Category: Reviews


Review – Maus

Posted 16 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Maus, by Art SpiegelmanMaus, Art Spiegelman

It’s hard to figure out how to rate or review this. I mean, do you rate it as art? As a story? Or as non-fiction? As something in between, that nonetheless tries to express the truth? I quite liked Spiegelman’s style: the panels were maybe a little too busy at times, but the drawings had character and life.

More importantly, I think in writing his father’s story, Art Spiegelman managed to capture something we can be prone to forget: the Jews were not necessarily all nice people, all innocent victims and young girls like Anne Frank. There were greedy Jews, Jews who survived because they were quick-thinking and put themselves first, Jews with horrible opinions and so on. Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek isn’t a pleasant character in many ways, but what he goes through and the finer aspects of him show us that it doesn’t matter what kind of people the Jews who suffered and died were, they didn’t deserve Auschwitz and Dachau and all the other concentration camps. We don’t need an idealised innocent young girl to know what happened for the horror it was — that might make it easier on us, but to me it’s equally important to remember collaborators and cowards, the everyman and the rich banker and even the ones who stole each others’ food or lorded it over them to survive. Half of those horrors were created by the conditions anyway.

Which is to say… there were no perfect people. It’s a mistake to forget that, to forget that we’re still talking about humans all their messy glory. Maus reminds us pretty firmly that horrific things can happen to people who aren’t that nice themselves, and remain horrific.

So all in all, I don’t know that I like it much, but it’s one of those things where I have to consider the work that went into it and what it says, what it does, more than my personal enjoyment or not.

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Review – Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction

Posted 15 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction by Paul BahnArchaeology: A Very Short Introduction, Paul Bahn

This was okay, but honestly? If you’re interested in archaeology, watch out for the “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” course to run again on Coursera. It covers a lot of the same issues, but in more depth, with more examples, and obviously with the chance to interact with a lot more people/opinions (even if you just watch the videos). The assignments help you focus on and get to grips with the techniques and discussions.

This book is… much more basic. It’s very informal, often very personal to the author (as where he sneers at theories he doesn’t agree with, or makes snide comments about other people working in the field). There are some useful bits, and it’s certainly an easy (and very brief) read, but mostly I think you’d be better investing a bit more time in this, via Coursera or via other, better books.

One section that rather riled me was the whole bit about “feminist archaeology”, mostly using those scare quotes. Bahn falls into pretty much every pitfall in talking about feminism, claiming for example that the history of men is now going to be ignored, and comparing women to slaves who will want to be masters. Right. Thanks, dude.

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Review – Bull Running for Girls

Posted 13 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Bull Running for Girls by Allyson Bird

Bull Running for Girls, Allyson Bird

I didn’t get on with the writing style of these. It felt dry, and all the stories had the same feeling to them — something a bit too prone to explanation rather than action, which took the impact of some of the interesting ideas and creepy aspects away. I liked some of the ideas here, but the execution really didn’t work for me.

The stories are structured okay, and self-contained, but… I don’t know, altogether I felt they were lacking something.

(Received to review from the publisher via LibraryThing.)

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Review – Wonder Woman: Guts

Posted 13 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wonder Woman vol. 2, GutsWonder Woman: Guts, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins

I’m not really a fan of Wonder Woman, I think, at least not in this incarnation. I’m not fond of the character designs, except maybe for Strife (but she reminded me of someone else; maybe a Neil Gaiman character?) and Wonder Woman herself, and the plot just… Nah.

I can take some tweaks to my mythology (hello Thor), but this was strangely closer to the actual mythology and further from the spirit of the mythology. Or something. The bickering among the gods, Hera’s jealousy, etc — it all makes sense within Greek myth, but they seemed cardboard cutouty, which Thor and Loki do not.

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Review – The Eternals

Posted 13 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Eternals by Neil GaimanThe Eternals, Neil Gaiman

I knew nothing about Eternals before reading this, and pretty much just got it because it’s by Neil Gaiman. So I didn’t know about the original series (and still don’t know much about it). Some of the character designs and ideas are kinda cool, and the art works well enough, but I don’t think Gaiman managed to rescue this from the wtfery of its apparent origins.

The longer he drew out the mystery, the better it was; all the explanation was kinda… this is what you were setting up for? Really?

I don’t think this works well in a world with registration and Civil War and Tony Stark, either.

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Review – The Best of All Possible Worlds

Posted 12 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen LordThe Best of All Possible Worlds, Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible Worlds is not a perfect book. I can sympathise with various of the lower-star reviews out there. It’s a quiet book, contemplative, and ultimately despite the backdrop it’s basically a romance against a sci-fi, post-disaster backdrop. It’s not quite Ursula Le Guin, but I quite liked the slow progression. It had the feel of something unfolding, rather than a roller-coaster ride, and that’s just fine by me.

I think some potentially problematic things are brought up by the plot and dealt with varying degrees of success. The domestic abuse by telepathy ties in with the plot in a couple of ways, so I don’t understand people saying that doesn’t fit. I’m very tired of the whole “you included this [minority] character just to get brownie points” idea. Maybe there are some people out there who do that, but I don’t see why a character has to be fully explored with all characteristics plot-relevant to be included. Finding a big long explanation for a gender neutral, essentially asexual character isn’t necessary, if that’s the way the character works. And Lian worked fine in that sense, for me — and I think that aspect of their identity was relevant, in some ways.

