Posts by: Nikki


Review – River of Teeth

Posted 26 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 23rd May 2017

So, you might know I love my hippos. After all, my first teddy was Helen Hippo, and she’s been with me since two days after I was born. We have a connection. I wasn’t quite sure about reading this because, well, River of Teeth? Feral hippos attacking? That didn’t sound good. Let me reassure other hippo aficionados: there are feral hippos and they’re pretty vicious, but there are also tamed hippos who happen to be adorable, like the one who likes pastry and has her teeth cleaned regularly.

It’s a fun caper novel set in an alternate US where hippos were brought in to be herded for meat, and you’ve essentially got cowboys riding hippos through bayous and marshes. It isn’t such a leap, though you might think so: the US did consider bringing in hippos for that purpose, once upon a time. This just plays with the idea that they went ahead with it.

The cast of characters is great; my favourite is probably Hero, who is non-binary and has a romance and is completely, utterly badass. I like Houndstooth, too, mostly because his crush on Hero is adorable. And Archie is a ton of fun.

I can’t wait for the next book, though I am somewhat alarmed at the blurb suggesting the gang has split up. That better be an exaggeration!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sunbolt

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

Cover of Sunbolt by Intisar KhananiSunbolt, Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt is a fun little novella with a lot of promise, setting up an interesting fantasy world which is (thank goodness!) not an analogue of medieval Europe. It’s just satisfying enough that I got into it and didn’t want it to end, just tantalising enough that I’m sure I’ll be picking up the second book just as soon as I can.

I did feel like it was a book of two halves — before Hitomi meets Val, and after. The turning point of the book reminded me so much of the scene where Sunshine meets Con in Robin McKinley’s Sunshine — in so many ways, from the character attitudes to how it gets resolved, to the way they talk to each other. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it did feel so very similar that I kind of had deja vu.

I like the fact that romance isn’t a huge part of this; there’s some potential, but nothing really concrete. And there’s all kinds of magic; fangs and Lycans and a tanuki-shifter and just — awesome. I want more.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 24 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

IMG_1384-0I found that there’s actually a link-up for posts basically like my ‘what are you reading Wednesday’ posts, which I transplanted from Dreamwidth way back. So that’s how I’ll do these Wednesday updates from now on! 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 this shall save me from Grammarly shouting at me about the former grammar of these posts.

Check out the WWW Wednesdays linkup!

What are you currently reading?

The Deeper Genome, by John Parrington. So far it’s very good at explaining the basics and how things were discovered, although this is not information I personally need, all things considered! I’m looking forward to the later chapters, which complicate matters beyond the central dogma.

Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWhat have you recently finished reading?

Yesterday, I managed to read three books, so I’ll just stick to those. First off, I finished Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel. It’s the second book in a series, and it has a cruel, cruel ending. I need to know what happens next. I was initially leery of the format, but it actually really worked (for me, anyway).

Secondly, I read The Worm at the Core, by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski (I hope I typed that correctly). It’s an examination of the role of death in how humans live, and I found it really fascinating (and not at all depressing; if anything, the opposite). I have a generally spiritual-ish background heavy on the arts, but I’m going into science and finding that I have difficulty seeing where a ‘soul’ could fit in. This book shows how important that struggle is for all humans — so at least I know I’m not alone in not being sure, and perhaps not liking the conclusions I’m coming to.Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Thirdly, I read Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, which features hippo-herding (and feral hippos) in the US. It’s alternate history based on a suggestion that was once seriously made, to raise hippos for meat. It has a non-binary-gendered hero called Hero, who has a romance with the main character, and this made me pretty happy — quite apart from the awesome hippos. Rosa the stealth hippo might be my favourite.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Ugh, I have no idea. I just got to my parents’ where a stack of books I’ve ordered over the past couple of months was awaiting me. I’ve got some fiction I’ve been meaning to read for ages, like Laura Lam’s False Hearts… but also non-fiction I’ve been hankering after, like Robert Weinberg’s One Renegade Cell. And then there’s a bunch of books awaiting review, too. I don’t know! I’ll probably go on instinct.

Before you go, psst: if you want more frequent updates on what I’m currently reading, you can find me on Litsy as shanaqui! It’s kind of like Twitter or Instagram, but all books all the time.

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Review – The Vital Question

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

Cover of The Vital Question by Nick LaneThe Vital Question, Nick Lane

If you have a solid grounding in science already, particularly biology, this is probably going to be accessible for you — but if not, you might struggle a little. It starts off alright, but it gets quite dense in places, and if you’re not super-interested, you’ll probably get bogged down. That said, to me it was fascinating, and generated testable hypotheses about how early life could have functioned.

I still disagree with Nick Lane on some points, like the dismissiveness with which he treats “junk” DNA. But he covers a lot of interesting stuff about endosymbiosis, mitochondria, the way mitochondria work with the host cell, how the differences between bacteria and archaea arose… It’s a wide-ranging book, and it’s hard to summarise everything that he touches on.

He also makes some pretty bold predictions about life elsewhere in the universe — that it will work in pretty much the same way as it does on Earth. I don’t disagree with what he says here.

