Category: Reviews


Review – Seven Markets

Posted 31 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Seven Markets by David HoffmanThe Seven Markets, David Hoffman

I got this as an ARC from Netgalley far too long ago. If it hadn’t been a Netgalley book, I don’t know if I’d have finished it. Maybe I would’ve; I’m stubborn like that at times. I did actually enjoy this until about halfway through, but then it stopped obeying its own internal rules, stopped explaining things — quite frankly, it stopped making sense. The idea of a story that melds fantasy and science fiction is interesting to me, so I didn’t dismiss it out of hand for that, but… everything just happened, without rhyme or reason as far as I could tell.

The structure was ambitious too, and again, I wouldn’t automatically discount it. But that combined badly with the plot, making it unintelligible. The idea of a plot of seven chapters, each following three days in each hundred years, sounds fascinating. But the jumps between were just too much.

The characters… I was ready to like Ellie, and her love for Joshua, very much. In the first chapter, it’s warm and feeling. Almost a nostalgic smile at a first love. But that warmth just dropped out of it, and for me Ellie turned out to be very unpleasant.

It’s not a bad book, per se, but I do think it was unsuccessful.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Zealot

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Zealot by Reza AslanZealot, Reza Aslan

I got access to Zealot from Netgalley before the now famous interview on Fox (which you can view here), though that interview did make me more interested in reading the book. There have been responses to that interview since that somewhat cast doubt on Reza Aslan’s integrity in that interview, stating that he doesn’t have the qualifications and background he claims to have, etc. I’m not really going to refer to those, but here’s a link to one of them in case you’re interested.

It might also be helpful to note that I’m not a Christian, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and I think that the gospels are for the most part a beautiful story which can help teach us how to live. The “real” Jesus needn’t even have existed to be an example. I have a fairly literary take on scriptures of all stripes, so Reza Aslan isn’t stepping on my toes here.

I approached Zealot with some doubt, in any case, because it sounded too wonderfully inflammatory to be really an unbiased scholarly attempt. I actually liked Aslan’s writing style, and this felt less like a scholarly work, closer to a semi-fictionalised biography or something of that sort. If it was a story, it was somewhat dry; if it was a scholarly work, it was too informal. I also very much missed the presence of footnotes: there are some notes at the end of the book, but in the ebook they’re not easy to access and they seem to contain almost as much commentary as the original chapters!

There is a separate bibliography which is extensive and clearly laid out, but… overall, I can’t shake the feeling that we are being presented Reza Aslan’s personal convictions about what research he has done, not meticulous careful and, what’s more, original research. The actual areas where he quoted something and explained why it helped form his views seem actually quite few and far between, and his judgements on their reliability a bit patchy.

An interesting read, and a well-written book, but not something I can place too much faith in.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Between Two Thorns

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Between Two Thorns by Emma NewmanBetween Two Thorns, Emma Newman

Technically, I’ve both received this to review on Netgalley and received a copy as a competition prize from Angry Robot, so it’s high time I got round to it. My review will, of course, be an honest one.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t seem to pull together at the end — instead of the first book of a trilogy, it felt like the first part of a book. It’s not even exactly a cliffhanger ending, it’s just… some things wrap up, but most things don’t, leaving several plot threads dangling and a major mystery unsolved. I’m interested in reading the rest of the trilogy, but this way of ending the book didn’t feel right.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about this book is the world-building, the Fae world and our world, and Exilium. There were times when that felt rather like other books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone came to mind pretty strongly during the Shopkeeper chapters, and Tad Williams’ War of the Flowers comes to mind as a comparison too), but it was intriguing enough to keep my attention. The characters, less so — Cathy is made a bit too average, I think, and Will a bit too perfect, but in that cocky self-assured way that never fails to irritate. I want to know what happens to them, but I’m not convinced I care.

There’s nothing about this book (other than the ending issues I mentioned above) that makes me dislike it, but I think my feelings on it will alter (or not) depending on what the other two books of the trilogy are like. Unfortunately, I don’t have Any Other Name, so that might be a while from now.

Review on Goodreads.

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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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