I mean, you don’t include other stripes of queer characters and then look at them with a magnifying glass to justify their inclusion. Some people are just queer, why can’t characters just be queer? And why oh why do you need to know what’s going on downstairs for trans* people?

All in all, I didn’t love this the way I enjoyed Redemption in Indigo, but I’m glad I got round to reading it. (Finally.)

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Review – Wonder Woman: Blood

Posted 9 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wonder Woman: Blood by DC ComicsWonder Woman: Blood, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins

This was one of the first DC books I picked up, I think, but I didn’t get round to it till now. I have to say I’m more fond of Batgirl — I’m not sure this was a very good introduction to Wonder Woman. I mean, there’s very little by way of explanation of her motivations going on. She just kills some stuff dead and finds out some secrets about her past.

It’s fun enough, and the art is good, and the mythology goes pretty well with actual Greek mythology (unlike, say, Marvel’s Thor). I think the review/s that mention it being a bit like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman have got something there, too.

In any case, I have the second volume already, so we’ll see how that goes. But I may not be buying any more Wonder Woman after that.

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Review – Young Avengers Vol. 2

Posted 8 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Young Avengers Style > Substance by Kieron GillenStyle > Substance, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie

I’ve been sort of reading this since the individual issues came out, but this is the first time I’ve properly sat down with it and read it all the way through. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love Gillen’s run on Young Avengers — I mean, he gets the humour just right, he combines the characters in fun ways, and the art does a lot of interesting meta things that my comics & graphic novels class would’ve had a whale of a time with.

Since I haven’t read the Secret Invasion, Civil War or Dark Reign Young Avengers comics (yet), I’m unsure how Kate got together with Noh-Varr, and I don’t know much about America Chavez, but this new make-up of the team is pretty awesome, adding Noh-Varr, Kid Loki and America Chavez to the original Young Avengers line-up. I miss Iron Lad/Vision and Cassie, but this does deal with the fallout of that somewhat too, which means it all works really well.

Obviously, Loki’s up to something, and I mostly know what that is; and I know what happens in terms of Billy and Teddy’s relationship in the other volumes, so there’s not as much mystery for me as there would be for most readers, but for the reader coming in fresh there’s stuff to work out, too, which is cool.

Alternative Culture, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Kate BrownCover of Marvel's Young Avengers: Alternative Culture

Alternative Culture is fun and meta, once again. The only annoying thing was how little was revealed. I mean, where does Leah tie in? Who is the fake Patriot?

But in terms of characters and the art and design of the comic, it was amazing. I like Prodigy as a character — he can stay in the team — and I loved some of the throwaway lines like Hulkling finding the little green things really cute, and Kate telling Noh-Varr to shut up and look pretty (and being, at least according to one of Noh-Varr’s exes, pretty kinky).

I’m not as fond of McKelvie’s art as I was of the original Young Avengers art, but it is pretty good.

Cover of Marvel's Young Avengers: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and SpaceMic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al

Volume three definitely makes a great ending to this run of Young Avengers. It continues with all the great things about the previous volumes, and wraps things up pretty satisfyingly. I’m intrigued by the ending with Patri-not, and Loki’s character arc works well too.

The hints about what Billy will be/do are interesting, as well as how Patri-not links into that. And I love the new team, the way it didn’t make sense at the beginning how all these kids would be together at the end, and now I’ve got there it seems perfect.

I love the New Year’s party, too. Tommy’s dorky dancing is the best.

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Review – Just Babies

Posted 8 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Just Babies by Paul BloomJust Babies, Paul Bloom

I’ve read one of Paul Bloom’s books already (How Pleasure Works) as well as being part of his Moralities of Everyday Life MOOC on Coursera, so a lot of the psychology experiments and arguments were not at all new to me.

Just Babies is, like Bloom’s other work, accessible to the lay reader, written without frills and complications. Bloom sets out his argument quite simply, without over-complicating anything. Overall, I find it hard to say what I think about this book specifically, since I was already aware of Bloom’s ideas and already had opinions on them. There’s certainly nothing I violently disagree with, for all that Bloom is much more of a utilitarian than I am.

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Review – Death and the Penguin

Posted 7 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death and the Penguin by Andrey KurkovDeath and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov

I don’t think I’d have ended up reading Death and the Penguin without a little challenge I’m doing to read twenty books recommended by friends. (It took me a while to get my twenty, but maybe now I should post them or make a shelf for them or something.) It’s interesting, though. I’m not generally very good at politics and satire, particularly when I’m not very aware of the historical context, but this is enjoyable anyway.

You see, the penguin is not metaphorical. Viktor literally has a pet penguin who lives with him. Honestly, that was my main motivation in reading on: I didn’t care so much for Viktor, but Misha is really compelling for all that he’s the only character who never says a word. The other absurd elements of the plot somehow only work for me because of Misha.

It’s simply written, easy to follow despite the absurdities — the person who recommended it to me said it’s a good Russian lit for beginners type book. I’d agree; I mean, I love War and Peace, but I can understand it being rough going for some people, and Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment took me forever. I do recommend this: the relationship between Misha and Viktor is sweet and somehow melancholy, a mutual loneliness.

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