ness talks books

revenge of the horseclans: absolutely not

It’s my youngest niece’s fault. I laid a selection of books out on the bed and asked her to choose which one that I should take on a trip. She chose this one, because she likes horses. I see her logic.

No. I’ll revise this. It’s my fault, firstly for buying the book, and secondly, for actually reading it. I take full responsibility.

And I regret everything.

places I wish I hadn’t read this book: in a cafe, on a train, at a train station, in castle, in an airbnb …

What’s this book about? you ask. Well. W-eee-eeelll. Thank you for asking. It’s a book about a ‘brutal, raw adventure of warriors caught in a struggle for survival in 27th century, post-cataclysmic America’. So, you know, a typical Thursday. There are, as far as I can tell, some cat-people, lots of telepaths (it’s called ‘mind-speaking’), and men running around badly in need of a bath – and manners.

It would be easy to list everything I loathed about this book. I did, in fact. It’s one of my favourite sort of jokes – the ‘I won’t say how much I can’t stand Alice, but if I did, I’d say she was a rotten, no-good, mass produced troglodyte, but I WON’T’ – but I reread the list, sighed, thought ‘… not today.’ I wouldn’t want to waste the joke.

If I was to be thorough with writing this ‘review’, you know, I should really reread this book. Once. Twice, even. But life is short, each second that passes is another that can never be retrieved. Time is precious. I’d rather waste it in better ways.

This is all my personal opinion of course and if this book is one of your favourites … well, look, I won’t apologise for my opinion, but I will say (in a higher pitched voice with very wide eyes) ‘oh, okay! that’s nice! the weather is good today! gee, the economy! isn’t it terrible nowadays?!’

The book spends a lot of time with a distinguished gentleman by the name of ‘Bili of Morghun’. What a man. What a bloke. What a … what a character. That’s a way to describe him, a character. A hero? No. I refuse. My heroes, you see, don’t typically reflect on the rapine that they’ve recently engaged in as if it is a rite of passage that all males undergo.

My heroes, I like to think, have basic morals. And ethics.

“But to slay women and children … even babes …” Vaskos began.

“Nits make lice, Kinsman!” Bili shrugged.

Bili of Morghun, an all around good guy!

But – I hear you ask – this is 27th century, post-cataclysmic America! You can’t possibly impose your morals on Bili! Not Bili of Morghun!

To which I respond with ‘… watch me.’

You see, I don’t care. I dislike Bili. I don’t hate him, that would require an effort that Bili doesn’t deserve. (He doesn’t need it either. Bili is very strong, you know. Quite capable. I know, because we’re told this a lot.) I’d say that Bili needed therapy but I don’t think it would work.

He isn’t ‘the hero’ of the book. I shouldn’t like to call him the protagonist either. It has a ‘pro’ in it, you see, and in my humble opinion, Bili of Morghun (YES – Bili of Morghun!!!) is all ‘con’. Sorry Bili, even if your mind-speak is simply the best (better than all the rest!) I simply cannot say how marvellous you are. Such a thing would require facts and evidence.

But don’t worry, in a twist that would no doubt offend Bili dreadfully – he isn’t even the REAL contagonist. It’s Milo. Yes! I know! The shock! I didn’t see it coming either!

I think that if a pre-pubescent child had encountered the wonder of Conan the Barbarian and had yet to understand empathy, nuance and what good characters are – and bear with me, this scenario is continuing – and if this child had then been requested to write a short story with a male lead …

… it would have turned out better than this.

I must give the author some kudos, the world building exists. It could be an interesting, if slightly puzzling, world. No, I will not provide any examples. I refuse. To put it bluntly: you cannot make me.

the book opens with some poetry that would surely make Keats and Yeats WEEP in envy

I know, I know … you could say ‘ah, but it’s a product of its time’, but my gosh! so was using asbestos, and smoking for its health benefits, and dosing Victorian children with drugs to soothe them!

In short, in summation, tl;dr … I’d like to say – this book was not my cup of tea and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thank you.

And goodnight.

ness talks books

oh. a biro. wow – spare, by prince harry

Look, I read books about concepts, history, dead people or fictional people. I do not tend to read memoirs by real world figures. And reviewing them? This is about actual people. Their faces stare back at me from newspapers and websites. These are names that I, a British person, know. Reviewing this book (or recounting it, as I like to say) is not quite the same as reviewing a work of fiction. (Though some, evidently, believe it to be precisely that.)

