Category: Reviews


Review – My Sister, the Serial Killer

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

Cover of My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan BraithwaiteMy Sister, The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, The Serial Killer follows the main character, Korede, as she cleans up after her sister, Ayoola. That’s pretty much entirely literal: you see, Ayoola has developed a bad habit of killing the men she dates, and Korede has become sucked into the role of an accomplice. Everything in her life is just so, but then Ayoola storms on in with her problems, and Korede finds herself handling dead bodies and confessing only to a comatose man in the hospital who is expected never to recover. And then, gasp — Ayoola comes to the hospital where Korede works, and sets her eyes on the young doctor Korede has a crush on.

For the most part, I found this kind of pedestrian. Korede gets jealous about Tade (the doctor) and Ayoola; obviously, in trying to call Ayoola out, she just sounds jealous and unhinged. The comatose man to whom she’s been making her confessions wakes up and (of course) remembers the things she said. Ayoola is unfaithful and capricious. And yet, the sisterly bond is still there, and Korede can’t bring herself to break it: she’s meant to look after Ayoola…

I don’t know: for the most part this all just struck me as inevitable and I got a little impatient with it. I did check back in a little for the end of the story, wondering exactly how it would wrap up — and it avoided being completely banal and obvious.

do enjoy the setting of this book, and the fact that Braithwaite makes no concessions for people who are unfamiliar. She just talks about the local food, local customs, and expects the reader to keep up. (Not that it’s particularly difficult, but I think the temptation is there sometimes for people to cater to the Anglo and American readers a little too much.) The story is shaped by the setting — the Nigerian police force don’t go about the case like an episode of CSI, giving the story about the sisters space to breathe, but there are other pressures on them from the people around them, from the relationship with technology (Snapchat is important in the story, for instance)… In that sense, it works quite well.

I’m afraid I’m still left rather “meh” overall, regardless. It’s easy to read, but it’s also easy to put down (for me, anyway).

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Pale Rider

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

Cover of Pale Rider by Laura SpinneyPale Rider, Laura Spinney

Pale Rider is about the 1918 flu pandemic known as “Spanish flu”: the fact that it killed many more people than the Great War did is a well-known fact now, and this particular pandemic is credited with making scientists realise the dangers of a global health crisis like this — and the likelihood that it could and would happen again.

I’ll confess, I didn’t think I’d learn that much about the flu from reading this book, having already read John M. Barry’s The Great Influenzabut in fact there was a lot here that was new to me. Not so much in understanding the disease itself — if Barry’s book didn’t do that, studying for my exams certainly did — but in understanding the impact it had on the world, and particularly on non-Western countries. There’s a lot here that’s new to me about China and Russia, for instance, whereas I feel like The Great Influenza focused much more on the American side of things.

There’s also, I feel, more of an attempt to understand the social and political effects of the pandemic, rather than just the medical and scientific.

However, my end feeling is the same: influenza is a fascinating topic, and if it doesn’t scare you (in a measured informed way that leads to taking sensible precautions like getting the flu vaccine every year), it should. Spinney has a common-sense approach to it all — there’s a lot of things that need to align to make a pandemic, and Spinney doesn’t overstate the likelihood of that happening, but she does lay out the risks and emphasise the need for data collection and disease surveillance. Hear hear!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Goblin Emperor

Posted 5 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

I know, I know; some of you are surely wondering, “Again?!”

The Goblin Emperor is the story of an ill-prepared fifth son, who has hitherto spent his time in exile due to the disfavour his mother was viewed with, finding himself on the throne of the Elflands after the murder of his father and half-brothers. Thrown into the midst of it all, he has to find his feet and become a ruler — one who is careful to respect his father and the tradition of the throne, but who is also prepared to make some fairly drastic changes to benefit his people. All of them.

Naturally, some of his people were quite enjoying the status quo, and even those who wanted to change things had some rather different plans.

