What are you reading Wednesday

Posted January 29, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker, which was okay but not wondrous. And before that, Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great, which is wondrous and a joy to read — it distracted me from work, a lot (or made work easier to handle).

What are you currently reading?
Slow Fall to Dawn, by Stephen Leigh. It’s one of the books I found in Belgium that I’d never heard of before. Apparently it’s from the 80s, but it doesn’t seem too dated, probably because the author sensibly decided to set it after a civilisation crash (and rebuild). I’m enjoying it: at times, the writing seems a little clunky (like introducing a tiny detail and then two pages later, in the next chapter, bashing you over the head with the This Is Plot Relevant mallet).

Aaand Black Dog, by Rachel Neumeier. I’m taking my time with it, really. I’m quite enjoying that it doesn’t feel like YA, aside from in having adolescent protagonists — the characters aren’t instantly falling in love, they’re wary around each other, things aren’t easy, sibling bonds are more important than most other things… Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour swings by my blog tomorrow, so look out for that if you’re interested. There’s a giveaway as well.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, so far this year I’ve followed a fairly steady pattern of working on books I’ve already got started while reading one new, recently bought book that I obviously thought was shiny, while it’s fresh in my mind. So after Slow Fall to Dawn, I’ll probably read the two sequels, and after that… I might get round to Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen.

As for finishing books I’ve already got started, I think Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis and Gillian Bradshaw’s Render Unto Caesar are my next targets.

And I’d like to note that I haven’t bought any books since the Jo Walton, yet. I’m expecting an ARC and I won a LibraryThing giveaway, but I’ve been restrained.

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Review – Ancient Rome

Posted January 29, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ancient Rome by Simon BakerAncient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, Simon Baker

Simon Baker’s Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is a good introduction to Roman history, covering various key points in the history of Rome. Probably not the same key points that someone else would choose, but he makes a decent case for the importance of each stop on the tour. Some people’s reviews say that if you have the most basic grasp of Roman history, this is too simple: I wouldn’t say so. I have a GCSE and an A Level in classical studies, but the effect was a very similar kind of ‘tour’ of Roman history that just picked out different stopping points. So there were some things I didn’t know much about at all.

One thing that is a little disappointing is the transitions between each chapters. It isn’t really made clear how the transitions between the different time periods were made — it goes straight from Constantine, for example, to the attacks on Rome by Alaric, without covering the intervening time at all. Even a little timeline at the start of each chapter would’ve helped.

Still, Simon Baker’s prose is pretty readable and accessible. If you’re not especially interested in the topic, I still wouldn’t recommend this, as despite the six turning points it uses, it’s still a 400 page volume. A Very Brief Introduction it ain’t.

All in all, for me it was okay, but I’ll be donating my copy to the local library rather than keeping it.

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Review – What Makes This Book So Great

Posted January 27, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo WaltonWhat Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton

If you’re looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the “100 Must Read” books I’ve been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it’s worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan — she doesn’t claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn’t hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those “100 Must Read” books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation.

It’s rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton’s written resonate right through me — and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I’ve spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there’s that: I’m utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there’s some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it’s no surprise that I adored this.

It also helps that it’s very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words — or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology.

It’s the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that.

The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of “100 Must Read” books and others of that species try and arrange, but there’s a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It’s not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read — it’s just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels

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

Cover of 100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels, Nick Rennison and Stephen E. Andrews

100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels is, like its fantasy counterpart, pretty predictable in many ways. There are some I hadn’t heard of, but it’s still predominantly from the white male establishment. There is some lip service to the increasing diversity of science fiction in the introduction, but that isn’t really carried through to the books. Flicking through it, I landed on female SF writers only twice in 84 pages.

