Review – A Matter of Oaths

Posted 3 April, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. WrightA Matter of Oaths, Helen S. Wright

Throughout reading this, there were basically two major thoughts in my mind: one, why didn’t I read this sooner? And two: fans of Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers are probably the ideal audience (and maybe fans of Yoon Ha Lee, as well). And hurrah! It’s been republished recently, so it’s out there and ready to be picked up by just those people. I can’t quite put my finger on all of the things that reminded me of those authors, but nonetheless, remind me it did (without them being in any way derivative — that’s not what I’m saying).

Worldbuilding? Got it in spades. A unique way of interfacing between ship and crew, two warring empires, a mystery plot that turns out to reflect on the politics quite significantly, overt and perfectly matter of fact queerness… I loved the characters, even though they have their flaws (and I think I’d have liked to see more of Vidar, who kept fading in and out). I loved the way things came together, one question raising other questions while answering things you wouldn’t expect it to answer. And I read it really fast, too: I’d look up and I’d be 50 pages down the line with no real sense of time having passed.

And the ending. So much potential, without the need for more but just… telling you that more is there: the world goes on after you’ve left, as it began before you arrived. I’d love more time with Rafe and Joshim and Rallya; I’ll probably eventually reread this to get that. But the ending in itself is satisfactory and doesn’t, to my mind, leave anything hanging in a bad way.

I’m trying to think if I have criticisms, and really, I don’t. What the hey: I’m going for five stars here.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Murder in the Museum

Posted 2 April, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder in the Museum by John RowlandMurder in the Museum, John Rowland

I’ll admit that I was hoping for more of the Museum atmosphere from this, and that I was a little sad that the academic rivalry subplot peters out. But it’s still entertaining: nothing too solid, fairly stereotyped cast of characters for a Golden Age crime novel, quick to read… I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary (and indeed, don’t remember Martin Edwards mentioning this author at all in The Golden Age of Murder, which talked about some of the more interesting members of the Golden Age crime fiction movement and particularly the Detection Club), but this was the sort of undemanding, mild fun I imagined. Despite involving murder, it’s pretty darn cosy. The only uncomfortable bit is the abduction of the female character.

So not an enormously high rating, but it deserves at least a three. I had fun. Not recommended if you don’t like Golden Age tropes, though!

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 31 March, 2018 by Nikki in General / 24 Comments

So my excuse for last week was that I’d been good for ages. My excuse this week is… um… look, I’ve been restrained all year, now it’s breaking out. I can’t help it. I’m in the UK with books easily accessible to buy, I know I’m going away again until my exams, so I have to make the most of the opportunity.

Speaking of being in the UK, though, I’m still away from my buns so here’s a couple of pics of them being adorable that my wife sent.

Photo of Hulk and Breakfast booping noses through the pen Picture of Hulk sitting up and cleaning her face

Review copies

Cover of The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp Cover of Void Black Shadow by Corey J. White

Because Tor are so good to me. <3


Cover of Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton Cover of Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft Cover of The Rift by Nina Allan Cover of Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Cover of Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell Cover of A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows Cover of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate Cover of The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley Cover of Murder in the Museum by John Rowland

Quite a mixture, as ever, though perhaps not as mixed as I’d like — I was tempted by more non-fiction, but it didn’t exactly fit into the budget.

Books read this week:

Cover of Built on Bodies by Brenna Hasset Cover of The Genius of Birds

Not much read, I know. Failboat.

Reviews posted this week:

The Terracotta Army, by John Man. Pretty clear and accessible history about something I knew sadly little about. Particularly fascinating on the politics around the Terracotta Army, both ancient and modern. 3/5 stars
The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Fascinatingly written, if not quite as good or as expert as Mukherjee’s other book. 4/5 stars
The Mummy Congress, by Heather Pringle. The kind of archaeology book I love — wide-ranging and totally absorbing. 4/5 stars
Built on Bones, by Brenna Hassett. A good history of the development of the city, told through bioarchaeology. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday: The weekly update.

How’s everyone doing? Plenty of books, or going through a dry spell? Getting reading done, or way too stressed?

