Review – Sorcerer to the Crown

Posted 17 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho

It’s been a long while since I first read this book, so even though I knew The True Queen wasn’t a direct sequel, I really wanted to reread this first. I’m glad I did; although I remembered the broader strokes, there was a lot I’d forgotten, particularly about Zacharias and the big secret he spends most of the book hiding. Which is odd, because Zacharias is rather more to my taste as a character that Prunella — but Prunella is definitely the more memorable, with her determination to get what she wants and needs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In Sorcerer to the Crown, Zacharias has just inherited the staff of the Sorcerer Royal, after his mentor’s death. Given his race and some mysterious circumstances surrounding his mentor’s death, though, many English sorcerers are refusing to accept his authority. And that’s far from his only trouble… particularly once he meets Prunella. Prunella’s mother is totally unknown and her father long gone, but she was raised by the headmistress of a school for well-born girls. In this world, girls aren’t meant to use magic, and the school’s purpose is more to school it out of them than school it into them. After a visit, though, Zacharias is soon convinced that girls like Prunella should be taught.

Prunella has other ideas in mind, of course.

The story bombs along at a great pace, and that description doesn’t cover nearly everything that ends up happening. There are some great side characters (Mak Genggang! Rollo and Damerell!) and some fascinating alternate history uses of magic and magical creatures. Zacharias is serious and conscientious, and burdened with a lot of conscience, while Prunella acts as an excellent foil with her self-interest and drive (though coupled with intense loyalty to her friends, including Zacharias).

All in all, it’s a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it very much a second time as well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Talent for Murder

Posted 16 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of A Talent for Murder by Andrew WilsonA Talent for Murder, Andrew Wilson

I was quite interested in this story based on what I know about Golden Age crime fiction, and about the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie for several days at one point in her life. As far as I know it’s genuinely still a bit of a mystery what happened during the days she was missing, and this story attempts to fill in the gaps, introducing a mysterious man who wants Christie to kill for him, and thus engineers her disappearance.

There are some aspects of this that are genuinely interesting — Wilson’s description of the helplessness and disgust his version of Christie feels when the man makes her dance to “Yes! We Have No Bananas!” is quite effective. For the most part, though, I felt like the handling was clumsy: details from Christie’s life, no doubt gleaned from her autobiography and other materials, are sort of shoehorned in to convince the reader that yes, this really is Christie, this is really is what happened. It doesn’t work for me — the “verification” is just a little too blatant. (Even if I can’t tell what’s real and what’s invented!)

What’s more, the tone — apart from a couple of scenes — didn’t much work for me. There’s something so bland and generic about it, even while Wilson is working with a rather colourful person. So all in all, I found it rather disappointing and after a hundred pages or so, I found myself putting it down for good without regret. The library can have it back, with pleasure.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Magic Burns

Posted 14 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns, Ilona Andrews

The second Kate Daniels book plunges straight into action, with Kate teaming up with Jim to fight a guy using a salamander to set things on fire. Things escalate from there, as is usual for Kate, while the book also introduces more important secondary characters in the form of Julie and Andrea. Julie is a vulnerable girl Kate spends most of the book trying to protect; Andrea is a knight of the Order who can put a bullet through a pinhead at god knows what distance. (Together, they fight crime! Well, kind of, a little bit, actually.)

There’s more mythology mixed into the pot — including a healthy dollop of Irish mythology, with the appearance of the Morrigan and a warrior with a skillset like that of Cú Chulainn — and a lot more frenetic fighting, running and pure badassery. I love the hints towards Kate’s heritage — I’m not sure why I never twigged further in advance, given the evidence, but somehow the first time I was not going in the right direction at all.

And as before, another thing I love is that Kate is indeed a total badass, but a badass who knows that sometimes the fighting has got to stop. That some things you have to protect, and sometimes you want to just go home and find the person you love waiting there. The fact that she’s willing to be vulnerable — not only that she wants these things, but that she’s willing to say she wants them — makes her a surprisingly positive character for me, where you might expect a female mercenary to be, well, more mercenary.

There’s still no real romance here — some flirtations, of course, and hints at what’s to come. But for those who expect paranormal romance to be a total sex fest, well… either this book has been mislabelled, or you’re maligning the genre unfairly.

did find that the fast pacing here sometimes left me behind a little. I’m not sure if that was the speed I was reading or just the frenetic pacing, but a couple of times I did end up thinking “wait, what now?” and have to read back a little. It’s not a perfect book, in stylistic terms: I still find a lot to enjoy, all the same.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Raven Stratagem

Posted 13 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeRaven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve made the mistake of waiting too long to review this after finishing my reread, and I’m not sure I have much more to add than the first time. And to describe the basic outline of the book is in many ways to spoil the experience of reading it: I think the best way to experience this for the first time is probably to go in knowing nothing more than you’ve been told in Ninefox Gambit, and then hang on for a wild ride. You’re almost certainly going to be wrong about some things, and that’s part of the cleverness of it.

