Tag: book reviews


Review – The Changeling Sea

Posted 8 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Changeling Sea, by Patricia A. McKillipThe Changeling Sea, Patricia A. McKillip

This is a gorgeous, bittersweet, perfect, completely unsatisfying story. It’s a fairytale that feels real. All of those things at once? Yes.

I didn’t like the other book by this author I’ve read nearly as much — perhaps not at all, I can’t remember. But this is lovely. It’s a story about longing, really, longing and love. It spellbound me, and managed to capture something I love about the sea: its beauty, humans’ fascination with it, its danger… Dar Williams’ ‘The Ocean’ comes to mind here, somewhat.

It’s not really a story tied together by plot, but by emotion, and Kir’s longing, Peri’s love and hope, the king’s sadness, it all got to me. The book is short, but I’ll be thinking about it for a while. Another comparison that comes to mind is Susan Cooper’s Seaward.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet RevoltOff-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt, by G.R. Reader

I have, broadly speaking, not got involved in the protest reviewing surrounding Goodreads’ new policy on the deletion of reviews and shelves which refer to author behaviour. I think I’ve “liked” a few particularly creative ones. It isn’t a coincidence, though, that I’ve set up a book blog of my own now after years and years of relying on Goodreads.

This is not an off-topic review. The subject of this book is Goodreads’ own policy, and it contains genuine commentary and opinion backed up by facts. I recommend it for understanding the issue in general terms — it’s available on Lulu for $0.99, or it’s been put on Dropbox free here.

One thing from the book that was particularly interesting to me was Emma Sea’s commentary on why the deletion of reviews that focus on author behaviour is censorship: she points out that most current literary theory goes against that. You’ve still got ‘The Death of the Author’ as an influential piece and idea, yeah, but you’ve also got Marxist and feminist readings. I’m basically a new historicist, myself, I “aim simultaneously to understand the work through its historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature, which documents the new discipline of the history of ideas.” (Confession: definition from Wikipedia. I’m bad at defining my critical approaches.) Part of the historical context is inevitably the issue of the author.

Now, I can see comebacks on that like, “an author’s behaviour may not be relevant to their book when it isn’t reflected in the contents of the book”. To which I kinda say, yes and no. The author’s behaviour may not impact the content of a book, but it still has an effect on the context of the book, and it may frame the content of the book in a new way. Which is relevant.

Now maybe Goodreads really wants to say they don’t want any new historicists or Marxist critics or feminist critics here, only people who will always and only use practical criticism to judge a book on its own merits, bereft of any context. But somehow I really doubt it. There are still plenty of ways I no doubt haven’t thought of to disagree with Emma Sea, but I like that this is a serious attempt to engage with the issue not on a visceral reactionary level, but on a theoretical one.

I haven’t got involved in protest reviewing because I wanted to abide by the rules of the site. I’ve loved the site for a long time and contributed to it in many ways, and I’m not making immediate plans to leave — or to make it easy for people to get me to leave! But this is not an off-topic review; this is not an off-topic book. In fact, my review and rating are very, very sincere: I’m amazed and pleased at the passion for the community at Goodreads which people have displayed in putting this thoughtful book together, in making it more than a prank. I very much hope Goodreads don’t follow up their previous policy of deleting this book and all the “off-topic” reviews.

Still, if they do, you can still find me and this review at The Bibliophibian and LibraryThing. Unless you are my mother, in which case, please stick to The Bibliophibian. I love you, but let’s maintain some boundaries, yes? I won’t look too closely at your pen collection, and you’ll pretend not to notice my groaning shelves? It’s a deal.

See this review on Goodreads… for now, at least.

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Review – She Walks in Darkness

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline WaltonShe Walks in Darkness, Evangeline Walton

She Walks in Darkness is a posthumously published book written back in the 60s by Evangeline Walton, the author of The Mabinogion Tetralogy. It’s a Gothic novel, and reminds me somewhat of some of Mary Stewart’s work: the heroine, the cultural/historical background, the overall tone… not a bad thing, since I quite enjoy Mary Stewart’s work. Both invoke the atmosphere well, though Stewart’s heroine is in general a bit more proactive and generally intelligent than Barbara, our narrator.

The narration itself confused me a little. Not in detail, but in style and execution — the tense wavered, and sometimes Barbara would be telling another person’s story so closely that it would slip into third person narrative, as if she’d been there and could know everything that happened, only for a jarring transition back to Barbara’s opinion on it.