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Review – Built on Bones

Posted 29 March, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Built on Bodies by Brenna HassetBuilt on Bones, Brenna Hassett

This is one of the Bloomsbury Sigma titles, so it’s fairly light-hearted, accessibly written, and not too heavy on the scientific footnotes (though there’s a lot of joking ones), but trustworthy enough that I found it fascinating. Hassett discusses mostly bioarchaeology and what it has to say about that great human endeavour: city life. A lot of people are very critical about city living and its suitability for humanity, but Hassett’s mostly pretty positive about it (after the initial transition period, at least).

And surprise! There’s also a lot about disease, making it super relevant to me in my interest in zoonotic diseases especially. A whole section on leprosy and TB! It’s like it was written for me.

A fun and informative read, definitely good popular science/archaeology, if that interests you.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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WWW Wednesday

Posted 28 March, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. WrightUh, I’ve kind of got too many books on the go again: An Accident of Stars (Foz Meadows), A Matter of Oaths (Helen Wright), Evolution in Four Dimensions (Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb) and also Daphne du Maurier (Margaret Forster). At… least it’s a balance of fiction and non-fiction? I didn’t actually mean to pick up A Matter of Oaths yet; it just sort of happened.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Built on Bodies by Brenna HassetBuilt on Bones, by Brenda Hassett. It’s one of the Bloomsbury Sigma books, so predictably enjoyable and fairly light, while still being informative about a lot of things — in this case, mostly bioarchaeology and what human remains tell us about urban life and how it developed (and whether or not it’s good for us).

What will you be reading next?

Cover of Exiled from Camelot by Cherith BaldryI’m playing Book Bingo, actually, so my next title strategically will probably be my reread of Exiled from Camelot (Cherith Baldry). I haven’t read it since I wrote part of my dissertation on it! If I don’t go for that, it’ll probably be The Genius of Birds (Jennifer Ackerman).

How’s everyone? What’re you reading? I’m behind on comments due to a new client and travel. I’ll be trying to get to all of that today!

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Review – The Mummy Congress

Posted 27 March, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Mummy Congress by Heather PringleThe Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle

Mummies are always fascinating to me, at least in non-fiction, and this book was especially so because it covers a lot of ground, from Inca child sacrifices to Stalin to ancient bog bodies. It’s the kind of book I love, with something new (but related) in each chapter, introducing new sites and concepts I wasn’t aware of without going into any one thing exhaustively. I found myself googling for images to match the text.

The only thing I would really criticise is the hyperbolic breathlessness about how some of these mummies “look as if they were alive” or “wouldn’t look out of place on the street”. No, the preservation is amazing, but I have yet to see a mummy that is truly so immaculately preserved that it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb trying to walk around the streets. The faces are sunken, the jaws and teeth and cheekbones too prominent, etc, etc. They’re obviously dead. I find I have more respect for them while recognising that they’re dead than trying to pretend that they look just as they did when alive. They don’t.

There’s an amazing amount to be learned from some of these bodies, and Pringle does a great job of showing some of the breadth of what’s out there and what questions we need to ask.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Gene

Posted 26 March, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Gene by Siddhartha MukkherjeeThe Gene: An Intimate History, Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Gene isn’t quite as great as The Emperor of All Maladies: the fact that this isn’t as much Mukherjee’s forte definitely shows, and there’s a couple of points of fact I’d quibble about. For the most part, though, it’s a really great discussion of genetics and the way they actually affect people, tracing a history of mental illness in Mukherjee’s own family as an example. I know this field pretty darn well by this point, and this is far from the first book I’ve read about genetics, but Mukherjee is a good writer, making it all seem fresh and worth reading even when it’s stuff I know backwards and forwards, and probably inside out too.

If you’re curious about genetics, about what genetics can do for us, and about how exactly things like recessive genes and pleiotropy work, this is a good choice. It’s not for experts, but it’s still a pleasant read even if you do know the topic already.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Terracotta Army

Posted 25 March, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Terracotta Army by John ManThe Terracotta Army, John Man

The Terracotta Army is great popular history: atmospheric, easy to read, almost a travel guide to seeing the Army in the modern world as well as to understanding its context and how it came to be. Man writes engagingly about the politics that informed the creation of the Terracotta Army and how it was seen, and about the politics which informed the revelation of the Army and the way it is now viewed in the world. He makes a lot of smart points, and though I don’t know the history of the period or the area well enough to judge whether he’s right in his analyses, it seemed convincing to me.

