Review – Enchanted Glass

Posted 18 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne JonesEnchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones

I think that Enchanted Glass was one of the very first books I got on my ereader, and I couldn’t remember much from it beyond the general enjoyment and the immortal line — wait for it: “I seem to have excalibured this knife.” I’m not sure why that stuck with me in particular, though I suppose given my other interests it makes sense. So a lot of the plot was almost new to me, and it was surprising how long it took me to catch on. The book opens with the death of Andrew Hope’s grandfather, leaving him with the house — and his grandfather’s “field of care”. The magic system is revealed rather slowly and organically, and to be honest there are never clear rules, as such. Instead, you have to sort of intuit what’s going on, figuring things out rather like a child learning to talk.

(I use that metaphor because I remember Diana Wynne Jones as having written that children intuitively understand magic, and it’s adults that always need to ask too many questions. There’s something true in that, and it reminds me of how children learn languages. If Diana Wynne Jones didn’t write that observation, she should’ve, because I always find her books like that!)

In any case, into Andrew’s beginnings of a quiet life wrangling his computer, his gardener and his housekeeper comes Aidan Cain, pursued by who-knows-what and vulnerable after the death of his own grandmother. Andrew’s not even quite sure how to take over his grandfather’s field of care, and there seems to be something awry with an odd neighbour…

The book barrels along at a good clip, with endearing side characters (“I got zips!”) and entertaining scenes, heading toward an inevitable conclusion: a struggle between the land of Faerie, and Andrew Hope’s own ordinary townspeople. (Sometimes not so ordinary.) It’s solidly entertaining, sometimes funny, and basically everything you’d expect from a Diana Wynne Jones novel. I still enjoyed it greatly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Without a Summer

Posted 17 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Without a SummerWithout a Summer, Mary Robinette Kowal

At this point, this might be my favourite novel in this series. It combines the romance and the magic with events in Britain at the time it is set, spinning a new story out of genuine history in a way that explores the implications of the magic system — much like Glamour in Glass, of course, but I love how it winds together the physical conditions in the “year without a summer” and the plight of workers and the magic and just… aah, I really enjoy it.

Which is to skip to the commentary before explaining the book, I know. In this book, Jane takes Melody up to London while she and Vincent are working on a mural together, to give her sister some more time in society to potentially meet someone she might come to love or want to marry (preferably, of course, both!). This happens to be in 1816, the year in which climatic conditions in Britain remained wintery despite the normal turn of the seasons, due to the far-off eruption of Mount Tambora. With famine and general hardship weighing on people’s minds, there’s unrest and a need to blame someone for what’s happening… At the same time, Vincent’s family make overtures to Jane and Vincent, as if they want to bring them into the fold — though Vincent’s sure there’s nothing innocent or forgiving about it.

Naturally, without spoiling the plot too much, I’ll just say that Jane gets herself involved in the unrest, Melody gets herself into trouble, there are misunderstandings and quarrels aplenty… and it’s all pretty darn fascinating. There’s a really great denouement, and — well, I won’t say anymore, for real this time!

Suffice it to reiterate that I love this book. My one point of dislike is the stupid disagreements that arise due to lack of communication. Learn from your mistakes, characters! COMMUNICATE.

(I have joked that if I were the Relationship Advice Dalek, my vocabulary would be restricted to “COMM-UNI-CATE!”)

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 17 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 Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeWhat are you currently reading?

Far, far too much at once, of course! I’m partway through rereading Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee — I tore through my reread of Ninefox Gambit. The books really are pretty compulsive reading, especially now that (given it’s a reread) I know the world a little and what things are possible. I did find the magic-math a little mind-bending the first time, but it’s easier this time. Aaaaahhhh Jedao. AAAH.

I’m also reading Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt, because I can never stay away from books about Ancient Egypt. I’m not very far into it, but it seems so far to be taking a common-sense approach that attempts to unify the various different threads of evidence (graves, texts, monuments, artefacts) rather than relying on just the mummies, or just the texts.

