Tag: books

Review – The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Posted May 10, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

by Bettany Hughes

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 416
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Their names still echo down the ages: The Great Pyramid at Giza. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Temple of Artemis. The statue of Zeus at Olympia. The mausoleum of Halikarnassos. The Colossus at Rhodes. The Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Seven Wonders of the World were staggeringly audacious impositions on our planet. They were also brilliant adventures of the mind, test cases of the reaches of human imagination. Now only the pyramid remains, yet the scale and majesty of these seven wonders still enthrall us today.

In a thrilling, colorful narrative enriched with the latest archaeological discoveries, bestselling historian Bettany Hughes walks through the landscapes of both ancient and modern time; on a journey whose purpose is to ask why we wonder, why we create, why we choose to remember the wonder of others. She explores traces of the Wonders themselves, and the traces they have left in history. A majestic work of historical storytelling, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World reinforces the exciting, and nourishing, notion that humans can make the impossible happen.

It took me a while to properly get into Bettany Hughes’ The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and I’m not quite sure why. In many ways it’s right up my street, after all, telling a bit of a history of Babylonia, Greece, Egypt, and other lands in that area, and the afterlife of their cultures as well. But I think it was just a bit slower and more lingering than I was in the mood for at first — and certainly I came to appreciate it as I got into the pace of the book, and to appreciate that it carefully puts each of the wonders into their context. Rather than just talking about “Ancient Greece”, Hughes is careful to contextualise the different peoples (and the rivalries between them), rather than lump everyone into a big group.

Sometimes it does feel a bit frustrating: could the Hanging Gardens be X? Could they be Y? Maybe they’re none of those things and they’re actually Z? But of course Hughes isn’t to blame for the fragmentary evidence we have, and she does a pretty good job at teasing out the implications of what data we do have.

I do also very much appreciate the time Hughes spent on picking apart the afterlife of the Wonders: what can be seen of them today, what fragments might remain, and the ways later civilisations have copied and reflected them.

So, all in all, a slow read, but a worthwhile one if you’re interested in the ancient civilisations in that area of the world. Of course it misses out many wonders, particularly ones less central to Western imaginations, but that’s because the very premise is based on an ancient and semi-local list. Still, maybe a more focused title would be nice… there’s a lot of “ancient world” that isn’t included in this book at all.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – If Found, Return to Hell

Posted May 9, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – If Found, Return to Hell

If Found, Return to Hell

by Em X. Liu

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 162
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Being an intern at One Wizard sounds magical on the page, but in practice mostly means getting yelled at by senior mages and angry clients who've been turned into platypuses alike. So when Journeyman Wen receives a frantic call from a young man who's awoken to a talisman on his bedroom wall and no memory of how it got there, they jump at the chance to escape call center duty and actually help someone for once.

But the case ends up being more complicated than Wen could ever have anticipated. Their client has been possessed by a demon prince from Hell, and he's not interested in leaving...

I love playing around with point of view, and Em X. Liu makes an interesting choice: the book is narrated in second person, which I feel like a lot of people will bounce right off. I love playing with it myself, and I think it was pretty well done here.

I loved Shine and Wang Ran, their negotiation of their situation, the way they quickly decided to make the best of it. You end up with certain expectations from the opening, from other stories like it, and then there’s Wang Ran, and really he’s just a kid. The way all that plays out — and Wang Ran and Shine’s relationship with the character addressed by the narrative — is all really fun.

Things did seem to happen really suddenly, though, and I wasn’t so sure about that part. On the one hand, it is a novella, but… I don’t know, the bond between Shine, Wang Ran and the main character feels a little undercooked for me. I wanted to believe in it, I just didn’t quite. I don’t know what more I’d have liked that wouldn’t feel like filler, but still, I wasn’t quite 100% there in time.

On a side note, I feel like I was oddly better prepared for some of this through becoming such a fan of The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted May 8, 2024 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

It’s WWW Wednesday time! So, as always, that’s:

  • What have you recently finished reading?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What will you read next?

