Review – Mystery Mile

Posted 12 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Mystery Mile, by Margery AllinghamMystery Mile, Margery Allingham

Didn’t expect to read this book so soon or all in one go, but I was having trouble sleeping, so I figured, why not? It’s very obviously a cousin of Sayers’ Lord Peter (Campion could, in fact, be Peter’s cousin), although in a more satirical vein. Albert Campion is a pretty close analogue of Peter Wimsey, complete with a number of idiosyncrasies, and Lugg (although of a decidedly more criminal bent than Bunter) shares some characteristics with Lord Peter’s man.

It’s still fun, even though it’s more or less mocking one of my favourite series in many ways — it manages to be a story on its own, too. It didn’t involve me emotionally, but I did read it straight through, in one go, so there’s that going for it. I did find the mystery a little bit disjointed/incoherent: it helped that I’d read a summary somewhere before, but some of the events seemed pretty random.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough that I might pick up more, but not enough that I’m going to be in a hurry. Allingham was a capable writer, but Campion’s not interesting enough to me to follow him compulsively.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 11 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 29 Comments

Well, I’ve bought my first new books of 2014, and I’ve got a bunch of ARCs, so this post will be more exciting than I expected…

See Stacking the Shelves at Tynga’s Reviews to see what this is all about and find other people’s posts!

Dead tree

Cover of The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory Cover of The Atrocity Exhibition by JG Ballard Cover of Through the Language Glas by Guy Deutscher Cover of The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence

ARCs

Cover of Dawn of Swords by David Dalglish Cover of Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins Cover of The City by Stella Gemmell Cover of Red Sonja, by Gail Simone Cover of The Waking Engine by David Edison Cover of The Palace Job, by Patrick Weekes Cover of Romulus Buckle and the City of FoundersCover of Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War

Of the books I bought myself, I think I’m probably most interested in Through the Language Glass, though I have some academic interest in The White Queen (I’m generally interested in the portrayal of real queens in fiction, and the interaction between their depiction in fiction and the real nobility). My partner bought me that one!

Of the ARCs, I’ve been keeping an eye on Stella Gemmell’s The City, since I enjoyed her husband’s work, which I believe she had some input on. Red Sonja is intriguing, since I’ve never read a Gail Simone comic but I’ve heard good things about her work, and I’ve never read anything about Red Sonja before.

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Review – Why Evolution is True

Posted 10 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 18 Comments

Cover of Why is Evolution True by Jerry CoyneWhy Evolution is True, Jerry A. Coyne

This is a suggested book related to one of my current classes on Coursera, so I decided to pick it up. I already believe in evolution, so I can’t judge on whether it’s convincing — I already know that evolution by natural selection is mathematically inevitable, and I know of a lot of the supporting evidence.

Still, this is the kind of book that produces all sorts of titbits that you didn’t know before, and which lays things out so clearly it helps you understand how to explain it to other people (which, to my mind, means a deeper understanding of the theory — if you can explain it, there are fewer grey areas).

Overall, it’s clearly written, with lots of supporting diagrams and so on where it’s useful, and a good set of footnotes and suggestions for further reading. I found it interesting, too; perhaps not for a person with a science background to begin with, but for me (humanities background, science interest) it was easy but not boringly so.

Interestingly, he also touches a little on why people find it hard to accept evolution, and answers some of those objections, too — for example, why our behaviour isn’t fully dictated by our genes, why morality and ethics aren’t dismantled in any way by evolution.

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Review – 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels

Posted 9 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 17 Comments

Cover of 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels, Nick Rennison, Stephen E. Andrews

This is a pretty good whistle-stop tour of some important, influential, or particularly interesting fantasy novels. I’ve got two pages in my notebook scrawled full of books to try now, and reminders of stuff I want to go back to. It’s a very accessible little book; it begins with an essay about the origins of fantasy, includes a glossary of various terms which can get confusing (the differences between sub-genres, for example) and a lot of extra suggestions after each book for further reading.

Normally, this sort of book doesn’t interest me much because they always pick the same novels. Well, this one had a fair amount of the staples on it — Tolkien, of course, C.S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Lewis Carroll, Michael Moorcock — but it did have some others which surprised me — Megan Lindholm, for example, listed under that name and not as Robin Hobb — and some pretty recent ones too. It doesn’t claim to show us the best of fantasy fiction, which is a good plan, to my mind — only books which are worth reading.

