Review – Damsel in Distress

Posted 18 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Damsel in Distress by Carola DunnDamsel in Distress, Carola Dunn

In this instalment of the Daisy Dalrymple series, Philip falls in love, and immediately gets into a scrape. Daisy, of course, is pretty glad to hear about the lucky girl (it gets Philip off her back, and after all she wants him to be happy) and immediately plunges into trouble to help rescue her when something goes wrong. Alec comes into the story later, and mostly unofficially, with plenty of derring-do and dramatic rescue attempts on the part of all concerned.

In a way, there’s not much to say about this book: it’s fairly predictable as far as the fact that you know Daisy is going to get into all the trouble there is to get into, and figure out most of the salient points (with Alec not doing so badly either, of course). Things turn out pretty much okay at the end, not to mention the fact that Alec and Daisy end the book engaged.

The series remains a lot of fun, and rather wholesome fun at that. If you can’t bear Phryne Fisher’s taste in men, it’s a good alternative for a cosy mystery series.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Libraries

Posted 17 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I’m a pretty unabashed lover of libraries. Free books! And so many of them! Okay, I sometimes have trouble finding the exact books I want, but I do get exposed to all kinds of books I might not otherwise have tried. And, well, having four different local library cards helps, too. If the most local library doesn’t have a book, the next one out just might (without having to figure out the individual library’s interlibrary loan system).

And it’s great, of course, to support librarians and prove to councils that people need and use libraries. Especially given the fact that I was on the committee of and volunteered at a community library — a noble endeavour and one that did a lot of good, but also made it obvious just how important funding and backup are in running an effective and useful library. Energetic volunteers aren’t really a replacement for money, and community-led libraries are limited (though better than nothing, by a long long way!).

On the other hand, I have an entire shelf of library books, menacing me slightly with their due dates and sheer profusion. The problem with libraries is that they tempt me to bite off more than I can chew, and unlike the books I own, they don’t wait patiently. So currently I’m in the process of whittling down the number of library books hanging out on my shelves. It’s going slowly… I’m on about 30 left, though, from 60ish to begin with, so I guess I’m doing okay.

Thank goodness libraries let you renew loans…

All the same, it’s important to remember that libraries are pretty great. Librarians, you have my love!

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Review – The Roman Forum

Posted 16 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Roman Forum by David Watkin

The Roman Forum, David Watkin

Most books about the Roman Forum would tend to focus on the Roman period itself, but this rather fascinatingly did a survey through time — not only the classical Roman period origins of the Forum, but the transformations over the years since. The authors strongly feels the importance of seeing the Forum as a living place, somewhere that developed since the time of the Roman Empire, so he spends much time lovingly describing the churches built on the site as well. It’s an approach I definitely appreciate: it’s ridiculous to try and stop the clock of the Forum at the end of the Empire, or to think it was always just one thing throughout that period either. We can’t turn the clock back, so the Forum is best embraced for what it is, rather than attempting to freeze it in time.

I did find this book fascinating, but my one quibble is that the author is almost aggressively against archaeology. He complains frequently about excavation in the forum. And yes, some of it has been done destructively, and I do disagree with trying to tear down anything that was built since Constantine reigned (or whatever your chosen marker point might be). But at the same time, archaeology can be of great value, and I would also be sad if the Forum were to be barred to archaeologists.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 15 December, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! Another week closer to Christmas, and so many parcels arriving with books… which aren’t for me! 😱 No new books this week at all.

Read this week:

Cover of A Most Novel Revenge by Ashley Weaver Cover of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge Cover of Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

Stats:

Number of books in: 0
Number of books read: 4
Number of books from the backlog read: 0
Rereads: 2
Library books: 1
Bought 2018: 1

Reviews posted this week:

Murder on the Flying Scotsman, by Carola Dunn. Another entertaining entry in the series, this one featuring Alec’s daughter. 4/5 stars
The Greeks, by H.D.F. Kitto. Out of date, in attitude as well as facts, but the guy was so darn enthusiastic about the Greeks it was kind of charming anyway. 3/5 stars
The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard. A Sherlock Holmes inspired story where Watson is a sentient ship. Definitely enjoyable, though more about the characters and their interactions (very early in their relationship — they meet at the start of the book) than the mystery or even the world they inhabit, part of Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: When To Give Up. I have stacks and stacks of books in my backlog. When should I admit that I may never read them? Hmm… never!
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘The deep biosphere. Wanna know about the weird and wonderful lifeforms found deep under the surface of the Earth?
NEAT science: ‘Antibiotic use in lifestock: surely it’s a good thing! Spoiler: it really isn’t. Wondering about the news that McDonald’s are looking to use fewer antibiotics in the livestock animals they source their beef from? Hopefully I’ve explained why clearly enough to show why it’s probably a very good thing.

So how’s everyone doing? Any good books this week? Been holding back for sales?

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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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