Category: Reviews

Review – Days of Blood and Starlight

Posted January 16, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini TaylorDays of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor
Reviewed on 16th June, 2013

Mmmm. I don’t know why it took me so long to get round to finishing this. There’s something very compelling about Laini Taylor’s writing, prompting me to read it in great big gulps. This was a harder read than the first book, emotionally, because here are all these characters you care for and they’re split up, dead, misled, in over their heads… There’s lots of pain and betrayal and more pain. There is still some hope left, at the end of the story, but it’s a battered hope. And when I started out writing that sentence, I wasn’t thinking about the double meaning there, given the meaning of Karou’s name. But that works, too.

I wasn’t expecting the ending — not the key event, anyway, the thing that allows some room for hope. I wasn’t thinking along the right lines when a certain character got involved and spilt all they knew to another certain character. I did guess some of the other stuff, but there was enough going on to keep me intrigued and on the edge of my seat.

I didn’t love this as much as I remember loving the first book, but I did like it a lot and I cannot wait for the third book.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Willful Child

Posted January 15, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Willful Child by Steven EriksonWillful Child, Steven Erikson
Received to review via Netgalley

This is… nothing like the Malazan series, if that’s what attracted you to the idea of reading this book. It’s a parody/homage of Star Trek, mostly Captain Kirk era, with references to Kirk’s tendency to fist fight, get his uniform ripped, venture into dangerous situations the captain of a ship should probably avoid… And various other staples of the Star Trek series, like his way with women and his bullheadedness, etc, etc.

I thought this would appeal because a) the Malazan books are well thought out, very intelligent and carefully constructed, so I expected similar even in a spoofy story, and b) I grew up on Star Trek, among various other series. I have no problem with laughing at Star Trek, particularly the Kirk era. Buuut, as I’ve acknowledged on my blog before, I do not have the greatest sense of humour. I never quite know how to take a lot of jokes, particularly when the humour is fairly silly, and that happens a lot here. Along with the main character picking his crew for the way they look, making sexual suggestions to them all the time, getting assaulted by a female alien, and a whole dodgy bit where it somewhat implies he may have raped an officer he dislikes. Most of the humour revolved around ‘lol sex’, usually in a laddish way that just doesn’t appeal to me.

I feel like I can’t say much about the plot/writing/etc, because all of it just deflates for me under the influence of that horrible main character. He’s a caricature, and it influences the whole book. Not a fan. I much preferred John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which had somewhat more intelligent humour.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – The Time Paradox

Posted January 13, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Time Paradox by Philip ZimbardoThe Time Paradox, Philip Zimbardo, John Boyd

I read this last week or so, before the terrible events in Paris. At the time I thought of it as a self-helpy kind of book, with some relevant psychology; I picked it up because I’d watched some interviews with Philip Zimbardo about the Stanford Prison Experiment, which has always been fascinating to me. I wanted to see more of his work, I guess; get a feel for how a respected psychologist could create a situation which was so evil and not notice it without outside help, get a feel for what work he’s done aside from that. This is pretty far from all of that, though at times insights from that situation do come up when it comes to time perspectives.

Which is what I’ve taken away from this book most: time perspectives. There are several: past-negative, past-positive, present-fatalistic, present-hedonistic, future. And why has this stuck with me? Well, because there is a whole section on terrorist attacks and the explanations in terms of time perspective, which adds one more option (transcendental-future) and gives something of an answer to the issue, and it stuck in my head because of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, stirring up reminders of 11/7/2005 and 9/11.  Here’s a section:

Since the future is our primary motivational space, destroying a person’s expectations of the future can substantially undermine motivation. [Example of WWII, in which the Axis had solid future goals, which the Allies then destroyed; this eroded the Axis powers’ motivation and led to them losing the war.] This will not be the case with the current war on terror. We now face an enemy whose visions of the mundane future lie smouldering in the ruins of Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This enemy’s remaining hope lies squarely in the transcendental future. As we have seen, there is no way to prove, disprove, or destroy belief in the transcendental future. Fighting an adversary with strong transcendental-future goals by destroying its mundane future goals ensures that transcendental-future goals alone are obtainable. We will win the war on terror not by destroying our enemy’s future but by nurturing it. The motivational power of the mundane future must be restored if mundane future goals are to compete with transcendental future goals. Only by building a mundane future full of hope, optimism, respect, health, and prosperity can the motivational power of the transcendental future be balanced. Without mundane future goals, Muslims have little desire left to preserve this life and, understandably, look to the transcendental future to realise their dreams.

