Tag: book reviews


Review – Scarlet

Posted 24 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Scarlet by A.C. GaughenScarlet, A.C. Gaughen

I wanted to love this. It’s Robin Hood, and it puts a female character at the heart of the band, working directly with Robin as capably as any of the guys. In fact, she is one of the guys — she’s Will Scarlet. The idea of a woman becoming part of the band in disguise isn’t a new one — Marian has joined the band in the disguise of a page, there’s Djaq in the BBC’s Robin Hood series, etc. I’m not sure if it’s ever been Will Scarlet before, but it’s a known and loved trope.

Honestly, I’m not sure how well it works here. Everyone and their mother seems to know that Scarlet’s a girl, and it isn’t hard at all to guess about her past and her real identity — even for people within the story. I know this is YA, but I’d still hoped for a bit more subtlety, if not mystery. I was pretty uncertain about the Robin-John-Scarlet love triangle, though it does have its interesting moments.

(And horrifying ones. There’s a scene where Robin calls Scarlet a whore for basically no reason. I couldn’t believe in the fascination of him from that point on. I’m also really over the abusive relationship between Scarlet and a character from her past.)

There’s also interesting stuff about Scarlet’s character: her difficulty with eating when people around her are starving, her coarse ways contrasted with her care for the people around her, her prickliness at the same time as she badly wants to belong.

What really killed it for me, though, was the narration. Given her actual identity, there’s no reason for her to talk like a commoner… and she doesn’t even talk like a commoner. Some of it doesn’t make grammatical sense in any dialect I know. Instead, it’s just faux-vernacular that might fool someone with no experience of dialect, but doesn’t fool me. And the other characters, for all that they have lower born backgrounds, don’t talk like her at all. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

Overall, I just couldn’t settle in and enjoy it, even if I tried to keep in mind that it’s YA, I’m rather over-versed in Robin Hood lore, etc, etc. I’m not going to continue the series. I’d probably give this one star, but I was curious enough to finish it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Virus Hunt

Posted 23 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Virus Hunt by Dorothy H. CrawfordVirus Hunt, Dorothy H. Crawford

It’s been a little too long since I read this for me to review it effectively, but I definitely found it a fascinating read. Not only does it go into the various theories of how AIDs hopped between primates and humans, but it goes into the evidence for that in terms of the different strains of HIV — and their virulence in humans. There’s a lot of data here, and I think it could be overwhelming for someone who isn’t that interesting, but I found it fascinating.

If you’re looking for a social history of the disease, this isn’t where you want to look, though. It’s very much about the virology: tracking down the point of zoonosis, and figuring out how the various SIVs are related to our HIVs. It even illuminates the fact that there are various strains of HIV in the human population, something I didn’t actually know — I was under the impression that HIV jumped to humans once, and that one strain spread widely. Instead, there are actually some differing strains, with differing degrees of virulence.

All in all, pretty darn fascinating, as long as you’re ready for a wild epidemiological ride. Makes a very good supplement to the less technical view of David Quammen’s Spillover and the way it covered HIV.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder on the Ballarat Train

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

Cover of Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on the Ballarat Train, Kerry Greenwood

Another enjoyable outing with Phryne, and this one starts to really bring together her found family with the addition of Jane and Ruth. While I’m noticing some inconsistencies in characters that aren’t Phryne (Dot’s surname changes, for example, and apparently the hair colours of Jane and Ruth too), it’s still fun and those are only really noticeable because I’m reading the books all more or less together, in one glorious reread.

(Note: this is still an excellent way to consume them, though I’m now on book seven and taking a bit of a break.)

My main quibble is still with the mentally ill murderer who suddenly loses it and snaps, ruining all his plans and exposing himself badly. The whole mentally ill killer thing is just so stereotypical; so easy a way out. I mean, it happens, but not usually in this premeditated, coldly planned way. That’s more in the line of a psychopath, which is not quite how the character read. And, people so often forget the real fact: people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime, not to be perpetrators.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Adulthood is a Myth

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

Cover of Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah AndersenAdulthood is a Myth, Sarah Andersen

Adulthood is a Myth is a highly entertaining and relatable book of Andersen’s various cartoons featuring all her own awkward adventures, from dating to being an adult. There’s a lot here that’s akin to Hyperbole and a Half in its sillier moments, and book lovers will find plenty in its pages that sounds a bit like someone they might know.

