Tag: book reviews

Review – Cemetery Boys

Posted February 24, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden ThomasCemetery Boys, Aidan Thomas

I really wanted to read this as soon as it came out, but I’m a mood-reader and it kept not being the time. Whoops. Anyway, now I have: it’s the story of a trans brujo, someone who can summon the souls of the dead and lay them to rest. Yadriel is a part of the brujx community, but somewhat kept apart because they’re handling the fact that he’s trans quite badly. In his desperation to prove himself, he summons a spirit… and it turns out to be the ghost of Julian, a boy from school who is rather wayward and not at all like Yadriel himself.

I wasn’t entirely sure how Yadriel and Julian could work together, knowing that this also featured a romance between them, but even as Julian annoys the heck out of Yadriel… the attraction and connection between them also makes sense. It’s somewhat forced on them by circumstance, but Julian’s unexpected kindnesses — and Yadriel’s desperateness to prove himself — speak volumes, and they become quite close. With the help of Yadriel’s cousin Maritza, a bruja also somewhat ostracised for her refusal to use blood to channel her healing powers (she’s a vegan), they try to figure out why Yadriel’s brother is missing, and what the heck is going on.

There was a certain aspect of the plot which I saw coming from a bit too far away, and I really wish it hadn’t worked out that way because I liked the character, and I was more in the mood for a different kind of story there. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, because it does, but it wasn’t how I’d hoped things would turn out.

I adore how fiercely protective of Yadriel Julian becomes; the ending is a smile a minute, honestly. The overall feel of the book is rather young, but that rather suited my need for something that felt easy to read (even as it deals with some difficult topics, like being trans and fitting into your very gendered community properly). Definitely one I’m happy to recommend!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How To Read A Dress

Posted February 24, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How to Read a Dress by Lydia EdwardsHow To Read A Dress, Lydia Edwards

This book is a handy survey of women’s fashion (mostly of dresses, but occasionally including titbits about other aspects of dress and accessorising, like necklaces and shoes) from the 16th to the 20th century. It features full-colour photographs, carefully annotated with useful pointers as to what to notice, and introductory essays explaining the trends of each period.

The annotation is very good, but the introductory paragraphs for each section are a bit less organised. It doesn’t refer to specific examples of dresses in that chapter, but stays totally general… meaning it’s hard for me — a not especially visual person — to link the dresses up with the trends they illustrate. Sometimes I’d look through the dresses for a specific feature, but not really see anything that seemed to match. In addition, sometimes the text would mention a specific photograph or illustration, but it wasn’t next to the text, and there was no helpful “(figure 3)” or anything; instead it would say something like “this photograph of a gentleman…” Which photograph of a gentleman? What page it is on?!

Anyway, I found it really interesting, and useful, with a few flaws. It would probably work better for someone with a visual memory!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Duke & I

Posted February 24, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Duke & I by Julia QuinnThe Duke & I, Julia Quinn

I went into this book somewhat forewarned about the consent issues, but I was curious enough to give it a try given the amount of Bridgerton allll over my Twitter feed, Litsy, etc. People who are normally pretty on the ball have reviewed it as a “nice Regency romance”, so hey, how bad can it be?

Reader, it can be pretty bad.

I enjoyed it a lot, initially. The connection formed between Simon and Daphne is funny and sweet, and the love between Daphne and her family is really nice — especially the differing ways it expresses itself between different members of the clan, each according to their own character.

However, then it gets toward That Scene, and things fall apart. First Simon totally fails at any kind of communication. Then, once she’s figured things out, Daphne decides that Simon owes her a child, and retreats to her own bedroom to stay away from him to punish him in turn. He responds to this with violent rage, telling her that he literally owns her. (Such a nice Regency romance!) Finally, when he gets drunk, she realises she can take advantage of this and force him to come inside her, because she knows better than him and knows that the real way to cure his childhood trauma is to have a baby he doesn’t want. So she does that, with lots of self-justification, and is shocked and appalled that he’s then furious about being raped for his own good (though Daphne admittedly has the self-awareness to realise that it’s mostly all about herself and her desire for a child).

After that, it becomes a paean to corrective rape for childhood trauma. Simon is, of course, miraculously healed by having kids with her, and neither his violent anger directed at her nor her rape of him are ever really addressed. Sure, they kiss and make up, but it’s pretty much that — no acknowledgement on either side that they did something destructive and awful.

It’s all very sweet at the end, providing of course that you don’t mind that one of the main characters raped the other, or that your oh-so-romantic male lead shouted at his wife that he owns her. And yes, I get that a robust discussion of consent might not feel period appropriate to you, or you might feel it’s unsexy, or whatever, but on that subject K.J. Charles would like to have a word. Her novels Any Old Diamonds or Band Sinister serve as a riposte in and of themselves, but you can also read her explicit rebuttal.