This was, I think, my fifth time reading this book, and I still love it so very much. It helps that the main character is so completely endearing: despite a lifetime of mistreatment, he clings to the principles taught to him by his mother (herself fairly mistreated by the system) and tries to be a good person. It’s not that he succeeds entirely — he’s unfairly waspish at times, he has the impulse to be ungracious and to take revenge, he has the urge to run away… The important factor, though, is that he works on it.

I do also enjoy the world-building, which is pretty high quality: Addison has given thought to how the language works, to how the two primary cultures in the book intersect, and to the world that surrounds them. She has so many characters who are intriguing, even when they can only be seen in glimpses due to Maia’s isolation as emperor — so many things I’d love to know more about, and so many opportunities to expand on the story (not necessarily Maia’s story). I’m so excited for the new book in this world; there are so many possible characters it could follow, and I’m pretty excited about most of them.

Saying anything else really comes repetitive of all my other reviews, but as usual, I thought I’d pick out the things I really noticed this time round. One image that this read-through left me with: the image of Maia, on the day of his coronation, in the rocky cave alone; the quality of the darkness, the coldness of the water, the stillness of the room.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Case of the Murdered Muckraker

Posted 4 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Case of the Murdered Muckraker by Carola DunnThe Case of the Murdered Muckraker, Carola Dunn

In this book, Daisy gets involved in a whole new kind of case — one that involves her with the police in America, along with whispers of corruption in the local government, vast amounts of gun crime… and a babysitter arranged for her while Alec is away to try and stop her getting into trouble. (Spoiler: he doesn’t succeed.) This is a very different setting for Daisy and it feels much less cosy, because she’s in a lot more genuine danger at times.

At the same time, there’s a whole section of the book that finally picks up on Alec having been a pilot, featuring an air chase across the US. Pretty epic stuff.

I feel like the this book was somewhat lacking because it has so few familiar characters. Ms Genevieve/Eugene Cannon is pretty awesome, a now-retired former crime reporter who wrote under a male pseudonym for acceptance, but otherwise I missed Daisy’s friends and family, and Alec’s team at the Yard. I’m quite, quite ready for Daisy to be home now. I worried about this series getting too formulaic for me, but with more variation in the background, I missed some of the more routine characters.

I just wish Daisy would go ahead and become a PI, honestly. At least that would put a figleaf over the glaring fact that nobody accidentally finds so many corpses!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Bell at Sealey Head

Posted 3 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillipThe Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip

Sealey Head is a small town, perched above a harbour, where people mostly go about their everyday lives — managing an inn, running a business, selling their wares — with the main magic being in the stories written by Gwyneth and the books read by Judd, childhood friends who have become somewhat estranged as they grew up and had more responsibilities. The strange thing, though it’s now so normal that inhabitants of the town think of it entirely normal, is that every day a mysterious bell sounds. They have no idea where the sound comes from or when it began, though there are a cluster of stories and assumptions around it.

In the big house owned by a local aristocrat, a servant called Emma knows magic does exist, because every so often, she opens a door in the house and sees another world, and a woman she’s never met in this world. Princess Isabo lives a life strictly confined by ritual: light this candle, move this sword, fill the goblets of certain men but not others… and don’t ask questions.

Into that world comes a scholar, Ridley Drow, to shake everything up and make people confront the magic in their midst. It feels like such a typical story for McKillip: it has all her hallmarks in the handling, in the love of books, in the way the magic is handled, in the prose, in the way people relate to each other. So if you enjoy McKillip’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this as well: I certainly did, from the shy reconnection between Gwyneth and Judd to the chattering good-heartedness of Daria Sproule to the daring of Princess Isabo, finally asking questions and breaking the ritual routine.

It all builds up very nicely, but the denouement stumbled a little, for me. After all the build-up, knowing there’s danger and that their friends are in trouble, Gwyneth and Judd rush to Aislinn House to help… only to be thwarted by the fact that no one can open a way into Isabo’s world. Instead of doing anything, they settle down to wait… and the climax of the story happens entirely without them. It feels like all the characters build towards that, but only Ridley and Isabo actually get to see it. It feels odd that they’re left out of the main plot, even though Gwyneth and Judd’s stories are completed in other personal ways.

