Review – Stone Star: Fight or Flight

Posted March 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Stone Star: Fight or Flight

Stone Star: Fight or Flight

by Jim Zub, Max Dunbar, Marshall Dillon, Espen Grundetjern

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 128
Series: Stone Star #1
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

A young thief named Dail discovers a dark secret in the depths of Stone Star and has to decide where his destiny lies--staying hidden in the shadows or standing tall in the searing spotlight of the arena. Either way, his life, and the cosmos itself, will never be the same! The nomadic space station called Stone Star brings gladiatorial entertainment to ports across the galaxy. Inside this gargantuan vessel of tournaments and temptations, foragers and fighters struggle to survive.

Stone Star: Fight or Flight is the first volume of a series, which I’d say has quite a “young adult” feel to it (despite the violence etc, there’s not a lot of gore, and the protagonists are young, there’s a mentor figure, etc, etc). The story’s not too surprising: a young scavenger has a surprising power, and ends up using it in an effort to protect a friend who gets dragged into the gladiatorial arena.

The art’s quite clear and easy to follow, unlike some of the other comics I’ve read lately — it’s all pretty straight-forward. I did find that the narrative bubbles felt… unnecessary. Like it was spoonfeeding information that you could also just get from the context.

I’ll probably read volume two because I have access to it and I’m mildly curious about Dail’s powers and why the other gladiators call Volness a traitor, but I wouldn’t be sad about not continuing, either. That said, I think I’m far from being the target audience!

Rating: 2/5

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Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post

Posted March 2, 2024 by Nicky in General / 16 Comments

Wow, it’s been a rough week for me. I’ve just been so tired from working hard on my essays, I haven’t even really been reading much. It feels very weird.

That said, I’ve planned myself a long weekend now, so here’s hoping I’m on the upswing!

Books acquired this week:

Last week I sent my wife out for a bit of retail therapy for me, so here are the results…

Cover of Crypt by Alice Roberts Cover of Lost Realms by Thomas Williams Cover of The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown

Cover of Bride by Ali Hazelwood Cover of Nick & Charlie by Alice Oseman Cover of The Husky and His White Cat Shizun by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

As usual for me, a bit of an odd mix!

Posts from this week:

I’ve got through a lot of the backlog of reviews, and I’m trying to balance things out so there’s always a mixture rather than a huge run of graphic novel reviews, so I slowed down a bit this week. Still, here’s the recap of the reviews:

Aaand the other posts:

What I’m reading:

Well… right now, nothing actively. Like I mentioned above, I’ve been really tired. I am starting to feel the itch to pick up a book, and when I do, I’ll likely pick up Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands, by Heather Fawcett.

I did do some reading this week, so here’s the usual glimpse of books I intend to review in the coming weeks:

Cover of Doughnuts Under A Crescent Moon by Shio Usui Cover of Crypt by Alice Roberts Cover of Don't Call Me Dirty by Gorou Kanbe

Cover of We Only Kill Each Other by  Peter Krause, Ellie Wright, Stephanie Phillips Cover of Tell Me The Truth About Life edited by Cerys Matthews

And th-th-that’s all folks! Hope everyone is doing well, and I pinky-swear I am going to try to catch up on answering comments and making return blog visits starting this evening. I appreciate them all so much and I know it takes time for people to drop by, and effort to make thoughtful comments, so I won’t be forgetting!

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Review – Even Though I Knew The End

Posted March 1, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Even Though I Knew The End

Even Though I Knew The End

by C.L. Polk

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery
Pages: 136
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago's divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother's life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can't resist—the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves.

To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago's most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This is a rather late review of a book I adored, because it seems I never ported over the review!

I pick up Tor.com’s novellas pretty much automatically these days, because 9.9 times out of 10, I’m in for a good (or at least an interesting) time. Even Though I Knew The End is no exception, featuring a sapphic love story, demons, deals at the crossroads, and a little detective fiction. I say a little, because although the character is a detective, that’s mostly just the framework that the rest hangs on. We don’t see a lot of serious detecting.

