Posts by: Nikki

Review – Newt’s Emerald

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

Cover of Newt's Emerald by Garth NixNewt’s Emerald, Garth Nix

I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’m not entirely sure what finally prompted me to pick it up — but hurrah that I did. If you enjoy Georgette Heyer’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s a little adventure very much along the same lines, only with magic as well. Girls disguising themselves as boys, a Pride and Prejudice moment for the romance, and daring escapades. The tone is light and witty, and okay, it’s not as though as it’s as deeply committed to being authentic as Heyer was, but you wouldn’t expect that from a book that injects magic as well!

I found it really fun, and a surprisingly quick read too. The romance is… well, Heyer-ish, so if dislike-turns-to-love and capricious young ladies who deny they have any feelings for That Odious Man bother you, it probably won’t be your thing. It’s definitely not much like Nix’s other books (at least the ones I’ve read).

It’s a little magical cream puff, and I enjoyed it greatly. It helps that the main character gets to be kickass and daring, and she’s also really smart. She’d verge on too perfect if she didn’t have the odd immature and petulant moment too, but as it was, she was a lot of fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts

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

Cover of Shapes by Philip Ball Cover of Flow by Philip Ball Cover of Branches by Philip Ball

Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts — Shapes, Flow, Branches, Philip Ball

There’s a lot of info in these three books about patterns formed both by life and by other, non-living natural processes. Sometimes it got a little too much for me to process and I started glazing over — mostly when math came into it. EVen given that, it’s still a fascinating look about how patterns form, and a good note of caution to sound about genetic determinism. Just as the colours of a calico cat aren’t determined genetically — so a clone of one calico cat would not have the same patterns as the first — neither are many other patterns in nature, whether in pelt colour and pattern or the building of nests. Instead, there seem to be sets of rules built in: processes that will occur in all genetically normal members of a species, but which won’t produce the same pattern time and again.

It’s also a good reminder that even with Batesian mimicry, there’s no intent behind it. The genetic code just happens to code for proteins which work in a particular way, ultimately producing a particular pattern. That’s obvious when we see the way other natural systems create the same patterns — rivers, sand dunes, chemical reactions.

Worth reading, definitely. And personally, I was really intrigued to learn that it was Alan Turing who actually proposed some theories of how animals get their patterned fur. Not just a code-breaking genius, clearly. Individually, I might rate each of these three books a ‘3’, but together… a 4, I think.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 5 July, 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 (once it’s up, if it isn’t already) if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Dragonbone Chair by Tad WilliamsWell, a polite fiction says I’m currently reading all kinds of things, including (but not limited to) The Dragonbone Chair and The Godless and The Essex Serpent. But really, the only thing I’m actively reading is Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People, by Philip Ball. It’s popular science, supposedly, but so far it’s mostly been a survey of literature and myth that involves homunculi, Frankenstein’s monster, and such things. I’d like more on the science end, soon; I’m already over 100 pages in…

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Whose Body? by Dorothy L. SayersAll the books I’ve finished most recently are rereads: Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers; Bloodshot, by Cherie Priest; Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. All of them stand up pretty well to the reread, though I was a bit more impatient with Bloodshot this time — I still love the characters, but it does take some time to come to the point. Whose Body? is charming, of course — prompted by watching the Edward Petherbridge adaptation with my wife, who has finally seen the light re: Lord Peter through this means. And Ancillary Sword is great; I need to process what I want to say about it this time, though, cause I literally just read the last page.

What are you going to read next?

Cover of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky ChambersUsing Bunny DivinationTM, I’ve determined the next book to read is A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. Which I’ve been meaning to read for ages, so no arguments here.

Bunny divination, for the curious, involves catching one of my rabbits, placing them on the top floor of their cardboard castle, and seeing how long they take to jump out. Under 30 seconds, I was to read… I forget what. Over 30 seconds, and I had to read the Becky Chambers. The bunnies (Breakfast, in this case) have decided.

What are you reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 4 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

There’s no official Top Ten Tuesday theme this week, but I thought I’d post something anyway. Here’s ten things I need to know about people I like (and their books).

