Posts by: Nikki


Review – Dragonflight

Posted 28 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffreyDragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

I was surprised at how well this stood up to the test of time. I originally read these books when I was… maybe ten, eleven? I loved them, though nothing really beat this first one, as I recall. I was afraid that I’d misjudged the books badly, but while I don’t think this is the most wonderful book ever ever ever, I did really enjoy rereading it.

The early sexism in the story drove me to distraction, of course, but that’s mostly a character thing, not a narrative thing: Lessa is a very strong character, and while she isn’t always right, she’s brave, and many of the big events of the book depend on her. She and F’lar are a strong partnership; they balance each other well (him cool and calculating, her emotional and ready to take a leap of faith — though that is, now I think about it, perhaps a little irritating in terms of gender roles) and there’s no doubt that it’s their partnership that saves Pern.

There are problematic things about their relationship as well, and the whole “our dragons are having sex so I will have sex with you whether you want it or not” issue, and no one (even F’lar, a lot of the time) explaining anything to Lessa even when it makes exactly zero sense to leave her in ignorance… but I think Lessa is the heart and soul of the book. I’m having a bit of difficulty seeing the level of abuse other reviews mention: F’lar has a bit of a tendency to shake Lessa; there is that little issue of “dragons made us do it”; when she goes into shock he slaps her to bring her round… He does grab hold of her fairly hard at one point, after she has gravely shocked and disgusted him by attempting to mind-control another dragonrider. I can see how that adds up, but it still didn’t read that way to me. Exercise caution, though.

Of course, out of sentiment and a willingness to be amused, I didn’t try to poke holes in the plot and the various technologies. They may well be there, but I’m willing to be charmed out of it. For now. So for now, I found the time travel issues interesting, and the whole set-up of the problem pretty ingenious.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – What Do You Mean You’re Not Interested In Sex?

Posted 26 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of What Do You Mean You're Not Interested in Sex? by Amanda LeeWhat Do You Mean You’re Not Interested In Sex?, Amanda Lee

Full disclosure: I know the author and was a proofreader for this. It’s available free on Smashwords, so if it interests you, I do recommend it. Considering the number of people I’ve come across who identify as asexual, it’s amazing that there isn’t more commentary available on it.

Amanda Lee’s paper is a personal and academic exploration of the phenomenon, and covers a lot of the things people don’t understand about it. It’s not at all difficult to read, and it’s not reserved for academics either — the style is plain and accessible. It defines the terms it’s using early on, so there’s no problems there.

Normally I would feel that it isn’t anyone’s business, but it can be pretty isolating, so I guess this is a version of coming out: I’m ace (i.e. asexual) myself. Human bodies can be aesthetically pleasing but if I think too much about it, blech. Please do not remind me that Chris Evans (Captain America) has internal organs; if I think about that too much, I might lose my tiny crush on him.

If right now you’re feeling the urge to say things like, “Are you like that because you were abused or something?”, “you’re using that word wrong” or “you just haven’t met the right person yet”, please follow the link earlier in the review: you’ll find your answers right there, and there are helpful headings in the essay itself to direct you at exactly what you want to know.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – The Stepford Wives

Posted 26 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives left me with a nasty squirmy feeling inside. It’s a famous story, so of course I knew the basics already, but somehow the matter-of-fact delivery just really unsettled me. Maybe what unsettled me most was following a couple of links and finding out that people take it quite literally, or the explanation of the male protagonist masturbating to the idea of killing his wife and replacing her with a robot. Ughh. Really the creepiest thing is that this feminist, decent-seeming guy… even he gives in to this idea.

The first thing to bother me, though, was Chuck Palahniuk’s introduction. Here’s a bit from it:

This is seems is progress: women may now choose to be pretty, stylishly dressed, and vapid. This is no longer the shrill, politically charged climate of 1972; if it’s a choice freely made, then it’s… okay.

Which, yes, Mr Palahniuk, it is. If it’s really a freely made choice, then I will support any woman’s decisions about her own body, her own life. It’s none of my business. Funnily enough, it seems like you still think women’s bodies are your business, that women’s careers must meet your standards.

