend (enough to make me update my own mental way of explaining it) and her analysis of the state of the art is pretty well on point as far as it goes.

Despite the boundless optimism I’ve seen around CRISPR, for all its potential it hasn’t changed the biomedical world yet (though labwork has already been transformed, as I understand it), and Carey is rightly cautious-but-optimistic in tone. My main complaint is just that I wanted more.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 24 April, 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 An Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-LeighWhat are you currently reading?

Too much, as ever. The first two my eyes fall on are Spineless, by Juli Berwald, and The Incredible Crime, by Lois Austen-Leigh. The former is fascinating, though I’m gonna have to have a squint at the notes at the end — there’s at least one claim where I can’t find a source by googling. The latter is… well, it’s a Golden Age crime novel, so relaxing in the way I find almost all of those books relaxing: it’s not yet all about the most gruesome murder or the most twisted serial killer. It’s usually more of a puzzle. I’m not far into it, really, though.

Cover of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie DavidWhat have you recently finished reading?

Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David. There were some odd decisions at points — like a chapter where David seemed to be taking the Bible fairly literally as a historical document, which I’ve previously understood is not a very good idea — but it goes through the beliefs of Egyptians both common and aristocratic, as far as we can understand them, explaining the evidence and implications..

Cover of Hild by Nicola GriffithWhat will you be reading next?

Why do I still try to answer this part? I’m fairly sure I’m never accurate. At a guess… well, I need to finish Hild sometime in the next week in order to get the Game of Books points for reading it on time for the book club. So that, maybe?

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Bull of Minos

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

Cover of The Bull of Minos by Leonard CottrellThe Bull of Minos, Leonard Cottrell

This is really out of date; practically a period piece in itself, full to the brim of fanboying over Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans. It does raise some interesting points about Arthur Evans’ work, at the very least, suggesting that some of his restorations — like the use of concrete — were entirely necessary. I’ve read a lot of later work implying that his restorations were rather unsupported by the evidence, but the explanations here for at least some of them seem sound.

It was kind of an interesting experience to read about those two archaeologists in a positive and approving light. And kind of funny, too, that I was recommended this as a book about the Minoans and really it was rather more about Mycenaeans, of the two, and overwhelmingly more about fanboying Schliemann and Evans.

In search of a more informative book actually about the Minoans…

Rating: 2/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 23 April, 2019 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

This week’s theme is: your first ten reviews! I’m not going to delve into the Goodreads rabbit hole to figure out what my first ten were there, so here’s a blast from the past of this blog…

Cover of Captain Marvel #1

  1. Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy and Emma Rios. My first experience with Captain Marvel! DeConnick’s run was pretty badass.
  2. Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye and The Big Reap, by Chris F. Holm. I re-posted these reviews from Goodreads due to a great experience with Chris Holm. <3
  3. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke. I really loved this one! I’m kind of curious to reread it now.
  4. Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. Still great. Clean all the things!
  5. The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin. Didn’t get on with his writing then, still don’t now. Plus ça change…
  6. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. A reread at the time, and one I surprisingly still enjoyed.
  7. A Gift Upon the Shore, by M.K. Wren. I can’t remember this at all, but apparently I wasn’t a fan!
  8. Swords of the Six, by Scott Appleton. Nope, completely blank on this as well!
  9. Between Two Thorns, by Emma Newman. I’ve been meaning to reread this and try the rest of the series!
  10. Zealot, by Reza Aslan. Hmm, I don’t seem to have been much of a fan.

Interesting how little I remember about some of these! I think my more recent reviews might be a bit more helpful in prompting the memory…

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Review – Catullus’ Bedspread

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

Cover of Catullus' Bedspread by Daisy DunnCatullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet, Daisy Dunn

If this were sold as a novel, I probably wouldn’t have been so annoyed with it. However, it’s sold as non-fiction, despite doing the most amazing reaching to try and describe authentic episodes of Catullus’ life — nothing you could argue with as obviously untrue, but who knows where he ever walked up towards the Forum cursing the heat, or whatever anecdote like that first caught my eye? Dunn writes as if partially fictionalising the subject matter, while disarmingly taking the non-fictional stance of “perhaps” and “surely he felt that” and so on outside of the weird fiction scenes.

It’s a mixed approach and it’s probably true that that keeps some people more engaged, and that some people even prefer it. I don’t like being told that Catullus did this and did that part of the time, and then “maybe” and “perhaps” and “probably” the rest, when the things the writer says did happen are completely unknowable, and the maybes and perhapses are things Catullus actually wrote about.