Other than that, though that’s a pretty big but, it’s well-written and I liked the basis on Etruscan history/mythology and theory. Some of the imagery of the statuary and paintings was just gorgeous.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Those Who Went Remain There Still

Posted 5 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie PriestThose Who Went Remain There Still, Cherie Priest

I didn’t get on with the first Cherie Priest book I read (Boneshaker), but I enjoyed Bloodshot and Hellbent enough that I’m starting to try her other stuff. It seems like she can be a bit hit and miss, with me: I wasn’t a big fan of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, either, but I enjoyed this short horror novella. It’s mostly the atmosphere that works, the fact that she invokes her three narrators’ voices well, brings to life the valley and the simmering resentment between the two halves of the family.

She doesn’t over-explain or even over-describe her monster, letting it be more frightening because the characters have no idea, because we can’t even really picture it. It’s just a fear in the dark, huge and formless, and I think that stories that invoke that are really the horror stories that work. It ends abruptly, without any consolation or certainty, and I really like that — I like that Cherie Priest knew when to stop the story and let the reader go on uncomfortably wondering, because it takes as much skill to know when to do that as to carry a story through right to the inevitable end, if not more.

Still, her narrators are still somewhat talkative, and I don’t think this is one my partner will be enjoying anytime soon, since she didn’t get into Bloodshot with its more engaging (to my mind, anyway) narrator and characters. It’s not exactly creepy — or maybe with my anxiety issues I just can’t tell when I’m creeped out and when I’m just normally jumpy — but it’s intriguing and has that breathless, edge of the seat quality where it counts.

Review on Goodreads.

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Reviews – Poltergeeks & Student Bodies

Posted 3 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Poltergeeks, by Sean Cummings Poltergeeks, Sean Cummings

Poltergeeks is really fun. It’s definitely very adolescent in tone, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, sometimes it’s almost too flippant, which would be my main criticism — but it made up for that for me by having a solid, meaningful relationship between the mother and daughter at the centre of the story. Not a perfect one, I hasten to add, but a strong one, and one where neither of them is portrayed as evil in any way for butting heads. Julie doesn’t go off on her being all Wondergirl; she has her mother, and she has… well, the rest is spoilers.

The story has a romantic relationship too, but that isn’t overpowering and fits neatly in with the plot. I like that there’s relatively little drama between the male and female leads, and that they’re so solidly best friends.

Overall, solid and enjoyable.

Review on Goodreads.

Cover of Student Bodies by Sean CummingsStudent Bodies, Sean Cummings

Ouch. Wow, ouch. I got this from Netgalley a while ago — that’s the main reason I moved Poltergeeks up in the to read queue — and had no idea it would stomp on my heart. I wouldn’t have expected it from reading Poltergeeks, either: the first book is light and easy, with some drama and moments of worry, but nothing really dark or deeply affecting.

For the first hundred pages or so (as my ereader counted it, anyway), this was going to get about the same vote from me. And then the final showdown. Wow. And the aftermath of it. Wow again. Now I need another book where all of this gets sorted out, stat. If I thought things went a little too smoothly in the first book, well… that ending at least made up for it.

I know very little about Native Americans, so I’m just not going to comment on that aspect of the story, other than to say that it’s pretty awesome there are Native American characters, who have their own power and an important role to play.

Review on Goodreads.

And let’s pause a moment to enjoy those gorgeous covers, yeah?

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Review – Bellman & Black

Posted 1 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Bellman & Black, by Diane SetterfieldBellman & Black, Diane Setterfield

I got Bellman & Black from Netgalley a while ago, without really knowing anything about it. It turned out to be a smooth, easy read, but it didn’t really get any emotional hooks into me. The narration is very straightforward after the opening chapter, which seemed to promise more by way of emotion — the main character’s courtship of his wife takes barely a chapter, and a short chapter at that! So with all that it’s very hard to get involved in the rest of the novel. Despite all the death and so on, it felt… bloodless.

It was interesting that Diane Setterfield clearly spent quite a long time on the research for this, and wove the life of the mills into the story. That was somewhat compelling to me, but like everything else it slid by so fast

There’s nothing major wrong with the novel as a whole, really, but I have very little to say about it — perhaps it’d be good for a train journey, or a flight, or something like that. I’m somewhat interested in Setterfield’s first novel, though partly because I’m told it’s quite different and some people seem to consider it better.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – The Almost Girl

Posted 31 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Almost Girl, by Amalie HowardThe Almost Girl, Amalie Howard

Received as an ARC from Netgalley. Like all Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry books, this is a compulsive read: I started it this afternoon and just finished it now. I think I’d have been more enthusiastic about it when I was younger, and I’m almost positive my sister would really enjoy it. Even now I found it interesting, and got swept up in the action.