Now, if you look at it from the angle that it’s incredibly difficult to make a free choice in this society, then I’d agree. It’s entirely true that there are still men like Ira Levin’s Dale Coba, still men who want women to be nothing more than dolls, and men who will force women to be nothing more than dolls. It’s true that just earlier this week someone was berating me in one of the Coursera forums and saying that women just can’t think scientifically, etc, and that the West is “feminised” and… There’s all kinds of stupid ideas still out there. That’s all true.

But even the pretty, stylishly dressed and vapid among us have inner lives, unlike Ira Levin’s Stepford women.

Review on Goodreads. Likes always help with getting me ARCs, etc!

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Review – Hyperbole and a Half

Posted 25 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Hyperbole and a Half by Allie BroshHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened, Allie Brosh

I’ve been a big fan of Hyperbole and a Half for a while, so I was thrilled to get this on Netgalley. It’s not about the art (although I have a certain fondness for that, too — it doesn’t look like much at first, maybe, but it can be damn expressive), but about the way Allie Brosh can shed light on a situation with a few illustrations and a paragraph or two. I particularly loved her posts about depression, because they cut through the bullshit and stated baldly what it’s like.

Like this, actually.

Positivity, hope, joy! -- Are you taunting me? Is this a weird game where you name all the things I can't do?

I can point to her posts and say, this. This is what it’s like. All your sunshine and positive thoughts just sounds like so much bullshit to me, too.

I think you can find most, if not all of the work in this book on the Hyperbole and a Half blog. And there’s a lot of other good stuff there (like alot), too. But this is really worth getting, just so you have it to look at and to remind you that you’re not the only one who is secretly shitty, or who doesn’t feel anything, or who once ate a whole cake to get back at their mother. Whatever your failing is. And somehow, it doesn’t sting so much, presented like this. It’s even pretty funny.

I only wish I was this brave.

Review on Goodreads.

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Book prescription

Posted 24 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I’ve been planning to be fairly up front about all aspects of my identity here — yes, I’m sure that means that if some potential employers found my blog, that might be a mark against me. But I want to be a whole person, and not compartmentalise stuff where I can’t see it myself half the time. Which, hey, potential employers? That takes bravery, and self-knowledge. Just sayin’.

I started with a new counsellor today. Now, despite all I said above, this blog isn’t about my mental health issues, I promise. What is relevant, though, is that my new counsellor wrote out a book prescription for me. That sounds like a really weird concept, but I promise you, it’s a real thing. You can get more information about the scheme in Wales here. Basically, though, it means that counsellors all over Wales have a pool of books that they can recommend to their clients about various different disorders and emotional problems, and those books are easy to access because each branch of each library has at least one copy.

I’ll review the book I was given here in time — it’s Panic Attacks, by Christine Ingham — but I just wanted to say a word or two about the process, to begin with. I don’t know how helpful this is going to be for me in particular, but I think it’s a valuable service that might help people access books that teach coping mechanisms and show them, most of all, that they’re not alone.

So what happened was that my counsellor wrote out the “prescription” for me. It’s a pretty simple form, just stating your name and address and a code for the book (not the title of it). You then go to a local library and present that. In my case, I had to present it a couple of times while they figured out where in the library I was meant to go! But it’s not so bad, and they didn’t make any comments about the fact that I had a book prescription, or when they found the book for me, what book had been chosen for me. When you get a book out on this scheme, the person prescribing it will suggest a length of time you can have the book. In the Cardiff area, at least, it goes on your library card as one of your total, and you can return it to any branch, but you can’t renew it yourself.

And that’s it. You go home with your prescribed book and… hopefully read it and get something out of it. I think it’s an interesting initiative: if I have any more to say on it, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here are some of the books on the subject I’ve read in the past that are worth a look:

Loving What Is and I Need Your Love: Is that True? by Byron Katie
Introducing Mindfulness by Tessa Watt
(A Very Short Introduction to) Anxiety by Daniel Freeman

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Review – The Mad Scientist’s Daughter

Posted 24 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose ClarkeThe Mad Scientist’s Daughter, Cassandra Rose Clarke

When I visited Angry Robot, Leah was adamant that I hurry up and read this book. I got approved for it on Netgalley, too. So of course I had to get round to reading it sometime soon! I’m not getting paid for this review, I just got the book on Netgalley (and ended up reading it from the library instead while I was at a loose end).

