Category: Reviews

Review – Murder Most Unladylike

Posted 23 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder Most Unladylike by Robin StevensMurder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens

I picked this up because the author had a delightful thread on Twitter, basically. It’s not something I would normally pick up, perhaps, given that it’s sort of middle-grade-ish in target audience — but it’s a mystery story and I was told it was entertaining (and inclusive!) so I thought I’d just go ahead and give it a shot. And it was enjoyable: Daisy and Hazel are at a boarding school and become friends, and this term they’ve decided to imitate Holmes and Watson and become a crime-investigating duo. Daisy considers herself the brains of the outfit, while Hazel is the heart (and more often than not has some smart ideas of her own) and the writer, following Sherlockian custom. When Hazel finds a dead body which disappears by the time she goes back to show someone, they realise they’ve found the perfect case.

As befits the audience, it goes along at a hefty clip, and the mystery isn’t too difficult for the audience to get into themselves. It does a nice job of evoking the historical setting without getting into too much detail, using Hazel’s outsider status as a foreign student to explain what might not be familiar (although it all is if you were into Enid Blyton’s books as a kid, as I was). All in all, it still wasn’t my thing, but it was fun as a change, and it is something I’d happily recommend to someone of the right sort of age and/or interests.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Band Sinister

Posted 22 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. CharlesBand Sinister, K.J. Charles

“Georgette Heyer, but queer,” they [being people on Twitter] said.

“I’m there!” I said.

That’s pretty much the summary of this book, though there’s significantly more sex in this than Heyer would’ve got away with, and a lot more free-thinking, philosophy and queerness. The situation, though, is kind of classic: Guy and Amanda live in significantly straitened circumstances, trying their best to be as quiet as possible while a relative holds the purse strings, making them live on her charity. Amanda chafes at this somewhat and hits on a way she can earn them some money: she writes a Gothic novel and easily sells it. The hitch? Well, she based it on the stories about a neighbouring family — with whom her family has a long, storied and unpleasant history.

Then she decides to ride over there to do research, falls from her horse, is seriously injured, and her brother has to go join her in the den of iniquity as a chaperone. Thus do Guy and Phillip meet — and of course, Phillip is in fact much-maligned and really not at all as dreadful as he’s painted (albeit admittedly being queer, and atheist, and fairly promiscuous).

What follows is mostly a delightful exploration of a relationship based on communication — albeit with one or two snags — and consent. If anyone tries to claim consent isn’t sexy, send them this: it absolutely is in this book, and makes the sex scenes worth reading even for those who have no interest in the mechanics, because the emotional content is there. It’s not insta-luv, but the respect and carefulness is there throughout.

The happy ending is decidedly Heyer-ish in tone and effect, and it delighted me. The characters also delighted me — Guy is a dork, and Phillip a sweetheart, and both of them care immensely about the things close to them in a way that draws you into their feelings and motivations just perfectly.

And you know, I was going to automatically give it 4/5 stars, but I didn’t actually have any quibbles. It was deeply enjoyable from start to end, both for the pastiche and on its own merits, and K.J. Charles can write more Heyer-esque stuff any day and just set up a direct debit on my bank account for it.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Shades of Milk and Honey

Posted 21 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette KowalShades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey is essentially meant to be the novel Jane Austen would write if a magic called “Glamour” was considered an art that gently bred women should practice as part of the small touches that make a house a home. Jane Ellsworth is a plain woman, almost old enough to be entirely on the shelf, but she has a good heart and a talent for magic. Despite her fears of being a spinster forever, her talents draw the attention of several men in this book. And despite her fears of being eclipsed by her pretty sister Melody, her good sense and her talent are what carries the day, as she finds romance with someone who initially overlooked her and disparaged her talents, but who grows to appreciate what she can do and the person she is.

I don’t know what it is about this book, but it’s really grown on me with each reading — and even though it wasn’t something I loved the first time I read it, it really stuck in my head somehow. Partly because Kowal does do a compelling job of weaving magic into a fairly Austen-esque Regency novel: she’s fit it into society, thought about the implications for various trades, for war, etc. Possibly I’m also a bit of a sucker for the romance, for the way plain Jane and surly Vincent come together.

