Tag: books


What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 20 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Fiction-wise, it was Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge, which I loved to bits. If I had to come up with an immediate comparison, I guess Franny Billingsley’s Chime comes to mind — some similar ways of dealing with human/Other interaction, plus flawed families that feel real.

Non-fiction-wise, it was How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom, which, well, I love my science so his very clear, very accessible, very basic style disappointed me a little.

What are you currently reading?
Many things, as usual. Two ARCs have reached the top of my not terribly orderly pile: The Wizard’s Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke, and Natasha Mostert’s The Midnight Side. Because of the very nature of the twists I’ve been promised in the latter, I think I’ve figured out the story and I’m not desperately impressed, but will finish it. Don’t know if I’ll review the other two books I was approved for by her, though. The Wizard’s Promise is so far fun, though I think I like the protagonists of The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish better.

Next down on the pile (if you think of it in terms of archaeology, with strata, you wouldn’t be far wrong) is Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. I’m not head over heels in love with it, but I recognise Cath’s fannishness and also her social awkwardness, and I think I might end up liking it. Although one review I read pointed out the chronic boundary pushing going on around Cath, and now I can’t stop seeing it. It’s really setting my teeth on edge.

Still reading Tam Lin, The Thirteenth Tale, Retribution Falls, etc, etc.

What do you think you’ll read next?
It’s been pretty well established that I don’t have a clue. But I’m looking thoughtfully at the book I got from the library on zoonotic diseases, and I’m thinking of finally getting to Maus and Persepolis, to prove that I r serious graphic novels reader, as well as a fan of superhero comics.

Although I did also get a Marvel Now Journey into Mystery: Featuring Sif TPB, so there’s plenty of the latter due to go on, too. I should finish reading Dark Reign: Young Avengers, too.

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Review – How Pleasure Works: Why We Like What We Like

Posted 18 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of How Pleasure Works by Paul BloomHow Pleasure Works, Paul Bloom

How Pleasure Works is an accessibly written book which mentions some theories and interesting experiments, without really delivering on the promise of “science” that explains “why we like what we like”. Mostly, what Bloom has to offer are theories and interpretations: well presented and interesting, but judging from various reviews, not conclusive enough for people who want hard and fast answers. Luckily, I wasn’t really expecting any, although I was hoping for a bit more science. I’m still left thinking the answer to “why do we like what we like” is “because we’re bloody minded and irrational”.

I took Paul Bloom’s Coursera course, Moralities of Everyday Life, and recommend both that and this book as a relatively mild introduction to the psychology surrounding these topics.

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Review – Cuckoo Song

Posted 17 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Cuckoo Song by Frances HardingeCuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge

I didn’t know Frances Hardinge had a new book out soon, so when I saw someone else talking about it in the Stacking the Shelves meme among book bloggers, I had to try. And lo and behold, I was approved for it on Netgalley. Thanks, guys!

So today I had a long train journey — four to five hours. I loaded Cuckoo Song onto my reader before I left, and had it finished before I even reached halfway. It’s a compulsive read without naked demands for attention; the tension is, for the most part, in uneasiness and anxiety, in a nagging feeling that things aren’t right. It’s done incredibly well, to my mind. Mild spoilers lie ahead!

Hardinge has chosen a really interesting perspective here in the changeling-child story. Normally the changeling would be the enemy, or nothing more than a doll. But Trista has a heart and a mind, and she makes everything work out differently — in a way that I think, actually, is better for all involved. Without being wish fulfilment: not everyone came home safe.

Really, knowing this is a changeling story doesn’t affect what Hardinge does with the story. The story itself is, in a way, a cuckoo child, a changeling.

I liked the ambivalent portrayal of the central family. The narrative upends things several times: there are no simple answers, no unequivocal good family/bad family. It’s the more real for that, even in the midst of a fantasy story. I liked the way Trista had to earn Pen’s trust, I like the big/little sister dynamic. I liked that neither version of even our heroine is unequivocally good. Flawed human beings, all — though of course, not all of these characters are human…

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Batgirl: Knightfall Descends

Posted 17 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Batgirl by Gail SimoneBatgirl: Knightfall Descends, Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Ed Benes, Vicente Cifuentes

I think this might have been a stronger issue if I was up to date on some of the other New 52 stuff that I’m… not that interested in. Or maybe more of Barbara’s past, since this volume features the (re)introduction of her brother James, who I know nothing about. It all just about hangs together, and some parts of this felt much more satisfying in terms of Batgirl getting some decent villains to kick around, but other parts were… well, a villain called Grotesque who wears a mask and kills a man to try and get a bottle of — vintage wine?!

