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review 2018-01-23 23:11
Godsgrave: Nevernight Chronicles #2
Godsgrave: Book 2 of the Nevernight Chronicle - Jay Kristoff

If you've read Nevernight then you have an idea of what to expect from this book. (And if you haven't, then you should really go do that.) As with the first book, the language remains florid and snarky. As soon as I began reading I found myself grinning - it was so fun to revisit this particular voice. There's plenty of all the things you have come to expect from this series: blood, action, sex, sarcasm, sneaking through shadows, and intricate plans that always seem to have wrenches thrown into them. You know, assassin stuff. Then this book also surprised me by digging into new depths I didn't expect. Issues of slavery and social injustice. Examinations of sexual orientation and identity. Weighty stuff sandwiched in between the ill conceived plans and vengeance. It was a nice surprise.

 

The world and characters continue to be intriguing and well developed. If the first book had a dash of Hogwarts (as the initiates trained in the Red Church) then this one has a healthy dose of Hunger Games. The central focus of this book is on the gladiator arena, which makes for plenty of drama, battles, and high stakes. When the whole idea going in is for Mia to be the last one standing, and you start getting to know the other gladiators, well, it leads to pretty fertile emotional territory for both Mia and the reader. The only reason I'm not giving this book 5 stars is because it has a bit of a middle book syndrome - it sets up a lot of threads for the conclusion of the trilogy, which makes the ending of this volume a bit less satisfying. I can't wait to read the third installment. This series has become a solid favorite.

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review 2018-01-23 06:45
The Diary of a Bookseller
The Diary of a Bookseller - Shaun Bythell

I saw this in my local just before Christmas and snatched it up, as my not-so-secret fantasy is to own a bookshop (me, not the bank, which is why it remains a fantasy), and I never get tired of reading first hand accounts from the front. But this one was even better than I was hoping for; it was informative, succinct (it's truly a diary, so entries are rarely more than a page) and best of all, it's hilarious.

 

Each day begins with a tally of books sold online, and how many of those books he is able to actually locate in his stock (100,000 books; I can't even find a book I'm looking for in my paltry 1200 or so).  From there it's a short narrative about what happened that day.  Usually something his employee Nicky does, doesn't do, or says, or an anecdote about one or more customers doing something inane, rude, or more often, both.  (This is not the book to read if you're looking for affirmation on humanity.)  

 

Less often, but my favorites, were his field trips abroad to buy books.  And strewn throughout is the very real, and very serious, consequences Amazon has on booksellers.  It's one thing to know that Amazon is taking away independent booksellers' business by out pricing them on everything, but it's another thing altogether to understand how much control they have over small booksellers across the globe.  Even if you don't buy your book from Amazon, Amazon likely controls or influences how you purchase it.  

 

Each entry ends with the daily earnings; a number so fluid as to range anywhere from 5 Pounds to 1,000, and - spoiler alert - the days where he took in more than 700 Pounds was less than 3.

 

If bookshops and the eccentric people who visit them aren't your cup of tea, this book probably isn't going to delight you the way it did me, but if you secretly wish you could own, work, or live in a bookshop and have an appreciation for the irreverent humor of a man worn down by humanity at its most dubious, then definitely check out this book.  As I said at the start, it's informative (in spite of the hard facts, I still want to own a bookshop), it's easy to read (although once I started I was disinclined to stop) and it's laugh out loud hilarious.  I almost snorted.  And I'm following the author on Facebook; I never follow authors (well, ok, Amy Stewart, but honestly, as much as I love her books, I follow her for her art - she's disgustingly talented).

 

In fact, check him out on facebook first; if you like his posts, you'll love this book!

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review 2018-01-21 08:24
The One-Cent Magenta
The One-Cent Magenta - James Barron

I have always thought postage stamps were neat.  I admit I'm the ass in the post office line asking if I can see all the current stamps when I get to the counter, so I can pick out the coolest ones.  (This, by the way, is unheard of in Australia; I've only found one post office where the lady is nice enough to let me pick my own stamps.)

 

But I have never collected stamps.  The hobby holds no appeal for me and never has. What I am hooked on, is rarity.  The idea that there are only x number of something in the world sucks me in, no matter what x is.  I understand the collectors that want to own what no one else owns; I don't have the ego for it, but the idea of owning something that is completely unique is a seductive one.

 

That's why I bought this book on a whim.  That and the cover.  James Barron is a New York Times journalist, who stumbled on the story of the one-cent magenta stamp at a cocktail party; the article he wrote about it led to this book, where he chronicles the path this odd-looking stamp took on it's way to becoming the world's most valuable stamp, selling at auction in 2014 for 9.5 million USD, to Stuart Weitzman, he of the red-soled shoe empire.

