Tag: books

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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Review – A Case of Possession

Posted January 12, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Case of Possession by KJ CharlesA Case of Possession, K.J. Charles

A Case of Possession follows up on The Magpie Lord fairly closely; Stephen Day and Lord Crane have returned to London, but not quite to their previous lives, setting up as many clandestine meetings as they can (perhaps not as secretly as they should). Rackham, the man who introduced them in the first place, wants a lot of money fast, and of course, they can be blackmailed. Stephen’s in a spot of trouble too, with even his nearest and dearest fearing his newfound power is a sign he’s gone to the bad.

Also, people are being found mauled by giant rats, and shamans from Shanghai are involved, bringing Lucien into Stephen’s world as a translator, putting him right at the centre of everything again.

I do enjoy these characters so much, and the fact that they can be relatively happy and open despite the homophobic setting; Lucien has no shame due to his time in Shanghai, and Stephen is reasonably sure he can handle any issues that arise, so Charles can tread lightly around the wretchedness that I’m sure many in the period faced. It’s not wholly forgotten, of course, but it isn’t a huge barrier between them. There are some adorable bits in this book as they figure things out and put their relationship on a firmer footing.

It’s also fun to see the new characters, including an excellent scene with some of Stephen’s closest friends, and some more glimpses of Lucien’s past. Some excellent quips and comebacks, too, which I shan’t quote in order to let anyone who wants to find them for themselves.

The mystery of the giant rats is also a nice nod to Sherlock Holmes, and it works together to create a very good excuse for Lucien to be part of it again — there’s no perfectly coincidental constant stumbling over bodies. (Okay, I know the Daisy Dalrymple books are very different in many ways, but it does grate that a whole series is hinged on Daisy finding murder everywhere she goes, and it’s becoming a slight pet peeve.)

Finally, there are several sex scenes in this book; none of them are plot-necessary, but they do advance the characters and show their states of mind, so that’s worth knowing.

It all comes together well, and as a bonus there’s a short story featuring a little more about Merrick.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Venus & Aphrodite

Posted January 8, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Venus & Aphrodite by Bettany HughesVenus & Aphrodite, Bettany Hughes

This looks more substantial on the shelf than it actually is; I read it in about 90 minutes, though it’ll take more time to follow up on some of the things I’m interested in and maybe follow up some of the bibliography. It’s a sort of biography of the goddess, from her origins as Ishtar through to her afterlife as Venus in the world of razors and the silver screen. It’s not that there’s nothing new to me here, but it feels like without the chapter breaks and introductory quotes and images and rather spaced out text, it would be a much slimmer book.

However, I did learn some interesting things; I hadn’t known, for example, that Astarte and Aphrodite were so strongly linked on Cyprus (I thought it was a bit more vague), and I definitely didn’t know about the female-bodied bearded versions of Aphrodite. Elsewhere those images do seem to be interpreted as referring to Hermaphroditus rather than Aphrodite, but the descent from Astarte sort of suggests that as being a later development, perhaps as Aphrodite became more and more an object of desire instead of the powerful, war-linked goddess she was as Astarte. Hughes definitely describes the statues as definitively being of Aphrodite-Aphroditos, at least. I’d love to see more clarification on that, but the chapter on this was so short.

Enjoyable, then, and an easy read, but not very in-depth.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted January 8, 2020 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. Check out the link-up post here.

Cover of Venus & Aphrodite by Bettany HughesWhat are you currently reading?

I’m trying to be pretty spontaneous and be really excited about everything I read this year, so I am only officially partway through one book (though others on the shelves are part-read and might get resumed in future). That is Bettany Hughes’ Venus & Aphrodite.

I’ve half-followed Bettany Hughes’ work since my first graduation, because at the same ceremony she received an honorary doctorate from my university, but I hadn’t picked this up yet. Actually, I wasn’t expecting to; I do a challenge where each month a random Dewey category gets chosen and you need to read one book from it for a chance to win, and this month was the 200s. Venus & Aphrodite happened to catch my eye when I couldn’t find the book on Judaism I’d searched up to get, so I took it instead.

I’m honestly pretty near finished; I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, though it’s very light.

Cover of Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina RatherWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Sisters of the Vast Black, by Lina Rather. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow primed me not to even flinch at the idea of nuns in space, so I didn’t consider it gimmicky (contrast my initial reaction to “Jesuits in space” when I first read The Sparrow). I enjoyed it a lot, and there’s something powerfully hopeful about it — about rebellion and doing the right thing, and shining your light when no one else can or will.

Cover of A Case of Possession by KJ CharlesWhat will you read next?

I’ve just been buddy-reading The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles with my wife. She’s solidly on her way through A Case of Possession, so I guess I’d better catch up! Otherwise, it’s going to be even more based on whim than my usual. I’m going through my shelves and re-cataloguing my books, so it really could be anything.

What about you folks? Whatcha reading?

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Review – Sisters of the Vast Black

Posted January 7, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina RatherSisters of the Vast Black, Lina Rather

Sisters of the Vast Black follows the journey of a group of nuns travelling on a living spaceship (derived from sea slugs), Our Lady of Impossible Constellations. They’re wandering about the universe on missions of mercy, baptising babies in colonies, celebrating marriages in young colonies… The universe has barely recovered from a civil war, and hints of that unease wrap the story around, while everyone on board has their secrets, their doubts and their worries. The Mother Superior of the little order is suffering with dementia, Sister Gemma has fallen in love, and Sister Faustina is keeping everybody’s secrets as she watches their correspondence come and go. Worse, their ship wants to mate, and they’re struggling with whether to allow it, or whether it — as a mobile convent, essentially — should be forced to remain celibate as well.

Oh, and there are disturbing hints that a new war might be brewing…

It feels fairly small-scale and insular at first, but it quickly opens out. The Mother Superior’s secrets can shake everything, and the Sisters have been using the ship’s immune system to make vaccines for dreadful diseases. Earth influence is expanding again, including with the arrival of a new priest with new orders from Rome to bring the Sisters into line. It all comes together in a final rush, and you see what it’s all for — there’s a reason for all the choices it makes. It works beautifully; I worked out where it was going ahead of time, but was still glad to see it happen, and there were some beautiful lines about the importance of helping people.

It boils down to: it’s a big world, and we’re just lonely little specks, but we can make ourselves something more. It’s very hopepunk in that sense, and I enjoyed that it was not super cynical about everything. The faith (or lack thereof, in the case of one character) of the Sisters is treated sympathetically, but without elevating them above other people. We’re all human, and can all shine our lights in the vast black, and create our own impossible constellations.

Rating: 4/5

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