Tag: book reviews


Review – The Builders

Posted 23 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

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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Review – Neanderthal Man

Posted 22 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante PaaboNeanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, Svante Pääbo

This book is less about Neanderthals themselves and more about the biological and technical details of extracting their long-extinct genomes from the preserved bones we’ve found, and also about Svante Pääbo himself — it touches on his bisexuality, his moves between institutions, even his affair with a colleague’s wife. I could’ve done without the personal info; it often felt like it was completely incidental to the extraction and sequencing going on in his teams. There were some interesting bits in the way his team worked together, and his decisions as the leader, but his affair with Linda Vigilant was entirely irrelevant.

Still, it’s a fascinating narrative taken as a whole, tracking the various theories, setbacks and new techniques Svante Pääbo and his team went through in finally extracting and sequencing the Neanderthal genome. There’s some coverage, too, of how it differs from the Homo sapiens genome and that of chimpanzees, and what that means in terms of phylogeny and the relationships in the family tree of human development. It also touches on some of the politics of science: rival groups, jockeying for funding, terminating partnerships which aren’t delivering what you hoped… A reminder that you’re never gonna get away from politics of some sort, I suppose!

I found it deeply interesting and well explained, though I am a little disappointed that it was more of an autobiography of Pääbo’s working life than about Neanderthals and what we know about them because of his work.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – All Systems Red

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

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

All Systems Red is the diary of a self-proclaimed murderbot — a part organic, part synthetic construct designed to protect groups of colonists, and perfectly capable of going wrong and killing them all. Hence, Murderbot — although our Murderbot has disabled the system that they think caused them to do that, and manages to take pretty good care of its little group of prospectors while also mainlining a ton of soaps and whatever other entertainment programs come its way.

I found it all very entertaining, but there was a more serious aspect, too: the Murderbot’s misanthropic attitude and even anxiety about interacting with humans, especially without its suit and opaque helmet on as a buffer. Thus the interactions with the team were a little sad as well as funny — if not sad, perhaps the right term would be invested with pathos, especially as they interact more and more with their employers (contractors? not sure quite what the term should be).

I was a little disappointed by the ending, leaving behind the established team. Obviously there’s gonna be more Murderbot, but… with a new cast otherwise? Boo. I was just getting to like ’em.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Being Human

Posted 20 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Being Human by New ScientistBeing Human, New Scientist

There’s perhaps not much to say about this collection: it’s much the same as the other New Scientist collections, in that it brings together a number of articles and features on a theme, using material from past issues. This is a bit more general than The Human Brain, of course, though it covers some of the same ground. If you read New Scientist religiously, none of this will be new to you; if you want to collect it in a more permanent form than the weekly issues, or grab one that’s on a specific topic, these are great for that.

To me, all of this is accessible, well explained and interesting. Your mileage may vary depending on what aspects of science interest you most.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dangerous Women (Part III)

Posted 19 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women, ed. Gardner Dozois & G.R.R. Martin

Overall, the whole collection is pretty disappointing to me. The stories might fit the theme of ‘dangerous women’ on a technicality, but few of them feel genuinely dangerous. Usually the twist is that, surprise! She’s not a good girl after all! Righto.

‘Some Desperado’, by Joe Abercrombie — One of the better ones in the collection. The main character is, indeed, a desperado, and things don’t go too well for her — but she defends herself and keeps on running.

‘City Lazarus’, by Diana Rowland — I’ve kind of avoided Rowland’s work since I saw her on a panel at a con and all she did was sell her work, and this didn’t really change my mind. The writing is okay, but lord, the set-up is so typical and the twist so obvious.

‘Hell Hath No Fury’, by Sherrilyn Kenyon — The title doesn’t even make sense, since the ‘woman scorned’ is actually driven out of a village she helped to found, not just scorned. She lays a curse on the land, people with cameras come in long after and try to film a paranormal exposé, she rips ’em to shreds. Yawn. Isn’t this an episode of Supernatural?

‘The Hands That Are Not There’, by Melinda Snodgrass — For a female author, wow does she cater to the male gaze. I didn’t get through the bar scene.

‘Caretakers’, by Pat Cadigan — This kind of… fizzled, for me. It was slow and it took a long time to get where it was going, and once it got there, it wasn’t such a shock at all.

‘Nora’s Song’, by Cecelia Holland — It’s Eleanor of Aquitane, it should be completely badass. Didn’t work for me, though.

‘Bombshells’, by Jim Butcher — Skipped entirely, with a side-eye at the spoiler for the Dresden Files in the intro. I get that it’s been out a long time, but maaaan.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Killing Gravity

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

Cover of Killing Gravity by Corey J. WhiteKilling Gravity, Corey J. White

Received to review via Netgalleypublication date was 9th May 2017

Basically: take River Tam, give her telekinesis, take away Simon Tam and the crew of Serenity, and send her off on her own. More or less. That’s what the main character, Mars, is like, except maybe a bit more mentally stable. Mostly.

