Review – Just Babies

Posted 8 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Just Babies by Paul BloomJust Babies, Paul Bloom

I’ve read one of Paul Bloom’s books already (How Pleasure Works) as well as being part of his Moralities of Everyday Life MOOC on Coursera, so a lot of the psychology experiments and arguments were not at all new to me.

Just Babies is, like Bloom’s other work, accessible to the lay reader, written without frills and complications. Bloom sets out his argument quite simply, without over-complicating anything. Overall, I find it hard to say what I think about this book specifically, since I was already aware of Bloom’s ideas and already had opinions on them. There’s certainly nothing I violently disagree with, for all that Bloom is much more of a utilitarian than I am.

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Review – Death and the Penguin

Posted 7 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death and the Penguin by Andrey KurkovDeath and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov

I don’t think I’d have ended up reading Death and the Penguin without a little challenge I’m doing to read twenty books recommended by friends. (It took me a while to get my twenty, but maybe now I should post them or make a shelf for them or something.) It’s interesting, though. I’m not generally very good at politics and satire, particularly when I’m not very aware of the historical context, but this is enjoyable anyway.

You see, the penguin is not metaphorical. Viktor literally has a pet penguin who lives with him. Honestly, that was my main motivation in reading on: I didn’t care so much for Viktor, but Misha is really compelling for all that he’s the only character who never says a word. The other absurd elements of the plot somehow only work for me because of Misha.

It’s simply written, easy to follow despite the absurdities — the person who recommended it to me said it’s a good Russian lit for beginners type book. I’d agree; I mean, I love War and Peace, but I can understand it being rough going for some people, and Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment took me forever. I do recommend this: the relationship between Misha and Viktor is sweet and somehow melancholy, a mutual loneliness.

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Review – The Earth: An Intimate History

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

Cover of Earth: An Intimate History by Richard ForteyThe Earth: An Intimate History, Richard Fortey

As with Fortey’s other books, I really enjoyed this — and that seems more important with this one since it’s about geology, which is not something that’s ever been a particular interest of mine. Fortey has a discursive, conversational style, while still getting in a lot of information and technical language. And in all of his books, it’s a sort of travelogue, too, which is quite interesting.

It’s hardly a completely exhaustive history of Earth, but it takes exemplars from various geographies and shows how they apply to the whole of the planet. It works quite well, though it is still a pretty dense book.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 5 April, 2014 by Nikki in General / 48 Comments

It wasn’t going to be a busy week for books. Then there were libraries, and my sister wanted to go to Waterstones, and… yeah. So, as usual, here’s my Stacking the Shelves post!

Fiction (library)

Cover of Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov Cover of More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon Cover of The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey Cover of The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones & Ursula Jones

Fiction (bought)

Cover of Jacques the Fatalist and his Master by Diderot Cover of A Widow in Waiting by Anne B. Walsh Cover of Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson Cover of Taste of Darkness, by Maria V. Snyder Cover of Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

Non-fiction (bought)

Cover of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

Non-fiction (library)

Cover of Life: An Unauthorised Biography by Richard Fortey Cover of The Humans Who Went Extinct by Clive Finlayson Cover of The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

Comics (bought)

Cover of Marvel's Young Avengers: Alternative Culture Cover of Marvel's Young Avengers: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space

Comics (library)

Stormwatch by Warren Ellis Cover of DC's Superman: What Price Tomorrow?

That may have got a little… out of hand. Anyway, I’ve read a couple of these already, and I’m partway through a couple more. I’m actually looking forward to the non-fiction book about Marvel quite a bit, but also The Girl With All The Gifts, as someone in a book club I’m in praised it to the skies. And Steelheart I’ve been coveting for a couple of weeks now.

What’s anyone else excited about?

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 3 April, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life, which was a rec from someone on twitter. I need to digest it a bit more, I think, but it was certainly interesting, sometimes very touching. Before that, it was Tamburlaine Must Die, which was actually a rec for the same challenge (get recommendations from twenty people and read them all), which… I liked it well enough, but I’m not sure it all connected up for me.

What are you currently reading?
With the usual caveat of “actively”, let’s see — Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov, which is for the same challenge again. Other than that, still working through The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey. Somewhat taking my time here, but enjoying it. I mean, someone who can make geology fascinating to me needs to be cherished, I think. He talks about Earth with such power!

Fiction-wise, I am being terrible about Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Wizard’s Promise and Rosemary Sutcliff’s Knight’s Fee, which are both in progress without any actual progress being made. (Along with Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, and various others.)