Not exactly groundbreaking, but worth a flick through at least. Excuse me, I’m off to look up some ebook prices.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 8 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels, by Nick Rennison, review coming up tomorrow on the blog. Before that, it was volume 19 of Ultimate Spider-man, which I’m still working my way through. It was a pretty good volume.

What are you currently reading?
Most of the things I was reading last time I posted this, still, and Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse. I heard some bad things about it, which was sad after how much I loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, but actually I’m enjoying it. I’m not far into it, but the narration is fun.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, some more Spider-man, probably. Also Red Sonja vol. 1, which I got an ARC of via Netgalley this week. I’m curious about Red Sonja, she’s not a character I’ve actually read anything about, but I have heard about her. So this should be interesting. After that, I’m thinking of The Phoenix and the Mirror, by Avram Davidson.

Books acquired:
None bought! Some ARCs. But I’m gonna start saving this kind of thing for Saturday and Stacking the Shelves.

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Review – The Testament of Mary

Posted 8 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin.The Testament of Mary, Colm Tóibín

The reviews for The Testament of Mary are pretty much the spread I would expect — some people viewing it as a literary work, some as deliberately heretical trash, some seeing it as written just to shock, etc. I read it for more or less the same reasons I read Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ: because I’m curious, because I’m okay with questioning things that I have or have had faith in. (Ask me which on any given day and I’ll be able to give you specifics.)

I think it’s an honest and earnest attempt to think about Mary as a person, not as the sort of demi-goddess we’ve made of her. To think of her as a woman, a mother, and as a mortal, as someone of quiet faith and love for her son. Tóibín’s Mary isn’t a believer, really; she doesn’t see what Jesus does as proof of miracles, she’s not exactly sceptical but is concerned about what is done to Lazarus, she doesn’t seem to believe he’s the son of God. She resists the urge to find meaning in what’s done to him. She’s even human enough to leave the site of the crucifixion to save her own life.

The book is her telling her story, quietly, with certainty, knowing it won’t survive or rival the story Jesus’ followers want to tell — i.e. what we know as the Gospels — but because she needs to voice her truth. Parts of the story didn’t really work well for me, the semi-imprisonment she has where she’s looked after by Jesus’ disciples, for example, but overall I found it moving — in a quiet, understated way. These are the emotions of a woman who has lost her son, quiet and traumatised, not the mother of a martyr, a saviour. Which is fine and worthy, from my point of view, but I think other people object to that.

(Particularly, people keep saying that Tóibín is writing Mary using modern psychology. That’s… somewhat true, but I think people in times past still had the same feelings — depression, PTSD, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc — and just understood them differently. Mary never talks about Freud or anything, so I think that’s not really an issue.)

It’s a very slim book, and I’m not entirely sure why it was shortlisted for the Man Booker: it’s not that powerful a story, though it has its moments. But it is worth a read if the idea interests you — it certainly won’t take too long.

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Review – The Gutenberg Revolution

Posted 6 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Gutenberg Revolution by John ManThe Gutenberg Revolution, John Man

The Gutenberg Revolution is a really easy read, with a pretty chatty style that doesn’t undermine the material, but does make it easy to digest. I read it on the train — like some other people I see reviewing it, actually — and it was interesting enough to hold my attention from start (in Cardiff Central) to finish (somewhere between London and Lille).

It begins by exploring the man who invented moveable type, Johann Gutenberg, and the context he was born into and grew up in. It isn’t all about Gutenberg specifically, though: it talks about the people he was involved with, or could’ve been involved with, in the endeavour — and most of all, about the revolution that was printing and how it became a force for social change, particularly the Reformation. There’s quite a good bit about Martin Luther, as well as some other interesting titbits about how the printing press went on to be used. There’s a bit about Caxton, which is particularly interesting to me given my interest in Arthuriana (even if Sir Thomas Malory is far from my favourite).

John Man’s enthusiasm for the subject comes through perfectly, and I like that he chose a type setting (Poliphilis) for the book related to one of the stories he wanted to tell. It’s a pretty clear and easy to read font from my point of view, though I’m not sure how it’d be for someone with sight problems. Still, I enjoyed it — the book as a whole, of course, but also this specific font.