Also, it’s just really good to sink into and read all in one go.

I suspect it also helps that the later books use the setting but go on to fill it out: it’s not just magic and manners, but also political implications, and a bit more of the alternate history that would result. Having read Glamour in Glass and Without a Summer, this sets up a larger plot about progress and change; this book doesn’t contain much of it, but without it the themes couldn’t be developed so easily in the other books. If you do find Shades of Milk and Honey a little slight, but find the world interesting, the other books definitely expand on that!

But I’ve come to appreciate it for itself, as well. Possibly I was still being a snob about romance the first time I read it…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

Posted 20 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by SWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali

My experience of this book is positive, but it is about rape, all kinds of rape, and it’s not skimpy on the details. If you’re going to find the topic of rape viscerally upsetting, please don’t read this review! I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe, although I think the book in itself is potentially really helpful.

The title pretty much encapsulates what the book is about: Sohaila Abdulali thinks that rape has been a taboo and difficult subject for too long, leaving too many struggling in silence, and now is a perfect moment to let in some more light and talk about the issue. This isn’t some academic pronouncement from on high: Abdulali herself was the victim of a violent rape, many years ago — something she is frank about, and an experience that retains its horror in the telling, although it is now an event she has healed from.

Despite that, she’s matter-of-fact, in a way that means my primary feeling about the book was not horror or despair or any such emotion, but the hope that I think she wanted to convey. I found the whole thing oddly comforting: she recognises so many different kinds of rape, so many different reasons and reactions and aftermaths. There’s no one right way to have been raped, here: she accepts all kinds of stories, whether it’s a child being raped by someone they trust or a prostitute who tried to say no after money had already changed hands. There’s no one type of victim she thinks is more justified in being hurt and feeling unsafe, no situation she singles out as being better or worse than another. Honestly, to me, the narrative here says: “What happened to you was bad, whatever it was. It’s awful, but we can look at it and unpick it and it doesn’t have to be this one big monolith dominating your whole life. But whatever it is, it’s okay.”

The book did have a couple of downsides — at times it felt a little scatterbrained, unfocused in its approach. It’s very personal, rather than being just academic or just political or just feminist — it’s Sohaila Abdulali sitting down and taking a look at the world, and making sure some things we keep in the dark are really seen for what they are and what they mean. She has plenty of statistics to quote, but in the end it feels like she’s sitting and working through a mass of trauma — not all her own — conversationally, opening up a space for it, and making us see it. Perhaps it makes sense, in that way, that it’s a little disjointed at times.

I’m very glad I read it. It sounds like a heavy topic, but somehow in Abdulali’s hands, it’s not. Or rather, it is, but it’s one we can handle, and must handle, and stop trying to look away from (either from fear or from respect for victims).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – To Davy Jones Below

Posted 19 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of To Davy Jones Below by Carola DunnTo Davy Jones BelowCarola Dunn

In this book, Daisy and Alec have got married and they’re off on a cruise to the US. Because Daisy is Daisy, she quickly runs into a murder, and Alec is unwillingly drawn into the case because he’s the only policeman on board, and everyone turns to his experience (not to mention his rank). We get to spend some more time with Gloria and her father, and endure one of those typical “gold digging girl from the stage marries a millionaire with ill-intent” plots.

Mostly meh, in retrospect, though Daisy and Alec’s relationship and interactions remain fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Raven Tower

Posted 18 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Raven Tower by Ann LeckieThe Raven Tower, Ann Leckie

Received to review from the publisher

I was so excited when I first heard about this book, and extra excited to come back from a weekend away to a pre-publication copy waiting for me, along with a bag, pin and bookmark! So you can imagine that I was super-eager to dive into it — and dive I did.

To get it out of the way straight away: yes, the point of view is second person. But there is a character telling the story, not to the reader but to a character within the story, for a reason. I thought the narration was brilliantly handled, especially at such length. In retrospect, perhaps some of it came across a little exposition-heavy, but I was so fascinated with the ideas that it worked perfectly for me. Yes, the point of view does limit certain things, particularly the understanding of what characters (other than the Strength and Patience of the Hill) are thinking and feeling — but that would be the case with an ordinary first-person narrative as well, if you think about it.