In conclusion: The Duke & I? 🤮🤮🤮

Rating: 1/5

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Review – A World Beneath the Sands

Posted February 7, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A World Beneath the Sands by Toby WilkinsonA World Beneath the Sands, Toby Wilkinson

A World Beneath the Sands is a book not about Egyptology, for the most part, but about Egyptologists — and not just the highlights (Champollion, Petrie, Howard Carter) but some of the less-known names as well, including some of the women who facilitated the study of Ancient Egypt. Broadly speaking, it should have been my thing, but in execution, it just… wasn’t. It was rather slow, and just… not very exciting.

It was mostly about political manoeuvring and the various European countries that jockeyed over control of Egypt, and the doing of archaeology a distant second. The details of digs and finds were barely described, mostly just listed off before moving onto the next list of finds.

In principle, a history of the archaeologists, scholars and looters who shaped our understanding of the history of Ancient Egypt really should have been fascinating, but I found it really dry and unnecessarily verbose. I’m hoping it’s just because I didn’t enjoy the topic as much as expected, because I have another of Wilkinson’s books (The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt), and I’m hoping to enjoy that a lot!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Biscuit

Posted February 7, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Biscuit by Lizzie CollinghamThe Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence, Lizzie Collingham

When I mention that I’ve been reading a history of biscuits, people’s usual response is confusion about why that would take a whole book or be particularly interesting. The answer is that Collingham discusses the social, economic and political circumstances surrounding the development of biscuits, and though the subtitle calls it a “British indulgence“, it discusses other countries too and the colonial uses of biscuits (yes, really — they were thought to be useful in ‘civilising’ places like India).

This was exactly what I was hoping for: a microhistory on a really narrow topic that used that topic to reflect on larger issues. You might not automatically think of looking at the Industrial Revolution through the role of biscuits, or realise the extent to which naval voyages of exploration relied on ship’s biscuit, or appreciate the fact that the original biscuits were twice-baked bread made a couple of times a year in communities that couldn’t afford to bake fresh bread every day… but all those different topics can open out when you start digging in.

You don’t just get to learn about when they started making Jammie Dodgers, or that the company was notoriously cheapskate and used plums for the “raspberry” jam in them because it was cheaper than raspberries… that’s certainly one of the things I learned, but I also learned that the custom of following savoury food with a sweet dessert has come down in a very long tradition from when the stomach was thought to putrefy food, and Arab ideas that sugar was ideal to help seal off the stomach from harmful vapours caused by that process.

In the end, it’s a history of biscuits and it comes back to that pretty swiftly when it strays away, but using the biscuit as a home base, it can tell you an awful lot.

In addition, it also contains some recipes between chapters, some of them traditional and others from modern sources. I haven’t tried any, since I’m not the baker of the family and I’m also very lazy, but it’s a nice touch and we’ll probably keep my copy in order to give them a try someday.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

Posted February 7, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, Tom Gauld

I expected to really really love this, because I generally enjoy Tom Gauld’s humour and style, and most of the Snooty Bookshop postcard collection are great (if niche, and thus sometimes difficult to place with appropriate recipients on Postcrossing)… but actually, I found that it all got a bit samey after a while, and some of them just weren’t that funny or worth noting.

I’m still glad I got it, because there are some great ones, including the one that gives the collection its title. But at the same time, I probably wouldn’t recommend it… you can follow Tom Gauld on Twitter to see many of his cartoons there, and that’s usually more fun — you get to see them one at a time, as they come out, and then the less amusing ones fare better because you’re not reading a whole book of them.

It’s also a matter of taste, of course, and maybe it’s best read a little bit at a time anyway!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Borrowed Time

Posted February 6, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Borrowed Time by Sue ArmstrongBorrowed Time: The Science of How and Why We Age, Sue Armstrong

I’ve read one of Sue Armstrong’s books before, on the role of the p53 gene in cancer, so despite aging and the science thereof not really being my thing, I thought I’d give it a try. And it was, in fact, riveting. I knew a little about some of the experiments — I read a paper on sirtuins and resveratrol for my final exam of my BSc, so that gave me some extra context — but much of the detail was new to me, and Armstrong explains things beautifully and keeps things very clear.