Cover of Final Acts ed. Martin EdwardsWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was an anthology of short stories from the British Library Crime Classics series; this one, Final Acts, was themed around theatre. Killings on stage, actors getting themselves into trouble, in one case a clown, etc.

It was okay, though it had a repeat story in it from a different anthology by the British Library, which I find a bit disappointing. (It’s possible that this came first and the other is the repeat, or the repeat is one of the extras included at the end of some of the novels, but regardless, argh.)

Cover of Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma TörzsWhat are you currently reading?

Many, many things at once, as usual — though I’ve finished some that I wrote about last week. I’m close to finishing Ink, Blood, Sister, Scribe (Emma Törzs) at last, just by making sure I picked it up for a few pages a day even when I wasn’t feeling it. I don’t think it’ll quite come together for me, bit too slow to give a payoff, but I’m glad I’m finishing it all the same.

I have also more recently picked up Dragons, Heroes, Myths & Magic (Chantry Westwell), a book about the illustrations in medieval manuscripts. It includes examples (in full colour) from various manuscripts, along with explanations of their contents.

What will you read next?

I’m not totally sure! I should probably pick something else from the list of books I’m currently reading to focus on, in which case I suspect I’ll try to finish A History of the World in 100 Animals (Simon Barnes). I’ve had that on the go for ages, mostly just because I haven’t been picking it up — it’s a hardcover and a bit unwieldy.

What about you? Anything fascinating tempting you when you should be working?

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Review – The Ha-Ha Case

Posted May 7, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Ha-Ha Case

The Ha-Ha Case

by J.J. Connington

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 230
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Johnnie Brandon is found dead while out shooting rabbits with his friends, and the problem is: Accident, Suicide, or Murder? It is all made very complicated by the financial entanglements in which his rapscallion of a father has tied up the estate, and by the fact that a gentlemanly lunatic with large gaps in his memory wanders on to the scene at the crucial moment. Time for the acumen of Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield to be brought to bear on the case.

J.J. Connington’s The Ha-Ha Case is a fairly run-of-the-mill mystery for the period, in many ways, but it relies on an interesting little quirk of inheritance law that I’d never seen before. “Borough English” is an inheritance law whereby the youngest child inherits, and it’s part of the mystery that the story revolves around, adding to the thicket of red herrings and complicating one’s intuitions. It sets up a neat little puzzle, and there’s a neat little trick to draw you astray as well.

It’s not really a fair-play mystery, in some ways, but I think that made it a better story… and I think a thoughtful reader can get there anyway. It’s more interesting as a puzzle than for any great insight into character, for all that the police detective is vividly evoked (with all his faults, including total self-absorption).

If you’re interested in mysteries of this period, then it’s a fun one; if you read mysteries of this period now and again for the soothing predictability, this one isn’t a stand-out in the bunch, but a solid choice. If you lack any special interest at all and are just a bit curious, it’s not where I’d start you out, but it wouldn’t be a terrible choice either. All in all, it’s pretty middle-of-the-road. Which sounds like damning with faint praise, but I won’t say no to trying a couple more by Connington.

By the way, it isn’t released by the British Library Crime Classics series. Someone just got clever with cover design.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, volume 2

Posted May 6, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon, volume 2

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon

by Shio Usui

Genres: Manga, Romance
Pages: 174
Series: Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon #2
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

The distance between Hinako and Asahi is closing! What started as a typical coworker relationship has blossomed into friendship. But now, Hinako has started to wonder if her feelings for Asahi go even deeper. Could this be love?!

Volume two of Shio Usui’s Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon continues to a be a slow-burn: at times, it’s not obvious that there’s a romance angle coming, because it just focuses on Asahi and Hinako’s friendship. That said, Hinako’s feelings are pretty clear, even if she struggles with and doesn’t understand them, and it’s obvious that Asahi has been way too focused on looking after her sister to even think about romance, but maybe now’s the time.

