Category: Reviews


Review – Birthright

Posted 5 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Birthright by Missouri ValinBirthright, Missouri Vaun

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 14th February 2017

Birthright is a fun, fast-moving story of a sort typical in fantasy: the lost heir to a throne taken by a tyrant. And this version is a fun example of the genre, with strong female characters coming out of your ears — and falling in love with each other, too. The love story is at least as important to the plot as the lost heir, which is worth keeping in mind; it motivates the way the end of the story shakes out, and takes up a good amount of the narration. I enjoyed that though Aiden is boyish and Kathryn more feminine, there’s no stereotyping — both can fight, both can rule, both know what they’re doing.

There are a couple of moments where I felt things rushed by a little too fast — the connection between the two characters grows very quickly in just a couple of scenes — and where I’d have liked a bit more depth, like the characters of Frost and of Gareth, or even Rowan. Without more background, for example, Kathryn’s jealous moment made little sense, especially since how we got to that moment felt a little contrived.

Nonetheless, it’s fun and has a happy ever after, and I’d definitely recommend it to people looking for lesbian fantasy.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Foxglove Summer

Posted 4 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Foxglove Summer by Ben AaronovitchFoxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch

Once again, this book takes a step back from the main action. It’s not that the events of Broken Homes aren’t alluded to, because they are. In the background, there’s a lot of stuff going on with tracking down Lesley and the Faceless Man. But the main action of the plot is a police procedural dealing with some missing children. I wasn’t really surprised that this book brought in the concept of a changeling child, but it did manage to give the whole idea a couple of twists that did surprise me.

For me, both the strength and weakness of the book is the lack of progression in that main series plot, and the absence of many of the supporting characters. There’s no Lesley to make Peter do the proper policing thing, and there’s no Nightingale for backup. Which leaves Peter on his own, thinking for himself, and showing that actually, he doesn’t need those two. He also keeps showing that though he might not be as good a copper as Lesley, who never misses a beat, he’s a good policeman because he’s a good man. And this book reminds us of the people Nightingale and Peter are meant to be working for — ordinary people who need protection — rather than against (mysterious practioners of unclear motive).

I’m definitely ready for more of the main plot now, but the respite from it wasn’t bad either.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Disappearing Spoon

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

Cover of The Disappearing Spoon by Sam KeanThe Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon is not quite as entertaining to me as Sam Kean’s book on neuroscience, but it’s still reasonably fun and definitely an easy read. There’s all kinds of random facts, and he makes things like electron shells very clear — even for me, with my brain’s stubborn refusal to grasp it all. He writes with humour and enthusiasm, pulling out interesting characters and discoveries from the history of the Periodic Table and its elements.

I’m just not as into chemistry/physics as I am biology. Even organic chemistry. I should be, but, alas. So I found that this dragged a bit — for me. It’d probably be unfair to assume it’d drag for you as well, if you’re actually a fan of chemistry.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Secret Library

Posted 2 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Secret Library by Oliver TearleThe Secret Library, Oliver Tearle

This is a beautifully presented book, at least in the hardback — the dustcover is lovely, with a keyhole cut into the front and edged with silver, and the book is nicely bound. It’s not quite as meta as the binding of Keith Houston’s The Book, but it’s still a lovely object that will make a good gift for book lovers of your acquaintance.

In terms of content, it’s fairly shallow: it’s a whistlestop tour, as it says several times, so the facts here are more on the level of trivia than anything in-depth. If you’d like a survey of literature and weird facts relating to literature and literary figures, it’s a good one. It made for a good book to read on the train, too, as you could easily dip in and out of it. There was no need to keep track of things too closely.

I think I hoped for more, but honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Death at Victoria Dock

Posted 1 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry GreenwoodDeath at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood

Another fun outing with Phryne, this one opening with a young man dying in Phryne’s arms. That gives us a driven, cold, angry Phryne. It’s always fun to see Phryne shocked right out of her comfort zone and realising that death can touch those around her, and this book gives us a Phryne who is almost (but not quite) out of her depth, with the kidnap of Dot and… well, everything else that happens.

I did find it a little too dramatic this time around, though. Anarchy! Guns! Seances! It’s all a bit sensational, and while I know that’s what I’m likely to get with a Phryne novel, still… this one definitely doesn’t have the cosy feel of some of the others, and there’s a real sense of peril in places which is at odds with the pretty clothes, sexual liberation and epic spreads at lunch and dinner.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – What If?

Posted 28 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of What If by Randall MunroeWhat If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, Randall Munroe

What If? is a fun outing in which the author of xkcd answers weird science questions while ignoring the implausibility of those situations ever arising. So we get things like “what if all the rain from a cloud fell in one big droplet” and “what if Earth started expanding” — and Munroe answers them, rummaging through scientific papers and obscure experimental results to find out his closest guess at what would happen. I can’t really speak for his science in most places (only the DNA question was really down my street), but given how pedantic the internet can be, I’m sure Munroe did his absolute best to find an answer that would be, if not incontestable, at least not easily dismissed.

The whole thing is illustrated with Munroe’s usual stick figures, and I still remain completely baffled as to how the combination of his stick figures and his lettering can imbue things with feeling. It makes no sense. And yet the Moon promising to help the Earth start spinning again? Gah. Moon, I love you!

