Tag: books

Review – Come Tumbling Down

Posted January 23, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireCome Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley

Come Tumbling Down is the latest installment in the Wayward Children series, and really does not make sense as a starting point. We’re thrown into it as a girl nobody knows comes through Jack and Jill’s door, carrying the unconscious body of… Jill? And naturally there’s a whole new quest, despite all the rules.

I’ll admit to racing through this and definitely not lingering on anything. Jack is too close to home, with her serious OCD; I remember exactly what it’s like to worry that every inch of the skin of the body you’re in could be making you die any minute now. I also don’t enjoy the bits where she’s actually losing her entire mind as a result of the intensity of her OCD. I think I’m too close to it to fairly judge whether Jack’s behaviour seems right, but it didn’t feel right to me, at least not towards the end.

(Yes, I’m aware that Seanan McGuire is #ownvoices when it comes to OCD.)

I also wondered if it was intentional that everything the characters do actually enables Jack’s OCD, because I get the feeling it is intended to be read as supportive. And maybe it is, for someone with a very different view of OCD than I have, I’ll acknowledge that: I know that coming back from those compulsive behaviours is really hard, and some people don’t want to (and/or do not believe it is possible). But knowing how I came back from it, I can’t stand the way everyone enables it in this book, because I know that when I was in that position, people kindly caving to my compulsions made them worse.

For me, it really isn’t the epitome of love to create a map of someone’s freckles to show them that none of them are cancerous and help them monitor it obsessively — I can see that it’s actively making that person sicker. It’s not a matter of “wear gloves and you’ll be fine”; the gloves do not help, there’ll just be another step after the gloves (refusing to touch anything at all, perhaps). I remember my loved ones being torn between reassuring me and knowing they shouldn’t; it’s not an easy thing to do. But in my experience, OCD isn’t some kind of lifelong thing you just have to live with. There is treatment, you can stop being afraid. It’s rough, but it can be done, and the longer you delay doing it and engage in the reassurance behaviour, the harder it is. So it was pretty fraught reading all these things the characters do for Jack which seem kind and (for a real person) would probably just push her further into paranoia. Maybe Seanan McGuire experiences it a different way, but from my own perspective and a clinical understanding of OCD, I just cannot enjoy this the way I suspect it is meant to be enjoyed.

Also, I just really want to see Kade get a story for himself. Not somebody else’s quest, not somebody else’s happy ending. He’s enabled almost every other character’s story so far, without being given the chance to grow and find his own place for himself.

Reading this, I did enjoy it a lot, but the more I think about it, the less I do. There’s all kinds of interesting stuff going on with the balance of Jack’s world and meta-fictional stuff about stories, but… for me, this one was overshadowed by Jack’s OCD. And yeah, that’s probably a very personal thing, but that’s allowed.

Edit: Some sections of this review have been changed to make it clearer that I understand that Seanan McGuire is #ownvoices and has a different outlook on it than me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Jackdaw

Posted January 23, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Jackdaw by K.J. CharlesJackdaw, K.J. Charles

Jackdaw is part of the Charm of Magpies series, but follows a different pair of characters. It’s probably best for those who’ve read Flight of Magpies in terms of the plot, but you might actually be able to enjoy the at least one of the characters more on their own terms if you don’t know them already, because that character is Jonah Pastern, he who nearly brought Stephen and Lucien to disaster in the last book. I trust Charles to bring me to the point of enjoying even a total scoundrel’s love story, honestly, but it took a little more time because I already knew Jonah deeply endangered a character I love, and Ben Spenser — his lover — turns out to be rather dour and angry at first.

It’s worth noting that among the sex scenes in this book, there’s one with strong non-consensual themes. Ben is angry and wants to punish Jonah, and knows what he’s doing is wrong, and though he stops short of actually doing it and then Jonah wants to continue, it’s still pretty discomforting. It obviously coloured how I saw Ben: the kind of man who, in anger, seriously considers using rape to punish his lover. It is clear that Jonah has conclusively ruined Ben’s life at that point: you very quickly realise Ben lost his job, was imprisoned, etc, etc, but that isn’t an excuse.

