Review – Magic Bites

Posted 2 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites, Ilona Andrews

I wasn’t expecting very much of this one, despite hearing some good things about it. I mean, it’s always been hanging around on the shelves with the urban fantasy books, which mostly I enjoy in a brain candy sort of way. This was still very easy to read, but it had more world-building than I expected, and required the reader to do more work. It’s got interesting shapeshifter and vampire lore, most of which I haven’t seen anywhere else, and it’s a semi post-apocalyptic setting that’s been caused by magic. I was reminded a bit of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine with some of the world-building, although the vampires are not at all the same.

Kate Daniels, the lead, doesn’t seem particularly special as a character — there’s plenty of tough-talking mercenaries out there, male and female. There were quite a few points, though, where I was very pleased with her characterisation: she knew when to back down, she didn’t go into everything with all her strength but tried to hold back what she didn’t need to use, and despite being a tough-talking mercenary, she was decent towards other people.

Some parts of it didn’t come together for me very well — her motivation seemed to lose its focus halfway through, for example, and the bit about her being special in some way teases for more in later books, but makes some parts of this book a bit deus ex machina-like. The writing isn’t super, but I’m definitely intrigued by the world, and Kate has a lot of promise.

Curran, however, eh. No boundaries, despite all the stuff about shapeshifter control he loses his temper more than I’m comfy with, typical macho posturing crap a lot of the time. I really hope I wasn’t meant to like him, but I rather suspect I was. I wasn’t a huge fan of Dr. Crest, either; he honestly seemed tacked on to be a red herring.

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Review – Tamburlaine Must Die

Posted 1 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise WelshTamburlaine Must Die, Louise Welsh

I’m not at all sure what I think of this one. It was recommended to me as part of a challenge as probably not being my usual thing, but it’s not too far off, really. I mean, I’ve got Bruce Holsinger’s A Burnable Book on the go, and that involves Chaucer and Gower… Anyway, I think I might have appreciated this more if I could remember more about Kit Marlowe’s death. Pretty much all I could remember was the line from Shakespeare, “a great reckoning in a little room”, thought to refer to Marlowe’s death (for bonus points, it was said in the rich tones of the man who lectured us on Shakespeare in my first year of university).

The style is sort of faux-Elizabethan, and sometimes that slips a bit or rings false, but mostly it was a smooth read. I finished it, though, feeling I’d missed something. I didn’t quite get the connection between everything that happened and Marlowe’s actual death. Unless it was meant to be just a distraction? Or maybe I’m missing some of the known facts about Marlowe’s death that make it all make sense.

It’s still an interesting read, using its Elizabethan context and the known facts of the situation and weaving a story out of them which includes violence, blasphemy, illicit sex and spying.

On the purely aesthetic front, having the entire thing in italics was not a smart decision. It really annoyed me, in fact. Italics are harder to read for a lot of people, me apparently included, not to mention the difficulties someone with a sight impairment could have. Just… why?

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Review – Render Unto Caesar

Posted 31 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Render Unto Caesar by Gillian BradshawRender Unto Caesar, Gillian Bradshaw

I struggled with this one for a long time. Much as I’ve enjoyed other books by Gillian Bradshaw (I think I gave Island of Ghosts 5/5 stars!), this one really didn’t work for me. It’s easy enough to read, and the research and detail seems as solid as I’ve come to expect from Bradshaw, but I just didn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t get involved with the characters or plot, which is too bad considering it involves figures like a female gladiator.

I kept putting it aside for when I felt more like it, but months have passed without me being any more ‘in the mood’, and I’ve even read another Bradshaw book in the time which had similarities in terms of the tone and pace, but which I loved and read compulsively.

I’d say I’ll give this another chance someday, but I think I’ve given it a pretty fair one already. Bradshaw had me enjoying even a gutting of ‘Bisclaveret’; this just didn’t work for me. Time to cut my losses and move on to Bradshaw’s other work, which I will most likely enjoy.

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Review – Skulk

Posted 30 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Skulk by Rosie BestSkulk, Rosie Best

I couldn’t get into this one enough to enjoy it. I liked the atypical protagonist, or at least the idea of her — I liked that she wasn’t stick thin. Her mother seemed more than a bit like a cartoon villain, though, even though I know such mothers do exist in real life. It just didn’t ring true, somehow.

I did like the fact that all the shapeshifters are urban creatures — no wolves or bears or wildcats in the middle of the city, here. That aspect worked well, although the reason for their existence didn’t stand out. That’s pretty much my problem with the whole thing: the book barely stands out. I’ve seen these protagonists before, I’ve seen these antagonists before. The details, like Meg’s physical type and the types of shifter, seemed interesting, but I didn’t find anything else below that which interested me.

It’s not bad, just… boring.

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Review – Dead Ground

Posted 30 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dead Ground by Chris AmiesDead Ground, Chris Amies

Got this from LibraryThing FirstReads, though I think it was actually originally out in 2002 or so. It’s quite a dry story in tone, despite the body count: there’s something detached and distant about it. I didn’t really feel for any of the characters (and wondered a bit about the whole “going native” theme, and about the choice of white Europeans being used as avatars of these ancient Polynesian gods, instead of, you know, Polynesians).

