Tag: book reviews


Review – Spaceman

Posted 3 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spaceman by Mike MassiminoSpaceman, Mike Massimino

I blame (or credit) my mother entirely with my interest in space and astronauts. I’m not the exploring type myself, but I love reading about those who have, and their unique experiences. Mike Massimino puts himself across as a fairly ordinary guy, from a fairly uninspiring background, who made good in the end despite not being the smartest, best prepared, most qualified, etc. Obviously, given the source, one has to keep a grain or two of salt in the mix to counter both self-deprecation and potential self-aggrandization, but mostly Massimino struck me as a straightforward sort of guy.

I actually found some parts of the story extremely touching. The thing that gets me about NASA and like ventures is the sense of family — the way the astronauts are there for each other and one another’s families. That’s definitely in evidence here, not just in Massimino’s accounts of his training and working life, but also in terms of his private life. His father’s cancer is treated with help from NASA people, and from the sound of it, half the staff contributed in terms of giving blood, platelets, etc. That section is rather touching.

Technical this memoir is not. There are a few bits of interest about Massimino’s training and adaptation to zero-G, etc, but mostly it’s about the path he took to get there — trying to correct his vision with lenses, dealing with classes he didn’t understand, etc. Which is not to say it’s not interesting, it’s just not popular science; it’s definitely a memoir.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Hate U Give

Posted 2 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this one; contemporaries are often not really my thing, and it did seem a bit long and daunting. But everyone gave it such good reviews, and it really is topical — a window into a world I don’t really get, being British and honestly fairly sheltered. Sometimes it felt a little unbelievable because of that — so many shootings? Gangs? The danger that seemed to hover around Starr’s life all the time? I mean, I know about it in theory; I’ve followed the trials surrounding the deaths of Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown… But it still seems so far away and weird to me.

Actually, I’d like a British-Muslim version of this book, in the sense of one which explores that community and how it interacts with our police, etc. Not just the ones who went to a private school like me, but less privileged ones. It’d probably be eye-opening.

I liked that this book was fairly even-handed; although the cop who shoots Starr’s friend is obviously not the good guy, there are good cops as well, including Starr’s uncle, who part raised her before her dad got out of prison. I don’t quite get the people complaining this is completely anti-police; it’s not. It’s anti-the-system, the one in which police can get away with things like this — like shooting a brown kid on a traffic stop because he reached into the car slightly and his hairbrush looked like a gun.

I also enjoyed Starr’s family; not always perfect, with her dad having been to prison and her parents arguing — but always there for her. It explores their family dynamics, including Starr’s half-brother and his siblings, in a way which allows for them to be flawed while denying that they’re dysfunctional in the way some people see black families.

I’ve seen people complain, too, about Starr’s sense of drama. Come on, she’s a teenager. And while Hailey is a bit… overdone — you could predict what came out of her mouth because it was all of the stereotypes of people saying ‘I’m not racist, but…’ — she’s still realistic in that, well, I think we all know someone who acts like that. Who leans on stereotypes and then claims she can’t be racist because she has a black friend.

I found The Hate U Give pretty absorbing, and I think it’s a good portrayal of life in the kind of community it portrays — the kind of community Angie Thomas seems to know intimately. It does seem to contain a lot of things other people consider to be stereotypes, but I’m gonna trust that Angie Thomas probably knows better than I do.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Death on Earth

Posted 30 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death on Earth by Jules HowardDeath on Earth, Jules Howard

I was hoping for more from this book, I think. It glances into some of the issues covered in The Worm at the Core, which I also read recently — the anxieties we have about death, as a species, and how we handle it — but it backs away from any depth there. It sort of looks into decay and the reaction of other animals to death, but it doesn’t find much conclusive there, either. Honestly, I found it interesting enough to read at the time, but it seemed more like a musing about the process of trying (and failing) to write a book that’s really about death on Earth. I didn’t learn any new science or any cool facts, but I know all about Howard having a panic attack at an anti-ageing conference event and trying to teach his daughter about death.

You might find it entertaining, if that’s what you’re interested in, but it’s not really about death.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Dark North

Posted 29 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dark North by Gillian BradshawDark North, Gillian Bradshaw

Like all of Bradshaw’s work, this is a solid historical fiction, with a touch of romance. I found the romance aspect less compelling than in Alchemy of Fire, but I love the fact that Bradshaw based the story on a report of an Ethiopian soldier greeting the emperor during a visit to Britain, and the tiny piece of evidence that there were a company of Aurelian Moors in Britain at the right time. I really enjoy it when authors build a story around facts like that — like Rosemary Sutcliff and the mysterious Roman eagle that sparked The Eagle of the Ninth.

Bradshaw’s a great writer, though the main character was a little… annoying, I guess. He’s a good time guy; he does not want to take on responsibilities, and he doesn’t think through some of his actions. Also, he has a dark side. He’s not quite the unique character that some of Bradshaw’s other leads have been.

