Tag: books

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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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 24 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 13 Comments

Good morning, folks! I’ve spent this week away at a residential school learning lab skills, which was awesome but means I’ve hardly had any time for blog stuff. However, look at the bacteria I made! They’re antibiotic resistant and fluorescent under UV light.

Photo of a petri dish with fluorescing bacterial cultures.

Note: for the concerned, which seems to happen more than I expected, it’s a proper lab with disposal procedures and so on. All the samples have been autoclaved by now, my lab coats have both been washed hot enough to denature anything from the lab, and the antibiotic resistance conferred on these bacteria is common outside the lab already; even if these were introduced into the wild, they wouldn’t do any harm.

In case that didn’t move you, here’s the now-traditional picture of my bunnies, as I’m still away from them:

Photo of Hulk and Breakfast, my bunnies; Hulk is grooming Breakfast.

But I’m not away for much longer! I’ll be back with them on Tuesday. Anyway, back to the books!

Received to review:

Cover of Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher

Yay, a new Adam Christopher book! I’d say gimme, but they have!


Cover of A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna

This is about the gene editing tool, CRISPR, that I would maybe one day like to work with. Jennifer Doudna is one of the two authors of the paper that first talked about using CRISPR for gene editing, so this is going to be fascinating.

Read this week:

Cover of The Making of the Fittest by Sean B. Carroll Cover of Incognito by David Eagleman Cover of 15 Million Degrees by Lucie Green Cover of The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman Cover of The Emperor's Railroad by Guy Haley

Sneak peek at ratings:

Four stars to: The Vaccine Race and The Emperor’s Railroad.
Three stars to: The Making of the Fittest, Incognito and 15 Million Degrees.

Reviews posted this week:

Cold-Forged Flame, by Marie Brennan. I think I’d have enjoyed this more if the first book had been fresher in my mind. I love the world, and Ree, but the characters didn’t always click with me in this one. 3/5 stars
Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat, by Rom Harré. Dodges the ethical issues which would’ve made the book more interesting to me. 2/5 stars
The Shambling Guide to New York City, by Mur Lafferty. So much fun! And not gimmicky in the way I’d feared. 4/5 stars
Death Before Wicket, by Kerry Greenwood. Fun as ever, but definitely missable. 3/5 stars
Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross. Way oversexualised and rapey. Consciously so, and not in a way that celebrates the rapiness, but that doesn’t mean I liked it. 2/5 stars
The Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty. A fun follow-up. Zoe can be a bit annoying at times in this one, but it’s a solid story for my money. 4/5 stars
In Search of the Multiverse, by John Gribbin. Actually made more aspects of quantum physics and string theory make sense to me! 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I’ve Been Meaning to Read.

Worth noting:

I’m very conscious that most people are not here for non-fic reviews and that I’ve been posting a lot of them. I suspect that’s why some followers have already unsubscribed. That’s cool if you want to; I’ve never made a secret of being a rather eclectic reader and prone to going through stages, but if you jumped on during a different stage it could be pretty annoying to find me switching gears. I get it. But at the moment I’m going to try and mitigate it a bit by spreading out my non-fic reviews more. For the next couple of weeks at least, that’ll probably mean no new reviews on days when other posts are going up, i.e. Saturdays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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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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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 20 June, 2017 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Hey all! I’ll be in the lab when this goes live, so I might not be very quick to respond to comments or visit you back. But I will when my lab school is over, so please do comment. <3 This week’s theme is “Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning to Start But Haven’t”. Boy, oh boy, have I got some for this.Cover of Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

  1. The Milkweed Triptych, by Ian Tregillis. I even managed to get all the books relatively cheap from The Works, of all things. But haven’t got round to them yet. Soon… soon… ish.
  2. The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. I don’t want to know how long these have been waiting on my shelf, actually.
  3. Hidden Legacy, by Ilona Andrews. Ilona Andrews’ books are just perfect for my brain sometimes, so my excuse is that I’m saving these.Cover of Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
  4. The Erebus Sequence, by Den Patrick. I have the first book! …Have had it for a while. Are you sensing a theme?
  5. The Shadowmarch Series, by Tad Williams. I suspect the first book might even have been bought long enough ago it’s not on my lists of acquired-unread books.
  6. Tales of the Ketty Jay, by Chris Wooding. I got this for Christmas through a gift exchange. Not last Christmas. And I don’t think it was the Christmas before, either. Argggh, self.
  7. InCryptid series, by Seanan McGuire. It’s Seanan McGuire, I’m planning to get to it. Soon. Soon. Cover of The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
  8. Sevenwaters, by Juliet Marillier. Technically, I think I started reading Daughter of the Forest, once, many moons ago, but I didn’t finish it at the time for whatever reason.
  9. The Shadow Campaigns, by Django Wexler. My sister speaks highly of these, and I have the first two books…
  10. Cainsville, by Kelley Armstrong. I’ve enjoyed a couple of books by Kelley Armstrong, and the first one of this series tickled my fancy, but I haven’t got round to it yet. I don’t think I’ve owned it that long, though.