Like this one.

If you follow the webcomic, I don’t know if there’s anything new here, but it is kinda nice to have it one place. For one thing, that means you can point at pages like the one linked and tell family excitedly, “See?! I’m not the only one!”

It’s not profound stuff, but it’s fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Passing Strange

Posted 20 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Passing Strange by Ellen KlagesPassing Strange, Ellen Klages

Received to review via Netgalley; released 24th January 2017

Passing Strange is a lovely novella which takes its own sweet time. As it opens, you expect one story, one protagonist… as it continues to unfold, you see that you were wrong. In my case, I didn’t mind that bait-and-switch at all, but I imagine some people will find that shift in POV a little jarring. Though I didn’t mind, I did find myself briefly wrong-footed by it.

The novella is set in San Fransisco, 1940, among a community of queer women whose lives intersect. I’ve seen a review where someone felt that the takeaway from this book was “yeah, yeah, we know gays back then had a hard time”. There’s that, of course, but there’s also that community, and that’s what I really enjoyed. I don’t really want to say too much about it; I think it’s best if the story unfolds itself for the reader in its own time.

I’ve also read a complaint that the speculative aspect isn’t integral. It is, but it’s subtle; the fact that it’s there, quietly but throughout, allows the ending that otherwise couldn’t be mysterious or touching or bittersweet. It’s an ordinary sort of magic, in the way that the women use it — it’s a tool that happens to be to hand.

I enjoyed the story a lot. And it’s another of the Tor.com novellas that feels like it was meant to be exactly this length, no longer, no shorter.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dreadnought

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

Cover of DreadnoughtDreadnought, April Daniels

Received to review via Netgalley; released January 2017

Dreadnought is an #OwnVoices book featuring a trans girl whose dreams come true when she takes on the mantle of a superhero at the moment of his death. Things don’t go easily for Danny, but nonetheless, she navigates being finally seen as a girl (in school, with her parents, with her best friend) and suddenly having superpowers. It’s a whole new world for her in both ways and I love the way the story makes you feel that. At the start, she hides in an alley to paint her toenails; at the end, well… spoilers. But suffice it to say that she’s pretty comfortable in her skin and her identity.

It’s not always the easiest read, because it’s not pure wish fulfilment. Though Danny’s transformation is outwardly perfect, she wouldn’t be able to have children, for example. And the other superheroes around her aren’t the people you’d hope they would be. Scarlet Witch — sorry, I mean, Graywytch is a trans-exclusionary feminist, while Carapace is a douche who can’t get her pronouns right and even a queer member of the team puts his foot in it. Doctor Impossible and Valkyrja are pretty awesome, though, and a young superhero called Calamity who doesn’t fall in line with the Avengers (sorry, the Legion) also befriends her.

All in all, the plot is pretty pacey and fun, and it’s not all about Danny’s transformation. It’s also about responsibility and handling any big life change, about figuring out where you belong in the world. Danny’s family aren’t great at it, and nor is her best friend, and there’s generally plenty of transphobic stuff that might be quite hard to read. But ultimately, I found it more fun than it was upsetting — and anyway, upsetting isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something the vulnerable might want to know going in.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Family Plot

Posted 18 February, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Family Plot by Cherie PriestThe Family Plot, Cherie Priest

Received to review via Netgalley; released in September 2016

Cherie Priest has written a whole bunch of different books, and I don’t love them all, but I have found them all to be solid stories. The Family Plot has a fun setting and concept: a salvage crew go in to get what they can from an old house scheduled for demolition. Problem is, the house has a history, and its past occupants aren’t all gone. It makes so much sense: of course old houses are creepy, and of course salvagers are going to be more interested the older it is. And of course, the older it is, the more history it has, tragedy included. The main character, Dahlia, believes in ghosts already; she’s felt them, she knows they’re there, and mostly they leave the living alone.

I won’t discuss too many of the details of the plot, because that mystery is part of the interest. It is worth noting though that every summary I can find doesn’t match with the events as they unfold in the ARC I got.

The problem with me is that I’m a total wuss, so horror isn’t normally my thing — in fact, I only picked this up because it was by Cherie Priest. Even so, I felt that a lot of the elements were pretty traditional and obvious. Doors that slam behind you and won’t open. Burials where there shouldn’t be burials. Ghosts who scratch messages into the floor. It felt like we saw it all a bit too clearly for it to be creepy. The final resolution — the whys and wherefores of the haunting — also didn’t quite satisfy me. There’s so much monstrous build-up, and then the solution is kind of… anti-climatic.

