Posts by: Nikki

Review – Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Posted 16 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan

I kind of procrastinated on reading this book, or at least finishing it, because I didn’t want the adventures to be over. This is the concluding volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs, and I already miss her ‘deranged practicality’, her curiosity and drive, and the people around her. Still, it’s a worthy end to her story, concluding her major scientific studies with — well, I’d better be careful not to say too much. The series has been building up to this point, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the moment of realisation and discovery halfway through this book.

My only quibble, perhaps, is a minor spoiler — I find it amazing that Isabella’s team come out of all of this so well. They end up in what I think are an analogue for the mountains of Tibet, suffer avalanches and punishingly cold temperatures, and yet for the most part, they come through these trials whole or able to heal. No frostbite, no permanent injuries, etc. It’s a bit of a contrast to the end of book one, where of course Isabella’s husband dies. I probably would’ve been annoyed if Isabella didn’t get a happy ending, but maybe this one felt a little too easy.

I don’t want to end on a quibble, though, because I truly love these books — more than I ever thought I would, the first time I read A Natural History of Dragons. Isabella is an amazing character, and I can’t help but love her and most of those around her. I really enjoy that the books have some illustrations of dragons and finds, and that Isabella is a serious scholar who tests hypotheses and formulates theories — she doesn’t get to the answer in one leap of intuition in book one and then simply have to prove what she already knows. The five books each see her learning more, changing her ideas, and being surprised along the way.

And lest you be worried about the Victorian-ish setting of these books and what effect it might have on the narration, don’t. If they were actually set in Victorian times, I’d call them anachronistic — there’s a flavour of the old fashioned in some of the phrasing and such, but no more. Suffice it to say that my sister read the last two books in about 24 hours — snatching my copy of this one from my hand almost as soon as she saw me when I arrived to visit.

If my wife would start reading them now, that’d be good. I’m waiting (and hoping she likes Isabella and her adventures as much as I do).

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Raisins and Almonds

Posted 15 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raisins and Almonds by Kerry GreenwoodRaisins and Almonds, Kerry Greenwood

I try not to think too much about the way Phryne’s lovers are described at times — Lin Chung and Simon (Chinese and Jewish, respectively) are described as exotic and beautiful and… yeah, I’m starting to get uncomfortable the more I think about it. Likewise, there’s a certain amount of stereotyping that goes on with the Jewish and Chinese characters in particular. It’s not negative, but it is so… generalising and annoying.

On the other hand, the first time I read this I enjoyed it because it puts one of Phryne’s lovers in serious danger, and there’s an incredibly powerful family scene which just felt completely raw and not “cosy” at all. I felt the same this time, and that somewhat mitigated the rather lower star rating I’d have given.

Plus, while I do find aspects of these books problematic, I still adore the idea of Phryne’s character, the way nothing gets in the way, the way she controls her own sexuality and uses it. There’s still a lot of fiction that pretends women are more asexual by default, and it’s annoying. (Yep, even to me, even though I have no actual interest in reading about Phryne having athletic sex.)

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 14 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you reading now?Cover of Shapes by Philip Ball

Non-fiction: Shapes, by Philip Ball. It’s part of a trilogy of books about patterns and forms in nature. I’m finding it easy to read, and yet at the same time sometimes it loses me completely by going into complexities about geometry. Still, interesting.

Fiction: Dark North, by Gillian Bradshaw. It’s feeling rather Rosemary Sutcliff-ish, since it’s set in Roman Britain, though the protagonist is an Ethiopian auxiliary. I’m enjoying it, though I do wish the main character (Memnon) wasn’t driven by guilt that his sister was raped and killed. Common enough story, I suppose, but shades of women in refrigerators

Cover of The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur LaffertyWhat have you recently finished reading?

Non-fiction: In Search of the Multiverse, by John Gribbin. I mostly understood the quantum physics behind all this, at least while I was reading!

Fiction: The Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty — the sequel to The Shambling Guide to New York City. It’s a lot of fun, and I tore through both books in two days.

What will you read next?

Non-fiction: probably The Making of the Fittest, by Sean Carroll, since it’s a library book. Same goes for my fiction choice, which will probably be The Cold Between, by Elizabeth Bonesteel — I’ve been curious about this one for a while, so I’m hoping to use the opportunity of being at my parents’ and having a bit of a wider choice in library stock!

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Review – Dino Gangs

Posted 14 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Dino Gangs by Josh YoungDino Gangs, Josh Young

Based on the work of Philip J. Currie, the man who helped to found the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller (a very worthwhile visit if you find yourself in Alberta), this book goes into various aspects of dinosaur life, mostly focusing on the tyrannosaurid Tarbosaurus. The main theme is Currie’s theory that they hunted as a pack, based on several lines of evidence such as finding articulated skeletons apparently buried at the same time, the high proportion of predators in the landscape, etc.

