Review – Mesopotamia

Posted 18 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mesopotamia by Gwendolyn LeickMesopotamia: The Invention of the City, Gwendolyn Leick

After reading David Damrosch’s The Buried Book, I was eager to read more about Mesopotamia — a place and culture which has influenced so much of humanity’s subsequent history, but about which we often know all too little. This book looked like the perfect way to get more information: it discussed the building of early cities, which includes so much of what’s relevant to humanity. Interaction, education, religion, etc, etc.

Unfortunately, it’s badly written. Or rather, it’s overwritten: sentences meander along to conclusions which don’t always make sense, or which could have been put much more cogently. Suppositions go unsupported, instead phrased in a kind of hopeful, artistic way.

For example, Leick mentions the lagoon beneath the first city, Eridu. She links this to vessels found in presumed temples throughout Mesopotamia, containing water. Okay, I can go with that; I’ll trust your link there. And then:

Perhaps the fountains and pools in Middle Eastern buildings of much later centuries retain a faint memry of the old lagoon in the very south of Mesopotamia.

What Middle Eastern buildings? What centuries? What are the links that would cause that memory to be retained? What’s the evidence? Why are you saying this, is it important? Or is all of this speculative, more poetry than history? Without being able to judge that, the whole thing falls apart somewhat. Combined with the overly abstruse sentences, and I found myself unconvinced it’d be worth my time. I didn’t finish the book.

Rating: 1/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 18 March, 2017 by Nikki in General / 18 Comments

Happy Saturday!

The, ah, acquisitive mood of last week prevailed this week too — though I promise, some of these were ordered a while ago and were just waiting for me at my parents’ house. It’s quite the haul though!

New fiction:

Cover of Red Sister by Mark Lawrence Cover of The Vorrh by B. Catling Cover of Wintersong by S. Jae Jones Cover of A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Red Sister and The Vorrh are both review copies. I’m thinking Wintersong might be next up on the list to read…

New non-fiction:

Cover of The Real Lives of Roman Britain by Guy de la Bedoyere Cover of Hengeworld by Mike Pitts Cover of Fairweather Eden by Mike Pitts Cover of Hardian's Wall by David Breeze and Brian Dobson

Cover of The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards Cover of What is Life by Addy Pross Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain Works Cover of New Scientist: Where the Universe Came From

Cover of How We Live and Why We Die by Lewis Wolpert Cover of Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees Cover of How Long Is Now?

Plus a whole bunch of New Scientist collections, which I won’t feature here right now. But there’s eight of them and I counted them all as books on my acquired list, so I’d better get reading!

Books read this week: 

Cover of How Long Is Now? Cover of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham Cover of Mind-Expanding Ideas by New Scientist

Cover of The Human Brain by New Scientist Cover of Gaia by James Lovelock Cover of Fairweather Eden by Mike Pitts

I fit in some good reading time this week, but it’s all non-fiction! Apparently I’m in an odd mood…

Sneak peek at ratings:
Four stars to… Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, The Human Brain, Gaia and Fairweather Eden.
Three stars to… How Long is Now and Mind-Expanding Ideas.

Reviews posted this week:

Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor. These novellas are mostly proving not to be my thing, and it didn’t help that I felt like I needed to reread the first one. 2/5 stars
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. Some really amazing women and a well-told story of where they came from and how they got where they wanted to go. 4/5 stars
The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman. Lots of fun, as with the whole series, but I’m glad there’s going to be more. This didn’t feel like an ending. 4/5 stars
Blood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood. Lively and entertaining, as you’d expect with Phryne, though with a surprisingly dark patch near the end. 4/5 stars
Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn. This fell somewhat flat for me — I didn’t really believe in the conflict. 2/5 stars
I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong. Entertaining and informative, and perhaps a bit lighter and with more sense-of-wonder than some of the other books on microbes I’ve read. 4/5 stars
Chalk, by Paul Cornell. Well-written, but not my thing at all. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: TBR. A selection of books that I’ll maybe, possibly, hopefully be reading soon.
What are you reading Wednesday. An update on what I’ve been reading, and what I might read next. Or soon. Maybe.

How’s your week been?

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Review – Chalk

Posted 17 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Chalk by Paul CornellChalk, Paul Cornell

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 21st March 2017

I don’t quite know how to rate this, because it’s not much my thing. It’s a bit too close to horror, it’s so grim, and the teenage boy fixation with sex was, well, rather beyond my experience or anything I’m interested in. Bullying I know well, and Cornell captures it wonderfully — but I can’t say beautifully, because who could call that beautiful? The magic is weird and wondrous and I do enjoy the way it’s tied in with history and the landscape.

I was less interested or convinced by Angie’s pop music magic; it felt very thin indeed, almost just a way to give her more of a role in the story without it feeling organic. But the main character’s ambivalence to her, the people around him, the great big revenge that’s happened because he wanted it — that feels real.