The art is strong, as with the first book, and I liked the cameos by Black Canary (must hunt up some of Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey) and Batwoman. Still not totally sure about that whole decision to bring Barbara back to being Batgirl as opposed to Oracle via a miracle cure, but overall, I’m still ready to follow more of Batgirl’s adventures.

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Review – Spider-girl: Family Values

Posted 16 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spider-girl: Family IssuesSpider-girl: Family Values, Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, Matthew Southworth

This was fun, a good place to jump in on Spider-girl. It seems that as this volume opens, she’s lost her powers, but she’s still doing her best to fight crime — and maintain an impressive presence on social media. I enjoyed her wise-cracking, apparently a Spider-people necessity, and the emotional side of her development in this story.

Anya’s normal life is pretty solid, with friends and eventually a roommate, contacts outside the superhero world (unlike, say, Captain America). I liked Spider-man’s parts too, and I was intrigued by Red Hulk — I haven’t read anything including him so far.

The art is pretty good — there are couple of patchier issues that I wasn’t so fond of, but it’s reasonably consistent, and I liked that they portray Anya as a lithe, athletic sixteen year old girl. She’s not sexualised or anything in her fights the way, say, Black Widow often is. I’ll probably pick up some more Spider-girl given a chance — earlier or later, I don’t mind which.

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Review – Dark Currents

Posted 15 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Cover of Dark Currents by Jacqueline CareyDark Currents, Jacqueline Carey

I originally got this without even reading the summary, because it’s Jacqueline Carey and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna follow wherever her writing career takes her. This was different from everything else she’s written — less dense, less lush in terms of prose, and less complicated in terms of plot. Basically all you need to know is: supernatural community in small-town USA, boy turns up drowned with signs of magic around the circumstances, our heroine investigates. The rest is, at least at this point, mostly set dressing.

I did like that the heroine has several strong female friendships, and a strong relationship with her mother, and she cops to her daddy issues too. I’m not sure where this is going in terms of which guy/s she dates, and I’m not that invested in the question, but I’m not completely bored by any of her potential relationships either.

I do agree with some of the more negative reviews that a bit baffled that Carey went from the lush prose of the Kushiel and Naamah books to “gah!” and “ummm” and “totally” and so on. Once I figured out it was in a whole different register, style-wise, I just read it as I would any urban fantasy.

The world building is interesting, and not fully explained. This bothers some people; it doesn’t bother me. There’s a sense of a fragmented community here, supernatural beings-wise, and that they just pull together where they can and try to eke things out for themselves. It doesn’t seem like it’s some kind of easy co-existence: there’s hate and fear as well as fascination and tourist attractions.

I liked this well enough, but I don’t know that I found it special. I’m going to try the next book and see what that does for me.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 15 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 64 Comments

So, it’s Saturday and time for Stacking the Shelves, which I tooootally don’t look forward to all week… It’s a meme where you show off your haul for the week, hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. (Hi to everyone dropping by from there.)

So anyway. It was going to be a very sad and empty week, haul-wise. Then I was browsing the Kindle store while feeling cranky, which I probably shouldn’t do. And this resulted…

Kindle books

Cover of Border Country by Raymond Williams Cover of Make Room for the Jester by Stead Jones Cover of A Heyday in the Blood by Geraint Goodwin Cover of Flame and Slag by Ron Barry  Cover of The Water-Castle by Brenda Chamberlain Cover of Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman Cover of Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers Cover of Black and White by Caitlin Kettridge and Jackie KesslerCover of Vicious by V.E. Schwab Cover of Don't Be A Hero by Chris Strange

Comics (collection)

Cover of Dark Reign: Young Avengers

Comics (issues)

Cover of Ms Marvel issue #1 Cover of Captain Marvel issue #1

I’d say spot the theme, but the covers pretty much give it away. (Welsh books and superheroes, if you didn’t get it. I love some of the superhero covers — they’re all novels apart from Dark Reign: Young Avengers, but each I think has a bit of a reference to comics in the cover art.)

So, uh, the Dark Reign cover actively infuriates me, because that’s Billy Kaplan there with Enchantress, and — he’s gay, actually. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking with that cover. He has a boyfriend in the comics, he’s with him the whole time except for a brief break during the most recent issues. It looks very much like a ridiculous attempt to de-gay him, and I hate it. But hey, at least I also got the first issue of the new Ms. Marvel and the 2014 Captain Marvel, which I’m excited about and haven’t been able to get in physical form locally, so finally got on ComiXology. I also set up subscriptions to both, because hey.