Also, I know people have praised the close-reading of the poetry in this book, but I did better close-reading that some of this in the first year of undergrad alone. Most of it struck me as completely obvious — even facile. I’d take that with a pinch of salt, given I disliked the book, but… still.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Ninefox Gambit

Posted 21 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha LeeNinefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

When I first read this, I was initially put off by the discussion of math. It took me probably too long to get past the fact that my enemy numbers was being discussed, and to understand that this is math-enabled magic, at heart. (This may bother people looking for hard SF, but as far as I know it’s true: the math, which is discussed in relatively little detail, causes effects in the physical worldthrough unspecified physics. It’s magic.)

So start again: this is magic in space. Kel Cheris, an officer in the Kel army, is fighting to uphold the Calendar; the Calendar governs what magic will function, and is founded on math and various “remembrances”, aka ritual tortures. Cheris is a little odd for a Kel: where most of her fellow soldiers can only use canonical formations and are not very adaptable, she has the ability to think outside the box. She can make the magic work in different, heretical calendars… which is why she’s first somewhat disgraced (because what she did was itself heretical) and then tapped to answer a serious problem with calendrical warfare. Her solution is an old, old weapon: what amounts to the ghost of a Kel general who, once upon a time, went mad and slaughtered countless people.

It turns out that to use the general, Jedao, you have to “anchor” him, and Cheris is chosen as the anchor — the only person who can hear what he has to say, relay his advice, and also put him back in the box if he shows any signs of going mad again.

What could possibly go wrong.

Reading this again was delightful, because I can see more of the machinations and more of people’s motivations. Jedao remains a delight to me, and a perfect combination with Cheris’ skills — and as someone who can’t read a simple number without stumbling, I can definitely cheer for a dyscalculic general who is a splendid tactician. (I did love the distinction between a strategist and tactician, as far as long-term thinking goes. That comment comes fairly early, and then — well, judge for yourself whether Jedao is a tactician, a strategist, or both.)

I think Yoon Ha Lee has done an amazing job at creating characters who are deeply, fatally flawed, partially due to the situation they’ve found themselves in — the Hexarchate is also deeply, fatally flawed — and who are also very conscious of it, very conscious of the shortcomings of the system they’re embedded in. There’s so much I could talk about in these books, about the Hexarchate, about the Kel specifically, about the way the characters interact… I haven’t touched on nearly everything I love.

Suffice it to say, I loved this book all over again and more.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Ragged Alice

Posted 20 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Ragged Alice by Gareth L. PowellRagged Alice, Gareth L. Powell

Received to review via Netgalley

I really enjoyed the setting of Ragged Alice: Powell captures certain Welsh phrases perfectly, and I couldn’t help but smile at the phrasing “Owen the meat” — and wonder how other readers will feel about that and whether they’ll “get it”. Maybe if you’re not raised knowing that the undertaker named Dafydd (David) should be known as “Dai the death” (pronounced “Die”), this world is a little too foreign, for all that it’s just Wales.

There’s a lot of familiarity, though. It’s basically a police procedural, really, except with a supernatural element: DCI Holly Craig can see people’s souls, and she knows when they’re carrying guilt around with them. She’s come home to Pontyrhudd through her work in the police, to investigate a simple-seeming hit and run accident. But one murder turns into two, and there’s some connection to the horrible death of Holly’s own mother…

It’s more or less predictable in plot, to my mind, and I’m not sure I really quite understand why the ritualistic deaths were required. The ending felt a little sudden/contrived, as well. It’s an enjoyable novella and I wouldn’t mind more in the same world, but apart from enjoying the setting a lot (more Welsh books, please!), it didn’t stick out for me especially.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 20 April, 2019 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s ridiculously late as I’m queuing this up and I’m rather tired, and I really haven’t got to read enough this week. How’re you guys?!

Received to review:

Cover of Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky Cover of The Undefeated by Una McCormack Cover of Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton Cover of The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall

Cover of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vlyar Kaftan Cover of Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan Cover of Longer by Michael Blumlein

I’m excited to read more in that universe from Tchaikovsky, and I couldn’t resist the description of The Undefeated


Cover of Hacking the Code of Life by Nessa Carey

New pop science from Nessa Carey? Yes, please!

