Review – Words and Rules

Posted 12 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Words and Rules by Steven PinkerWords and Rules, Steven Pinker

If you’ve read The Language Instinct, you don’t really need to read this book. It’s very much the same theory, with perhaps some different examples, maybe a slightly different slant. Reading it, there was nothing new to me, and I think that it isn’t new because it was all covered in The Language Instinct (though it may be some other books have filled in some gaps in my knowledge before this, in the interim).

Pinker’s work is reasonably easy to read and well-illustrated with examples; he’s very convincing in the way he sets forth his ideas, which does make me rather tempted to find someone who disagrees with him equally convincingly and see what I think after that. Any ideas, friends?

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How We Live and Why We Die

Posted 11 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis WolpertHow We Live and Why We Die, Lewis Wolpert

The front of the book blurbs this as ‘a layperson’s guide to the world within us’, and that’s exactly what this is: it’s an accessible, easy to read, whistle-stop tour of cells in the human body, and some of the history surrounding how we’ve come to understand them. If you’ve read almost anything else on the topic, there’s probably nothing new here — but if you’re revising for an exam, you could do worse than spending some time with it. Wolpert manages to explain some complex things very cogently: for example, how enzymes work in breaking bonds, changing molecules, etc.

For me, this was a bit too much of a skimming of the surface — this is stuff I know to the point where I don’t even have to look it up anymore. But for someone not that experienced in biology, or trying to refresh their memory, it’d be perfect.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Trial by Fire

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

Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore GrahamTrial by Fire, Lore Graham

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 31st May 2017

This is a fun superhero novella which is supremely conscious of the need to include more diversity in fiction, and to be socially aware (e.g. of issues like people’s relationship with the police). The main character dates women, her love interest is trans, there are non-binary characters, etc, etc. It’s really refreshing that it didn’t really do a 101 on it, either; ‘here are the pronouns, the narrative is going to use them from here on out’ was the most you get. It’s also refreshingly frank about communication between couples, negotiating trans body issues (or non-issues), figuring out what people like… and even safe sex, as the use of a dental dam shows.

This is not my thing on one level, because I could happily go forever without knowing what genitalia anyone has, and I’m not that interested in reading sex scenes just for the sake of sex — sometimes it can be important to character development or express something interesting or make you re-evaluate the whole relationship between the characters… For example, I’m thinking of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books — a lot of the sex scenes contain plot-important characterisation and even information. And when it comes to some characters/relationships, you’ve been waiting for it so long and it means so much for the characters that you can’t help but pay attention. But I’m not that interested in the mechanics, and I wasn’t invested enough in these characters to be particularly interested in the mere fact of them having fun sex, much as I appreciated the theme of clear communication.

If the fact that the story includes sex is a major nope for you, I can say that I think the scenes would be totally skippable without missing anything important; the rest of the story is fun, although relatively light on plot and heavier on the characters getting to know one another and getting together.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 10 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week has been my exams, and now I’m free. It’s not been wonderful — my brain is tired, and at least one of the exams didn’t go well. But I survived!

Here’s the obligatory I’m-away-from-my-bunnies cute pic. Or two:

 My rabbits flopping together in their pen

Gah, they’re so sweet they make my teeth hurt. And here’s my book haul!

Received to review:

Cover of The Waking Land by Callie Bates Cover of The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King Cover of The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

I requested The Hundredth Queen after seeing someone else’s review, which I think I found through browsing other Stacking the Shelves posts. So whoever you were, thanks! And yaaay, The Tiger’s Daughter!

Bought:

Cover of Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab Cover of Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews Cover of Death's End by Cixin Liu Cover of Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

Our Dark Duet! I got it last weekend already, but I haven’t managed to start reading.

Read this week:

Cover of Pavlov's Dogs and Schrodinger's Cat by Ron Harré Cover of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert Cover of Death on Earth by Jules Howard Cover of Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

Four stars: The Sixth Extinction and Neurotribes.
Three stars: Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat and Death on Earth.

