Posts by: Nikki


Review – The Human Brain

Posted 28 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Human Brain by New ScientistThe Human Brain, New Scientist

It may not be surprising to learn that this collection, featuring articles and features about the human brain, was absolutely right up my street. If you’re interested in the human brain, but you’re not ready to dive into a full book about it, this makes a great, varied collection, focusing on different things like memory formation, the ageing brain, psychology, sleep…

There’s a lot of stuff in here, but it’s all in bitesize chunks. I do recommend this, and the other New Scientist collections — but if you’ve collected issues religiously, there’s nothing new in here as far as I know.

Rating: 4/5

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Readathon!

Posted 27 April, 2017 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

It’s that time again — readathon time! I’m already thinking about my pile, of course, so I thought I’d share some of what’s on my plate…

Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan Cover of Bloodshot by Cherie Priest Cover of Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

I usually try to come up with books from a bunch of categories, so here’s a menu…

RereadsARCsFinish-this-book-alreadysBacklogNew to the stacks
Lavinia, by Ursula Le GuinWaking Gods, by Sylvain NeuvelThe Godless, by Ben PeekA Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky ChambersWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennan
Ancillary Justice, by Ann LeckieSovereign, by April DanielsReality 36, by Guy HaleyLegion: Skin Deep, by Brandon SandersonThe Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery
Bloodshot, by Cherie PriestThe Pinks, by Chris EnssNova, by Samuel R. DelanyVengeance Road, by Erin BowmanThe Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry
Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin HobbSkullsworn, by Brian StaveleyLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, by Christopher MooreHero, by Perre MooreSomewhere Beneath Those Waves, by Sarah Monette

Although knowing me, I might digress entirely and go off to read something else.

I also need to assemble some options for my wife, since she’s going to join for a couple of hours.  Anyone got any recs for space opera like Lois McMaster Bujold, perchance?

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Review – Mightier than the Sword

Posted 27 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Mightier than the Sword by K.J. ParkerMightier than the Sword, K.J. Parker

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 30th June 2017

I’ve enjoyed a couple of Parker’s novellas, even though I still haven’t got round to the novels I’ve been sitting on for, uh, a while. So I was pleased to be approved for the ARC of this from Subterranean Press. The ebook is a little bit of a mess — or mine was, anyway — but that’s presumably only going to be a problem for the Netgalley version, and it didn’t get in the way of the reading experience.

I’m also a big fan of books which play with manuscripts, and though that’s a minor part of this story, it was still pretty cool. The main character is fun, and the whole tone works really well to make it sound like a romp, even when there’s a certain amount of pillaging and violence going on. I called the twists, but getting there was still a fun ride. I think The Last Witness is still my favourite for sheer smarts, but this was definitely very enjoyable.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 26 April, 2017 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?

I think the last book I finished was Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. I had a couple of reservations about the format, but I found the whole thing just so compulsively readable. I made my wife start reading it too, and she raced on and finished the second book too. (And is now cursing me because there’s no more.)

What are you currently reading?

Actively, The Bone Palace by Amanda Downum and Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel. The latter is fascinating for the same reasons as the first book; the former is awesome because Savedra completely rocks and so, on a second reading, does Ashlin. And the whole complex sexuality and gender stuff going on. I do find myself wondering a little bit about how appropriative the use of the term hijra is, but I do enjoy the book.

What will you read next?

I’m thinking of rereading American Gods (because of the tv show) or Ancillary Justice (just because), but I don’t know for sure yet. I might read Strange the Dreamer, since I finally have my hands on it. Or I should be reading Assassin’s Apprentice again, for a book club.

So many choices! Luckily, the 24-hour readathon this weekend should help me get some reading done. (Even if I hardly ever actually do the whole 24 hours.)

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Review – The Prince and the Pilgrim

Posted 26 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Prince and the Pilgrim by Mary StewartThe Prince and the Pilgrim, Mary Stewart

Although this fits into the Arthurian world constructed by Stewart in The Crystal Cave and the books that followed it, The Prince and the Pilgrim is really a separate story which has perhaps more in common with her romances. She takes a short incident from Malory and expands on it, and dwells on Morgan and her wicked seductive ways (yawn) into the bargain. It’s not a bad story, and her gift for evoking atmosphere and landscape shines through, but I found it very light. The most intriguing aspect involved the references to the Merovingian kings and the way it wove Alice’s story in with a real historical context.

The ending is more or less inevitable, even if you don’t know the original story, and Stewart’s embellishments are mostly pretty tame. A fun light read, but not really a return to the world of The Crystal Cave in anything but name (and that devotion to Morgan being a sexualised, predatory witch).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mind-Expanding Ideas

Posted 25 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mind-Expanding Ideas by New ScientistMind-Expanding Ideas, New Scientist: The Collection

Possibly necessary for full disclosure: I got four of these as a free gift for subscribing to New Scientist. They contain articles from past issues, generally the ones that stand the test of time, and collect them together by topic. This one is mostly physics, which… is not so much my thing. It’s “the most incredible concepts in science”, can’t we have some more love for biology? Epigenetics is mind-expanding — and probably more personally relevant than quarks and leptons to most readers.

