Review – The Undivided Past

Posted 29 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Undivided Past by David CannadineThe Undivided Past, David Cannadine

I’m not sure if I’ve totally grasped the point of this book, because if I have, it seems very simplistic: basically, that none of the great dividers between people (religion, nationality, class, gender, etc) are actually as divisive as we think, and that they haven’t been historically either — that men and women have cooperated in societies before now, that Islam and Christianity have coexisted, etc, etc. If there’s really a trend for historians to claim that’s not so, then it does make sense to offer a counterpoint, but it’s not really a point of view I’ve ever seen. While people might not have been talking about intersectionality under that name for so long, I think it’s always been obvious that it exists.

So, in that sense, Cannadine’s book reads as though he’s setting up a series of strawmen to knock down. Of course religion doesn’t divide us wholly — nor does it unite us, as he shows by talking about the quarrels between Catholics and Protestants, or Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Of course there’s been cooperation between genders, between nations, and of course there has been conflict between them. To me, a lot of this seemed very obvious, and hardly worth spending so much ink and paper discussing why it proves that no one identity divides (or unites) man.

If the call is ultimately for unity, one still has to wonder — on the basis of what? Humanity? But the time is coming, if it hasn’t already come, where we could dispute the boundaries of humanity. If you rely on machines to survive, are you human? Are your interests aligned with “humanity”? Once almost any organ can be replaced with an artificial one, is a person in receipt of a lot of those surgeries still human, with the same preoccupations and needs as the rest of us? (My answer would be yes, but it’s a thing which has yet to be debated politically and socially, outside of science fiction.)

Also, I think it’s already showing its age, and it was published in 2013. There’s been no movements based on male identity, according to Cannadine — but Men’s Rights and GamerGate have been a thing. And there’s no modern feminism? What about EverydaySexism, etc?

The book is still a worthwhile survey of the divisions between us and how significant (and not) they’ve been, but if I understood the thesis correctly, then it’s not exactly groundbreaking.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Batgirl: A Knight Alone

Posted 28 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Batgirl: A Knight Alone by Kelley PuckettBatgirl: A Knight Alone, Kelley Puckett, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella, Coy Turnbull, Dan Davis

I found this second volume of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl a lot easier to digest, somehow, than the first one. Unfortunately for the character concept, it probably helps that she’s now able to express herself in words and understand the words of people around her. There were still some issues for me in understanding the backstory — for example, wtf is Batman’s relationship to the assassin who trained Cassandra? Why did he ever train under an assassin himself? Also, a couple of aspects were skimmed over — like the training Cassandra received from Lady Shiva.

Sometimes, reading this, I felt like the panels were badly ordered; sometimes it seemed to make more sense to read the page right to left. Which is fine, but it’s really not the convention in Western comics, so it throws me every time. Or maybe it’s just experimentation with layout — either way, it didn’t work very well for me, alas. The whole train of events feels unhinged sometimes. I just can’t see how we get from A to B, how the stories relate to each other. It feels like a much less defined arc of events.

Again, I’m still not a great fan of the art, though some of the expressions are great. I’m a little leery of the attention given to highlighting Cassandra’s breasts and butt; come on, she’s practically a kid, let’s maybe not sexualise her.

Still, Oracle continues to play a part, Cassandra proves her worth, and we see her being desperate to do justice. It’s a solid volume, and if I used half-stars, I’d give it 3.5 to show that it improved from the first volume for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Spider-Gwen: Greater Power

Posted 27 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spider-Gwen: Greater PowerSpider-Gwen: Greater Power, Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, Chris Visions

The second volume of Spider-Gwen takes us further into the different reality of Earth-65 — a world where Matt Murdock is a bad guy, and Tony Stark sells a lot of coffee via his company “Starkbucks”. Oh, and where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider, and Peter Parker was the Lizard. It’s complicated and I think that to know all the little subverted and tweaked bits unique to this universe, you’d need to be a fan of Marvel bigtime. But a basic knowledge of Spider-man canon (like who the Green Goblin is) will suffice.

