Tag: discussion

Discussion: Putting the Joy Back Into It

Posted September 17, 2019 by Nikki in Uncategorized / 10 Comments

Well folks, the time has come to talk of many things. Just up front: I’m not quitting blogging! Things just need to change, that’s all.

But let’s begin at the beginning, with the background: for the last year or two, or… no, let’s be honest, at least three or four years now, reading has started to feel like a bit of a chore. Not all the time, but more and more. When I do read, I enjoy it, but it’s become something I almost have to schedule time for. I’ve tried a couple of different things to make that better (Game of Books is one of them), but I think overall it’s become a bit too much of a boxticking activity. Every so often I get the urge to kick over the traces and ditch all my rules, and each time it’s resulted in a new set of rules and no net gain.

(Particularly because the average number of books I read in a year has fallen, despite all the lists, all the desperation to keep up with things!)

Balls to that, right? So, when was I happy with my reading last? I think in retrospect I’d put that at about the time I started leaving Goodreads, before I kept track of things with spreadsheets and before I started trying to keep some kind of regular blog schedule. (Actually, I pinned this solely to the spreadsheets, but the wife-creature kept poking me to think about what else might be in play.)

So, come the end of this year, I’m going to stop tracking my reading so obsessively. I don’t want to know how many books I’ve read this year. At the moment, my admirable wife is going to take over the tracking (and refuse to let me see it) so that at the end of the year, I can get a bunch of pretty graphs and pie charts to talk about my reading year with. That’s the plan for 2020, and if it doesn’t work out, well, maybe I won’t track my reading at all. I suspect I just need to get the numbers out of it, though; I was very happy when I was using Goodreads for it.

(I’d start now, but I need the spreadsheet to help me with my book blanket project, and I’m far too fond of that to let it go!)

I might also stop trying to track my progress vs my backlog. It’s never-ending, and it’s become about striking books off a list rather than enjoying them. We’ll see; it’s as the whim takes me.

More immediately, and more relevantly for you guys, I’m also going to stop scheduling my posts in advance. One of the things that was part of my routine on Goodreads was going to write a review as soon as I’d finished a book, and publishing it right away. That way I could share my feelings about the books I was reading more or less in real-time.

So, posts will no longer go live at 9:00am BST on the dot; reviews will be posted when I’ve finished a book, and that means there might be two posts on some days and then none for a week. When I get into obsessive mode and read five books in a row about influenza, there could be five reviews all in a row on books about influenza. So be it! I trust you’re all here for my reviews, in all their weird and wonderful variety, and not for a rigid posting schedule.

(For a few days or weeks I do have a backlog of reviews that haven’t been posted yet; I’ll publish those when there’s a day or two without other reviews, but once they’re gone, they’re gone. I do actually have a review for a book I finished today, but I’ll hold it just until morning so there aren’t too many posts on my blog, and more to the point in people’s notifications, in one day.)

I think I will still post a Weekly Roundup and What Are You Reading Wednesday, but I shan’t be obsessive about it either. Blogging isn’t my job — in fact, it has signally failed to produce any income at all on the occasions I’ve tried affiliate links and a donation button — and nor do I want it to be.

I’m trying to have no expectations about how this little project will go — maybe I will read less, not more! But hopefully I will be happier, and I’m sure you all want that for me!

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Discussion: Fantasy

Posted May 20, 2019 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyphFor a while now I’ve been meaning to do some little discussions of genres, talk about the books I’ve read that sold me on the genre or really formed my impressions of it, so it seems appropriate to start off now, during Wyrd & Wonder, with one of my major genres — one that I’ve been reading throughout my life.

Fantasy is a really, really big genre, to be honest. It comes in so many shapes and styles that can overlap and borrow from one another, and the tone can be anything from dead serious to satirical to silly. You can spend your whole time reading in a subgenre and there’ll still be plenty there for you, particularly if it’s a major subgenre.

What counts as fantasy?

With all the subgenres and the changes in tone, it can be hard to put a finger on. I just settle for saying that it depicts a world at an angle from ours: there may be magic, events may have been different, dragons may be real, the characters may be animals or eldritch beings… Whatever it is, you know that it isn’t our world, however much you may wish that it was.

My first fantasy novel:

I’ll have been read several as a kid, but the first one I remember reading with any clarity is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My versions of those books had lovely covers, and I regularly read them to pieces.

