Review – The Loveless Princess

Posted 29 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Loveless Princess by Lilian BodleyThe Loveless Princess, Lilian Bodley

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd May 2017

There was a lot of potential for this to go really wrong, since it features an aromantic and asexual character in a typically heavily romance-is-your-happy-ever-after world. Princess Anette has to get married, and she’s not interested in the idea at all. It’s not the prince in particular: it’s the idea in general. She’s not interested in sex or romance at all; she doesn’t feel a lack of it in her life, she doesn’t even really feel curious about it.

But she has to get married all the same, to the son of Briar Rose, and everyone around her assures her that it’ll happen. She’ll find her happy ending with the prince.

Well, eventually she does, but not in the simple way they expect. Fortunately, she remains true to her stated identity throughout, without wavering; in that sense, the author deals with having an aro-ace character perfectly. And the setting is kind of cool, with various other fairytales popping their heads up to say hello — people are descending from a princess who could feel a pea through a hundred mattresses, witches can make jewels come out of your mouth whenever you speak, and three old spinning women have attended quite some weddings in their time as honoured guests. I liked all those references, and the way the story follows the logic of fairytales.

At times it does feel a little simplistic, but it takes a lot of work and space to build something really solid onto the fairytale base, and perhaps it’s wrong to expect it. The one thing that does feel wrong to me is that the antagonist is also aro-ace, and it motivates him to be a real ass to everyone. I get that bitterness and loneliness can really mess you up, but ugh.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Herding Hemingway’s Cats

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

Cover of Herding Hemingway's Cats by Kat ArneyHerding Hemingway’s Cats, Kat Arney

I didn’t expect to get that much out of this, since it explores the subject of genetics — I read a lot about genetics, after all, and have done one or two modules focusing on it. And it’s true that the tone is very light and journalistic, quippy and light and funny, but it also has an extensive section for further reading and covers some fascinating topics I didn’t know about. The section on epigenetics was particularly interesting; I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for epigenetics, of course, but this was a more measured and conservative interpretation.

It’s the kind of book that left me turning to my wife and saying, “hey, did you know…?” a lot, and looking up things online (like Minoo Rassoulzadegan’s white-gloved mice). There’s a lot of complications and new things coming out about genetics, and this proved to be an excellent survey of that.

The only thing I disliked was the way the interviews were presented — almost like a dialogue in a novel, but without new paragraphs for new speakers. It made it a little difficult to follow, and I’m not all that interested in what kind of shoes the scientist in question was wearing during the interview.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Passion Play

Posted 27 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Passion Play, by Sean StewartPassion Play, Sean Stewart

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 14th June 2017

I wasn’t sure where this one was going, but it ended up darker than I expected. I kept waiting for something to happen, and then it got all messed around — saying it got turned on its head wouldn’t quite be true, because it made perfect sense and it was coming all along, but I wasn’t quite expecting that. It’s a powerful story, and that ending has a heck of a sting in the tail.

The whole Christian fundamentalist running the USA thing is, well, kind of close to home with someone like Mike Pence as the VP. But this is mostly not about that world; that’s just the backdrop. It’s about living in that world, and making your way if you happen to be an empath, or ‘shaper’. Diane, the main character, uses her skills to chase down criminals and bring them to justice, but she’s starting to burn out.

I don’t want to say too much about this, because it’s a mystery story and it works very well at getting under the skin, for my money. Definitely worth picking up.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 27 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 26 Comments

Hi everyone! I’m back in the UK for a while, for my exams and the election and so on. I’m missing my bunnies, but I did have a lot of great books waiting for me here!

But here, have a picture of Breakfast meeting Captain America, first…

Right, now I feel better.

Received to review:

Cover of Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

I really need to read something by Gail Z. Martin. I’ve had a couple of her books on my list for a while. Oops.

Fiction books bought:

Cover of City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett Cover of False Hearts by Laura Lam Cover of The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury

Cover of A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas Cover of Caraval by Stephanie Garber Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve had my eye on… pretty much all of these for quite a while now. I’m still not sure about The Hate U Give — people love it so much, and recommend it a lot, but I’m not sure if it’s my thing. Still, gonna give it a try.

