Review – Spider-girl: Family Values

Posted 16 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spider-girl: Family IssuesSpider-girl: Family Values, Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, Matthew Southworth

This was fun, a good place to jump in on Spider-girl. It seems that as this volume opens, she’s lost her powers, but she’s still doing her best to fight crime — and maintain an impressive presence on social media. I enjoyed her wise-cracking, apparently a Spider-people necessity, and the emotional side of her development in this story.

Anya’s normal life is pretty solid, with friends and eventually a roommate, contacts outside the superhero world (unlike, say, Captain America). I liked Spider-man’s parts too, and I was intrigued by Red Hulk — I haven’t read anything including him so far.

The art is pretty good — there are couple of patchier issues that I wasn’t so fond of, but it’s reasonably consistent, and I liked that they portray Anya as a lithe, athletic sixteen year old girl. She’s not sexualised or anything in her fights the way, say, Black Widow often is. I’ll probably pick up some more Spider-girl given a chance — earlier or later, I don’t mind which.

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Review – Dark Currents

Posted 15 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Cover of Dark Currents by Jacqueline CareyDark Currents, Jacqueline Carey

I originally got this without even reading the summary, because it’s Jacqueline Carey and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna follow wherever her writing career takes her. This was different from everything else she’s written — less dense, less lush in terms of prose, and less complicated in terms of plot. Basically all you need to know is: supernatural community in small-town USA, boy turns up drowned with signs of magic around the circumstances, our heroine investigates. The rest is, at least at this point, mostly set dressing.

I did like that the heroine has several strong female friendships, and a strong relationship with her mother, and she cops to her daddy issues too. I’m not sure where this is going in terms of which guy/s she dates, and I’m not that invested in the question, but I’m not completely bored by any of her potential relationships either.

I do agree with some of the more negative reviews that a bit baffled that Carey went from the lush prose of the Kushiel and Naamah books to “gah!” and “ummm” and “totally” and so on. Once I figured out it was in a whole different register, style-wise, I just read it as I would any urban fantasy.

The world building is interesting, and not fully explained. This bothers some people; it doesn’t bother me. There’s a sense of a fragmented community here, supernatural beings-wise, and that they just pull together where they can and try to eke things out for themselves. It doesn’t seem like it’s some kind of easy co-existence: there’s hate and fear as well as fascination and tourist attractions.

I liked this well enough, but I don’t know that I found it special. I’m going to try the next book and see what that does for me.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 15 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 64 Comments

So, it’s Saturday and time for Stacking the Shelves, which I tooootally don’t look forward to all week… It’s a meme where you show off your haul for the week, hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. (Hi to everyone dropping by from there.)

So anyway. It was going to be a very sad and empty week, haul-wise. Then I was browsing the Kindle store while feeling cranky, which I probably shouldn’t do. And this resulted…

Kindle books

Cover of Border Country by Raymond Williams Cover of Make Room for the Jester by Stead Jones Cover of A Heyday in the Blood by Geraint Goodwin Cover of Flame and Slag by Ron Barry  Cover of The Water-Castle by Brenda Chamberlain Cover of Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman Cover of Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers Cover of Black and White by Caitlin Kettridge and Jackie KesslerCover of Vicious by V.E. Schwab Cover of Don't Be A Hero by Chris Strange

Comics (collection)

Cover of Dark Reign: Young Avengers

Comics (issues)

Cover of Ms Marvel issue #1 Cover of Captain Marvel issue #1

I’d say spot the theme, but the covers pretty much give it away. (Welsh books and superheroes, if you didn’t get it. I love some of the superhero covers — they’re all novels apart from Dark Reign: Young Avengers, but each I think has a bit of a reference to comics in the cover art.)

So, uh, the Dark Reign cover actively infuriates me, because that’s Billy Kaplan there with Enchantress, and — he’s gay, actually. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking with that cover. He has a boyfriend in the comics, he’s with him the whole time except for a brief break during the most recent issues. It looks very much like a ridiculous attempt to de-gay him, and I hate it. But hey, at least I also got the first issue of the new Ms. Marvel and the 2014 Captain Marvel, which I’m excited about and haven’t been able to get in physical form locally, so finally got on ComiXology. I also set up subscriptions to both, because hey.

Of the other books, I can’t decide what I’m most interested in or want to start with. Hm. Maybe Make Room for the Jester, just because I’m curious that Philip Pullman has written the introduction. Or The Heyday in the Blood, because one of my lecturers from my BA wrote the introduction!