My favourite fantasy novel: 

This is a toughie, and always an unfair question, but if I had to go with my gut and blurt something out, right now I would say The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison.

My favourite fantasy series: 

This one is even tougher. There are so many trilogies and sprawling multi-volume epics that I find myself without even a gut feeling. And yet something does seem like clearly the right choice if I stop and think: Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels.

The last fantasy novel I read:

The last one I finished was The Ninth Rain, by Jen Williams. I’m eager to jump right on the next… just as soon as I finish the last 12 books from my Wyrd & Wonder reading list!

Top five subgenres: 

  • Secondary world fantasy, where the author has invented a whole new world
  • Portal fantasy, where people from our world end up in a fantasy world
  • Historical fantasy, where historical events are retold and changed by fantastical elements
  • Urban fantasy, where fairies and magic and all kinds of chaos can intrude into the modern cityscape
  • Fairytale retellings, where traditional stories are deepened and widened, and sometimes twisted

Suggested gateway books: 

  • If you’re into secondary world fantasy, then J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books might appeal — or for something more recent, try some N.K. Jemisin (start with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) or Robert Jackson Bennett (City of Stairs)For a recentish but very traditional epic fantasy series, you could really get your teeth stuck into Tad Williams’ Osten Ard books.
  • When it comes to portal fantasy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a classic, but I’d personally go for Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy instead. I need to finish Foz Meadows’ A Tyranny of Queens, but An Accident of Stars was enjoyable. If you have other good recs for portal fantasy, actually, let me know! I love the idea, but need to read more.
  • When it comes to historical fantasy, I could just refer you back to Guy Gavriel Kay (Sailing to Sarantium is a particular favourite), but I’m coming to really appreciate Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist books, and Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books are a treat.
  • For urban fantasy, Seanan McGuire’s cooked up a treat in the October Daye books, and I’d say Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books are well worth it as well. Urban fantasy can get a bit samey, but Toby and Kate still kick ass and takes names from where I’m sitting.
  • Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is the first book that leaps to mind when I’m talking about fairytale retellings, but there are others that hew closer to the original story — like Robin McKinley’s BeautySpindle’s End and Rose Daughter. Personally, I’d go with T. Kingfisher’s retellings, Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood, and a side of Genevieve Valentine’s retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in the 20s, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.

There’s so much out there, so if you’re interested in fantasy but not sure where to begin, I can guarantee there’s a book out there for you — and I’ve had some of my best successes by just picking a random book off the shelves. Get out there and dabble, is my advice!

(The next genre discussion, in a couple of weeks, will be Mysteries and crime, I think, so keep an eye out if that’s more your thing!)

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Discussion: Book Blanket

Posted February 11, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

It’s been a few weeks since the last update, so how’re things going?

Here it is! It’s 10 hexagons in width, about a metre long, and currently has 19 hexagons joined. (Thank you to Hogglestock, my large inflatable hedgehog/seat, for his patience in modelling this.) I quite like the way the joining is working out — that ridge works nicely in defining each square and in just adding a little bit of oomph. I think I’m probably going to add a white border around the outer edge, though I’ll have to ponder how to give that the right texture. (Probably either front post crochets, or just crocheting into the front loops only.)

Things that’ve changed since my last post: I added a colour, in a sense, in that for a book which I read a significant amount of (over 25% minimum), if I feel it was still significant enough to record, I’m adding a motif with a white centre. You can actually see one there in the second row: that’s Jaine Fenn’s Hidden Sun, which I DNF’ed after discovering it came over all rape-apologism at the end.

I’ve also moved the categories slightly: books from my backlog from 2016 are now also using the dark green “bottle” colour, to try and balance out the sheer amount of the 2017-2018 books in “petrol”.

Finally, I’ve been deciding on how exactly to shape the blanket, just today! Right now there are 10 motifs in the first row and 9 in the second, and I actually tied off in order to take a fairly neat picture. However, there are two possible ways to do this — or really, way more, but I already decided I wanted it to be more or less straight rather than off-setting each row. Here’s the image I whipped up in Paint to show my wife:

I’ve decided to go with #2, I think — for one thing, it’ll help control the length of it, even if I read an absolute ton!

So that’s where we are right now!

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Discussion: Book Blanket

Posted January 24, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

It’s been a Week, and I’m behind on all kinds of blog things. So I thought I’d quickly share a pic of one of my recent hexagons, and the exact pattern if you wanted to follow me exactly.