There are parts I’m uncomfortable with here, mostly the fact that they’re still talking about the “war on terror”, without even any scare quotes, like this is something we can/should be seeing as a war. The automatic identification of people with this time perspective as Muslim. But there’s sense here too: the goal of terrorism is to cause fear, which any Yoda will tell you leads to hate, and to suffering. And by doing this, people who commit terrorist acts, particularly if they sacrifice themselves, believe themselves to be attaining a better future for themselves and their families.

How can we fight that by making the present worse? By going along with that fear and hate, perpetuating a cycle?

Right now, I wish I could set up a dozen think tanks and set them this book to read, with that chapter particularly highlighted for discussion. Let them all come up with ways to improve the present for the susceptible population, rather than punishing them for crimes committed by people already dead, or for crimes not yet committed. All of that only increases the appeal of a transcendental-future orientation.

Most of the psychology of time perspectives I’ve learned here I’m applying not to myself, but to people around me; identifying behaviours and motivations, working out how to adjust my reactions to people based on what they orientate themselves on. I thought it’d be a light pop psychology read, probably a bit too light because of the self-help-y vibes I got from it. But now I’m thinking about this and I can’t stop, especially as more and more commentary flows in (do we assign blame to Charlie Hebdo, how far do we allow free speech, is it apologism to point out root causes…)

I know I’m going to be looking out for Kiva loans in areas low in mundane future, looking for charities that do aid work in places we’ve devastated, looking for my own small ways to address the damage that’s been done, particularly in the name of the war on terror. And I’m going to be talking about this book.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Poison Study

Posted January 12, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Poison Study by Maria V. SnyderPoison Study, Maria V. Snyder

It’s been a while since I first read these books — longer than I’d thought, even! I’m not entirely sure what tempted me to revisit, since I generally think of Snyder’s work as light entertainment. I’m not so keen on the romance elements, especially where they come across as kind of creepy (there’s an age and power dynamic between Valek and Yelena which is completely weighted toward Valek the entire time), and I didn’t think that much of the fantasy setting. But… I think I’ve actually changed my mind. The relationship is signalled better than I remembered, even though on Yelena’s side I’m still a little concerned about Stockholm Syndrome, and Valek’s not off the hook for being an assassin and playing mind games.

And the world is more interesting than I remembered, too: what I remembered as a fairly run of the mill dystopian post-revolution world was not so simple. Commander Ambrose has done horrifying things, particularly in the cause of getting into power, but there’s a flexibility there — for example, when a teacher brings a girl to him wanting her to be punished because she’s found a different (actually better) way of doing things than he’s taught her, and the Commander sends him away and gives the girl a job doing something she wants to do. The characters are better drawn than I remembered, with a lot of shades of grey.

The Commander is particularly interesting because he’s a transgendered character, and that’s dealt with pretty well: the character and narrator believe that he’s male, full stop. There are a couple of slip-ups where he treats his ‘female self’ as contemptible or is controlled because he sees that self as weak, but otherwise neither the characters nor the plot lean on gender stereotypes. He’s not male because he can do male-coded activities; he’s male because he just is, and he doesn’t see women as any less capable. Women can be soldiers as easily as men, in his world; it’s not about gender, but ability.

There were a lot of difficult topics explored here other than that, too — rape, coercion, conflicts between liking someone and betraying them, good people doing bad things, or people doing bad things to achieve a good result… Most of it is handled pretty well, without prurient detail. My main issue is the whole shortcut evil=rape=evil thing. It happens with a couple of different characters and it’s lazy, lazy stuff.

