Tag: books

Readalong – The Sparrow (Week One)

Posted November 13, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

So it’s SciFi Month on some blogs, and okay, I’m not really properly participating, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick The Sparrow back up and read it again. I’ve only reread about 8 chapters at this point, and technically this post is for the first week of the schedule (up to chapter 11), but ssshh. Go read other people’s thoughts on week one here!

So, right, where are we. When I first read this, it was the first ebook I ever owned, and I read it more or less in one go (yes, all 500 pages of it) on my computer screen, so hooked was I. I didn’t even own an ereader yet. The site I bought it from no longer exists and the format is obsolete. I must’ve been 16, 17? 18 at the most, because I certainly read it before I went to university. I am wondering if I will get more out of it now from this perspective — though I got plenty out of it back then, and though I haven’t reread it before now, I have consistently recommended it as an excellent sci-fi novel.

Here goes, let’s see if it’s just as good now. Suck Fairy, stay away.

Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell“They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm.” What was your initial/gut response to the Prologue?

“Oh god, it’s gonna kill me all over again, isn’t it.”

That’s really it. I’ve read this book before and I remember what a glorious horrible amazing gut punch it all is, and it starts it right there.

How are you getting on with the split timeline and the many points of view? How about Mary Doria Russell’s predictions for 2019?

I had totally forgotten that it was set in 2019. I did just read one bit that made me laugh, given the whole “ok boomer” meme: “The whole damned baby boom is retiring. Sixty-nine million old farts playing golf and complaining about their haemorrhoids.”

There are definitely disturbing parallels with things I see in the real 2019. It feels like a parallel universe where things just happened a little differently; not like she guessed terribly, laughably wrong. Her technology is a bit too far ahead in some ways, while other things are absent (the ubiquity of mobile phones, for instance), but all in all, it doesn’t feel too strange.

What are your first impressions of the characters? Any favourites so far?

I feel odd about how little I remember! Of course, I’m not really having first impressions, since I’ve read this before. I’d forgotten how little we get to see inside Sandoz — okay, obviously it preserves some of the mystery, but the memory of the book was that it was mostly about him, and so far, well. It does revolve around him, but right now we’re still seeing him entirely from the outside, with pity (in some sections) and with curiosity (how is he going to end up that broken from here?) in others.

It does feel rather like we don’t get inside the characters often in general, though, beyond one or two scenes for Jimmy and Anne, where we get to know what they’re thinking (mostly about Sandoz).

From what we learn of Emilio’s training and what we see in the ‘present’ day (2050s), what do you make of the Society of Jesus as portrayed here?

Like most things, it’s both the best and worst of humanity. Behr and Candotti, the best; Voelker and (in a more complex way) Giuliani, the worst. At times, it shows the irony of that they meant no harm line; clearly, harm is meant (for example during Sandoz’s training, just for starters) and committed in hope of a later, greater good.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share so far?

Edward Behr being nicknamed “Teddy Bear” is the best thing. Over and out.

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Review – Hekla’s Children

Posted November 11, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Hekla's Children by James BrogdenHekla’s Children, James Brogden

I saw some really glowing reviews about Hekla’s Children, and particularly about its originality, so I picked it up despite some reservations about the story as presented by the blurb. There are some kids, check. They vanish mysteriously, apart from one kid who is found a few days later, in a condition as though she is starving — even though she wasn’t missing long enough for that to have been the case. And then a bog body is found in that rough location, yet one of the leg bones — dated to the right period — is nonetheless found to have been pinned to heal from a break using 20th century medical techniques… And this bog body was supposed to protect against some awful horror, which may now be free to terrorise people.

I’m afraid I found it really predictable from the start, and as in another recent read of mine (In the Night Wood), I wasn’t impressed by the stock male character who had his romantic prospects dashed (he was sleeping with a woman who was engaged to be married to someone else, but woe is him, she chose the other guy). Sympathy with him is rather key to the whole thing working and to not seeing the twists coming, so perhaps that’s part of why it didn’t work for me at all.

