Category: Reviews

Review – Heartstopper Volume 3

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice OsemanHeartstopper vol. 3, Alice Oseman

This series is just so more-ish and adorable. I can’t help but love both Charlie and Nick and their relationship. It’s not always perfectly fluffy and happy — bullying is a theme, and there are several instances of homophobia; in this volume, there’s also disordered eating and references to self-harm. But the two of them are great to each other, even as they’re feeling their way through a serious relationship for the first time, and navigating issues with parents, siblings, school friends and teachers.

This particular volume also features more development from some of their friends, including Tao and Elle… and also a cute little snippet of another potential love story between two of the teachers. None of the characters are perfect; they make mistakes and do stupid things… but they’re good, they show up for each other and they think over their issues and they learn. Even when they get things wrong (as Tao does in this volume, and arguably as Charlie does in trying to handle several situations), they’re not monsters… and even the worst characters have the potential to learn. It has such heart.

It’s also kind of nice to read something British, because the experience is close in some ways to what I had. Not all — I went to a tiny private school, and had no particular friends there… but still, there are things in common that are… not nostalgic, for all kinds of reasons — if I say everything I thought about my old school they’d probably want to sue me — but sort of like that. Study leave! School trip to France!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Small Robots

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Small Robots by Thomas Heasman-HuntSmall Robots, Thomas Heasman-Hunt

I helped to crowdfund this so was very excited to see my copies arrive yesterday! Small Robots is a Twitter account which regularly posts drawings of robots designed for very specific tasks. For instance, Booksbot swoops in and hides your new books so you don’t have to feel guilty about adding to the pile of books you already have waiting on your TBR! Teabot brings you tea (and only tea). Guestshowerbot helps you figure out the arcane controls on your friend’s shower.

This book contains 100 robot friends, along with crochet patterns for two of them (I haven’t tried the patterns yet). The drawings are adorable and often funny; sometimes the bots are uplifting (like Hopebot) and sometimes they’re bizarre (Bingliesbot); this collection includes commentary on their purpose and designs which is also often adorable and/or funny. It’s a chunky little book and one which can be dipped into at will.

True story: my copy fell open at Booksbot when I first picked it up, and given I hadn’t even previously been aware of this bot, it felt like fate. I need a bookmark with this friend on, at the very least…

Rating: 5/5

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Review – That Could Be Enough

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa ColeThat Could Be Enough, Alyssa Cole

That Could Be Enough is a novella set in the post-Civil War US, following the story of Mercy Alston, maid to Elizabeth Hamilton and aiding her in putting together the stories of the men of her late husband’s battalion as a legacy for him. Despite all her writing in that cause, Mercy’s own writing is stilted and all but out of reach, as a legacy of a disastrous love affair. Into Mercy’s life comes Andromeda Stiel, a seamstress who goes her own way, loving as she wishes, without censure from the people she lives amongst. Sparks fly, despite Mercy’s intentions, and Andromeda quickly draws her into a relationship and out of her shell.

It doesn’t go smoothly, and that’s partly due to Mercy’s character and past, and partly because of bloody lack of communication, my least favourite trope ever. Just. Communicate! “I accidentally read this piece of paper and it says you’re going to be married, can you explain?” There! It’s that simple.

I did see another review that talked about not being sure what Mercy brings to the relationship, and despite the character’s individual qualities — her writing, her charitable work, etc — I have to agree. Andromeda is sufficient unto herself, even if she wants Mercy, and nothing Mercy has is something Andromeda lacks… while at the same time, Andromeda is picking apart Mercy’s trauma, encouraging and supporting her, pushing her to do better. Mercy’s affection is grudging, and her trust non-existant. It’s hard to believe the two can get along happily for long with that kind of imbalance.

Cole’s end note with sources helps somewhat with my feeling that they can’t be this blatant as a couple in this time period, but I’m still not convinced. Speaking from experience, even now, people will tolerate you as long as you don’t “rub it in their face”. Say the words “my wife” in casual conversation while being female and you can watch someone’s attitude change in an instant, even if you know this person must have realised before. Andromeda and Mercy aren’t just quietly getting on with it — Andromeda is blatant. I question it, knowing it’s hard enough now sometimes.

Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I might have; Andromeda’s great, but Mercy just doesn’t come alive for me. She sounds great on paper, but… I can’t see what she brings to Andromeda, or really believe there’s a beating heart behind the words on the page. Because it’s so short, it’s still entertaining, but I don’t know if I could have stuck with a longer story.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Gilded Cage

Posted February 11, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesGilded Cage, K.J. Charles

Gilded Cage is the follow-up to Any Old Diamonds, featuring Templeton Lane. From the first book he didn’t appeal to me too much, although the defenestration thing in The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter was great; Jerry felt the more compelling of the two characters to me, and I wasn’t sure I could get to like Templeton. Well, I didn’t, really; he still seemed like a thug with the emotional awareness of a brass doorknob… but the history of James Vane as revealed in Gilded Cage did work for me. It felt like a bit of a quick flip from the thug to the sensitive, thinking, feeling man, and the transition didn’t entirely work for me… but predictably, Charles was able to pull me along and sell it to me anyway.