Non-fiction books bought:

Cover of Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould Cover of Bones of Contention by Paul Chambers Cover of Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka Cover of How To Find A Habitable Planet by James Kasting

Cover of The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner Cover of One Renegade Cell by Robert Weinberg Cover of Life on the Edge by Joe Al-Khalili and Johnjoe MacFadden Cover of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall

Quite the stack, I know! Some of these I’ve been meaning to read for ages, especially Gould’s book. I loved the exhibit on the Burgess Shale at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, but only just got round to picking up a copy of this book to go with the experience.

So yeah, plenty to keep me busy!

Books finished this week:

Cover of A New History of Life by Peter Ward Cover of The Emerald Planet by David Beerling Cover of How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis Wolpert Cover of The Worm at the Core Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey Cover of The Deeper Genome by John Parrington Cover of One Renegade Cell by Robert Weinberg Cover of The Ghost Line Cover of Raisins and Almonds by Kerry Greenwood

Sneak peek at ratings:
Five stars: The Emerald Planet and The Worm at the Core.
Four stars: Waking Gods, River of Teeth,  The Deeper Genome, One Renegade Cell,  The Ghost Line and Raisins and Almonds.
Three stars: A New History of Life and How We Live & Why We Die.

Reviews posted this week:

Being Human, by New Scientist. As with the other New Scientist collections, this is good if the topic interests you, and less so if it doesn’t. It does interest me! 4/5 stars
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Funny, but with some interesting serious touches too. I want more of the Murderbot. 4/5 stars
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, by Svante Pääbo. The science is fascinating, but I wasn’t always so sure about the personal details! It’s not so much about Neanderthals at all, really; just the process of extracting their genomes. 4/5 stars
The Builders, by Daniel Polansky. Redwall, but very red in tooth and claw. And other implements of destruction. 3/5 stars
The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. This is a wide-ranging book, almost impossible to summarise, but well worth reading on symbiosis, evolution, the origin of life… 4/5 stars
Sunbolt, by Intisar Khanani. Fun worldbuilding, and I definitely want to read more. ASAP. 4/5 stars
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey. Hippos! A caper! A hero called Hero! I really enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR. What it says on the tin.
WWW Wednesday. The usual Wednesday update.

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Review – River of Teeth

Posted 26 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 23rd May 2017

So, you might know I love my hippos. After all, my first teddy was Helen Hippo, and she’s been with me since two days after I was born. We have a connection. I wasn’t quite sure about reading this because, well, River of Teeth? Feral hippos attacking? That didn’t sound good. Let me reassure other hippo aficionados: there are feral hippos and they’re pretty vicious, but there are also tamed hippos who happen to be adorable, like the one who likes pastry and has her teeth cleaned regularly.

It’s a fun caper novel set in an alternate US where hippos were brought in to be herded for meat, and you’ve essentially got cowboys riding hippos through bayous and marshes. It isn’t such a leap, though you might think so: the US did consider bringing in hippos for that purpose, once upon a time. This just plays with the idea that they went ahead with it.

The cast of characters is great; my favourite is probably Hero, who is non-binary and has a romance and is completely, utterly badass. I like Houndstooth, too, mostly because his crush on Hero is adorable. And Archie is a ton of fun.

I can’t wait for the next book, though I am somewhat alarmed at the blurb suggesting the gang has split up. That better be an exaggeration!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sunbolt

Posted 25 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sunbolt by Intisar KhananiSunbolt, Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt is a fun little novella with a lot of promise, setting up an interesting fantasy world which is (thank goodness!) not an analogue of medieval Europe. It’s just satisfying enough that I got into it and didn’t want it to end, just tantalising enough that I’m sure I’ll be picking up the second book just as soon as I can.

I did feel like it was a book of two halves — before Hitomi meets Val, and after. The turning point of the book reminded me so much of the scene where Sunshine meets Con in Robin McKinley’s Sunshine — in so many ways, from the character attitudes to how it gets resolved, to the way they talk to each other. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it did feel so very similar that I kind of had deja vu.

