Category: Reviews


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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Reading and rereading

Posted 19 October, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 5 Comments

I was thinking about the sort of content I can post here, and how to make sure there’s always some content going up at least once a week. I’ve pretty much decided that all reviews of ARCs will go up here, and any reviews of books I found particularly interesting. There’ll also be some giveaways, I’ll have my readathon progress posts here, and then there’ll be posts like this one: random topics related to books.

And what is this post about? Well, I was thinking today that I couldn’t actually pick my ten favourite books ever. But I could tell you the ten books/series I reread most. I am a rereader: it never actually occurred to me that was an odd thing until someone on Goodreads treated the idea with scorn. But while there’s so many books out there for me to get round to reading, there’s always more to find in the books I’ve already read — at least the good ones. So without further ado, and in no particular order because it already pains me to come up with a top ten in the first place…

(Well, okay, a bit extra ado — I’m adding links to reviews of these on Goodreads. If you have an account, I would super appreciate you clicking the like button there, if you do like them. It helps me get more ARCs, etc.)

#1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

As a kid, I loved The Hobbit, and agitated for the day when my mother would let me read LotR. When she finally did, I was hooked. I probably read it at least once a year ’til I was about sixteen, and then I sort of caught the general bug going round about the various things wrong with Tolkien and lost interest. For a while. It was Ursula Le Guin’s essays in The Wave in the Mind that got me thinking about Tolkien again, and rediscovering his work; it was my MA that really got me digging into it. And god, guys, there’s so much there. I can actually understand people who find it boring, people who are troubled by his (lack of) portrayals of women, of non-white people, etc. But the sheer scale of the world he created, the seriousness he treated it with, I can’t help but love. I’ve reread LotR twice this year, I think — and I’m partway through a third time.

Reviews (from when I read the three books in twenty-four hours!): The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

#2 – Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

Or probably just about anything by GGK. I actually usually have a problem getting into his books in the first place: his style takes some getting used to, for me, and some aspects of it annoy me (especially in his early novels). I love the world of Tigana, though, the characters and their intense feelings, the criticisms of colonialism that’re going on, and the way that he makes no promises of a happy ending. He walks a line of moral ambiguity quite well, allowing you to sympathise with both sides of the fight (at least in most cases; there is one unequivocal villain, but he isn’t really at the emotional heart of the story anyway).

Review.

#3 – The Dark is Rising Sequence, Susan Cooper

I suspect people who know me well are probably surprised this wasn’t the first one that came into my mind. I’m kind of surprised, too. I first experience The Dark is Rising through the BBC radio adaptation of the second book of the sequence — the cast was excellent, just perfect, and it gave me chills. I didn’t actually read the series until I was older, maybe about fifteen. And then I fell in love. It helps that the last two books are set in Wales. People who claim it’s morally black and white aren’t reading closely enough: there’s an absolutely lovely scene between John Rowlands and Will Stanton where they talk about that very issue, and conclude that while the Light and the Dark are like that, humanity is all shades in between.

The Arthurian elements help, too.

Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.

#4 – Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers

Particularly Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet first meet and where Harriet finally agrees to marry Peter, respectively. I have a huge soft spot for all forms of this: the books, the tv series, the radio adaptations… Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael were both such perfect Peters in different ways. When I was in hospital recovering from having my gallbladder removed, and I was having serious panic attacks (my blood oxygenation % was in the low 80s, I believe), they wouldn’t let my mother stay with me, so she put a Peter Wimsey audiobook on and left it by my pillow. I have no idea which book it was or even which narrator, though I think it was Edward Petherbridge, but I closed my eyes and focused on that and up came my blood oxygenation levels. Like magic. I love that Peter is mentally ill (PTSD), I love that he’s such an ass but he cares so much, I love his relationship with Harriet… the mysteries are second for me to the characters.

Selected reviews: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night.

