Review – Saturn’s Children

Posted 21 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Saturn's Children by Charles StrossSaturn’s Children, Charles Stross

I haven’t really got on with any of Stross’ books, but I’ve never hated them in the way that made me really disinclined to pick up another. I was hopeful about Saturn’s Children — I can’t remember why, but I think it was somebody’s review. And I must say that I probably got along with it better than with most of Stross’ other work that I’ve read. Unfortunately… that isn’t saying much, and there was a great deal I found annoying or even icky about this. I know that it’s meant to be a pastiche/parody of a certain period of Heinlein’s writing, but I haven’t read those books, so I don’t know the references, which didn’t help.

But mostly it’s the way, way over-sexualised stuff and the heavy-handed rape metaphors, and a general feeling that nothing could be off-the-wall enough to surprise me. It’s not that I predicted the plot, it’s just that I felt it might go more or less anywhere, regardless of the information I already had. That’s a feeling I really hate when I’m reading fiction.

It’s not like Freya actually breaks out of the sex-doll-turned-spy mould at all. She pretty much does exactly what you’d expect, with a pouting petulance all the way. She didn’t have a distinctive voice, which made it difficult to tell her apart from Juliette and figure out the personality changes. It did keep me turning pages, but mostly just to get to the end.

So, overall, meh. (For me. I know I’m in a minority in being lukewarm at best on Stross’ work.)

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Death Before Wicket

Posted 20 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Death Before Wicket by Kerry GreenwoodDeath Before Wicket, Kerry Greenwood

Death Before Wicket takes Phryne away from her home turf of Melbourne, bringing her instead to Sydney — where despite her promises to Dot, several mysteries await. This isn’t one of my favourites, as I found it rather slow and over-sensational; the whole mysticism angle didn’t work for me, particularly not when it actually helped solve the mystery. I did enjoy Dot’s subplot, involving finding her sister and reuniting her family. It shows that she’s a good soul at heart, despite her judgementalness: she’s ready to accept her sister no matter what (although she’s relieved to find that her sister seems to be relatively innocent).

A skippable story, but entertaining all the same. It’s Phryne — it’s rarely boring.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 20 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Hey all! I’ll be in the lab when this goes live, so I might not be very quick to respond to comments or visit you back. But I will when my lab school is over, so please do comment. <3 This week’s theme is “Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning to Start But Haven’t”. Boy, oh boy, have I got some for this.Cover of Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

  1. The Milkweed Triptych, by Ian Tregillis. I even managed to get all the books relatively cheap from The Works, of all things. But haven’t got round to them yet. Soon… soon… ish.
  2. The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. I don’t want to know how long these have been waiting on my shelf, actually.
  3. Hidden Legacy, by Ilona Andrews. Ilona Andrews’ books are just perfect for my brain sometimes, so my excuse is that I’m saving these.Cover of Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
  4. The Erebus Sequence, by Den Patrick. I have the first book! …Have had it for a while. Are you sensing a theme?
  5. The Shadowmarch Series, by Tad Williams. I suspect the first book might even have been bought long enough ago it’s not on my lists of acquired-unread books.
  6. Tales of the Ketty Jay, by Chris Wooding. I got this for Christmas through a gift exchange. Not last Christmas. And I don’t think it was the Christmas before, either. Argggh, self.
  7. InCryptid series, by Seanan McGuire. It’s Seanan McGuire, I’m planning to get to it. Soon. Soon. Cover of The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
  8. Sevenwaters, by Juliet Marillier. Technically, I think I started reading Daughter of the Forest, once, many moons ago, but I didn’t finish it at the time for whatever reason.
  9. The Shadow Campaigns, by Django Wexler. My sister speaks highly of these, and I have the first two books…
  10. Cainsville, by Kelley Armstrong. I’ve enjoyed a couple of books by Kelley Armstrong, and the first one of this series tickled my fancy, but I haven’t got round to it yet. I don’t think I’ve owned it that long, though.