That said, I am into biology and find physics a little frightening. Reading this volume mostly left me a little scared and at least halfway to an existential crisis.

If your interest is in dark energy and quantum theory and special relativity, though, then there’s a good chance it’s perfect for you.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 25 April, 2017 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is complementary to last week’s list, which was about the top ten things that will instantly make me want to read a book. This is about instant turn-offs. This is a little harder for me, actually, because I read so eclectically. Let’s have a go, though…

  1. “The X’s Y” titles. So often it’s stuff like The Mapmaker’s Daughter or The Sin-Eater’s Daughter, and I’m honestly tired of protagonists being defined in terms of other people. I have picked up some of these books and will probably continue to, but it does give me a moment’s pause.
  2. Fabio on the cover. It usually heralds a sort of romance fiction I’m not interested in.
  3. This Will Change Your Life. I don’t like feeling like you’re selling me something. Obviously you are, but if all of these books could change my life, I wouldn’t be the same person day to day. (And in another sense, every book will change your life for the period that you’re reading it, at the very least…)
  4. The new Tolkien. I liked the old one, actually. And the new ones just don’t seem to have J.R.R.’s attention to detail. Same goes for the new anyone, really. I don’t want to read the same books over and over again — or rather, if I do, I’ll go back and read that book.
  5. “Inspired by [x] culture.” Translation: “I took the stuff that interested me and ditched the rest.” This is rarely done well and with attention to detail, although some authors like Guy Gavriel Kay can produce something very satisfying from that starting point.
  6. White saviours. If your cover copy hints that your white character is going to save the poor and downtrodden through their special sympathy and understanding, I’m going to be very sceptical right from the word go.
  7. The real King Arthur revealed! Just stop it with that, please.
  8. The real Robin Hood revealed! That too.
  9. The real Sheriff of Nottingham revealed! Come on…
  10. The real Will Scarlet! Aren’t you reaching at this point?

So yeah, as you can see, I was running out of ideas toward the end of this… Doubtless I’ll think of a dozen more just as soon as this goes live.

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Review – Fairweather Eden

Posted 24 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fairweather Eden by Mike PittsFairweather Eden, Mike Pitts, Mark Roberts

This is a fascinating account of a fascinating site: one of the earliest known sites of human activity in the UK. Eartham Pit, Boxgrove is an internationally significant site and it had a lot to tell us about Palaeolithic humans. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because we don’t know much about the people who made the site it’s going to be a boring read: it’s interspersed with the story of the excavation itself and the scientific analysis that went into discovering what happened there. It’s not just about old animal bones, but about the people who made the site, then and now.

If you want to know about early human occupation of Britain, this site is one of the key pieces of evidence, and this book beautifully unravels the history of the dig, its context and the conclusions we can draw from it. I found it a really easy read, too, with relatively short chapters to keep things moving through the information and story it revealed. Definitely recommended.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Furthest Station

Posted 23 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Furthest Station by Ben AaronovitchThe Furthest Station, Ben Aaronovitch

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 30th June 2017

This novella joins Peter Grant and (some of) the usual suspects for a new investigation. Present: Peter, Abigail, Nightingale, Jaget, and briefly, Beverley. I was a bit thrown by the total absence of any mention at all of Leslie; it feels like it’s set in some weird time bubble where there’s nothing going on with her at all, where she didn’t even exist. I don’t know if it’s set before or after The Hanging Tree, which I haven’t read yet; possibly that’ll resolve my slight confusion.

It’s a fun story, which feels very much like the full-length novels, although it resolves faster (of course) and doesn’t involve any of the larger threads like the Faceless Man — though it does advance Abigail’s story, showing her interest in and aptitude for the work of the Folly, whether Peter thinks she’s ready or not. We get some more ghosts and ghostly phenomena, and Peter’s ongoing attempts at rationalising them.

All in all, I rather enjoyed it, perhaps especially because it’s just Peter and business as usual. No heartwrenching personal storylines for him in this novella, and thank goodness for that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Britain After Rome

Posted 22 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Britain After RomeBritain After Rome, Robin Fleming

Britain After Rome is a rather exhaustive, not to say exhausting, history of Britain after the Romano-British period. It focuses on material culture like grave goods and excavations, rather than the texts and what we think we know. Sometimes these contradict each other, and sometimes they fit together in illuminating ways; Fleming takes her time unpacking both situations. It results in a broader look at society than we might see elsewhere, including the lives of women and the fashions of clothing, as well as the big questions of politics, commerce and religion. (Not that the role of women is a small question, but it’s one about which we know less.)

I did enjoy reading it, but I had to take it in little parcels rather than sitting down to read right through. Despite the avoidance of extensive footnotes, it feels scholarly, dense, lengthy. There’s a lot of material and some of it is lingered over very lovingly.

Rating: 4/5

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