Also, there are some things I just… missed somehow in the climax of the book — some things seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I didn’t have a clue about the significance of the boat, for instance — or rather, I did realise it was significant, but the reason for its significance just didn’t seem to have been telegraphed at all, to the point where it felt like a deus ex machina. This isn’t a first for me with McKillip’s writing, and sometimes it’s possible she’s just being too subtle for me.

Overall, despite those quibbles, I enjoyed the book a lot, and McKillip’s writing is gorgeous. It’s a great read all the same.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fayke Newes

Posted 2 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fayke Newes by Derek TaylorFayke Newes, Derek J. Taylor

Fayke Newes looks like a gimmicky book, and it’s true that it lacks a references section entirely, so it’s difficult to evaluate the depth of the research. What I read tallies with what I already know, but it’s impossible to trust a serious non-fiction book without references or at least some “further reading”, and it raises my eyebrow a little that the book suggests teaching children to distinguish real news from puffed up misinformation… and that book does not itself have the basics I would consider important for evaluating whether a piece of writing is accurate. (Though admittedly I’ve fallen into this trap myself, and need to start adding sources on my science blog posts.)

Taking it with a pinch of salt, though, it’s an interesting survey of the press vs power — the media vs the mighty, in the other alliteration it uses a lot — from Henry VIII to Trump. It discusses how the press have clashed with governments in the past, discussing how the media has made and broken politicians… and how they’ve been complicit in hiding things from the people during situations such as wartime. This is pretty much the main theme of the book: is the press speaking truth about power to inform the people, or aligning with it in order to deceive them (regardless of the intent behind the compliance)?

It’s odd, given that the book ends with a paean to a long history of marvellous unbiased reporting, that mostly the incidents it mentions sound very much to me like the press is mostly biased and prone to falling in with the wishes of the rich and powerful. Taylor suggests that unbiased, well-trained reporters are going to save us in this age of misinformation — in the concluding chapter of a book with example after example of the press being owned by the rich and dictated by their demands, or cheerfully complying with government bans to send home encouraging untruths during wartime, etc, etc.

I think we do need some well trained and unbiased reporters we can trust to tell us the facts. I’m not convinced by his arguments into believing that those reporters exist, or rather that when people with that ambition do exist, they have a platform and are able to tell us a damn thing people with power don’t want us to know.

Interesting book, but has several blind spots about the implications of its own content.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Death at Bishop’s Keep

Posted 1 March, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin PaigeDeath at Bishop’s Keep, Robin Paige

Death at Bishop’s Keep follows mostly two characters: the first one being Kathryn Ardleigh, a thoroughly modern and independent American lady, and the second being Sir Charles, an English gentleman with an interest in… well, all kinds of things, from murders to mushrooms. It opens with Kathryn, though, as she’s offered a job with her heretofore unknown British aunt, and travels across to England in order to become her secretary. She quickly finds that though the situation sounds ideal — with a generous salary — she has two aunts, one of whom is repressive and cruel, and plans to treat her like a servant instead of as family. All is not well in the household, as it’s clear that her Aunt Jaggers has some kind of hold over her Aunt Sabrina, and disapproves of the work Sabrina has employed Kathryn to do.

Meanwhile, Sir Charles finds himself investigating a murder, since the local police seem unlikely to do anything about it. Between that and neighbourly visits, he finds himself thrown into Kathryn’s company a lot. They don’t quite investigate together, but their paths keep crossing, and when Kathryn’s aunts both die violently of poisoning, Charles finds himself eager to help Kathryn discover exactly what happened.