So yeah, I could go on. But I’ll stick to ten. How about you lot? Always finding new series to read? Or wishing you didn’t read them so fast so you had more books in great series to look forward to?

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Review – The Shambling Guide to New York City

Posted 19 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur LaffertyThe Shambling Guide to New York City, Mur Lafferty

I was kind of avoiding these because… I don’t know why, really. I thought it might be more like World War Z; a gimmicky set-up with comparatively little story. Wrong! There’s a solid story and direction behind The Shambling Guide to New York City, and though it does contain excerpts from the actual guide, the book itself is not written as a guide to New York City from the point of view of monsters — called, in this book, coterie. Instead, we follow our intrepid, sometimes somewhat slow heroine, Zoe, as she accidentally gets herself employed by a coterie company, learns that monsters are real and do want to eat her, and gets dragged into epic showdowns of opposing coterie.

Okay, in a way it’s wish fulfilment, because Zoe is adaptable, quick on her feet, able to train to learn to cope with all this. Most real people wouldn’t be a quarter as adaptable. But it worked for me all the same: I loved the rather mild Phil the vampire, who turned out to have a vicious side after all. (I don’t know what it is with me lately, but I’d fancast Clark Gregg for this role too.) It reminded me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent. There wasn’t too much romance, and the creepily persistent (or persistently creepy) incubus who wants to seduce Zoe gets nowhere fast.

I love most of the characters — Gwen, the Welsh death goddess; Morgen, the water sprite; Granny Good Mae, the… slightly eccentric Yoda to Zoe’s Luke Skywalker. And those I don’t like still make sense, rather than being caricatures designed to be hated, except maybe one particular character.

Overall, I found this thoroughly enjoyable, and I immediately went on and devoured (heh) the second book, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Recommended!

Also, the covers! Jamie McKelvie, I believe?

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat

Posted 18 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Pavlov's Dogs and Schrodinger's Cat by Ron Harré

Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat, Rom Harré

I’m torn about this book: on the one hand, it does what it sets out to do pretty well. It describes experiments that happened to use living subjects, treating those living subjects as though they’re simply part of the equipment. On the other hand, it very deliberately doesn’t engage with the moral aspect of these experiments, instead choosing to present the experiments dispassionately, claiming to be unable to deal with the moral dimension.

I can appreciate this way of looking at the experiments as a way to gain an understanding of them, but I think avoiding the moral dimension in the end just seems cowardly. If it’s your point of view that the suffering of an animal is worth it for the sake of the experiments, then at least own it. Admit the distress is there.

Without addressing that aspect, this book actually comes across as very flat. I ended up losing interest in a lot of these experiments, because animals aren’t just another piece of equipment. We have to use living tissue in experiments because only living tissue responds in the weird and wonderful ways that it needs to in order to give true results. Pretending a dog is a just a petri dish that happens to be pumping blood and breathing air seems disingenuous and pointless.

If you’re interested in the purely scientific treatment of animals as just objects in an experiment, this will work fine for you — that’s what the author delivers. If you find it hard to separate the two, or like me believe that it’s our duty to at least own what we do to animals, then it may fall rather flat.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Lightning in the Blood

Posted 17 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie BrennanLightning in the Blood, Marie Brennan

I feel like I might have appreciated this more if I’d refreshed my memory on the first book, Cold-Forged Flame, first. I remembered the basics, of course, but some of the subtleties apparently escaped my brain even in the short time since I read the first book. Still, I do find the world really interesting and Ree’s role in the world compelling. The end of this book came as no real surprise as I’d already pegged Ree as a wanderer type.

I felt like maybe I didn’t connect enough with this one, though. I wasn’t hooked on it, at least. It’s still well-written, but I do recommend having the first book fresher in your mind when you start it. And maybe I’m also suffering a little from missing Brennan’s Lady Trent, now that series is finished. I’ll be interested to revisit this (and the first book) when another book is on the horizon…

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 17 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 26 Comments

Good morning! It’s been a week already? I’ve been spending the week reading, mostly, as you might expect. It’s been fun! And before I get to business, here’s this week’s pic of one of my bunnies — this is Breakfast, ‘splooting’. Apparently he finds it comfortable?

