Review – Augustus

Posted 8 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Augustus by John WilliamsAugustus, John Williams

It’s amazing the range of opinions you can find on Augustus Caesar. Some think he was the saving of Rome, a morally upright man who revitalised his country. Others think of him as a traitor, and a hypocritical one at that. I don’t know exactly what I think; I guess I probably think that he was a complex person who ultimately did what he thought best, like most of us. This book goes with the latter view, with a fairly sympathetic eye. It took me a while to decide whether I really enjoyed it: it’s slow-paced, and sometimes the timeline is difficult to follow, as people are writing from one point in time about an earlier point in time, but then the next letter might be from the earlier point in time, but portraying the next set of events. Did that make sense? It sort of does in context, but it can make it a bit more difficult to follow.

I did enjoy Williams’ decision to examine a central issue of Augustus’ life: his moral reforms, and then the fact that his own beloved daughter fell afoul of them. He had her banished from Rome, for all that he spent a great deal of her life watching over her and guiding her in a way many men didn’t bother with for daughters. And Williams does some interesting things with unreliable narrators: we get several different perspectives on the same people and events. Was Julia kidding herself, or was Augustus right — did she plot against her father?

It is rather slow, as I said, and the epistolary format combined with the complex timeline doesn’t help. I enjoyed it as a sort of thought experiment, but I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it as a story, if that makes sense.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 7 December, 2016 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did this last because I’ve been so busy with assignments. Fortunately, I’ve had a bit more time to myself this week, so this feature is back!

What have you recently finished reading?

I’ve been rereading the Narnia books, so I just finished The Horse and his Boy. I read in chronological, rather than publishing order, so I’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I still love the narration. Lewis managed to get something wonderfully warm into it, particularly in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and less so in some of the others. But it is so preachy. Partly just because of the target audience (kids) and writing style (somewhat didactic), but also because of the Christian overtones.

I actually spoke to someone recently who hadn’t figured out that Aslan = Jesus? I actually miss having that kind of innocence about the books, because knowing it’s an allegory and being able to identify all the various points with clear correspondences takes away some of the fun.

I’ve also been rereading Sarah Zettel’s Camelot books, though so far I’ve only finished Camelot’s Shadow. It’s probably my favourite of the four because it has the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. There’s some minor typographical and editing issues that are driving me a little bit nuts in the UK editions. Like when Father is used as a name but not capitalised! But it’s a very interesting take on the Arthurian legends, even with the romances being the foreground. I love the fact that the matter of succession has been considered, and Gawain is openly being groomed to follow Arthur, while Guinevere has an active role in running Camelot, and… so on. I need to write my review, clearly.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve finished most of the books I have on the go at the moment. I’m partway through rereading Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas; hopefully, I’ll catch up with the series this time. I still feel the same about it as I did the first time. It’s fun, but it’s not nearly perfect.

Next up: Camelot’s Honour, Prince Caspian, Crown of Midnight…

What are you planning to read next?

After dropping my reading goals, I’m trying to find more joy in my reading again, so I’m doing quite a bit of rereading. I know I want to reread The Invisible Library and The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman, so I can get round to reading the new one. I just got approved for the ARC! I also want to reread Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, and Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, as well as finish rereading Sarah Zettel’s Camelot books, the Narnia books and of course, Tolkien’s The Return of the King.

I’m also trying not to plan too far ahead. I finish a book; I pick up the next one which makes me smile.

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Review – Broken Homes

Posted 7 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Broken Homes by Ben AaronovitchBroken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch

Reading the end of this book for the first time made me realise I really was hooked on the series. It just punched me in the gut and made me realise how much I cared. Reading the whole series again, I’ve been anticipating this book. And yet… for most of the book, you have no idea what’s coming. It’s pretty much like the other books in the series: police work, friendship, the mysteries of various characters… It widens up the world again, of course, giving us another glimpse at magic elsewhere in Europe. But the tone feels the same.

Even the ending is, I suppose, not that big of a twist: we get a similar shock ending to Rivers of London itself. But it’s something about the particular circumstances that really make it work. We really care now, and we definitely weren’t expecting this.

I don’t know how to review Broken Homes except in terms of that ending. Until that point, it’s a fairly typical book for the series. There’s some interesting stuff, the characters remain fun, etc. But it’s that ending that pulls things together and raises the stakes.

I haven’t read Foxglove Summer yet, but I hope it takes the momentum of this and, well, runs with it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight

Posted 6 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Captain Marvel: Alpha FlightCaptain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight, Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas, Kris Anka, Tara Guggenheim, Felipe Smith

I was a pretty unsure what to expect with this one — my first Captain Marvel comic without Kelly Sue DeConnick at the helm. To make it worse, I don’t know anything about Alpha Flight, so I was bombarded with a bunch of new characters; I don’t even know if they appeared elsewhere before? It’s times like this I feel like being a Marvel fan only since 2012ish lets me down: I don’t even know whether to cheer or groan, half the time.