There were some aspects I felt positive about — there’s a section in the otherworld where a main character gets into a homosexual relationship, and that’s dealt with carefully and sympathetically in a way that works. But otherwise… no, fairly meh.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Heraclix and Pomp

Posted November 9, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest AgguireHeraclix and Pomp, Forrest Aguire

This book turned out to be pretty strongly not for me. It’s not the plot that bothers me: that’s fairly standard as it goes. A fabricated golem and a fairy are thrown together by circumstances and end up journeying together to discover more about the golem’s past. He’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, more than a golem, made of the flesh of various people with various powers, so he ends up tracking down the various parts of himself to learn what happened. There’s a big bad who wants to be immortal, and then there’s also trips to hell, capture by brigands, etc.

What I disliked was something about the narration. There was a certain “and then this happened, and this happened, and this person said this, and then another thing happened”. I never had a strong sense of causal links between things, or what things could lead to. It actually had a flavour something like a translation of a Russian novel for me — some sense that the storytelling doesn’t quite come from the same tradition (though I don’t think it does? I mean, this is just my sense of how the story “felt”). In this case, it just proved really not to my taste; I ended up skimming a lot, and I definitely didn’t get emotionally involved in the story or care much about how it might end.

Rating: 1/5 

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Weekly Roundup

Posted November 9, 2019 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Welp, it’s been a quiet time on the blog since I’ve been doing plenty of work — and doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in years! Last weekend we went out on a trip to the lovely Portal Bookshop in York, which I thoroughly recommend, so I have a few new books! (Also some dead tree copies of beloved books I only had in ebook, but I won’t list those too. Still, have this lovely pic of Biscuit investigating my haul!)

Pic of a small brown bunny standing up against a pile of books

Books acquired:

Cover of Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk Cover of Murder on the Titania by Alex Acks Cover of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Books read since the last roundup:

Cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard Cover of Provenance by Ann Leckie Cover of Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull Cover of Murder at the Fitzwilliam by Jim Eldridge

Cover of Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown Cover of Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola Dunn Cover of It's All In Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan

Reviews posted since the last roundup:

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. This remains a great favourite of mine, and one I’m sure I’ll come back to again. 5/5 stars
Murder at the Fitzwilliam, by Jim Eldridge. Kind of meh, despite a promising setting. 2/5 stars
Excellent Intentions, by Richard Hull. Slightly odd format, interestingly carried out but a bit lacking in personality. 3/5 stars
Women & Power: A Manifesto, by Mary Beard. The first essay is very worth the read; the second a bit less sure ground. 4/5 stars
Lord Roworth’s Reward, by Carola Dunn. An unsurprising but sweet Regency romance. 4/5 stars
It’s All In Your Head, by Suzanne O’Sullivan. Interesting discussion of psychosomatic illness, but simplifies things rather through idealised cases, and the chapter on ME/CFS would make folks I know see red. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. This week’s update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Pain and hunger.‘ Can the sensation of hunger change how you perceive pain? Yep, there is good evidence that it can — in both directions.
NEAT science: ‘The biopsychosocial model of mental health.‘ A pet peeve and a cry for holistic care…

And whew, that’s everything. How’re you folks?

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Review – It’s All In Your Head

Posted November 9, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of It's All In Your Head by Suzanne O'SullivanIt’s All In Your Head, Suzanne O’Sullivan

The title of the book gives it away: this is a series of case studies, essentially, covering cases of psychosomatic disease. In it, as in O’Sullivan’s other book, she discusses the cases of various past patients and how she concluded their symptoms were not neurological disorders, but instead signs of a conversion disorder. I think the title is a bit of a disservice, because O’Sullivan is strongly against the kind of dismissal the phrase implies. She believes that (most of) her patients with this issue are truly distressed, truly experiencing pain and disability, and truly require medical help. Though it’s not a physical disorder of the nerves, it is something that should and must be treated in order to allow people to resume normal lives.

