Tag: books

Weekly Roundup

Posted June 19, 2021 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

Saturday again! It comes round so quickly. No real news from me this week, so straight into the book haul that I accidentally acquired…

Received to review

Cover of Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno Garcia

I always enjoy Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s ideas — only one of her books has seriously clicked with me, but I enjoy them anyway.

Stacking the Shelves

Cover of The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel Cover of Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas Cover of Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston

Cover of Black Water Sister by Zen Cho Cover of The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri Cover of The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

Cover of Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander Cover of Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander Cover of A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander

A real mix, as usual! I’m excited about Black Water Sister and The Jasmine Throne, in particular; I’ve been wanting to get my hands on those for a while now, since I first heard about them. Likewise The Fabric of Civilization, actually — ever since I was going on a tear of reading books about sewing and textiles, at the start of the year.

The most impulsive purchase was Seashaken Houses, which would not usually be my thing. Something about the idea of a book about lonely lighthouses built onto rocky reefs got under my skin, apparently. I’ve gone with the whim and started reading it right away!

Books read this week

Cover of The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian Cover of The Whole Picture by Alice Procter

Not a big reading week — or a big finishing week, at least: I’m halfway through seven books at once!

Reviews posted this week

And that’s all from me this week! How’ve you all been doing? Have you got any great new books this week, or been reading anything that knocked your socks off?

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Review – The Secret Life of Books

Posted June 18, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret Life of BooksThe Secret Life of Books, Tom Mole

This book is a bit more substantial than Shelf Respect, which I bought in the same flurry of looking for non-fiction about books and reading. Tom Mole has a look at the book as an object, or more accurately, the codex as an object, and he goes into a bit more depth about reading, collecting books, relating to books, and how that’s changed and will change over time.

Funnily enough, just as I was reading the parts about how the book is an object we don’t even think about until it malfunctions, I noticed that the pages in my copy were cut badly. It wasn’t unreadable, by any means, but I tend to riffle the pages ahead of me and fidget with them as I read, and those cut pages threw me off immensely.

I found it an interesting but fairly light read at the time, and now I’m finding that very little has stuck with me — any information that I picked up has stuck more by just joining my general knowledge than by getting labelled as belonging to this book in my brain. It’s possible that says more about me than the book, but I read other books at around the same time — like Rebecca Wragg Sykes’ book on Neanderthals — where I could reel off a lecture on the information contained, so I don’t think Mole’s book was precisely revelatory. Just… pleasant.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Echo Wife

Posted June 17, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Echo Wife by Sarah GaileyThe Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey

I wasn’t quite prepared for the journey when I picked up The Echo Wife. It goes some pretty dark places, musing about the way people shape each other, the fingerprints we leave on each other — both metaphorically and for some people physically — and the way we re-enact our own traumas and fall into terrible patterns. Even the acknowledgements at the end are a hell of a thing: raw, truly thankful, but in some cases in a twisted way that hurts. Gailey has put a lot of pain into this book, and that could make it a really difficult read.

For me, though, it got its hooks into me and wouldn’t let go. I read it in two sittings — a whole 150 pages or maybe even more while my wife was on the phone with my parents-in-law. Okay, it must’ve been a long call, but wow.

I don’t want to say too much about the story, but it is not the kind of story where you necessarily end up liking the characters — all that matters is that you really get to understand the characters, the things that shaped them and the way they in turn shape their world. It’s a hell of a ride.

Rating: 5/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted June 17, 2021 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

A quick update this week — or hopefully so — since Wednesday snuck riiiight up on me.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Gastrophysics by Charles SpenceA lot of books at once, as ever. Two that jump out at me as worth an update: Bloodline, by Jordan L. Hawk, has unfortunately bogged down for me on the quicksands of I hate it when people in a close relationship lie to each other instead of talking through their problems. Argh, it’s just totally bogged down the story for me; I don’t even want to read it right now, because Whyborne is being a dick to Griffin (and Griffin is being reasonable but without sitting down and talking it out with Whyborne).

On the non-fiction side, I’m greatly enjoying Gastrophysics, by Charles Spence. It’s impossible to trust a scrap of the science, because he says things like he’s heard that certain genes cluster in certain geographical locations and that explains cultural food choices. You’ve heard that? Great, now try sourcing it from an actual reputable, peer-reviewed source before you write about it blithely in your book that’s allegedly popular science. Jesus Christ, how hard can it be?

