Tag: books

Review – The Four Profound Weaves

Posted September 14, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. LembergThe Four Profound Weaves, R.B. Lemberg

I originally had this to review, but ended up buying a copy on release because I’m generally picking up physical books much more regularly at the moment, and I really did want to give this a try. I’m actually wondering if I’ve read one or two of the stories set in this world before, and somehow forgotten, because some things felt really familiar.

In any case, it took me a while to get into the story — partly because I didn’t properly take notice of the POV shift, and partly because I felt like I was assembling the world from pieces of a puzzle I’d briefly seen before. It was a bit weird, as a feeling, but I settled in and ended up racing through the novella all in one go. It begins with two older people, long known to each other but not of the same cultural group, deciding to go in search of what they feel they’re missing: a name, in the case of one of them, who has just completed his long-awaited transition after a life lived as a woman for the sake of his family; and the other, in search of her aunt, and the things her aunt promised to teach her.

The story is less important, I think, than the claiming (and re-claiming) of one’s voice, one’s identity, one’s true self. Both the main characters have to find that and learn to grasp it, in their own ways, and it is only through that that they can be whole and the neglected threads of their lives picked up and woven in.

I wasn’t always in love with the story: I felt thrown in at the deep end, though I suspect some of my confusion came from expecting something else (either from reading a previous story in this world, or just something with some similar elements… it’s hard to say, because I can’t put my finger on it). I didn’t feel the two voices were entirely distinct, despite what I said about the theme of the story, and there were at times some clumsy things — like the repeated reminders that Uiziya repeats questions until they’re answered. That felt like the ultimate “show, don’t tell” violation (even though sometimes telling can be very effective):

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

A thin green snake slithered in the dusk between us, as if drawing a boundary I should not cross. I stepped right over it.

“So what is going on?” I had a habit of repeating a question until it was answered.

That really, really could’ve been shown — we didn’t even need to know at that exact moment that this is a habit, we could’ve just seen it throughout the scene, the story… Telling can be a powerful tool, especially with a first-person narrator like this, but this — and the repetitions of it later, to make sure the reader notices — didn’t quite work for me.

Overall I found it really enjoyable; I just had a few niggles, I think.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted September 13, 2020 by Nicky in General / 14 Comments

Greetings, folks! I think my mood this week is better passed over without comment, and we’ll get straight to the books!

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Acquired this week:

Cover of Lost Gods by Micah Yongo Cover of The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg Cover of Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris Cover of The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Cover of X+Y by Eugenia Cheng Cover of In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson

With thanks to Portal Bookshop for Lost Gods, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages. <3

Books read this week:

Cover of Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch Cover of The Belting Inheritance by Julian Symons Cover of The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu Cover of Drift Wood by Marie Brennan Cover of The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg

Reviews posted:

Other posts:

So how’s everyone doing? Reading anything good? I’d love to hear from you!

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Review – The Grace of Kings

Posted September 12, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuThe Grace of Kings, Ken Liu

I think on balance I enjoyed The Grace of Kings, but I’m not sure whether I care enough to seek out the next book any time soon. It reminded me very much of my experience of reading Icelandic sagas, somehow; something about the parade of characters and the almost didactic tone of the prose at times… It’s hard to put my finger on, but it felt very much like that — which let me engage the same reading technique I used when reading the sagas: I sat back and let it wash over me, trusting that the narration would remind me of the important things at the right moments. And it did.

The thing is, though I could read massive chunks of it all in one go, I didn’t crave picking it back up when I put it down. It was so easy to read, and yet not compelling to me; I liked the characters okay, but felt like they were more legends and parables than people to follow or enjoy. The violence and plotting and political manoeuvring felt less than urgent to me, and in the end I only barely got invested in who won in the end. It’s a different way of storytelling, and one I wasn’t in the mood for at the moment.

I think I need to sit with this a bit longer before I decide whether to get the second book; right now, I don’t feel like it, but I wonder if it’ll creep back and make me curious. We’ll see!

So the upshot is, it’s enjoyable enough, but if my past self asked, “Hey, should I bother?”… I wouldn’t say no, but I wouldn’t say a whole-hearted “yes!!!”, either.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted September 9, 2020 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve started rereading Kushiel’s Dart, to join in with the Wyrd & Wonder readalong. I’ve just realised my careful planning out actually has me a week behind, so I need to rejig that. Argh. Anyway, I’m enjoying revisiting this world — the writing always takes me just a little bit to sink back into, given how flowery it is… but it always sucks me in eventually. Damn, Phèdre is a brat at first.

Other than that, I’m reading The Fifth Season (finally), also as a readalong with one of my fellow Beeminder workerbees. I’m ahead on this one, though. From everything I’ve heard about it, I wonder if I’m putting two and two together correctly… but I hate being wrong, so I’m not going to admit to what I guess!