The handholding is so cute, and the fact that their new friendship clearly gives them both a boost. There are a couple of odd moments that I notice other reviews picked up on, e.g. Asahi surprisingly commenting that it seems like Hinako loves her mother a lot. That said, it’s worth remembering that Asahi doesn’t have the same perspective as we do: she knows that Hinako’s always quick to pick up her phone for her mother, and always thoughtful about her. Hinako hasn’t really explained her history and where her insecurity comes from, so how would Asahi know?

Anyway, this continues really cute, and I’m interested to see how things work out.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Good Neighbors

Posted May 5, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors

by Stephanie Burgis

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 202
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

When a grumpy inventor meets her outrageous new neighbor in the big black castle down the road, more than one type of spark will fly!

Mia Brandt knows better than to ever again allow her true powers to be discovered. Ever since her last neighbors burned down her workshop in a night of terror and flame, she's been determined to stay solitary, safe, and - to all outside appearances - perfectly respectable...

But Leander Fabian, whose sinister castle looms over her cozy new cottage, has far more dangerous ideas in mind. When he persuades Mia into a reluctant alliance, she finds herself swept into an exhilarating world of midnight balls, interfering countesses, illicit opera house expeditions, necromantic duels, and a whole unnatural community of fellow magic-workers and outcasts, all of whom are facing a terrifying threat.

Luckily, Mia has unnatural powers of her own - but even her unique skills may not be enough to protect her new found family and help her resist the wickedly provoking neighbor who's seen through all of her shields from the beginning.

This novel-length collection includes all four stories and novellas originally published on Stephanie Burgis's Patreon in 2020-2021: Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, and Fierce Company.

Stephanie Burgis’ Good Neighbors is actually a collection of short novellas, each of which is linked to one another, but which do feel a little episodic when read together (rather than seamlessly fitting together like a novel). There’s the odd recap sentence here and there where reading in this format makes you want to say “yeah, I know, you said so five minutes ago”.

The relationship between Leander and Mia is predictable enough, but there are some cute moments; their allies are perhaps more interesting to me, particularly Carmilla and Eliza (and I think there is a novella about them which I might well read), and also Mia’s father and his relationship with Uriah. All in all, there’s a touch of found family in it which is always fun (Mia only has her father at first, but ends up surprisingly opening up to her options with all kinds of neighbours).

It was a quick read and not one that seems to be sticking with me very well, but it was fun enough.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted May 4, 2024 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

It’s the weekend again already?! Oof, how time flies. It’s been a good week for reading, and I have added two ARCs I’m excited about to my TBR.

Linking up with Reading Reality’s Stacking the Shelves, Caffeinated Reviewer’s The Sunday Post, and the Sunday Salon over at Readerbuzz, as usual!

Books acquired this week:

I haven’t been out buying books for the last few weeks, but I’m planning a spree tomorrow. For now, there’s just these two ARCs:

Cover of The City in Glass by Nghi Vo Cover of Haunt Sweet Home by Sarah Pinsker

I’ve really loved a lot of Nghi Vo’s work (aside from The Chosen and the Beautiful), so I snagged this one right away. As for Haunt Sweet Home, I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t read any of Sarah Pinkser’s work, despite the fact that we were once both part of the same small-ish Goodreads group, The Alternative World. I’ve been meaning to read her books forever, but I’m a terrible, flighty mood reader.

(I still haven’t read some of the books we had discussions about in the group, like Eifelheim…)

Posts from this week:

Time for the usual roundup! First the reviews…

And now the other posts!

What I’m reading:

By the time Bookly’s Odyssey Readathon ended, I’d read for 48 hours, which was nice and seems to have kickstarted my reading in general. Here’s a little glimpse at the books I’ve been reading which should come up for review soon on the blog:

Cover of Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, by Cat Bohannon Cover of Murder in Vienna by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

Cover of The New Noise by Charlotte Higgins Cover of The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr Cover of Monarchs of the Sea by Danna Staaf

It feels like I surely read more than that, but of course I made progress with a number of other books, including some that had been on the backburner for a while. Given I’m going out tomorrow, I’m not sure what else I’ll finish this weekend, but I’d like to finish up with A Short History of Tomb-Raiding (Maria Golia), at the very least.