It’s lovely. When I was younger I was obsessed with Isaac Asimov’s The Positronic Man — the novel-length version, not the short story in the collection called The Bicentennial Man. This story was a little bit like that, except instead of focusing on the android, it focuses on the girl who cares about him. There’s a shorter time-frame going on here, and of course Cat and Finn fall in love, while there’s never more than a suggestion of that with Little Miss and Andrew, but… I felt the similarities. I love the basic story, the idea of an android with sentience slowly learning more about himself, about the world, and falling in love…

It’s also surprisingly(?) passionate for a book about falling in love with an android. The physicality is always there, and it’s done well. Despite all the science fiction context, the story is about love and contact, and it really makes you feel that.

I’ll be in a hurry to read everything else by Cassandra Rose Clarke now. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is sweet, bittersweet; the ending isn’t perfect, this isn’t some kind of fairytale. But it feels all the more real and immediate for that.

Review here on Goodreads. Likes on there always help!

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What Are You Reading Wednesday

Posted 23 October, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 0 Comments

In the circle of friends I have on some other sites, Wednesday is the day to talk about what you’re reading, and someone came up with a little format for that — just to get people talking about books more, thinking about books more, sharing books more. And lo, obviously this idea appealed to me, and I took it up as well. Now it seems to make sense to start posting that here as well, with links to my reviews on goodreads.

What did you recently finish reading?
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It’s horrifying stuff, slightly mitigated by being presented in fictional form — when I read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, I think I went around for several days in a state of horror. Perhaps even more horrifying is that amidst the horrors of the gulag, Solzhenitsyn’s character finds a way to go on, even to be cheerful, while the highlights of his day involve smuggling a broken hacksaw blade into the camp which he can use for a tool, getting to do some good hard work on building a wall, a single mouthful of sausage, and an extra helping of skilly.

What are you currently reading?
In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker, which is more of a romance than I’d hoped — what I’m really hoping now is that the plot comes together and gives me some greater meaning and context for this adolescent immortal’s love affair than “she’s on a training mission”. I did enjoy the opening part, where she’s found by the Inquisition, and where she becomes an immortal, but I am losing patience with people having sex like rabbits. I’ve got some other books on the go, like James A. Moore’s Seven Forges and Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives — I’m really trying to cut down on how many books I’m reading in one go, but at the moment the count is probably around fifteen.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I’ve got Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall from the library, which I think might be the next thing I read that I’m not already partway through. I have some course books to read, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I’m already halfway through that. I think I’ll go for some Wodehouse next, and then my first taste of John le Carré.

Books acquired:
Too many. One of them is Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves; I’ve actually had the e-ARC for a long time, but I always intended to get my own copy once it was out. I didn’t expect that I still wouldn’t have got round to reading it by then, though…

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Bookaholics Anonymous

Posted 23 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have it, or something like that, right? Well. I have a problem.

A photo of all the books I bought today

I think I have a problem: an illustration

Altogether, that’s twelve books (one of them is an omnibus). Plus two ebooks because I had an amazon voucher. Admittedly I also had the help of £10 on a Waterstones card, and my sister being a terrible influence, but really. I have a problem.* And I love it.

So let’s see, what did I get today…?

-Ngaio Marsh omnibus containing A Man Lay Dead, Enter a Murderer and The Nursing Home Murder (Waterstones card)
-Rose Tremain, Restoration (Oxfam)
-John le Carré, Call for the Dead (Waterstones)
-Donald Sturrock’s biography of Roald Dahl (The Works)
-A biography of Amelia Earhart (The Works)
-Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (The Works)
-Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage (The Works)
-Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights (Waterstones)
-Michael Wood’s non-fiction The Conquistadors (Waterstones)
-Chuck Wendig’s Unclean Spirits (Waterstones)
-Scott Tracey’s Witch Eyes (Kindle store, with voucher)
-emily m. danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Kindle store, with voucher)

Someone asked me to make a post someday about my eclectic approach to reading: this isn’t it, but it certainly prepares the way for it. Crime fiction, biography, history, urban fantasy, classic horror, YA, LGBTQ fiction, fantasy, historical fiction… And I was reading the SF(ish) In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker on the train.