This volume has a lot less of Gwen’s ordinary life (there’s references to her roommates and the Mary Janes, but nothing major), and follows her as she struggles — still — with the death of Peter Parker and the responsibility that puts on her. Meanwhile, her dad struggles with the right thing to do, Matt Murdock’s up to something, and Captain America is on the case.

Which, yeah, I don’t know if this version of Cap appears elsewhere, but I hope she does. Captain Samantha Wilson is badass and awesome. Jessica Drew, of the main timeline, also makes an appearance for a couple of scenes that made me giggle, but Cap was really the highlight of the TPB for me.

Spider-Gwen is fun and though I’m not always a fan of the art, it generally looks good. I’m in for future volumes, definitely.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 27 August, 2016 by Nikki in General / 19 Comments

Good morning! How’s everyone doing this week? I’ve read more than I thought I was going to, and even cleared some books that have been on my backlog for a long time. Of course, I’ve also been fretting wildly over our baby bunny, but she seems to be doing okay despite my panics.

New books

Cover of Necrotech by K.C. Alexander Cover of The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

Necrotech is a review copy from Angry Robot (thanks again, guys!), and The Crown’s Game was a gift from my wife, A++ wife that she is.

Finished reading this week:

Cover of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve Cover of Predator's Gold by Philip Reeve Cover of Heresy by S.J. Parris Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps

Cover of Saga vol 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples Cover of Saga vol 5 Cover of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart Cover of Saga Volume 6

Mortal Engines, Predator’s Gold and Heresy are books I’ve had since 2011; Saga volume four and We Were Liars are from 2014. Take that, backlog! …Wait, now I’m caught up on Saga… oh no! Now another agonising wait for more volumes.

Reviews posted this week:
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde. Intriguing world, but I felt like I needed more background to really understand what the characters were doing. 3/5 stars
One Ostara Sunrise, by Elora Bishop. Cute, but I could wish for more plot. 3/5 stars
The Devil You Know, by K.J. Parker. Not as great as Parker’s other Tor.com novella, but an intriguing story nonetheless. Might help if you read the other book including the main character… 3/5 stars
Batgirl: Silent Running, by Kelley Puckett et al. Sadly not my thing, despite me being a fan of the idea of Cassandra Cain. 2/5 stars
The Drowning Eyes, by Emily Foster. I felt like this really trailed off, but there is some really amazing imagery in this story. Stones for eyes… 3/5 stars
The Celts: Search for a Civilisation, by Alice Roberts. A really interesting overview of Celtic history and identity — and yes, it does engage with that troubled question of whether Celtic identity is really a thing you can point to, as well. 4/5 stars
Flashback Friday: The Surgeon, by Tess Gerritsen. This is a perfectly good crime novel, but it’s too explicit and nasty to be the sort I enjoy.

Other posts:
Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Still Haven’t Read. This is a list of books I’ve been meaning to get to for, quite literally, years — since before I started this blog.

What’ve you been reading this week? Anything you’re dying to get your hands on? Let me know!

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Review – The Surgeon

Posted 26 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Surgeon by Tess GerritsenThe Surgeon, Tess Gerritsen

Originally reviewed May 7th, 2012

Trigger warnings: rape, mutilation, medical details (both descriptions of stuff like cancer and descriptions of accidents/operations).

That had to come first, because I spent much of this book wishing I had something firm and indestructible to crawl into, to keep me safe. The details are just horrifying — it reminds me very much of my experience with Val McDermid’s work. And, as with that, I had to read to the end to find out who the killer/torturer was, before I could begin to feel okay again. (The part of me that’s done a course in Crime Fiction remembers that the end of a crime novel typically ends with the criminal being contained or killed, and therefore that provides a feeling of safety and the reassertion of the rules of society, for a reader.)