I like the fact that romance isn’t a huge part of this; there’s some potential, but nothing really concrete. And there’s all kinds of magic; fangs and Lycans and a tanuki-shifter and just — awesome. I want more.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 24 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

IMG_1384-0I found that there’s actually a link-up for posts basically like my ‘what are you reading Wednesday’ posts, which I transplanted from Dreamwidth way back. So that’s how I’ll do these Wednesday updates from now on! 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 this shall save me from Grammarly shouting at me about the former grammar of these posts.

Check out the WWW Wednesdays linkup!

What are you currently reading?

The Deeper Genome, by John Parrington. So far it’s very good at explaining the basics and how things were discovered, although this is not information I personally need, all things considered! I’m looking forward to the later chapters, which complicate matters beyond the central dogma.

Cover of Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWhat have you recently finished reading?

Yesterday, I managed to read three books, so I’ll just stick to those. First off, I finished Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel. It’s the second book in a series, and it has a cruel, cruel ending. I need to know what happens next. I was initially leery of the format, but it actually really worked (for me, anyway).

Secondly, I read The Worm at the Core, by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski (I hope I typed that correctly). It’s an examination of the role of death in how humans live, and I found it really fascinating (and not at all depressing; if anything, the opposite). I have a generally spiritual-ish background heavy on the arts, but I’m going into science and finding that I have difficulty seeing where a ‘soul’ could fit in. This book shows how important that struggle is for all humans — so at least I know I’m not alone in not being sure, and perhaps not liking the conclusions I’m coming to.Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Thirdly, I read Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, which features hippo-herding (and feral hippos) in the US. It’s alternate history based on a suggestion that was once seriously made, to raise hippos for meat. It has a non-binary-gendered hero called Hero, who has a romance with the main character, and this made me pretty happy — quite apart from the awesome hippos. Rosa the stealth hippo might be my favourite.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Ugh, I have no idea. I just got to my parents’ where a stack of books I’ve ordered over the past couple of months was awaiting me. I’ve got some fiction I’ve been meaning to read for ages, like Laura Lam’s False Hearts… but also non-fiction I’ve been hankering after, like Robert Weinberg’s One Renegade Cell. And then there’s a bunch of books awaiting review, too. I don’t know! I’ll probably go on instinct.

Before you go, psst: if you want more frequent updates on what I’m currently reading, you can find me on Litsy as shanaqui! It’s kind of like Twitter or Instagram, but all books all the time.

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Review – The Vital Question

Posted 24 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Vital Question by Nick LaneThe Vital Question, Nick Lane

If you have a solid grounding in science already, particularly biology, this is probably going to be accessible for you — but if not, you might struggle a little. It starts off alright, but it gets quite dense in places, and if you’re not super-interested, you’ll probably get bogged down. That said, to me it was fascinating, and generated testable hypotheses about how early life could have functioned.

I still disagree with Nick Lane on some points, like the dismissiveness with which he treats “junk” DNA. But he covers a lot of interesting stuff about endosymbiosis, mitochondria, the way mitochondria work with the host cell, how the differences between bacteria and archaea arose… It’s a wide-ranging book, and it’s hard to summarise everything that he touches on.

He also makes some pretty bold predictions about life elsewhere in the universe — that it will work in pretty much the same way as it does on Earth. I don’t disagree with what he says here.

So all in all, a worthwhile read, but bring your thinking cap if you’re not a biologist.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Builders

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

Cover of The Builders by Daniel PolanskyThe Builders, Daniel Polansky

I wouldn’t have thought of this as a one-note joke until I read the author’s note at the end, but it’s true that’s what it is in some ways. Think Redwall, but instead of saccharine sweet mice in an abbey and wise old badgers and the clear distinction between vermin and civilised beasts, everyone is perfectly capable of being dangerous. Yes, even a mole. These animals are pretty much just humans in animal guise, with all our foibles and tendencies to violence.

It’s also an entertaining story. It’s a fast read, and it basically reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s work. I’m not sure it’d stand up to a reread, but it works on the first read as a tidy little novella, well-paced and well put together. It just misses out on four stars for me because I don’t think I’d revisit, even though I had fun.

Maybe avoid it if you don’t enjoy gore and you’re precious about your memories of Redwall, though.

Rating: 3/5

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