Cover of Hacking the Code of Life by Nessa CareyWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished Nessa Carey’s new book, about CRISPR (or really, gene editing a little more broadly). It’s rather short and the emphasis is much more on the pop than on the science aspect, but it does feature an extremely excellent description of how exactly CRISPR works, and the discussion of the ethics is timely and important, if rather basic because it’s addressed to a non-scientific audience.

Cover of Inheritors of the Earth by Chris D ThomasWhat will you be reading next?

*shakes Magic 8 Ball* “My sources say no”?

Well, I’m guessing I’m going to be as capricious as usual. I do know that I’d like to have fewer books on the go at once, so chances are high I’ll be finishing Inheritors of the Earth — a discussion of whether species diversity is really under threat in the Anthropocene, taking a common-sense approach to things like invasive species — and other books recently added to my currently reading pile, like Hild. Probably especially Hild, since it’s a book-club read!

What are you reading? Please do comment and let me know so I can raid your books when you’re done!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 16 April, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s topic is “Rainy Day Reads”, and like imyril, I can’t help reading that as books for a metaphorical rainy day. So here are five books I always turn to when I want a comfort read — and five books I’ve been saving for a rainy day.

Comfort Reads for a Rainy Day:

Cover of Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers Cover of Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

  1. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I mean, come on, you knew I was going to say it. I adore the decency of Maia — he’s not perfect: he can be petty and waspish and he does things he regrets, and he’s not always the sharpest crayon in the box either, but he tries his damnedest and he wins hearts (including mine) because of it. <3
  2. Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart. I used to be rather snobbish about these even as I enjoyed them, so here I am eating humble pie. There’s something about Mary Stewart’s ability with settings and her masterful heroes that works, even as I get annoyed with them — the hero of this book does not comport himself beautifully, to say the least. But there is some lovely stuff about grief, and learning to love again, and… I don’t know! It just works for me. It helps that Charity is a badass.
  3. A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. It made me cry in the bath, but it’s still a favourite. It’s all… warm and squishy, even as it’s occasionally upsetting and harrowing.
  4. Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. It’s a newcomer to the list, I’m sure — I think I’ve written a comfort reads list before, at least — but I’ve been craving it when feeling down and ugh-y, so I guess it qualifies by now! I’ve read it twice, and I really kinda just want to read it again. Now.
  5. A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. Which is funny, considering I didn’t love it the first time I read it. But it grew on me, rather the same way that Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey grew on me. (And I read them both at around the same time, actually…)

Books I’ve Been Saving for a Rainy Day:

Cover of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers Cover of The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson Cover of The Books of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin and Charles Vess Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin Cover of Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

  1. Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. I’ve actually started it now, but for a while there it was just sat on my pile, gently tempting…
  2. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, by Toby Wilkinson. I might have an odd idea of comfort, but… there’s something nice about having this waiting for me somewhere along the line. I hope it’s a good overview, and not too similar to John Romer’s volumes, but either way I’ll probably enjoy it for the familiar magic of Egyptian archaeology and history.
  3. The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin, illustrated by Charles Vess. Technically, the story isn’t new to me, but this illustrated version will be! It promises to be a real pleasure, which I’ve been putting off for the right moment, when I need it!
  4. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I did actually start this, got partway through it, got distracted, and then sort of ‘banked’ it to await the full series. Which is all out now and has been for some time, but I know it’ll be good, so… it just kind of waits there.
  5. Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch. To the eternal frustration of Lisa and Mum. I’m in no hurry to be left hanging for the next book like I was after Red Seas Under Red Skies, people!

And an honourable mention to The Tethered Mage, which imyril has been tempting me with on Litsy all this week…

So that’s my rainy day reads — what’re yours?