This didn’t turn out the way I expected, really — I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, really, but certain characters drove events with a strength of feeling and stubbornness I wasn’t expecting. I don’t want to say too much, because spoilers at this stage are really unfair, and I do think that you need the whole book’s build-up to give you the slightly stunned daaaamn but also of course that I had at the end of the book!

I think the world-building is beautifully handled without relying on medieval fantasy tropes. I especially enjoyed that one of the main characters (the “you” the story is addressed to, in fact) is trans, in a way that is essential and authentic for the character, without the plot leaning on it. It flavours the interactions and decisions of the character without being a huge issue. I know for some people the question would be “is it necessary” — and to that, the answer is no, but my answer is “perhaps not, but is it necessary for the character to be cisgender?” (Also no.)

Also, it took me far too long to pick up on the fact that this is essentially Hamlet, in many ways.

All in all, for me, the hype was justified. Leckie hasn’t written a typical fantasy novel as some people expected, but she didn’t write typical SF, either. I’m not sure this one will have the impact of the Imperial Radch books, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience, and I’m so glad and grateful I got to read it early.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Busman’s Honeymoon

Posted 13 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. SayersBusman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers

Busman’s Honeymoon isn’t the most substantial story, though it does have insights into married life and the kind of compromise necessary to couples. Harriet and Peter talk out the problems they encounter, and it’s a delight. In this book they finally get married — mostly covered in excerpts from letters and diaries, including some delightful glimpses into Peter’s mother’s life and way of thinking — and go off to spend their honeymoon in their new house, a place Harriet knew as a child. When they arrive, the owner is unexpectedly absent, and things are all at sixes and sevens… and of course, it turns out that the owner is actually dead.

Naturally, Harriet and Peter are drawn into the investigation, finding that it quickly disturbs their married bliss… and that they can find a way through it by communicating, being patient with one another, compromising (although never in a way that compromises their values). Anyone who knows my usual rants about the issues with romance novels and indeed with people in general will see how that delights me!

And as always, it’s cleverly and often wittily written, full of allusions and references. Sayers isn’t afraid of making you work at it, sometimes, and that’s also fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stitches in Time

Posted 12 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Stitches in Time by Lucy AdlingtonStitches in Time, Lucy Adlington

Stitches in Time is a delightful look at the clothes we wear and how they’ve developed over time, from the general fit of women’s clothes down to the specifics of fashion. A lot of it I knew already, partly from the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee (I cannot wait for a new season of that! and oh hey, it starts tonight!) and partly from other books, but it was still a charming read and a nice break from the awful things that happen in fiction. Adlington writes clearly and sometimes wittily, and it’s a good tour through history in general as well at times, contextualising what exactly drove fashion.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Molecules at an Exhibition

Posted 8 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Molecules at an Exhibition by John EmsleyMolecules at an Exhibition, John Emsley

This started out fascinating, but started to wear on me. Basically, it’s a ‘gallery’ of various molecules that are important in one way or another to human life. There are nutrients we require, poisons that kill us, fuels we use, things that make useful objects, etc, etc. It’s possibly better just being dipped into than read cover to cover; I certainly got tired of all the fuels and the relatively similar titbits about some of the elements. It’s not bad, but it didn’t keep me very interested either.

I’m hoping his book specifically on poisons is more up my street…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Ninja

Posted 7 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ninja by John ManNinja, John Man

Ninja is another travelogue-ish, easy to read history of a broad and fascinating topic, in this case the history and afterlife of ninjas in Japanese culture. It felt more scatterbrained than Man’s other books, and was more of a chore to read; I wasn’t really impressed, and although there were some very informative chapters about actual ninjas and what they did, there’s a lot of fluff about traditions and stories about ninjas that didn’t really add up to much.

Of Man’s books, I definitely wouldn’t recommend this; if there’s a better book out there about ninjas and their history, I think I’d actually like to read it, please.

Rating: 2/5

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