Tag: books

Stacking the Shelves

Posted 7 October, 2017 by Nikki in General / 22 Comments

Good morning, folks! I’m not quite over the cold yet, since I have a horrible cough that won’t shift, but I’m doing better. And, I ended up with a whole stack of books from London/friends/etc. Woo!

Update on the me:

As you can see below, it still hasn’t been a good reading week. I’m just so tired. I have a few books on the go, but nothing’s sticking very well. Mostly I feel like reading non-fiction, but I’m mindful of the fact that most people are here for my fiction reviews, and don’t even read non-fiction, so I do need to keep up with the fiction content!

Although, maybe that’s the problem. I do view keeping my blog interesting as being a job, and reading ARCs as a job, sometimes. Maybe that’s taking the fun out of it a little — but on the other hand, I get fun back from running a blog people enjoy and engage with, so… Hm.

Anyway, other than that, you may have noticed that I’ve got my green lock showing my site is now secure! With the help of Lynn O’Connacht, who is very patient and hosts my blog for free, my site is now secured and fit for anything.

In other news, I’m away from the bunnies again, and you know what that means. Here is Hulk, showing everyone she’s a civilised lady and can sit at (well… under) the dinner table.

New books:

Cover of Built on Bodies by Brenna Hasset Cover of Science and the City by Laurie Winkless Cover of Goldilocks and the Water Bears by Louisa Preston Cover of Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher

Cover of Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews Cover of The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo Cover of After the Bloodwood Staff Cover of The Occasional Diamond Thief by J.A. Mclachlan

Cover of Going For Stone by Philip Gross Cover of Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

Some good non-fic picked up at the New Scientist Live event, and a bunch more fiction to keep me occupied. Hurrah!

Read this week:

Cover of Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher Cover of Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn Cover of The Servants, by Michael Marshall Smith


Reviews posted this week:

The Wimsey Family, by C.S. Scott-Giles & Dorothy L. Sayers. A little piece of, well, whimsy, covering the background of Lord Peter’s family in bits and bobs pieced together from letters and piffle. 4/5 stars
Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller. Mostly, this felt a little bit too much like Throne of Glass and The Hunger Games, though the genderqueer protagonist was an interesting touch. 3/5 stars
A Rare Book of Cunning Device, by Ben Aaronovitch. A fun audio-exclusive. Not essential to the broader plot of Peter Grant’s story, but a good aside and a perfect narrator. 4/5 stars
Leonardo: The First Scientist, by Michael White. A readable and apparently well-sourced biography of a great thinker. 4/5 stars
Drawing Breath: the Making and Unmaking of Tuberculosis, by Kathryn Lougheed. A lot of stuff I didn’t know about TB itself, and a wake-up call if you didn’t know that TB is very far from being unmade. 4/5 stars
The Secret History of the World, by Jonathan Black. Not about what I thought it was about from other reviews, sadly. 1/5 stars
The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach. A reread of a carefully crafted favourite. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW WednesdayThe weekly update on what I’ve been reading

So how’re you?

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Review – The Carpet Makers

Posted 6 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Carpet Makers by Andreas EschbachThe Carpet Makers, Andreas Eschbach

I loved this, the first time I read it, and it’s stayed with me ever since — not all the details, but an overall impression of great craft in the writing (and no doubt on the part of the translator, too) and a mystery which, once solved, seemed amazing. It’s not a format I’d usually like, since it doesn’t follow a single character or handful of characters through a story, watching them develop and react; instead, each chapter is linked to the previous, but has different characters. Some of the characters, you just don’t know how they end up, or you only see a little glimpse of it. Each story has its own arc, arousing sympathy, horror, curiosity, anger.

It’s a great book — not a collection of short stories, as you find once you’re halfway through. No: it cleverly unravels the mystery in little pieces, revealing it piece by piece until at the end you say — ah!

I won’t say more about it, because the plot needs to be discovered for itself. The writing is beautiful, though; each word feels like it’s in its exact right place, carefully laid out and planned in advance like one of the carpets made by the people of the title. It’s almost fable-like in some places — and honestly, I found that my suspension of disbelief didn’t matter. It was all so clever, and it expected the reader to disbelieve, to feel staggered by the scales, the things suggested.

It’s great. I find it unforgettable.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Secret History of the World

Posted 5 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret History of the World by Jonathan BlackThe Secret History of the World, Jonathan Black

I’m honestly not sure why I have this book — some people have reviewed it as a serious synthesis of all that secret societies have believed, so possibly I ended up with it hoping to read something about that and understand secret societies a little more. Whether the book works for that is arguable: to my mind it mixes together esoteric beliefs more or less at random. The author admits in the first chapter that he’s chosen the societies he thinks had the right idea pretty arbitrarily: “I have also made cavalier judgements as to which schools of thought and which secret societies draw on authentic tradition” — what, in other words your “history” is based on the gut feeling of a single person, you, the author? Hmmm!