If it comes between two covers (and ha, yes, my ereaders do; they have leather covers) then I’ll probably read it, if it stays still long enough. Which is not a problem. The problem is that I read so awfully fast.**

*Joking aside, I do actually have a problem in that I have an anxiety disorder that is probably GAD but damn well looks like OCD sometimes. Books are all tied up in comfort for me. Don’t let that make this less amusing for you, though. I get through it by laughing at my overflowing shelves.

**Yes, I have calculated my rate of expenditure on books, and it is roughly equal to the worth of the books I’m reading. Seriously.

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RIP print?

Posted 22 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 13 Comments

Last year, there was a lot of noise around the Hay literary festival about a particular bookseller, Derek Addyman, deciding to go on a crusade of sorts against ereaders. You can read all about that here (warning: link goes to the Daily Fail website); suffice it to say that this is a guy who declares Kindles his “enemy”, talks about people who have ereaders having “no soul”, etc, etc. He actually banned people with ereading devices from his shops.

Display of books with a tombstone and a "bleeding" Kindle

RIP Kindle

I’m pro-ereader, I’d better say this up front. And back when that article was published, I sent an email to Derek Addyman, suggesting the need for some tolerance and understanding. I never received any acknowledgement or reply, so I’d like to post a modified version here. There’s plenty of other anti-ereader rhetoric about, like Franzen’s diatribe or Sherman Alexie’s comment about ereading being like “masturbating with a condom”, so I think this isn’t just a thing Derek Addyman needs to hear.

My name is Nikki; I’m a twenty-four year old English Literature postgrad. I live and breathe books, and was raised in a house where I was daily surrounded by books and encouraged to read them, with supervision if they might be disturbing to me. These days I read an average of two books per day, and currently have around thirty books out of the library. My mother and father are similarly voracious readers, and my mother has even said that she couldn’t live without books.

The fact is, in your world, she would have to. She has macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in the UK. Books with small print are already very difficult for her to read, and her condition is only going to deteriorate more. A couple of years ago she bought her first ereader, which of course allows her to adjust the size of the font to a comfortable size for her to read without difficulty or straining her eyes. As a result, we can still share the experience of reading and talking about reading. This “soulless” invention allows my mother to continue her lifelong hobby of reading, to read the same books as me, to keep up with popular books that people are talking about, even to read literature related to her job. Without it, she would not be able to do so anymore.

She still loves bookshops, of course. Just last week, the two of us went into a local bookshop and she helped me pick some new books. She buys books for me all the time, and continues to support the publishing industry through buying ebooks as well. She’s even bought some of the books she’s excited about in hardback, just to have them. I don’t think she’s your enemy.

I also own an ereader. Right now, just beside me, I have my Kindle loaded with several hundred books, my tablet which I read advance e-galleys on, and twelve paperback books in my ‘to read soon’ pile. My bookshelves are loaded high with books. I can guarantee you that Kindle users like me are not contributing to bookshops going out of business! Many polls I have seen online show that a lot of people buy both “dead tree” and electronic books.

“Books are sociable and people stop and talk to each other about them. Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.” That is what you are quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. In your desire to promote the paper books, you would want people like my mother and me to be unable to talk about books — without ereaders, they would become a painful subject, because she could not read them.

I’m sure you didn’t intend to be rude to people with disabilities, but my mother was very upset by your article and its heartless accusations of people who use ereaders being “robots” or “soulless” or perhaps even the “enemy”, to extend your rhetoric. I am not currently a customer of yours, and nor do I intend to become one while you continue this campaign against ereaders.

There are, I will note, legitimate concerns about ereaders. The problems of DRM and censorship, for example; the digital divide (post by Seanan McGuire); even concerns about how environmentally friendly they are considering people’s tendency to indulge in fads. And yes, ebooks are changing (though not killing) the publishing industry.