I found this a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely read more in the same world. I’m a little disappointed about where it cut off, because I really wanted to see a particular character home safe — but at least it offers the promise of more of these characters. Squid and their chromatophores — and their casual gender neutral identity — particularly fascinate me: I want to see a lot more of them. And I want to see more of Seven… sort of. (It’s complicated.)

It’s a little bit Firefly, a little bit The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, a little bit witches in space.

Works for me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Medical Frontiers

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

Cover of Medical Frontiers by New ScientistMedical Frontiers, New Scientist

This is a bit different to the other New Scientist collections, in that it’s focused on the practical applications of science in one particular arena: medicine. I found it a fascinating look at medical technologies and theories, and how they might change healthcare. It’s the usual suspects, of course: stem cells, etc — and it touches on some of the past advances in transplantation, antibiotics and other drugs…

So it’s not quite the scale of relativity or dark matter, but to me it’s all the more fascinating for being relatable to everyday life. Like the other New Scientist collections, it’s a good way to catch up to and collect a bunch of articles on the topic.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Pinks

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

Cover of The Pinks by Chris EnssThe Pinks, Chris Enss

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st July 2017

I didn’t know much about the Pinkerton agency, other than that they were detectives. I didn’t know they protected President Lincoln and involved themselves in the events of the Civil War — that they worked as spies for the Union. I had no idea about the theatrical and psychological methods they used… and I didn’t know that Pinkerton employed women, before women were regularly employed, and considered them important and indispensable operatives. This book delves into all of that by presenting little case histories of various capers the women were involved in. I say capers because some of them really do seem like that.

It’s a little odd that the blurb mentions Kate Warne, the first woman employed by Pinkerton’s, in the context of an affair with Allan Pinkerton. Unless I somehow skipped a chapter, there’s no such evidence presented in this book. Likewise, it’s a little odd — and sexist — that the men are referred to by their surnames, while women are referred to either by their full names or, more commonly, by their first names. It seems disrespectful to treat them differently than the men.

Otherwise, this is very readable and undoubtedly interesting. I kind of want a whole stack of novels about Kate Warne, now.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dangerous Women (Part II)

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

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women: Part II, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This volume had more fantasy/SF than the first one, with just one story that wasn’t — and that was historical fiction, which often has the same sort of social structures and so on, and thus feels somewhat akin to fantasy. It’s a bit of a stronger collection than the first part, to my mind; I enjoyed it a bit more.

‘Neighbours’, by Megan Lindholm — Quite fun; I kinda called it before the end, but it still worked. I found the stuff with the elderly woman and her kids a bit harrowing, honestly; the trouble is, when someone gets to that point where everything seems to be going wrong, they’re no longer making clear decisions… what do you do? The kids in this book didn’t handle it great, of course, but they’re not wrong that at some point you need to take responsibility.

‘The Girl in the Mirror’, by Lev Grossman — I hoped this was unrelated to The Magicians and its sequels; I didn’t enjoy the first book that much, and didn’t read the others. Unfortunately it was, and given that Quentin appeared, I’m guessing it had some relevance to those stories? Eh.

‘A Queen in Exile’, by Sharon Kay Penman — Felt a little bit like a summary or a historical biography at times, but I enjoyed it; it’s nice to see a dangerous woman of history celebrated.

‘Pronouncing Doom’, by S.M. Stirling — Honestly… I get that modern Wicca is a thing, but the tangle of Irish words and Welsh mythology and modern Earth Mother stuff left me pretty cold.

‘Lies My Mother Told Me’, by Caroline Spector — This is from G.R.R. Martin’s Wildcards ‘verse, if I’m not mistaken; it’s pretty clear what’s going on, even if you haven’t read those. I liked it; weird powers and all.

‘Name the Beast’, by Sam Sykes — I’m… honestly not sure what was going on through half of this. Not a fan.

I didn’t read ‘Virgins’, by Diana Gabaldon; it’s set in her Outlander world, in which I have no interest.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Down Among the Sticks and Bones

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

Cover of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuireDown Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 13th June 2017

I was really looking forward to reading this, having loved the first novella, but I was a bit unsure about the fact that it focused on Jack and Jill. To me, their story was as important to Every Heart A Doorway as Nancy’s, and it was more or less resolved as well — not like, for example, Kade or, since Kade is so sure his story is over, Christopher. There was more to say about them, and I wasn’t sure there was more to say about Jack and Jill. And… in the end, I don’t think there was much more we couldn’t have gleaned already from Every Heart. It’s not a story that I felt cried out to be told: the contradictions of Jack and Jill’s relationship were maybe better for not being elucidated.

That being said, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is still entertaining and does provide more detail on the twins’ background and the world they visited. It’s especially nice to see more of Jack and learn about her girlfriend — and to wince along with her issues with germs and dirt, which hit home for me even though the origin of the phobia is different. It’s lovely seeing the way Jack’s girlfriend deals with the issues of dating someone with such intense phobias (even if part of me is shouting “but that’s the way to make your phobia worse, not better!”).

Again, the ending didn’t particularly surprise me, even the aspect that wasn’t explicitly referred to in Every Heart a Doorway. Overall, it’s enjoyable, but I don’t love it the way I do Every Heart.

Rating: 4/5

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