Cover of The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished reading Marie Brennan’s Driftwood last night, and still need to ponder how to review it. It’s still settling in my brain at the moment.

I also finally finished Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, and I’m just done settling my thoughts about that down. I don’t think I’m going to read the next book… unless it weighs on my mind, which it might. I just didn’t care enough, despite finding it compelling enough in and of itself.

What will you be reading next?

Probably I’ll return to Beneath the World, A Sea, by Chris Beckett, and try to finish it; I only got about 60 pages in, if I recall correctly, and I’m doing my best to go back to my half-read books and dig in.

I’m also curious about Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Brenman, and In Black and White, by Alexandra Wilson. So I’m not sure what will be next… and besides, I’m spending half my time beating my head against the basics of statistics and probability, because I let myself get complacent and I’ve forgotten half of what I ever drummed into my brain (with great difficulty). If anyone has good suggestions for books on the basics of biostatistics, let me know…

Anyway, being busy with that makes me inclined to read some fluffy fiction instead, but what I don’t know.

What’re you folks reading?

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Review – The Belting Inheritance

Posted September 9, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Belting Inheritance by Julian SymonsThe Belting Inheritance, Julian Symons

I quite liked a previous book by Julian Symons, and this had quite a similar feel: more literary and polished than some of the other crime novels in the British Library Crime Classics series, which just attempt to be good stories. And another experience has led me to conclude that, well… I don’t really like his work, on balance: I find it has a certain self-conscious feel, a knowledge of its own cleverness, that I find somewhat offputting.

That’s more the case with this one that with The Colour of Murder: the narrator is an older man recounting something that happened when he was just barely an adult, describing his naive young stumblings-about and pretentiousness with an older, more temperate eye… and in the meantime showcasing how very clever he was in some ways (like wordplay and random intuitions to dash across to France). The tone felt fussy and slow as a consequence.

The whole family are pretty unpleasant here, as is traditional, and I didn’t really get majorly involved in the mystery: parts of how it would work out were much more obvious than I think the author would’ve liked! It’s just not that clever, and something about that smarmy narrator (both his young and adult selves) just gets up my nose. Bah.

As a piece of writing, I think it’s well done, pretty well-plotted and structured and so on. The neat sketches of the characters are mostly unkind, but do conjure up people quite vividly… But overall, meh for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books for a Younger Me

Posted September 8, 2020 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

It’s Tuesday, and I’m joining in with Top Ten Tuesday for the first time in a few weeks! The theme this week is “books for your younger self”, and I can think of a whooole bunch of different ways to interpret that. I’m going with a list of books I wish I’d read sooner than I did!

Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin Cover of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison Cover of Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart Cover of Pet by Akwaeke Emezi Cover of An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles

  1. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Okay, maybe this one’s cheating, but I’m reading this at the moment and being so annoyed at my slightly younger self for not jumping right on that.
  2. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. This book has been such a comfort to me; teenage me could’ve really done with it.
  3. Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart. Or really any Mary Stewart book; I was so snobby about romance novels, but reading Stewart and Heyer made me see. How much awesome could I have read if I started sooner?!
  4. Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. I feel like I’d have appreciated this even more if I’d read it when I was closer to the age it’s aimed at. I liked it now, but… I’d have liked it more then, I think.
  5. An Unsuitable Heir, by K.J. Charles. Also one of the books that properly pulled me into romance, but this one is extra special because the existence of Pen as a character, as a person it was possible to be, would’ve possibly sped up figuring out some stuff for me.
  6. Spillover, by David Quammen. Because it helped me figure out that staying curious about stuff really does help with anxiety — and maybe if I’d read it a couple of years earlier, some of my anxiety would have hit less hard. Or maybe it’d have chosen a different path, who knows.
  7. Feet in Chains, by Kate Roberts. Or pretty much any Welsh classics, the existence of which I only discovered at the age of 21, having been told that Welsh people didn’t write anything worth reading.
  8. River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey. I needed Hero. Much like Pen, they’d have taught me a bit more about what’s possible. Also, hippos.
  9. Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. This is just so much fun, I’d have liked it to be in my life way before now.
  10. Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Or the whole series, of course, but I can’t believe I only picked these up in my twenties. Though that’s partly because they were out of print, I think? I can’t imagine my mother wouldn’t have bought me them sooner if they were in print.

Cover of Spillover by David Quamnem Cover of Feet in Chains by Kate Roberts Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey Cover of Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

How about you? Anything you wish you’d read when you were younger?

