Category: Reviews

Review – Late Eclipses

Posted August 27, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuireLate Eclipses, Seanan McGuire

In Late Eclipses, there’s a poisoner on the loose, and there’s little doubt in Toby’s mind that it’s someone from her past — Oleander de Merelands, of course. Throughout the book she leads Toby a merry dance, poisoning her allies and friends, and setting her up to look like the bad guy. Obviously some people are eager to seize on that and chase Toby down as a murderer, while others (the usual suspects) are arrayed beside her and behind her, ready to protect her and commit acts of courage and stupidity to keep her safe.

My main problem with this book was that it felt drawn out painfully by the fact that someone kept hitting Toby with the idiot stick. Things that are obvious to the reader are far from obvious to Toby. I can’t believe someone so trusted by her liege, someone who is an investigator no less, would keep making stupid mistakes like this. It’s not even a matter of trusting the wrong people this time — Toby just puts her head down and starts bulling through the obstacles, instead of using her head the less painful way.

There are some great moments — many of them involving Tybalt — and some payoff from hints we’ve been hearing all along. Amandine makes an appearance, remarkably sane for her. It’s fun, I just feel like about 80 pages could’ve been cut by letting Toby use her brain instead of her skull.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Perihelion Summer

Posted August 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Perihelion Summer by Greg EganPerihelion Summer, Greg Egan

Received to review via Netgalley

Perihelion Summer is a what-if story. What if a pair of black holes passed by the solar system, dragging the planets from their established orbits? What would happen on a warmer Earth, with bigger seasonal variations — variations big enough to make parts of the Earth uninhabitable at certain times of year? The novella follows a group of characters who are all kind of blind, including the protagonist whose name I kept forgetting as soon as I learned it. It’s more of an opportunity to play out the what-if than it is to do any kind of introspection. What if there was a group of people on a floating fish breeding factory in the middle of the ocean? What if they worked as part of a flotilla to move people around the world in these circumstances?

If hard SF is your thing, then this might be more your speed: while I can enjoy an idea-based story, I normally require some relateable characters, and to feel like there’s something I care about at stake. I didn’t feel any emotional connection to any of the characters or situations; I was reading to be finished, I’m afraid. That’s not as bad in a novella as it might be in a novel, but still. Not really one for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

Posted August 25, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction by Alan JacobsThe Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs

In many ways, I enjoyed reading this 150 page essay on the value of reading, on how to read well (and by well, Jacobs chiefly means “for enjoyment”), on how to get the most out of reading. At the same time, I’m extremely conscious that Jacobs would think me a terrible reader, disapprove deeply of how I read, and despite his belief in the importance of enjoyment and pleasure in reading, is a ginormous snob and doesn’t even know it.

Take, for instance, his advocacy of taking notes while you read. If the book is really worth reading, you’ll need to digest it properly; for that, you should take notes, preferably on the book itself. (Otherwise, you’re not doing it right.) However, when he talks about fantasy and sci-fi novels, he dismisses them (in one fell swoop) as being unworthy of the note-taking approach. That’s not, he says, what they’re for. I think he needs to get his head out of his backside and try Ursula Le Guin, for a start.

He’s very anti-list, anti-planned reading; he holds forth on the importance of whim (or Whim, as he puts it), and yet at the same time denigrates fantasy since Tolkien as being a succession of pale imitators, each with less value than the last. Despite everything he says about encouraging people to read, there’s always that undercurrent of judgemental assumption about what popular literature is, and what it is worth.

He’s not wrong in many of the things he says about how to appreciate a book, how to really internalise it and get the most out of it. I’m way too fast a reader for him: he thinks 1,001 books would take a lifetime to read without leaving any room for anything else, bless his little cotton socks, and he’s a huge advocate of sloooowing doooown and ruminative reading. (Of which I’m capable at even my pace, but you wouldn’t believe it to read this.)

