Review – Zika: The Emerging Epidemic

Posted 16 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of ZIkaZika: The Emerging Epidemic, Donald G. McNeil

This isn’t written by a scientist studying Zika, but by a science reporter. Given that, it’s not terribly in depth about the disease itself, but rather provides something of an overview, written in an engaging and easy to read way. If you’re interested in learning the facts about Zika (at least as per the point when the book was sent to press), this is a good choice to my mind. It’s sometimes a little reliant on anecdotes, because of course much of the in-depth research on Zika was (and is) yet to be completed. Obviously, he has an interest in making it sound interesting and more than a little horrifying, but broadly speaking I trusted the sources he used.

A number of people have given this book relatively low ratings because McNeil is a big proponent of the advice to delay planned pregnancies if you live in a Zika-infected area. It’s unfeminist, people say; it ignores the fact that some of these areas have a high risk for sexual assault, it ignores female choice, etc, etc. I don’t quite get it: the first instance, he refers to planned pregnancy, so it’s not like he’s saying “don’t get sexually assaulted”. In the latter, you can choose to have a baby when you’re at risk of contracting Zika if you like, but then you must know and accept that your child could die or be severely harmed by it. McNeil doesn’t say “pregnancy should be banned and people who get pregnant should not get healthcare”. He says, “If I wanted a healthy baby, and I was planning to become pregnant, I would wait until I was sure I wasn’t at risk for Zika.” Which is fairly easy, since as far as we can tell, once you’ve had Zika once, you’re immune and there would no longer be a risk. And of course, there’s the potential for vaccines and eradication, in the longer term.

There’s also a bit of criticism of people who get pregnant in Zika-affected areas and then don’t take precautions not to contract Zika. Which is fair: you can choose to do risky things, but why should anyone think it’s a good idea?

All in all, I don’t think McNeil is wrong (or anti-feminist). He’s giving solid advice backed up by what we know of Zika. I don’t believe it’s anti-feminist to point out that drinking alcohol when you’re trying to get pregnant is likely to harm the baby once you do conceive if you don’t realise it, and that you’re best just avoiding drinking alcohol if you want your baby to be healthy. This is a similar situation.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 16 December, 2017 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Hello everyone! It’s been a long week, but it’s better than last week. I have my money back from Paypal, for one… Busy week ahead too; I’ve got an assignment due, and me and my wife are travelling to the UK (from Belgium) to spend Christmas with my parents. So much to do!

Received to review

Cover of No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin Cover of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Yay, Ursula Le Guin! I didn’t really expect to be approved for this, so I’m happy. Must read it stat, of course. The other one sounded intriguing from the summary, so we’ll see how that goes…

Books read this week

Cover of Tutankhamen by Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt Cover of The Power of Babel by John McWhorter Cover of Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood

Not a very productive week, reading-wise! Oops. All of these get four stars, though!

Books reviewed this week:

Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey. If you’re enjoying the series at this point, this is more of the same… with some especially big implications towards the end. 4/5 stars
Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. Preferred this on rereading to how I felt about it as a teen — I think I expected more straightforward romance back then. But this time I just found it a delightful melodrama of manners, as advertised. 4/5 stars
The Stars are Legions, by Kameron Hurley. So. Weird. I think I prefer Hurley’s non-fiction, even though I think she’s very inventive and her writing is good. 3/5 stars
What On Earth Evolved… In Brief, by Christopher Lloyd. Interesting to dip into, though not terribly surprising for me. 3/5 stars
The Horns of Ruin, by Tim Akers. There’s some fun stuff going on with the worldbuilding, but it feels like reading an action videogame — it’s all go! 3/5 stars
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. I didn’t see this around much, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I actually found it a lot of fun, and I’m excited for the next book. 4/5 stars
The Godless, by Ben Peek. I found the world really interesting, again, but I didn’t get into the characters or plot, somehow. I’m not sure I’ll bother reading the sequels. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The latest on my reading pile.

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Review – The Godless

Posted 15 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Godless by Ben PeekThe Godless, Ben Peek

This is another case where there’s some really cool world building, but I really didn’t get into the story/characters. It was interesting enough to follow them right to the end, and I did want to know more about some of the characters — okay, I admit it, particularly Zaifyr/Qian — and what brought them to where they are at the point of the story… but I’m not planning on reading more in the series. For me, characters are the major thing, and sometimes I felt like the narrative didn’t give enough time to their motivations and plans. Sometimes I just did not get what the connections between actions or scenes were; probably partly my fault, but also a feature of Peek’s style.

I wouldn’t say that I’d avoid Peek’s work in future, because there was a lot of interesting stuff in the world that he created. It’s just that it didn’t quite cater to my interests in terms of people to root for. That’s not always important for everyone, so if the idea of the dying gods and the power manifesting in individuals and the military campaign all appeal, I’d definitely recommend giving this a go.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Strange Practice

Posted 14 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Strange Practice by Vivian ShawStrange Practice, Vivian Shaw

If you’re looking at the cover and expecting some sort of Victoriana setting, that’s actually misleading. It’s set in modern London, and modern technology actually plays a significant role in all of this. It’s also utilised sensibly in that people pick up the phone and call each other rather than running around helplessly after being attacked — the characters do get separated at times, but not in situations where just pick up your phone would be the answer, something I find irritating in some urban fantasy when it isn’t dealt with.

So the plot: Dr Greta Helsing is the heir to a medical practice for supernatural creatures, treating everything from decaying limbs for mummies to sore throats in Banshees. There’s a whole community of supernatural creatures living among humans, and Greta happens to be one of the people they’d consider allies. Surprise, surprise, someone doesn’t like that, and so she gets entangled in a larger plot against supernatural creatures of all sorts.