It isn’t really a history, though, but a sort of textbook promising to combine all these ancient ideas and show the truth. It handwaves at quantum effects briefly as being part of it, but mostly states that scientists just won’t believe in it anyway. It’s easy enough to read, but just… profoundly wrong and bad scholarship on every subject I know anything about. Hardly inspires confidence, even if it didn’t raise your eyebrows within the first page.

And now I really want a book that actually delves into the why and wherefores of the history of secret societies…

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Drawing Breath

Posted 4 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Catching Breath by Kathryn LougheedDrawing Breath: The Making and Unmaking of Tuberculosis, Kathryn Lougheed

Or mostly the making of it, since unmaking it has been so far beyond human powers.

If you think of TB as something that happens to other people, in other countries, or even only in the past, then this is a necessary corrective. It highlights the disease burden borne in particular countries (usually where poverty and poor nutrition support it), among particular groups (refugees finding it hard to access care; homeless people in London) and in people already suffering reduced immune function (people who have HIV). TB is still very much with us, and there are already strains out there which are completely drug resistant.

Let me say that again: we’re so far from beating TB that there are completely drug resistant strains out there which can only be treated with a Hail Mary approach of toxic antibiotics like kanamycin or surgical intervention. And there have only been two new anti-TB agents in recent years, and neither of them are ready to deploy on a large scale. Oh, and by the way, we don’t even have sufficient global supply of the current first line drugs.

I appreciated Lougheed’s focus on mentioning the fact that this drug resistance isn’t due to people not complying with their medication schedules. Antibiotic resistance naturally arises in TB, even if a patient is observed 24/7 and every pill or shot is administered on a precise timeline. We can’t just put this down to people being careless, though there’s no doubt that in some cases that could cause antibiotic resistance.

If you’re a fan of UKIP, you won’t like Lougheed’s commentary on racism, etc; she shares my views, as far as I can tell from this book, but she’s very vocal in giving little respect to that area of the public. I found her likeable for it, but your mileage will no doubt vary.

Anyway, all in all, this is an interesting, timely, not too technical history of the science of TB, and it’s a bit of an eye-opener even for someone relatively aware of the state of things. I found it very readable and illuminating.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 4 October, 2017 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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno BettelheimA couple of things, as usual. For non-fiction, I’m reading The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim. I know that his views on autism, etc, are very much criticised now, but this is about fairytales and how they help to develop a child’s brain. He’s very much a psychoanalyst, which I tend to take with a grain of salt, but he still has some interesting theories about the appeal of fairytales.

Cover of Summerlong by Peter S. BeagleIn terms of fiction, I’ve just started Peter S. Beagle’s Summerlong. I have to say, I’m raising my eyebrows a little at the fact that like In Calabria, he has an older man in a romance with a younger woman. It’s less creepy-feeling than in that book, but it still has a bit of that hmmmm to it. Especially in his attraction to Lioness, the even younger character who is really the centre of the story. Not that I expect older people to turn off their attraction to younger people as such, it’s just… since that comment from Jo on In Calabria, I can’t stop noticing.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Bring Back the King by Helen PilcherNot very much! The last thing I finished was Helen Pilcher’s Bring Back the King, which is about de-extinction efforts. It’s light-hearted (though not hilarious, as the cover-copy might have you believe) but informative, though I knew most of the info from reading Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone A Mammoth. Very similar info about the same range of species as that book, so unless you’re absolutely mad about T-rex and Elvis (yes, she discusses “de-extincting” Elvis), I think I’d skip it if you’ve already read that.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of The Red Threads of Fortune by JY YangI’ll probably read the two books just out from Tor.com by Jy Yang, The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven. The covers look beautiful, I’m intrigued by the summaries, and I received them to review last week. I also need to get back to reading Andy Weir’s Artemis, of course! And given that I’m still not quite well, and I’m at my parents’ house with my copies of the Phryne Fisher books, I’m tempted to dive into a reread of Away with the Fairies

What are you reading?

