Review – Nova

Posted 31 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Nova by Samuel R DelanyNova, Samuel R. Delany

I’ve meant to read this for so long, because it’s a total classic and everyone seemed to expect me to love Delany’s work. Although the writing is clever, the way some of the characters speak (verb last) just got infuriating, and I don’t think any of the characters are really there to be liked. As for the grail story narrative that’s supposed to be there, well; knowing the grail story as well as I do (clue: very well, thanks to Cardiff University’s medieval lit tutors) it didn’t really feel like a grail story. Moby Dick, perhaps; that’s a comparison that does feel apt.

There are some gorgeous bits of prose and intriguing ideas, and I did want to read it all and find out how things turned out, but… it just didn’t blow me away. Possibly the fault lies in me, since Delany is a classic SF writer; I’ve still got Babel-17 to read, and we’ll see if I like that better.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Unnatural

Posted 30 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unnatural by Philip BallUnnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People, Philip Ball

Although this is classed as ‘popular science’, more than half of it is essentially literary criticism. It’s all relevant to the kinds of anxieties humans have about artificial people, but if you’re here for cloning, IVF, gene editing, etc, then it’s pretty thin on that. I hadn’t thought about a lot of stuff in the way this book opens it up, but there was far too much waffling before it got to the actual science bit — I’d have enjoyed it more if it’d been marketed as literary criticism/history, or if there’d been more of the science stuff.

At the very least, Philip Ball writes clearly, and it’s not a chore to read except in that it wasn’t what I was hoping for. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more holistic about the modern science around ‘making people’, including the myths and literature that inform and reveal our anxieties about it, then you’ll probably enjoy it.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 29 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

Good morning, folks! Today I’m off to spend the day with my grandparents-in-law until evening, so I might not comment (or comment back) until tomorrow. It’s been a quiet week, really; I worked on reading some difficult stuff, so I haven’t finished nearly as many books as I’d like. As for new books, well… just one ARC, and a quiet week ahead too, I think. But next weekend is my paper wedding anniversary, and we’re celebrating in style by going to Amsterdam to browse their bookshops, so that might well be a busy week for books!

Received to review:

Cover of The Warrior Princess by K.M. Ashman

I was going to pass on this one, until I realised that the warrior princess in question is Welsh, and this is set in Wales! You have my attention, sir!

Finished reading this week:

Cover of Mapping the Interior Cover of The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFadden Cover of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Four stars: Mapping the Interior, The Trouble With Physics, Life on the Edge, American Gods (reread).

Reviews posted this week:

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. I appreciated this one more on a reread, just like the first book. A really great trilogy, and this middle book doesn’t disappoint. 5/5 stars
Bloodshot, by Cherie Priest. I didn’t love this as much as I remembered, but there’s still so much awesome about it. 4/5 stars
The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers. So much to love about this, particularly the way it bursts at the seams with inventiveness and love of books. 4/5 stars
Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by David Whitehouse. Not my favourite area of science, but still an interesting diversion. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Pet Peeves About Blogging. Featuring: why do I get spammed with my own copy?!
WWW Wednesday. The update on what I’m reading, what I’ve just read, and what I’m going to read.

So how’re you all doing?

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Review – Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Posted 28 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Journey to the Centre of the Earth by David WhitehouseJourney to the Centre of the Earth, David Whitehouse

This book uses all kinds of insights from mineralogy and seismology to put together a picture of what the Earth’s composed of, layer by layer. Despite the author’s obvious enthusiasm, this isn’t one of my primary interests, and I did find my interest flagging at times — it seemed like some chapters were just unnecessarily dragged out and like he got off the point some of the time. Nonetheless, if this is the kind of science that enthuses you, it’s worth reading — it deals with the history of the study of our Earth as well as the straightforward facts about the composition of each layer.

The more I learn about all kinds of science, including Earth science, the happier I am. Even if it’s not my field, I’m glad I read this.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The City of Dreaming Books

Posted 27 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The City of Dreaming Books by Walter MoersThe City of Dreaming Books, Walter Moers, trans. John Brownjohn

The City of Dreaming Books is delightfully whimsical, crammed full of ideas that practically want to burst out of the pages, and it’s all about books and writing and the love of reading. There’s so much going on — so much humour, so much inventiveness — and it’s all supplemented by the illustrations. I was a little worried after reading a synopsis of one of Moers’ other books (which is apparently in the same world, though this one stands alone) that it’d be too childish, but it didn’t feel that way at all. Of course, it’s a total adventure yarn, but it’s the sort that I think should appeal to anyone who likes a bit of adventure.