But, oh well, it’s 2023. So why not? For two days, Prince Harry’s face has been staring at me from the front cover of his brand new book ‘Spare’. It’s a bit disconcerting, if I’m honest.

I’m not wrong, am I?

Think of the whole book as a therapy session, but one in which the building is burned after the session is over.

No. Stop there. View it as Prince Harry’s vindication. He’s been holding all those receipts in one hand, and all the salacious press clippings in the other. And he wants to tell the world what actually happened. His story. His words.

My problem has never been with the monarchy, or the concept of monarchy. It’s been with the press and the sick relationship that’s evolved between it and the Palace.

prince harry

If you’re wanting to have a concise and eloquent review, please go elsewhere. This is about biros and headstands. If you want a review lambasting and vilifying the Royal Family, please click off. And, if you want a review doing the same to Prince Harry, this isn’t that.


Now that’s out of the way.

This book is wild. There’s just so … so much.

The publishers asked Harry – ‘Harry, how much detail did you want to go into?’ and Harry stood up and said: ‘yes. Even my frostnipped nethers.’

And we, the people, said: ‘oh no’ and read on.

We found out that the King used to do headstands, for example. That’s new. I can’t do them, myself. But I’m trying. Kudos to him. He probably shouldn’t be doing them now though.

There was the deer blooding moment which felt very normal. (It reminded me of Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I did not expect to be reminded of that. Not on my bingo card. If I’d had one. Which I didn’t.)

There was the Ali-G reference. (AN ALI-G REFERENCE. IN THIS BOOK. I CAN’T.) The two mentions of Stewie from Family Guy.

Princess Margaret gave Harry a biro once, and this was a symbol of her not quite caring and being cold-blooded. ‘Oh. A biro. Wow’ occurs more than once in the book. I’m fond of a good biro myself. However, in the book it was a symbolic reference. I underlined it every time it came up because I thought it was funny. And this is why I should never talk about real life books written by real life people about their very real lives on this blog. I feel mean.

(Unlike the tabloid writers, it appears.)

Look, you get the impression that Harry remembers every single word of bad press about him (and the people who wrote said bad press. They do not escape unscathed. Au contraire, they are very scathed.) and this book sets the record straight. And why not, after all?

However, in the midst of setting the record straight, he also discuses his brother, sister-in-law, father, step-mother, and grandmother. Known to me and you (the plebs!) as Prince William, Princess Catherine, King Charles, Queen Consort Camilla, and the Late Queen herself. There’s a level of detail about the Royal Family that is unsurpassed. I’m not so certain that a reconciliation would be easy after this.

The Royal Family has always had this air of mystique about it. The veil has been torn asunder, and the smoke of secrecy has been blown away. And we are left with something.

An avocado. Thannnnkkss.

we all have our opinions. i shall not discuss mine here.

One vital part of being human is to be able to relate to other fellow humans. To sympathise with them. And Harry’s grief, his anger at the press, his loneliness, his concern for the treatment of his wife … these are all deeply understandable.

However, I kept on reading and the descriptions of nipping over to Botswana, parties, Palaces, hiding out with Elton John, going on shooting trips, even Eton – oh my gosh, Eton, what a place! A place that exists! But WHY does it exist? – really made me think.

You know, sometimes you do get a bit concerned about the upper class. One wonders how they are doing. Just fine, it seems. (Well …) In a different realm of existence, evidently.

Regarding the writing – I think the ghostwriter, JR Moehringer, did an excellent job and the voice seems quite authentic. (Though sometimes I thought this was a novel and got quite confused. This is why I shouldn’t read memoirs.) I thought the epilogue was quite touching.

In conclusion, if you are wanting to wade into professing an opinion regarding this book – perhaps read it first. Don’t we owe it to him? The press has made mint off this man, and this man’s family, why not give him – at the very least – a hearing?

However, I have to admit – I’m a little weary of it all. Britain? You’ve got so many other worries right now you absolute muppets. We need to deal with them. And the British Press? You need a better hobby. And some ethics.

books, ness talks books

the curse of the pharaohs: is it a curse or is it PROPAGANDA

When Lady Baskerville’s husband Sir Henry dies after discovering what may have been an undisturbed royal tomb in Luxor, she appeals to eminent archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his wife Amelia to take over the excavation.