What do you think you’ll read next?
Probably Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones’ The Islands of Chaldea, since the library informed me yesterday that they’ve got their orders in and I am, oh glory, first in the queue for it. I have Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson on hold, too, but the person ahead of me in the queue is taking an age.

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If you can afford this, you can afford that

Posted 2 April, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

So today Chuck Wendig posted a thing about piracy and why he won’t put out a tip jar, which I’m not interested in arguing with. What I am interested in arguing with is this whole idea in the comments that if you’re reading ebooks, you must have an ereader, therefore you must be able to afford ebooks. Which is complete crap, guys, I can’t even tell you. Here’s some examples of what’s been said — it’s been said in public, so I think it’s fair to copy/paste:

My thoughts on the “but I can’t afford it!” argument are thus –

1. You can’t afford a $5 e-book, but you can afford monthly internet? My internet bill (whether via my computer line or smart phone) is roughly thirty times my cost for an average e-book. Granted, that’s an average. I buy a lot of low-cost author-pubbed items at 99c to level out the $6-10 fare. Still, internet costs a lot more than an e-book.
2. You can’t afford a $5 e-book, but you can afford something to read that it on? Whether it’s a computer, smart phone, tablet, or e-reader, these things out-cost the average e-book by at least 5 times if not more. Yes, the e-reader, etc, could be a gift, but seriously? If I was so broke I couldn’t afford a $5 e-book (or the internet service to download it), then getting an e-reader is pretty crappy and mean-spirited unless they were showering me with gift cards throughout the year. It’s like buying someone a saddle when they can’t afford the pony.

And:

So wait…. this guy ‘can’t afford’ to buy all the ebooks he wants (I know that feeling – I can’t afford to buy all the designer dresses I want either… so sad…) but he CAN afford to have bought whatever ebook reader-thingy he reads his pirated books on? Strange, I thought compared to ebooks those things were WAY more expensive… I had to save up for three years to get mine…

So yeah, the first quote is roughly correct, even given my £25 ereader: let’s say an average retail ebook is £5, going by, say, Angry Robot (who publish, among many others, Chuck Wendig). That comes out about right: my reader cost five times the book. But it’s a window to many, many more books, including free books from a range of sources (Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, my local library, Baen, Netgalley, Edelweiss, publishers, authors) and cheap books. It’s easily worth it.

What really gets me is the sniffy judgement going on here. “You don’t spend your money the way I approve of, how dare you pay for internet and an ereader instead of books” — in fact, phrased like that, it’s downright snobbish. I get that it’s not fair authors aren’t getting paid, and some authors and series have suffered from it. But you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life.

Like hey, let me paint you a picture: me, a year ago. I live with my grandmother; my mother pays her some rent for me. I had no job, and I didn’t go on benefits, so I lived entirely on the kindness of my family. Depressing enough to start with, right? And then there was my grandfather’s death, and my spiral into depression and anxiety that had been going on and getting worse since my second year of university. Guess what I clung onto when I was too depressed and scared to get out of bed?

Yup. Since you’re reading this blog, I’m gonna assume you’ve figured it out: books, and the internet.* I was too damn scared to leave the house some days. Going to the library where there were people, and germs, and possibly the need to communicate with people I don’t know — gah. Buying books in a store? Well, like I said, any money I had was my mother’s. So my ereader was a lifeline, and my grandmother paid for the internet, so it was easy enough to download books from Netgalley, the library, etc, etc.

Those are not the only reasons that scraping together £25 for an ereader instead of five books (or rather, three, given UK pricing for dead tree books, or less than five trips to my nearest library last year) might be more cost effective for someone. You just don’t know. So please stop making these assumptions and trying to police how people spend their money, and go back to making the very fair argument that authors deserve to be paid.

(Not to mention the sensible point someone else is making that you don’t need a dedicated ereader to read ebooks. Your most basic smartphone can do it, your computer can do it, my five year old iPod can do it…)

ETA: Since I’ve been accused of piracy/theft in the comments, I will just point out that every method of obtaining books mentioned in this post is both legal and moral. It’s not an argument for piracy, it’s an argument for getting your nose the fuck out of other people’s financial decisions.

 

*Me: Here’s a thing. Imagine the prospect of me without an ereader, especially during the worst times in the last two years. Is there a quotable quote of your reaction to that idea?
Partner: A damn wreck? You’d have been a wreck going in circles, driving yourself insane.
(Pretty fair assessment.)

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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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