I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed her drive to help people, and I enjoyed the characters around her — including Lord Ruthven and Varney the Vampyre, a demon who is not actually evil, ghouls who might have odd eating habits but are really pretty harmless… I enjoyed the group dynamics, too. In the end, I just had fun reading it, and immediately wanted the sequel (which isn’t out yet, alas). It was a lot of fun, from the concept (the monsters’ doctor) to the characters (Ruthven in particular) to the epic note during the ending (featuring a particularly important mythological character).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Horns of Ruin

Posted 13 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Horns of Ruin by Tim AkersThe Horns of Ruin, Tim Akers

The Horns of Ruin is a fun, rather frenetic steampunk adventure with a very kickass heroine. There’s a lot of fascinating ideas in the world-building — the gods and the way divinity works, the invocations which are based on stories about the divinities, the interplay between the three gods… It feels like a piece of a larger world, maybe a tie-in for a game. Eva refers to her spells as buffs at one point, even!

This doesn’t always lead to the best storytelling, and it is a very linear plot which just features Eva bashing heads in, then briefly recuperating before going off to do it again. But it has its charms, and I enjoyed the ride.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 13 December, 2017 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.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Power of Babel by John McWhorterThe Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, by John McWhorter, for a challenge. It surprises me how much of this I actually know or already believed to be true; I though I didn’t really know that much about language formation. It is a little boring when it goes into examples, because without being able to pronounce them they just sort of wash over my head, but I expect other people would quite like it. Especially all the pop culture!

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodEverything felt pretty terrible, so I reread the next Phryne book in the series, Murder in Montparnasse. It has some pretty heavy themes, of course — domestic violence and cold-blooded murder — but I still find something about the books so soothing.

What will you read next?

Cover of Cibola Burn by James S.A. CoreyAs a reward for doing a ton of adult and sensible things, I’m letting myself read whatever I want through to the end of the year. That said, I’m pretty sure my wife would like me to hurry up and get started on James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn, so that might be the next thing. Also, I have some novellas I should really get round to reading for review: The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, Prime Meridian, a couple of others.

What are you reading?

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Review – What On Earth Evolved… In Brief

Posted 12 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of What On Earth Evolved?What on Earth Evolved… in Brief, Christopher Lloyd

It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. To a biologist, the choices of species aren’t particularly surprising, though I might perhaps have included fewer animals and more bacteria and plants. Even though this is a cut-down version of the full book, it’s still pretty exhaustive (and at times a bit exhausting). It’s full of interesting titbits, but nothing at great length, and a large portion of the back is taken up by charts attempting to put things into some sort of ranking as to how much it has affected the world. The focus is very much with Lloyd’s subtitle, “100 Species That Have Changed the World”.

Easy enough to read, though perhaps one you might prefer to dip in and out of than just read straight through.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Stars Are Legion

Posted 11 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Stars Are Legion by Kameron HurleyThe Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley

Hurley is an amazingly inventive author; there’s no doubt about that. Each of the worlds she creates is full of fascinating detail: in this book, it’s the living worlds and all their layers, the different environments that Zan travels through in the course of the book, the living or semi-living technology they use. The details are, well, visceral — which is a bad match for the squeamish. Surprise! That includes me. The sensory aspects of this book just had me constantly wincing, not wanting to even try imagining them.

It doesn’t help for me that the characters are not entirely likeable, and their endgame is necessarily a secret from Zan (which leaves the reader figuring things out at the same pace). Terrible actions for a goal I can support, I can get past — when characters just do terrible things and interact with terrible people and I’m not sure if the goal is worth it, even to them… Well, it’s difficult for me.

I think Hurley is a great writer with a lot of intriguing ideas, but I prefer her non-fiction essays and commentaries. It’s not her, it’s me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Swordspoint

Posted 10 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Swordspoint by Ellen KushnerSwordspoint, Ellen Kushner

Back when I first read Swordspoint, I wasn’t totally won over. Something about the sting in the romance really didn’t work for me — I wanted Alec and Richard to be a lot easier to categorise, their love to have less sharp edges. But going into it for this reread knowing that’s the way it is, I actually enjoyed it all quite a lot: the back and forth of banter, the trading of barbs, the politicking and, yeah, the bond between Richard and Alec, and what it will drive them both to. Swordspoint does have sharp edges, and the love story is not as saccharine as some might wish (including teenage Bibliophibians), but in reality it works really well.

Perhaps it’s best not to think too much about how sustainable the political system described would be, with the use of swordsmen to outsource arguments. I just enjoyed Swordspoint for the melodrama of manners that it is, and thrilled along with Alec to Richard’s skill and ferocity as a swordsman.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Abaddon’s Gate

Posted 9 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. CoreyAbaddon’s Gate, James S.A. Corey

If you’ve enjoyed the books up to this point, then this is more of the same — and I mean that in the good way. If you’ve been numbed by scientific inaccuracies and maddened by stupid things the characters do, then you’re not going to want to continue, because this very much continues in the same vein as the previous books. I find it enjoyable; it’s brain candy, but there’s a place for that on my shelves.

There is an element of sameness about these books in the way that it focuses on Holden and co, and therefore Holden never quite learns and he always somehow gets into trouble, dragging his crew with him. It is nice that the narrative is aware of this, though, and his crew call him out — and he’s forced to remember that he’s not in fact all that important by the events of the book. Still. Sometimes Holden gets a little too much for me, much as I love his crew.

It remains an entertaining mindfuck if you’ve enjoyed what Corey’s done so far. It widens up the world and brings in more sci-fi elements — not just humanity expanding out of the solar system, but more signs of what might be encroaching from outside. I’m still intrigued.

Rating: 4/5

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