If Crocodile On The Sandbank was the Prologue, we’re now in Chapter One of the Peabody Saga. Amelia and Emerson are happily married with a child, Ramses AKA one of my favourite characters in the history of ever. Picture Damian Wayne (Batman comics) and William Brown (Just William series) as a single character. And that’s just him as a child.


We start in England. Amelia and Emerson are both very depressed to be stuck in the rainy, foggy, not-hot country. They don’t like their neighbours. They don’t like the English way of life. However, they are doing it for their son – Ramses – who is alarmingly precocious and also too young to go to Egypt.

There’s this delicious scene where Amelia is trying to be polite to a neighbour and in comes Ramses, with an ‘unbroken stream of liquid filth’ marking his path. He dumps something he’s found in the compost heap onto her lap.

Ramses put his head on one side and studied his bone with a thoughtful frown. ‘I fink,’ he said, ‘it is a femuw. A femuw of a winocowus.’

‘There are no rhinoceroses in England,’ I pointed out.

‘A a-stinct winocowus,’ said Ramses


And then Amelia – who really has had enough of her neighbour, Lady Carrington – has an idea:

‘A splendid bone,’ I said, without even trying to resist the temptation. ‘You must wash it before you show it to Papa. But first, perhaps Lady Carrington would like to see it.’


(She did not want to see it. The ensuing scene is hysterical.)

… it’s just brilliant, okay? I love it. I adore it. This is everything. Thank you. Goodbye. However, Ramses is left in England, safely with Evelyn and Walter as Emerson and Amelia are Summoned to finish the excavations of someone who has died under Mysterious Circumstances.

There is a curse! (Or is it a curse?!) There is danger – which Amelia deals with with typical aplomb:

We had almost reached the top when a sound made me glance up. I then seized Emerson by the ankles and pulled him down. The boulder which I had seen teetering on the brink missed him by less than a foot, sending splinters of rock flying in every direction when it struck.

Slowly Emerson rose to his feet. ‘I do wish, Peabody, that you would be a little less abrupt in your methods,’ he remarked, using his sleeve to wipe away the blood that was dripping from his nose. ‘A calm “Watch out, there,” or a tug at my shirt-tail would have proved just as effective, and less painful.’


All in all, it’s a hilarious addition to the series. Characters who will appear throughout the series are introduced, there is the typical villain (all of the mysteries are excellent), and of course – a secondary romance that Amelia definitely doesn’t have a hand in matchmaking. She would never.

I would wish that Ramses appears more in this book, but knowing as I do how much of a staple he’ll be in this series – it’s okay. We’re good.

Oh! And then Emerson is accosted by a woman who believes he is her lover from a previous life. Because OF COURSE he does. It’s hysterical. 10/10. Please read.

happy reading!

ness talks books

crocodile on the sandbank: amelia is single until she isn’t

Let’s pretend I haven’t taken a long hiatus from this blog (HI HOW ARE YOU FORGIVE ME), and let me tell you about the first book from a series that I would happily tattoo on my body. (Though, because such real estate is limited, I’ll just write about it here.) It’s the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters AKA Barbara Mertz and it is most excellent.

Amelia Peabody inherited two things from her father: a considerable fortune and an unbendable will. The first allowed her to indulge in her life’s passion. Without the second, the mummy’s curse would have made corpses of them all. 

goodreads blurb

This is … the beginning of everything. And I think, once you’ve read the whole series, it’s very much worth coming back to reread this one. You will gain an entirely new perspective. Different interactions will take on a great more worth and meaning once you’ve seen how everything plays out.


I must admit – I view this book through rose-tinted glasses. With fond eyes. That sort of thing – but if you read this and think oh there’s stuff that I like but other things that are a little meh (cough the mummy cough) then continue on with the series because let me promise you: it only gets better. Everything is up from here. All the stuff you love will be present IN SPADES. Yes. I love this series. No, I don’t have any chill.


There’s a curse! There’s a mummy haunting the archaeological camp! What will we do?? When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout! (I’m a poet …)

“Stop,” he ordered, in a low but compelling voice. “Do not take another step, or I fire! Dash it,” he added vexedly, “does the monstrosity understand English? How absurd this is!”

“It understands the gesture, at least,” I called, thrusting head and shoulders through the window. “Lucas, for pity’s sake, seize it! Don’t stand there deriding its linguistic inadequacies!”