The answer to the question of how and why we age is, of course, “lots of ways and lots of reasons”, and the science isn’t all the way yet on understanding exact mechanisms and unpicking the many small effects that can add up over a lifetime. Armstrong avoids giving any false certainty, but makes it clear how people in the know expect things to go, and what they’re cautious about. Unlike some writers, she doesn’t intrude a lot into the narrative (we don’t have to hear stories about her neighbour’s sister’s dog’s brother, which some science writers lean on a bit too heavily), or when she does it feels relevant and useful to understand where she stands.

For a field with so many different puzzle-pieces, Armstrong really brings it together well, and I actually found myself reading this all in one day, in great big chunks. Now that’s good science writing!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The End of Everything

Posted February 6, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The End of Everything by Katie MackThe End of Everything, Katie Mack

The End of Everything is about all the potential ways the universe can end. Katie Mack describes the various scenarios and why they’re likely or unlikely, the evidence for them, and what looking into these possibilities can teach us about the universe, even if they all turn out to be wrong. She has a fairly breezy style, but some of the actual physics is pretty hard to understand, so it’s to her credit that it feels comparatively light while also making what she describes clear enough.

Unfortunately, for me, physics is one of those topics that I don’t dislike because it’s hard — though I do find it to be difficult — as because it leaves me very much wondering what the point of everything is. Even biology will leave me feeling that way once I dig too deep, and this isn’t a dig at Mack at all… but it definitely made it harder for me to enjoy this book, because it does deal with those really big topics, and where some people can take joy in all the unknowns and the deep weirdness that we manage to exist at all, it really gets under my skin and makes me feel very small and pointless. I can’t really recommend that as an experience, but if entropy doesn’t get you down and a cold empty universe doesn’t bother you, then this will be much more to your taste!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Genuine Fakes

Posted February 4, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Genuine Fakes by Lynda PyneGenuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff, Lynda Pyne

I didn’t really expect this book to be so riveting, but it really was. The central idea is a bit shaky, because Lynda Pyne’s definition of “genuine fakes” is very, very elastic: one example is lab-created diamonds, another is the Spanish Forger’s faked medieval illustrations, another is the faked Archaeoraptor fossil… The things that make each item “genuine” or “fake” are pretty flexible. The reasoning is most solid when it comes to art like the Spanish Forger’s work, which has now become desirable in and of itself. The reasoning for the Archaeoraptor fossil is basically “well, it’s made up of real fossils!” Yeah, who cares, those fossils have been ripped from their original correct context in a desperate attempt to deceive people and get more money. That’s not a genuine fake, that’s just a fake.

And then there’s a bit about wildlife documentaries and how they’re kind of fake (sometimes, depending on how they’re filmed) and kind of not, and the point kind of dissipated somewhere in there for a while in favour of just explaining how much money it takes to create a documentary like Blue Planet II.

That all said, though, even if Pyne’s examples don’t all hang together, I enjoyed her dissection of each item and the things it has to tell us. I didn’t know anything about the Spanish Forger before, and that was maybe my favourite thing to learn about. Interesting stuff here, just… not really very organised.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem

Posted January 28, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda CollinsA Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem, Manda Collins

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is a light mystery-romance, where the romance feels like the more important element of the two. Kate Bascomb is a reporter, the owner of a newspaper she took over after her husband died, and she’s determined to champion women and shine a light on things women are kept sheltered from in England of 1865. Andrew Eversham is a detective inspector, and her investigative reporting endangers his career as she quickly finds a witness his team entirely neglected to speak to, with crucial evidence about a string of murders.

Naturally, the two get drawn together personally, particularly after the killings start getting very close to Kate, who discovers a body while on a visit to a friend’s country home. The murders were confined to London at first, but suddenly they seem to have followed her… and thus so does Eversham. The sparks of attraction between them are very obvious, and this was the shakiest part of the book for me: they leapt from lust to love in mere pages, with very little provocation. I’d expected a bit more will-they-won’t-they, but it was remarkably straightforward. At least they mostly managed to communicate like adults, which can be a big bugbear for me.

I thought it was light and frothy and fairly inconsequential, and for the most part, I was fine with that. Kate and her friend Caro were fun, and I appreciated the friendship between Kate and Val, as well — I was very relieved when there was no sign of sexual interest or jealousy on either of them’s part, and their quasi-sibling relationship was rather fun. Much of the setting and characters are sketched in fairly lightly; historical fiction this is not, if that’s what you’re hoping for… and the mystery was fairly light too.

When I try to sum it all up, it all seems pretty thin and like I’m damning it with faint prize, but it was a genuinely fun reading experience, and a nice way to spend my day, picking it up here and there to read a chapter whenever I could. It’s unlikely to stick in my head, but I’d happily read another Manda Collins book or even another book in this series.

Rating: 3/5

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