Received from a swap:

Cover of Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte Cover of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir Cover of The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden

This should be fascinating! Thank you to Tatiana for my Litsy SFF swap box! I need to tuck into the fudge I got, too. Nom nom nommm…

Read this week:

Cover of Hacking the Code of Life by Nessa Carey Cover of Inheritors of the Earth by Chris D Thomas Cover of The Undefeated by Una McCormack

Reviewed this week:

Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Whose Body is a fun book, but it doesn’t have quite the same emotional hook as Clouds of Witness, and that connection to the case for the defence makes this rather more engaging. 4/5 stars
Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal. A lovely blend of history and fantasy that’s really well thought out, and far from what I expected from reading the first book! 4/5 stars
Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones. Another reread! In style it’s rather typical of Diana Wynne Jones’ work, and that means it was a lot of fun. 4/5 stars
Life in a Medieval Castle, by Frances Gies and Joseph Gies. Not bad, and probably good writing resource, but Marc Morris’ book on castles would be my preference! 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Rainy Day Reads. Five books I go back to for comfort reading, and five that I’ve been saving for a rainy day.
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update on what I’m reading.
Wyrd & Wonder 2019. A giveaway!

Out and About:

NEAT science: ‘IN MICE.‘ Highlighting an excellent Twitter account, and the reasons to applaud it.
Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘A Hard Day’s Work for a Very Small Librarian‘. The short story written to go with this bookmark I stitched for my SF/F bookswap partner.

So that was my week! How was yours?

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Review – Life in a Medieval Castle

Posted 19 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Life in a Medieval Castle by Francis Gies and Joseph GiesLife in a Medieval Castle, Frances Gies, Joseph Gies

This book is pretty much what it says on the tin: an exploration of what life was like in a medieval castle, mostly drawing from the case of Chepstow Castle, but mentioning other castles when variations and other points needed to be made. It covers the life inside the castle — what the Lord and Lady of the castle would do, how they would entertain themselves — but also how the castle was supported by the lord’s people. There’s some space given to warfare and surviving siege conditions, as you’d expect, and the exact social circumstances that promoted the building and use of castles.

It’s an easy enough read, though there wasn’t much that surprised me in terms of being new information. For a more engaging read, I’d probably turn to Marc Morris’ book: Castles, which covers some similar ground. Probably makes a good reference read (no surprises there — the cover mentions that George R.R. Martin used it as such, which is probably why it and the other related books are having a nice little lease of life in bookshops)!

Rating: 3/5

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Wyrd and Wonder 2019

Posted 18 April, 2019 by Nikki in General, Giveaways / 16 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyph

It’s nearly time for Wyrd & Wonder! I suppose I better do the introduction if you haven’t met W&W before, Dear Reader. Wyrd & Wonder, meet the Dear Reader! Dear Reader, this is Wyrd and Wonder! It’s a month-long celebration of all things fantastical, with various readalongs, discussions, giveaways and shenanigans throughout the month.

I’m notoriously bad at keeping up with this kind of thing, but I thought I’d do a start-up post at the very least! And while I’m at it, why not take the opportunity for a giveaway?

Rules and Ways to Enter:

  • The prize: One (1) book of your choice from the fantasy books I read during the period 1st May – 31st May, to be mailed to you directly from or gifted via Kindle if you’re in an eligible country (this is flexible — if you have another preference, let me know if you win!)
  • How to enter: Use the Rafflecopter below! There are three ways to enter:
    1. Click once for a free entry
    2. Leave a comment on this post. The prompt in the Rafflecopter is: “Are you doing anything for Wyrd & Wonder? (You don’t have to be for a chance to win, I promise!)”
    3. Posted about Wyrd & Wonder! Post something Wyrd & Wonder themed and give me the link to the post! Tweets don’t count, sorry, but anything longer-form does! You can do this multiple times, once per day!
  • Terms and conditions: 
    • By entering, you consent for your details to be collected by Rafflecopter for the sole purpose of verifying your entry and contacting you if you win.
    • The winner will be contacted via email and will have three days to respond before I contact a runner-up to offer them the prize.
  • Duration: Until 31st May!
  • The books you can choose from: 
    • Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews
    • A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan
    • Snowspelled, by Stephanie Burgis
    • Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
    • The True Queen, by Zen Cho
    • The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson
    • Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
    • The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman
    • The Afterward, by E.K. Johnston
    • Valour & Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal
    • Of Noble Family, by Mary Robinette Kowal
    • Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier
    • Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks
    • In An Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire
    • Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
    • Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
    • Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
    • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
    • Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker
    • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
    • The Ninth Rain, by Jen Williams

Welp, that should do it! Are you ready for this, folks?!

IMAGE CREDIT: Dragon – by  kasana86

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