Review – A New History of Life

Posted 5 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A New History of Life by Peter WardA New History of Life, Peter Ward, Joe Kirschvink

“New” is a bit of an overstatement. It develops themes already covered in books like Nick Lane’s Oxygen (not exactly recent) and David Beerling’s The Emerald Planet; the main contribution to my understanding is a bit more depth on how oxygen and carbon dioxide have limited and unlimited life over the course of its development. The back emphasises the authors’ belief in panspermia, specifically in the form that states life on Earth was seeded from Mars, but there’s very little space devoted to that — and exactly zero actual evidence.

It’s mostly a reasonable read, if not at all “new”, but they badly needed some more time with an editor. They have odd repetitions, or places where they don’t define a word until long after its first use (not a problem for me, but possibly difficult for other pop science readers), and at times the grammar is just terrible. Sentences don’t have subjects, or the verb doesn’t agree, or… It’s not so bad that I’d call it a mess, but I was very conscious that they needed a proofreader or three to make their book feel more professional.

There were some interesting things in here, though: for example, a discussion of different types of lungs and breathing systems. I hadn’t seen that discussed before, and it was fascinating. And for dinosaur aficionados, yep, they definitely touch on dinosaurs and why they once ruled the Earth (and why, perhaps, that rule ended as it did).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Life’s Engines

Posted 4 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Life's Engines by Paul G FalkowskiLife’s Engines, Paul G. Falkowski

This is an accessible book, crystal-clear about all the concepts it discusses. It’s not bad as a revision guide for me, as far as some of my cell bio concepts go; it’d be good for an intelligent layperson. Falkowski writes with assurance, and though there were no surprises here for me, it was still an interesting read.

My only qualm would be that sometimes his choice of words is a little cringy to me. We don’t need “cell stuff”; I’m sure all readers at this level could manage the term “nutrients” or “proteins” or something clearer. Which is funny, given I just said he’s crystal clear — it’s not that the words are confusing, it’s just that they don’t actually make things simpler and easier to understand. They don’t actively obscure, but they do the reader no favours either.

Nonetheless, a book I enjoyed reading.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How Your Brain Works

Posted 3 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain WorksHow Your Brain Works, New Scientist

As ever with the New Scientist books, this is a great introduction to a topic — and in this case, it’s a fairly narrow topic: the brain, and how it works. It’s not just a collection of stuff that’s appeared in the other collections, although I think a few of the info boxes and so on did come from other New Scientist publications originally. It’s also based on one of their Instant Expert courses, a great series of events that I do recommend if they cover a topic you’re interested in.

For me, even without my degree, this was a fairly simplistic view of the brain — “instant expert” isn’t quite what you’d become from reading it, I’d feel. “Instantly more informed and able to understand further information with a good foundation,” perhaps.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 3 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s Saturday again already, huh? My exams are creeping nearer and nearer, so of course I’ve been reading like a fiend. It only makes sense, right?

Here’s the week’s roundup, beginning with a photo of my bunnies because, yes, I still miss them.

Photo of one of my bunnies grooming the other

Yeah, Hulk loves Breakfast now. <3

Received to review:

Cover of The Witch Who Came In From the Cold Cover of Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean

I’ve been curious about this serial as it came out gradually, so I thought I’d grab the full volume. And at the last minute I also got approved for this non-fiction about air! I’ve enjoyed Sam Kean’s work before, so should be good.

Bought:

Cover of The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan Cover of City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault

I am excited for these, especially Marie Brennan’s!

Finished this week:

Cover of False Hearts by Laura Lam Cover of Alchemy of Fire by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of Nightwood by Djuna Barnes Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore Graham

Cover of Dino Gangs by Josh Young Cover of Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan Cover of Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold

Sneak peek at ratings:

Five stars: Within the Sanctuary of Wings.
Four stars: False Hearts and Alchemy of Fire.
Three stars: Trial by Fire, Dino Gangs, Death Before Wicket and Shanghai Sparrow.
One star:
 Nightwood.