I can’t say I enjoyed this, and I can’t say I’d read it again, but nor would I urge someone not to read it. It’s definitely powerful, and I had to read to the end, even though I found aspects of it distasteful (I suspect I was intended to).

Rating: 2/5

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Review – I Contain Multitudes

Posted 16 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of I Contain Multitudes by Ed YongI Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong

If you’ve already read books like Martin Blaser’s Missing Microbes, a lot of this info won’t be new to you. However, Ed Yong’s enthusiasm and wider range — dipping into the microbes of other animals and even insects — is a joy. He also provides a counterpoint to some of Blaser’s more hysterical ideas about the loss of microbes. He agrees that microbes are important, and that our relationships with them are complex. But he doesn’t accept that we’re totally doomed. There’s tons of research into repopulating our guts with beneficial microbes, prebiotics and probiotics. No doubt things are in the pipeline which will make a difference.

Yong is significantly less hopeful about the potential of procedures like faecal transplants — though the results have been encouraging in cases of C. difficile infections, the potential for treating inflammatory bowel disease seems more limited. It’s not impossible that a refined version of faecal transplants can help to rebalance the irritated and inflamed gut systems of people who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases… but so far, the data isn’t there.

With his enthusiasm and interest, Yong makes me want to hurry the heck up, get my biology degree, and get stuck into researching on exactly these topics. One thing is for sure: our microbiome is incredibly important, and we need more research. Our gut microbes can affect our overall health in so many ways — mental health included — that I foresee a lot more time being spent on this in labs in the near future. And I hope I’ll be one of the people working in one of those labs.

If you don’t know much about microbes, fear not: Yong’s writing is clear and accessible, with no technobabble. I think this book would be totally accessible to anyone with an interest.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 16 March, 2017 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?

The last two were a New Scientist collection about the human brain, which was good, and Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham. Lots of science at the moment. Catching Fire is pretty good; there’s one chapter about gender roles I want to go over again, because I was getting kind of sleepy when I read it. But overall, it was evidence-based and convincing, I think.

What are you currently reading?

I just started reading James Lovelock’s Gaia. It’s a classic, and the Gaia theory is something I’ve been vaguely aware of for a long time, so I thought I’d plunge in. Plus it’s part of OUP’s Landmark Science series, which I really want to dig into. I have a few others.

What are you planning to read next?

I’m not sure. I just got a big pile of books which ideally I need to kind of… dissipate before I go back to Belgium, so I don’t have to drag them all in my suitcase. I think I’ll finally focus on finishing Emma Newman’s Planetfall, and then I might read S. Jae Jones’ Wintersong.

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Review – Martians Abroad

Posted 15 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Martians Abroad by Carrie VaughnMartians Abroad, Carrie Vaughn

Received to review via Netgalley; published 17th January 2017

I had pretty high hopes for this, since I enjoy Carrie Vaughn’s work. And it’s not a bad book; it just never took off for me. The set-up, the conflict, the conclusion — all of it felt a little flat to me. I didn’t quite believe in it, I definitely didn’t believe in the stakes, and I don’t think I really believed in the characters either. On the face of it, I should really enjoy Polly’s character: her presence of mind, her refusal to think inside the box, her quickness to act and her willingness to protect others. I don’t even really know why I didn’t. I suppose because I didn’t feel her emotions coming through. She was dumped by her boyfriend and my reaction was ‘oh, well’ — partly because of her reaction, though admittedly also because that relationship isn’t built up at all.

If the phrase “dumped by her boyfriend” makes you feel like this might be a little juvenile, you’re right there, too. It feels like a YA novel, not just because of the age of the characters but because of the relatively low stakes. I mean, the stakes are allegedly life and death, and yet it always felt like a game. You got the sense that things would be okay. I almost hoped they wouldn’t be, at one particular point near the end, because that would’ve surprised me.

Bit of a miss for me, alas.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Blood and Circuses

Posted 14 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Blood and Circuses by Kerry GreenwoodBlood and Circuses, Kerry Greenwood

In this installment, Phryne leaves behind her safe and comfortable house to do some slumming with the circus. She’s implausibly great at everything, of course, so it’s no surprise she learns how to do some trick riding. It’s also no surprise that her lovers are a clown and a carnie — and neither of them mind.

I was tempted to drop my rating from four stars to three this time when I think about how dramatic this one gets. There’s a lot of violence, with a whole gang situation. And there’s also attempted rape and personal danger for Phryne herself. For a series I normally view as relatively cosy, that felt like a bit much. But then, if you think about it, it’s not much more over the top than the anarchists of Death at Victoria Dock or some of the later stuff Phryne does for Lin Chung.

Also, there’s a bit where the clown is almost violent with Phryne, against her will — sorry, no, not having had sex for a long time is no excuse for that.