This is also the only story in this series that really engages with the homophobia of the time. It’s not just hinted here that there could be trouble: Ben can’t do magic, can’t soften his way out of a terrible situation, so he ends up imprisoned, sentenced to hard labour, beaten, rejected by his parents, and at one point you can read him as being suicidal. He’s definitely without hope, only a grim anger, blaming Jonah for everything.

That’s not the sort of book you expect after the casual way Crane deals with even blackmail about his homosexuality; Stephen and Lucien duck almost all consequences through being able to protect themselves. It’s also not what you’d expect from Jonah’s flamboyant devil-may-care attitude in the last book. Ben doesn’t have that protection, and in the first half of the book in particular, the damage, anger and shame are all on display. It’s very grim, given the previous book, and more realistic; that’s something to bear in mind.

Aside from that, the story is essentially a redemption arc for Jonah, and somewhat for Ben as well. It has the great dialogue I expect in a novel by K.J. Charles, and in the last half or so of the book, you can start rooting for the characters again. It stands or falls, really, on the extent to which you can forgive Jonah (and Ben, if that near-rape scene bothered you as much as it did me) for what he’s done. I got there in the end — there are some delightful bits when the two of them finally feel free and comfortable — but this definitely is not a favourite in this series or among Charles’ books.

For those who are fans of the series, it does include cameos by Stephen and later Lucien, Merrick and Saint. It wraps up into a lovely conclusion, and there are some great bits of dialogue between Lucien and Stephen, as seen from outside.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted January 22, 2020 by Nikki in General / 6 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. This week’s check-in is here!

Cover of Because Internet by Gretchen McCullochWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve started on Because Internet, by Gretchen McCulloch, which is all about how the internet (and to some extent, other instant written communication like text messages) is changing the way we speak. I’m not far into it, but I’ve already looked up at least half a dozen times to tell my wife interesting facts or read out good bits.

Cover of Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireWhat have you recently finished reading?

I finished two books yesterday; one was K.J. Charles’ Jackdaw, which I didn’t love as much as the rest of the series, but did warm up to significantly in the last half. And especially when Lucien and Stephen showed up, admittedly.

I also read Seanan McGuire’s Come Tumbling Down, which I really didn’t linger over. Jack’s OCD is a bit too familiar (the bit where she worries about every mole on the body she’s swapped into being potentially cancerous, aaah), but also so… overblown and pathologised that it both felt very much about people like me, but also very disparaging about people like me. Jack literally starts losing her sanity completely because of OCD, and… it felt very extreme, and I did not enjoy it. This is probably largely a personal thing, of course.

Cover of The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler WhitesidesWhat will you read next?

I have nooo idea. Re-cataloguing my books has moved some further up in the queue. The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides, for example, caught my attention the day before yesterday. Ultimately, though, I’m finding that reading by whim is working well for me, and I want to stick to it. Maybe I’ll pick up something I see people talking about in the comments here, and that’s awesome.

What are you currently reading?

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The Finished Books Tag

Posted January 22, 2020 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Stolen shamelessly from imyril, who won’t mind.

Do you keep a list of the books you have read?

At least two lists, heh. I track all my reads both in a spreadsheet adapted from Reader Voracious, and also in my Game of Books spreadsheet. I used to have a post on LJ (like imyril! I wonder if we ever crossed paths back on there!), but I’ve stopped having a list like that because — like many of my listing and recording habits — it was actually counterproductive. I’d be finishing books just to add to the list. Blech.

If you record statistics, what statistics do you record?

I track the points in Game of Books, and then track title, author, date started/date finished, genre, source (i.e. either year bought or whether it’s an ARC, library book, etc) and page count, in my big stats spreadsheet. I currently have ‘audience’ as well (adult, new adult, young adult, etc), but it’s just not a useful/interesting thing to track for me, so I’m nixing that. Not sure if I’ll replace it with anything… if I did, I could add a nice new table in its place on the spreadsheet.

Do you give star ratings for books and if so, what do you score books out of and how do you come about this score?