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Review – Clouds of Witness

Posted 16 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

Listening to the radioplay and watching the TV adaptation of Clouds of Witness with Lisa made me really appreciate the actual book all over again. Every detail that she quibbled in the radioplay or TV series had an answer in the book; Sayers really knew what she was about. (Which is not to say that she never dropped a brick, but she made choices in her books for good reasons, and adaptors of her work should pay attention to her intentions there. (I’m looking at you, whoever adapted The Nine Tailors for TV — never mind that you’re blatantly disregarding history by having the Spanish flu occur in the 30s.)

Anyway, the book itself: in this second book of the series, Lord Peter finds his own brother accused of murdering his sister’s fiancé, and has to rush back to England from Paris to help investigate what happened. The book isn’t short of physical peril for Peter: he nearly drowns in a bog, is shot by his sister’s other fiancé, attacked by a farmer, and flies from the US to the UK in a two-person aircraft to hurry back with evidence for Gerald’s trial. He gets to be a hero here for Gerald’s sake, and readers see more of his depth of feeling, sense of responsibility and duty, and of course his wit and brains.

People often think little of mystery books, and consequently of Dorothy L. Sayers, and it’s true there aren’t many mystery novels whose solution turns on the plot of an 18th Century French novel. Still, Sayers ensured there is at least one (and several other books with equally erudite references and plots).

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 13 April, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Hey guys! I’m back from my holiday, which included a trip to Amsterdam to ABC (mostly for me) and Stephen and Penelope (mostly for Lisa). I was good and stuck well within budget, but I do have some new shinies! I also have a new ereader: I’ve switched back to Kindle, since I didn’t like some of the design choices for the Kobo Clara, so I have a Kindle Paperwhite (2018 edition) now. By next week, my personalised case should have arrived to be shown off, too…

For now, here goes the haul!

Received to review:

Cover of Ragged Alice by Gareth L. Powell Cover of Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh


Cover of The Afterward by E. K. Johnson Cover of Atlas Alone by Emma Newman Cover of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker

Finished this week:

Cover of King Arthur: The Making of the Legend by Nicholas J Higham Cover of Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones Cover of Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh Cover of Ragged Alice by Gareth L. Powell Cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Reviews posted this week:

The Edge of Memory, by Patrick Nunn. I have concerns about this one. The basic premise is okay, but then I think it tries to go too far and gets rather circular in argument. Interesting, but the methodology doesn’t seem sound. 2/5 stars
Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley. Still a nice retelling, with some definite advantages over the earlier Beauty, but ultimately not a favourite. 3/5 stars
Spirals in Time, by Helen Scales. Are you fascinated by shelled creatures? If so, this is probably more for you than for me. I got a little bored before the end, to be honest. 2/5 stars
The Unexpected Truth about Animals, by Lucy Cooke. Kind of meh in the end? Much of it was not unexpected at all, for me. Some interesting titbits, though! 2/5 stars
The Human Planet, by Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis. Got a bit bogged down in how to define the Anthropocene, for me, instead of sticking to the slightly broader topic of human impacts on Earth. A lot of fascinating stuff, though! 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘More accurate gene editing? Some CRISPR news, with a dose of caution.

It’s been a busy week — I feel like I need a holiday from my holiday. How are you guys doing? Reading anything awesome?

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Review – The Human Planet

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

Cover of The Human Planet by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. MaslinThe Human Planet, Simon Lewis, Mark Maslin

This book is about the impact humans have had on the world, and perhaps more accurately, it’s about how we pinpoint when that impact really began and whether we should consider the human impact to have started a new geological age for the Earth. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here about exactly how humans have changed the world: the Columbian exchange which is leading to the homogenisation of ecosystems, and climate change, of course, but also the deeper impacts to the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

There’s also a lot of rather tedious discussion of how exactly the committees to define geological time are set up, and that I could have done without. I don’t mind some information about that, but I don’t need to hear about the endless infighting and bureaucracy created in such detail! I’m actually interested in how humans have impacted the planet, not the process by which we decide whether to commemorate that by naming a geological era the Anthropocene.