So yeah, I could go on. But I’ll stick to ten. How about you lot? Always finding new series to read? Or wishing you didn’t read them so fast so you had more books in great series to look forward to?

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Review – The Shambling Guide to New York City

Posted 19 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur LaffertyThe Shambling Guide to New York City, Mur Lafferty

I was kind of avoiding these because… I don’t know why, really. I thought it might be more like World War Z; a gimmicky set-up with comparatively little story. Wrong! There’s a solid story and direction behind The Shambling Guide to New York City, and though it does contain excerpts from the actual guide, the book itself is not written as a guide to New York City from the point of view of monsters — called, in this book, coterie. Instead, we follow our intrepid, sometimes somewhat slow heroine, Zoe, as she accidentally gets herself employed by a coterie company, learns that monsters are real and do want to eat her, and gets dragged into epic showdowns of opposing coterie.

Okay, in a way it’s wish fulfilment, because Zoe is adaptable, quick on her feet, able to train to learn to cope with all this. Most real people wouldn’t be a quarter as adaptable. But it worked for me all the same: I loved the rather mild Phil the vampire, who turned out to have a vicious side after all. (I don’t know what it is with me lately, but I’d fancast Clark Gregg for this role too.) It reminded me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent. There wasn’t too much romance, and the creepily persistent (or persistently creepy) incubus who wants to seduce Zoe gets nowhere fast.

I love most of the characters — Gwen, the Welsh death goddess; Morgen, the water sprite; Granny Good Mae, the… slightly eccentric Yoda to Zoe’s Luke Skywalker. And those I don’t like still make sense, rather than being caricatures designed to be hated, except maybe one particular character.

Overall, I found this thoroughly enjoyable, and I immediately went on and devoured (heh) the second book, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. Recommended!

Also, the covers! Jamie McKelvie, I believe?

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat

Posted 18 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Pavlov's Dogs and Schrodinger's Cat by Ron Harré

Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrodinger’s Cat, Rom Harré

I’m torn about this book: on the one hand, it does what it sets out to do pretty well. It describes experiments that happened to use living subjects, treating those living subjects as though they’re simply part of the equipment. On the other hand, it very deliberately doesn’t engage with the moral aspect of these experiments, instead choosing to present the experiments dispassionately, claiming to be unable to deal with the moral dimension.

I can appreciate this way of looking at the experiments as a way to gain an understanding of them, but I think avoiding the moral dimension in the end just seems cowardly. If it’s your point of view that the suffering of an animal is worth it for the sake of the experiments, then at least own it. Admit the distress is there.

Without addressing that aspect, this book actually comes across as very flat. I ended up losing interest in a lot of these experiments, because animals aren’t just another piece of equipment. We have to use living tissue in experiments because only living tissue responds in the weird and wonderful ways that it needs to in order to give true results. Pretending a dog is a just a petri dish that happens to be pumping blood and breathing air seems disingenuous and pointless.

If you’re interested in the purely scientific treatment of animals as just objects in an experiment, this will work fine for you — that’s what the author delivers. If you find it hard to separate the two, or like me believe that it’s our duty to at least own what we do to animals, then it may fall rather flat.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Lightning in the Blood

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

Cover of Lightning in the Blood by Marie BrennanLightning in the Blood, Marie Brennan

I feel like I might have appreciated this more if I’d refreshed my memory on the first book, Cold-Forged Flame, first. I remembered the basics, of course, but some of the subtleties apparently escaped my brain even in the short time since I read the first book. Still, I do find the world really interesting and Ree’s role in the world compelling. The end of this book came as no real surprise as I’d already pegged Ree as a wanderer type.

I felt like maybe I didn’t connect enough with this one, though. I wasn’t hooked on it, at least. It’s still well-written, but I do recommend having the first book fresher in your mind when you start it. And maybe I’m also suffering a little from missing Brennan’s Lady Trent, now that series is finished. I’ll be interested to revisit this (and the first book) when another book is on the horizon…

Rating: 3/5

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