This sounds like damning with faint praise, but I found this book genuinely very readable and even enjoyable. In his advocacy of reading what works for you, and reading in the format that works for you (he’s a fan of ereaders), his enthusiasm is laudable. I just think there’s a beam or two he might want to pluck out of his own eye.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Gene Machine

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

Gene Machine, Venki Ramakrishnan

Gene Machine is not really about the secrets of the ribosome. It’s rather more an autobiography, mostly but not entirely focusing on Ramakrishnan’s path to solving the structure of the ribosome. Now, as any half-baked biologist knows, the structure of a biological molecule is absolutely integral to its function… a protein’s chemical makeup determines how it will fold, and how it will fold determines whether it has the right pocket for something to bind to, or the right side chain to bind with something else. So I don’t mean to belittle the achievement of finally resolving the structure of the ribosome, but it doesn’t actually reveal that much yet. There is, on this showing, a lot more work to be done to really understand ribosomes. It will be made possible by the work of Ramakrishnan, there’s no denying that.

Still, I’m more interested in that than in the process of taking the ribosome’s photograph, and so I found this book disappointing. It doesn’t help that Ramakrishnan lacks grace when it comes to some fellow scientists, and one scientist in particular. If all he says of Ada Yonath is true, she’s quite a piece of work, lacking in basic politeness to others, willing to steal from competitors to get ahead, and a terrible scientist who cannot accept when she is wrong. However, what emerged for me was a sense of a personal lack of warmth between the two amplifying her perceived faults, and the gossipy way this is passed on makes me think less of Ramakrishnan. He is always gracious to his male competitors, but can never resist revealing a nasty anecdote about Yonath, whether she overran the time for her presentation, left him out of a thank you speech, or allegedly had a student attend one of Ramakrishnan’s lectures to take pictures of his slides. His tone regarding Yonath is disingenuous, a sort of constant damning with faint praise.

Now, maybe she is all the things Ramakrishnan says, but I find it curious she would manage to get a Nobel if so, given the acknowledged politicking involved, along with the requirements of satisfying the committee that your contributions are worthwhile. I’m sure there have been undeserving Nobel prizewinners, and I know there have been prizes awarded for things that actually turned out to be wrong. But still. I don’t think Ramakrishnan’s line on Yonath does him credit.

It is interesting to follow a process of discovery like this, but it can be rather dry and technical — mostly spiced up by those bits of gossip and interpersonal strife. Given that on balance I find Ramakrishnan somewhat less than wholly charming, I wouldn’t wholly recommend this, though if your interest is more in crystallography and the structure of the ribosome than in the function of it, this may be more your thing.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Cruel Prince

Posted August 20, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Cruel Prince by Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince, Holly Black

The Cruel Prince turned out not to be my thing. It just felt so immediately typical — the cruel and fascinating Fae with their fairy fruit and their grudge against mortals, the human girls in love with the world of Faerie. The human girl determined to prove herself by fighting, the betrayals and backstabbing, the evil and beautiful boy who turns out to have been abused, etc, etc, etc… it just all kind of felt familiar and I wasn’t getting into it. I’ve heard that the ending is very worth it, but I didn’t get there, so I couldn’t say.

Mostly, I just feel like if I’m dragging through a book at 50 pages a day and only that much because I feel I have to, even though it’s not all that dense or anything, then it’s time to give it up. So I did.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Heartstopper, volume 2

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

Heartstopper, vol 2, Alice Oseman

Volume 2 of Heartstopper basically just continues the adorableness. If you’re not interested in a comic about a pair of boys — one gay, one bisexual — becoming friends, figuring out they’re into each other, and coping with things like coming out and getting along with each other’s friends, then it probably isn’t for you. The art is all in the same style on the cover, kind of doodly, and somehow that makes it more adorable to me, as well as quite distinctive (though there’s a couple of other artists with a similar sort of aesthetic).

I love the way Charlie and Nick are with each other; they have a couple of misunderstandings, and yes, one of those is at the start of this volume and is due to not actually communicating… but for the most part, they do communicate, and it’s lovely.

Look! It’s just adorbs:

First panel: Charlie, hiding behind a book: "You're staring!" Second panel: Nick, starry-eyed: "You're cute!"

They’re consistently adorable and I am so tempted to race ahead and read the whole darn thing. Buuut instead I’m being good and purchasing it volume by volume as it comes out.