Nonetheless, the setting works really well, and I loved Dahlia. She’s capable, but not a superwoman. She knows what she’s doing, she’s decisive and smart, but she doesn’t always make the right decisions. And she’s not some fresh-faced kid with no history: she has a past which informs the way she acts now and the way she interacts with those around her. The supporting characters weren’t developed as much, but I found myself oddly interested in Bobby in particular, and how he might get his life together. At the very least, he raised a decent kid in Gabe.

Overall, it’s enjoyable, if not ground-breaking, and probably worth a look if you’re into ghost stories.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Miranda and Caliban

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

Cover of Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline CareyMiranda and Caliban, Jacqueline Carey

Received to review via Netgalley; release date 14th February 2017

I’ll probably give anything by Jacqueline Carey a chance. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d like something retelling The Tempest. But it’s Jacqueline Carey’s work, so I requested it anyway. And… I loved it quite a bit. I wasn’t sure about the narration: honestly, Miranda sounded rather like Phèdre in many ways, and far too mature considering the narration is present tense, even when she’s a small child. I wasn’t sure about Caliban’s narration either, because I’m not a fan of broken English portrayed in fiction — it quite often comes out sounding like mockery.

But all the same, the writing has grace to it, and it’s certainly easy to read and absorb, despite the tendency to thee and thou. (I wish Ariel didn’t say “Oh, la!” like he was from Pride and Prejudice or something, though. It always sounds far too comical for me.)

The relationship between Miranda and Caliban, their tenderness for each other as each helps the other, is well done. The portrayal of Prospero as a somewhat abusive father who sometimes nonetheless shows tenderness for his daughter makes perfect sense, and so does the way his behaviour pushes the two together. Ariel’s capriciousness and ambivalence works, too.

The only problem, really, is that you know how it’s going to end. I found myself hoping all the same that it would end differently — it’s a retelling, after all. But at the same time, there’s always that sense of inevitability: you know what’s going to happen. I don’t think there’s anything revolutionary about this telling, but it humanises Caliban and makes of him much less of a monster, and more of a lover. The ending gave me a lump in my throat: his hope, despite Ariel’s warnings, despite Miranda’s doubts. It’s so tender and naive.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Flying Too High

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

Cover of Flying Too High by Kerry GreenwoodFlying Too High, Kerry Greenwood

I can’t believe I didn’t notice, first time round, that Phryne manages to move into house number 221… and then adds a B. I love the little references to other detectives — like the Megatherium Trust, for example (a reference to Sayers). Phryne, I love your wit. Or is that Greenwood?

Anyway. Flying Too High is another fun instalment, which I enjoyed rereading. I love that Phryne can fly a plane and that it’s a part of several later stories, and I love the women that come into her story being awesome in their own ways. Dr MacMillan, in the first book, and in this book, Bunji Ross. One’s a female doctor, the other’s one of the most daring fliers in the area. Just gotta love it.

Not all of Phryne’s found family has joined her yet, by this book, and so it’s missing a few of the domestic comforts I love. But it does have Mr and Mrs Butler, who are just perfect. And I adore the loving way Phryne’s clothes and food are all described. She’s so unashamedly feminine, and so unashamed of enjoying the good things in life.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Monstress

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

Cover of Monstress by Marjorie M. LiuMonstress, Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda

Monstress is definitely a beautiful book. Takeda’s work makes it worth reading just for the sake of looking at it, though I could’ve done with some brighter colour palettes in places. As it was, the tone felt consistently… subdued, dulled.

Unfortunately, the story itself… there’s a lot of interesting stuff there, and in a book about a ‘monstress’, you’d expect some exploration of monstrosity. (And, no surprises, it’s not always the literal monsters who act in a monstrous way.) Buuut, there’s also a lot of world-building to keep up with, and I didn’t follow it very well. I’m fully aware that a lot of that might be because I’m just not that good at reading comics. This book has such a rich background and history that there’s a lot to keep track of. Add that to following the action, and I definitely needed the semi-regular info dumps at the ends/beginnings of issues. (Though those felt a little clumsy.)

Character design is really cute and it looks gorgeous, but I’m not invested. I’m not sure what I was meant to get invested in. I feel like I missed half the story.

Rating: 3/5

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