Unfortunately, there are two problems with this book. One is the repetition. The other is the fact that evidence contradicting Currie’s theories is presented several times, and then ignored — like the fact that the bonebeds might show a high proportion of Tarbosaurus, but their trackways comprise only 5% of the estimated population. And the fact that Komodo dragons devour their prey whole, which would lead to deposition of more predator remains than prey, even though prey are actually more abundant. Or the fact that the geologists aren’t at all sure the bodies were deposited at the same time.

I have no problem with the idea of dinosaurs as pack animals, but there seem to be some serious objections to Currie’s reasoning, which this book rather skims past as if they don’t matter. The way Young portrays Currie, it’s as though he pounces on things that confirm his ideas, and dismisses other things because they don’t fit with his ideas — the marks of a terrible scientist. Currie is widely respected, so that may well not be true, but that was definitely the impression I got here.

There are interesting more general bits of info about palaeontology, other aspects of Tarbosaurus, the realities of fieldwork… but mostly I’d stick with The Tyrannosaur Chronicles for something that feels a bit more solid.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Shanghai Sparrow

Posted 13 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie SeboldShanghai Sparrow, Gaie Sebold

With this book, if you’ve read one steampunky book with a plucky young protagonist who goes to spy school, you’ve read them all, including this. It reminded me of Gail Carriger’s work, with less romance and humour. That’s not a bad thing, even though this sounds like damning with faint praise; it’s a fun book, and the crossover with faerie lore is fascinating — steampunk, plus fox spirits and fairy courts who spirit away humans.

It’s reasonably predictable, but it moves along at a pretty good pace, apart from one interlude which delves into the main character’s past and rather stalls the narrative. It’s enjoyable that it’s mostly not about romance, and that one of the main character’s preoccupations is actually — slight spoiler ahead — finding her mother, who she thought was dead. The ending felt a little easy, in that you had the characters all tangled up in spy school and people’s plans and then… suddenly, they just manage to walk free.

I’m not desperate to read the second book, but I had fun. Sometimes, that’s what you need.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 13 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is dads, in honour of Father’s Day. I love my dad, but he doesn’t love Father’s Day, so in deference to his wishes, I’ll skip it and regale you with the last ten books I inhaled. Ready?

Cover of Saturn's Children by Charles Stross Cover of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty Cover of Alchemy of Fire by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of The Worm at the Core Cover of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

  1. Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross. This might be my preferred Stross book so far… and that’s not saying a lot, I’m afraid. For whatever reason, I don’t get along with Stross’ writing. It doesn’t help that apparently it pastiches/parodies Heinlein, but I haven’t read the right Heinlein to appreciate any grace notes. But I did read it in less than 24 hours.
  2. The Shambling Guide to New York City, by Mur Lafferty. And the sequel. If I was inclined to categorise books as beach reading, it’d be these two books. Lots of fun.
  3. Alchemy of Fire, by Gillian Bradshaw. It’s not exactly fast-paced, but somehow it kept me reading from start to finish. Bradshaw’s historical fiction is always good, and I particularly enjoy it when she uses settings/characters that are a little less well-trodden — like a perfume maker in Constantinople.
  4. The Worm at the Core, by Sheldon Solomon et al. This is non-fiction about death and its role in life, and you’d think that’d make it morbid and boring. It doesn’t. I actually found it really interesting and engaging. It helps that I know I have that very human anxiety about death, and have to look it in the face every day. (Generalised anxiety disorder and I are coming to a truce, though.)
  5. Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel. The idea got me hooked, and the transcript format surprisingly seems to work for me. Recommended, if you enjoy sci-fi. Just don’t yell in frustration when you get to the end of the second book and there’s no third yet.
  6. The Emerald Planet, by David Beerling. We don’t appreciate plants enough, considering we would literally not exist and definitely could not survive without them fixing carbon for us. This book takes a trip into the hows and whys of that, and the tone is actually really engaging. I like non-fiction, but I don’t often give it five stars. I did for this one.
  7. Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente. I don’t always get on with Valente’s style; it leaves me feeling drunk on words, sometimes in an unpleasant and disorientated way. Somehow, it worked in this one.
  8. Passing Strange, by Ellen Klages. My introduction to Ellen Klages, and one which has left a lasting impression.
  9. Miranda and Caliban, by Jacqueline Carey. If you know Carey’s work, you can imagine what this is like: a lush retelling of The Tempest, designed to break your heart and make you hope, painfully, that things will turn out differently.
  10. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. I kept picking it up to read a couple of chapters, and devouring whole chunks. I have some quibbles with pacing/structure, but I do enjoy the characters and the world they inhabit. I need to read the companion book!

Cover of The Emerald Planet by David Beerling Cover of Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente Cover of Passing Strange by Ellen Klages Cover of Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Anything on my list that catches your eye?

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Review – Words and Rules

Posted 12 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Words and Rules by Steven PinkerWords and Rules, Steven Pinker

If you’ve read The Language Instinct, you don’t really need to read this book. It’s very much the same theory, with perhaps some different examples, maybe a slightly different slant. Reading it, there was nothing new to me, and I think that it isn’t new because it was all covered in The Language Instinct (though it may be some other books have filled in some gaps in my knowledge before this, in the interim).