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough story, even if it’s not a favourite. If you enjoy historical fiction a la Rosemary Sutcliff, Gillian Bradshaw’s work will probably be just the ticket. I recommend Island of Ghosts to start with, though.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Emperor’s Railroad

Posted 26 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Emperor's Railroad by Guy HaleyThe Emperor’s Railroad, Guy Haley

I didn’t actually read much about this beforehand; I picked it up because it’s one of the Tor.com novellas, and I’ve generally found them worth trying, even if they haven’t all been my thing. I was a little wary in that I’ve read part of one of Guy Haley’s books before and didn’t really get into it. Not so with this one: it has a strong voice and it’s set in a fascinating post-apocalyptic world. I’d love to know more about it, and I’ll definitely pick up the sequel. The main character, Abney, isn’t really the important one, despite the fact that it’s told from his point of view: instead, it’s his short journey with the knight Quinn that matters. I really want to know more about Quinn, but I don’t care about spending more time with Abney — his story’s pretty much told. Fortunately, looks like that’s exactly the direction Guy Haley took.

Not that Quinn is the only attraction of this book; Abney’s mother might be the only female character, and it’s a shame she dies, but she is also a strong woman who makes a place for herself in what appears to be a man’s world. I’ve read that there are more female characters in the sequel, which is good to hear.

Also, I really want to know what’s going on with “angels” and “dragons”.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sixth Extinction

Posted 25 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth KolbertThe Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert

Considering the subject matter — the extinction or likely extinction of much of Earth’s biodiversity — Kolbert manages to write an absorbing narrative which wasn’t just depressing, though it sometimes was that, but also fascinating. She covers various creatures that we may have seen the last of, or may soon see the last of; creatures which only survive in captivity, and creatures which we didn’t even think to protect.

The fact is, humans are doing a lot of damage to our own ecosystems. Kolbert documents that and shows where it’s going, or at least, where it’s likely to go. What happens in the end is still, maybe, there for us to change. Maybe. It’s too late for a lot of species — perhaps most amphibians, for example — but we might still be able to stop this. The Sixth Extinction goes into some of the delights biodiversity has to offer, perhaps in hopes of inspiring some people to step up.

None of it came as a surprise to me, but I found the book interesting and entertaining all the same, if not exactly uplifting.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In Search of the Multiverse

Posted 23 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of In Search of the Multiverse by John GribbinIn Search of the Multiverse, John Gribbin

I don’t understand quantum physics or string theory, really — I couldn’t possibly explain them to someone, anyway. But I keep trying to, and this book has probably got the closest to making me really interested in the topic. It’s easy enough to follow, and doesn’t throw maths at you without explanation, and it helps that it’s focused on one of the important more interesting factors: quantum theory and string theory could require a multiverse. Gribbin has a look at all the reasons a multiverse seems likely, including the fact that quantum computing works at all, and takes you through anthropic reasoning, etc, etc.

Overall, I still find parts of this difficult to get on with. We can’t know that we live in an average universe — even if there are an infinity of different universes, that doesn’t follow that universes which are suitable for life are more common. We could be living in a rare universe. We can’t see what the probabilities of anything are when we only have experience of one universe — nobody has ever convinced me we have the data to really judge.

This is probably going to date badly when it comes to its explanations of string theory and a theory of everything, but for someone as lacking in knowledge as me, it works.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Ghost Train to New Orleans

Posted 22 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur LaffertyThe Ghost Train to New Orleans, Mur Lafferty

The Ghost Train to New Orleans picks up where The Shambling Guide to New York City left off, taking Zoe and her team (some of them new, some familiar) to New Orleans, and deepening the plot concerning Zoe’s abilities. It’s a little tropey — Zoe is an orphan, and the reason that her ability is rare is due to a purge in the coterie community where, for some reason, they felt a bit cross about people like her using their abilities to kill people. Zoe continues to be rather put off by some of the coterie around her, their abilities and tastes, and sometimes that just doesn’t make her look good.

But it’s still a really fun read, and I ate it up. I appreciated the way it dealt with Arthur and Zoe’s little budding romance (which dies on the branch before the end of this book, in case anyone was worried about urban fantasy tropes), and the way it was affected by Arthur’s problems. It becomes very clear that nothing comes for free in this world, which takes a particular character in an new direction — which could’ve been fascinating, if there were any more books to come.

I’m probably overlooking more faults, but honestly I wasn’t interested in picking nits. I really enjoyed the tone and some of the lore, and I wanted to know what happened. That was enough for me.

Instead, alas, I learn that Orbit only took on the two. Publishers, you’re mad. I’d grab the third book eagerly if it existed — I read the first two in two days.

Rating: 4/5

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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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