Reviews posted this week:

How Your Brains Works, by New Scientist. Not exactly revelatory, but probably a good introduction to the subject. 3/5 stars
Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable, by Paul G. Falkowski. Crystal clear style, and he managed to make the stuff I already knew fascinating. 4/5 stars
A New History of Life, by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink. “New” is a bit of an overstatement, and it needed a date with an editor, but there is interesting stuff in here. 3/5 stars
The Ghost Line, by Andrew Neil Grey, J.S. Herbison. Genuinely creepy, with an ending that doesn’t cop out one bit. 4/5 stars
False Hearts, by Laura Lam. I really enjoyed this — I didn’t expect to be so sucked in to the story of the formerly conjoined twins and how they find their pasts entwining with their present all unexpectedly. 4/5 stars
Alchemy of Fire, by Gillian Bradshaw. Bradshaw can certainly surprise you with the kind of historical fiction she writes — the stories of people who were actually on the edge of history. I enjoyed it, despite the rather low-octane pacing compared to, well, False Hearts. 4/5 stars
Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes. Nope. Sorry. Miss me with modernism forevermore, please. 1/5 stars

Other:

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Non-fiction Books I Want to Read. In honour of exam week, and an unexpectedly non-fic heavy week on the blog!
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading, what I’ve just finished, and what I might read next!

How’s everyone? I’ll be catching up with my emails over the weekend — expect some comment replies and blog visits as I catch up on my rather impressive backlog!

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Review – Nightwood

Posted 9 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Nightwood by Djuna BarnesNightwood, Djuna Barnes

Oh dear. Nikki meets modernism, and bounces right off: the sequel. I don’t even get the people who say it’s poetically written, beautiful imagery, etc, etc — I’m just confused by the narration half the time. The introductions by Jeanette Winterson and T.S. Eliot make it sound interesting, and I wanted to get into it since it’s highly spoken of as women’s fiction and queer fiction.

Nope. It’s hard to even keep track of the characters and what they’re doing, for my money.

If you’re a fan of modernism, this is almost certainly worth reading, and a lot better than I make it sound. But sometimes I wonder why I even try to read modernist works: they don’t seem to work for my brain at all. (See also: I don’t get along with Virginia Woolf’s work, other than A Room of One’s Own.) Just as you wouldn’t ask a dentist to help you pick the best horse in the stable, don’t ask me to recommend modernist works…

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Alchemy of Fire

Posted 8 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Alchemy of Fire by Gillian BradshawAlchemy of Fire, Gillian Bradshaw

If you’re looking for thoughtful, well-researched historical fiction, Gillian Bradshaw is a good bet — and she doesn’t always stick to the beaten path, producing stories about Caesars and Cleopatras. Island of Ghosts, for example, surprised me by having a Samartian hero, serving the Roman army in Britain. Not an Italian, not a Brit, but a whole different view I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do before. Her writing reminds me of Rosemary Sutcliff, at times — it scratches the same sort of itch — though her books are more adult.

Alchemy of Fire is set in Constantinople, and follows the fortunes of the owner of a perfume shop. There’s intrigue and politicking, and there’s romance as well, and the story is set against the backdrop of the Arab attacks on Constantinople. It’s the invention of ‘Greek fire’, but it also deals with motherhood and the experience of seeing a child you love grow up, with grief, with falling in love against all sense and without realising, but not in some instantaneous magical way. The emotional journey felt real, and I was rooting for it from the beginning because it didn’t feel as though Anna was somehow destined to marry. It felt like it could have remained friendship, or ended badly, or… anything.

I found it touching and absorbing, even though I wouldn’t call it “unputdownable”. It takes its time, for all that it only comprises 250 pages or so. It didn’t strike me with brilliance like a couple of Bradshaw’s other books, but I enjoyed it.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post here if you want to check out other posts. I’ve been reading less than I’d like this week, because my exams are upon me and I’m really having to put my nose to the grindstone to just learn the last bits that won’t stick in my head. Mind you, I had my human biology exam yesterday, and that was really easy. So here’s hoping it continues that way!

What are you reading now?Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan

I’m halfway through NeuroTribes, by Scott Silberman. On the one hand, I’ve heard good things about it, but on the other I’m a little put off by the fact that there was a whole chapter focused on how hard having an autistic child was for two particular parents, and how they put him through all sorts of nonsense therapies in the hopes of fixing him. Sure, they eventually decided to accept him as he was, but the whole thing was just focused on their experience, their “anguish”, etc, etc. What about this poor kid who got forcefed food he didn’t like and ridiculous supplements, to try to make him into a different child altogether? I’m more worried about him, thanks.

I know Silberman does actually go on to talk about accepting neurodiversity, accommodating autism rather than stigmatising people who have it, but that chapter did put me off rather.

(Note: I’m not on the spectrum, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.)

Fiction-wise, I’m reading Marie Brennan’s new novella, Lightning in the Blood. I should really finish it today, but… studying.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasI just finished Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. It was interesting enough, but it really skims the surface. It hinted at the same things as The Worm at the Core, for example, but pulled back from it. And in terms of biological death… I don’t know any more than I did going in.