Pinker’s work is reasonably easy to read and well-illustrated with examples; he’s very convincing in the way he sets forth his ideas, which does make me rather tempted to find someone who disagrees with him equally convincingly and see what I think after that. Any ideas, friends?

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How We Live and Why We Die

Posted 11 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis WolpertHow We Live and Why We Die, Lewis Wolpert

The front of the book blurbs this as ‘a layperson’s guide to the world within us’, and that’s exactly what this is: it’s an accessible, easy to read, whistle-stop tour of cells in the human body, and some of the history surrounding how we’ve come to understand them. If you’ve read almost anything else on the topic, there’s probably nothing new here — but if you’re revising for an exam, you could do worse than spending some time with it. Wolpert manages to explain some complex things very cogently: for example, how enzymes work in breaking bonds, changing molecules, etc.

For me, this was a bit too much of a skimming of the surface — this is stuff I know to the point where I don’t even have to look it up anymore. But for someone not that experienced in biology, or trying to refresh their memory, it’d be perfect.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Trial by Fire

Posted 10 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore GrahamTrial by Fire, Lore Graham

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 31st May 2017

This is a fun superhero novella which is supremely conscious of the need to include more diversity in fiction, and to be socially aware (e.g. of issues like people’s relationship with the police). The main character dates women, her love interest is trans, there are non-binary characters, etc, etc. It’s really refreshing that it didn’t really do a 101 on it, either; ‘here are the pronouns, the narrative is going to use them from here on out’ was the most you get. It’s also refreshingly frank about communication between couples, negotiating trans body issues (or non-issues), figuring out what people like… and even safe sex, as the use of a dental dam shows.

This is not my thing on one level, because I could happily go forever without knowing what genitalia anyone has, and I’m not that interested in reading sex scenes just for the sake of sex — sometimes it can be important to character development or express something interesting or make you re-evaluate the whole relationship between the characters… For example, I’m thinking of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books — a lot of the sex scenes contain plot-important characterisation and even information. And when it comes to some characters/relationships, you’ve been waiting for it so long and it means so much for the characters that you can’t help but pay attention. But I’m not that interested in the mechanics, and I wasn’t invested enough in these characters to be particularly interested in the mere fact of them having fun sex, much as I appreciated the theme of clear communication.

If the fact that the story includes sex is a major nope for you, I can say that I think the scenes would be totally skippable without missing anything important; the rest of the story is fun, although relatively light on plot and heavier on the characters getting to know one another and getting together.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 10 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week has been my exams, and now I’m free. It’s not been wonderful — my brain is tired, and at least one of the exams didn’t go well. But I survived!

Here’s the obligatory I’m-away-from-my-bunnies cute pic. Or two:

 My rabbits flopping together in their pen

Gah, they’re so sweet they make my teeth hurt. And here’s my book haul!

Received to review:

Cover of The Waking Land by Callie Bates Cover of The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King Cover of The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

I requested The Hundredth Queen after seeing someone else’s review, which I think I found through browsing other Stacking the Shelves posts. So whoever you were, thanks! And yaaay, The Tiger’s Daughter!


Cover of Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab Cover of Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews Cover of Death's End by Cixin Liu Cover of Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

Our Dark Duet! I got it last weekend already, but I haven’t managed to start reading.

Read this week:

Cover of Pavlov's Dogs and Schrodinger's Cat by Ron Harré Cover of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert Cover of Death on Earth by Jules Howard Cover of Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

Four stars: The Sixth Extinction and Neurotribes.
Three stars: Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat and Death on Earth.

Reviews posted this week:

How Your Brains Works, by New Scientist. Not exactly revelatory, but probably a good introduction to the subject. 3/5 stars
Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable, by Paul G. Falkowski. Crystal clear style, and he managed to make the stuff I already knew fascinating. 4/5 stars
A New History of Life, by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink. “New” is a bit of an overstatement, and it needed a date with an editor, but there is interesting stuff in here. 3/5 stars
The Ghost Line, by Andrew Neil Grey, J.S. Herbison. Genuinely creepy, with an ending that doesn’t cop out one bit. 4/5 stars
False Hearts, by Laura Lam. I really enjoyed this — I didn’t expect to be so sucked in to the story of the formerly conjoined twins and how they find their pasts entwining with their present all unexpectedly. 4/5 stars
Alchemy of Fire, by Gillian Bradshaw. Bradshaw can certainly surprise you with the kind of historical fiction she writes — the stories of people who were actually on the edge of history. I enjoyed it, despite the rather low-octane pacing compared to, well, False Hearts. 4/5 stars
Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes. Nope. Sorry. Miss me with modernism forevermore, please. 1/5 stars


Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Non-fiction Books I Want to Read. In honour of exam week, and an unexpectedly non-fic heavy week on the blog!
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading, what I’ve just finished, and what I might read next!

How’s everyone? I’ll be catching up with my emails over the weekend — expect some comment replies and blog visits as I catch up on my rather impressive backlog!

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