This really wasn’t quite the bubblegum I remembered; I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy attentively too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Winter Rose

Posted January 11, 2015 by in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Winter Rose by Patricia McKillipWinter Rose, Patricia A. McKillip

When I first read this, it was the first book I’d read by McKillip and I really didn’t appreciate it. I thought the words were lovely, but the substance was all over the place; everything had dream logic, and sometimes I couldn’t hold onto that logic and follow it through — or I’d come to totally wrong conclusions that I don’t think McKillip intended at all. But I expected this time to be different: I’ve come to really love McKillip’s work, in general, and to enjoy and follow the lyricism, the imagery, the logic of it that’s more to do with magic than orderly lines of reasoning. The quality that makes me feel like this is real magic, more so than anything Gandalf could ever do.

And yet. Nope. This book still makes very little sense to me. It’s The Snow Queen’ and ‘Goblin Market’ and Tam Lin, and I don’t know if it intends to be all three or if I’m just grasping at straws. It’s got the magic and mystery of McKillip’s other work and yet it never quite comes together for me in the same way. It’s beautifully written, and yet it never coalesces quite into sense for me.

I think I understood it better than I did the first time, and at least I went into it prepared to take my enjoyment from the beautiful words and the feeling of magic, but I find myself blinking when reading reviews where people think this is the most warm and human of McKillip’s novels, the least mythical and distanced. There are parts of it like that — Perrin’s love for Laurel, through everything; Rois and Laurel’s father’s uncomprehending love for his daughters… But mostly it was so lyrical that I couldn’t touch it.

I make it sound like I really disliked it, I think, but it’s more that I’m just not on the right wavelength. Clearly some people are, and I’m close enough that I can appreciate some of the beauty. I think there’s a really emotionally absorbing, satisfying story in there for some people, judging from reviews. Just… not for me! I was really disappointed that I still don’t ‘get’ it, despite my new appreciation of McKillip’s other work.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Posted January 9, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
Reviewed 5th June, 2012

I’m not entirely sure what hooked me about this book. I just know that I picked it up intending to read a couple of pages, and put it down a hundred pages later feeling dazed — and had that same experience every time I picked it up to read it. Laini Taylor’s writing is good, with only a few points that struck me as missteps — the reveal of a certain character’s history being one of them; it felt wrongly placed in the narrative somehow — and a sense of humour, a good eye for the right details to include, and with an excellent pace.

It’s technically part of the whole trend of paranormal romances, with ‘angels’ and ‘demons’, but Laini Taylor doesn’t take the existing mythology and stick to it. Her worldbuilding is quite inventive. I loved the characters, too, particularly Brimstone: unsettling, fascinating, and comforting, all in one.

One of the plot-twists was obvious to me, but the reveal at the end took me a little bit by surprise. I’m looking forward to the next book, to see how everything is going to be resolved. And fingers crossed for more about the chimaera we come to know and love…

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Particle at the End of the Universe

Posted January 8, 2015 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean CarrollThe Particle at the End of the Universe, Sean Carroll

I know I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately; yet another example of my whims, I think. There’s a few more physics books on my list to get to, too, though I might give them a bit of a rest right now. The problem with me reviewing all of these is, of course, that I wouldn’t know a Higgs boson if it came up and introduced itself. All I can say is how well I understand what the writers offer. In Sean Carroll’s case, I felt my understanding was pretty good: the chapters are relatively short and build slowly toward a sketch of the full picture, and he doesn’t use technical terms that’re too hard to understand or anything like that.

And while I don’t think I could explain much of this to anyone (except maybe the basic ideas about symmetry breaking, and fields), at least I’ve retained some of the information, which has always been my problem when it comes to math and physics. (That and my tendency to go, “Yeah, I can parrot back to you what you want me to say, but why is it that way?” until my teachers resorted to “because I said so!”)