 

This is where journalists who write books shine, especially for someone like me, who knows almost nothing about stamps or philately.  Let's face it, stamps do not lend themselves to page-turning drama, and philately needs all the help it can get if it's to appeal to those outside the bubble.  Barron succeeded beyond my expectations.  I completely enjoyed this book and spent all day reading it.  His journalistic style brought the stamp's history to life, and even though he has a bit of fun with the eccentricities of "Stamp World" as he calls it, I thought he did a brilliant job describing the passion and dedication of the hobby in a sympathetic way.

 

I'm thoroughly surprised and delighted at how much I enjoyed this book.  

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review 2018-01-20 07:19
Speedy Death
Speedy Death - Gladys Mitchell

I'm not sure what I think of this.  It dragged a bit in the middle, mostly as the plot was so odd.  So much was crammed in that by the time I got to the end, I barely remembered the beginning.  It seems like another book entirely that started with a dead man – who was really a woman –  in the guest room bathtub.

 

But Mitchell's writing is strong and very readable.  She painted a very compelling country house setting with characters that really worked well in the plot, even if they're rather 2 dimensional in that way I find all third person, golden age crime characters to be.  My biggest gripe is that there is an awful lot of unspoken truths throughout the dialog.  Two people talking about the murder, sharing information and one starts to reveal Something Important when the other gasps "You don't mean..." and the other cuts him off and exclaims "Exactly!".  And the reader is left saying "what?  what do you mean?  what the hell did I miss?!"

 

Of them all, I liked Carstairs best; I am conflicted about Mrs. Lestrange Bradley though.  I like her intelligence and her strength and I'm offended on her behalf of the way she keeps getting referred to as an ugly old lady.  Mitchell gives us her age via formula, by stating that her son is 39 and she was 18 when he was born.  With a bias that grows stronger every day, I hardly think 57 is an age that warrants 'ugly old lady' status.  But Mitchell sacrifices a great deal of Bradley's humanity for the sake of her intelligence and strength.

 

This led me to an interesting personal quandary because the character she most reminded me of is my personal ideal of literary perfection: Shelock Holmes.  He too is cold, calculating, analytical to the extreme, and designed to be unpleasing to the eye, so why do I find him to be the acme of literary perfection, but am left unsure, at best, about Lestrange Bradley?  I was set to face some hard truths about my own gender bias, but thankfully that can be saved for another day, as the answer really is much simpler: Holmes' analytical genius is grounded in facts and hard science; Lestrange Bradley's on psycho-analysis.  That is my bias; I don't condemn psychoanalysis, but neither do I trust it, and I do not find it all that interesting. 

 

So, long story short, this is a book with merit and definitely worth reading, especially for anyone who enjoys classic crime, and Mitchell's writing is worth seeking out.  I just don't know if I enjoyed it enough to pursue other books in this series.

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review 2018-01-19 07:44
Pomfret Towers
Pomfret Towers - Angela Thirkell

This is the 3rd Angela Thirkell I've read so far (and finished - I DNF'd one last year), and it is, by far, the most biting, painfully hilarious of the lot yet.  I say painfully because all those moments you wish would happen in books, when the evil/nasty/rude character is at work, happen in this book.  But I almost dnf'd this one too, because it doesn't start off well at all.

 

At the opening, it appears that the narrative (3rd person omniscient, btw) is going to focus primarily on Alice Barton, a character so Mary Sue that the Mary Sue trope should have been named Alice Barton.  She is ridiculous; frankly, she's barely functioning.  As I write this, it occurs to me that in current times, she might have been thought to be agoraphobic; she isn't, she's just terrified of everything beyond belief.  

 

Fortunately the biting humor was making me laugh or giggle too often, so I kept on and discovered the story rapidly becomes an ensemble, and even though Alice continues to get more page time than the rest, her growing confidence makes her a tiny bit more bearable.  Tiny bit.  Fair warning, by the end of the book she's still pretty ridiculous. 

 

But along the way, Thirkell does something interesting with Alice; something very unexpected from what I know of her Barsetshire books.  She uses Alice's character to sniff around the edges of masochism and emotional abuse.  Just the edges, mind you; events that would seem inconsequential or pathetic on their own start to add up to a disturbing pattern, and Thirkell writes a scene or two where her friends discuss her pattern of behaviour quite frankly.  This doesn't go anywhere, of course; this book's destiny was to be a frivolous, entertainment, so of course everything works out in the end.  But given the time it takes place (~1930), I found it to be an unexpected and interesting thread and raised the story's merit in my estimation.

 

The end was a tad trite, and could only be expected, but my rating stands because, man, this book was funny.

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