There are catacombs full of books, creatures that live only far beneath the surface of the city and devote their lives to learning to recite a single author’s output, deadly books and living books, monsters made of paper… And, you know, the main character is a dinosaur (who loves books excessively and wants to be a writer), and…

It’s hard to describe all the stuff that’s going on in this book. I can only conclude by saying that I found it deliciously readable and a lot of fun.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 26 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 7 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 at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin HobbAt the moment, I’m mostly working on my reread of Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb, and I’ve just started a reread of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman — I’ve been meaning to reread it for a while, since the show started. Not that I’ve been watching the show (I hardly ever watch tv), but it brought it to mind and I did see bits of it while my wife was watching it.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Trouble with Physics by Lee SmolinI juuuust finished reading The Trouble With Physics, by Lee Smolin. It’s a little out of date, I suspect, since it’s from 2007, so before the Higgs boson was found and so on, but I think a lot of the points still hold true. String theory still, as far as I know, hasn’t come up with any predictions or designed any major experiments to prove or disprove the theory, and the musing on the academic community in the sciences is still relevant too.

What will you read next?

Cover of Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. CoreyI’m going to read Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey, since that’s a book club read, and then Life on the Edge, by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden, because I’m going to the NS Live event in September and one of the authors is going to be there. Also, because I have no idea what quantum biology is, and I want to find out.

So what are you reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 25 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

There’s still no official theme, so this week I’m going to take a chance on being curmudgeonly. Here’s ten things that annoy me about being a book blogger!

  1. When people don’t comment back, ever. Sometimes, there just isn’t something that they want to comment on, or they’re too busy for a week or two. I totally get that. But if they never drop by in return, it feels totally one-sided — like I’m a number that helps them get ARCs or whatever, but they’re not willing to put in any effort to make a real link between us.
  2. When people comment without reading. I know that when it’s a big link-up like Stacking the Shelves or whatever, people mostly drop by to get visits in return, so they often copy/paste “looks like a great haul!” and a link to their own post. Or “looks like you got a ton of books!” I can get that, but I wish people would put at least a little effort in — don’t tell me I got a ton of books when the text of the post says clearly that those are the books I read this week. I always try to say something about the books they’ve got, or the life updates in their post!
  3. Snobbery. It’s okay to have reading preferences, obviously, and even to comment about why you don’t enjoy x or y. But if you’re only coming by to link your blog, and you say things like “I never read fantasy, it’s all too childish”… well, it doesn’t sound good (and you look silly, since there’s a ton of adult fantasy).
  4. Spam. Why do I get so much spam?! The number one target review seems to be one of my Susanna Kearsley reviews, and I don’t get it at all.
  5. When I get spammed by my own copy. I mean, I’m a copywriter. It makes sense that sometimes I might run into stuff I wrote the advertising for. But it just feels beyond rude when it shows up in the comment spam on my WordPress. One, hey! I didn’t write that for you to spam with! And two, oi, spam filter — are you saying my writing looks like spam?! And three, this is a book blog, so why are you targeting it with copy about picture frames and saving whales?
  6. People making assumptions. When a blogger assumes I’m not a writer, or I don’t read x genre, or that I’m a certain age… Don’t assume, guys, you know who it makes an ass out of.
  7. “I prefer real books.” Ebooks are real. They’re different, and maybe they don’t work for you, but hey. Ereaders help all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons.
  8. People who openly tell authors they’ve pirated their books. Why? Why would you do that? Authors have a right to earn a living, and “exposure” doesn’t pay for food.
  9. People tagging authors in bad reviews. Unless there’s some prior relationship there or the critique is something they might benefit from, why would you do that? And don’t do that even given that if the person who wrote the review doesn’t say it’s okay. Some people don’t want to interact with the author.
  10. Authors commenting on my reviews of their book to argue with me. Most often, it’s male science writers who feel the desperate need to tell me I’m wrong about their book, so you’ll have to excuse the sinking feeling I get when I realise a given comment is from an author. I’ve had some great interactions with authors I’ve critiqued — Tony Hays, author of The Killing Way and the rest of that series, would be one example. But mostly it just doesn’t work out.

I’m sure that I could be hoist by my own petard for some of these, because I can be a cranky snob as much as anyone. I try and keep a lid on it, though.

What’re your pet peeves?