The last fiction book I finished was Shanghai Sparrow, which is fun but nothing special — fairly typically steampunky, with some fairies thrown in.

What will you read next?

I should read one of my book club choices, so either Robin Hobb’s Farseers trilogy, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard. Technically all of these need finishing by the end of this month, so I should, you know. Get to it.

But then there’s also library books I need to read before I go back to Belgium again, because of course I raided the libraries here. So maybe I’ll read The Shambling Guide to New York, by Mur Lafferty.

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Review – False Hearts

Posted 7 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of False Hearts by Laura LamFalse Hearts, Laura Lam

I originally received this to review, and then didn’t get round to it, because I suck. So I bought the paperback last week, picked it up to read a page — and looked up 170 pages later. Suffice it to say, it sucked me in and I’m glad I finally read it — and that I have an eARC of Shattered Minds to read. And Lam’s other trilogy, too! Her writing works really well: it’s not stylised and beautiful like, say, Patricia McKillip or Ursula Le Guin, but it’s competent and strong and she brings across the voices of her characters. That makes it both easy to read and absorbing.

The best part about it is that the whole thing relies on the bond between the sisters, Taema and Tila, and Taema’s trust for Tila. The whole drive behind the story is the sisters’ need to protect one another, and that’s what makes solving the mystery and going through all the tension worth it. The thriller aspects in themselves aren’t revolutionary, but coming at it from this angle made it feel fresh and urgent.

I enjoyed the supporting characters, too. It’s a little odd to be reading a book in which people seem to be, on the whole, goodSure, Mana-ma and the Ratel don’t exactly have people’s best interests at heart, but Nazarin and Kim, Taema and Tila, the other characters they come across — they’re all trying to do the right thing. It’s a nice antidote to the total cynicism of other books I’ve been reading lately, in this genre and others. There are bad things, but there are good people too. And there are good people who get caught up in bad things, and regret it, and remain good people.

The ending of the book feels good; it all unfolds smoothly and stops just at the right point, with Tila and Taema reunited — for good or for bad.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Ghost Line

Posted 6 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ghost LineThe Ghost Line, Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th July 2017

I didn’t expect to find this so creepy, but wow, it ended up getting under my skin. I thought I’d just start it, see what it was like before bed… and then I read the whole thing. I loved the partnership between the husband and wife team, and the whole idea of a space-liner drifting on an old cruise path just to keep the rights to it. There’s not much explanation for why what happens on the ship occurs, but it’s almost better that way — you don’t understand why anymore than the characters do.

I loved the ending, too. It’d have been easy to give readers an easier, happier way out; to have some kind of compromise be reached. Instead — well, I’d better not say too much. Suffice it to say that it works really well, and though it’s not horror, it definitely has a heck of a creep factor in places.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 6 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFaddenToday’s theme is ten books from [x] genre I’ve added to my TBR. Given that today is my human biology exam (wish me luck!), non-fiction/pop-science seems appropriate here!

  1. Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden. Quantum biology sounds slightly terrifying, if I’m honest. I understand biology, in general; I don’t understand quantum. But hopefully this book will help, right?
  2. The Philadelphia Chromosome, by Jessica Wapner. This is about a particular defect found in people in Philadelphia (shocking, I know) which causes cancer, and how it’s contributed to understanding cancer and how to cure it.
  3. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, by Sean B. Carroll. This has been recommended to me as a good book on “evo-devo”, which is a term I suddenly find cropping up everywhere.
  4. A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. This is about the gene editing technology CRISPR, which is really fascinating stuff, and apparently this examines some of the ethics of using CRISPR, too. I have high hopes!
  5. Brain Washing, by Kathleen Taylor. This is one of the Oxford Landmark Science series, which I’m finding a fascinating way of exploring topics I haven’t always read about before.Cover of Personality by Daniel Nettle
  6. The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. It’s about, well, extinction. I’ve just managed to find this in the library near my parents’ house, so hopefully I’ll be able to read it before I go back to Belgium!
  7. Vanished Ocean: How Tethys Shaped the World, by Dorrik Stowe. More in the geology/earth science line, but it was recommended in another book I read.
  8. Shadows of the Mind, by Roger Penrose. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Penrose, so it’s time to fill in a gap. And it’s about brain science!
  9. Mutants: On the Forms, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body, by Armand Marie Leroi. Right up my street, obviously!
  10. Personality, by Daniel Nettle. Another one of the Oxford Landmark Science series. How do our brains create personality? Gotta know.

 

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