Reviews posted this week:

Passion Play, by Sean Stewart. This one was darker than I expected, and really got under my skin. 4/5 stars
Herding Hemingway’s Cats, by Kat Arney. Very light and readable, but surprisingly thorough as well. I learnt some things about genetics, which is not something I say often with popular science! 4/5 stars
The Loveless Princess, by Lilian Bodley. An asexual and aromantic princess is the heroine of her own story. 3/5 stars
Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill. Holy infodump, Batman. 1/5 stars
Where the Universe Came From, by New Scientist. Not a bad collection, but heavy on relativity and quantum rather than the Big Bang. 3/5 stars
Harrowing the Dragon, by Patricia A. McKillip. Not all of these stories are to my taste, but McKillip’s writing is always gorgeous. 4/5 stars
Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel. Oh-em-geeeee. I can’t say too much about this in case anybody’s afraid of spoilers, but it’s a great follow-up to Sleeping Giants. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books Coming Out Later This Year. Or, as I discovered when writing it, on the very day the post went up!
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update on what I’m reading, what I’ve read, and what I’m going to read.

So how’ve you been doing? If you comment, I’ll swing by your STS/Sunday Post/etc to see what you’ve been getting your mitts on!

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Review – Waking Gods

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

Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWaking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 6th April 2017

Wow. Sylvain Neuvel isn’t messing around. Waking Gods is the follow-up to Sleeping Giants, and it doesn’t pull punches. If you hoped that it’d end with everything being okay, well, certainly not yet. And there’s apparently more to come, if the ending of this book is any indication…

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s worth discovering it yourself. The structure is the same as in the first book, and if that annoyed you previously, then this isn’t going to be any better for you. If you found it simultaneously frustrating and intriguing, then that sensation will also pretty much persist. If you straight-up love it, well, again. The point is, the format hasn’t changed, and it’s roughly the same characters as well. However well those things worked for you in the first book is likely to be repeated.

If Mitchell could just, like, implode or something, I’d be pretty happy, I’ve gotta say.

The solution at the end of this book struck me as a bit convoluted and contrived, because of the constraints on it and the limited time to suddenly figure it out. All the same, hurrah for the character who figured it out making good.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Harrowing the Dragon

Posted 1 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillipHarrowing the Dragon, Patricia A. McKillip

As you might expect from Patricia McKillip, this is a lovely collection — some of the stories are just beautiful, and her writing always is. ‘The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath’ is a strong point, as you’d expect from the fact that the collection is named after it, and I enjoyed ‘A Matter of Music’, ‘The Stranger’ and ‘Lady of the Skulls’, too.

The lighter, more humorous ones like ‘A Troll and Two Roses’ and ‘Baba Yaga and the Sorcerer’s Son’ are still well written, but the tone doesn’t work for me. Mostly, it just doesn’t fit with the dream-like prose-poetry I expect from McKillip (and which she delivers, even with the lighter stories).

It’s a nice collection, but not a favourite by any means. It’s one of those I’ll keep because I enjoy the way McKillip writes rather than because I particularly want to revisit most of the stories. This sounds like faint praise, but McKillip’s writing really is beautiful.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 31 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 2 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.

Cover of Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie SeboldWhat are you currently reading?

I’ve decided to try and finish Within the Sanctuary of Wings (Marie Brennan) this evening — I’ve been putting it off, partially because I just don’t want the series to be over. I’ve also recently picked up Shanghai Sparrow (Gaie Sebold). I haven’t got very far into it; it feels kind of typical steampunky stuff, but it’s fun enough to pass the time.

I probably shouldn’t be reading this much, and instead should be swotting up on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis and the ins and outs of homeostasis, but if I close my eyes, my exams can’t see me, right?

Right?

What did you recently finish reading?

Dino Gangs (Josh Young), which is partly a biography of Phil Currie’s career and partly about his major theory: that dinosaurs were social, and tyrannosaurids in particular may have hunted as a pack. It’s a little repetitive, and honestly I’d stick to David Hone’s The Tyrannosaur Cover of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin HobbChronicles, if you’re not planning to just read everything in reach.

Before that, it was a reread of Death Before Wicket (Kerry Greenwood). Not my favourite of Phryne’s adventures, but I might actually have liked it a bit better this time than last. The mysticism stuff still makes me roll my eyes, buuuut… it’s not the first or last time that’s happened with Phryne.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m planning to read Lightning in the Blood (Marie Brennan). I’ve been looking forward to it for ages! That’s nothing but a nibble, though; after that, I think I’ll get started on my reread of Assassin’s Apprentice, since everyone else doing the reread is probably two books ahead of me by now. (Oops.)