(Civil War 2? Groan. If the solo Captain Marvel comics delve into that too much, I’m gonna hate it. The first one had some powerful storytelling, but twisted the characters to get them into a deadlock against each other. I can’t see a second run at it doing much good, and I don’t want to see Captain Marvel going it against the Marvel universe Tony Stark style. I can’t even remember which side Carol was on in the original Civil War.)

Anyway, Butters and crew are reasonably competent, taking us through a pretty usual story for Carol where she punches things, her phenomenal powers are damped down by something, she punches things some more, and then has to practice the joy of diplomacy. Somehow, everything turns out okay. Maybe I’m just describing all superhero comics; maybe I’m getting a bit cynical. While there were bits of this which felt good — Rhodey’s warnings to Carol, the appearance of Rocket — overall I wasn’t madly enthused. It’s fun while I’m reading it, and I’m willing to try some more, but I feel like the first few DeConnick books worked for me in a way this didn’t. (Though it is, at least, an improvement over Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps.) There’s something unmemorable about it, which probably explains why the only characters I can name without the book on hand are Rhodey, Carol and Rocket.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 6 December, 2016 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

This week’s theme is Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I read in 2016. I’m having trouble coming up with anything off the top of my head, but let’s see if Goodreads can help.

  1. Seanan McGuire. Technically not new to me, as I’ve read one of her books written as Mira Grant. But it’s rather different stuff, so nuh. It counts.
  2. Mitch Benn. I don’t know why I never tried Terra when it was first out; I don’t think I even knew much about it, but it was so much fun; I’m glad I finally did pick it up!
  3. Ted Chiang. It took me ages, but I finally got round to reading Story of Your Life & Others, and I loved it.
  4. Hope Mirrlees. So late to the party, I know, but I looooved Lud-in-the-Mist.
  5. Pat Murphy. Again, late to the party, but The Falling Woman was really, really good.
  6. Marie Rutkoski. I did not expect to love The Winner’s Kiss, but it worked well for me.
  7. Gwenda Bond. I’d had some of Bond’s books on my list for ages, but it was Lois Lane: Fallout which I finally read, and definitely enjoyed.
  8. Robert Jackson Bennett. City of Stairs knocked my socks off, and now I’m impatiently waiting for City of Miracles. Soon, please? Please?!
  9. Sylvia Izzo Hunter. I enjoyed The Midnight Queen a lot; I must get round to reading the sequels.
  10. Elizabeth Hand. Wylding Hall was a super well-crafted novel; I should check out other books by Hand.

Most of these, I’ve only read one book, so there’s plenty to discover ahead of me!

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Review – In the Woods

Posted 5 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of In The Woods by Tana FrenchIn the Woods, Tana French

I know I’m very much in the minority on this one, but I really didn’t enjoy it that much. The set-up is awesome: the whole mystery of what happened to the main character as a child is so tantalising, I think it’s probably why I picked the book up in the first place. We get so many concrete details, the whole crime scene report. It feels like a set-up for a mystery to be solved, particularly when elements of it crop up in the case that the protagonist is involved in now.

Spoiler: it isn’t solved.

I don’t necessarily demand that a murder mystery solves all the questions raised during the book — sometimes that even feels artificial. I’m not an advocate of adherence to Father Knox’s ten rules, or anything like that. But the fact that the book sets up such a compelling mystery, with so many concrete details, is just infuriating when you discover you’ll never know. Especially since the main character leaves the Murder Squad, and subsequent books do not address the issue either.

The mystery that is solved, by contrast, is too prosaic and easily solved, and I don’t care about it nearly as much. The relationship dramas of the main characters don’t attract me, and honestly, nor does the consciously literary style. It feels slow, and that doesn’t work for me as a stylistic decision. It feels like a slower, more contemplative novel about psychology and things that can’t ever be known, bolted awkwardly onto a standard police procedural — the combination is what fails to work, because each component of the story sets up an expectation about the other.

It’s odd that this worked for friends of mine so very well, and not at all for me; it might be partially the fact that I’ve actually studied stuff like the structure and set-up of crime novels, meaning I have stricter ideas of what I want from a detective novel. It’s probably worth checking out the book anyway if you want a fairly literary crime novel; other people love it, and it seems to be some vagary of personal taste leading me to dislike it so much.

Which is sad, because I was really hoping Tana French would be the next author whose books I’d tear through, a la Sayers and Greenwood.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Ultimate X-Men: Hellfire and Brimstone

Posted 4 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ultimate X-Men vol 4Ultimate X-Men: Hellfire and Brimstone, Mark Millar, Adam Kubert, Kaare Andrews

Isn’t Beast supposed to be really intelligent? I mean, I get that he feels isolated and stuff, but — argh, when a plot depends on someone being a total idiot, and on Professor Xavier not noticing what the hell’s going on with that even though he’s a telepath and we know from volume two that he wiped Bobby Drake and his girlfriend’s mind because they were a security risk?