What’s everyone else been getting? What’re you getting excited about?

ETA: Belatedly dropping in to add a link to this giveaway I’m running. Gain entries by promoting my charity run or sponsoring me!

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter evidently, since I just posted the review today — and before that, Conquistadors by Michael Wood. One fiction, one non-fiction, but both based on bits of history I know comparatively little about, so both interesting for that!

What are you currently reading?
Dark Currents, by Jacqueline Carey, is what’s at the top of my pile. It’s fairly standard for urban fantasy, I guess, not as rich as most of Carey’s other work, but absorbing and well written. More like Robin McKinley’s Sunshine than Random Joe’s The X’s X or whatever. Speaking of a more Random Joe-ish one, I’ve also started reading Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey, which… well, when the main character has been dragged down to hell and then escapes, owns an Impala, and has an attitude problem, I side-eye Supernatural and wonder about the influence there.

Other than those two, I started Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which I thiiiink got mentioned in Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great? So that would be the impetus for finally getting round to it, probably. So far, the actual links to the Tam Lin ballad are just beginning to take shape, but I’m just glorying in that academic world. It seems so simple compared to the hoops they want me to jump through to get back into academia. (Hm, a thesis on fairytale retellings?)

Aaaaand I still haven’t picked The Thirteenth Tale back up yet, but I’ll get there.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, probably a bunch of graphic novels, since they’ll be the most awkward things to drag back to Cardiff in my suitcase. Then there’s my ARCs of Gretel and the Dark (Eliza Granville) and Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen) that I really really have to get to, or no one will ever send me physical ARCs again.

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Review – The Bearkeeper’s Daughter

Posted 12 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian BradshawThe Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw

I was really interested to read this, since it’s set in Constantinople, and I think in the same period as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Constantinople-analogue, Sarantium, in the Sarantine Mosaic books. Even in other fiction I’ve come across Theodora, both as a great and powerful woman and as a scheming whore. This version is a somewhat ambivalent one, seen through the eyes of her bastard son whom she cannot acknowledge but nonetheless loves and schemes for. I liked the way she was portrayed: her drives and ambitions made sense, came out of the real history we know Theodora had.

The story is more about her son, though, based on a rumour about Theodora from Procopius’ Secret History — a very Rosemary Sutcliff-like touch, to take a half-known story and expand it and develop it into something that could have been, like The Eagle of the Ninth. Her books are aimed more at adults, I think, but there’s still that same flavour to them from the ones I’ve read so far, and they touch on similar periods and topics.

I got really involved in this, gradually, drawn into the world of Constantinople and of the people Bradshaw gives us — I loved Narses and Anastasios, and though I didn’t think I would come to love her, Euphemia as well. Theodora, of course, and this version of Justinian, worked very well for me. There are some really powerful scenes, and while there’s a constraint and dryness to it in a way — it doesn’t step severely away from what we do know of the period — it still caught me up in a spell while I was reading.

When you read the blurb, it does sound as if it’s going to be somewhat sensational — bastard sons usually are a pretty dramatic complication, after all. But actually, it tries to steer a path between an interesting story and realism, and I really enjoyed watching that balancing act.

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Review – Conquistadors

Posted 12 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Conquistadors by Michael WoodConquistadors, Michael Wood

I’m pretty willing to pick up any of the books Michael Wood has written. They’re obviously more popular history than anything, pitched at BBC documentary level, but that is the level of knowledge I have for a lot of historical subjects. Conquistadors is in the usual format familiar from Wood’s book on Alexander: he retraces the steps of the conquistadors, in some cases clarifying their routes where they weren’t completely known before.

This is a period of history that’s not entirely new to me, but pretty nearly — we were taught a bit about the Aztecs and Cortes back in primary school, but that was about the extent of it. Wood evokes all this pretty clearly, though some colour photographs may have helped — my edition only has a small section of black and white ones. He uses sources from both sides of the conflict, and I think he kept a balance reasonably well. He obviously admired some of the conquistadors, but he kept in mind that even those of a more exploratory bent still thought and acted as conquistadors, save perhaps Cabeza de Vaca.

I think it interesting that one review complains of a completely one-sided view of the conquistadors “ethnically cleansing” the lands they conquered, while another complains about the British self-loathing. I think actually, there’s a pretty good balance between the two: Wood rightfully points out the excesses of the Spanish, but he also explains some of their reactions and doesn’t gloss over the issues of human sacrifice, etc.