Picture of Breakfast the bunny splooting, aka lying with his legs stretched way behind him

Yep, I still miss them. But, books!

Received to review:

Cover of Walking on Knives by Maya Chhabra

Little Mermaid queer retelling! I’m so there.

Bought/given:

 Cover of Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell Cover of Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell Cover of Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell

Cover of Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty Cover of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden Cover of The Wicked + The Divine: Vol 5

It’s been a while since I read Traitor’s Blade, so I figured I’d get the whole lot (except the newest one, which wasn’t there anyway and isn’t in paperback yet) and reread from the beginning. And hurrah for getting Six Wakes — thank you to Alys from Habitica for bringing me a copy from the US!

Also, I got just one comic; I’m not buying Marvel at the moment, so I tried not to look!

And finally, a whole bunch of non-fic — of course.

Cover of Personality by Daniel Nettle Cover of Brainwashing by Kathleen Taylor Cover of Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean Carroll Cover of The Viral Storm

Cover of Brainwashing by Kathleen Taylor Cover of Forces of Nature by Brian Cox Cover of The Bonobo and the Atheist by Frans de Waal Cover of Vanished Ocean by Dorrick Stowe

…Which you may have noticed includes quite a few books from one of my recent wishlists! Hurrah!

Books read this week:

Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan Cover of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty Cover of Saturn's Children by Charles Stross Cover of The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty Cover of Journey to the Centre of the Earth by David Whitehouse

Cover of A Rough Ride to the Future by James Lovelock Cover of In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin Cover of Shapes by Philip Ball Cover of Flow by Philip Ball Cover of Branches by Philip Ball

Four stars to: The Shambling Guide to New York City and The Ghost Train to New Orleans.
Three stars to: Lightning in the Blood, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, In Search of the Multiverse and Shapes.
Two stars to: Saturn’s Children and A Rough Ride to the Future.

Reviews posted this week:

Trial by Fire, by Lore Graham. Fun, and though more focused on the sexual relationship than I’m interested in, I did appreciate the theme of clear communication. 3/5 stars
How We Live and Why We Die, by Lewis Wolpert. Pretty basic from my point of view, but it’d make a good introduction or refresher on the subject of how cells in the body live, work together and die. 3/5 stars
Words and Rules, by Steven Pinker. If you’ve read The Language Instinct, this probably won’t add anything to your understanding, but Pinker is a clear and accessible writer. 3/5 stars
Shanghai Sparrow, by Gaie Sebold. This is fairly typical steampunk, but it was a fun and quick read all the same.
Dino Gangs, by Josh Young. A good overview of Phil Currie’s work on dinosaurs and the way they may have lived in groups. However, it makes Currie seem as if he just rejects evidence he doesn’t like. 3/5 stars
Raisins and Almonds, by Kerry Greenwood. I might be hesitating a bit about the tendency to describe Phryne’s lovers as exotic and such, but this one does contain a really powerful scene that’s pretty much worth the price of admission on its own. 3/5 stars
Within the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennan. The final book of this series really delivers. That’s all I’m gonna say. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Last 10 Books I Inhaled. What it says on the tin — a departure from the official theme, this week.
WWW Wednesday. An update on what I’m reading.
From my other blog, NEAT science: Experiment – Does my mood correlate with the amount I read? Pt 1. It’s a theory, and now I’m out to test it!

How’s everyone doing? Good week, bad week? All the books, nothing new?

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Review – Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Posted 16 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan

I kind of procrastinated on reading this book, or at least finishing it, because I didn’t want the adventures to be over. This is the concluding volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs, and I already miss her ‘deranged practicality’, her curiosity and drive, and the people around her. Still, it’s a worthy end to her story, concluding her major scientific studies with — well, I’d better be careful not to say too much. The series has been building up to this point, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the moment of realisation and discovery halfway through this book.