(And then sometimes he just fails to research. He reckons that sharp, angular foods are more acidic than soft round ones, and wonders whether cheese is the answer. The answer is, at the very least, “not straightforwardly so” — highly acidic cheeses are often very crumbly, which doesn’t entirely fit with his theory. Sounds nice, ten minutes with Google are enough to prove that you can’t just say that. This is not how science works and I have serious doubts about this guy’s ability to understand how to design a proper experiment or do proper literature searches, Professor or not.)

But… it’s really fun to read, somehow — the writing itself is lively, and just… sucks you in.

What have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing was Food: The History of Taste by Paul Freedman, which didn’t really work for me. It’s too academic and dry. Some of the essays are better than others, but one or two basically regurgitate huge quotations as if that constitutes engaging with the material.

What will you be reading next?

I don’t know, though The Jasmine Throne (Tasha Suri) arrived today, and from everything folks are saying, it’s pretty tempting.

Other than that, I’m vaguely planning on picking up a couple of particular books after I finish books that are already on the go, to fill the same niche in my reading material… but I’m not sure if that will be anytime soon.

How about you?

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Review – White Bread

Posted June 15, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of White Bread by Aaron Bobrow-StrainWhite Bread, Aaron Bobrow-Strain

I wasn’t sure how interesting a book on store-bought white bread could be, but someone recommended it to me and I wanted to give it a chance… and it was everything I could want from the kind of book which takes an everyday part of life and digs into its history and social meaning. Bobrow-Strain lays bare all kinds of things about the US which you wouldn’t necessarily link to white bread. Or maybe, knowing the US you would — wealth, health, religion, race.

It ended up being really fascinating: rather densely written — for 200 pages, it took me a while — but in a good way, informative and considerate. Unlike another recent book on food I read, Reinventing the Wheel, it managed not to sound like it was judging everyone in the world’s bad food choices for causing problems. Instead it really dug into why white bread seemed (and seems) so desirable, and what powerful motivations lie behind the choice.

I’d really love to know more about this whole subject as relates to the UK as well, and I’m eager to explore the references for more books on food, since I’ve been finding them fascinating lately.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

Posted June 14, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Acts of King Arthur by John SteinbeckThe Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

I remembered this book very, very fondly — I remember stumbling upon it and being so surprised that Steinbeck had written anything about King Arthur. I made use of it when writing my dissertation to discuss his portrayal of Sir Kay, which is sympathetic and tries to explain some of why Kay could both be a bold knight who earned his place at the table and an apparent coward who couldn’t hold his own against anyone. I also remember finding it one of the few versions of Lancelot and Guinevere which felt real to me.

Overall, I didn’t feel as positively this time. Much of the first part is a fairly straight rewrite of Malory, without working in too much more detail (though there is some lovely stuff here and there). The last two tales do start to bring more detail and sometimes a real sense of pathos to the stories, and they are worth a read… but if you’re familiar with Arthurian stories, much of this will seem pretty flat.

I do still think the portrayal of Kay is good, but I was less convinced by Lancelot and Guinevere somehow. The spark between them did feel real — there’s a very powerful description of the sudden desire they feel — but there was no build-up. Guinevere seemed almost motherly to him before, and then all of a sudden, poof! They’ve gone up like straw.

That’s partly the source material and not Steinbeck’s fault, but he did manage to be so sensitive and willing to adapt things where necessary at other points in the book. Maybe he’d have made more of it if he’d finished the work — it’s worth remembering that this isn’t a completed novel or anything of the kind.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – And Only to Deceive

Posted June 13, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of And Only to Deceive by Tasha AlexanderAnd Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily married quickly to get away from her parents — or mostly her mother, who is overbearing and absolutely obsessed with getting her married off safely before she loses her looks. (Ugh.) She barely had time for the honeymoon, though, before her husband went away on an expedition… and never returned, with his friends sending back the news that he was dead, leaving her in possession of all his things, a lot of money, and a lot more freedom.

Over the course of the book it turns out that he was deeply in love with her, and she begins to read his journals and understand the kind of man he was, beginning to explore his interests and what she might have shared with him. This leads to her falling in love with him too, despite knowing he’s already gone. At the same time, strange things are happening and it seems that he may have been involved in something strange, or perhaps even dangerous, a tangle that Lady Emily decides to unravel.

