Posts by: Nikki


Review – Nightwood

Posted 9 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Nightwood by Djuna BarnesNightwood, Djuna Barnes

Oh dear. Nikki meets modernism, and bounces right off: the sequel. I don’t even get the people who say it’s poetically written, beautiful imagery, etc, etc — I’m just confused by the narration half the time. The introductions by Jeanette Winterson and T.S. Eliot make it sound interesting, and I wanted to get into it since it’s highly spoken of as women’s fiction and queer fiction.

Nope. It’s hard to even keep track of the characters and what they’re doing, for my money.

If you’re a fan of modernism, this is almost certainly worth reading, and a lot better than I make it sound. But sometimes I wonder why I even try to read modernist works: they don’t seem to work for my brain at all. (See also: I don’t get along with Virginia Woolf’s work, other than A Room of One’s Own.) Just as you wouldn’t ask a dentist to help you pick the best horse in the stable, don’t ask me to recommend modernist works…

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Alchemy of Fire

Posted 8 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Alchemy of Fire by Gillian BradshawAlchemy of Fire, Gillian Bradshaw

If you’re looking for thoughtful, well-researched historical fiction, Gillian Bradshaw is a good bet — and she doesn’t always stick to the beaten path, producing stories about Caesars and Cleopatras. Island of Ghosts, for example, surprised me by having a Samartian hero, serving the Roman army in Britain. Not an Italian, not a Brit, but a whole different view I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do before. Her writing reminds me of Rosemary Sutcliff, at times — it scratches the same sort of itch — though her books are more adult.

Alchemy of Fire is set in Constantinople, and follows the fortunes of the owner of a perfume shop. There’s intrigue and politicking, and there’s romance as well, and the story is set against the backdrop of the Arab attacks on Constantinople. It’s the invention of ‘Greek fire’, but it also deals with motherhood and the experience of seeing a child you love grow up, with grief, with falling in love against all sense and without realising, but not in some instantaneous magical way. The emotional journey felt real, and I was rooting for it from the beginning because it didn’t feel as though Anna was somehow destined to marry. It felt like it could have remained friendship, or ended badly, or… anything.

I found it touching and absorbing, even though I wouldn’t call it “unputdownable”. It takes its time, for all that it only comprises 250 pages or so. It didn’t strike me with brilliance like a couple of Bradshaw’s other books, but I enjoyed it.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 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. I’ve been reading less than I’d like this week, because my exams are upon me and I’m really having to put my nose to the grindstone to just learn the last bits that won’t stick in my head. Mind you, I had my human biology exam yesterday, and that was really easy. So here’s hoping it continues that way!

What are you reading now?Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan

I’m halfway through NeuroTribes, by Scott Silberman. On the one hand, I’ve heard good things about it, but on the other I’m a little put off by the fact that there was a whole chapter focused on how hard having an autistic child was for two particular parents, and how they put him through all sorts of nonsense therapies in the hopes of fixing him. Sure, they eventually decided to accept him as he was, but the whole thing was just focused on their experience, their “anguish”, etc, etc. What about this poor kid who got forcefed food he didn’t like and ridiculous supplements, to try to make him into a different child altogether? I’m more worried about him, thanks.

I know Silberman does actually go on to talk about accepting neurodiversity, accommodating autism rather than stigmatising people who have it, but that chapter did put me off rather.

(Note: I’m not on the spectrum, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.)

Fiction-wise, I’m reading Marie Brennan’s new novella, Lightning in the Blood. I should really finish it today, but… studying.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasI just finished Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. It was interesting enough, but it really skims the surface. It hinted at the same things as The Worm at the Core, for example, but pulled back from it. And in terms of biological death… I don’t know any more than I did going in.

The last fiction book I finished was Shanghai Sparrow, which is fun but nothing special — fairly typically steampunky, with some fairies thrown in.

What will you read next?

I should read one of my book club choices, so either Robin Hobb’s Farseers trilogy, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard. Technically all of these need finishing by the end of this month, so I should, you know. Get to it.

But then there’s also library books I need to read before I go back to Belgium again, because of course I raided the libraries here. So maybe I’ll read The Shambling Guide to New York, by Mur Lafferty.