On the other hand, the introduction is an interesting whip through of the foundations of the SF genre, and there are a fair number of novels here that I hadn’t heard of or hadn’t got round to yet that are now (higher) on my reading list. As long as you realise that it is limited in scope and not a definitive list of the best SF novels out there, it could be a useful resource.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted January 25, 2014 by Nikki in General / 22 Comments

It’s time for Stacking the Shelves again! If you’re new to it, basically we all show off what books we’ve got in the past week. It’s hosted at Tynga’s Reviews, and you can find a ton of other people’s posts linked there too. So here’s my haul for the week — very restrained, for me: I think my partner will be shocked. At least if she discounts the ARCs, some of which I requested ages ago and some of which were unsolicited.

Ebooks

Cover of What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Gretel and the Dark, by Eliza Granville Cover of The New Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko Cover of biography of Sally Ride Cover of Charles Darwin: Destroyer of Myths Cover of The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

I think I’m most excited about reading Jo Walton’s book. It’s sort of a companion to Among Others, in a way, talking about fantasy/SF, a lot of which is probably mentioned in Among Others. That book meant a lot to me for personal reasons, but the range of books discussed in it was amazing too. I’m interested in the Sally Ride biography, too; women in space!

And for those who’re just dropping by this blog for this post, and aren’t planning to look around at the rest of it, may I tempt you to stay?

Posts coming up on The Bibliophibian sometime soon:
-Comparison of ereaders.
-Reading and the blind/partially sighted (written as an RNIB volunteer, but however not officially representing the RNIB or blind people in any way, just my personal experiences).
-Lord of the Rings Online as an adaptation of the books.
-A post in Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour for Black Dog, with giveaway!

Plus, of course, the usual reviews of a range of books and comics!

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Review – Through the Language Glass

Posted January 25, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of Through the Language Glas by Guy DeutscherThrough the Language Glass, Guy Deutscher

I can understand people who feel that Through the Language Glass didn’t quite fulfill its promise. The subtitle might be more accurately, “does the world look different in other languages?” And the answer is yes, but in a limited way that won’t be satisfying to those who want the answer to be an unequivocal yes. People feel that the world is different (for them) in different languages, and even that they are different in other languages, but there just isn’t the scientific data to back those feelings up.

(For me, and this is a brief digression, I do suspect that those who “feel different” when they speak other languages aren’t taking into account context. For example, say you speak Hebrew with your family and English in school. You are a different person in those two contexts, but not because of the language you speak. You’re adapting yourself to the situation, including the language. I suspect that even years after that division is so clear, where you might speak Hebrew to someone in the workplace, the associations remain.)

Anyway, I found the book itself a bit dense and prone to repetition, but overall, very interesting. I loved the discussion of the issue of colour in Homer’s work, as it’s something that inevitably came up when discussing his epithets in class. Why “wine-dark sea”? How could the sea look like wine? And this book has the answer.

It’s fairly conservative in its conclusions, not going beyond the available data — and mocking rather people who did go beyond their data — and explaining everything at some length rather than packing in various new ideas. It does include a lot of examples and interesting facts about various languages, like languages which don’t use egocentric directions but always geographical ones. I would’ve been interested in a bit more on gendered language, but it doesn’t seem as if the work has been done there, yet. It also gives some credit for ideas that were ahead of their time, even if they were founded on shaky principles, which was interesting.

Ultimately, Deutscher explains why early assumptions that language affects the way we perceive the world were wrong — but then goes on to explain that that instinctive feeling isn’t wrong in itself.

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Review – Captain Marvel: Down

Posted January 25, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Marvel's Captain Marvel: DownCaptain Marvel: Down, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela, Dexter Soy, Filipe Andrade

As with the first Captain Marvel book, I liked half the art (Dexter Soy’s work) and then hated the latter half. More so in this one. Carol just looks deformed in half of this. But story-wise, this is another good volume: Carol as Captain Marvel is rash, determined, unstoppable, and the latter half of the book with the worries about her health kept me interested. It doesn’t matter that I’m lacking some of Carol’s backstory — and the Helen Cobb story from the first volume seems to be playing a bit into this, too, which I enjoy. I’m even a bit anxious about Carol and how exactly this will play out.