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Review – Bloodshot

Posted 24 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Bloodshot by Cherie PriestBloodshot, Cherie Priest

There’s a lot to love about Bloodshot. The protagonist is a flapper vampire with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who uses her skills to steal things and sort of looks out for two street urchins who’ve taken up residence in her warehouse. Her client is a blind vampire who may be able to control the weather, having been experimented on by the government, and her eventual sidekick is a crossdressing ex-Navy SEAL who looks fabulous in either male or female clothing, kicks complete ass, and is trying to find out what happened to his sister in the same sort of experiments. The interactions are delightful, and Raylene’s tone is often funny.

There are some quibbles — Raylene tends to ramble, and on a second read it becomes obvious how long it takes for the plot to get off the ground. I’m still immensely fond of the characters and all the ass they kick, despite being tiny and obsessive-compulsive (Raylene), in high heels and a glittery thong part of the time, including during action scenes (Adrian) and blind (Ian). They make for a great team. Raylene’s a little too trigger happy — or rather, I guess, fang-happy; she’s definitely morally ambiguous, for all that I totally rooted for her throughout.

It might possibly work better as a TV show or movie, in that Raylene’s inner monologue is part of what slows things up. Not that I can imagine anyone making something of this and not utterly butchering it in some way — what charms about it is partly that these characters would rarely be allowed to shine in quite this way in mainstream fiction, and it’s possible in another context Adrian would be used as comic relief in some way. (Which he isn’t, which is great.)

Still very fun, but also definitely still flawed on a reread.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ancillary Sword

Posted 23 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann LeckieAncillary Sword, Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword has a smaller scale than Ancillary Justice, which actually continues into book three. It’s not that the wider events are forgotten, but it narrows down to the narrow section of space Breq can protect, her ship, and Athoek Station. As with the first book, I liked this more on the second reading — probably because, yes, I did know what to expect, so I could appreciate it better, but also because on reflection I like that Leckie doesn’t try to tackle the huge sweep of events. Instead, she focuses in on Breq and those around her, and keeps it manageable in plot and for the reader to appreciate.

There was less of Seivarden in this book than I remembered, and actually I think I’d have liked to see more of Seivarden. She’s got learning to do, but all the same, I’ve come to appreciate the character. She’s far from perfect, and she’s not even an anti-hero — she’s just a flawed person. But nonetheless, she grows and develops.

Sometimes Breq is a little too… far-seeing. There are things she suspects in this book that only really become obvious in the third book. In retrospect, I enjoy the way things come together, but the first time it felt like Breq was a little too good. But then, of course, she’s not human. She’s an ancillary, and so she thinks differently. I suppose that’s part of what we’re being shown here too.

So, yes, conclusion continues to be: well worth the reread, and definitely as good as or better than I remembered it.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 22 July, 2017 by Nikki in General / 22 Comments

Good morning! It’s been a week already?! I got my exam results this week — I’ve passed everything, and I even got a distinction in Human Biology. No books for rewards so far, though my birthday presents have been ordered — I’m getting all the re-issues of the Peter Wimsey books, with the snazzy new covers. There’s only one where I haven’t been able to get the new cover, and I have found one that at least matches. Woo!

Received to review:

Cover of A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris Cover of An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles

Yay! I didn’t think I’d be approved for A Pocketful of Crows. It sounds like it’s something different for Joanne Harris, which will be nice.

Read this week:

Cover of Life Unfolding by Jamie A. Davies Cover of Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell Cover of The Glass Magician by Charlie N Holmberg Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees

Cover of A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna Cover of False Colours by Georgette Heyer Cover of A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris Cover of Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Not as good a reading week as last week, but not too shabby either!

Five stars: A Crack in Creation.
Four stars: Life Unfolding, Spellslinger, The Glass Magician, Clouds of Witness, A Pocketful of Crows.
Three stars: Just Six Numbers, False Colours.
Undecided: Buffalo Soldier.

Reviews posted this week:

The Worm at the Core, by Sheldon Solomon et al. A fascinating book about the human fear of death. Some might find it morbid, but I found it rather affirming, really. 5/5 stars
Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers. A reread, of course, and one I enjoyed greatly, as usual. 4/5 stars
A Rough Ride to the Future, by James Lovelock. I found this rather incoherent, in comparison to the original Gaia2/5 stars
The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard. I suspect that if the first book didn’t work for you, this wouldn’t either. I found it riveting, though. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Blogs I Follow.
WWW Wednesday. An update on what I’ve been reading!

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