My only quibble, perhaps, is a minor spoiler — I find it amazing that Isabella’s team come out of all of this so well. They end up in what I think are an analogue for the mountains of Tibet, suffer avalanches and punishingly cold temperatures, and yet for the most part, they come through these trials whole or able to heal. No frostbite, no permanent injuries, etc. It’s a bit of a contrast to the end of book one, where of course Isabella’s husband dies. I probably would’ve been annoyed if Isabella didn’t get a happy ending, but maybe this one felt a little too easy.

I don’t want to end on a quibble, though, because I truly love these books — more than I ever thought I would, the first time I read A Natural History of Dragons. Isabella is an amazing character, and I can’t help but love her and most of those around her. I really enjoy that the books have some illustrations of dragons and finds, and that Isabella is a serious scholar who tests hypotheses and formulates theories — she doesn’t get to the answer in one leap of intuition in book one and then simply have to prove what she already knows. The five books each see her learning more, changing her ideas, and being surprised along the way.

And lest you be worried about the Victorian-ish setting of these books and what effect it might have on the narration, don’t. If they were actually set in Victorian times, I’d call them anachronistic — there’s a flavour of the old fashioned in some of the phrasing and such, but no more. Suffice it to say that my sister read the last two books in about 24 hours — snatching my copy of this one from my hand almost as soon as she saw me when I arrived to visit.

If my wife would start reading them now, that’d be good. I’m waiting (and hoping she likes Isabella and her adventures as much as I do).

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Raisins and Almonds

Posted 15 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raisins and Almonds by Kerry GreenwoodRaisins and Almonds, Kerry Greenwood

I try not to think too much about the way Phryne’s lovers are described at times — Lin Chung and Simon (Chinese and Jewish, respectively) are described as exotic and beautiful and… yeah, I’m starting to get uncomfortable the more I think about it. Likewise, there’s a certain amount of stereotyping that goes on with the Jewish and Chinese characters in particular. It’s not negative, but it is so… generalising and annoying.

On the other hand, the first time I read this I enjoyed it because it puts one of Phryne’s lovers in serious danger, and there’s an incredibly powerful family scene which just felt completely raw and not “cosy” at all. I felt the same this time, and that somewhat mitigated the rather lower star rating I’d have given.

Plus, while I do find aspects of these books problematic, I still adore the idea of Phryne’s character, the way nothing gets in the way, the way she controls her own sexuality and uses it. There’s still a lot of fiction that pretends women are more asexual by default, and it’s annoying. (Yep, even to me, even though I have no actual interest in reading about Phryne having athletic sex.)

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 14 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 0 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.

What are you reading now?Cover of Shapes by Philip Ball

Non-fiction: Shapes, by Philip Ball. It’s part of a trilogy of books about patterns and forms in nature. I’m finding it easy to read, and yet at the same time sometimes it loses me completely by going into complexities about geometry. Still, interesting.

Fiction: Dark North, by Gillian Bradshaw. It’s feeling rather Rosemary Sutcliff-ish, since it’s set in Roman Britain, though the protagonist is an Ethiopian auxiliary. I’m enjoying it, though I do wish the main character (Memnon) wasn’t driven by guilt that his sister was raped and killed. Common enough story, I suppose, but shades of women in refrigerators

Cover of The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur LaffertyWhat have you recently finished reading?

Non-fiction: In Search of the Multiverse, by John Gribbin. I mostly understood the quantum physics behind all this, at least while I was reading!

Fiction: The Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty — the sequel to The Shambling Guide to New York City. It’s a lot of fun, and I tore through both books in two days.

What will you read next?

Non-fiction: probably The Making of the Fittest, by Sean Carroll, since it’s a library book. Same goes for my fiction choice, which will probably be The Cold Between, by Elizabeth Bonesteel — I’ve been curious about this one for a while, so I’m hoping to use the opportunity of being at my parents’ and having a bit of a wider choice in library stock!

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