Of the other books, I can’t decide what I’m most interested in or want to start with. Hm. Maybe Make Room for the Jester, just because I’m curious that Philip Pullman has written the introduction. Or The Heyday in the Blood, because one of my lecturers from my BA wrote the introduction!

What’s everyone else been getting? What’re you getting excited about?

ETA: Belatedly dropping in to add a link to this giveaway I’m running. Gain entries by promoting my charity run or sponsoring me!

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter evidently, since I just posted the review today — and before that, Conquistadors by Michael Wood. One fiction, one non-fiction, but both based on bits of history I know comparatively little about, so both interesting for that!

What are you currently reading?
Dark Currents, by Jacqueline Carey, is what’s at the top of my pile. It’s fairly standard for urban fantasy, I guess, not as rich as most of Carey’s other work, but absorbing and well written. More like Robin McKinley’s Sunshine than Random Joe’s The X’s X or whatever. Speaking of a more Random Joe-ish one, I’ve also started reading Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey, which… well, when the main character has been dragged down to hell and then escapes, owns an Impala, and has an attitude problem, I side-eye Supernatural and wonder about the influence there.

Other than those two, I started Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which I thiiiink got mentioned in Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great? So that would be the impetus for finally getting round to it, probably. So far, the actual links to the Tam Lin ballad are just beginning to take shape, but I’m just glorying in that academic world. It seems so simple compared to the hoops they want me to jump through to get back into academia. (Hm, a thesis on fairytale retellings?)

Aaaaand I still haven’t picked The Thirteenth Tale back up yet, but I’ll get there.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, probably a bunch of graphic novels, since they’ll be the most awkward things to drag back to Cardiff in my suitcase. Then there’s my ARCs of Gretel and the Dark (Eliza Granville) and Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen) that I really really have to get to, or no one will ever send me physical ARCs again.

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Review – The Bearkeeper’s Daughter

Posted 12 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian BradshawThe Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw

I was really interested to read this, since it’s set in Constantinople, and I think in the same period as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Constantinople-analogue, Sarantium, in the Sarantine Mosaic books. Even in other fiction I’ve come across Theodora, both as a great and powerful woman and as a scheming whore. This version is a somewhat ambivalent one, seen through the eyes of her bastard son whom she cannot acknowledge but nonetheless loves and schemes for. I liked the way she was portrayed: her drives and ambitions made sense, came out of the real history we know Theodora had.

The story is more about her son, though, based on a rumour about Theodora from Procopius’ Secret History — a very Rosemary Sutcliff-like touch, to take a half-known story and expand it and develop it into something that could have been, like The Eagle of the Ninth. Her books are aimed more at adults, I think, but there’s still that same flavour to them from the ones I’ve read so far, and they touch on similar periods and topics.

I got really involved in this, gradually, drawn into the world of Constantinople and of the people Bradshaw gives us — I loved Narses and Anastasios, and though I didn’t think I would come to love her, Euphemia as well. Theodora, of course, and this version of Justinian, worked very well for me. There are some really powerful scenes, and while there’s a constraint and dryness to it in a way — it doesn’t step severely away from what we do know of the period — it still caught me up in a spell while I was reading.

When you read the blurb, it does sound as if it’s going to be somewhat sensational — bastard sons usually are a pretty dramatic complication, after all. But actually, it tries to steer a path between an interesting story and realism, and I really enjoyed watching that balancing act.

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Review – Conquistadors

Posted 12 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Conquistadors by Michael WoodConquistadors, Michael Wood

I’m pretty willing to pick up any of the books Michael Wood has written. They’re obviously more popular history than anything, pitched at BBC documentary level, but that is the level of knowledge I have for a lot of historical subjects. Conquistadors is in the usual format familiar from Wood’s book on Alexander: he retraces the steps of the conquistadors, in some cases clarifying their routes where they weren’t completely known before.

This is a period of history that’s not entirely new to me, but pretty nearly — we were taught a bit about the Aztecs and Cortes back in primary school, but that was about the extent of it. Wood evokes all this pretty clearly, though some colour photographs may have helped — my edition only has a small section of black and white ones. He uses sources from both sides of the conflict, and I think he kept a balance reasonably well. He obviously admired some of the conquistadors, but he kept in mind that even those of a more exploratory bent still thought and acted as conquistadors, save perhaps Cabeza de Vaca.

I think it interesting that one review complains of a completely one-sided view of the conquistadors “ethnically cleansing” the lands they conquered, while another complains about the British self-loathing. I think actually, there’s a pretty good balance between the two: Wood rightfully points out the excesses of the Spanish, but he also explains some of their reactions and doesn’t gloss over the issues of human sacrifice, etc.

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