Category: Reviews


Review – Swords of the Six

Posted 29 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Swords of the Six by Scott AppletonSwords of the Six, Scott Appleton

I got this on Netgalley a while ago in exchange for an honest review. (Can you tell I’m trying to catch up?) I was a bit dubious about it from the start — mostly I agreed to review it so I could tell my sister if it was any good: she loves anything involving dragons. But it’s pretty much all that’s bad about epic fantasy: overwritten, full of epic battle scenes that convey little plot and less emotion (because you haven’t got to know the characters first).

It’s not too rife with mistakes of a grammatical nature (though some of the attempts at “ye olde English” didn’t read right), but it’s just… not my thing. Too simplistic. It’s like the author knew that he needed a hook, and figured a huge battle scene with epic displays of courage and loyalty would do that. Well, yes, maybe, if I’d known who the characters were, what the stakes were, what was going on at all.

Not something I’d pick up by choice if I got to pick it up in a bookshop and flick through.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – A Gift Upon the Shore

Posted 29 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren A Gift Upon the Shore, M.K. Wren

I received this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I really wanted and expected to like it; it’s a reissue of a book published in 1990, and offers a more female viewpoint on the story of nuclear apocalypse and survival, even regrowth. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it: the pace is slow, the writing feels stodgy, and it feels more than a bit judgemental about Christianity — or Christians, at least. I don’t see any reason why the more Christian a character professes to be, the more dogmatic and intolerant they behave. I’m very close to some very serious, devout Christians: whatever they believe about me (the fact that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, the fact that I have a same-sex partner), they treat me with compassion and understanding.

As for the writing, it’s little repetitive tics that give it the sense of stodginess and clumsiness. Every other chapter for at least the first quarter of the book starts by telling us what ‘Mary Hope’ is doing — bludgeoning the reader over the head with that pointed surname. To me, the structure of alternating present first person and past third person chapters felt clumsy too: quite often the one introduces the other, and yet little happens in either to justify taking up a whole chapter, let alone two.

I like the idea, but I think it would have been better served by simplicity of language, structure and style.

Review on Goodreads.

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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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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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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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Review – Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight

Posted 20 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Marvel's Captain Marvel vol. 1 with Carol Danvers Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, Emma Rios

I think I’m completely new to Captain Marvel — I’ve heard bits about her, and about the original Mar-Vell, but I haven’t read a comic featuring Carol Danvers yet as far as I can remember. If I have, and I’ve forgotten, shame on me, but this makes for a great introduction: I fell right in love with the character. She’s unabashedly completely kickass, she’s gorgeous (the art is gorgeous, though I preferred Dexter Soy’s work to Emma Rios’), she cares, and I don’t think she knows how to give up.

I loved how jam-packed with amazing women this issue is. Some of this was obviously more difficult to get than others, since I didn’t really know Carol’s origin story or abilities, but I enjoyed her relationship with Tracy — the last couple of pages are awesome for that, funny and sweet at the same time — and with Helen Cobb, and there’s nothing difficult about the concept of the Banshee Squad (who practically deserve their own comic).

My main complaint?

Make it longer! I want more of Carol’s badassery.

Review on Goodreads.

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