Review – The House of Shattered Wings

Posted 25 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de BodardThe House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard

It’s hard to pull together my feelings and thoughts on this book, for some reason. I remember not being sure about the first 100 pages — particularly with the brutal butchery at the beginning, and I’m being pretty literal about the butchery — but then I got really into it, ended up reading obliviously until my dinner was stone cold, and finished it off in one great gulp. And promptly started recommending it to people. And yet right now, it’s hard to put my finger on it: part of it is the Paris of the setting, degraded and dark and magical; the feeling of House Silverspires, the history and weight of it; the allure of the Fallen, especially Morningstar, and wanting to know what their stories are. And the Vietnamese legends that get drawn in are also fascinating, and leave me very curious about a culture I know shockingly little about.

At the same time, I see reviews complaining about the unlikeableness and distance of most of the characters, and if I stop to think about it, it’s true. Selene? Well, she’s not cruel, though she’s not entirely merciful, and occasionally you can have a moment of pity for her in the way she has to lead her House. But sympathy? Not really. Madeleine? Well. Some sympathy, perhaps, but in a very pitiful sort of way, because of her addiction. Philippe? Difficult, given his ambivalence, his willingness to betray, and the fact that he participated in the butchery of a Fallen angel at the very start of the book… Isabelle? She’s more of a blank slate, honestly; it’s hard to know what she’s going to become, what’s going on in her head. That’s almost the point of her character, given that Fallen don’t retain full memories of why they fell.

And yet. I know that I did get drawn in — partly by the prose, I think, which breathed that sense of a decaying Paris, of tarnished pride, and by the world de Bodard built. Even if I can’t put my finger on it, I have to give this four stars because, well, what else can you do when something makes you forget all about your dinner for hours?

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 25 October, 2016 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a Halloween freebie. Horror and such isn’t my genre, so instead my list is focused on things that really scare me — and they should probably scare you too.

  1. The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo. If the Stanford prison experiment doesn’t scare the pants off you, I don’t know what will. Stanley Milgram’s experiments are honestly less shocking to me, having read about the actual experimental design and the way it was reported. But the participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment knew exactly what was happening at all times, and yet they were still manipulated by the situation into acting like monsters, or enabling monsters. Even the guy nominally in charge of the experiment, Zimbardo himself, did not realise what was going on until an outsider asked him what the hell he was playing at.
  2. Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan. The idea that inflammation in your brain can reproduce the symptoms of mental disorders and make your case seem entirely baffling and hopeless… Our brains are so ridiculously fragile, as Cahalan’s case proves.
  3. Panic Attacks, by Christine Ingham. This is actually a book about learning to cope with panic attacks, which I found somewhat helpful. But the fact remains that panic is terrifying, and hard to get a handle on, and just the idea of being as anxious as I was when I needed this book scares me rather a lot.
  4. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. First, on the superficial level, it’s Dawkins and I’m both terrified of his smug sense of superiority and that I might ever be like him. But also let this book stand for the fear of not knowing — of things, perhaps, being unknowable. And then worse, that people say, claim, believe that this could mean condemnation after death? Erk. Scary thought. I don’t even know where I stand on that.
  5. Spillover, by David Quammen. If you’re not terrified of the idea of a pandemic, you’re kidding yourself. We’re destroying habitats and bringing ourselves into closer and closer contact with reservoirs of disease like Ebola, AIDs, SARS, Hendra… We may be lucky. We’ve been lucky. Will that continue?
  6. A Mind of its Own, by Cordelia Fine. Or a number of other books on similar topics — the way our brains lie to us, as a result of the way they function. It’s actually alarming the things you can ignore, given the right combination of factors.
  7. Why Evolution is True, by Jerry A. Coyne. I find it a little frightening that the general public is often ignorant of evolution and the fact that it is completely proven, and in fact a mathematically necessary conclusion. So the fact that this book exists is half reassuring — because you can learn about evolution — and half terrifying, because oh, how we need it.
  8. The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris. This is slightly tongue in cheek, but Harris’ views of morality are definitely not mine, and I find his way of thinking alien.
  9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. The book is amazing. It also terrified me because, guys, there are immortal lines of cancer cells just propagating in labs right now. Right now. And also probably cells undergoing deleterious mutations in our own bodies. And also, the medical establishment is not infallibly moral. Everything about this is scary (though the latter part is, I admit, obvious — if you need this book to tell you that humans are fallible, well).
  10. Missing Microbes, by Martin J. Blaser. We are screwing up millennia of co-evolution by killing off microbes that have existed within the human body and adapted to us, and we don’t even really know what the consequences will be. And you know, that whole problem with antibiotic resistance. (Which in itself proves what I said in #7 about evolution, by the way. If evolution isn’t happening right now, why are microbes developing antibiotic resistance?)