I ended up enjoying this a lot, enough that I immediately got the next book (and by this point I’m gleefully onto the third). I liked the idea of how Emily falls in love with her husband posthumously — it’s feels surprisingly tender and real, and it’s a surprising touch, especially given she does go on to have a new love interest. She’s anachronistic, of course, though not quite so much so as Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell — the book does show some of the ways in which that disturbs people and that makes it feel a bit more real. No surprises that I’d feel a kinship with a heroine who loves books, anyway…

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted June 12, 2021 by Nicky in General / 20 Comments

Good afternoon, folks!

General update

As you’ll have noticed, I’ve been queuing up some of my backlog of reviews — mostly written during the Final Fantasy XIV dungeon “The Praetorium”, since you get good items from it at the moment… but it has looooong unskippable cutscenes!

What have I been up to? Mostly playing Final Fantasy XIV, along with the Mass Effect remaster. If any of you play FFXIV, say hi sometime, we can run a dungeon or something! I’m on Cerberus server, and I can let you know my avatar’s name…

I have been reading a bit, though; I’ve gone back to reading a whole bunch of books at once, and I’m using Beeminder to help track them and keep me from putting them down and forgetting about them for ages. Here’s how I’m doing with Maryn McKenna’s Beating Back the Devil, for example!

Stacking the Shelves

This week I don’t have too many new books in — last week’s splurge was actually kind of out of character for me lately. However, I did pick up Tasha Alexander’s A Fatal Waltz in paperback, since it came back into stock, and I’ve just got a new book to review because I remembered one of you guys talking about it recently, and it has a pretty cover.

Cover of A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander Cover of After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang

Books read this week

I’ve actually finished a few books this week, which isn’t so common lately!

Cover of Food: The History of Taste Cover of Two-Way Murder by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforth Cover of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa RandallCover of Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Reviews posted this week

So that’s it! What have you guys been stacking up, devouring, or flinging across the room in despair?

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Review – Long Live Latin

Posted June 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Long Live Latin by Nicola GardiniLong Live Latin, Nicola Gardini

This… turned out to be really not my thing. It’s a passionate defence of Latin as something you should learn just for its own sake, for the beauty and versatility of the language — not because it serves some other purpose, like preparing you for other languages or limbering up your brain or something like that. I don’t disagree with the argument at all; I’d love to learn Latin… but this isn’t the book to convince you. I think this is a book you can enjoy best when you understand a little Latin, and can better appreciate the many, many, many examples of Latin texts that the author draws in to help make his points.

For someone who doesn’t already know any Latin, though, it’s difficult to appreciate the elegance of phrasing, especially when twice-translated (since this book is originally written in Italian, I think? it’s definitely in translation, anyway). Sometimes there would be an interesting insight or two into the writers and texts described and given as exemplars, but there’s just too much “here’s a quotation and here’s why it’s great”.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Angel of the Crows

Posted June 10, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Angel of the Crows by Katherine AddisonThe Angel of the Crows, Katherine Addison

I took ages to read this book, despite being really eager for it, because… well, I didn’t think I’d love it as much as The Goblin Emperor, which holds a pretty special place in my heart, and also because I heard some bad things about the portrayal of some of the characters which made me a little wary. In the end, though, I ate it up — I read it in a few hours flat, and it was very compulsive.

It’s essentially a retelling of Sherlock Holmes, only what if Sherlock was an angel and Watson was… well, there are a lot of things about the Watson character, which I shouldn’t share too much about for fear of spoiling the surprise. Sometimes the retelling is fairly close, and you’ll recognise a lot of the Sherlock Holmes stories if you’re familiar with them, but twisted into a new shape by the changes to Crow (Sherlock) and Doyle (Watson), and the world around them.

If you’re not a fan of Sherlock Holmes (or Sherlock Holmes derivatives), in the end this isn’t going to bring you joy. I’m lukewarm on Holmes as a character and a phenomenon, though I loved the movies with Robert Downey Jr, and ended up loving this, so it’s not that you have to be a Holmes superfan in order to enjoy it. The context helps, I think, though sometimes the story was so close to the familiar one that I kind of wished I wasn’t as familiar with the source.

That said, by the end I just wanted more, more of these characters and their bond, and more of the worldbuilding surrounding them.

Rating: 5/5

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