Yep! I use basically the Goodreads scale:

* – Didn’t like it
** – It was okay
*** – Liked it
**** – Really liked it
***** – It was amazing

I don’t see the point in having gradations of ratings for disliked books, so it skews to the positive end. I try to be really selective about my five-star books, so people can be sure I really, really mean it when I rate a book five stars. Even a three-star review isn’t bad from me, and even a two-star will have had good points, though I admit that if I were an author I wouldn’t enjoy it either.

I do rate on enjoyment rather than on technical merit, though technical merit is of course part of what will help me to enjoy a book. Still, if I found a reading experience really grating, even if the book was technically amazing or the plot was super innovative, nah, that’s still a one/two-star book. I have been told people expect “better” of me given that I have an MA in literature, but I refuse to budge. You want to know if I liked books, not if I thought they were objectively good. Objectivity isn’t really that helpful in deciding what to read.

Do you review books?

Yep! Everything I read. I’ve got into a habit of writing longer-form reviews here than I used to on Goodreads, because they look so pointless if they’re short! I always tend to brevity, though: I can’t believe the length of other people’s reviews, when mine already feel padded sometimes!

Where do you put your finished books?

If I’m keeping it, then back on the shelf. If I didn’t love it enough that I’ll want to reread it one day, it goes in a bag to be taken to a charity shop, donation bin, or our knit and natter group (depending on whether it’ll be interesting to them).

How do you pick your next book?

I go through phases. Sometimes I have really strict lists of what to read in a given month, what to read in time to review it, etc. I’ve significantly softened on that of late, and in fact this year I am trying to go completely on a whim. Someone quoted Marie Kondo to me when I was talking about how I struggle with my enormous TBR. I know some people really hate her rules, and I’ve been fairly lax with them myself in my great big cull, but there’s a lot of wisdom there too. I should probably do a whole post about what I did and didn’t adhere to when I’m completely done with re-organising, but here’s the one I’m really trying to keep in mind:

“For books, timing is everything. The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small.”

So when folks talk about a book they really love, and it sounds like something I want to read right now… fuck it, I’m buying a copy (assuming it’s in-budget) and going for it. I did that with Sisters of the Vast Black due to imyril’s Litsy comments about it, and it was very worth it.

My book collection isn’t small, but it’s smaller than it was two weeks ago, and I’m trying to let my whims speak here with what I read of what’s left. I think having “obligations” about reading was really artificial, and also really stifling.

Do you have any other rituals for when you have finished a book?

I update my stat posts and write my Litsy review as soon as possible (and usually my blog review too) so it’s still fresh in my mind when I rate it and talk about it, but otherwise, no. I really try not to be precious about this kind of thing. I think it’s fair to say that I literally have OCD (though my anxiety in general is under pretty good control at the moment, it is always under control and not gone), so any kind of ritual behaviour that doesn’t serve a purpose is worth avoiding, for me.

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Review – Upright Women Wanted

Posted January 21, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Upright Women Wanted by Sarah GaileyUpright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley; book due out 4th Feb 2020

A Western, but set in the future, in the American Southwest during war and oppressive government. The main character flees her home after the execution of her secret lover, Beatrice, for the possession of seditious literature. She runs away by hiding in the wagon of a group of Librarians — people who travel around distributing approved literature.

Naturally, the group turn out to be not-so-law-abiding, and Esther finds herself facing the law and learning all kinds of things she never thought she could. She also finds herself attracted to the trainee librarian of the group, who considers themself to be non-binary and just pretends to be female in towns, where it’s necessary. In some ways, it’s a fairly typical narrative and hits more or less the beats I expected, with Esther slowly growing in confidence and competence as the story rolls along. The ending comes along briskly and leaves the way open for plenty more in this world.

It’s a pleasant read, and I’m still pleased to see a non-binary character casually included in a place of prominence. The relationship between Esther and Cye seems a little fast for me, and I’d honestly have liked to learn more about Bet and Leda — and Amity, come to that — whose stories might perhaps have stood out a bit more. I enjoyed it, but as it’s settled in my mind, I realised that I hoped for more.