So yeah, hope you’re all good and terrified now! I am. Just a little. Mostly healthy fear.

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Review – Moon Over Soho

Posted 24 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Moon Over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Rereading the second book confirmed that this series is definitely deeply British, usually funny, and with a bit more depth than I originally feared. Reading it this time, I was really interested to note how Peter and Nightingale clashed when it came to understanding the magical creatures around them. Nightingale is a decent guy, and yet he wasn’t prepared to give the ‘jazz vampires’ a single chance, despite all the evidence that they couldn’t help what they did, and didn’t even understand it either. But Peter, an ordinary cop, steps up and says hey, no, we’re meant to protect these people too. They have rights too. He’s the kind of idealistic cop that would greatly better the police forces the world over — he’s not just idealistic, but he also says something.

Granted, he’s also thinking with his dick again, given his personal connection to the case and the fact that women are involved. But it’s still notable that he does the right thing.

It’s also fun that his background, and his dad’s jazz career, are key to this mystery. And it really does leave you wondering how the heck Nightingale managed without an apprentice all that time. Again, despite the fact that he’s generally a good guy and well meaning, I think it shows that Nightingale has been a bit blind.

Also, hey, who doesn’t enjoy the lines like this?

For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.

Well, okay, the “NO HOMO” tone it takes sometimes is less fun, but the lack of hugging because English… yep.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How To Traverse Terra Incognita

Posted 23 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How To Traverse Terra Incognita by Dean Francis AlfarHow To Traverse Terra Incognita, Dean Francis Alfar

I can’t remember why exactly I picked this up, ages ago, but it’s an interesting sampling of stories from a writer from the Philippines; at first, I expected the stories to all be around a theme in the sense of being set in the same world, but while they all explore unknown worlds in some way, they aren’t linked one to another. I wasn’t specially wowed by some of the stories — in a way, I expected the endings they had, despite the sense of them being intended to be clever/surprising. They were definitely competently written, all of them, and some of them were more than competent, but I didn’t really get drawn in or mesmerised by the words in any of the stories.

The range is interesting, and given that I did enjoy the collection while not finding it exceptional, I’m going to put the author’s other anthology on my list — Goodreads reviews suggest people, in general, preferred Kite of Stars.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Truthwitch

Posted 22 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Truthwitch by Susan DennardTruthwitch, Susan Dennard

I was pretty excited about this one given the buzz, and with Robin Hobb’s endorsement on the front cover. Unfortunately, and maybe this is partly because of the hype, Truthwitch didn’t really work for me. I loved the idea of the two girls at the center, their friendship being the most important thing, but in practice there was a lot of mooning over boys (well, Merik) on Safi’s part, and they spent a surprising amount of the book apart. I felt like we were told that their friendship was deep and complete more often than we were shown it; Safi’s concern for Iseult in the latter half of the book did help, but she was so quickly re-focused on other things.

The world would be an interesting one, if there was more to it, but instead of a sense of history and a sense of the characters having a place in a tradition of magic and magic-use, I felt like the rules were being made up as the narrative went along. Merik’s magic is weak — but he can fly with it?! I eventually decided that Threadfamily meant the people you were most closely bound to in friendship, and Heart-Thread was a romantic connection, but it took a while to be clear, and I wasn’t always sure of people’s relationships to each other. I do hope that the large dollop of queerness I read into it was true, but I was too hopeful re: Merik and Kullen, so I’m thinking not. And what’s Cleaving — or, no, that becomes apparent, but not the history of it: is it recent? Is it increasing? Has it always been a threat?