Nope, back to two stars goes this series. It doesn’t help that the tension between Wolverine and Cyclops is just eyeroll worthy. More macho than thou and so on, fighting over Jean Grey, who… makes it pretty damn clear she loves Cyclops and was always interested in him. (Which does have some cute bits in this volume, actually, and it does help Cyclops unbend a little.)

The Jean Grey/Phoenix plotline seems a bit thrown away, considering that I know it’s a Big Thing in other versions of the X-Men. I assume it’ll recur in later volumes or something, but I don’t think I’m going to read any more of Ultimate X-Men now I’ve finished the volumes I had. Which is a shame, since Kitty Pryde just got introduced, and I did enjoy her in Ultimate Spider-man, but… this doesn’t have the same feel at all. It probably doesn’t help that it’s a team book, so there’s less time to focus on a particular character.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Dark Run

Posted 3 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dark Run by Mike BrooksDark Run, Mike Brooks

Dark Run is a fun, very Firefly-ish sort of story — in that, I mean both the setting (the world situation, the character lineup, the tone) and the actual storyline are quite like Firefly. There are a couple of lines which seem like homages, like the pilot saying “I am a leaf on the wind”… but since that doesn’t lead to disaster in quite the same way as it does in Serenity, it kind of ruins the moment? Like, I read the line and braced myself, and then it was just… a throwaway comment? Hm. It’s things like that which made me wonder how deliberate the references were.

Whatever that situation is, the book is fun enough on its own merits, and it does things Firefly should have done, like introduce more diversity. Asian characters, most obviously, but also a Maori character, which is an interesting choice. I tried not to think too much about how things related to Firefly, and instead enjoy the book for its own merits: the pacing is pretty good, the crew is a mismatched bunch who come together in that endearing sort of way without it being ridiculously easy, there’s interesting background stuff, and there are character backstories which have yet to be unravelled and dug into… In short, there’s a lot of potential.

I’m not sure I succeeded in not thinking of it as an imitation of Firefly, but I did enjoy reading it for what it was as well. Enough that I’ve ordered the second book and am ready to dig into it right away. It’s fun without requiring too much thought, and if you do want a bit of a Firefly feel (though it can be hard for stuff to match up, given the way we’ve all built Firefly up!) then this delivers.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 3 December, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

It’s been a better week for me, though I still have one more assignment to eke out. But I did manage some reading! Hurrah.

Books to review:

Cover of Fair Chance by Josh Lanyon Cover of Weird Dinosaurs

I’m going to assume Fair Chance is related to Fair Game and Fair Play, so, awesome. And Weird Dinosaurs, well, who wouldn’t want this one?

Books received:

Cover of Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire Cover of One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire Cover of Ashes of Honour by Seanan McGuire

Because my wife is awesome.

Books finished this week:

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell Cover of How To Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro Cover of The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas Cover of The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Reviews posted this week:
Ultimate X-Men: World Tour, by Mark Millar et al. More enjoyable than the first two volumes, but still not doing much for me. 3/5 stars
The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell. If you enjoyed the first Lychford novella, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Judith continues to be completely badass. 3/5 stars
Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny. Enjoyable, but rather predictable, to me. 3/5 stars
Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. A good survey of, well, pretty much what it says on the tin. 4/5 stars
The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Do I have anything new to say about this one? Possibly not. 5/5 stars
Flashback Friday: The Empty Kingdom, by Elizabeth E. Wein. The close of the series, which I’ve been re-posting my reviews of for the last few weeks. Greatly enjoyable. 4/5 stars

Other posts:
On giving up, but positively. Why I’ve given up on my reading goals for 2016, and why that’s a good thing.
Top Ten Tuesday: Best Places to Read. A departure from the given theme, forgive me.

How’s everyone else doing?

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Review – The Empty Kingdom

Posted 2 December, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Empty KingdomThe Empty Kingdom, Elizabeth E. Wein

Flashback Friday review from 13th February, 2011

The Empty Kingdom is quite a long way away — in time, in distance, and in the kind of story it is — from The Winter Prince. Medraut and the Arthurian characters are much less in evidence now, and Telemakos is definitely our hero, and one I enjoy completely independently from his links to the Arthurian story, which is almost unimportant by this point in the story.

Unlike The Winter Prince and The Lion Hunter, this book is less about healing and focuses more on the political intrigue. One thing I found very interesting about these books was how unpredictable I found them: I’ve read a lot of books and usually am able to predict their twists and turns. While some parts of this were easy to guess, most were not. So it’s a breath of fresh air in general, as well as an interesting and — so far as I know — new addition to the Arthurian tradition.

I can easily imagine that more might be written for this series, and I’d be interested to read it.

Rating: 4/5

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