Rating: 3/5 

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Review – Captain Ingram’s Inheritance

Posted January 20, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Captain Ingram's Inheritance by Carola DunnCaptain Ingram’s Inheritance, Carola Dunn

In Captain Ingram’s Inheritance, it’s Frank’s turn to find love. It begins with the move to Felix’s home, and part of it happens concurrently with the end of Lord Roworth’s Reward, as Felix and Fanny figure out their feelings and sort out their misunderstandings. Constantia, Felix’s sister, decides to nurse Frank and help him through his recovery from his injuries, and is overjoyed to be invited to help him set up home when he discovers that he is in fact heir to a substantial property. She’s reluctant to have a Season and go looking for a husband, and finds herself daydreaming about the (admittedly lower-class) soldier while nursing him.

Now, the main barrier for her and Frank is no longer class (as it was for Felix and Fanny) but a secret both are hiding… Constantia has a raised scar across her chest from a childhood accident, while Frank’s injuries have left him heavily scarred. Both feel they’re not desirable as a result, have nothing to offer a partner, might shock/frighten a partner, etc, etc. Now, I can understand having those feelings, but it makes it very much not a story I — scarred literally from head to food by my long history with skin excoriation disorder — thought I could really get into. But I enjoyed the previous two books, so I gave it time.

For the most part, it does not focus on the scarring. The two have fears about it and try to hide it, but the reveal doesn’t do anything too awful like “I’m damaged too” or such lines/ideas. They eventually each find out about the other’s scars, and are supportive of each other without focusing on it. I still don’t love this as a plotline, but I do enjoy Constantia and Frank, and the ending scene is very sweet.

There is also a non-romance plot involving Fanny and Frank’s inheritance; it’s almost something out of Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple novels, with a rather wicked uncle doing his best to cause havoc. I found it fairly obvious, and also surprisingly slapstick in terms of the humour. Not my favourite bit of the novel. Also, sadly, Miriam is only mentioned, so no cameo from her.

Overall, I did still enjoy it, but maybe a bit less than I enjoyed Miss Jacobson’s Journey or Lord Roworth’s Reward. I think I will be trying to get myself a copy of all three of these, though!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Biased

Posted January 17, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Biased by Jennifer EberhardtBiased: The New Science of Race and Inequality, Jennifer Eberhardt

Although the subtitle says it’s science, in many places it’s more history, autobiography and anecdote. There are some bits of science — brief explanations of studies and statistics — before it launches off back into historical context or modern contextualisation, but the science is rather thin on the ground.

It’s not bad because of that, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I think others might also be expecting more focus on bias in general, through not noting that subtitle: it really is just about race relations, and 99% of it is about race relations specifically in the US. I’d have loved to see more general explorations of bias and the science of bias, and how it relates to humans encountering the “other” in all kinds of ways.

I imagine for a US reader, particularly a white US reader, this could be pretty revelatory. For me, there was some context I wasn’t aware of, some anecdotes that were interesting, but it wasn’t new to me, and none of the science that Eberhardt does explain was surprising to me. It’s adaptive for people who are alike to stick together; no surprises there.

There is some minor attempt to pave a way forward in this book; a few mentions of initiatives that have worked and what might underpin them. But mostly it just lays out the problem.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted January 15, 2020 by Nikki in General / 8 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. This week’s check-in is here!

Cover of Biased by Jennifer EberhardtWhat are you currently reading? 

I’m most of the way through Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality, by Jennifer Eberhardt. It is decidedly light on the science, and heavy on anecdotes about the current state of racial inequality in the USA, used to illustrate the statistics. The more I think about it, the less science I can actually think of, especially in the last couple of chapters. She’ll mention a study briefly, but then tell a long story that illustrates the same point, and often also explain her emotions about it — at times, it’s autobiographical. It’s not ineffective, but it’s not quite what I came here for!

Cover of Flight of Magpies by KJ CharlesWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was the last book of the Charm of Magpies trilogy by K.J. Charles, Flight of Magpies. Hell of a showdown, everything coming together, and of course a happy-ever-after. Makes me want to pin my K.J. Charles ‘romance with body count’ badge to my bag — I’m terribly prone to just hoarding badges like this, worried about losing them or something, but… then what fun are they?

Cover of Captain Ingram's Inheritance by Carola DunnWhat will you be reading next? 