And how about you, dear readers? Anything good jump into your hands off the shelves this week?

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Review – Wine

Posted May 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Wine

Wine

by Meg Bernhard

Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 159
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

While wine drunk millennia ago was the humble beverage of the people, today the drink is inextricable with power, sophistication, and often wealth. Bottles sell for half a million dollars. Point systems tell us which wines are considered the best. Wine professionals give us the language to describe what we taste.

Agricultural product and cultural commodity, drink of ritual and drink of addiction, purveyor of pleasure, pain, and memory - wine has never been contained in a single glass. Drawing from science, religion, literature, and memoir, Wine meditates on the power structures bound up with making and drinking this ancient, intoxicating beverage.

Like a lot of the Object Lessons books I’ve read recently, Meg Bernhard’s Wine is something of a memoir. At the same time, though, it does stick pretty close to the topic, and discusses the making of wine in a fairly close and involved manner: Bernhard went to vineyards and put herself to work, and spent time drinking the finished products in a thoughtful way.

As a result, it balances the personal (of which there is quite a bit) with interesting titbits about how wine is made, the impacts of climate change on wine production (such as the impact of wildfires and the wines that have to be made due to the smoke taint on the grape skins), and about how we relate to wine. It also discusses women in the wine industry, the difficulty of breaking through as a master sommelier in a highly male-dominated environment (where men have outright used their status to abuse women).

It’s still a highly personal book, discussing Bernhard’s personal relationship with alcoholic, her blackouts, the sexual assault she suffered when drinking heavily, her relationship with her father who has similar issues. But it manages to balance that with information, with a grounding in fact, and it works well.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mountains of Fire

Posted May 2, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Mountains of Fire

Mountains of Fire: The Secret Lives of Volcanoes

by Clive Oppenheimer

Genres: Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 368
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Volcanoes mean so much more than threat and calamity. Like our parents, they've led whole lives before we get to know them.

We are made of the same stuff as the breath and cinders of volcanoes. They have long shaped the path of humanity, provoked pioneering explorations and fired up our imaginations. They are fertile ground for agriculture, art and spirituality, as well as scientific advances, and they act as time capsules, capturing the footprints of those who came before us.

World-renowned volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer has worked at the crater's edge in the wildest places on Earth, from remote peaks in the Sahara to mystical mountains in North Korea. His work reveals just how entangled volcanic activity is with our climate, economy, politics, culture and beliefs. From Antarctica to Italy, he paints volcanoes as otherworldly, magical places where our history is laid bare and where nature speaks to something deep within us.Blending cultural history, science, myth and adventure, Mountains of Fire reminds us that, wherever we are on the planet, our stories are profoundly intertwined with volcanoes.

There’s no question about Clive Oppenheimer’s fascination with volcanoes — that shows in every page of Mountains of Fire, and in every recollection of the risky things he’s done for the science and love of volcanoes. Every time he mentions a risky climb or measuring gases above an active volcano, you can see that not only does he want to know about volcanoes, he wants to know volcanoes as individuals, and understand them. That extends not only to their physical properties, but the stories and superstitions around them as well.

That’s where the book was strongest for me. I want to be interested in volcanoes and how they work, but it’s one of those rare topics where it doesn’t really seem to catch my interest, even when digging into the nitty-gritty detail… and even when the writer is as enthusiastic as Oppenheimer proves to be. It doesn’t help, of course, that a lot of it describes the political and practical problems around the study of volcanoes (almost a whole chapter is dedicated to not managing to go to sample a specific area due to threats of kidnapping and violence).