He also has a humorous tone and a clear way of explaining, so despite the weird situations that he examines, it pretty much all makes sense… though I took his equations for granted, and any other calculations.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – An Artificial Night

Posted 26 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuireAn Artificial Night, Seanan McGuire

I enjoy these books a heck of a lot, but I do agree with a lot of the criticism I’m seeing about Toby. She refuses to be helped, she makes everything harder than it needs to be, and she’s not remotely honest with herself about her own motivations for… anything, but mostly her heroism. I’m sort of waiting to see it get someone that she’s allegedly trying to protect killed, just because she won’t think in shades of grey. There are no teeth in her constant desire to protect Quentin, for example — he comes through just fine physically, despite her every statement that he’s going to get killed. It’s remarkably bloodless in that sense, in this book in particular — there was a bit more of a price in A Local Habitation.

That said, I enjoy the lore of this book a lot. Blind Michael is creepy as heck, the use of nursery rhymes and the Tam Lin ballad is a delight, and the Luideag gets a pretty big part to play. We see more of faerie and the rules that bind them, and we get to explore another world.

I enjoy the series a lot, but I’m not sure about the people I know who sneer about, say, Ilona Andrews in comparison. I see a lot of the same tropes in action, and Kate Daniels is more self-aware than October Day. They’re both fun urban fantasy, using different lore in fascinating ways… but nope, Seanan McGuire’s Toby isn’t somehow more literary. If you like this series, you’ll probably also like the Kate Daniels series.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Diamond Dogs

Posted 25 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Diamond Dogs by Alastair ReynoldsDiamond Dogs, Alastair Reynolds

Diamond Dogs is a really effective novella, for my money. I reread it recently, but I remembered the key points from the first time I’d read it — a twisty story that got under my skin. There’s lots of little references and clues to point you to what the story is going to do, and there’s plenty of worldbuilding and detail to keep you wondering. It helps to know a little bit about the larger universe of Reynolds’ books, just for background… but it’s not necessary.

It’s creepy and psychological and well structured. It’s just one of those novellas which perfectly gets under the skin, scratches that itch, etc, etc. I won’t give away anything else…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Scarlet

Posted 24 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Scarlet by A.C. GaughenScarlet, A.C. Gaughen

I wanted to love this. It’s Robin Hood, and it puts a female character at the heart of the band, working directly with Robin as capably as any of the guys. In fact, she is one of the guys — she’s Will Scarlet. The idea of a woman becoming part of the band in disguise isn’t a new one — Marian has joined the band in the disguise of a page, there’s Djaq in the BBC’s Robin Hood series, etc. I’m not sure if it’s ever been Will Scarlet before, but it’s a known and loved trope.

Honestly, I’m not sure how well it works here. Everyone and their mother seems to know that Scarlet’s a girl, and it isn’t hard at all to guess about her past and her real identity — even for people within the story. I know this is YA, but I’d still hoped for a bit more subtlety, if not mystery. I was pretty uncertain about the Robin-John-Scarlet love triangle, though it does have its interesting moments.

(And horrifying ones. There’s a scene where Robin calls Scarlet a whore for basically no reason. I couldn’t believe in the fascination of him from that point on. I’m also really over the abusive relationship between Scarlet and a character from her past.)

There’s also interesting stuff about Scarlet’s character: her difficulty with eating when people around her are starving, her coarse ways contrasted with her care for the people around her, her prickliness at the same time as she badly wants to belong.

What really killed it for me, though, was the narration. Given her actual identity, there’s no reason for her to talk like a commoner… and she doesn’t even talk like a commoner. Some of it doesn’t make grammatical sense in any dialect I know. Instead, it’s just faux-vernacular that might fool someone with no experience of dialect, but doesn’t fool me. And the other characters, for all that they have lower born backgrounds, don’t talk like her at all. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

Overall, I just couldn’t settle in and enjoy it, even if I tried to keep in mind that it’s YA, I’m rather over-versed in Robin Hood lore, etc, etc. I’m not going to continue the series. I’d probably give this one star, but I was curious enough to finish it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Virus Hunt

Posted 23 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Virus Hunt by Dorothy H. CrawfordVirus Hunt, Dorothy H. Crawford

It’s been a little too long since I read this for me to review it effectively, but I definitely found it a fascinating read. Not only does it go into the various theories of how AIDs hopped between primates and humans, but it goes into the evidence for that in terms of the different strains of HIV — and their virulence in humans. There’s a lot of data here, and I think it could be overwhelming for someone who isn’t that interesting, but I found it fascinating.

If you’re looking for a social history of the disease, this isn’t where you want to look, though. It’s very much about the virology: tracking down the point of zoonosis, and figuring out how the various SIVs are related to our HIVs. It even illuminates the fact that there are various strains of HIV in the human population, something I didn’t actually know — I was under the impression that HIV jumped to humans once, and that one strain spread widely. Instead, there are actually some differing strains, with differing degrees of virulence.

All in all, pretty darn fascinating, as long as you’re ready for a wild epidemiological ride. Makes a very good supplement to the less technical view of David Quammen’s Spillover and the way it covered HIV.

Rating: 4/5

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