Understanding of psychosomatic illness and health anxiety is lacking in many doctors. Part of it is overwork: crowded clinics do not appreciate the sight of someone hoving into view with yet another anxiety-related illness of nebulous symptoms and solely psychological origin. But people like that, all the way along the scale from the lumps and bumps that trouble me to those whose brains paralyse themselves, all deserve compassion and treatment, and O’Sullivan’s book strongly advocates for that. She is firmly against the impulse to second guess a patient and assume they are faking.

That said, of course she makes herself come across as preternaturally patient with this kind of thing, and very sure about her diagnoses. She does discuss uncertainties now and then, but for the most part she is very certain of herself. Most of the cases she mentions are very clear-cut, and it makes it all seem very easy. In reality, things are muddier.

The chapter on ME/CFS has many detractors and as many people who shout that it is pure truth. Lacking the professional background or the academic reading on the topic, I can only say that I was under the impression that the graded exercise she recommends was in fact proven to be unhelpful, and that both sides in ME/CFS discussions can get very fraught and very disinclined to admit the truth of anything the other says. At the very least, O’Sullivan’s sympathy feels real, and she does intend to diminish the suffering of people with ME or CFS; she merely questions its source, and does not believe that a psychological source of issues means weakness or that you can just snap out of it.

It’s not deeply profound if you’re looking for the science of all this, though she does discuss what is known and the history of psychosomatic illnesses. It’s mostly of interest for really understanding the bananas things our brains can do to us. An enjoyable read, but not for me a groundbreaking one.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Lord Roworth’s Reward

Posted November 7, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola DunnLord Roworth’s Reward, Carola Dunn

Lord Roworth’s Reward is technically the second book of a trilogy, but most of the characters are new and the set-up is easy to grasp. Felix is an agent for a banker who needs the latest news from the war against Napoleon to help conduct his affairs. Felix is an impoverished nobleman, but due to his experiences in the first book (which are revealed in outline in this book), he is accepting of people from a wide range of social backgrounds — setting the stage for a rather obvious unrequited (but Is It Really) love with the woman lodging in the same house. Fanny is the sister of an artilleryman, and has been following the drum since she was a child. Now she has an adopted child of her own, and Felix’s way with the child brings her over all a-flutter even as she teases him and lets him underburden himself about his courtship of a society lady.

The book is never particularly surprising, but it’s a competent romance that manages to have some very sweet moments. There was Jewish characters and those of lower income, all portrayed positively, which sets it apart from a lot of Regency romances. I’m not great at the historical stuff, but it’s full of detail (perhaps a little too much at times for those here for the romance) about the political situation, and I think it’s quite well situated in a known moment in history.

I found it very enjoyable, even if I could call every step of the dance, and I’ve reserved the first book and already have my hands on the third.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted November 6, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 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. Since this post isn’t pre-scheduled, the exact post is up so go here to join in for this week!

Cover of Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola DunnWhat are you currently reading?

As ever, I have several books on the go, but most actively I’m reading Lord Roworth’s Reward. It’s actually the second in a series of Regency romances by Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple books, and it’s really sweet. The male lead is an idiot, of course, but it has a surprisingly (but naturally) diverse cast. I’m definitely intending to get my hands on the first book (though it’ll be weird to read about a younger Felix being an antiSemitic idiot before he learns better), and the third is already on my stack.

Cover of Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie BrownWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished Ivory Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown. It was… okay. If you accept her identification of the person who made the chessmen as Margret the Adroit, some of her detours make more sense. If she’s wrong about the person or even just the general location, a lot of the geopolitical context she discusses is only very, very distantly related to the pieces. I’d have preferred more analysis and descriptions (and photos) of the actual Lewis chessmen, instead of such pure guesswork.

Cover of Heartstone by Elle Katharine WhiteWhat will you be reading next?