For those who loved Supernatural when it was on air (with all its flaws), and resonated with the sacrifices Dean made for Sam, this one’s definitely up your street. Our protagonist sold her soul for her brother’s life long ago, and her time’s almost up. In her last days, she investigates a bloody killing, tracking down the people who were possessed in order to do the murder, and discovering some secrets about her own partner into the bargain.

Because it’s a novella, everything has to get sketched in quickly, from the worldbuilding to the characters’ backstories to the love between Helen and Edith, and it works really well. I can be picky about how well novellas handle their scope, but Polk gets it right here.

My only problem is that the ending definitely left me sad. I’d been thinking at first that I might get a copy for my sister, but I try my best not to give her any tragic lesbians — the world has done enough of that already. So do be aware that this ends with a certain degree of queer tragedy; I won’t say more than that, for spoilers’ sake.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Hidden World

Posted February 29, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – The Hidden World

The Hidden World: How Insects Sustain Our Life on Earth Today and Will Shape Our Lives Tomorrow

by George McGavin

Genres: Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 288
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Insects conquered the Earth long before we did and will remain here long after we're gone. They outnumber us in the billions and are essential to many of the natural processes that keep us alive and that we take for granted. Yet, despite this, very few of us know much about the hidden world of insects.

In this fascinating new book, entomologist and broadcaster George McGavin takes a deep dive to reveal the unknown truths about the most successful and enduring animal group the world has ever seen, and to show the unseen effects this vast population has on our planet, if only we care to look.

McGavin explores not only the incredible traits that insects have evolved to possess, such as dragonflies that can fly across oceans without resting or beetles that lay their eggs exclusively in corpses, but also the vital lessons we have learnt from them, including how therapy using maggots can save lives and how bees can help grow rich tomato yields.

The Hidden World reveals the wonderful complexity of our relationship with insects, how they have changed the course of our history and how, if we continue to learn from them, they could even be the key to our future and survival.

George McGavin’s The Hidden World comes across as a bit of a grab-bag of random thoughts about insects, particularly given the random insertion of interviews with various naturalists and entomologists mid-chapter. Each one does go some way toward illustrating the point of the chapter, but it still breaks up the flow and makes things feel a bit disorganised.

For all that McGavin is clearly enthusiastic about insects, and dying to share all kinds of facts and figures about them… there wasn’t a lot new for me here. It’s more of a primer for people who aren’t already interested in insects (which generally I wouldn’t say I am, but I have read several other popular science books and studied a degree of medical entomology — so, of necessity, I probably know more than the average person).

So as always it’s enjoyable to read something by a person who is enthusiastic about their subject, but I wasn’t blown away by it.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted February 28, 2024 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Oh, hey, it’s Wednesday again already and time for the usual questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What have you recently finished reading?
  • What are you reading next?

Linking up with Taking on a World of Words.

Cover of Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, by Cat BohannonWhat are you currently reading?

To be honest, nothing very actively. Each day I’ve been picking something short, usually a manga or a graphic novel, to help me keep up with my reading goals while I’m feeling very snowed under. I’d like to get back to reading Eve: How The Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, by Cat Bohannon, which I’m finding thoughtful and well-framed.

I’m also still partway through rereading The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, but I’ve stalled even with that at this point!

Cover of Don't Call Me Dirty by Gorou KanbeWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I read was a manga called Don’t Call Me Dirty, by Gorou Kanbe, which features a young gay man who ends up falling in love with a homeless man, with some comparison between the social consequences of being gay and the consequences of being homeless. I wasn’t expecting a lot from that, and mostly only picked it up because I got access to it free with a subscription I have, but I actually found it surprisingly touching how the two find common ground.

Before that I read A Kiss, For Real, by Fumie Akuta, which was less my thing — the characterisation of the male lead felt really inconsistent.

What will you be reading next?

I don’t know! I’m half-tempted to read one of the other manga that show up in my subscription: they don’t sound that appealing from the summaries, but sometimes it’s interesting to try things that are a bit out of my comfort zone or usual interests. That’s how I fell in love with the series A Side Character’s Love Story (Akane Tamura), after all!