There’s several instances of really bad editing in this volume, too — typos, sentences which don’t quite make sense, etc — which gives it quite a careless overall effect. Some useful information and theories, and some stuff I didn’t know from elsewhere, though!

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 10 April, 2019 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 Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. SayersWhat are you currently reading?

A couple of things, me being me, but most actively I’m actually rereading two books: I’m mid-Wimsey reread, of course, so I’m partway through Unnatural Death. I’m kind of enjoying how obvious Agatha Dawson and Clara Whittaker’s lesbian relationship is, while wondering what Sayers thought of it — the narrative is pretty non-judgemental, but the preface suggests that Sayers put her own words in Miss Climpson’s disapproving mouth. Kind of disappointing, if so; I always rather thought Wimsey didn’t care.

I’m also rereading Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones; I remembered being fond of it, and I am, though the only concrete thing I seem to have remembered about it was the line: “I seem to have excalibured this knife.” It’s rather charming, and I do enjoy the way she didn’t explain much. As she rightly said in an essay somewhere, kids work this stuff out. It’s adults who expect everything to be pinned down and explained. Hopefully I retain enough of the child to just enjoy.

Cover of King Arthur: The Making of the Legend by Nicholas J HighamWhat have you recently finished reading?

King Arthur, by Nicholas Higham. He examines all the various historical origins for King Arthur… and rejects them one by one. His evidence seems thorough and sound, though of course it always helps that I’m in agreement with him. He covered all the fictional texts I would’ve expected, and the bibliography is very thorough (although I couldn’t find what edition of Malory he used, and he did persist in saying Le Morte d’Arthur, instead of the correct Le Morte Darthur), so all in all I’m inclined to believe it’s all pretty sound. Romans, Sarmatians, Narts, Greeks — all dismissed as sources, after discussion and presenting the evidence for and against.

Cover of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky ChambersWhat are you reading next?

I really don’t know. I’d like to focus on Record of a Spaceborn Few, and I still need to read The Priory of the Orange Tree to the end. I’ve got rather behind on reading during this holiday, which has involved a lot of people and not enough time using the opportunity to hide from chores to just craft things and read all day. I’ll be travelling back to the UK tomorrow, and I have the radioplay of Unnatural Death and some cross-stitch for the drive up from Ebbsfleet to Yorkshire, but I’ll be reading Record of a Spaceborn Few on the train, probably.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Unexpected Truth About Animals

Posted 9 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Unexpected Truth about Animals by Lucy CookeThe Unexpected Truth about Animals, Lucy Cooke

Perhaps unsurprisingly, very little of this was actually unexpected to me. There is some interesting and entertaining stuff — including the penguin facts — but some of it was fairly well-worn. Possibly that’s because I have read a fair number of pop-science books, possibly it’s because my parents raised me on a solid diet of David Attenborough, but… meh. Cooke’s writing isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have much of a spark, and I didn’t find it particularly entertaining. Actually, I kept feeling rather bored, and switching books to stay awake longer (to maximise the precious hour or two I spend reading in bed — and completely offline — at the moment!).

So… it wasn’t bad, but neither did it strike me as anything special.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Spirals in Time

Posted 8 April, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spirals in Time by Helen ScalesSpirals in Time, Helen Scales

Spirals in Time discusses shells — all kinds of shells and shelled creatures — with all kinds of weird and wonderful facts… and others I feel like I really should have known. (An octopus is a mollusc!) If you’re interested in shells already, I’m sure it’s fascinating, but I ended up a bit lost and a bit, well… lacking in giving a shit. Scales’ enthusiasm is palpable, but I’m just not interested enough.

Besides which, I totally agree that anthropogenic climate change is real, but somehow being preached at about it in every book I read is beginning to get on my nerves. Yes, thanks, I know all this! I know there’s value in it being there and it’s all true and important, but… arggh! Somehow it’s becoming, unfairly, a pet hate.

This isn’t actually a bad book, just not my thing.

Rating: 2/5

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