Probably something that’s been languishing on my pile half-read. I’m feeling contrary and reading a lot of romance since events conspired to hear a lot of people dissing romance novels, so it’s possible I’ll pick Heartstone back up. Or even Her Royal Spyness, which definitely seems to have a heavy romance subplot, if the unsuitable Irish man is any indication. (Though more serious than the title sounds, that book is bothering me, though — maybe just a slight embarassment squick!)

What about you? What are you currently reading?

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Review – Women & Power

Posted November 5, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary BeardWomen & Power: A Manifesto, Mary Beard

The discussion of the female voice (literally) in the halls of power, the first essay of this book, is absolutely great and exactly within Beard’s professional ambit. She discusses perceptions of the female voice, and how the dislike of “shrill” women has been embedded in us in what we consider to be foundational texts for Western civilisation (Homer, etc). I saw someone on Twitter just the other day realising that they disliked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s voice in exactly the way Beard discusses.

The second essay is a little less focused, I think. She looks at some great parallels in literature and such, but it feels a bit less focused and conclusive. (Not that the first essay particularly comes to a rousing conclusion, beyond “we need to be conscious of this”…)

I suppose part of the problem is that no one really has these answers. It’s a worthy read for posing some of the questions, and for showing some of the workings we may not even think about, nonetheless.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Excellent Intentions

Posted November 4, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Excellent Intentions by Richard HullExcellent Intentions, Richard Hull

This is another in the British Library Crime Classics series, and it’s an interesting one: it opens with the opening of the trial, backtracks through interpolated sections of the investigation, and doesn’t reveal the accused until the end, referring to them elliptically right up to the last possible moment. This leaves things a little confused at times, but it’s an interesting way of going about a mystery story and telling it in a fresh way. I’ll admit, part of the interest here was in following just how Hull did that, stylistically, more than the plot or characters!

It is interesting in terms of plot, as well. It goes the whole hog with the traditional Golden Age despicable victim, and everyone involved has, well, excellent intentions. It doesn’t really delve into the psychology of that, though, just presents it as a rather unique motive for murder.

It doesn’t stand out for me as one of the more engaging reprints in this series, but it was definitely interesting.

Rating: 3/5

 

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Review – Murder at the Fitzwilliam

Posted October 30, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Murder at the Fitzwilliam by Jim EldridgeMurder at the Fitzwilliam, Jim Eldridge

I’ll admit, I mostly picked this up because the idea of mystery stories in and around museums fascinates me, and the second book is set in the British Museum! Naturally, I had to pick this one up first anyway. It follows the work of a private inquiry agent, Daniel Wilson, who is asked to help investigate the discovery of a body in the Egyptian room in the Fitzwilliam Museum. He teams up with Abigail, an Egyptologist working at the Fitzwilliam Museum, to figure out what’s going on.

I thought the police detective did a bit of a 180 on his attitude to Daniel; he went from being an Inspector Lestrade or Inspector Sugg type character to being quite accommodating and friendly, without much real evidence for why that would happen. It was definitely odd, and there was a similar shortcut in the relationship between two other characters — all of a sudden, they were deciding to get married, despite not really courting or anything like that. There’s also a rather odd tolerance of women as prostitutes or being “ruined” for the time period, and in particular the main character is rather idealised. Calm and level-headed and quick-thinking when he needs to be, but conveniently passionate when the love story needs it. Meh. It all felt a bit rushed, and the characters rather mercurial and volatile — that’s how it felt, rather than that they were passionate; that they kept going from absolute 0 to 60 in seconds, just for plot/relationship development reasons.

It’s a smooth enough read, but I won’t be reading the second book after all, I think. It’s very much trying to hit that Golden Age note, I think, but it really doesn’t manage to in terms of the period elements. Things like the votes for women or men’s unfavourable attitudes to women all feel somewhat pasted on; everyone’s fine with Abigail until it’s convenient to show Daniel being passionate about her, etc. Everything lacked depth.

Rating: 2/5

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