Category: Reviews

Review – Grimm Fairy Tales: Oz

Posted March 26, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of graphic novel OzGrimm Fairy Tales: Oz, Joe Brusha

Definitely not a fan of this one. I gather it’s part of a wider ‘verse of stories, which might have helped my opinion of it, but I wasn’t enchanted by the rewrite of Oz (though I’m not a big fan of Oz to begin with either, so maybe my reaction is somewhat to be expected).

I’m not a great fan of the art: the faces never seem to stay quite the same, and while scantily clad women are a common problem in comics, that doesn’t make it any less wearing. I mean, what the hell is Dorothy supposed to be wearing? How does she get a bra on invisibly under that get up? Etc.

So yeah, thanks for the Netgalley access, but in general, no thanks.

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Review – Journey into Mystery: Stronger than Monsters

Posted March 26, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Journey into Mystery by Kathryn ImmonenJourney into Mystery featuring Sif: Stronger than Monsters, Kathryn Immonen, Valerio Schiti

I liked this quite a bit. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Sif’s character explored anywhere else in Marvel-verse, whether it be the comics or MCU, but I was just glad to see her front and centre. I liked the art, and I liked the tie-in to known Norse mythology (the concept of berserkers). Other stuff, I think I’d have picked up on more if I was used to the version of Asgardian mythology created by Marvel, but it still worked pretty well.

I think some people talking about her just being bloodthirsty and so on missed all the points where she held back the other Berserkers and forced them to behave fairly. So the spell gives her “licence” — but she fights that even before she knows anything about it.

I did like the bits with Heimdall, too. Also nice to see Asgard with barely a trace of Thor. (I like Thor, but he steals the show.)

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Review – The Biggest Bangs

Posted March 25, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Biggest Bangs by Jonathan KatzThe Biggest Bangs, Jonathan I. Katz

This is supposed to be written for a layman, or so the introduction says, but it pretty much made my eyes cross with the technical stuff. I mean, I can follow the explanation of how gamma rays free electrons which then cause damage to neighbouring atoms, and then the energy of all this and the ‘healing’ atoms makes the other element glow with heat, but I have a limited amount of tolerance for pages on pages explaining the difficulty in getting a direction for the gamma ray bursts from that.

Just, generally, too much information for me. I suspect that someone more interested in astrophysics would enjoy it more, but mine is a casual interest. I’m most interested in gamma rays when Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are studying them to locate an object of immense power in the hands of most emphatically the wrong person.

(Or if there was a description of the effect of gamma rays on DNA. That too would’ve got my attention as surely as a giant green ragemonster.)

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Review – An Introduction to English Poetry

Posted March 24, 2014 by Nikki in Academic, Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of An Introduction to English Poetry by James FentonAn Introduction to English Poetry, James Fenton

This is a very clear introduction to the formal aspects of poetry, but it also serves as a reintroduction for someone who has an English Lit degree but never got very interested in the technical aspects of poetry.

We disagree on quite a few things — his characterisation of Anglo-Saxon poetry as “not English” (because of course, it is quintessentially English: the Anglo-Saxons became the English), for example, and his doubtfulness about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (there are dialect words in Sir Gawain which survive still: just because Chaucer’s Middle English is closer to what became universal doesn’t mean Sir Gawain is irrelevant). Also his relative dismissiveness of tight forms like the villanelle: he rightly praises one of the most famous, Dylan Thomas’, but is otherwise fairly unimpressed by it. I love villanelles, and I think more people have “done them right” than he suggests.

Still, with short, easy-to-digest chapters, clear explanations, and a helpful glossary, not to mention the addition of his thoughts as a practitioner of the craft, this is an interesting and informative introduction to a cross-section of English poetry.

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Review – Survivors

Posted March 23, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Survivors by Richard ForteySurvivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has Left Behind,
Richard Fortey

I enjoyed this enough that I’ve reserved the other books by Richard Fortey that my local library has. He has a somewhat rambling style, though, which might not be to your taste. I enjoyed the ride, in general; in terms of the science, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, concept-wise, but some of the animals and habitats Fortey described were new to me.

It was quite personal to him, in a way, covering stuff he’s particularly interested in and documenting his travels to find these creatures (to the extent of talking about sipping gin and tonic from a plastic cup while sat on the balcony of the inn at Yellowstone). That might be less than interesting to some, but I did quite like knowing about the wider habitats surrounding these creatures, and the human context that they’re so often really close to, maybe even endangered by.

The inserts with colour photos are nice: words generally work better for me than pictures, so I wasn’t that interested, but it does give you a glance at some of the stranger, more anciently derived creatures of our planet.

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Review – How Pleasure Works: Why We Like What We Like

Posted March 18, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of How Pleasure Works by Paul BloomHow Pleasure Works, Paul Bloom

How Pleasure Works is an accessibly written book which mentions some theories and interesting experiments, without really delivering on the promise of “science” that explains “why we like what we like”. Mostly, what Bloom has to offer are theories and interpretations: well presented and interesting, but judging from various reviews, not conclusive enough for people who want hard and fast answers. Luckily, I wasn’t really expecting any, although I was hoping for a bit more science. I’m still left thinking the answer to “why do we like what we like” is “because we’re bloody minded and irrational”.

