Category: Reviews


Review – In Other Lands

Posted 23 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanIn Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan

I haven’t loved Sarah Rees Brennan’s work before, finding it just a little too predictable, but In Other Lands won me over completely. I love Elliot in all his porcupiney glory; I love Luke, because he secretly reads books (how else does he know words like “epitome” but not how to pronounce them?) and he supports Elliot and Serene and protects people; I love Serene, because even though she subscribes to a whole bundle of stereotypes about men, yet there she is caring about Elliot and Luke and supporting them throughout.

I can understand people who don’t love the characters. Elliot, for example, comes across as a bully, particularly when Luke explains how things have felt from his point of view. And it’s true that sometimes Elliot is just not that nice. But there’s also a reason for all his behaviour that made me hurt for him: the way his mother left, the fact that he’s been bullied so mercilessly… Yes, he’s nasty to people almost on principle, but I can tell you from experience that it’s easier to assume that everyone has bad intentions rather than trust them and get hurt, after a remarkably short period of being bullied. It’s no wonder he reflexively lashes out — and if you read the whole thing, you see that he does try. He does know what he’s like, and he does try.

It does make me wonder why Luke sticks by him, though Elliot is always supportive of Serene, so that does make some sense. And it is worth noting that while Elliot might not be the most pleasant character, he spends a lot of time trying to avoid people getting killed.

(And while Luke is nearly always nice, it’s important to remember that hey, he kills people without question, beats people up for looking sideways at Elliot, etc. He’s not exactly perfect either.)

And of course I can get why people don’t like Serene; particularly if you don’t read through to the end, her character (and the elven society) comes across as “reverse sexism”. It’s kind of powerful in the way it exposes some of the ridiculous stereotypes about the way women behave, but if that was all there was to Serene, she’d be just as unlikeable as a male character who looks down on women. That isn’t all there is, though, once she forms a relationship with Golden; although it’s basically just flipping sexism round, and there’s a lot of humour in that, Serene as an individual turns out not to be just about reverse sexism. I particularly liked some of the interactions between her and Elliot, as they realise their relationship means different things to both of them.

That’s all about the characters. What about the world? It’s relatively generic, but spiced up by the odd comments Elliot makes about how things go in stories about other worlds, giving us a little bit of meta.

In the end, I found it very enjoyable, and if there’s an aspect of it being “like fanfiction” in terms of willing the couple to get together, the wish fulfillment, etc — well, I’ve read some damn good fanfiction in my time, and this captured some of the delight of the best fanfiction. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Cro-Magnon

Posted 22 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Cro-Magnon by Brian FaganCro-Magnon, Brian Fagan

Cro-Magnon is reasonably informative, albeit perhaps a little out of date and about as focused on the Neanderthals as on the Cro-Magnons. It had fairly similar information to a lot of other books I’ve read about human evolution, not really managing to make the Cro-Magnons stand out as a specific group worth a whole book. The recreations were mostly pretty uninspired, and the assumption that gender roles would be something straight out of a 50s sitcom (as someone else put it) was pretty eyeroll inducing.

There is some interesting info here, but in the end… I got a little bored, I guess. Not much of it is sticking with me, except my eyerolling at the idea that women were subordinate to men from the start.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Written World

Posted 21 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Written World by Martin PuchnerThe Written World, Martin Puchner

I’ve seen some complaints about the historical accuracy of this, particularly in regard to the earliest sections, but I’m unable to judge because it’s not really my area of history at all — inasfar as I know my history anyway, which is often patchy. I simply enjoyed The Written World as a summary, from one perspective, of how some stories and books have changed the world in being written (or in the case of previously oral works, written down). Puchner writes compellingly about books I haven’t read yet, and really makes them sound tempting — The Tale of Genji, for example (though he also makes Don Quixote sound fascinating, and I did not love that at all).

It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you love books and you want to read about some books that have been important in shaping society, then this should be right up your street (up your bookshelf?).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Posted 20 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers

A reread, of course. Not the best of the Wimsey books, but full of Sayers’ usual brains and wit. There’s some excellent character interactions — especially one between Lord Peter and Parker, where Peter is somewhat resenting the fact that he’s working with the police and potentially having to betray friends. There’s some great quotes, like Peter saying that books are kind of like shells that we discard when we grow out of them, but which lie around as a record of people we used to be. Yes!

This is one of the not-really-high-stakes mysteries, though; the death was of an old man, and was somewhat predictable, and the person who killed him didn’t try to cover his tracks by attacking other people. It becomes more of an intellectual puzzle, though there are some good bits about the feelings of particular characters. I don’t want to say too much in case anyone’s interested in reading this and forming their own opinions about the murder, so I’ll stop there! A solid mystery, but not the most emotionally involving of the Wimsey books, nor the cleverest.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fossils: The Key to the Past

Posted 19 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fossils by Richard ForteyFossils: The Key to the Past, Richard Fortey

This is probably more of a reference book than one to read straight through; it’s beautifully illustrated with sketches and photographs reproducing common and interesting fossils, and it has advice on how to identify fossils, clean them up and store them, along with the relatively straightforward explanations of how fossils form, how they can be useful, and specific titbits on various different individual fossils.