I was interested enough to finish the book, but not interested enough to feel an itch to pick it up and keep reading. I can’t say that it’s dry or anything like that, it’s just not one of my pet topics, and thus it didn’t keep me turning the pages. I really think it’s a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me”.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted May 1, 2024 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

It’s WWW Wednesday time! So, as always, that’s:

  • What have you recently finished reading?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What will you read next?

Cover of Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, by Cat BohannonWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing I finished was Cat Bohannon’s Eve: How The Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, which I found fascinating, and rather less essentialist about sex/gender than I’d feared it might be. It’s a bit overladen with footnotes at times, but I ended up settling in on Saturday and reading from around page 100 to the end, once I got back into the swing of it.

I actually finished that on Saturday and apparently haven’t really finished anything since, which is weird for me! It’s not that I haven’t been reading, but I guess I’ve not been very focused. Which is fine!

Cover of Murder in Vienna by E.C.R. LoracWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve started a few books at once, on a whim, so… oops. Especially since I have a list of books I’m partway through that’s 22 books long. I won’t talk about them all (some of them are just kinda backburnered), but this might still be easiest as a list! Here they are, in no particular order…

  • Murder in Vienna, by E.C.R. Lorac:
    I have a few of Lorac’s books that haven’t (yet?) been republished by the British Library Crime Classics series, because they’re cheap on Kindle. I’m finally getting round to this one, and I love it as much as usual. She’s very good at evoking Vienna, including the unsettled post-WWII vibes.
  • This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC, by Charlotte Higgins:
    This is a history of the BBC, which I picked up on a whim. I’ve always felt fondly about the BBC, home of Doctor Who, and of all almost all the TV channels I could pick up with my old TV when I was a kid. I’m not very far into the book yet, but I’ve been fascinated to learn about Hilda Matheson.
  • In Deeper Waters, by F.T. Lukens:
    I wanted something a bit lighter, so this seemed like it might do — it gets rated as fast-paced on StoryGraph, anyway. I’m not very far into it, so far, but I’m interested enough.
  • Ink, Blood, Sister, Scribe, by Emma Törzs:
    I’ve been “reading” this for a while, but I’ve finally got back to actually making progress on it, even if it’s just a chapter or two a day. I don’t know why it isn’t quite clicking for me — parts of it are fascinating.
  • Cover of A Short History of Tomb Raiding by Maria GoliaA Short History of Tomb-Raiding, by Maria Golia:
    Pretty much what it says on the tin, though it’s more specific than it sounds from the main title. It’s focused on Egyptian tomb-raiding, starting back when the tombs were built, and moving forward to the beginnings of archaeology (so far). There’s a chunk of book left, so I wonder how much it’s going to talk about modern archaeology.
  • Threading the Labyrinth, by Tiffani Angus:
    I saw this described a while back as a “garden fantasy”, and I have a friend who absolutely loves gardening (and trees and flowers and most anything green), so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m not very far in yet, so it’s hard to say what I think of it.
  • The History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor (audiobook):
    Technically I think this was a radio series first, and then the book was written. This is the radio series, so I don’t think it has word-for-word the same content as the book. I’ve read the book (twice in fact), but at the moment I just wanted some soothing background noise while doing other stuff, and realised I had this in my Audible library. I’m enjoying it all over again, especially since it involves bringing in other experts to talk about the objects discussed. I was tickled to hear Phil Harding (best known from Time Team) opining on the hand axe, for example!

And that’s… okay, not all of them, but the ones I’m reading most actively. I know, I know, it’s a funny mix!

Cover of Death in the Spires by KJ CharlesWhat will you read next?

I probably shouldn’t be thinking about that, with that list of books I’m already reading… but regardless, I have thought about that, so we might as well not pretend I haven’t. I’m thinking about picking up Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley, or maybe jumping from the classics to a very recent book and try Death in the Spires by KJ Charles.

We’ll see, though!

And what about you? Anything good tucked into your backpack to travel around with you?

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