I’m definitely thinking of picking up more of Man’s work; this wasn’t unputdownable, but it was definitely easy to just keep reading instead of finishing a chapter, putting it down, and going to sleep. He brings the events and politics to life very clearly. It doesn’t feel greatly in depth, but it’s entertaining and informative.

Rating: 3/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 24 March, 2018 by Nikki in General / 24 Comments

Well, I’ve been too good to be true lately with my reasonably small hauls, so here’s a nice big one! Granted, this includes some books that were sent to my parents’ place over the last couple of months that I’ve only just picked up, but it’s still… well… a little unwieldy.

I’ll start off with the review copies and stuff from subscription boxes… although first you get a bunny picture because I’m away from my precious idiots. (Hulk update: this week she ate a rubber band. It has not yet reappeared. Breakfast update: he only needs meds in the morning now, and he’s very pleased by this.)

Hulk and Breakfast snuggle together under our duvet

Review copies and subscription boxes:

Cover of The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green Cover of The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton Cover of The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

Cover of Fury of the Tomb by S.A. Sidor Cover of Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

An odd mix, perhaps! Looking forward to some of these a lot, though. Fury from the Tomb in particular sounds like a lot of pulpy fun.

Books bought:

Cover of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz Cover of Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear Cover of The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang Cover of They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera

Cover of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton Cover of Witcheskin by Nem Rowan Cover of The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude Cover of Murder in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft

Cover of An Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh Cover of Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith Cover of Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R.Lorac Cover of Catullus' Bedspread by Daisy Dunn

Again, quite the mixture, I know! I’ve been curious about the British Library Crime Classics for a while, and especially since reading Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder. I don’t expect to be blown away by most of them, but they’ll be entertaining and unlikely to be horribly traumatising (sorry, modern crime fiction lovers — Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen’s works turn my stomach).

Read this week:

Cover of Ironclads by Adrian Tchiakovsky Cover of A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe Cover of Masquerade by Laura Lam Cover of Sum by David Eagleman

I haven’t read the most ever this week, but I did enjoy these books and read all of them in one or two sittings each! So that’s something.

Reviewed this week:

Ironclads, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Fairly good adventure story with an anxiety-making (or anxiety-reflecting, maybe) Brexity corporate background. I didn’t love it, but I found it entertaining. 3/5 stars
A Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe. Fascinating background, but the execution is basically pretty typical noir. The more I think about it, the less I think of it. 3/5 stars
Experiment Eleven, by Peter Pringle. This had much less about TB than I’d hoped, but it is a rather interesting examination of two scientists and their intellectual property battle over the antibiotic streptomycin. 3/5 stars
Masquerade, by Laura Lam. Yaaaaas. Micah is awesome, the supporting characters continue to be awesome, and there’s an epic showdown. Only quibble is that some of the political aspects feel too easy. 4/5 stars
Sum, by David Eagleman. Interesting collection of short stories based around a single theme. They got a bit repetitive, but there are some really good bits too. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW WednesdayMy usual weekly update on what I’m reading, what I’ve just read, and what I might read next.

How’s everyone doing? Brought in a massive haul this week, or practising restraint? Lemme know in the comments!

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Review – Sum

Posted 23 March, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sum by David EaglemanSum, David Eagleman

Sum is a slim book, just 100 pages long, with 40 different views of what the afterlife might be like. Some of them feel too glib and flippant for me (though no doubt the same stories would make others smile), but there are some that are really inventive, bittersweet and clever, and some that just have really good lines. Like this one:

There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

Yow. That’s just true in a sad way: the only afterlife everyone can be sure of is when people speak of them once they’re gone. There’s definitely poignancy in the idea of waiting for that last time your name is spoken before you move on.

I found some of the stories a little too similar in tone or basic idea, but it’s still a creative collection.

Rating: 4/5

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