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Review – Maze

Posted 9 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Maze by J.M. McDermottMaze, J.M. McDermott

Ehhh, definitely not for me. Maze is really, really bizarre, not a little disgusting, it can be pretty violent, and it made no sense at all to me. I won it from LibraryThing’s First Reads program, since I’ve been meaning to try this author for a while, but just… nope. It’s creative, sure. Weird, if that’s what you like to read. It’s not even badly written — maybe indifferently, from my point of view, but not badly.

It’s not like I necessarily mind weird, disgusting, violence — I read China Miéville with glee, after all. It’s just… I had nothing to get a grip on here, not even the kind of verve that characterises Miéville’s work.

I have another of this guy’s books to read, I think retelling Greek myths? I hope I enjoy that more.

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Review – The Dragon Griaule

Posted 9 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dragon Griaule by Lucius ShepardThe Dragon Griaule, Lucius Shepard

I wasn’t sure what to hope for from The Dragon Griaule. I mean, obviously it’s received some critical acclaim to be considered a “Fantasy Masterwork” by Gollancz, but it purports to treat dragons in a very different way to traditional fantasy, and Lucius Shepard professes to hating the usual run of fantasy with elves, dwarves and halflings. I rather like my elves, dwarves and halflings, so I wasn’t sure if I would get on with Shepard — particularly as I like my dragons to be real and active, not any kind of allegory of human nature or morality as some commentary on this implied it would be.

But it’s okay: I loved the world of Griaule. I couldn’t point to one of the stories I liked best, really: I just loved the overall style and setting, the way Shepard set up his world. If I had to pick, it’d be ‘The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter’: the world of exploration there fascinated me. In general, though, I enjoyed this more for the unique take on dragons than for characters, most of whom were unpleasant or otherwise hard to root for.

I can see Griaule’s influence on more recent books with dragons, I think. At least, something of Griaule seems to touch Robin Hobb’s work, with her amoral, self-centered dragons.

What I wasn’t entirely sure about: Shepard’s portrayal of pretty much all the women in the book, while often sympathetic, generally cast them all in very similar roles with similar attributes. Even while the narrative didn’t seem that judgemental about their antics — sexual promiscuity, dissipation — it seemed to consider them universal. I don’t think there was an actual “virtuous” woman in the book. It seemed very one-note in that sense. Not that the male characters are much better, thinking about it.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 8 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 40 Comments

So, as you can tell if you just scroll down a bit, or maybe the speed your browser has crawled to, I acquired a lot this week. That would be because my mother gave me a £40 Amazon voucher. She would claim I made her give me it, but I simply reminded her that she had promised it to me. Her guilty conscience did the rest…

Anyway, so this is my weekly haul, for the meme as hosted by Tynga’s Reviews! A couple of these have already appeared before, but now I’ve bought my own copies rather than borrowing them!

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Sunstone by Freya Robertson Cover of The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Non-fiction

Cover of How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom Cover of Just Babies by Paul BloomCover of The Righteous by Jonathan Haidt Cover of Time's Anvil by Richard Morris    Cover of The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris Cover of Twelve Caesars by Matthew Dennison

Fiction

 Cover of Clementine by Cherie Priest Cover of Dreadnought by Cherie Priest Cover of Ganymede by Cherie Priest Cover of The InexplicablesCover of Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest Cover of The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin  Cover of Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara Cover of Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini TaylorCover of The Pirate's Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Comics

Cover of Spider-girl: Family Issues Cover of Saga vol 2 by Brian Vaughan

I’ve already read Saga, and I’m going to polish off Spider-girl today hopefully, so other than those, hmm. Of the ARCs, I’m more excited about The Wizard’s Promise; I’ve enjoyed Cassandra Rose Clarke’s work, and I haven’t yet read Freya Robertson’s first book. (Oops.) Many thanks to Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry for those, though.

Of the non-fiction, most of it ethics/morality related, I’m most interested in Paul Bloom’s books. He taught a class I was in on Coursera, Moralities of Everyday Life, which I really enjoyed. Of the fiction, it’s gonna have to be Night of Cake and Puppets, because Laini Taylor! Can’t wait for Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I kept an eye out for an ARC but I didn’t see it anywhere, woe is me.

All these new books, and yet I have to work this weekend. *dramatic sigh* What about you guys? Frivolous weekends of reading ahead? Anything spectacular new on your shelves this week?

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