Part of the problem for me is the very teenage focus on attraction and love, which is not something I’m particularly interested in. On the flip side of that, all Riven’s issues about family ring clear no matter what, I think. And that’s not the only aspect of the plot, of course: there’s also the technological aspects, the half-glimpsed history of the world, which I enjoyed piecing together.

Some plot twists were fairly obvious to me from the beginning, and I was a little disappointed that a certain character turned out to be twisted all along: I prefer some ambiguity and would’ve liked to see Riven’s reaction, faced with him and with everything she’s done all along.

I’m interested to see how Riven’s character develops, after the revelations of this book and the changes that’ve come up — both in her society and for her personally.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Seven Markets

Posted 31 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Seven Markets by David HoffmanThe Seven Markets, David Hoffman

I got this as an ARC from Netgalley far too long ago. If it hadn’t been a Netgalley book, I don’t know if I’d have finished it. Maybe I would’ve; I’m stubborn like that at times. I did actually enjoy this until about halfway through, but then it stopped obeying its own internal rules, stopped explaining things — quite frankly, it stopped making sense. The idea of a story that melds fantasy and science fiction is interesting to me, so I didn’t dismiss it out of hand for that, but… everything just happened, without rhyme or reason as far as I could tell.

The structure was ambitious too, and again, I wouldn’t automatically discount it. But that combined badly with the plot, making it unintelligible. The idea of a plot of seven chapters, each following three days in each hundred years, sounds fascinating. But the jumps between were just too much.

The characters… I was ready to like Ellie, and her love for Joshua, very much. In the first chapter, it’s warm and feeling. Almost a nostalgic smile at a first love. But that warmth just dropped out of it, and for me Ellie turned out to be very unpleasant.

It’s not a bad book, per se, but I do think it was unsuccessful.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Zealot

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Zealot by Reza AslanZealot, Reza Aslan

I got access to Zealot from Netgalley before the now famous interview on Fox (which you can view here), though that interview did make me more interested in reading the book. There have been responses to that interview since that somewhat cast doubt on Reza Aslan’s integrity in that interview, stating that he doesn’t have the qualifications and background he claims to have, etc. I’m not really going to refer to those, but here’s a link to one of them in case you’re interested.

It might also be helpful to note that I’m not a Christian, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and I think that the gospels are for the most part a beautiful story which can help teach us how to live. The “real” Jesus needn’t even have existed to be an example. I have a fairly literary take on scriptures of all stripes, so Reza Aslan isn’t stepping on my toes here.

I approached Zealot with some doubt, in any case, because it sounded too wonderfully inflammatory to be really an unbiased scholarly attempt. I actually liked Aslan’s writing style, and this felt less like a scholarly work, closer to a semi-fictionalised biography or something of that sort. If it was a story, it was somewhat dry; if it was a scholarly work, it was too informal. I also very much missed the presence of footnotes: there are some notes at the end of the book, but in the ebook they’re not easy to access and they seem to contain almost as much commentary as the original chapters!

There is a separate bibliography which is extensive and clearly laid out, but… overall, I can’t shake the feeling that we are being presented Reza Aslan’s personal convictions about what research he has done, not meticulous careful and, what’s more, original research. The actual areas where he quoted something and explained why it helped form his views seem actually quite few and far between, and his judgements on their reliability a bit patchy.

An interesting read, and a well-written book, but not something I can place too much faith in.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Between Two Thorns

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Between Two Thorns by Emma NewmanBetween Two Thorns, Emma Newman

Technically, I’ve both received this to review on Netgalley and received a copy as a competition prize from Angry Robot, so it’s high time I got round to it. My review will, of course, be an honest one.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t seem to pull together at the end — instead of the first book of a trilogy, it felt like the first part of a book. It’s not even exactly a cliffhanger ending, it’s just… some things wrap up, but most things don’t, leaving several plot threads dangling and a major mystery unsolved. I’m interested in reading the rest of the trilogy, but this way of ending the book didn’t feel right.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about this book is the world-building, the Fae world and our world, and Exilium. There were times when that felt rather like other books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone came to mind pretty strongly during the Shopkeeper chapters, and Tad Williams’ War of the Flowers comes to mind as a comparison too), but it was intriguing enough to keep my attention. The characters, less so — Cathy is made a bit too average, I think, and Will a bit too perfect, but in that cocky self-assured way that never fails to irritate. I want to know what happens to them, but I’m not convinced I care.

There’s nothing about this book (other than the ending issues I mentioned above) that makes me dislike it, but I think my feelings on it will alter (or not) depending on what the other two books of the trilogy are like. Unfortunately, I don’t have Any Other Name, so that might be a while from now.

Review on Goodreads.

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