I wasn’t really a fan of the characters’ attitudes to rape. The idea that rape makes the victim belong to the attacker in some way is just repugnant, and the idea that what makes a woman a woman is their womb is just — ugh. It seemed to be an ongoing theme in the story, rather than an opinion expressed by just one or two of the characters.

Overall there was a lot that upset/troubled me, and despite Sasha Alexander being in it, I don’t think I’m going to watch the tv series. It’s not actually a bad crime/mystery book: it’s very good in that sense, and I’d recommend it to people who like, for example, Val McDermid. But it was just not the kind of thing I should be reading at all, and I’m going to steer clear.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Celts

Posted 25 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Celts by Alice RobertsThe Celts: Search for a Civilisation, Alice Roberts

This book was written to accompany a BBC series that I haven’t seen, but that doesn’t seem to detract from it any. I seem to be seeing a lot of people lately considering the issues of Celtic identity: how do we pin it down? Is it based on language, material culture, genetics? Is it really a thing? I’ve been to the temporary Celtic exhibit in the British Museum, as well as read this and — for contrast — Graham Robb’s The Ancient Paths, which views Celtic identity as very contiguous across Europe. (It is reassuring that most of the facts here chimed with Robb’s claims, if you’d like to believe in his theories!)

This book surveys evidence from all over Europe, eventually coming to the conclusion that Celticness might have originated in the West and spread east, rather than the other way round. It also pours cold water on the idea of human sacrifices (though it doesn’t mention some of the archaeological evidence about Boudicca’s revolt and the claims of human sacrifice and barbaric practices around that), with what I think seems like justified scepticism. Roberts points out that we’ve got a fundamental problem where the literature is interpreted in ways which prop up the interpretation of archaeological finds, at the same time as those archaeological finds are held up as truth in interpreting the literature.

Overall, Roberts is relatively unconclusive, if conclusions are what you’re looking for. Celtic identity is a bit of a morass, and its modern importance to Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Cornish people may well be a very recent construct. That makes it no less powerful, and there’s something understandable and powerful in modern people looking back to our ancestors and trying to understand them, claiming to be a part of them. After all, we must be.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Drowning Eyes

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

Cover of The Drowning Eyes by Emily FosterThe Drowning Eyes, Emily Foster

There’s a lot about this novella that’s fascinating — the image of the Windspeakers having to sacrifice their eyes and receiving stones instead is just, wow; I’m pretty sure that’s going to stick with me. The crew are cool, too; crabby and sympathetic and brave and practical. A mixture, like real people, and able to really get on each other’s nerves like real people, too. There are some awesome descriptions of weather magic, too: of the way the protagonist feels it in her body.

The flipside of that is that that there feels like there’s too much going on. There’s the whole magic system, then there’s the pirate crew, and it doesn’t fit that well together, because all of a sudden the pirates are really invested in something that is, well, above their pay grade. From transporting a runaway to saving a group of people that they don’t even necessarily sympathise with… And the Dragon Ships; that whole plot thread isn’t really resolved, because it’s implied there’s a lot more going on with them and yet the story more or less ends with a minor confrontation.

It doesn’t feel complete, like there’s just too much still up in the air. It’s not bad as a story, but it feels rushed and inconclusive.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Batgirl: Silent Running

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

Cover of Batgirl: Silent Running by Kelley PuckettBatgirl: Silent Running, Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl ever since I heard about this series; I love the idea of a girl trained so intensively to be an assassin that she knows no language, but can interpret vast amounts from movement, even from tiny cues in body language. It’s fascinating because it’s to some degree possible; “feral children” without language who weren’t exposed to language during their critical period for learning it have existed, and who knows? Maybe they do learn to pay attention to other cues, appropriate to the environment they live in, which would be missed by those who rely on words to communicate.

In practice, though, Silent Running is kind of an awkward place to jump in. It’s not so bad for me because I know Barbara Gordon’s story, why she became Oracle, who she is — and everyone knows at least a little about Batman. But it feels like jumping into the middle of a run, not the beginning of one. The art style doesn’t greatly appeal to me either, and the storytelling is appropriately visual, which is never going to work that well for me (I just don’t and can’t think visually).