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Review – False Hearts

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of False Hearts by Laura LamFalse Hearts, Laura Lam

I originally received this to review, and then didn’t get round to it, because I suck. So I bought the paperback last week, picked it up to read a page — and looked up 170 pages later. Suffice it to say, it sucked me in and I’m glad I finally read it — and that I have an eARC of Shattered Minds to read. And Lam’s other trilogy, too! Her writing works really well: it’s not stylised and beautiful like, say, Patricia McKillip or Ursula Le Guin, but it’s competent and strong and she brings across the voices of her characters. That makes it both easy to read and absorbing.

The best part about it is that the whole thing relies on the bond between the sisters, Taema and Tila, and Taema’s trust for Tila. The whole drive behind the story is the sisters’ need to protect one another, and that’s what makes solving the mystery and going through all the tension worth it. The thriller aspects in themselves aren’t revolutionary, but coming at it from this angle made it feel fresh and urgent.

I enjoyed the supporting characters, too. It’s a little odd to be reading a book in which people seem to be, on the whole, goodSure, Mana-ma and the Ratel don’t exactly have people’s best interests at heart, but Nazarin and Kim, Taema and Tila, the other characters they come across — they’re all trying to do the right thing. It’s a nice antidote to the total cynicism of other books I’ve been reading lately, in this genre and others. There are bad things, but there are good people too. And there are good people who get caught up in bad things, and regret it, and remain good people.

The ending of the book feels good; it all unfolds smoothly and stops just at the right point, with Tila and Taema reunited — for good or for bad.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Ghost Line

Posted 6 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ghost LineThe Ghost Line, Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th July 2017

I didn’t expect to find this so creepy, but wow, it ended up getting under my skin. I thought I’d just start it, see what it was like before bed… and then I read the whole thing. I loved the partnership between the husband and wife team, and the whole idea of a space-liner drifting on an old cruise path just to keep the rights to it. There’s not much explanation for why what happens on the ship occurs, but it’s almost better that way — you don’t understand why anymore than the characters do.

I loved the ending, too. It’d have been easy to give readers an easier, happier way out; to have some kind of compromise be reached. Instead — well, I’d better not say too much. Suffice it to say that it works really well, and though it’s not horror, it definitely has a heck of a creep factor in places.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

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

Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFaddenToday’s theme is ten books from [x] genre I’ve added to my TBR. Given that today is my human biology exam (wish me luck!), non-fiction/pop-science seems appropriate here!

  1. Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden. Quantum biology sounds slightly terrifying, if I’m honest. I understand biology, in general; I don’t understand quantum. But hopefully this book will help, right?
  2. The Philadelphia Chromosome, by Jessica Wapner. This is about a particular defect found in people in Philadelphia (shocking, I know) which causes cancer, and how it’s contributed to understanding cancer and how to cure it.
  3. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, by Sean B. Carroll. This has been recommended to me as a good book on “evo-devo”, which is a term I suddenly find cropping up everywhere.
  4. A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. This is about the gene editing technology CRISPR, which is really fascinating stuff, and apparently this examines some of the ethics of using CRISPR, too. I have high hopes!
  5. Brain Washing, by Kathleen Taylor. This is one of the Oxford Landmark Science series, which I’m finding a fascinating way of exploring topics I haven’t always read about before.Cover of Personality by Daniel Nettle
  6. The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. It’s about, well, extinction. I’ve just managed to find this in the library near my parents’ house, so hopefully I’ll be able to read it before I go back to Belgium!
  7. Vanished Ocean: How Tethys Shaped the World, by Dorrik Stowe. More in the geology/earth science line, but it was recommended in another book I read.
  8. Shadows of the Mind, by Roger Penrose. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Penrose, so it’s time to fill in a gap. And it’s about brain science!
  9. Mutants: On the Forms, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body, by Armand Marie Leroi. Right up my street, obviously!
  10. Personality, by Daniel Nettle. Another one of the Oxford Landmark Science series. How do our brains create personality? Gotta know.

 

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Review – A New History of Life

Posted 5 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A New History of Life by Peter WardA New History of Life, Peter Ward, Joe Kirschvink

“New” is a bit of an overstatement. It develops themes already covered in books like Nick Lane’s Oxygen (not exactly recent) and David Beerling’s The Emerald Planet; the main contribution to my understanding is a bit more depth on how oxygen and carbon dioxide have limited and unlimited life over the course of its development. The back emphasises the authors’ belief in panspermia, specifically in the form that states life on Earth was seeded from Mars, but there’s very little space devoted to that — and exactly zero actual evidence.