The best thing about the book is the possibly too anachronistic Kathryn, who also happens to be a writer of lurid short stories (which is her motivation for getting involved in any trouble or intriguing situation she can — she mines it for her books!). The writing is mostly workmanlike rather than particularly exciting, and the solution to the mystery was pretty obvious from the moment a certain plot element was introduced.

Nonetheless, it was a fun enough read — though not one where I’m eager to read the rest of the series. Part of that is because I’m told Sir Charles becomes the main character to a greater degree, and part of it is that there was just something fairly pedestrian about this in the end. Kate’s an interesting character, but not in the same way as my other favourite mystery heroines. If the other books are on Kindle Unlimited, I might pick them up sometime, but I’m not in a hurry.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Local Habitation

Posted 28 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuireA Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire

Finally, I’m proceeding with my rereads to get on and maybe someday finish this series! This is the second October Daye book, featuring Toby and Quentin as they delve into a mystery in a neighbouring duchy. For one reason or another, Sylvester hasn’t been able to get in contact with his niece, January, and for political reasons among the other fae, he can’t go himself. Since Toby amounts to an independent contractor, sending her doesn’t count, and Quentin’s just along for the ride… so off October goes, quickly finding out that there are murders being committed at January’s computing company, and even the strongest of the fae who work there are being killed.

To me, the killer is fairly obvious all along, but then I do have the advantage of having read the book before. There are some delightful ideas and bits of fae lore here: I love what we discover about the night haunts, for instance, and the idea of a Dryad being maintained in a server after the death of her tree. There is a sense in which this book is just one continual long thrashing of Toby — if she’s not being attacked by an actual enemy, she’s being seduced by a fae who can drain her and leave her for dead; if she’s not worrying over Quentin being injured, it’s because she’s got to worry about Connor instead… But in a sense, that’s what the whole series is like.

It feels like this book could’ve been resolved faster if Toby was thinking with her brain instead of rolling around trying to avoid the next punch by instinct, and it’s certainly not my favourite of the series (though I haven’t read much of the whole series, my money is currently on An Artificial Night for that title, of the ones I’ve read before), but it’s enjoyable enough and has some fascinating stuff going on, like the idea of how to save Faerie.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith

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

Cover of How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith by Mary BeardHow Do We Look / The Eye of Faith, Mary Beard

This volume is a slightly odd book in that the two halves aren’t really related, except by being companions to the same TV series, Civilisation. The first half looks at how the human body has been portrayed throughout history — so both what we look like and how we see ourselves — and the second half discusses portraying the divine, iconoclasm, and art history through that lens.

It’s a pretty quick read, with illustrative photos: this is a companion to a TV series, after all, not an in-depth academic treatise. That shows in the relatively broad, shallow approach it necessitates, but it’s nonetheless an interesting book. Mary Beard’s a good writer and respected academic, and the book does come with Further Reading and References, so it’s not as slight as it might look.

Nonetheless, there’s not much to say beyond that! Both topics are interesting, and I’d be glad to read more in-depth discussions — by Mary Beard or someone else.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Kill The Queen

Posted 26 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Kill the Queen by Jennifer EstepKill the Queen, Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep’s Kill the Queen is joyfully tropetastic: after Lady Everleigh witnesses the massacre of everyone who stands near to the throne before her, except one traitor, she escapes due to her hidden magic and plans to disappear, becoming just plain old Evie, despite her promise to the previous queen to take back the throne. She falls in with a group of gladiators and ends up training as a gladiator herself, not noticing the parallel with the fact that the first queen of her bloodline rose to the throne via combat as a gladiator. Throughout the book, she discovers that skills she learned as the seventeenth in line to the throne are useful — things that dealt with certain customs that nobody more important had the time to cater to, like baking a particular kind of pie and learning fiendishly complex dance steps.

It continues in that vein throughout: it’s readable, and fairly well-paced, and it has all the obligatory spices like a fairly obvious deeper plot, and a hate-to-love romance. It’s basically brain candy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reading the second book or not, but it was fun.

Rating: 3/5

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