It helps that Susan Lazarus is awesome, and that this book features a lot of brief glimpses of the characters from Sins of the Cities (and of course from the other Lilywhite Boys stories). I loved seeing Justin again, and I’d have loved to see more of Mark and Nathaniel as well, but I suppose they would have stolen the show. Susan is relentlessly practical, determined, and closed-off; it’s a delight to watch her realise that she can trust James after all, and to see them open up and talk about their feelings and actually figure things out.

The plot also ties together both other books in this series, and gives a satisfactory ending to a certain adversary of the Lilywhite Boys — satisfactory in that someone gets Susan’s hairpins in very tender places, and also gets captured and trialled.

It all works out well, and we get a happy ending that feels true to who Susan is. We also get some glimpses of Jerry and Alec’s life, which is nice. All in all, I suspect and hope there’s little more to be said for the Lilywhite Boys: they both have their happy endings. That said, I wouldn’t object to Jerry and Alec and Susan and James having to come together to heist their way out of trouble again, so I’ll slam the preorder button hard if that comes about!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sword of Destiny

Posted February 10, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sword of Destiny by Andrzej SapkowskiSword of Destiny, Andrzej Sapkowski

Unlike The Last Wish, this collection of short stories doesn’t have a frame-story helping it hang together. It does slowly move toward a conclusion, in that the last two stories set things up for the novels (as I understand it), but some of the stories feel like they have less of a point. Some of them develop things between Yennefer and Geralt a little more, while others introduce Ciri (following up on a story in The Last Wish, and introducing a key character for the novels), but it just felt a little more lacking in direction. ‘Eternal Flame’, while funny, didn’t seem to advance things much, and ‘A Little Sacrifice’ does develop Geralt’s character a little, but feels kind of flat.

Overall, I’m a lot less impressed than I was with The Last Wish, because I feel like the frame story there made things hang together much better. There were still some clever references (‘The Little Mermaid’, for one), but overall it just didn’t do that much for me. I’m not sure if you’re meant to view it like The Last Wish, or just as a collection of stories in the world; if the latter, then I’m probably being a little unfair.

I’m still going to try the novels, since they’re going to be quite different just by nature of the form, but I might take a little break before I pick those up.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Morbid Taste for Bones

Posted February 7, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis PetersA Morbid Taste for Bones, Ellis Peters

It’s been ages since I first read this book, but the series has always stuck in my mind — not least because it is the only series that both my parents have ever recommended to me. So after someone mentioned reading them on Pillowfort, I ended up grabbing the ebooks via the library (though none of the libraries I’m a member of has the full series, ugh) and settling down to a reread of the first one. I think I’ve read the second one too, but that might be where I stopped.

In any case, the Brother Cadfael books are mysterious whose main character is a Benedictine monk with a rather colourful past. Content now in the cloister, Cadfael nonetheless manages to get himself taken along to Wales on a small matter of stealing a local saint for the greater glory of the monastery. He’s Welsh, so he’s useful as an interpreter — and he understands the people and the passions stirred up by the Benedictine delegation. He has faith, but a cynical eye, and he doesn’t for a moment accept that gentle Saint Winifred is behind the dastardly murder of a local landowner.

It’s a fun little mystery; the characters are mostly more types than fully drawn people, but with a touch of Cadfael’s cynical view of them to enliven things. The genuinely pious but deeply ambitious Prior is well-done; we don’t see into his heart directly, but his actions and words lay him bare. Likewise, there’s something rather touching about Peredur and his thwarted passion for Sioned.

I do enjoy the setting in Wales, and the us-vs-them mentality that’s so quickly sketched out. It’s carefully dealt with, despite the temptation to put them at each others’ throats; there’s respect and a will to work together, alongside the misunderstandings and stiff-necked pride.

It all wraps up nicely — very nicely and conveniently, but in a way that’s enjoyable because it’s poetic justice — and Cadfael settles back into the status quo, napping through meetings and tending to his garden. Until the next mystery, that is.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at Victoria Dock

Posted February 6, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry GreenwoodDeath at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood

Death at Victoria Dock opens with the death of a young man, shot at as Phryne drives past on a cold night. After he breathes his last in her arms, she obviously can’t let it rest — she decides that she must know why he was killed, and avenge him if she can. At the same time, she takes up the totally unrelated case of a missing young girl, meaning this book features the contrasting locations of an Anglican convent and a revolutionary hideout! It’s all pretty high-stakes, with kidnappings and shootings, and Bert and Cec wandering around armed.

It also features the first appearance of Hugh Collins. I did find the Catholic/Protestant drama in the show (what I’ve watched of it) contrived and a little annoying (I know it’s for the drama, but argh, they’re so sweetly uncomplicated in the books, and it’s nice), so it’s nice that he and Dot are both Catholic and all in all quite steady and without drama (although maybe they get it all out here with Dot’s kidnapping and the daring rescue).