I did also enjoy reading it a second time, knowing everything that happens from before, though. Firstly, because there’s so much to analyse, to notice, to figure out in terms of clues you missed before and sly references, foreshadowing… Raven Stratagem is really rich in that, and it’s rewarding as a reread for that reason — not just for pure enjoyment (though that’s the only reason one should ever need) but also to fully appreciate what’s going on.

I feel like even bringing up aspects of characters I liked and why would be too much info for the spoiler-phobic, so I won’t say anything beyond: oh and possibly gah my heart.

Finally, as a kind of in-joke for readers of this book: would you wear a scarf knitted by Mikodez? I totally would. The risk of it strangling me would be worth it.

Rating: 5/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 12 June, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of The Pandemic Century by Mark HonigsbaumWhat are you currently reading?

I’m most of the way through The Pandemic Century, by Mark Honigsbaum, which has lots of interesting titbits on various pandemics — some of which I didn’t know. I’m kind of waiting to see where it’s going, though, because it seems to be leaning a bit in the direction of “we can’t predict The Big One, so why get all hysterical about it?”. Which is worrying to me.

Also, I’m sure my family are wincing to hear it, given that I only recently made my mind up to do an MSc in mental health science, but gaaah I want to do more epidemiology and microbiology. Describing how researchers work in the labs that uncover the origins of pandemic disease makes me itch to do some of that work myself. Mind you, by next week I’ll be itching to be an archaeologist or something, so folks can be pretty sure I’ll circle back round to the MSc in time to enrol.

Cover of Tropic of Serpents by Marie BrennanWhat have you recently finished reading?

My reread of The Tropic of Serpents. That book — that whole series really — just fills me with joy. I’m gonna go right on and start on Voyage of the Basilisk… or, being honest with y’all, I already have. I could just eat up Isabella’s adventures, and I love her friendship with Tom Wilker. (I still wanna figure out which part of the UK Niddey sort of corresponds to; I assume probably Ireland, but I like to think of him as a Welshman.)

Cover of Lent by Jo WaltonWhat will you be reading next?

Other than more of Lady Trent’s adventures, I’ll be properly digging into Jo Walton’s Lent now. I have an e-copy because I was so impatient for it, but have been more in the mood for physical books. My physical copy should arrive soon, but even if not, I’m goin’ in! I was excited by the bit I’ve read, and amused because I just played through the Savonarola section of Assassin’s Creed 2.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Heartstopper

Posted 11 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heartstopper by Alice OsemanHeartstopper, Alice Oseman

Heartstopper is just freaking adorable. Charlie and Nick attend an all-boys grammar school, and they really meet when they find themselves in the same form (odd, since Nick is in year 11 and Charlie is in year 10? but what do I know, grammar schools can do what they want in many ways; or mine certainly did, anyway). They quickly become friends, and Nick even coaxes Charlie to join him in playing rugby. They hang out together… a lot… and Nick quickly becomes Charlie’s defender and closest friend. And, of course, a mutual crush develops.

The art is cute, and while there is a little bit of angst and confusion, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. I’m a little mad about the cliffhanger this book ends on — and I know I could go looking for the rest online, and probably will, but aaarggghh, that so typical plotline where — well, I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that I want to get back to them being adorable, whether that’s as friends or boyfriends.

It’s also kind of awesome how British it is. And a grammar school, too! That’s a world I know well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Middlegame

Posted 10 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuireMiddlegame, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley

I’m still digesting this one, quite honestly. Let’s see if writing it down helps me figure out what I think! Middlegame is a novel in which time is mutable: the two main characters are living out their lives time and time again, and when they fail, time is reset back to a crucial decision point and try again and again to get the right outcome. This isn’t a spoiler — it’s apparent from the start, because the story begins at the end and jumps back.

Roger and Dodger are twins. Roger has command over language, while Dodger is a math prodigy. They were created by an alchemist desperate to prove the theories of his creator and mentor, and their whole lives have been manipulated by him to try and achieve both power and control. The question is really how exactly the twins will achieve their power and not be under his control.

Over and over again their lives touch just a little, and they speak to each other through some kind of link. Over and over again they are separated — sometimes by meddling, sometimes by being human and flawed and not good at their strange relationship. Their relationship is the center of the book, and you can’t help but root for them as they get it right and wrong and right again. I found the timeline a little difficult to follow, because I’m so bad at remembering any kind of numbers (I’m the Roger half of some equation, clearly), and that kind of impacted how I felt about the book — I found it a little frustrating that I kept losing my bearings. It’s cleverly done, though, and the full extent of what Roger and Dodger are takes some time to unfold and really become obvious; the broad strokes are fairly obvious from the beginning, but there’s still a sense of revelation as the book unwinds.