So first, here’s the hexagon for Shades of Milk and Honey, a reread (the deep purple outer ring, “emperor”) that’s fantasy, romance and historical fiction (“turquoise” for fantasy, “bright pink” for romance; it’ll be “spring green” for other when I read any historical fiction, but I wanted to keep it somewhat simple).

The pattern is from CrochetSpot, but they don’t explain exactly how to do it (it’s more how to work out the pattern for an expanding motif of any number of sides) and I’ve made a few tweaks for stability. This might sound like total witchcraft if you’re not into crochet!

So if you’re looking at the pic above, we’ll call the pink colour A, the blue colour B, and the purple colour C. We’re using US terminology, because that’s what I’m most used to in patterns.

Dc – double crochet
Ss – slip stitch
Ch – chain
Chain space – the visible gap between the clusters in the previous round

Round 1: With colour A, do 3ch up from a magic circle and then 17 dc into the magic circle. Draw it closed so there’s almost no hole. Ss into the top of the 3ch. (18 stitches)
Round 2: 3ch (counts as first dc). *[dc, ch3, dc] in next stitch, dc in next two stitches*, repeat from * around until you have six clusters of four stitches each. Ss into the top of the 3ch. (24 stitches)
Round 3: Join with colour B in the first stitch of a cluster. 3ch, 3dc, *[dc, ch3, dc] in ch space, dc in next 4 stitches*, repeat from * around until you have six clusters of six stitches each. Ss into the top of the 3ch. (36 stitches)
Round 4: Join with colour C in the first stitch of a cluster. 3ch, 5dc, *[dc, ch3, dc] in ch space, dc in next 6 stitches*, repeat from * around until you have six clusters of eight stitches each. Ss into the top of the 3ch and tie off. (48 stitches)

I’ve made slight adjustments from the CrochetSpot pattern, as I mentioned, mostly for stability; I don’t like having the 3ch forming chain spaces, as then you can get stretchy gappiness when joining to the rest of the cluster instead of a smooth consistent look all round. I’ve found that making sure the 3ch is part of the cluster keeps things neat. You can improve that by starting right in the center of a cluster when you change colours.

If you’re doing that, you can just think of it as 3ch from where you are, crochet into each dc from the previous round, and [dc, 3ch, dc] in the chain spaces. It’s true in every round after the second, if you want to make the hexagon bigger. Mine comes out just a bit bigger than the palm of my hand; around 10cm in diameter. If you’re looking for an easy motif that isn’t a plain old granny square, this is pretty simple and repetitive. I’m now down to about 30 minutes for making a motif, joining it to the other squares, and tucking in the ends.

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2018 Stats

Posted January 5, 2019 by Nikki in General / 3 Comments

A belated happy new year to all of you! 2018 was a heck of a year which saw me completing a degree (for the third time), moving in with my wife permanently in the UK, and getting a new job (jobs, even!). Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve read less this year on an average books-per-day basis than ever since I started tracking. Last year I did some neat graphs using this site, so let’s go again! You can click each graph to see it larger; last year’s stats are here.


Other stats:

Total read: 245
Number of rereads: 45
Total page count: 73,891 (+17,005 from last year)
Most-read genre per month:

  • January: Fantasy
  • February: Fantasy
  • March: History
  • April: Fantasy
  • May: SF & Fantasy (tied)
  • June: Fantasy
  • July: Fantasy
  • August: Fantasy & Mystery (tied)
  • September: Mystery
  • October: Fantasy
  • November: History
  • December: Mystery

Number of ratings:

  • Five stars: 21
  • Four stars: 124
  • Three stars: 75
  • Two stars: 23
  • One star: 2

First book read: The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It (Christopher Hastings)
Last book read: Greenwitch (Susan Cooper)
First book bought: The Hidden People (Alison Littlewood)
Last book bought: The Golden Thread (Kasia St Clair)

So pretty much no surprises here, and only minor changes year-on-year. The biggest changes have been in my consumption of science non-fiction (down this year) and mysteries (up this year). I’ve done a little more rereading, and maybe a little more reading from my backlog. Game of Books and the number of books I read are actually more closely related to each other this year, but despite reading fewer books overall, I read way more pages this year. So, Game of Books has been a success!

Overall I read less this year, of course, but I can report that the value (mostly based either on what I paid for the book, or RRP) of the books I read was way in excess of what I actually spent on books this year, so I’ve been making good use of libraries and my backlog!

