Category: Reviews


Review – Shattered Minds

Posted 14 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Shattered Minds by Laura LamShattered Minds, Laura Lam

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 20th June 2017

Shattered Minds is set in the same world as False Hearts, with endless possibilities for body modification and indulging all your fantasies, and no crime. Sort of.

Naturally, both books give the lie to that, but especially this one, exploring the world of an addicted woman struggling with her urges to kill, and how she ends up exposing a company’s lies for what they are — and getting back her whole self, since it turns out it was that very company who programmed her and made her the way she is. It also features a group of hackers who are trying to get the word out, whose paths converge with hers.

I love the diversity of Lam’s world — Dax, who becomes a love interest, is trans and Native American; Raf has a boyfriend who’s a cop… This isn’t as warm a read as False Hearts — lacking the love between the twin protagonists that drives that story — but the characters made up for it, drawing me in and making me wonder how they would ever all fit together. Even Roz, the villain of the piece, is compelling in her way — I have so many more questions about her and what drives her.

Basically, if you’re looking for another thriller like False Hearts in a nearish-future sci-fi setting, Shattered Minds delivers, with more than a dash of the Firefly feel (circa Serenity, though; less funny and fuzzy than some of the episodes): disparate group of wanted criminals takes down a mind-hijacking superpower of their world.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Six Wakes

Posted 13 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Six Wakes by Mur LaffertySix Wakes, Mur Lafferty

This is rather different to Mur Lafferty’s other books, The Shambling Guide to New York City and The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Different isn’t bad, though if you’re looking for the same humour and light-heartedness, that’s not so much in evidence (although I’d argue that yes, there is wit). It’s a fascinating locked room mystery in a sci-fi setting, essentially, where the locked room is a generation ship (ish, actually people can survive by being clones or through being in stasis).

I found it riveting, though I guessed early on who the culprit was because I just didn’t latch onto him at all, and wanted it to be him. But half the mystery is also in how the characters are related to each other, and how they got to where they are, and that wasn’t always as easy to figure out. I didn’t love the captain, either, but I did find her and the other characters intriguing — it’s only the culprit who totally didn’t interest me, which might be an individual thing (or might be a giveaway, if other people reacted the same).

That said, while there’s a culprit on board — of course — it’s all part of a larger plot, and you have to figure that out too. And as they say of the MCU: “Everything is connected.”

On top of all that, there’s also some introspecting about identity, brain hacking, the implications of cloning… I found it all entertaining and intriguing, and I’m very glad I managed to get my hands on a copy despite it not being very easily available in the UK (at least when I read it).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Walking on Knives

Posted 10 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Walking on Knives by Maya ChhabraWalking on Knives, Maya Chhabra

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date is 26th July 2017

When the warning says “Walking on Knives contains some explicit content and a scene with dubious sexual consent”, it’s not kidding. I know there’s a whole debate about whether you can say consent is “dubious”, but I think I see why in this case — in both cases the characters explicitly consent, in pursuit of a goal, without actually wanting the sex itself.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I buy any of the emotions here. It has the potential to be dark and twisty, but because I don’t believe in any of the love stories, it doesn’t work; it’s still too much in the fairytale style, with none of the characters named. Worse, it gets confusing between all the epithets; ‘the little mermaid’, ‘the sea-witch’, ‘the strange woman’… and then all the ‘she did this and she did that’. In the end, I just… nah.

Honestly, I feel most sympathetic toward the Prince. I wanted to root for the little mermaid and the sea-witch’s sister, but that didn’t feel real. The Prince’s conflict was the most real part of it, and I felt like he deserved more of an ending.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – NeuroTribes

Posted 9 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Neurotribes by Steve SilbermanNeuroTribes, Steve Silberman

This is a bit of a slog to read, because it spends a lot of time lingering on details that you may or may not feel are relevant. It goes into the lives of the people who ‘discovered’ autism and described it clinically, much more than it goes into the lives of actual autistic people, and there’s one chapter I found rather troubling which follows the family of an autistic child. It focuses on their anguish and confusion, and their increasingly desperate attempts to “treat” their son with whatever unpleasant, pseudo-scientific methods they could find. By the end, I was desperate to hear that someone had actually ever asked the child what effect it had on him. (As far as I can tell, nobody did.) Those particular parents weren’t extreme, but nonetheless, I got very tired of their desperation to have a “normal” child.

It also does some retrospective diagnosing of a couple of scientists and thinkers from days before there was such a diagnosis. I’m always a bit iffy on that: there do seem to be good grounds to make those judgements, but… most of the people I know now don’t know much about what goes on in my head and why I react the way I do. I don’t want them diagnosing me once I’m dead. Still, at least it does provide autistic models and heroes for people now.

I’m also a little leery of the ubiquity of being on the spectrum in Silberman’s view. Lots of fandom, lots of engineers, maybe even most in the picture he’s painting — it’s a stereotype of fandom and of STEM that I haven’t necessarily found to be true. And fandom hasn’t been so very welcoming of actual neurodiverse people, either. If it’s ever been the perfect home for them, it isn’t now.

All in all, though, I did find the book interesting, and the perspective on neurodiversity as something to be accommodated and used productively is one that’s definitely timely. Despite my criticisms, I found it an interesting book — and it definitely treats autism as a spectrum, touching all kinds of people. This definitely isn’t the attitudes of Autism Speaks: instead, Silberman urges understanding, accommodation and respect.

Rating: 4/5

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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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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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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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