So all in all, a worthwhile read, but bring your thinking cap if you’re not a biologist.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Builders

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

Cover of The Builders by Daniel PolanskyThe Builders, Daniel Polansky

I wouldn’t have thought of this as a one-note joke until I read the author’s note at the end, but it’s true that’s what it is in some ways. Think Redwall, but instead of saccharine sweet mice in an abbey and wise old badgers and the clear distinction between vermin and civilised beasts, everyone is perfectly capable of being dangerous. Yes, even a mole. These animals are pretty much just humans in animal guise, with all our foibles and tendencies to violence.

It’s also an entertaining story. It’s a fast read, and it basically reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s work. I’m not sure it’d stand up to a reread, but it works on the first read as a tidy little novella, well-paced and well put together. It just misses out on four stars for me because I don’t think I’d revisit, even though I had fun.

Maybe avoid it if you don’t enjoy gore and you’re precious about your memories of Redwall, though.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Neanderthal Man

Posted 22 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante PaaboNeanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, Svante Pääbo

This book is less about Neanderthals themselves and more about the biological and technical details of extracting their long-extinct genomes from the preserved bones we’ve found, and also about Svante Pääbo himself — it touches on his bisexuality, his moves between institutions, even his affair with a colleague’s wife. I could’ve done without the personal info; it often felt like it was completely incidental to the extraction and sequencing going on in his teams. There were some interesting bits in the way his team worked together, and his decisions as the leader, but his affair with Linda Vigilant was entirely irrelevant.

Still, it’s a fascinating narrative taken as a whole, tracking the various theories, setbacks and new techniques Svante Pääbo and his team went through in finally extracting and sequencing the Neanderthal genome. There’s some coverage, too, of how it differs from the Homo sapiens genome and that of chimpanzees, and what that means in terms of phylogeny and the relationships in the family tree of human development. It also touches on some of the politics of science: rival groups, jockeying for funding, terminating partnerships which aren’t delivering what you hoped… A reminder that you’re never gonna get away from politics of some sort, I suppose!

I found it deeply interesting and well explained, though I am a little disappointed that it was more of an autobiography of Pääbo’s working life than about Neanderthals and what we know about them because of his work.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – All Systems Red

Posted 21 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

All Systems Red is the diary of a self-proclaimed murderbot — a part organic, part synthetic construct designed to protect groups of colonists, and perfectly capable of going wrong and killing them all. Hence, Murderbot — although our Murderbot has disabled the system that they think caused them to do that, and manages to take pretty good care of its little group of prospectors while also mainlining a ton of soaps and whatever other entertainment programs come its way.

I found it all very entertaining, but there was a more serious aspect, too: the Murderbot’s misanthropic attitude and even anxiety about interacting with humans, especially without its suit and opaque helmet on as a buffer. Thus the interactions with the team were a little sad as well as funny — if not sad, perhaps the right term would be invested with pathos, especially as they interact more and more with their employers (contractors? not sure quite what the term should be).

I was a little disappointed by the ending, leaving behind the established team. Obviously there’s gonna be more Murderbot, but… with a new cast otherwise? Boo. I was just getting to like ’em.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Being Human

Posted 20 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Being Human by New ScientistBeing Human, New Scientist

There’s perhaps not much to say about this collection: it’s much the same as the other New Scientist collections, in that it brings together a number of articles and features on a theme, using material from past issues. This is a bit more general than The Human Brain, of course, though it covers some of the same ground. If you read New Scientist religiously, none of this will be new to you; if you want to collect it in a more permanent form than the weekly issues, or grab one that’s on a specific topic, these are great for that.

To me, all of this is accessible, well explained and interesting. Your mileage may vary depending on what aspects of science interest you most.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 20 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

Good morning, all! It’s been a good reading week for me, and one of my assignments is done and handed in, so… breathe a sigh of relief! How’s everyone else doing?

Received to review:

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore Graham Cover of The Ghost Line Cover of The Loveless Princess by Lilian Bodley

I love hippos, as in the cuddly teddy bear sort, so I’m not sure how I’m going to take River of Teeth. Possibly Helen Hippo will just be pleased that her relatives are so fierce.

Finished reading this week:

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante Paabo Cover of Words and Rules by Steven Pinker Cover of Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani Cover of Passion Play, by Sean Stewart

Cover of The Loveless Princess by Lilian Bodley Cover of Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain Works Cover of Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

The ratings sneak peek:

Four stars: Neanderthal Man, Sunbolt, Passion Play, and Harrowing the Dragon.
Three stars: Words and RulesThe Loveless Princess and How Your Brain Works. 
One star: Sea of Rust.

Reviews posted this week:

Relativity: Einstein’s Mind-Bending Universe, by New Scientist. Not exactly my area of science. If it’s your interest, I think you’ll enjoy it; the fault is in my lack of comprehension/interest in a lot of physics. 3/5 stars
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire. Not one of the stories that was crying out to be told after Every Heart a Doorway, to my mind, but still an enjoyable read. 4/5 stars
Dangerous Women: Part II, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I remain unconvinced by this anthology. 3/5 stars
The Pinks, by Chris Enss. Lots of stuff I didn’t know here; very readable and interesting. 4/5 stars
Medical Frontiers, by New Scientist. Fascinating collection about the cutting edge of medicine these days. 4/5 stars
Killing Gravity, by Corey J. White. River Tam with telekinetic powers, basically. It’s a lot of fun. 4/5 stars
Dangerous Women: Part III, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Even more mediocre than the other two parts. Basically: don’t bother. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Books My Mother Should Read. What it says on the tin, as ever. Also generally a list of good books.
What are you reading Wednesday. The usual update!

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