As always, it’s an easy read; fairly light (though there is drama and death), and full of Phryne’s ingenuity and practical approach to all matters of life, death and in between.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Moontangled

Posted February 5, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie BurgisMoontangled, Stephanie Burgis

Received to review via Netgalley

Moontangled is a novella in the Harwood Spellbook world featuring two of the minor characters: Miss Banks and Miss Fennell. If you don’t remember them, they’re the two who had a clandestine relationship while Juliana attempted to learn magic and Caroline attempted to become a high-flying politician. In this world, women do politics and men learn magic, and ideal partnerships for political women are with men who can do magic. Juliana is one of the first women to learn, and Caroline… well, she’s now in disgrace because of her mentor’s failings, and she thinks it’s time to end the relationship with Juliana before it brings her down.

I’m not a big fan of the kind of misunderstanding that drives this novella: just sit down and communicate, people. It’s not that difficult, I promise you. (As I frequently joke, I am the Relationship Advice Dalek: COMM-UN-I-CATE! COMM-UN-I-CATE!) There’s ample room for it in the letters they send each other, for goodness’ sake. It doesn’t help that it’s exactly the same kind of misunderstanding as in the previous books I’ve read in this world: “I’m going to do things to protect you, including end our relationship, regardless of what you might actually want and oh, wait, what do you mean you didn’t want what I thought you wanted?”

Still, even if their misunderstanding is completely daft, their care for each other is sweet. I found the plotline a little obvious, but it’s fun to watch it play out anyway. Highly original this isn’t, but a sweet escapist romance with a touch of magic? It delivers. I read it all in one gulp when I should probably have been doing something else; it doesn’t need to be more substantial than this.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Edge of the Abyss

Posted February 4, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Edge of the Abyss by Emily SkrutskieThe Edge of the Abyss, Emily Skrutskie

This is the follow-up to The Abyss Surrounds Us, and it picks up almost where it left off. Just three weeks later, the Minnow is hiding out to give Bao time to forget the ship and leave them. But suddenly, the Minnow spots a hell of a thing: a wild and untrained Reckoner, quickly dubbed a Hellbeast, which attacks them. Suddenly it’s obvious that the Minnow was far from the only ship to buy a Reckoner pup, and the other ships weren’t lucky enough to run across a Reckoner trainer to use to safely train it up. Now it seems like it’s in everyone’s best interests for Cas to work with the pirates and find the Hellbeasts.

In the midst of all this, Cas also has to deal with her relationship with Swift, damaged at the end of the last book by one of Santa Elena’s well-timed bombshells. Throughout the book, Santa Elena plays the two of them against each other, letting them build things up only to shatter them again. The relationship between Cas and Swift is well done, and I especially appreciate that the ambivalence isn’t magically ironed out in a super-happy ending. It’s far from instantaneous love, and though their bond formed quickly, it’s not at all clear that it will last.

I still have some doubts about Cas’ personality/motive flipflops. To some extent, teens are just like that; her moody behaviour does ring true for someone struggling out of adolescence and into adulthood. As an adult reading about her, I cringe at the obviousness of some of her realisations… but I do remember that’s what being a teen was like.

There are some great battle scenes, and the ending comes out about as well as you’d expect, without sugar-coating things; it’s pleasing to see Cas’ family dragged back into it, after she seemed to almost forget about them on board the Minnow. It’s also a pleasing ending for Cas, Swift and the other trainees: not perfect, but just bittersweet enough to seem right. I read this one in almost one big gulp as well, and found it very enjoyable. It’s definitely YA in tone and structure, and it works well for what it is. As an adult reader, I wanted a little more complexity at times, though I appreciated the relationships that don’t just come straight out of a cookie-cutter shape.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – West Nile Story

Posted February 4, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of West Nile Story by Dickson DespommierWest Nile Story, Dickson Despommier

I came across this because I was trying out various science podcasts and tried listening to some of the early episodes of This Week in Virology (link goes to the episode about West Nile virus). I was curious to dig in a little more, and lo and behold, this book was on Kindle Unlimited. It discusses the earliest outbreak of West Nile virus in the US, which happened in New York during a hot, dry summer, and was somehow transmitted there from Israel. The podcast actually fleshes out the theory a bit more, while this book focuses on a wider look at the virus, its ecology and implications.

It’s probably a fairly dry read if you’re not interested in emerging infectious diseases, but since I am, I quite enjoyed it; I found it fairly simple, so if you’re just interested in diseases for the sake of it without a professional interest, I think it’s completely understandable for a layperson. It was a little basic for me at times, in fact.

Overall, it was a little scatterbrained somehow; it wandered off into discussing other diseases like malaria, without really tying it into the discussion of West Nile very well. I’d probably recommend the podcast over the book for that reason, but it was still interesting to dig in a bit deeper on some of the points mentioned in the podcast.

Rating: 3/5

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