The information wasn’t new to me, and it isn’t Fortey’s finest writing, though he can always make geology sound fascinating. It’s a beautiful book, though, and one I’ll definitely keep for reference.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Lumberjanes to the Max Volume 1

Posted 18 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Lumberjanes Vol 1Lumberjanes to the Max: Volume 1, Noelle Stephenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen

Lumberjanes is really fun and really cute. The art is very typically Stephenson’s style, very much like Nimona, which I rather enjoy — it manages to be expressive and dynamic without appearing painstakingly polished. I enjoy the character designs a lot, perhaps especially Mal and April, and Ripley is just tons of fun. It’s meant for a younger audience, mostly, but I think it can appeal on other levels as well, especially with the puns and references — not many kids are going to understand why Jen (I think it was Jen) shouts, “By bell hooks!”

It’s pretty much all about ladies, and that’s pretty darn badass. There’s an adorkable crush between Mal and Molly, and the whole thing is about the friendship between the girls and how it helps them with everything that’s going on at the camp.

Which also involves magic and Greek mythology, no kidding.

I really enjoyed it, in an uncomplicated and delighted way.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Goblin Emperor

Posted 17 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

Another reread, still a favourite. It’s like a hot bath after a long day, because the main character is a good person — not someone without faults, but someone who is aware that he has faults and that he has human feelings, and tries to be mindful and generous despite suddenly gaining power over people who have harmed him. It’s not really about conflict — although there are several serious ones — or about any particular endgame. Maia just wants to be a good person, and to rule his people well. He hardly considers turning away from the responsibility, even though it is unasked and unwanted and he’s totally unprepared. It has to be him, so he does it.

And he does a good job. That might be the most unrealistic thing about it, but it’s just difficult enough and involves just enough of building a support network that it works for me. I love the characters around Maia and how they help him, and how they all gradually warm to him or, in some cases, not — and why they warm to him, or not.

I also love the thought that goes into the complexities of the language, including the non-verbal language involving their ear positions. I don’t always follow the patterns, but it seems consistent and commensurate with long-existing languages. It’s a secondary world Tolkien would find a fascinating start toward building a rich and complete world, I do believe.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Priam’s Gold

Posted 16 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Priam's Gold by Caroline MoorheadPriam’s Gold, Caroline Moorehead

This book is actually more of a biography of Heinrich Schliemann than a discussion of the excavations at Troy; although it does follow “Priam’s Treasure” and what has happened to it since Schliemann excavated it, including commentary on the politics that surrounded its loss and (eventual) subsequent retrieval, the main focus is Schliemann, his life, and his work as an archaeologist. There’s a lot of it taken up with Schliemann’s life before he found Troy, and a fair amount of time spent on evaluating the truth of his account of the excavation and indeed other aspects of his life.

There is some discussion of Troy and specifically the treasure found there, and there are some insights to other excavations led by Schliemann, but if you’re looking for an archaeology book, this isn’t quite it. There’s a lot more time spent on what languages Schliemann could speak and his relationships with his wives than on actual archaeology. It’s interesting, but not entirely what I hoped for.

Rating: /5

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Review – Unnatural Death

Posted 15 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. SayersUnnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers

It’s fun approaching these books now I’ve introduced my wife to them, via the radioplays and Edward Petherbridge TV series. (I think most of my gifts from her this year have been Wimsey themed… a bunch of the new editions of the books for my birthday, and then the Petherbridge series on DVD for Christmas!) It gives me a bit of a fresh eye to appreciate things all over again; the wittiness of Sayers’ writing, the cleverness of the plot, the way the characters all work together. Miss Climpson is a delight, up to and including the wry observations on how she’s actually rather nosy, despite saying she’s not. Parker is the perfect partner for Peter when investigating, willing to put in the hard graft which Peter is constitutionally unsuited for. And Bunter… well. I don’t know what Peter would do without him.

The murder/mystery part is rather fun, because it has two key problems: there’s no discernible motive, and there’s no discernible method. Peter has to track down both, and without saying too much, the legal problem on which the plot hangs is rather clever once you work it out, though infuriating while you’re trying to get there. The murder method… well. Embarrassingly simple, but just sneaky enough that it’s difficult to prove.

It’s not my favourite of Sayers’ books, but it’s witty, cleverly written, and definitely worth spending time with.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Arabella of Mars

Posted 14 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Arabella of Mars by David D. LevineArabella of Mars, David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars has that classic adventure romp feel — something a little bit Jules Verne-y, I guess, though what I thought of was Martha Wells’ Emilie & The Hollow World. I was told it’d be a fun read, and it didn’t disappoint: I finished it in one hour and forty minutes, when I should’ve been sleeping. The action ticks along at speed; Arabella is a fun character, if not perhaps unique in as a character in her unique independence for her world, and I especially appreciated the fact that although she’s a female character who dresses up as a guy and then found out, she isn’t sexually assaulted at any point. It’s such a staple of the genre, I was half-expecting it to ruin my fun any minute.

Instead, Levine goes a less easy route where the crew don’t really accept Arabella, by and large, after she’s discovered — but nobody tries to assault her either. It feels a little unsatisfying, because heck, you know she’s proved herself… but it also feels more real, and gives us that tiny bit of bitterness to help the sweet wish fulfilment go down. (And it is sweet wish fulfilment — Victorianesque society, girl becomes the hero and travels by airship to Mars, finds love along the way.)

It was very much a fun and light read, and I appreciate it a lot for that. If you’re looking for the utterly grim, relentless grind of a fantasy/sci-fi world where everything goes wrong at every turn, this isn’t it — and if that’s all that feels real to you, you might find this unsatisfying.

Me? Well, it felt more like a snack than a full meal, but a little bit of choux pastry makes a nice change.

Rating: 4/5

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