Goodness only knows, as ever. I think I’d like to pick up the third book in Carola Dunn’s romance series set during the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance. It’s fairly slim and will be a quick read, and then it can go back to the library. I’m definitely going to try and pick up copies of this trilogy for myself; I can see myself rereading it for comfort. Though I suppose that depends on whether this third book ends up messing everything up!

How ‘bout you folks? 

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Review – Flight of Magpies

Posted January 13, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Flight of Magpies by KJ CharlesFlight of Magpies, K.J. Charles

Flight of Magpies rounds this trilogy off beautifully. Of course, as it opens, the two are struggling: Stephen’s work-life balance is dreadful, while Crane has too much time on his hands. They’ve come a ways from the start of the last book, but they haven’t really resolved their priorities and their future intentions. That has to play out against the background of even more work issues for Stephen, something going on with Saint, and mysterious deaths that are clearly magical in some way, but hard to trace back.

That’s really just the start of the problems, but I shan’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that everything comes together beautifully, and Stephen and Crane get the ending they deserve. I’ll confess to wandering through the flat with my hands flailing saying “aaaaa” and refusing to spoiler it for my wife, having started and finished the book in one evening.

I’m intrigued by the glimpses of Pastern and his story — which is good, since I have Jackdaw lined up to read soon. None of the revelations in that part of the plot were particularly surprising, but the climax was nail-biting all the same. I’ll admit I was surprised about Merrick, and still don’t quite understand how that relationship developed, as such — like Crane, I was blindsided by it.

There were several sex scenes, some of them including plot-relevant information, for those who might be averse to reading them or might prefer to skip.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted January 13, 2020 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

What do you mean, I’m late? 😀

Well, okay, I’m late, but I don’t want to end up rounding up two weeks again next Saturday, so let’s chalk it up to experience and do this one late.

Books acquired:

Cover of The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh by KJ Charles Cover of A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ Charles Cover of A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles

Cover of A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles Cover of Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Yep, that’s my wife finishing up spoiling me by buying me the Society of Gentlemen books. Plus a new Tor novella, after imyril tempted me on Litsy.

Books read this week:

Cover of Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn Cover of Tea & Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles Cover of Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Cover of Venus & Aphrodite by Bettany Hughes Cover of A Case of Possession by KJ Charles Cover of Flight of Magpies by KJ Charles

Reviews posted:

Sorting the Beef from the Bull, by Nicola Temple and Richard Evershed. A bit frightening, and pretty darn interesting. It goes into the science of food fraud — and how to detect food fraud when it happens. Think Horsegate, but also fake eggs, adulterated spices and other weirdness. 4/5 stars
A Hidden Hope, by Laura Ambrose. I didn’t love this, though I recognised a lot of myself in the girls’ actions and relationship. I just didn’t feel there was enough of them outside the relationship to really root for. 2/5 stars
Watchtower, by Elizabeth A. Lynn. I confess, I didn’t really get it. The characters all seemed opaque to me, I couldn’t figure out what everyone was thinking. 3/5 stars
Tea & Sympathetic Magic, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Cute and fun, and a quick read too. 3/5 stars
The Magpie Lord, by K.J. Charles. This was a reread, and yep, I enjoyed it just as much as I did before. The sexual tension went unresolved longer than I remembered! And wow, that horrific scene is still pretty horrific. 4/5 stars
Sisters of the Vast Black, by Lina Rather. If you liked Jesuits In Space (The Sparrow), then try Nuns In Space! Okay, it’s not quite as heavy as The Sparrow and definitely not as philosophical, but it does justice to the idea. It’s also powerfully hopeful. 4/5 stars
Venus & Aphrodite, by Bettany Hughes. Fairly light, but some interesting stuff I didn’t know yet about the development of the Aphrodite myth. 3/5 stars
A Case of Possession, by K.J. Charles. More development for Stephen and Lucien’s relationship, and they’re mostly not too stupid at each other. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update on what I’m reading at the time!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Falling temperatures.It’s not the weather report! It’s all about the observation that the average body temperature of humans seems to be falling by the decade, and why that might be.

And that’s it, that’s everything. Whew.

How’re you all doing?

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