I think, in the end, I’m not head over heels in love with the story, but I think it’s well done and enjoyable. There are some gruesome bits and gore — touches of McGuire’s Mira Grant persona, in some ways — and the complex timeline combined with those is probably what brings down the rating a bit for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other readers I know make of it.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 8 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

I continue to feel rather overwhelmed and worn out, but I did manage to actually make some posts last week, so it’s time for a catchup that covers the last two weeks!

Acquired:

Cover of The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler HayesBooks read in the last two weeks:

Cover of Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson Cover of A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins Cover of Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

Cover of The True Queen by Zen Cho Cover of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuire Cover of Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson Cover of The Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J. Benton

Cover of Heartstopper by Alice Oseman Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Reviews posted:

Silver in the Wood, by Emily Tesh. A retelling of a less well-worn myth than some, with lots of loveliness. 4/5 stars
A Short History of Europe, by Simon Jenkins. Rather meh. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!
A June TBR. I wanted to keep up some of my momentum from last month in keeping up with series, reading stuff I’ve meant to read for ages, etc — but with a lower (easier) threshold, to allow me to include extras. Tahdah, the chosen to-read list!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Hummingbirds and migration.‘ I was asked specifically about feeding species of hummingbird local to Argentina, and whether it might perturb their natural feeding, migration, etc. The answer is no!
NEAT science: ‘Wireless charging. Ever wondered how it works? I explain some of the principles.
NEAT science: ‘You are what your microbes eat.‘ On some of the proof for how your microbiota — the bacteria in your gut — impact your mental health.

And that’s it for this week — all caught up. Except for all the comments and posts I still need to answer… I’m getting there, I swear!

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Review – A Short History of Europe

Posted 6 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Short History of Europe by Simon JenkinsA Short History of Europe, Simon Jenkins

I’m just going to confess something here: I didn’t finish this. It seemed to be exactly what it purports to be from the title: a short (yep) history (yep) of Europe (yep). It doesn’t try to be particularly exciting about it, and I found that I felt like I was just being hurtled through the canonical key points of European history. Sure, that’s mostly what I expected, but a better prose stylist would have made it more interesting, and an insightful historian could have found some illustrative moments that aren’t in the standard playbook.

As it is, I felt like I was cramming on history for a test, and I ended up letting it go back to the library. More than that, I got the impression that Jenkins is fairly anti-EU, and other reviews confirm that. Given that I still believe in the European Union, me and this book weren’t destined to have a fruitful relationship.

Rating: 2/5

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A June TBR

Posted 5 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Having a TBR in May actually kinda worked out for me. I’m notoriously contrary and notoriously difficult to pin down, but in May I had a set list of 22 books and a Beeminder goal to get me there*, and get there I did.

I don’t want to do that again, since I did have trouble sticking to the list and not just reading whatever I feel like, but it sounds like a nice way to make sure I stick to reading the series (multiple) I’ve got on my plate, get round to reading stuff for the Hugo voting, etc, etc. So I’m going to try having a 10-book TBR; I can read anything else I want as well, but I’ve got to finish these 10.

Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews Cover of Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan Cover of Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee Cover of Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

Here goes the list:

  • Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews. Because I want some fluffy easy fun!
  • The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan. Reread for pure love.
  • Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan. Ditto.
  • Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee. Because the wife just finished it, and I need to finish it for Hugo voting as well!
  • Tower of Thorns, by Juliet Marillier. I reread the first book in order to prep for finally finishing this trilogy (catching up on this series?) so I want to make sure I don’t need to do that again in approximately five minutes.
  • An Artificial Night, by Seanan McGuire. I’ve been partway through this reread for, uh, a while. It’s time to press on and read this series!
  • Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse. I’d like to read this before the first book fades from my mind.
  • Lent, by Jo Walton. Assuming Waterstones ever actually manage to order my copy, that is. I really want to read this ASAP — especially since I’m replaying Assassin’s Creed 2 at the moment, and am just going up against Savonarola…
  • The Bitter Twins, by Jen Williams. I was dying to read this the minute I finished The Ninth Rain, and now I can!
  • A Talent for Murder, by Andrew Wilson. Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance + a murder mystery with her as a main character? I’m in! Also, it’s my book club pick for this month, so I better read it.

Cover of An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire Cover of Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of Lent by Jo Walton Cover of The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams Cover of A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Wish me luck!

*If you don’t know about Beeminder, I work for them as their Support Czar, and am also a fairly hard-core user. Elevator pitch: set a quantifiable goal, set how often you want to do it, and stick to it… or pay exponential amounts of pledge money if you fail. (Or cap it at whatever level is motivating to you, of course.)

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