It’s fun. Is it A++ Agatha-Christie-wishes-she-could-write-this? No. It’s not. It’s good, but it’s not great. But I’m not here for the mystery in this one. I’m here for the characters. More specifically, I’m here for Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.


Amelia starts off single as the last pringle in a pringle tube. She meets Emerson who is … cares for two things: his brother, Walter, and Egyptology. (And not necessarily in that order.) He is handsome. He is tall. He blusters. He immediately starts a battle of wits with Amelia.

Emerson: You, asking for advice? Let me feel your brow, Peabody, I am sure you must be fevered.


It’s a delight to read. I adore it. I subscribe. This is my cup of tea. This waters all the crops I don’t have.

God help the poor mummy who encounters you, Peabody,” he said bitterly. “We ought to supply it with a pistol, to even the odds.


But for those who view his behaviour as Not Nice and excessively boorish, let it be known that he has Peabody’s number and his bark is worse than his bite. He might protest plenty but methinks he protests too much. Also he saves her life from a VERY DEADLY SNAKE and suffers a great deal of worry that he immediately tries to hide.

(He’s Victorian and they are all emotionally constipated. DON’T WORRY – WE WILL HAVE CHARACTER GROWTH.)

which they will handle with grace and aplomb

If you read ‘Amelia Peabody’s Egypt’ – you’ll find that there’s some excerpts from his own journal regarding these events. It’s perfectly delicious.

But let it not be said that Amelia doesn’t give as good as she gets. Forget the mystery, this book is really a tale of two people who are incurably fascinated with each other – and do their best to a) annoy each other and b) hide it in the midst of a potentially life-threatening situation.

I looked Emerson up and down. The clinical appraisal annoyed him, as I had known it would; he squirmed like a guilty schoolboy …


They are entirely suited to each other and – for the rest of the series – they are On Each Others Side. Married. Deeply In Love. But for this first book? We get to witness all the sparks flying. All of ’em. We get to see them reluctantly falling ever deeper in love.

There’s a secondary romance which is very Victorian-esque and suitably dramatic (but in the best way)

“To Walter! May he make Evelyn as happy as she deserves – or I will deal with him!”

“Spoken with characteristic tact,” said Emerson under his breath.


So while this book isn’t the very, very best of the series, it’s still good, it’s Elizabeth Peters finding her writing legs. This has to walk, so the rest can run and prod everyone with a parasol. This is the origin story so that we can have the other adventures. And in true, origin story style, it even starts with a dead parent. (*Batman has joined the chat*)

happy reading!

ness talks about life, ness talks books

endurance, and the tragic woe of the library computers being down

let’s time travel a little …

I’m in a busy coffee shop because the computers in the library are down and I can’t write the perfectly thrilling sci-fi novella series that is currently filling my brain.

(An integral part of my work day – nipping into the library and writing during my lunchtime – has been horribly disturbed. No one asked my permission. I am bitter.)

But, in a smooth segue, another part of my work day has recently ended – listening to Astronaut Scott Kelly talk in a dry monotone about space for 11 or more hours as I drove to and from work.

At first, I was dubious. Wasn’t sure I could last. Wasn’t sure I even liked the audiobook. Reader, I was very, very wrong. Not only did I enjoy it, I may have loved it? I like the dry monotone now? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?

Also I know so much about being an astronaut now. I feel fully prepared to strap myself to a rocket and shoot to the ISS.


Endurance flip-flops between Kelly’s one year stay on the ISS and the life journey it took to get there. And you know what? It is, to borrow a phrase from Spock, fascinating.

It was a difficult road and it is told in meticulous detail. The grit and determination it took can’t be understated. The perseverance required was inspiring.

It also sounds exhausting – the one track, driving push to reach your goal. But Kelly did it. He managed it. And he wrote a book and read it to me, personally, in the car. For two weeks.

I’d better vamos, the lunch hour is almost up. There is a couple on a lunch date sitting at the table next to me. My coffee waffle is eaten. Ice cream for lunch? Yep. That happened.

Zero regrets.

Also I tried to take a picture of my lunch and the flash was on and I can never come here again. The end. Have a good day.

it is an embarrassing moment, but using the lessons I’ve so recently learned – I didn’t give up. Look! The carcass of my lunch!

Wait. Forget that. There is a man cradling what can only be a chihuahua in a jumper on his lap. I must come here again. Always. Forever and ever.