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Review – A Hole in the World

Posted 5 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Hole in the World by Sophie RobbinsA Hole in the World, Sophie Robbins

A Hole in the World isn’t a very mature story, and the writer has a long way to go, but I did find it pretty fun all the same. I loved the set of friendships going on between characters, the fact that not everyone had to be paired up, the fact that Bianca and Scotty are best friends and say “I love you”… That aspect of it made the story feel more mature than it could have done, because it wasn’t all about Bianca and Alexandra, and while it has a happy ending, it’s not all wish fulfillment. People get hurt along the way.

Aspects that felt immature were the focus on things like iPods and brand names, naming specific songs, etc. It made it very much of its moment: it’s not a story that will be timeless. The writing style itself needs sharpening up, and a good editor could probably transform it. And then there’s obviously the age of the characters — I’m a bit past giggling and “ommggg you have a cruuuush”, or I’d like to think so, at least.

But it’s still a fun little adventure story, and definitely worth the 77p I spent on it. It’d be 2/5 stars for technical merit alone, at best, but I enjoyed reading it. Three stars!

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 5 January, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This week has involved a bit of a spree, because of Christmas money and my sister being a terrible influence. She will try and claim it’s the other way round, but that’s lies and slander. Anyway, as you might’ve realised, it’s time for Tynga’s Reviews’ Stacking the Shelves. I would like to take this moment to note that we’re the 4th January and I haven’t yet bought any books in 2014. That’s big stuff for me.

Anyway, breaking these down into sections just for ease…

Graphic novels

Cover of Wonder Woman vol. 2, Guts
Non-fiction

Cover of Robert Hutchinson's biography of Thomas Cromwell Cover of Carl Sagan's Cosmos Cover of Masters of Command by Barry Strauss

Dead tree (other)

Cover of The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard Cover of The Phoenix and the Mirror by Avram Davidson

Ebook (other)

Cover of The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells  Cover of Dark Benediction by Walter M. Miller Cover of the first Apex collection Cover of Meta by Tom Reynolds Cover of Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem Cover of The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt  Cover of Riley Parra: Season 1. by Geonn CannonCover of Riley Parra: Season 2. by Geonn CannonCover of Riley Parra: Season 3. by Geonn Cannon Cover of Untamed by Anna Cowan

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Wolverine's Daughter by Doranna Durgin Cover of Taste of Darkness, by Maria V. Snyder Cover of Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen

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Review – Travel Light

Posted 3 January, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Travel Light, by Naomi MitchisonTravel Light, Naomi Mitchison

I came across this because of Amal El-Mohtar’s NPR review; the idea of a book in dialogue with Tolkien, by one of the women around him who he encouraged and listened to, definitely appealed: I think just recently I was asking if anyone’s written anything about Tolkien’s female students, about whom I know very little except that I’m sure I have been told they existed. (Time for a woman to write a biography of Tolkien? Move over, Humphrey Carpenter, Tom Shippey?)

And this book delivered. It is rather slight — it’s short, and on first glance, rather fable-like. Naomi Mitchison resisted any urge to insist on a moral, though: while there are religious people in the story, and Hella’s travelling light seems a virtue in her, there are good people who struggle with faith, good dragons who keep out of the gods’ way, and though for a while it looks as though there might be a moral about Christianity in there, then there’s also a bit of a wry look at the church in Constantinople, and it ends with some more Norse mythology. I don’t think she honestly ever pushes any moral except finding your way through life and being good to people and creatures, and in the meantime she has an intriguing wander through different cultures and traditions.

Mitchison is a lot less sure than Tolkien about the period and the people she wants to write about, I think. Tolkien talked about creating “a mythology for England”, and I’ve argued elsewhere that Susan Cooper succeeds, but I don’t think Mitchison is as rooted in a place, an idea. Like her protagonist, she’s willing to wander. I wonder what a difference it’d have made to genre fiction now if Mitchison had a greater role, and Tolkien a lesser? Maybe we’d have less to worry about from the constant onslaught of medieval European fantasy.

It won’t scratch the same itch as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, for sure. It’s a different sort of story — if you’re a fan of Le Guin, perhaps, it’s more like the stories of Earthsea. Or it’s like a more fantastical, more female Rosemary Sutcliff. Don’t read it for The Hobbit 2.0 — it’s something all its own.

Oh, and it can be quite amusing, too: Dragon Economics 101…

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