It’s fun enough if you read it without thinking too much; it’s basically an eternal chase scene, with Safi and Merik blowing up at each other in a way that’s clearly meant to denote their passion for each other, but which has strong overtones of “insta-luv”. Evrane and Aeduan were more like background characters, but I did find them interesting — particularly Aeduan, since he’s an antagonist but somewhat ambivalently placed.

I think with more background it would have felt stronger and better-paced; instead, with events coming one after the other but often without context, it actually dragged. It’s hard to care when you’re not entirely sure what the significance is, after all.

Since there are people who did love the book, I’m also open to the idea of it being a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” — and it’s not that I think it’s dreadful. I’m just not hooked, and not that tempted to pick up the sequel when it comes out.

Rating: 2/5

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Posted 22 October, 2016 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

It’s that time again, and sadly, I know I can’t participate much today — so I haven’t even officially signed up. Darn those lectures… All the same, I do want to participate for a while, so I’m hoping to drop by and read from 2pm-8pm today, Belgian time, and 10am-4pm tomorrow. That way I’ll hit some readathon hours, and hopefully do some catching up on my backlog!

And what’s on my stack? Well —

  • Gut, by Giulia Enders. I’m over halfway through it, so I should be able to get finished.
  • Emma, by Jane Austen. On the last 15%, so this should be a good time to polish it off.
  • The Man Everyone was Afraid Of, by Joseph Hansen. On the TBR for this month, and in the past it was a very good readathon companion. (It’s a reread, so tried and true.)
  • The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi. This is a reread too, and also on the TBR. I don’t think I’ve ever read Scalzi’s work for a readathon, but I think it should be pretty well suited.
  • The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Lenin. Pretty much a classic, and not too long — perfect time to try and polish it off my list.

I think if I stay focused, I should be able to finish all five, which will make it a very good readathon for me despite the interruptions!

14.21: I started early, since class was over, so now I’ve finished reading Gut. And here’s the intro meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Belgium!
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Hmm, I’m looking forward to having Emma finished, at any rate?
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I have some nice chocolate chip cookies lined up.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I have a bunny whose joy in life is sneakily nibbling my books.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? Definitely not my first, but this time I have decided in advance I’m not going to stay up. Maybe I’m getting old…

15.12: And now I’ve finished Emma! Not sure what next… I’m feeling kind of sick, annoyingly.

17.02: Still feel sick, but at least in the meantime I’m done with The Boys from Brazil and nearly halfway through The Man Everyone Was Afraid Of.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 22 October, 2016 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Busy week for me! But more reading than last week, whew. How’s everyone doing?

Books acquired this week:

Cover of The Vital Question by Nick Lane Cover of Touch by David J. Linden Cover of Gut by Giulia Enders Cover of Restless Creatures by Wilkinson

Cover of The Vikings by Neil Oliver Cover of Life Unfolding by Jamie A. Davies 2088714

Yep, a nice big haul of assorted non-fiction. I went into Brussels on Monday, since I got paid, and had a little spree in Sterling Books and Waterstones. <3

Cover of The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers Cover of War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

I got The City of Dreaming Books from my friend Dingsi, thank you. <3 I’ve been meaning to read War for the Oaks since… forever, I think. Emma Bull has been heavily recommended to me, and I liked the look of this (new?) Penguin edition.

Books finished this week:

Cover of In The Woods by Tana French Cover of Virus Hunt by Dorothy H. Crawford Cover of Augustus by John Williams

Cover of She-Hulk vol. 1 by Dan Slott Cover of Captain Marvel: Alpha Flight Cover of Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Reviews posted this week:
Saga Volume Six, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Gorgeous as ever, and a hugely satisfying volume for me. Eeeh. 4/5 stars
Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers. BBC radioplay. As usual, this is really well done and you gotta love the interaction between Harriet and Peter. Or I do, anyway. 4/5 stars
Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance, by Richard C. Francis, read by Kurt Elftmann. I was mostly indifferent to this one — a bit too simplistic for me. 2/5 stars
Troublemaker, by Joseph Hansen. This isn’t my favourite of the bunch, with a bit too many gay stereotypes floating around. It’s still interesting, though. 3/5 stars
The Technological Singularity, by Murray Shanahan. If you already know something about AI, probably don’t bother with this one. 2/5 stars
Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch. This was a reread, and it actually impressed me more this time round. Love the sense of place and the recognisability of it. 4/5 stars
Flashback Friday: The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham. A beautifully created and fascinating post-apocalyptic world I remember enjoying a lot. 4/5 stars