I took Paul Bloom’s Coursera course, Moralities of Everyday Life, and recommend both that and this book as a relatively mild introduction to the psychology surrounding these topics.

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Review – Cuckoo Song

Posted March 17, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Cuckoo Song by Frances HardingeCuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge

I didn’t know Frances Hardinge had a new book out soon, so when I saw someone else talking about it in the Stacking the Shelves meme among book bloggers, I had to try. And lo and behold, I was approved for it on Netgalley. Thanks, guys!

So today I had a long train journey — four to five hours. I loaded Cuckoo Song onto my reader before I left, and had it finished before I even reached halfway. It’s a compulsive read without naked demands for attention; the tension is, for the most part, in uneasiness and anxiety, in a nagging feeling that things aren’t right. It’s done incredibly well, to my mind. Mild spoilers lie ahead!

Hardinge has chosen a really interesting perspective here in the changeling-child story. Normally the changeling would be the enemy, or nothing more than a doll. But Trista has a heart and a mind, and she makes everything work out differently — in a way that I think, actually, is better for all involved. Without being wish fulfilment: not everyone came home safe.

Really, knowing this is a changeling story doesn’t affect what Hardinge does with the story. The story itself is, in a way, a cuckoo child, a changeling.

I liked the ambivalent portrayal of the central family. The narrative upends things several times: there are no simple answers, no unequivocal good family/bad family. It’s the more real for that, even in the midst of a fantasy story. I liked the way Trista had to earn Pen’s trust, I like the big/little sister dynamic. I liked that neither version of even our heroine is unequivocally good. Flawed human beings, all — though of course, not all of these characters are human…

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Batgirl: Knightfall Descends

Posted March 17, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Batgirl by Gail SimoneBatgirl: Knightfall Descends, Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Ed Benes, Vicente Cifuentes

I think this might have been a stronger issue if I was up to date on some of the other New 52 stuff that I’m… not that interested in. Or maybe more of Barbara’s past, since this volume features the (re)introduction of her brother James, who I know nothing about. It all just about hangs together, and some parts of this felt much more satisfying in terms of Batgirl getting some decent villains to kick around, but other parts were… well, a villain called Grotesque who wears a mask and kills a man to try and get a bottle of — vintage wine?!

The art is strong, as with the first book, and I liked the cameos by Black Canary (must hunt up some of Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey) and Batwoman. Still not totally sure about that whole decision to bring Barbara back to being Batgirl as opposed to Oracle via a miracle cure, but overall, I’m still ready to follow more of Batgirl’s adventures.

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Review – Spider-girl: Family Values

Posted March 16, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spider-girl: Family IssuesSpider-girl: Family Values, Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, Matthew Southworth

This was fun, a good place to jump in on Spider-girl. It seems that as this volume opens, she’s lost her powers, but she’s still doing her best to fight crime — and maintain an impressive presence on social media. I enjoyed her wise-cracking, apparently a Spider-people necessity, and the emotional side of her development in this story.

Anya’s normal life is pretty solid, with friends and eventually a roommate, contacts outside the superhero world (unlike, say, Captain America). I liked Spider-man’s parts too, and I was intrigued by Red Hulk — I haven’t read anything including him so far.

The art is pretty good — there are couple of patchier issues that I wasn’t so fond of, but it’s reasonably consistent, and I liked that they portray Anya as a lithe, athletic sixteen year old girl. She’s not sexualised or anything in her fights the way, say, Black Widow often is. I’ll probably pick up some more Spider-girl given a chance — earlier or later, I don’t mind which.

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Review – The Bearkeeper’s Daughter

Posted March 12, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian BradshawThe Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw

I was really interested to read this, since it’s set in Constantinople, and I think in the same period as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Constantinople-analogue, Sarantium, in the Sarantine Mosaic books. Even in other fiction I’ve come across Theodora, both as a great and powerful woman and as a scheming whore. This version is a somewhat ambivalent one, seen through the eyes of her bastard son whom she cannot acknowledge but nonetheless loves and schemes for. I liked the way she was portrayed: her drives and ambitions made sense, came out of the real history we know Theodora had.

The story is more about her son, though, based on a rumour about Theodora from Procopius’ Secret History — a very Rosemary Sutcliff-like touch, to take a half-known story and expand it and develop it into something that could have been, like The Eagle of the Ninth. Her books are aimed more at adults, I think, but there’s still that same flavour to them from the ones I’ve read so far, and they touch on similar periods and topics.

I got really involved in this, gradually, drawn into the world of Constantinople and of the people Bradshaw gives us — I loved Narses and Anastasios, and though I didn’t think I would come to love her, Euphemia as well. Theodora, of course, and this version of Justinian, worked very well for me. There are some really powerful scenes, and while there’s a constraint and dryness to it in a way — it doesn’t step severely away from what we do know of the period — it still caught me up in a spell while I was reading.

When you read the blurb, it does sound as if it’s going to be somewhat sensational — bastard sons usually are a pretty dramatic complication, after all. But actually, it tries to steer a path between an interesting story and realism, and I really enjoyed watching that balancing act.

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