It’s mostly a reasonable read, if not at all “new”, but they badly needed some more time with an editor. They have odd repetitions, or places where they don’t define a word until long after its first use (not a problem for me, but possibly difficult for other pop science readers), and at times the grammar is just terrible. Sentences don’t have subjects, or the verb doesn’t agree, or… It’s not so bad that I’d call it a mess, but I was very conscious that they needed a proofreader or three to make their book feel more professional.

There were some interesting things in here, though: for example, a discussion of different types of lungs and breathing systems. I hadn’t seen that discussed before, and it was fascinating. And for dinosaur aficionados, yep, they definitely touch on dinosaurs and why they once ruled the Earth (and why, perhaps, that rule ended as it did).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Life’s Engines

Posted 4 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Life's Engines by Paul G FalkowskiLife’s Engines, Paul G. Falkowski

This is an accessible book, crystal-clear about all the concepts it discusses. It’s not bad as a revision guide for me, as far as some of my cell bio concepts go; it’d be good for an intelligent layperson. Falkowski writes with assurance, and though there were no surprises here for me, it was still an interesting read.

My only qualm would be that sometimes his choice of words is a little cringy to me. We don’t need “cell stuff”; I’m sure all readers at this level could manage the term “nutrients” or “proteins” or something clearer. Which is funny, given I just said he’s crystal clear — it’s not that the words are confusing, it’s just that they don’t actually make things simpler and easier to understand. They don’t actively obscure, but they do the reader no favours either.

Nonetheless, a book I enjoyed reading.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How Your Brain Works

Posted 3 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain WorksHow Your Brain Works, New Scientist

As ever with the New Scientist books, this is a great introduction to a topic — and in this case, it’s a fairly narrow topic: the brain, and how it works. It’s not just a collection of stuff that’s appeared in the other collections, although I think a few of the info boxes and so on did come from other New Scientist publications originally. It’s also based on one of their Instant Expert courses, a great series of events that I do recommend if they cover a topic you’re interested in.

For me, even without my degree, this was a fairly simplistic view of the brain — “instant expert” isn’t quite what you’d become from reading it, I’d feel. “Instantly more informed and able to understand further information with a good foundation,” perhaps.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 3 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s Saturday again already, huh? My exams are creeping nearer and nearer, so of course I’ve been reading like a fiend. It only makes sense, right?

Here’s the week’s roundup, beginning with a photo of my bunnies because, yes, I still miss them.

Photo of one of my bunnies grooming the other

Yeah, Hulk loves Breakfast now. <3

Received to review:

Cover of The Witch Who Came In From the Cold Cover of Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean

I’ve been curious about this serial as it came out gradually, so I thought I’d grab the full volume. And at the last minute I also got approved for this non-fiction about air! I’ve enjoyed Sam Kean’s work before, so should be good.

Bought:

Cover of The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan Cover of City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault

I am excited for these, especially Marie Brennan’s!

Finished this week:

Cover of False Hearts by Laura Lam Cover of Alchemy of Fire by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of Nightwood by Djuna Barnes Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore Graham

Cover of Dino Gangs by Josh Young Cover of Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan Cover of Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold

Sneak peek at ratings:

Five stars: Within the Sanctuary of Wings.
Four stars: False Hearts and Alchemy of Fire.
Three stars: Trial by Fire, Dino Gangs, Death Before Wicket and Shanghai Sparrow.
One star:
 Nightwood.

Reviews posted this week:

Passion Play, by Sean Stewart. This one was darker than I expected, and really got under my skin. 4/5 stars
Herding Hemingway’s Cats, by Kat Arney. Very light and readable, but surprisingly thorough as well. I learnt some things about genetics, which is not something I say often with popular science! 4/5 stars
The Loveless Princess, by Lilian Bodley. An asexual and aromantic princess is the heroine of her own story. 3/5 stars
Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill. Holy infodump, Batman. 1/5 stars
Where the Universe Came From, by New Scientist. Not a bad collection, but heavy on relativity and quantum rather than the Big Bang. 3/5 stars
Harrowing the Dragon, by Patricia A. McKillip. Not all of these stories are to my taste, but McKillip’s writing is always gorgeous. 4/5 stars
Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel. Oh-em-geeeee. I can’t say too much about this in case anybody’s afraid of spoilers, but it’s a great follow-up to Sleeping Giants. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books Coming Out Later This Year. Or, as I discovered when writing it, on the very day the post went up!
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading, what I’ve read, and what I’m going to read.

So how’ve you been doing? If you comment, I’ll swing by your STS/Sunday Post/etc to see what you’ve been getting your mitts on!

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