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Review – Leonardo: The First Scientist

Posted 3 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Leonardo by Michael WhiteLeonardo: The First Scientist, Michael White

I’ve found myself quite enjoying White’s biographies, and this is no exception. I think it’s difficult to argue that da Vinci wasn’t a scientist, when you look at the kinds of things he was interested in and the methodical way he went about it, including (as White points out) using the scientific method. I have to confess I picked up this biography after playing Assassin’s Creed II, and I did spend the entire time trying to work out how the chronology fit in with Ezio’s adventures…

White’s books are definitely very readable, and they seem to be sourced and well thought out. I’ll probably pick up other biographies written by White in the future; I enjoyed his one on Machiavelli, too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Rare Book of Cunning Device

Posted 2 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Rare Book of Cunning Device by Ben AaronovitchA Rare Book of Cunning Device, Ben Aaronovitch

Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, this is a short story set in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London world. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a great narrator and sounds just perfect for Peter, and while it’s a short story, it’s fun and features Toby and Postmartin… and the British Library. And, of course, a rare book of cunning device.

I won’t spoiler you if you haven’t listened to it, but it really is fun, helped by Holdbrook-Smith’s delivery. If you enjoy Peter Grant and his brand of humour, you’ll be in for a treat. And as I recall, it’s free on Audible…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mask of Shadows

Posted 1 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Mask of Shadows by Linsey MillerMask of Shadows, Linsey Miller

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 29th August 2017

I was intrigued by the sound of Mask of Shadows, because the main character is non-binary and throughout the story, asks to be addressed by pronouns that match what they’re wearing — and by neutral pronouns (they/them/their) if they’re ambiguous. I thought it was reasonably well done; people didn’t get too obsessed with finding out, and not everyone was a total douche about it either. The narrative didn’t linger on it, either.

On the other hand, it’s basically Throne of Glass with a bit of The Hunger Games, apart from maybe the figure of the queen, who is intriguingly ambiguous in the end, although she starts as a saviour figure. There is some interesting world-building — the shadows — but really, it feels so much like Throne of GlassI enjoyed Throne of Glass well enough, but I don’t want to read it again.

There’s a couple of issues with pacing too — sometimes the story seems to jerk forward, leaving me wondering where something came from. But for the most part, it’s fun; just not original.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Wimsey Family

Posted 30 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Wimsey FamilyThe Wimsey Family, C.S. Scott-Giles, Dorothy L. Sayers

This is quality piffle, right here. It’s a short volume, and perhaps better in concept than actually in execution, at least as something to read straight through. It assembles a bunch of stories that Sayers and her correspondents came up with, explaining Peter’s family and where exactly he came from. It untangles some inconsistencies, and basically rationalises everything.

A nice thing for a collector of Sayers’ work to have, and for a major fan of Lord Peter, but perhaps not the most entertaining just to sit and read.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 30 September, 2017 by Nikki in General / 21 Comments

Good morning, folks. I’m currently in London, about to attend the New Scientist Live event, and completely full of cold. Wife brought it home last week, but now I’m in the thick of it too. Bleh. So anyway, I might not reply to comments/other people’s posts until tomorrow, but I promise I’ll get to them, as always!

Books received to review:

Cover of Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren Cover of The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang Cover of The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang Cover of The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt

Thank you Tor and Angry Robot! Exciting stuff.

Books bought:

Cover of Keeping Their Marbles by Tiffany Jenkins Cover of Provenance by Ann Leckie Cover of A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Thank you, Mum! I’ve been wanting all these for ages.

Read this week:

Cover of Snowdrift & Other Stories by Georgette Heyer Cover of Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey Cover of Bog Bodies Uncovered

Again, not the greatest reading week. It started okay, but then I got sick…

Reviews posted this week:

The Warrior Princess, by K.M. Ashman. Disappointing in execution, but still pretty awesome to see someone dealing with Welsh history. I learnt something! 2/5 stars
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. It started out entertaining, but I got tired of the brand of humour, which mostly revolves around sex and bodily functions. 2/5 stars
Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf. About the science of how we read. I have serious questions about some of the research described. 3/5 stars
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I couldn’t wrap my head around it as science fiction, but once I treated it as fantasy and just accepted the world, I loved it. 4/5 stars
Neanderthals Rediscovered, by Dimitra Pappagianni and Michael A. Morse. Not as in-depth as I’d hoped, but interesting stuff. 3/5 stars
Starlings, by Jo Walton. Unsurprisingly, I loved this collection of Jo’s short work. 4/5 stars
The Planet in a Pebble, by Jan Zalasiewicz. Not as poetic as Richard Fortey’s work, but an enjoyable survey of the rock cycle. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

The cost of reading: Books ARE expensive. Apropos of a throwaway tweet stating that books are not expensive. (Spoiler: it depends.)

No WWW Wednesday post this week, see also: I was sick! Hopefully there’ll be more activity round here in the week to come. How’s everyone else doing?

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