It’s also a little awkward because that uniqueness about this Batgirl is wiped out almost immediately: a psychic man rearranges her thoughts and gives her language, taking away her preternatural combat abilities by changing the way she experiences the world. It makes sense, but it does lose the thing that intrigued me about the character.

Also, Batman being paternalistic and judgemental, all the time. Gah. He should have some idea of how Cassandra was raised, you’d think, but somehow he spends the book denying it, and having a really weird tension with Cassandra when they’re working together.

I’m going to read the second volume, since I have it, but at the moment I’m not greatly enthused about following this version of Batgirl, which is a shame. (But might save me some money, since wow the TPBs can get expensive!)

Rating: 2/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 23 August, 2016 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is for books that have been on your TBR since before you started blogging… and you still haven’t read them. Well, I haven’t got anything (surprisingly) from before I started using Goodreads, but I sure as heck have a whole bunch from before I started this blog.

  1. Emma, by Jane Austen. It doesn’t help that my mother haaaates Jane Austen. I kind of gained some appreciation while doing my degree, but I’m still not filled with enthusiasm.
  2. Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve. Everything about the idea of predatory cities chasing each other across the land appeals. I just fail at getting round to my backlist.
  3. The Island of Apples, by Glyn Jones. This was even a set book during my BA module on Welsh Fiction in English and I still haven’t read it.
  4. Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier. I really enjoy Marillier’s work, in general, and yet. And yet.
  5. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree Jr. I am a bad feminist SF fan, I know.
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Everyone and their mother has read this. Except me. (Well, and my mother.)
  7. Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany. I know, I can’t believe it either, this is a classic.
  8. Scott of the Antarctic, by David Crane. I know this is a bit of an odd one out here, but I actually find myself reluctant to go ahead and read it, because it’s the last book my grandad ever bought me before he died. While it’s still waiting on the shelf, it feels like prolonging something. The other book bought at the same time is one on railways, which is even more connected with my grandad.
  9. A Shadow in Summer, by Daniel Abraham. I think this was recommended by Jo Walton? Was that where I got this one from? Anyway, it’s been on my list since at least 2013.
  10. Point of Hopes, by Melissa Scott. Queer fantasy! Yesplz.

What about you? Anything been kicking around your lists for years? And do you feel guilty, or just go with the flow?

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Review – The Devil You Know

Posted 22 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Devil You Know by K.J. ParkerThe Devil You Know, K.J. Parker

On the strength of The Last Witness, I was ready to pick this up as soon as it came out; I really enjoyed pretty much every aspect of Parker’s other Tor.com novella, and definitely wanted to read more from him. The Devil You Know is significantly weaker, though; apparently, one of the main characters is from another book by Parker, Blue and Gold. I think knowing that, I’d have picked up Blue and Gold first, because while the background is easy enough to grasp in this book, it might’ve helped in understanding the character and what he wants.

The plot itself is basically Faustian, with one of the main characters (a philosopher) trying to trick the other (a devil, but in a bureaucratic delegation sort of way: he doesn’t have pointy horns and an evil nature) out of the whole selling-your-soul bargain. I thought the final solution to that was a bit obvious, both as a device in general and in the way it was executed here, and the devil surprisingly careless about that one aspect after reading and rereading all the rest. It felt a bit like convenient stupidity for plot reasons.

The writing is a bit difficult to follow; unfortunately, the two POVs switch frequently but not regularly, and you have to guess from context which character is speaking. There are a few points where it’s impossible for a paragraph or two to figure out who is even supposed to be speaking, making everything rather confusing — especially since I don’t think the devil character has a name, and is usually just referred to as ‘he’, ‘him’, etc.

That’s all pretty negative, though: I did enjoy the story, the careful set-up, the bureaucratic version of selling your soul and how all of that was handled. It just didn’t catch hold of me in the way that The Last Witness did.

Rating: 3/5

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