There’s also The House of Binding Thorns (Aliette de Bodard), since my copy just arrived a day or two ago. I had a review copy on my ereader, but… sometimes I just get round to paper books better.

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Review – Where the Universe Came From

Posted 31 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of New Scientist: Where the Universe Came FromInstant Expert: Where the Universe Came From, New Scientist

These books are based on the Instant Expert events that New Scientist hosts on various topics. I’ve been to two of them (one on genetics, one on consciousness), and they’re pretty great: pitched at a level most educated people can understand, but delving a bit deeper into some of the latest events and innovations in whatever area of science they cover. They generally have a panel of experts and, honestly, some pretty good food… Anyway, so I was interested to read this one, even without the good food.

Sadly, it’s more relativity than Big Bang; it’s more worried about how to resolve the issues between quantum physics and relativity than about what we do know. That said, it’s pretty accessible and I did follow most of it, which is more than can be said for most attempts to educate me about relativity. However, it does contain repeated material from New Scientist collections and possibly also previous books; how much, I couldn’t say, since I haven’t read those exhaustively.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Sea of Rust

Posted 30 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sea of Rust by C. Robert CargillSea of Rust, C. Robert Cargill

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 7th September 2017

The cover of this is gorgeous, no question, and the idea sounds pretty cool: post-apocalyptic robot Western, what’s not to love? Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book, because it’s just too bogged down in tons and tons (and tons) of exposition via info dump. There are whole chapters where the main character, Brittle, does nothing but explain the history of her world. It’s first person narration, so to whom is she telling the story? Why wouldn’t they know?

(I credit, or curse, Lynn O’Connacht with my pickiness about first person narratives, these days. She’s the first one who really made me go, oh, right. Why is this person telling this story anyway, and to whom?)

That gripe and the exposition aside, I was also put off by the fact that at first, the robots were pretty much ungendered. Brittle didn’t seem to have a gender identity, and certainly there was nothing in the story to indicate one way or the other. (At least to a casual reader, and I’m not going back in to check.) Then all of a sudden, 20% of the way through, it turns out that robots do have gender identities, or at least there’s enough there that other robots still bother with gendered pronouns and distinctions between hes and hers.

That’s probably a very personal gripe, and it may not even have crossed the author’s mind — female robot, why not? But I just have to ask why, why would a robot cling to an outdated, human idea of gender in a post-human world?

Maybe that gets addressed later on, but I don’t have the patience to wait for it.

Rating: 1/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 30 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

Oh dear, the theme this week is books you’re looking forward to in the second half of 2017, and I’ve no idea. But here’s some 2017 books I don’t have yet and really really want.

  1. Our Dark Duet, by V.E. Schwab. I got an ARC of the first book and read it instantly, so I have been waiting far too long now. Gimme!
  2. Shattered Minds, by Laura Lam. I have an ARC of this one and I’ve started it, but I can tell already that I’m going to want to talk about it. Get thee to a preorder, friends.
  3. The Thorn of Emberlain, by Scott Lynch. I don’t know if this is even scheduled for 2017. All I know is, I want it badly.
  4. Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh. Hyperbole and a Half is the best. Okay, Amazon says 2017, but the publisher says 2050 (i.e. delayed indefinitely). But I can dream.
  5. The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin. I should catch up with this series. The new book coming out is probably going to make sure I do.
  6. Provenance, by Ann Leckie. I didn’t even know this was coming before a week or two ago, but now I am definitely excited.
  7. The Witchwood Crown, by Tad Williams. Yessss. The original series were great epic fantasy, so I have high hopes.
  8. The Tiger’s Daughter, by K. Arsenault Rivera. This sounds awesome and has queer heroines. Gimme! (I’m making eyes at Tor on Netgalley, here; I haven’t been accepted or rejected for the ARC yet.)
  9. Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey. Gimme, gimme, gimme! I loved River of Teeth a lot more than I expected.
  10. Lightning in the Blood, by Marie Brennan. Wait. This is out today

That’s me disappearing off to read, folks! But do comment and let me know what you’re looking forward to. I always try and return comments!

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