Of course, this was published over a year ago now, so it’s probably out of date in new and exciting ways. I’m content to trail behind the leading edge, I think… One of my big hopes about my Open University course is that I’ll start to understand physics a bit more, but even then I think string theory and its ilk will be beyond me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Reluctant Yogi

Posted January 7, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Reluctant Yogi by Carla McKayThe Reluctant Yogi, Carla McKay

Quirky? Not quite, I think. Overall, this came across as a relatively non-mystery-making, level headed look at practicing yoga, with a sceptical eye toward stuff like chakras and the like, but an attempt to understand the roots of the practice. There are obvious things that make the author an unusual yogi, at least: I’m pretty sure getting your fat lasered away is not something yoga really encourages. Working towards a better body, yeah; hating the one you’re in and going for drastic measures to change it, not so much.

So for quirky, read ‘sceptical and very Western’, but there is useful information here about the types of yoga. For example, from what she says here I’m inclined to avoid Bikram yoga, but encouraged to look into Iyengar yoga — there is some advice on what might suit you and how to choose a teacher.

Overall, you can get the same information from looking online, really; certainly none of it was really new to me. I’m not entirely sure why I bought it, since the last thing we need is another Western woman extolling the virtues of taking what you want from other cultures… Curiosity, partly, I guess; what the heck makes a quirky yogi? I still don’t really know the answer to that, but at least she’s not a ‘holier than thou’ yogi.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Graven With Diamonds

Posted January 6, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Graven with Diamonds by Nicola ShulmanGraven with Diamonds, Nicola Shulman

I wasn’t really aware of Thomas Wyatt before I read this, and all I really know about him now is that he was a courtier and a poet, sometimes a diplomat. Overall, though, this book is less a biography of Thomas Wyatt and more an examination of the role poetry (including, and chiefly, his) had in the court of Henry VIII. I felt like I learned more about Anne Boleyn (whom the author frankly admires for her skill in dealing with her paramours and navigating the court) and Henry VIII than I did about Wyatt. Which is, to an extent, what the author promises in the introduction.

But, and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, I found it hard to take the analysis entirely seriously given that the knowledge it was based on is faulty in basic ways. The author of The Romance of the Rose was not Chrétien de Troyes, but Jean du Meun and Guillaume de Lorris. In fact, The Romance of the Rose was completed ca. 1270; Chrétien de Troyes’ work was done before 1200. If you’re going to muck up a basic fact like that — you don’t have to know it by heart, but you do need to actually look it up — I’m not sure I trust you to steer between fact and fiction when it comes to the Tudors, who excelled at their own myth making.

So it was kind of interesting to read this author’s speculations, but I gave her pretty much no credence, as she didn’t earn it. Courtly literature isn’t just a throwaway thing here, but something which is important to how she discusses the Tudor court. Do your research.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Hawkeye: My Life As a Weapon

Posted January 6, 2015 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hawkeye vol 1 by Matt FractionHawkeye: My Life as a Weapon, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, Alan Davis

Reread this ’cause I couldn’t remember much about it, and I have volume three to read now and volume four to read as soon as they stop procrastinating and actually bring it out. I love the consistency of most of the art in this series, which suits the tone perfectly, though it makes the included bit from Young Avengers Presents look particularly out of place (and man, had I ever forgotten that Tommy’s crush on Kate was obvious even there).

This is a pretty relaxed comic. It’s not really about the superhero, Hawkeye, one of the Avengers; it’s about Clint Barton and Kate Bishop and all the trouble they can get into when they don’t have their teams backing them up. It’s about Clint being a dummy and Kate being really awesome and all the weird and wonderful arrows Clint has, some of which I’m sure refer to other comics (that you don’t have to know about it to make it funny). I love the generally irreverent tone of this: however much I adore Steve Rogers, and however much of a snarky little shit he can be, Clint Barton’s something else when it comes to doing stupid stuff and being an idiot about it.

Still not my favourite comic ever (hello, Captain Marvel) but pretty awesome all the same.

Rating: 4/5

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