  1. Can you name a favourite? It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t, but one hopes you know the answer! I can’t, but if I was pressed I’d name The Goblin Emperor as one of my favourite recent books, and The Lord of the Rings or The Grey King for an older one.
  2. Do you dog-ear pages, use a bookmark, or just remember the page number? I’m not a fan of dog-earing, myself. I use bookmarks — more than one, usually. (Where I’ve read up to, and where I’d like to get to before I put the book down next.)
  3. Do you bend the spines, or keep your books pristine? Honestly, there’s arguments on both sides. I keep a lot of my books pristine, but there are some old beloved copies that aren’t.
  4. Do you buy second-hand books? Possibly you’d think I don’t, given that I do like to keep many of my books pristine. But actually, I don’t care as long as it’s consistent. Don’t bend just half the spine, ugh.
  5. What genre do you read? I’m pretty eclectic, myself, so I’ll often know at least some books in common with anybody. This just gives me a direction!
  6. Do you use the library? I love libraries, having volunteered in one myself and used them as a lifeline at times.
  7. Do you buy books at all? Some people only use libraries, and I don’t get that. I’m too impatient for new books!
  8. Do you believe that there are books everyone should read? Not actually sure where I stand on that; we could have a good chat about it. I think there are books that help you understand the world better — the Bible is so influential, for example; Shakespeare, too, in a different way — and it’s a good idea to read them. But then I don’t necessarily think it’s a must.
  9. Do you reread? I reread books a lot, and nearly always find something new to enjoy in them (or I find the familiarity comforting), but some people think there isn’t enough time in the world. I can get that, but I love to reread.
  10. Comics? I didn’t get into comics myself until a few years ago, really, and I get that they just aren’t for some people. But I do like to know if I can ramble about Marvel’s latest direction with someone or not…

Honestly, if I know all those things about someone, I feel like we’re already pretty close! Books are pretty darn important, yo.

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Review – Spaceman

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

Cover of Spaceman by Mike MassiminoSpaceman, Mike Massimino

I blame (or credit) my mother entirely with my interest in space and astronauts. I’m not the exploring type myself, but I love reading about those who have, and their unique experiences. Mike Massimino puts himself across as a fairly ordinary guy, from a fairly uninspiring background, who made good in the end despite not being the smartest, best prepared, most qualified, etc. Obviously, given the source, one has to keep a grain or two of salt in the mix to counter both self-deprecation and potential self-aggrandization, but mostly Massimino struck me as a straightforward sort of guy.

I actually found some parts of the story extremely touching. The thing that gets me about NASA and like ventures is the sense of family — the way the astronauts are there for each other and one another’s families. That’s definitely in evidence here, not just in Massimino’s accounts of his training and working life, but also in terms of his private life. His father’s cancer is treated with help from NASA people, and from the sound of it, half the staff contributed in terms of giving blood, platelets, etc. That section is rather touching.

Technical this memoir is not. There are a few bits of interest about Massimino’s training and adaptation to zero-G, etc, but mostly it’s about the path he took to get there — trying to correct his vision with lenses, dealing with classes he didn’t understand, etc. Which is not to say it’s not interesting, it’s just not popular science; it’s definitely a memoir.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Hate U Give

Posted 2 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this one; contemporaries are often not really my thing, and it did seem a bit long and daunting. But everyone gave it such good reviews, and it really is topical — a window into a world I don’t really get, being British and honestly fairly sheltered. Sometimes it felt a little unbelievable because of that — so many shootings? Gangs? The danger that seemed to hover around Starr’s life all the time? I mean, I know about it in theory; I’ve followed the trials surrounding the deaths of Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown… But it still seems so far away and weird to me.

Actually, I’d like a British-Muslim version of this book, in the sense of one which explores that community and how it interacts with our police, etc. Not just the ones who went to a private school like me, but less privileged ones. It’d probably be eye-opening.

I liked that this book was fairly even-handed; although the cop who shoots Starr’s friend is obviously not the good guy, there are good cops as well, including Starr’s uncle, who part raised her before her dad got out of prison. I don’t quite get the people complaining this is completely anti-police; it’s not. It’s anti-the-system, the one in which police can get away with things like this — like shooting a brown kid on a traffic stop because he reached into the car slightly and his hairbrush looked like a gun.

I also enjoyed Starr’s family; not always perfect, with her dad having been to prison and her parents arguing — but always there for her. It explores their family dynamics, including Starr’s half-brother and his siblings, in a way which allows for them to be flawed while denying that they’re dysfunctional in the way some people see black families.

I’ve seen people complain, too, about Starr’s sense of drama. Come on, she’s a teenager. And while Hailey is a bit… overdone — you could predict what came out of her mouth because it was all of the stereotypes of people saying ‘I’m not racist, but…’ — she’s still realistic in that, well, I think we all know someone who acts like that. Who leans on stereotypes and then claims she can’t be racist because she has a black friend.

I found The Hate U Give pretty absorbing, and I think it’s a good portrayal of life in the kind of community it portrays — the kind of community Angie Thomas seems to know intimately. It does seem to contain a lot of things other people consider to be stereotypes, but I’m gonna trust that Angie Thomas probably knows better than I do.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 1 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 18 Comments

Good morning, everyone! I’m back in Belgium with my bunnies and my wife, hurrah. And thankfully the weather is not trying to boil me alive at the moment.

I was going to say I don’t have any new books this week, but actually I got a last minute order in, so apparently I do.


