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.

CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK

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.

THE MYSTERY

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.

THE ROMANCE

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.

EMERSON, A MAN AMONG MILLIONS

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.

EMERSON, A MAN IN LOVE AND TERRIFIED BY IT

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 …

AMELIA PEABODY, EVERYONE

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.

AMELIA PEABODY, EXCELLENT AT TOASTS

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.

(NASA? CALL ME. I’M READY)

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.

ness talks books

three horrendous things i do to books

I know, I know – this may seem quite trivial – but to versions of my past bookworm self? It is NOT. As I go through life, I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to let go of things, to refrain from making judgements, it’s okay to be wrong and … it’s totally okay to break a book’s spine.

BREAK THE SPINE

New paperback books are difficult to read – you have to wrestle to make sure that they stay open. And then, if you’re called away, you put them face-down for one moment and suddenly they’ve sprung up and closed. If I’m confronted with this problem and if I own the book? I will happily, merrily, and easily break the spine. I won’t flutter an eyelash. I’ll even take satisfaction from it.

(Am I … a monster?)

(Pfft. No.)

DOG-EAR THE PAGES

Sometimes, keeping track of a bookmark is tricky. I always lose the nice ones; by putting them in books it’s taking me years to read or putting them in a place to ‘keep them safe’ (AKA so safe I will never find them again.)

I’ve used tissues, receipts, pens, hair ties – everything and anything. Probably a spare sanitary towel too, if I got very desperate. However, lately I’ve been embracing simply turning the corner over of the pages.

And you know what? It works. It’s like being environmentally-friendly-self-sufficient-y. The page is there. You don’t need anything else. Turn the corner. Boom. Page marked. You know where you are. No scramble for the closest item that will magically morph into a bookmark.

UNDERLINE / HIGHLIGHT

I’m rereading the Amelia Peabody mysteries again and this time – if there’s something funny or an iconic character is introduced or if it’s just a good quote? You can bet that I’m underlining it. It’s like leaving a note to the future me. It’s a way of making the books my own, of engaging with the story. But I’d like to again note: only do this if you own the book.

ONLY DO THIS IF YOU OWN THE BOOK

otherwise: MUCH judgement and side-eye

I love second hand bookshops with books that look old and well-read. Because I don’t just see the book and the pages and the cover – I’m seeing the ghosts of past readers. It’s the most introverted way of connection I can think of. So break the spines, dog ear the pages, and underline as much as you like! Engage with the story! (You’ll find ‘hahaha’ scrawled in some of my books. I hope, in the future, someone reads that in a monotone: ha. ha. ha.)

(This would amuse me greatly.)

Ultimately, how you treat your books is down to why you own them – if you are a collector or want everything in pristine condition – keep them perfect. Here – I give you permission. Protect them. It’s okay. But if you are reading them for the story, don’t stress about keeping your books perfect. You don’t need to. Life is too short. The creases, the notes, the broken spine – it all shows that a book is well-read and also?

Well-loved.

*sniff* such a beautiful sentiment

Wow. I feel like this is a super impactful moment. We are bonding. Thank you for coming on this journey with me. Also, I don’t think I used enough gifs.

happy reading!

ness talks books

books that were not my cup of tea

As every bookworm knows … there comes a time when one must consciously uncouple from a book and promptly yeet it out of the window. Metaphorically speaking.

A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY

YA books and I don’t have the best relationship. It’s not them, it’s me. I experienced a lot of dissonance with the characters, the plots, and the writing. (The binding, the front cover designs, the blurbs and the fonts are usually on point though.)

I DNF-d A Curse So Dark And Lonely because frankly I was bored. (I usually am loathe to admit boredom. ‘Only boring people get bored’ I used to tell myself smugly. Oh how the turntables have …) I didn’t care about the characters. The plot felt like porridge with no honey. Bread with no butter! English breakfast tea with no milk! I didn’t connect with the novel, and so therefore, reading it was a struggle.

It seems to have been a well-received book, but unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get it. And that’s okay! Different readers have different tastes, and perhaps if I tried again, I might like it.

