Category: Reviews


Review – Middlegame

Posted 10 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuireMiddlegame, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley

I’m still digesting this one, quite honestly. Let’s see if writing it down helps me figure out what I think! Middlegame is a novel in which time is mutable: the two main characters are living out their lives time and time again, and when they fail, time is reset back to a crucial decision point and try again and again to get the right outcome. This isn’t a spoiler — it’s apparent from the start, because the story begins at the end and jumps back.

Roger and Dodger are twins. Roger has command over language, while Dodger is a math prodigy. They were created by an alchemist desperate to prove the theories of his creator and mentor, and their whole lives have been manipulated by him to try and achieve both power and control. The question is really how exactly the twins will achieve their power and not be under his control.

Over and over again their lives touch just a little, and they speak to each other through some kind of link. Over and over again they are separated — sometimes by meddling, sometimes by being human and flawed and not good at their strange relationship. Their relationship is the center of the book, and you can’t help but root for them as they get it right and wrong and right again. I found the timeline a little difficult to follow, because I’m so bad at remembering any kind of numbers (I’m the Roger half of some equation, clearly), and that kind of impacted how I felt about the book — I found it a little frustrating that I kept losing my bearings. It’s cleverly done, though, and the full extent of what Roger and Dodger are takes some time to unfold and really become obvious; the broad strokes are fairly obvious from the beginning, but there’s still a sense of revelation as the book unwinds.

I think, in the end, I’m not head over heels in love with the story, but I think it’s well done and enjoyable. There are some gruesome bits and gore — touches of McGuire’s Mira Grant persona, in some ways — and the complex timeline combined with those is probably what brings down the rating a bit for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other readers I know make of it.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 8 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

I continue to feel rather overwhelmed and worn out, but I did manage to actually make some posts last week, so it’s time for a catchup that covers the last two weeks!

Acquired:

Cover of The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler HayesBooks read in the last two weeks:

Cover of Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson Cover of A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins Cover of Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

Cover of The True Queen by Zen Cho Cover of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuire Cover of Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson Cover of The Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J. Benton

Cover of Heartstopper by Alice Oseman Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Reviews posted:

Silver in the Wood, by Emily Tesh. A retelling of a less well-worn myth than some, with lots of loveliness. 4/5 stars
A Short History of Europe, by Simon Jenkins. Rather meh. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!
A June TBR. I wanted to keep up some of my momentum from last month in keeping up with series, reading stuff I’ve meant to read for ages, etc — but with a lower (easier) threshold, to allow me to include extras. Tahdah, the chosen to-read list!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Hummingbirds and migration.‘ I was asked specifically about feeding species of hummingbird local to Argentina, and whether it might perturb their natural feeding, migration, etc. The answer is no!
NEAT science: ‘Wireless charging. Ever wondered how it works? I explain some of the principles.
NEAT science: ‘You are what your microbes eat.‘ On some of the proof for how your microbiota — the bacteria in your gut — impact your mental health.

And that’s it for this week — all caught up. Except for all the comments and posts I still need to answer… I’m getting there, I swear!

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Review – A Short History of Europe

Posted 6 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Short History of Europe by Simon JenkinsA Short History of Europe, Simon Jenkins

I’m just going to confess something here: I didn’t finish this. It seemed to be exactly what it purports to be from the title: a short (yep) history (yep) of Europe (yep). It doesn’t try to be particularly exciting about it, and I found that I felt like I was just being hurtled through the canonical key points of European history. Sure, that’s mostly what I expected, but a better prose stylist would have made it more interesting, and an insightful historian could have found some illustrative moments that aren’t in the standard playbook.

As it is, I felt like I was cramming on history for a test, and I ended up letting it go back to the library. More than that, I got the impression that Jenkins is fairly anti-EU, and other reviews confirm that. Given that I still believe in the European Union, me and this book weren’t destined to have a fruitful relationship.

Rating: 2/5

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A June TBR

Posted 5 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Having a TBR in May actually kinda worked out for me. I’m notoriously contrary and notoriously difficult to pin down, but in May I had a set list of 22 books and a Beeminder goal to get me there*, and get there I did.

I don’t want to do that again, since I did have trouble sticking to the list and not just reading whatever I feel like, but it sounds like a nice way to make sure I stick to reading the series (multiple) I’ve got on my plate, get round to reading stuff for the Hugo voting, etc, etc. So I’m going to try having a 10-book TBR; I can read anything else I want as well, but I’ve got to finish these 10.

Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews Cover of Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan Cover of Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee Cover of Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

Here goes the list:

  • Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews. Because I want some fluffy easy fun!
  • The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan. Reread for pure love.
  • Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan. Ditto.
  • Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee. Because the wife just finished it, and I need to finish it for Hugo voting as well!
  • Tower of Thorns, by Juliet Marillier. I reread the first book in order to prep for finally finishing this trilogy (catching up on this series?) so I want to make sure I don’t need to do that again in approximately five minutes.
  • An Artificial Night, by Seanan McGuire. I’ve been partway through this reread for, uh, a while. It’s time to press on and read this series!
  • Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse. I’d like to read this before the first book fades from my mind.
  • Lent, by Jo Walton. Assuming Waterstones ever actually manage to order my copy, that is. I really want to read this ASAP — especially since I’m replaying Assassin’s Creed 2 at the moment, and am just going up against Savonarola…
  • The Bitter Twins, by Jen Williams. I was dying to read this the minute I finished The Ninth Rain, and now I can!
  • A Talent for Murder, by Andrew Wilson. Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance + a murder mystery with her as a main character? I’m in! Also, it’s my book club pick for this month, so I better read it.

Cover of An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire Cover of Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of Lent by Jo Walton Cover of The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams Cover of A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Wish me luck!

*If you don’t know about Beeminder, I work for them as their Support Czar, and am also a fairly hard-core user. Elevator pitch: set a quantifiable goal, set how often you want to do it, and stick to it… or pay exponential amounts of pledge money if you fail. (Or cap it at whatever level is motivating to you, of course.)

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Review – Silver in the Wood

Posted 4 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Silver in the Wood by Emily TeshSilver in the Wood, Emily Tesh

Received to review via Netgalley

I’d call this a quiet story, but there is in fact plenty that happens once it kicks off. Tobias Finch has a quiet life within the forest, dealing with supernatural threats within its boundaries and protecting the forest. He’s a Green Man, a creature of mythology — not quite a male Dryad, but a man whose existence is nonetheless deeply entwined with that of a vast oak growing near his cottage. One day the owner of the lands, Henry Silver, comes by, stays the night due to a rainstorm, and awkwardly flirts with Tobias. Naturally, that isn’t the last they see of each other, though Tobias tries to protect Henry from his own interest in the myths of the forest — myths of wildness and sacrifice, to which Tobias also has links.

The relationship between Tobias and Henry is a quiet centre of this story, along with Tobias’ own development and rejoining of the world outside the forest. There is also a badass older lady who takes down supernatural threats, the coming to life of some myths that would have been better left quiet, and an awesome Dryad called Bramble. Despite the atmosphere of quiet greenery, there’s a lot going on — which is true of all forests, really.

I enjoyed this both as a telling of a less-used myth and for the queer love story. And I’d happily read a lot more about the adventures of Tobias and [spoiler], solving supernatural mysteries and dealing with mythological threats — that part could’ve been a lot longer and a lot more detailed and I’d have been happy.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Trail of Lightning

Posted 24 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation, after a climate apocalypse that drowned half the world. In the post-apocalyptic landscape, old gods and spirits now prowl. Maggie ends up hunting those old gods and spirits, looking for her former mentor, trying to keep her sidekick alive, and killing some nasties along the way — you know, the usual sort of urban fantasy shtick, only with a decidedly non-usual setting.

Maggie’s got clan powers: skills which allow her to do superhuman feats in battle, and run faster than is physically possible for most humans, which come from her heritage. In principle, it’s all really interesting, and I do enjoy the setting and background. It’s not the beaten path, and that’s great.

I don’t think I liked the side characters as much as I should have, and mostly I mean Kai. I needed to feel more of a connection with him for the ending to really work, I think, and I was actually grossed out by aspects of his behaviour (which I shouldn’t spoiler!). He’s meant to be nice, but his manipulation of people is not something I admire in a character.

As for the plot, well, as soon as Coyote came along, I knew there was going to be some kind of reversal, some kind of trick. I did actually fall into part of the trap just because I disliked a particular character so much and was ready to believe the worst of him, but I was never really along for the ride because I know what Coyote is — or at least, I know a number of stories about Coyote, and about tricksters in general, and it was obvious that there was a twist coming.