Cover of The Wanderers by Meg Howrey Cover of The Space Between Stars by Anne Corlett Cover of Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

I was intrigued by The Wanderers after reading someone’s review on Litsy; The Space Between the Stars is imyril’s fault; I read Harari’s other book a while ago and quite enjoyed it.

Received to review:

Cover of Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Had me at “features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action.” Should be interesting!

Read this week:

Cover of Genomes and What To Make of Them by Barry Barnes Cover of Spaceman by Mike Massimino Cover of Dark North by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Cover of Walking on Knives by Maya Chhabra Cover of Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty Cover of Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

5 stars: The Hate U Give.
4 stars: Newt’s Emerald, Six Wakes and Shattered Minds.
3 stars: Dark North and Spaceman.
2 stars: Genomes and What to Make of Them and Walking on Knives.

Reviews posted: 

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Not something to read when you’re feeling pessimistic about the future of the human race and all the other creatures we impact. But very interesting and well written. 4/5 stars
The Emperor’s Railroad, by Guy Haley. Really strong narrative voice, and I’m definitely intrigued to read more about Quinn and his world. 4/5 stars
Dark North, by Gillian Bradshaw. Not my favourite book by Bradshaw, but she does write such good historical fiction. 3/5 stars
Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. A bit rambling and reluctant to address the real topic. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Best So Far. My favourite reads of 2017, so far.
WWW Wednesday. A little update on what I’m reading, and what I plan to read next.

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Review – Death on Earth

Posted 30 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death on Earth by Jules HowardDeath on Earth, Jules Howard

I was hoping for more from this book, I think. It glances into some of the issues covered in The Worm at the Core, which I also read recently — the anxieties we have about death, as a species, and how we handle it — but it backs away from any depth there. It sort of looks into decay and the reaction of other animals to death, but it doesn’t find much conclusive there, either. Honestly, I found it interesting enough to read at the time, but it seemed more like a musing about the process of trying (and failing) to write a book that’s really about death on Earth. I didn’t learn any new science or any cool facts, but I know all about Howard having a panic attack at an anti-ageing conference event and trying to teach his daughter about death.

You might find it entertaining, if that’s what you’re interested in, but it’s not really about death.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Dark North

Posted 29 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dark North by Gillian BradshawDark North, Gillian Bradshaw

Like all of Bradshaw’s work, this is a solid historical fiction, with a touch of romance. I found the romance aspect less compelling than in Alchemy of Fire, but I love the fact that Bradshaw based the story on a report of an Ethiopian soldier greeting the emperor during a visit to Britain, and the tiny piece of evidence that there were a company of Aurelian Moors in Britain at the right time. I really enjoy it when authors build a story around facts like that — like Rosemary Sutcliff and the mysterious Roman eagle that sparked The Eagle of the Ninth.

Bradshaw’s a great writer, though the main character was a little… annoying, I guess. He’s a good time guy; he does not want to take on responsibilities, and he doesn’t think through some of his actions. Also, he has a dark side. He’s not quite the unique character that some of Bradshaw’s other leads have been.

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough story, even if it’s not a favourite. If you enjoy historical fiction a la Rosemary Sutcliff, Gillian Bradshaw’s work will probably be just the ticket. I recommend Island of Ghosts to start with, though.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 28 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 6 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.

Cover of Six Wakes by Mur LaffertyWhat are you currently reading?

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty, and Shattered Minds, by Laura Lam. I’ve been looking forward to both for a while, and I’m enjoying them — though with Six Wakes I am kind of going “omg, give me the answer already!” because I’m impatient, and afraid that someone I like might have caused the mayhem. I’ll probably finish one or the other today; the plan is to finish Six Wakes, but Shattered Minds is technically a review copy, so I should finish that soon too.

Cover of Walking on Knives by Maya ChhabraWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Walking on Knives, by Maya Chhabra, yesterday. It’s a retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, with a lesbian couple at the end. I wish I liked it, but I actually found it a bit confusing that no one had names, and why/when people were even in love. Also, lots of consent issues, ugh.

I’ve also just finished Newt’s Emerald, by Garth Nix, which is adorable. It’s basically Georgette Heyer but with magic, which is obviously right up my street. Cover of Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix(Though the writing is a bit more modern and Garth Nix-ish, of course.)

What will you read next?

I’m thinking I’ll finally work on books I’ve started but not finished. Maybe I’ll get back to my reread of The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams. Otherwise I might read Thomas E. Sniegoski’s The Demonists, since I got approved for the sequel on Netgalley and haven’t actually read the first book yet! Should be fun, either way.

What’s everyone else been reading? I’m now back in Belgium, my computer’s not in for repairs, and I’m not way behind with work/studying, so hopefully I’m going to get to comment more on people’s posts!

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