The most interesting thing was that Polynesian folklore, and that was pretty much what I kept reading for. That is something fresh and different in fantasy, in my experience at least. I think that’s pretty much the only thing I’d recommend this book for, though. Otherwise, it just felt bland.

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Review – The Normans

Posted 29 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Normans: From Raiders to Kings by Lars Brownworth The Normans: From Raiders to Kings, Lars Brownworth

I thought I knew a decent among about the Normans. I mean, I’ve read a couple of books focusing on Normandy’s rulers, and obviously I don’t think a British schoolchild gets all the way through education without getting the date 1066 hammered into them and at least a vague idea about William the Conqueror and the Domesday Book.

But! This actually goes a bit further and looks at other Norman rulers, who pushed into Italy and Sicily — something that I wasn’t really aware of as stemming from Norman origins. I’ve read bits about this before, but never from this perspective. I knew nothing about the descent of the family or the web of feuds between them, Byzantium, various popes, and the German kingdom/s of the time.

All in all, pretty interesting, and well-written. I’m not sure about “witty”, which another review mentions, but it isn’t a chore to read. It does seem to have a reasonable number of sources and footnotes, which is another thing that makes me wary when it comes to popular histories. All in all, glad I won this from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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Review – Night of Cake and Puppets

Posted 29 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini TaylorNight of Cake and Puppets, Laini Taylor

Night of Cake and Puppets is a short story/novella about two of the side characters from the main Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. It’s not required reading, if you’re a fan, but if you’re impatiently waiting for Dreams of Gods and Monsters, it might hit the spot.

I didn’t find Zuzana and Mik all that inspiring as main characters — they couldn’t have carried a novel for me, at least not as they’re seen here — but it is very sweet and I enjoyed the quirkiness. I agree with another review I saw somewhere that mostly, there’s a problem with the fact that it’s a very straightforward romance. There’s no mystery or angst, which wouldn’t fly in the main trilogy, but it is a sweet little thing of its own.

Still, I can’t rate it as highly as the actual trilogy.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 29 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 36 Comments

It’s Monday as I’m starting to assemble this post, and I already have two reservations to pick up from the library, so I think I can confidently say this is going to be a busy week. Which is just the way I like it. So, as usual for a Saturday morning, here’s my Stacking the Shelves post for the meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

Review copies

Cover of Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Bought (fiction)

Cover of Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach Cover of The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

Bought (non-fiction)

Cover of My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek Cover of Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane Cover of The Spark of Life by Frances Ashcroft

Library (fiction)

Cover of Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman Cover of Hounded by Kevin Hearne Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Library (non-fiction)

Cover of Dry Store Room No. 1 by Richard Fortey Cover of Darwin's Ghost by Steve Jones Cover of Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey

I’m most excited about the Richard Fortey book, I think. I’ve already read the one from last week and the first one in this post. I really like his style. Also glad to have finally found a book on dinosaurs — I’ve read one of Switek’s books before and quite liked it.

For the fiction, I’m most interested in Fortune’s Pawn, by Rachel Bach. Even if my Welsh-orientated brain reads her name as ‘little Rachel’. My sister loved the book, and Kameron Hurley recently mentioned it in a list of recs. Also curious about, if wary of, Magic Bites — I’ve never read Ilona Andrews before and I don’t know if it’ll be my thing. But I enjoyed Charlaine Harris when I didn’t expect to, so!

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Review – Marketing the Moon

Posted 28 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Marketing the Moon by David Meerman Scott, Richard Jurek, Eugene A. CernanMarketing the Moon, David Meerman Scott, Richard Jurek, Eugene A. Cernan

Lots of photos and so on in here! I imagine it’d be a big glossy book to own, although I just had it from Netgalley. It’s more about marketing the space program, as you’d expect, than about the actual space aspect itself, though there’s plenty of snippets of information, and it does look at the astronauts themselves as part of that marketing effort.

If you’re an Apollo enthusiast, it’s worth picking up, I’d say. It’s certainly accessible and informative.

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Review – Black Dog

Posted 28 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Black Dog, by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog, Rachel Neumeier

I quite liked this one. I had the author on my blog for a blog tour post a while ago, here, and I was sure I’d finish this in no time. But, life happened, I got a job, and this lingered tantalisingly on my Kobo, just waiting for me to finish it off and put together my thoughts.

So, I originally requested it because of the comparisons to Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, which I think are actually fairly apt. It has an interesting take on werewolf mythology, in the same way that McKinley did something a bit different with her vampires, and a magic system and world building that work well together. There’s even hints of a magic-related disaster where vampires run amok.

But, it’s also got an intriguing cast of characters who, gasp, are not all white. Natividad and her brothers are great, and their relationship seems more important than the other relationships in the book. Natividad doesn’t automatically fall for Tall, Dark and Sexy, and in fact there’s a lot of issues around that which have to be worked out.

My only problem with Black Dog is that I did have trouble picking it back up once I put it down. It builds tension well, but it’s hard to jump back in at that point when you’ve been busy. It then starts to feel quite slow. Still, very enjoyable and, importantly, something a bit different. I don’t know about the YA label — goodness knows I hardly ever agree with people about that — but it’s a good story.

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