(That Patreon with so many pages ahead is tempting, though…)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mistletoe and Murder

Posted August 18, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mistletoe and Murder by Carola DunnMistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn

Well out of season, whoops! In this instalment of the series, Daisy’s found a new country house of potential interest to her readers, and has arranged to stay there over Christmas. Her mother, being overbearing and knowing that the place is owned by someone with a title, signs herself up to join them, leaving Daisy to juggle with two children (Derek and Belinda are both along for the ride), work, and a very displeased mother who expected the titled personage to be present and is furious with Daisy when she finds he won’t be. Oh, and of course: murder.

Daisy doesn’t actually stumble across the body herself this time, for a wonder, though I was constantly waiting for the moment when she would! So thank goodness for slight variations in the formula, even now the Fletchers are back in Britain. She’s indispensable, of course, with her knowledge of the house and of the squabbles between and potential motivations of the inhabitants.

It’s a fairly standard plot for a Daisy Dalrymple book, all the same, and honestly, perhaps that’s part of why I like them (even though I can’t read too many of them back to back because of that same thing). You know how things are going to go, Alec and Daisy are delightful, and in the end the right chickens are brought home to roost. It’s restful and familiar — in fact, cosy in its own way, despite the deaths and the complicated and acrimonious feelings between some of the characters.

It isn’t deeply thrilling or wildly exciting, and that’s what’s nice about it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – This Is How You Lose The Time War

Posted August 16, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

This Is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

I’ve been curious about this book for a while, so I dug into it right away when my pre-order arrived! I’ve only read short stories by Amal El-Mohtar, as far as I recall, and only one of Max Gladstone’s novels, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. It’s a rather lyrical and poetic book, following the correspondence of two enemy agents as they follow each other up and down time, through alternative worlds and different histories, and as they fall in love.

To be quite honest, I didn’t fall in love with it. I appreciated the lyricism, and I also definitely appreciate that these two agents are definitely presented as female. I found it enjoyable to read. But it didn’t really get claws into me; I didn’t feel like I’d mind terribly much if I never finished it. I couldn’t say what it could have done better to make me love it; I’m not sure there is anything specific. It felt too clever by half, really, and then the emotional undercurrents missed me while I was watching the cleverness from a cynical distance.

Definitely an interesting endeavour, and worth a read, but not something I could love.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Exit Strategy

Posted August 15, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha WellsExit Strategy, Martha Wells

Exit Strategy wraps up the novella series by bringing Murderbot full circle: back to Dr Mensah and her team, the people it helped in the first book. Second-guessing itself, hating the idea of becoming a pet bot, but nonetheless needing to help the person who is (nominally, at least!) its owner, Murderbot finds that Dr Mensah is probably a hostage and goes ahead with doing what it does best. Planning, worrying extensively, and then throwing itself headlong into trouble.

If I didn’t know there was a novel coming as  a follow-up, I’d be really mad about this final book, honestly. The second and third books gave us some development for Murderbot, of course, but they also gave us characters I’d really like to see again. Particularly ART, though I’d like to know what became of everyone else as well. It’s not that this book doesn’t give a kind of closure, because it does, but it doesn’t wrap things up in the kind of everything-converges-and-everybody-meets ending I guess I was hoping for.

It’s enjoyable, and Murderbot remains a delight. But I want more!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In the Labyrinth of Drakes

Posted August 14, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie BrennanIn the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is so full of squee. That’s a technical term.

In this book, Tom and Isabella are shipped out to Akhia to work on a breeding program for dragons, in order to supply the army of Scirland with dragonbone for caeligers equivalent to those made by other world powers. So there’s one thread of plot whereby Isabella investigates the breeding of dragons, including a trip into the desert to find where they actually breed, and perhaps even witness a hatching.

Of course, we’re in Akhia, so there’s another thread to the plot as well: Isabella re-encounters Suhail, though his family disapprove very much of his association with her. Nonetheless, they find ways to speak to each other, and Suhail eventually accompanies her on her journey to the Labyrinth of Drakes, an area in the desert full of Draconaean remains and potentially untouched sites to delight the heart of any archaeologist.

There’s the personal plot, in which we finally discover who will turn out to be Isabella’s second husband (a fact which is a bit of a tease through the previous books, but obvious in retrospect), and then this intertwines with Isabella’s journey of scientific discovery and Suhail’s archaelogical pursuits. Overall, it’s very satisfying and not a bit wasted.

Rating: 5/5

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