MERCY & EAGLEFLIGHT

Christian fiction … ah, yes. Christian fiction. When done well, it is wonderful and brilliant (hello there! C.S Lewis!) when it is done badly … I refuse to accept that Christian fiction should be given a pass just because someone has slapped a label on it and marked it as ‘Christian’.

(If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck IT WILL NOT SUDDENLY TURN INTO A CAMEL OF BRILLIANCE IF YOU JUST PLONK A ‘CHRISTIAN’ LABEL ON IT.)

(That was a metaphor. The duck was bad fiction. The camel of brilliance was a good fiction. Just so you know. Like the book, I am subtle.)

  1. So much telling – we were told everything. There was no subtlety. No nuance. No trusting of the readers to actually grasp the emotional journey that the characters were going through. We must be led through it, holding the author’s hand.
  2. I approach fiction wanting a story not a sermon so perhaps … the fault lies with me, not managing my expectations. BUT STILL !!! I protest. I PROTEST STRONGLY.
  3. The main characters felt very clean and cookie-cutter. Too clean and cookie-cutter. Too 2D..
  4. There were entire chapters of dialogue. This isn’t always a bad thing. But … but I would propose that perhaps the message of the book could have been gotten across with perhaps, say, an article in a magazine, not in a work of fiction.
  5. There is an absolutely foul section where we are given horribly racist character just to show us how bad he is and then we never see him again. It was degrading and it had no place in the book. It felt like a cheap way of making us hate a character. It was an ugly line of dialogue that did not need to be included for us to get the idea that this guy? = bad. There are no excuses.
  6. There’s a point where a female character is sharing the gospel with another male character … and she sends him to go speak to another man because ‘men think differently.’
  7. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that there was a female and male way of talking about faith? Clearly, I must have missed a Bible verse or two.
  8. Ah yes, the inevitable assault on the female character by a villain. A villain who only exists to Be Evil, by the way. Some people are destined to have nuance and character, some others … are not.

… I should stop here, shouldn’t I? I got through it. Sometimes, whilst I read this, my arms flailed, and my entire body cringed and shrivelled up like a raisin.

Is this the book, I cried, that repelled a thousand ships?!

This book was published in 1996 – perhaps Christian fiction has improved since then? I certainly hope so.

JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER

The best thing about this book was that it had dinosaurs (!!!!) and the Library of Alexandra. Also: time-travel.

Unfortunately, the story was … MC joins time-traveling organization. Shenanigans and hi-jinks ensue. One thing happens after another, and the plot feels very squint-and-you’ll-miss-it. A character – who has hitherto displayed no rage – lashes out in anger. I felt startled because I’d imagined that he was calm and sedate and then BLAM! INSTANT GREMLIN!

Also – I thought that this was a YA book. And then there was a particular scene that made me place the book down on the bed and stare into the abyss of air. It was not a YA book. A surprising twist.

This is a first book in a series, and of course, sometimes a series takes a book to hit its stride. This may well be the case. Perhaps I’m being too harsh? However, though I felt the concept was TRULY interesting (DID YOU HEAR THE BIT ABOUT HOW THIS HAS DINOSAURS?!!!!) the characters weren’t on the dinosaurs’ level.

But then, I must ask … what is?

books, ness talks books

yes, i am judging these books by their covers

I’ve owned most of The Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen for at least three years. I’ve read the first one, it wasn’t EXACTLY my cup of tea, and I wasn’t keen on reading the rest.

So I decided to pretend that I have – and to recount them to you. Guessing the plot from their front covers. You’re welcome. It is chaotic. There are plot holes probably. You have been warned.

*** My apologies to the author and any fans of these books ***

Dragon’s Blood

AKA THE ONE I DID READ

This is a book about a dragon fight club in a world not unlike Jakku and I’m not here for that. A dragon fight club is simply depressing. Dragons? In a fight club? Controlled by humans? I cannot allow it. How awful. How tragic for these mighty beasts!

I read this book and was very frustrated with Akki, the female character. She was too … she was too much. That’s what she was. Sometimes reading about girls who are stubborn and mysterious ALL THE TIME etc etc tire me out. It wearies the brain. Strains the nerves. Beats me why, but there we are.