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Discussion: Libraries

Posted December 17, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I’m a pretty unabashed lover of libraries. Free books! And so many of them! Okay, I sometimes have trouble finding the exact books I want, but I do get exposed to all kinds of books I might not otherwise have tried. And, well, having four different local library cards helps, too. If the most local library doesn’t have a book, the next one out just might (without having to figure out the individual library’s interlibrary loan system).

And it’s great, of course, to support librarians and prove to councils that people need and use libraries. Especially given the fact that I was on the committee of and volunteered at a community library — a noble endeavour and one that did a lot of good, but also made it obvious just how important funding and backup are in running an effective and useful library. Energetic volunteers aren’t really a replacement for money, and community-led libraries are limited (though better than nothing, by a long long way!).

On the other hand, I have an entire shelf of library books, menacing me slightly with their due dates and sheer profusion. The problem with libraries is that they tempt me to bite off more than I can chew, and unlike the books I own, they don’t wait patiently. So currently I’m in the process of whittling down the number of library books hanging out on my shelves. It’s going slowly… I’m on about 30 left, though, from 60ish to begin with, so I guess I’m doing okay.

Thank goodness libraries let you renew loans…

All the same, it’s important to remember that libraries are pretty great. Librarians, you have my love!

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Discussion: Real Life

Posted October 22, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

So both last week’s post and my question about prompts for discussion posts raised similar issues: how much do you share about yourself on your blog, and how much are you interested in other people sharing?

Personally, I’m relatively open about identity things (mental illness, being queer, being Welsh, etc) and share some snippets about my life (e.g. the bunnies, a couple of my wedding photos), while keeping it fairly low-key — just the intro to my Weekly Roundups or an aside during a review. I figure you’re here for the books, and though it’s useful to know that I have two English lit degrees in the bag and a biology degree pending, or that I’m queer, or whatever, because it informs what I read and how I review things, it’s not like you want to know what I ate for breakfast or the details of my gym routine.

On the other hand, some people think that even what I share is too much — that one should let their reviews speak for themselves, and not reveal identity, political affiliations, etc.

There’s a few different aspects of that for me: one is that I’ve never had much luck hiding my orientation or my interests. I was forcibly outed when I was thirteen and the cat’s never gone back into the bag, and I think I prefer it that way — there’s no emotional blackmail if I don’t have secrets. (The relief when I told my grandmother I was married, my goodness!) Another aspect of that is that I want people to know I’m queer because it normalises it, for people who’ve never knowingly encountered queer people and for younger queer people who might think they’re alone.

And finally, I think it’s important to know where someone stands in order to properly contextualise their reactions to books. If someone reviews a book that happens to include a gay couple and they give it two stars for “disgusting content”, then if you know they’re homophobic you know that it may not actually be about the quality of the book. Likewise, if I review a book with a serial killer and say that I found it annoying because the serial killer had OCD and that was meant to be a “warning sign” of their mental state, you know that I have OCD and this kind of thing is bound to infuriate me. If that’s not a bugbear of yours, you know that you might well enjoy the book more than I did.

Anyway, so I think I’m likely to keep on as I am in terms of personal commentary. You’ll get to know me a little through what I say about books, and you’ll know when I have an amazingly cute bunny picture — but I’m unlikely to do a weekly feature on what’s up in Nikkiland. The blog is primarily about books, after all. But if you feel super strongly about wanting to know more about me as a person and how I’m doing, maybe I can make a point of including a little more detail in my weekly roundups.

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Discussion: A Fast Read

Posted August 27, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I can’t remember which author it is, but there’s someone on Twitter who gets deeply offended whenever someone says, “Hey, I found your book a really fast read, totally unputdownable!” They completely take it as an insult, because they don’t want to be the kind of author who writes books that might be classed as easy to read.

Authors: please don’t do this. If I read your book fast, it is a compliment, and you’re just willfully taking offence if you decide that it isn’t. I’m a fast reader anyway, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t take in what I’m reading or appreciate your subtleties. How fast I read a book is much less important than how long it stays with me afterwards: there are books which take me months to read and feel like a total chore — do you really want to be one of those?! Because if your book is one of those, I can almost guarantee you… I don’t like it that much.