What have you been reading? I’ll admit, this week I’m a bit overwhelmed, so sorry I’m a bit scarce on answering comments! I’ll answer and visit back soon, I promise.

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Review – Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World

Posted February 27, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World

Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World

by Philip Matyszak

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 288
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

The ancient world of the Mediterranean and the Near East saw the birth and collapse of great civilizations. While several of these are well known, for all those that have been recorded, many have been unjustly forgotten. Our history is overflowing with different cultures that have all evolved over time, sometimes dissolving or reforming, though ultimately shaping the way we continue to live. But for every culture that has been remembered, what have we forgotten?

This thorough guide explores those civilizations that have faded from the pages of our textbooks but played a significant role in the development of modern society. Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World covers the Hyksos to the Hephthalites and everyone in between, providing a unique overview of humanity's history from approximately 3000 BCE-550 CE. A wide range of illustrated artifacts and artworks, as well as specially drawn maps, help to tell the stories of forty lost peoples and allow readers to take a direct look into the past. Each entry exposes a diverse culture, highlighting their important contributions and committing their achievements to paper.

Philip Matyszak’s Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World is a whistlestop tour of a lot of different nations/ethnic groups/tribes/etc who are known to have existed at some point, but who are less known now. Some of them are fairly well known now, I’d say, like the Hittites and the Hyksos (through their involvement with Egypt — though other stuff about them is less clear), while others are much more obscure.

Each group gets exactly the same number of pages, which I find pretty suspicious — some are undoubtedly padded out to reach the six page requirement, while others are short-changed. It’s beautifully presented, though, with lots of images all in colour, and it’s not a bad selection or bad as a whistlestop tour. One just needs to be aware that that’s very much what it is, and a little contrived at times.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Things From Nature

Posted February 27, 2024 by Nicky in General / 22 Comments

This week’s prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Covers/titles with things from nature”. I feel like I don’t often focus on cover design, so I used this as an excuse to go looking through the book covers I have saved for various posts to admire the cover designs…

Cover of Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori Cover of Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori Cover of Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Cover of Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn Cover of Slime: A Natural History, by Susanne Wedlich Cover of Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid, by Thor Hanson Cover of The Possibility of Life by Jaime Green

Cover of The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles Cover of Guilty Creatures, edited by Martin Edwards Cover of The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

It’s a bit of a random mix, as regulars have come to expect from my shelves!

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Review – The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, vol 4

Posted February 26, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, vol 4

The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System, vol 4

by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 436
Series: The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System #4
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

What happens after an epic tale ends?

This collection of eleven short stories picks up days after Scum Villain’s finale and follows the cast’s relationships and adventures through their pasts and futures. The first trial? A glimpse into another world, where Luo Binghe was never saved by his beloved teacher — unless he can claim this world’s Shen Qingqiu for himself. Other tales recount the riotous history of Shang Qinghua and Mobei-Jun, the bittersweet romance of Luo Binghe’s parents, and the untold tragedy of the original scum villain himself.

The fourth volume of The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System is actually a collection of extras and shorts, some of which are focused on Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu, and some of which don’t even mention them — expanding instead on Shang Qinghua, Mobei-jun, Shen Jiu, etc.

Some of the stories were more of interest to me than others (Shen Jiu is pretty unredeemable to me, sorry, and I don’t quite get the appeal of Mobei-jun and his relationship with Shang Qinghua), but it was interesting to get a better look at the world and particularly at Binghe’s experiences during the five years that Shen Qingqiu appeared to be dead.

It’s lovely as well to see in some of these stories a sense of ease growing between Binghe and Shen Qingqiu. At times, Shen Qingqiu is still a little too caught up in his own internalised homophobia, but we see him begin to forget where he came from and live fully alongside Binghe, and accept their relationship.