I think overall I like the idea of the book more than I like the book itself, and that has sort of settled in — over the time since I finished the book — as my conclusion. I’m interested enough to read Storm of Locusts — and it’s higher in my Hugo ballot that Space Opera for sure — but I’m not in love with it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic for Liars

Posted 23 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Magic for Liars by Sarah GaileyMagic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley

You either are magic, or you are not. Ivy was not, but her twin sister was — a fact that came between them so that years later, they’re almost strangers. Ivy’s a private investigator, though, and when approached by the head of the magic school where her twin Tabitha works to help in solving a suspicious death, she jumps at the chance to see a little of what she’s missing. The problem is that she lies, lies and lies again as she tries to live the life she might have led, if only she was magic.

There is one way in which Magic for Liars is just so totally not for me: it relies fairly heavily on miscommunication (deliberate miscommunication, at that). That’s Ivy’s MO here, and it’s what gets her into half the trouble, and I just find that so vicariously embarrassing and so annoying. Ivy’s problems towards the end of the book are 100% caused by herself and her own stupid decision, and that is not a plot line I enjoy, at least not when it’s made quite so explicit, or is so utterly avoidable. Hubris is one thing, but getting caught in a web of your own lies — lies you know to be stupid — is just… gah.

On the other hand, it is a fun read: Gailey does some fun misdirection and plays with the tropes, and her writing is just… When I first came across some of the lines, one comparison immediately jumped to mind, and that’s Raymond Chandler. There’s something fresh about the way she puts things, a sense of ‘that’s perfect, but also new’ that I think I honestly last encountered when I first read Chandler and followed his ‘shop-worn Galahad’ around town. Things like “Monday morning came on like a head cold” — not even the best example, but one of those right, yes, that feeling moments.

(For all his faults, Chandler was one hell of a writer. This is 1,000% a compliment.)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, especially if you enjoy the idea of following around a profoundly damaged and self-sabotaging person. What she’s doing to herself is beautifully clear; it’s just not my jam at all.

Rating: 4/5

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Readalong – The Ninth Rain & Trail of Lightning

Posted 21 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyph

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning:

Stakes are getting higher and seemingly more personal for Maggie as she finds more back-up in her fight that she can’t seem to simply walk away from. How do you feel about ‘found family’ stories, and do you think that’s what we’re getting here? What do you think of Grace and her family?

We find out more about Kai – specifically, that Maggie isn’t the only one with clan powers – after a particularly brutal run-in with Longarm. What’s your verdict on how Maggie handled the corrupt cop, and has your opinion of Kai changed with this reveal? If so, how?

Ma’ii’s method of transportation was an interesting one, and it raises the fact that Neizghání isn’t the only one with a ‘signature’ that involves lightning. Do you think it’s possible (or even likely) that Neizghání’s involvement in this mystery is a red herring?

What do you think we can expect from Maggie’s visit to Shalimar? Nothing but trouble, or will she get what she’s there for?

As I said last week, I’ll confess, I’ve finished the book. So I’m trying to answer this without any spoilers and with what my impressions were at the time, but I apologise if I get inadvertently spoilery!

Found family/Grace and her family:

I feel there’s not quite enough development on this to make me really feel like Maggie’s part of Grace’s family at this point. Maybe if they continue to partner up through the second book, but… actually, I’m finding that stuff like this is already fading for me. If I don’t read Storm of Locusts soon, I won’t remember who everyone is.

Kai’s clan powers:

I knew this was coming and it actually pisses me off. Any kind of mind control grosses me out, and I didn’t trust Kai from the moment I knew that’s what he was doing. I don’t think we’re meant to take such a hard line on it, but he’s been using it to manipulate Maggie, despite all his requests to be partners and for her to trust him. It’s not trust when it’s compelled.

Neizghání:

He seems like such an asshole that nothing would’ve surprised me where this came from.

Shalimar:

Ma’ii’s involvement meant much much suspicion of every aspect of his mission for Maggie, this included. He’s a Trickster. It’s not going to be what it seems, or the rug is gonna get yanked out from under you even harder because this does go to plan.


Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsThe Ninth Rain:

1. Vintage’s journal entries at the start of each chapter seem to be filling in more backstory for our heroine, but what do you think of this approach to providing information about her? Are these entries fascinating, or distracting?

2. More details emerge about what happened at the end of the Eighth Rain… What do you think happened to (or between?) the Jure’lia queen and Ygseril?

3. And now it seems that the god-tree still lives. Or does it? What’s your take on what Hestillion is doing, and what do you think she’s going to do with her surprise guests?