But seriously. I love ebooks, and I love dead tree books. Sometimes I’ll end up carrying two ereaders and two dead tree books in my handbag. The two really aren’t mutually exclusive — and while I understand Franzen’s fears about the impermanence of ebooks and how that might affect society, I also see positive effects as well. I’m a volunteer for the RNIB and the Macular Society: so many people I come across are frightened of losing their ability to read, and so grateful for everything that helps them carry on reading. And it’s not just people with visual impairment, but people who physically can’t hold and manipulate a book. Heck, my Kobo even has a font option for dyslexic people. Ereaders offer a way to bridge some of the gaps in society, to level things out and make life better for everyone.

And hey, here’s a picture of a selection of my bookshelves, just to prove that I really mean what I say about loving both formats…

RIP print?

RIP print?

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Reviews – Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye, The Big Reap

Posted 21 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Photo of my signed bookmarks and the note they came with

“Sorry — it’s nothing personal…” — Sam Thornton

Eeee. It was only last week that Chris F. Holm said he’d send me these bookmarks, and yet here they already. In honour of that, I shall post my reviews of his Collector series here!

Cover of Dead Harvest by Chris F. HolmDead Harvest, Chris F. Holm

Mmm, this was awesome. I love the cover, for a start — I love that everything about it announces that it’s a pastiche/homage/[whatever word is right] of noir crime fiction like that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The title makes that completely obvious (Dead Harvest = Red Harvest, if you didn’t get that), as does the name of the main character (Sam as in Sam Spade, Thornton as in Raymond Chandler’s middle name), and I think the style works too. I think a lot of that is lost on some readers, but for me it just added to the genius of the whole thing.

There’s never going to be anyone that can do Chandler as well as Chandler, but Sam makes a decent shop-worn Galahad on his own account. I’m intrigued by the world, and interested to see more of the angels — the demons don’t seem that unusual, apart from Veloch, but the angels… I’m thinking of Supernatural, and Good Omens. After all, “angels aren’t always the good guys” is a plot both SPN and Good Omens have done, and “trying to kickstart the apocalypse” is Good Omens, and then the involvement of Lilith and…

Anyway, I’m interested to see how it develops. It took me a while to get into the swing of how much gore there’d be, but I found it pretty compulsive reading. I’m really glad I’ve got The Wrong Goodbye around to read, and an ARC of The Big Reap. Gotta love Angry Robot — this is definitely a winning series for me. Tremendous fun.

On Goodreads.

The Wrong Goodbye, Cover of The Wrong Goodbye, by Chris F. HolmChris F. Holm

Yup, I’m in book-love. From the covers to the content, I think Chris F. Holm is doing this series just right, and I am seriously excited that I have the ARC of The Big Reap primed and ready to go on my Kobo. I think if you’re a devotee of Hammett and Chandler and the like, not much is gonna get by you in terms of the plotting, but that’s okay, I’m just soaking up the ambience.

Looking forward to more of Lilith, and hoping so much we see more of Gio and Theresa. I think that was maybe my favourite thing about this book, among a whole host of favourite things: a dude author getting a trans* person’s pronouns consistently right, and treating her no different to any other love interest that might come along. And hey, she kicks ass too. And by the way, she’s blind.

Which is not to say this book is perfect, which is a pretty big thing to ask of any book, but it’s a lot of fun and tickles me just right.

On Goodreads.

Cover of The Big Reap, by Chris F. HolmThe Big Reap, Chris F. Holm

I’m so happy I got the ARC of this from Netgalley. So happy! There were aspects I didn’t like much at first that actually, yeah, I really started liking them as things developed. I loved that we got to see characters from the previous two books (however briefly), and that the whole Lilith plot thread developed further (and developed the way it did). I was so prepared to love this series based on the fact that it was a pastiche of Chandler et al alone, but now I love it for its own merit, too.

Things that stand out to me as I try to write this: the smart tie-ins with history, the philosopical side of it, the fact that Sam has to do some moral squaring away at the end, Lilith, the Twilight reference.

Some stuff that felt less awesome: the target of Sam’s first Collection, some predictable notes of the plot that just felt too easy or too obvious, the fact that I have no more of this series to read.

On Goodreads.

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