I love her interactions with the people around her. I haven’t read anything with Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel — actually, I haven’t got round to anything with her in it at all — but I loved her back and forth with Carol. I enjoyed the inclusion of Spider-Woman, too, and Captain America and Tony Stark’s brief appearances.

Really need to get hold of The Enemy Within, pronto.

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Review – Steve Rogers: Super Soldier

Posted January 24, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ed Brubaker's Steve Rogers: Super SoldierSteve Rogers: Super Soldier, Ed Brubaker, Dale Eaglesham

I have a soft spot approximately two miles wide for MCU Steve, before he gets the serum. It’s probably something vaguely maternal about wanting to protect him, but either way, I think he’s precious. There’s a bit of that here, but not that much. It’s a fun little story, even disconnected from the other stuff going on around it (like the issues of Steve’s death/resurrection, Bucky as Cap), but it isn’t very substantial. There were some bits of Cap canon that I wasn’t aware of — Anita Glass, mostly, but also the villain, Machinesmith.

It is fun to see Steve without his powers, to see that he’s more than his powers, that what made Steve happened before he was ever injected with the serum. I love the “phantom” shield that they’ve drawn in, so it’s clear he’s using the same tactics he learnt as Cap. It just seems right.

This title definitely isn’t a must, though.

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Review – Emilie & the Sky World

Posted January 23, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Emilie and the Sky World by Martha WellsEmilie & The Sky World, Martha Wells

I was pretty excited for Emilie & The Sky World, so I moved it up the reading queue when I got the ARC, along with the previous book which I only recently finished. It really is a great girl’s own adventure story, with plenty of strong, capable women and some intriguing other races — in the previous book, Rani and Kenar, in this book, Hyacinth. I love that while Wells has a fertile imagination, she doesn’t tell all she knows — Hyacinth leaves at the end of the book, with so many questions still hovering around it.

The Emilie books are very fast-paced, and I agree with people who say they feel quite slight. Definitely not the same audience as City of Bones (my other read by Wells), but it’s not the book’s fault if it doesn’t work with an audience it’s not meant for. I mean, it’s on the Strange Chemistry imprint, not Angry Robot: I’m expecting YA, and that’s what you get here — perfectly pitched, to my mind.

There are a couple of nitpicks, maybe. Emilie vacillates a bit between being a total kid and a capable person, but… that happens, with teenagers, so it isn’t so strange. I enjoyed the realism of her relationship with Efrain, her younger brother, and the bit at the end where she resolves things with her uncle. It isn’t perfect — it’s awkward as heck — but it feels genuine.

Also loved the casual inclusion of an LGBT relationship. It just feels so… normal. Martha Wells isn’t making that dumb mistake of just taking the mores of our (past) societies just to borrow the steampunk motifs that work for her. I like that a lot.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted January 23, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing I read was the Ultimate Hawkeye comic, I think. Not a big fan. And before that, J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Archive, which again, not a big fan of. Before that, though, it was Emilie & the Hollow World (Martha Wells), which makes a great girl’s own adventure story.

What are you currently reading?
Fiction: Emilie & the Sky World (Martha Wells), the sequel to the book mentioned above! It’s an ARC and I’m very much enjoying it. I wanted to finish it today, but work got in the way…

Non-fiction: Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages? (Guy Deutscher). It’s fascinating to read a longer explanation of the issues like the Ancient Greek epithet for the sea, the “wine-dark sea”, and why that arose from seeing colour differently.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Black Dog (Rachel Neumeier), as she’s stopping by my blog on her blog tour (post coming up on 31st January, if I remember rightly), from my ARCs. I also want to start on Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen).

And then there’s also What Makes This Book So Great (Jo Walton), which I will be buying in the morning. (Not now, I don’t need another excuse to procrastinate and get distra

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