It’s funny sometimes to look at the relationship between the two of them, though. Just reading the words on the page, Shen Qingqiu spends a lot of time protesting — but it seems pretty clear that it’s a case of the maiden protesting too much, putting everything together. Still, I’d have loved another snippet a bit later on, showing him being a bit more comfortable still with the physical side of his relationship with Binghe. And for the love of god, someone give the two of them some sex ed, geez.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The October Faction, vol 1

Posted February 25, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Review – The October Faction, vol 1

The October Faction

by Steve Niles, Damien Worm

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 152
Series: The October Faction #1
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

The October Faction details the adventures of retired monster-hunter Frederick Allan and his family... which include a thrill-killer, a witch, and a warlock. Because sometimes crazy is the glue that binds a family together.

Volume 1 of Steve Niles’ The October Faction was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the art style, though it felt like it was all going for a very Addams family aesthetic and was very successful at that. The setup is fairly straightfoward: ghosts and monsters exist, the main guy used to hunt them, now he’s tried to settle down… but his family want to hunt, and monsters are still interested in them.

There was enough here to keep my interest, and I’ll probably read the next volume, but at the same time… I wasn’t entirely impressed either? It felt very introductory, so maybe reading more will help with that — though there was one development at the end that felt naively and over-swiftly done, so my interest also somewhat depends on whether that gets handled in an interesting way, or whether it’s just to be taken at face-value.

So all in all… it was enough to make me a little curious, but I’m not sold on it yet, I guess?

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Lost Boys

Posted February 24, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif's Robbers Cave Experiment

by Gina Perry

Genres: History, Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 384
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

The fascinating true story of one of the most controversial psychological experiments of the modern era — a real-life Lord of the Flies.

Competition. Prejudice. Discrimination. Conflict.

In 1954, a group of boys attended a remote summer camp where they were split into two groups, and encouraged to bully, harass, and demonise each other. The results would make history as one of social psychology’s classic — and most controversial — studies: the Robbers Cave experiment.

Conducted at the height of the Cold War, officially the experiment had a happy ending: the boys reconciled, and psychologist Muzafer Sherif demonstrated that while hatred and violence are powerful forces, so too are cooperation and harmony. Today it is proffered as proof that under the right conditions warring groups can make peace. Yet the true story of the experiments is far more complex, and more chilling.

In The Lost Boys, Gina Perry explores the experiment and its consequences, tracing the story of Sherif, a troubled outsider who struggled to craft an experiment that would vanquish his personal demons. Drawing on archival material and new interviews, Perry pieces together a story of drama, mutiny, and intrigue that has never been told before.

I really enjoyed Gina Perry’s book about Stanley Milgram’s most famous experiments, Behind the Shock Machine. It shook up the received wisdom about Milgram, and made it clear that he interfered with the data he was presenting, cherry-picked what he wanted to share in order to make his own interpretation inevitable, etc. It’s a book that’s stuck with me, though it’s been a few years since I read it now.

So I was eager to dig into The Lost Boys, which discusses the experiments on groups of young boys made by Muzafer Sherif, designed to play out his theories about how groups can turn on one another and then be reconciled. The book discusses these theories, and then goes off into trying to understand Sherif himself and where these theories came from.

It never manages to be as surprising and illuminating as Behind the Shock Machine, though I did find it interesting, and I think that’s because Sherif’s conclusions are less well-known. I knew about Stanley Milgram’s work like it was in the air (bearing in mind of course that I’m a particular kind of voracious reader and learner), and his work is so well known in the field, so shaking it up makes a real buzz. In this case, less so, and it’s less shocking to find that an experimenter we’re consistently shown manipulating his subjects to get the results he wants was, well, manipulating his results to get what he wanted. That’s apparent early, so there’s no shock going into the deep-dive. Muzafer Sherif would have liked to believe in his own mythology, but for my money he was no Milgram.

It all comes out as a somewhat uncertain book, leaving Perry ambivalent about how to interpret the impacts of the studies on the lives of the participants. She suggests that it was formative for them, that the studies were unethical, but it all comes out much more muted than her conclusions in Behind the Shock Machine.

I’m glad I read it, but my worldview hasn’t been upended.

Rating: 3/5

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