#5 – Sunshine, Robin McKinley

If you can read this and not end up craving cinnamon rolls and all such things, I don’t think you’re human. I love that here we have a vampire who is a good guy and is still unsettling as anything. It’s not easy for him and Sunshine to get along — and Sunshine is a strong heroine and a real person who is scared and unsure and doesn’t know what the heck is going on, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes, she even does really stupid stuff. But you’re with her all the way, anyway.

Review.

#6 – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous

My partner refuses to read this on the grounds that if she didn’t like this, I’d probably break up with her. It’s not quite true, but I would be pretty upset. I didn’t think that much of it… and then I did a module devoted to it during my BA. We focused closely on the language, picking apart all of it for the rich tapestry of allusions and influence and… It’s just genius, and it’s awfully fun to read aloud, too. My favourite translation is probably the least accurate one, by Simon Armitage, but there are several other good ones. I own at least seven different translations, plus one with the original Middle English.

Selected reviews: Simon Armitage’s verse translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s verse translation, W.R.J. Barron’s prose translation.

#7 – The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

The first time I started reading this, I finished the first book that evening and pounced on the next book as soon as I could. I love the diversity in these books — race, gender, ability, sexuality, class… I just fell in love with the world right away, and never looked back. I’m less of a fan of her Dreamblood duology, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels are wonderful. She has a real knack with creating interesting narrators, and with telling a story that’s gripping and involving even if you don’t 100% like the characters. I would happily buy any of Jemisin’s work without even stopping to check the blurb, in future.

Reviews: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods.

#8 – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

It actually starts out fairly weak, but as Steinbeck found his voice, he began to make the stories really live for me. They’re amusing and tender and fresh all at once — and yes, freshness is kind of hard when you’re working in the Arthurian tradition, especially when you’re retelling a specific version (in this case, Malory). This is one of the few versions of the story where I sympathise with Guinevere and Lancelot. Steinbeck never finished or properly edited this, and yet it’s still so powerful… I’d be almost scared to read it if he’d finished it. I’d definitely cry.

Review.

#9 – FAKE, Sanami Matoh

This was one of the first series of manga I ever read, and one of the first LGBT stories I ever came across outside of fandom. I loved Dee and Ryo and the development of their relationship, and when I’m feeling down, I often feel tempted to grab the first volume and dive right back in. What I really liked is that it isn’t just about how much Dee wants to bone Ryo: they take care of each other, they have personal crises and work crises, and they fight crime. And they fall in love. And it’s funny.

(I don’t have a good review to link to, for this series.)

#10 – Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff

Technically, I’d be happy to read the whole series over and over again, but the arc from The Eagle of the Ninth is pretty tangential in this book — I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t notice it. I love the relationships in this book, the way that Gwenhwyfar and Arthur so honestly try to love one another, the way that Bedwyr and Arthur (and most of Arthur’s men, in fact), so palpably love one another. The intensity of that friendship… well, it can definitely be read as bordering on homoerotic. It’s also heart-wrenching, and just… the whole thing is beautiful.

Review.

And I could go on… I won’t, though. I will add two books that I suspect will make this list in future, though.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: I thought it was just gorgeous, the language and the ideas and the imagery and the relationships and the magic and, and, and…
A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge: It actually reminded me of The Night Circus, for a younger audience, in some undefinable way, that same sense of magic and wonder. I loved every scrap of it. I bought it on a whim and read it all in one go, and then started buying copies for everyone else — and asked for Hardinge’s other books for Christmas without even checking the blurbs, which is pretty rare for me. They’re still sat on my shelf, waiting for when I really deserve a treat…

The minute I post this, I will realise I’ve left someone off and agonise about who I could strike out to add them in. In fact, make that before I’ve even posted it — obviously Ursula Le Guin deserves to be in the list, probably more than a few of the others. The Earthsea Quartet is another of those series I could read over and over. My favourite thing about it is probably the way that throughout the stories, Le Guin recognises what she’s lacking (female characters, female power) and begins to critique her own work through adding to it.

You see what I did there? I snuck in thirteen books/series in all. Hah.

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