4. Make love, not war. Or, if you’re Tormalin the Oathless, do both. How do you feel about the particular mixture of Tor’s skills, and what do you make of his interactions with Noon so far?

I’ve also finished this one now, but I’ll do my best not to give any spoilers!

The excerpts:

I think they’re very cleverly done, because it’s not only a source of lore for the world, but it’s powerful characterisation for Vintage (and some of the people around her). I’ve known books where I always skipped this kind of thing, but these are interesting for being in Vintage’s voice and they provide plot-relevant information. Do not skip!

The end of the Eighth Rain:

I kind of assumed, at this point, that there was some kind of mutual destruction, or possibly just fighting each other to a standstill, and what we see is their long, long deadlock. I was biased toward mutual destruction since we hadn’t heard anything from Ygseril. (Personally, I thought the death of the Jure’lia queen was probably only a temporary setback for the Jure’lia.)

Ygseril:

I’m sceptical of anything so conveniently sudden after years without contact. Hest’s been diving deep all this time: why is she only making contact now? Something seems to be stirring, and I didn’t really believe it could be Ygseril.

Make love, not war:

I don’t think it’s that unusual; Tor’s lived a long time, and has a long time left to live. I’d be surprised if this was the full extent of his talents, too. In terms of his interactions with Noon, I thought that was a fairly obvious and conventional story with an obvious trajectory — not that I object to that.

General point:

This whole book makes me think so much of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The parasite spirits and what they do seem so like the spirits in The Spirits Within that that’s basically how I picture them, and the dream of the Jure’lia makes me think of Aki Ross’ dreams.

A still from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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Review – Magic and Religion in Ancient Egypt

Posted 19 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie DavidMagic and Religion in Ancient Egypt, Rosalie David

If you’re looking for a comprehensive but readable survey of the beliefs of Ancient Egyptians over time, this should definitely do the trick. It’s an overview, not an in-depth dive into all the ins and outs, so if this is actually your area of study, you’ll obviously be wanting to go somewhere else — but I wouldn’t say this is really aimed at the casual reader, either. You need to have an interest in the topic, at the very least, or the level of detail would be too much.

I wouldn’t say the book is brilliant, and its style is definitely not “unputdownable”, but the topic was interesting enough to carry it for me. And I enjoyed David’s approach, which took things in chronological order and looked at the way religion changed with politics (and/or the way politics changed with religion).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted 14 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

This was a reread for me, in order to get back into the world so I could finally read the rest of the trilogy! It opens with Blackthorn in prison — a horrible sort of prison, where all kinds of atrocities are committed, creepy-crawlies are your closest companion, and you scratch on the wall to count the days until the hearing where you might receive justice. There’s one night left, except the guard says she’s not going to have her trial. There’s a ray of hope, though: Conmael, a fae man, offers her a deal. She must leave the area for seven years, use her craft for good, and say ‘yes’ to any request for help.

Blackthorn takes the deal, of course. Conmael fulfils the start of the promise in an unexpected way, and Blackthorn escapes — with a companion from the prison, Grim — and travels to her new home. She expects to see folk just like the folk she left behind, and a lord who is no better than the one she planned to testify against at her hearing. Enter the other main character, Oran: a gentle poet who tries to be generous and fair to his people, and who has a little dilemma of his own to be solved…

The main thing for me in these books is the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. It’s coded non-romantically and non-sexually: they are friends, they rely on each other, and they’re even somewhat co-dependent, but there’s no hint that the relationship is or could be romantic. (God, I hope this stays true of the other books. It wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker for me, but I don’t really read it as a romantic relationship. At least not in this book!) Blackthorn’s not interested, and Grim’s only interest is in being useful, in drowning out the nastiness in his past and the horrors of the prison to be by Blackthorn’s side. It’s the strongest part of the book, their bond, and I only hope it will stay rock-solid through the other two books.

I’m less interested in Oran, whose management of his lands and people reads like a modern insertion — he’s just too egalitarian for the medieval Ireland-ish setting we’ve got here, though we do see a less flattering side of his character in his total impatience with Flidais for not acting the way he expects. His love story with Flidais is interesting in terms of the mystery it provides, but I don’t really believe in either of them as people, and I found some aspects of that storyline vicariously embarrassing (usually a death-knell for me, with any form of media). The solution is rather neat and ties most things up, so I rather hope the focus will be elsewhere in the next book. Despite my reservations about Oran, I’m ready to dive in.

Rating: 4/5

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