Other posts:
Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Name Things After. Just a quick rundown of the fannish things I’ve called some of my belongings…
What are you reading Wednesday. An update on this week’s reading!

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Review – The Chrysalids

Posted 21 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Chrysalids by John WyndhamThe Chrysalids, John Wyndham

Flashback Friday review from 27th June, 2011

I’ve been meaning to read The Chrysalids since it was mentioned in Among Others (reading books Mori mentions hasn’t steered me wrong, so far). I’m glad I got round to it. I enjoyed Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, but I enjoyed The Chrysalids rather more: I fell in love with the way he created a whole post-apocalyptic world in just a few pages. I loved all the details of it — harsh and oppressive as it would be to live that life, it’s a fantastic read for someone interested in post-apocalyptic dystopia.

It wasn’t, really, all that new to me, the modern reader. Still, it felt like it was, somehow. It leaves one wanting more, too. The ending is open enough that goodness knows what could happen, and the reader is given plenty they have to work out for themselves.

Character-wise, I suppose it wasn’t that strong, as the only characters who stood out to me strongly were the really central ones. Most of the group, I don’t think I’ll remember their names tomorrow. David and Rosalind do have a sweetness to them, but at the same time, if I think of what marked them out as people… David’s uncle, who kills someone to keep their secret, and supports David and helps him despite his difference, he’s actually perhaps the most memorable to me, in a way.

There is, by the by, a lot of moral ambiguity.

I’ll be keeping my copy of The Chrysalids, for sure. I’ll want to come back to it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Rivers of London

Posted 20 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Rivers of London by Ben AaronovitchRivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch

The first time I read Rivers of London, I wasn’t entirely sold on it. The story itself was fine: it’s basically both urban fantasy and police procedural, which makes it feel so British it hurts. Unlike a lot of other urban fantasy, it really does feel centered on a particular location, and that location is very much London. There’s a lot of intriguing stuff in the background — Nightingale, the Folly, Isaac Newton’s system of magic, Molly, the genii loci… And there’s also a lot of female characters, and of course Peter Grant himself (the main character and narrator) is a person of colour, whose background plays strongly into how he interacts with London, while feeling entirely British.

The thing I wasn’t so keen on was Peter’s character: the way he referred to the female characters around him, evaluating their bodies and their prettiness. Fortunately, having read the later books and enjoyed them more, I was able to view Peter in the context of the rest of the series, including his genuine respect for the women in his life, his efforts not to be superficial, etc. It still has quite a “bloke-y” feel, but it also makes sense; knowing the character Lesley becomes throughout the series, I don’t feel as skeeved out by that ending and the potential for just trowelling on Peter’s guilt (manpain) about what happens to her.

For me, it falls together pretty well, and reading it a second time, I didn’t see the pacing problems that I found the first time either. Might have been a bit of a case of wrong book, wrong time — or it just really is improved by knowing how the later books go.

Rating: 4/5 

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 19 October, 2016 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
Today, I finished off reading Augustus, by John Williams. Very slow and contemplative; I’m still pondering whether I really liked it or not, but it sure is an interesting exploration of Octavius Caesar and his life and relationships. I also read volume one of the complete collection of Dan Slott’s She-Hulk; that was pretty fun, although it started to feel a bit like a drag. I do prefer my comics to be in shorter packaging; this one stole half my day.

What are you currently reading?
I’m rereading This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart, because I felt the need for a comfort read and I couldn’t remember the plot of this one. I’m also rereading Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch, and wincing ready for the end.

What are you planning to read next?
I should finally get round to Foxglove Summer! Also, I want to get on with reading Deadline and Blackout, by Mira Grant. I think I’ve said that before already…

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