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Review – Brit(ish)

Posted September 8, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Brit(ish) by Afua HirschBrit(ish), Afua Hirsch

I’ve been looking for a while for something that deals with the issues of race in Britain; Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book was one answer to that, and Brit(ish) another. It’s really mostly a memoir, an examination of what being Black in the UK is like and how Hirsch had to navigate figuring out her identity. Lots of it felt familiar, as someone who spent a lot of their time as a kid furiously asserting their Welshness, while not feeling Welsh enough. Obviously any bias I faced from people when I did so was nothing like the same scale as Hirsch experienced (and probably partly just because I was stepping out of line in my very English school), and not based upon my appearance… but it means that some of her pains and frustrations in exploring her identity (and where she calls home) were familiar.

This definitely answered some of the questions I had about race in Britain — and reminded me to my shock that though a lot of the people I grew up with were the children of immigrants, they were mostly from Pakistan and India; I knew few (if any) Black people growing up… and though I can’t say I have many white friends either, I’d say I’ve got more insulated from people who don’t look like me, not less, as I grew up. Even in Cardiff — famous as a melting pot for cultures — my experience was very, very white. So there’s a whole subset of the British population that I somehow never figured into how I saw race, and all also filtered to those who could afford the fees for private school and university… which makes a hell of a lot of sense out of some of my past misconceptions.

However, I found it a bit flat to read; mostly I am not a reader of memoirs, and I wasn’t that fascinated by Afua Hirsch as a person. She does very much come from my world of private school and a good university, but even more so since she attended Oxford… and it did make me wonder sometimes what people more like her husband’s family would say about the navel-gazing.

If you’re looking for a book that delves into some of what it’s like to be Black in the UK, then yes, this will be useful. I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it — not because it presented any hard truths I lacked from elsewhere, but because I didn’t find Hirsch’s writing compelling… and I wasn’t sure about some of her forays, which felt like gawking. Did she really need to go spectate at a swingers’ club to discuss Black sexuality in Britain? Hmm.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

Posted September 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of When the Tiger Came Down The Mountain by Nghi VoWhen the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Nghi Vo

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 8th December 2020

This is a follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune, following the cleric Chih on another journey to discover and record stories. I’m a little sad that the book doesn’t contain Almost Brilliant, but in every other way I liked it even more than the first book. I think that despite giving the first book a pretty high rating, it didn’t wholly stick with me; this one, I think, will. Perhaps it’s partly the sense that Chih is not only learning the story, is not just a vessel for the reader to experience it, but is in a story themselves with a beginning and an ending and tension in the middle. That sense was missing from the first book, for me, for all that it was cleverly done.

It’s not that this one was more surprising for me — I mentioned with the first book that I knew where we were going before we got there — but that the frame story kind of supported it better, I suppose. The predictability in both cases is a good thing; it’s like seeing the end result of a puzzle, and then all the intermediate stages as you work towards it; that doesn’t “spoil” getting to the end!

I’m definitely on board for more of Chih and their travels.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Seventh Perfection

Posted September 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of The Seventh Perfection by Daniel PolanskyThe Seventh Perfection, Daniel Polansky

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 22nd September 2020

This is the first book I’ve read by Polansky, and I’m very tempted to expand to read more in the near future. The Seventh Perfection is a little bit challenging, because it’s all narrated by various people who are speaking to the main character — a different one in each chapter. It’s a format you have to have a bit of patience with, as these voices don’t necessarily know what’s on the main character’s mind and what they’re searching for, and there’s plenty of room for red herrings. I hadn’t read the blurb recently, so I had very little to guide me going in… and that turned out to be all the more fun, trying to fit the story together and learn about the world from only the hints in the text.

I think that’s honestly the most notable thing about this book — not so much the story, or the world, though there are fascinating bits of that I’d love some more answers to — but mostly the narration, the clever way things are fed to you a very little at a time. It works so very well, and though I can quite understand other people not getting along with it, I’m very enthused.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted September 5, 2020 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

Greetings, folks! I keep saying I’m going to have a break from buying books, but somehow… Not that I’m complaining! It’s been a quiet week, but not because I haven’t been reading — it’s just been a couple of slower books.

Linking up with The Sunday Post @ The Caffeinated Reviewer and Stacking the Shelves @ Reading Reality & Tynga’s Reviews.

Books acquired:

Cover of Fake Law by the Secret Barrister Cover of How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan Cover of Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman Cover of Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

I’ve been anticipating Fake Law and Entangled Life for a while now, but the other two were impulse buys based on a) an email campaign I somehow got signed up to which talks about UBI, and b) being interested in brains and the weird things they do.

I also got a new review copy of a book which sounds like a potentially fascinating microhistory:

Cover of Life in Miniature by Nicola LisleVery micro, in this case… (Yes, I do think I’m funny.)

Books read this week:

Cover of Unfit For Purpose by Adam Hart Cover of Mudlarking by Lara Maiklam

Reviews posted this week:

And so another week is nearly over! How was yours? Any good books stacked this week? Read anything exciting?

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