On the other hand, I enjoy Jack’s half of the story. An intersex individual is always a bit of an invitation for an author to mess up. Greenwood mostly does not, and Jack is satisfyingly brusque in ordering his subordinates to refer to the individual by their chosen name and pronouns. There’s also a fun friendship developing between unlikely characters in the form of Lizard Elsie and a former acrobat. So a tentative four stars it remains.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 14 March, 2017 by Nikki in General / 16 Comments

Good morning, all! Looks like Top Ten Tuesday is back, and the official theme is what’s coming up on your spring TBR. Well… ten books is far too few, plus when I make these lists I never end up following them. But let’s just say there’s a good chance I’ll read some of these soon. And to spice things up, I’ll give you two books I’m planning to reread, two review copies I need to get to, two books from my backlog I want to read, two books that everyone else wants me to read, and two books I don’t own yet but would rather like to read.

Cover of The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay Cover of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab Cover of The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi Cover of The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard Cover of  The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

  1. To reread: Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan. I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while, and it’s one of my mother’s favourites. I don’t even remember it that well, so this should be good.
  2. To reread: V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s time to read the whole trilogy!
  3. To review: John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire. His books are always a good time, and this one’s been sat waiting for a while. Time to get to it.
  4. To review: Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns. Again, this one has been waiting for me a while. It’s high time, especially since the first book made me forget to eat my dinner.
  5. From the backlog: Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer. This is the book club choice, which means it feels rather like a kick in the butt to actually go ahead and read these books… which have been waiting on my backlog for literally years.
  6. From the backlog: James Tiptree Jr.’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. It’s a classic, and I feel terrible that I haven’t read it — and now I’m here at my parents’ house for a while, there’s a copy staring me accusingly in the face…
  7. Please read it, Nikki: Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves. Um. I know. I have no excuse. I’m sorry.
  8. Please read it, Nikki: George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. My sister really wants me to read this series sometime. Sometime. 
  9. Wishlist: Melinda Salisbury’s The Scarecrow Queen. I haven’t uncritically loved this series, but I do want to know where it goes. There’s something very compulsive about it!
  10. Wishlist: Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. Give. It. To. Me.

Cover of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr. Cover of Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch Cover of A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin Cover of The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury Cover of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

So there y’go: the TBR I almost certainly won’t complete in the spring… Heh. What about all of you? Can you stick to a TBR?

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Review – The Burning Page

Posted 13 March, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanThe Burning Page, Genevieve Cogman

Full disclosure: I did receive a review copy of this, but I also bought a copy.

I was really, really looking forward to this book, and for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. It continues to be a fun romp, centring around that idea of an interdimensional library preserving all kinds of variant texts. The warmth and love of books is still a key feature, and the characters are the same group we’ve come to love. While the last book was a bit of a break from overarching plot, this one returned to it: in this one, Irene has to confront the rogue Librarian, Alberich — and he has some very big targets in mind this time.

I especially loved the visits to alternate worlds; I’d love to see more of that. The visit to a Russia ruled by an immortal Catherine the Great was pretty awesome, and there’s so much room for Cogman to play with all kinds of alternates. They aren’t the main point of the book or plot, but they’re still fascinating little microcosms of things that could be.

I’m relieved that this isn’t the last book, because there are a few more mysteries introduced here. Irene’s parentage, where the Library is going now… it feels like the beginning, rather than the end of a plot line. And if I have any disappointment about this book, it’s in that: somehow, the seeming end of the story arc didn’t feel final enough. There may be good reason for that, in which case this book would work better on a reread after reading sequels; for now, it just felt a little odd. It felt like a return to the status quo, without being knocked as far away from it as I’d expected.

There’s still plenty to wonder about, and plenty of room for more stories, thank goodness. I think I sound more critical than I really am; I enjoyed the book a lot, and read it in almost one gulp. The whole series is a lot of fun, and I definitely recommend it — especially if you need a break from reality.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Hidden Figures

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

Cover of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee ShetterlyHidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

Despite my mother’s interest in space and all things to do with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, I never knew about the ‘computers’ who supported the US race to space. The history I knew was all about the big shots: the astronauts, the program director, even the doctors… It was a white, male history. And it was a history that was worth knowing, no denying: the astronauts and scientists it covered worked hard and achieved amazing things.

But there were women behind them, and black women at that. Reading this, it was a little unbelievable at times that none of them ever showed up in the histories I read before. And sometimes it was unbelievable to read about racism, segregation and sexism and then see such a recent date on it.

If you know someone who says women have never achieved anything, well, this book’s for them. If you know a black little girl who wants to be a scientist? This is for her, too. If you want to be more informed about women in STEM? You guessed it.

It’s not always the most focused read, covering as many women as Shetterly could get concrete details on. She didn’t just cover their lives when at NASA, but their time pre-NASA and even pre-NACA. It leaves you with a lot of names to keep track of, but it’s worth paying attention. I appreciate the way Shetterly puts the women into their social context, showing how they also had families to support, how they helped other women and black people around them, how they were involved in the wider societal change of the time. All of these women are worth reading about — and I think I’m only sorry they didn’t each have a book to themselves.

Rating: 4/5

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