I think the hero, Jakkin, is going to be a misogynist, but the girl will Teach Him Not To Be. Also, there is a dragon that he’s bonded to. Yes, I know. Very shocking. Totally unexpected. Also, I hate the front cover because the dragon looks like the kind of dragon who tells dodgy jokes and expects you to laugh at them and is probably a relative of Jar Jar Binks but worse.

It’s not a bad story. In fact, it might be someone’s favourite book. If it is – forgive me … and maybe don’t read the rest of this post?

Heart’s Blood

AKA THE ONE I HAVEN’T READ.

So, at the end of the last book, Akki had left, leaving Jakkin with his bonded dragon, Heart’s Blood. However, Jakkin’s having difficulty sleeping. Because he misses Akki, and he’s allergic to beans. (However, he bought far too many beans from a trader and they’re all he has to eat. So. Fun times.) To stop the insomnia, Jakkin reads books to his dragon. They’re all romances.

(His local library is very limited and all the trainers of the pit dragons adore romance novels.)

Heart’s Blood is a bright dragon. She figures out that maybe if she gets Akki back to Jakkin then maybe Jakkin won’t use her to viciously fight her own kind. Because of the power of love.

(Heart’s Blood is a pacifist and hates fighting her kind in the ring. Night after night she slays them. It’s getting to her. She’s Too Old For This.)

Anyway, Heart’s Blood decides to heck with this and sends a Dragon Letter to Akki. Akki doesn’t get it, mainly because a) Heart’s Blood can’t write and b) dragons don’t have a postal system.

So. That plan fails.

Until one fateful day when Akki turns up. She needs Jakkin, it’s all very mysterious and she says that TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and suddenly they are being chased in the dark. They crash into something and BOOM! PLOT TWIST! IT’S HEART’S BLOOD!! Dragons don’t have mail but they have devious plans and dragon-speak telepathy! (Heart’s Blood forgot about that when she tried to write a letter.)

(Heart’s Blood could never be accused of being particularly bright.)

Heart’s Blood captures them in her wings and cackles evilly. (Though Heart’s Blood has taken a dragon vow of silence so she could be choking silently. That’s a possibility too). Jakkin and Akki don’t know Heart’s Blood is evil though – they think they are safe – but then they turn around and see what is chasing them AND IT’S …

We end the book on a cliff hanger. I have several crucial questions:

  • why has Heart’s Blood turned evil? Has the blood shedding gotten to her? Has she snapped? WILL THERE BE REDEMPTION?
  • who is chasing them?!!
  • why does Akki need Jakkin?
  • why is the climactic scene on the front cover of the book? Geez! No one thought that through.

A SENDING OF DRAGONS

AKA I HAVEN’T READ THIS ONE EITHER

First of all, none of the questions I asked were answered. A METAPHOR???

Okay. I know what we’re all thinking: Heart’s Blood keeps Akki and Jakkin as slaves to feed its offspring.

It is another SURPRISE! METAPHOR! Something about dragons taking princess only Akki and Jakkin aren’t royalty but shush, don’t tell Heart’s Blood that. (She isn’t aware of the precise nuances of the feudal system. She also doesn’t know it exists.)

The entire book is a deep Dragon Discourse as Heart’s Blood Tells All to Jakkin about the history of dragons. It’s a Moby Dick length book. With entire chapters on scale care. The only shame is … Jakkin doesn’t understand Heart’s Blood because of the vow of silence thing, and Heart’s Blood doesn’t know sign language.

It’s a frustrating book, but also very deep.

We conclude the series with the protagonists sitting around the fire, Heart’s Blood falls asleep after her discourse is finished. When she wakes up – it was All A Dream. More specifically, Jakkin’s dream that Heart’s Blood was stuck in because of the whole mind bond thing.

With a roar of rage Heart’s Blood eats Jakkin.

As if she would take a vow of silence!


If you have read this series – drop a comment down below and tell me how VERY CLOSE I WAS TO THE ACTUAL PLOT. I think I must have hit the nail on the head.

Yup.

For sure.