(There are some exceptions, mood reading and such. But in general…)

Now, there is a time and a place for close-reading. 1) A literature degree, 2) understanding how something is put together because it’s just that fascinating, and 3) you enjoy doing it. I’ve done close-reading for all three reasons — it’s not an impossible thing to hope that someone might do at some point — but most readers aren’t interested in doing that, and most of us just read at our own speed, and savour the book (or not) in our own way.

It’s a compliment, I swear. Chill.

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Discussion: Half Stars

Posted August 20, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

It’s come up a couple of times lately when I’ve rated a book — I experience a fleeting wish for half stars. I used to be pretty active in the Goodreads Feedback Group, and that was perennial plea: give us half stars! And I don’t really actually get it, most of the time, if I’m honest. I mean, the Goodreads rating system goes like this:

5 stars: it was amazing
4 stars: I really liked it
3 stars: I liked it
2 stars: it was OK
1 star: terrible

I can’t remember if that’s the exact wording or not, but you get the gist. Now I don’t really see how that leaves room for intermediates (unless you’re just not using the scale at all, but then you can do whatever you like anyway and state that you’re awarding half stars in your review). Making it more granular makes it harder to decide, for me at least — and yet the cry was always, “well, I need half stars because I can’t decide between four and five!” To me, I don’t see how that helps: now you have more stars and they have ambiguous meanings (“I half really liked it!”) and surely that could lead to infinite regression. Quarter stars, eighth stars, sixteenth stars…

Nah, I’ll stick to full stars. If I was rating something to suggest whether a publisher should pick it up, maybe there’d be more need for precision. But it’s not like the ratings are actually precise anyway: how many times can you say you liked two books exactly the same?

I just don’t get it, I guess. A simple five star scale is enough for me in terms of giving a sense of where I am on the continuum — and having the stars weighted towards the positive end makes sense, too, because it’s not as important to know how much someone disliked a book as how much someone liked a book.

Probably this is all just me, but hey, now you know why I don’t use half-stars and rarely talk about wanting to use them: if I do, I really am on the fence, and usually it’s because I think a book deserves a higher score for technical merit, but I didn’t like it. (And all my star ratings are based on liking, so giving some things four stars is just lying, no matter how technically brilliant I think they are.)

So how do you rate books? Do you have a system, or do you go with your gut?

And hey, happy birthday to me!

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Discussion: Who are reviews for?

Posted August 13, 2018 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

I saw this on Twitter (this thread) and immediately had a ton of thoughts, especially after I saw the tweet claiming that reviews (in general) are for everyone: authors, readers, other reviewers… And in one way, that’s true; there’s no way I can stop authors coming to my blog and reading my reviews, and maybe they’ll be useful to authors too! I don’t begrudge them to authors, if they’ve got thick skins and can keep themselves from arguing with me.

But. With every piece of writing, you have an audience in mind. That’s part of what makes the writing effective: you tailor it to the people you want it to be useful to. It’s no use me posting here talking about the MIC of bedaquiline against Mycobacterium tuberculosis — you’re a smart bunch, so I’m sure some of you know what the MIC is and what it’s about, but it’s simply not relevant to most people — and likewise there’s no point in me using a chatty style in my dissertation. The audience distinction between other readers and the author of the thing being reviewed is not necessarily that large, but I’m definitely not keeping the author in mind when I review. I’m talking about what I liked and what I didn’t, and often don’t even touch on anything beyond personal taste. Now, unless an author’s planning to write a book just for me, that’s not exactly useful, is it?

Now, reading the actual thread, I don’t think me and the writer of that thread are actually too far apart in our opinions. I don’t disagree that reviews are open to and worth scrutinising, etc, etc. But all the same, I have an audience in mind for my reviews and it’s not authors (and it’s not really non-readers, either: I don’t see why a non-reader would be interested in my reviews). So sure, my reviews can be read by anyone who comes along and maybe they’ll be of interest or even useful for people whom I don’t expect to find them so.

But still, saying my reviews are for anybody I don’t think they’re for is putting a bit much of a burden on the rather slender shoulders of my typically 200-word-ish summaries of what I thought of a book. And I don’t think most people who are saying that reviews aren’t for authors or aren’t for xyz are saying that their reviews can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t be read by those people — they’re saying, fucking Christ, will authors please stop commenting on my reviews to browbeat me because I didn’t like their book. So in that sense, yeah. Reviews are for other readers. Fight me.

(Please don’t.)

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