Review – The Planet in a Pebble

Posted 29 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Planet in a Pebble by Jan ZalasiewiczThe Planet in a Pebble, Jan Zalasiewicz

There are some authors who can make me feel enthusiastic about reading about geology — Richard Fortey being the obvious name that jumps to mind. Jan Zalasiewicz is not quite on that level, though I found the book interesting enough; sometimes it drags somewhat, but I think that somewhat comes with the subject. There are parts of a rock’s life cycle that aren’t exactly scintillating drama, if any part of the rock cycle could be called scintillating given the pace it happens at.

Probably not the first book I’d recommend for geology, but useful enough for understanding the rock cycle and the history of the Earth through rocks.

Rating: 3/5

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The cost of reading: books ARE expensive

Posted 28 September, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Apropos of a twitter conversation, here is some data on the assertion that “books aren’t expensive”. Folks, please remember this is relative. Books may appear cheap to you, but they may not to someone else, and this depends on at least three factors.

  • Cost of books where you are (including availability of second-hand books)
  • Your income
  • How much you read

This post is intended to offer you some data on how the amount you read can make books pretty darn expensive for you.

I keep stats on my reading. For every book I read, I add how much it cost me, and get totals per month, per quarter and per year. So I enter £7.99 for a new paperback, £3 for a book that I got second-hand, and £0.00 for an ARC or library book, etc, etc. Two-thirds of my reading material, probably, is stuff I’ve bought, while another third is library books, ARCs or stuff I’ve borrowed or am rereading (which I don’t count again). To make it clearer, here’s an example: my reading material in the first week of August, and how much it cost.

You can see that Babylon cost me £9.99, for instance; I bought that in the UK. Catching Breath cost me £21.15 — I bought that in Amsterdam, so that’s a direct conversion from euros done on the day I bought it. In the UK you can get it for £12.99, by the way. Hengeworld cost me £2.00, because I had a second-hand copy, and Acadie cost me nada because Tor sent me an e-galley (thank you, Tor!).

All clear?

Here’s the very rough guide to how much the books I read in a quarter have cost me: £300+. So you can basically call my reading speed £100+ worth of books per month, not counting anything I get for free (a significant portion of what I consume). That means that just to keep up with my own reading speed, I need to spend £100 or more per month on new books — I’m sure you can agree that that’s too much for many people’s budgets.

I barely need to point out, too, that while books are pretty affordable in Britain, often under £10… if you live in a non-English-speaking country you can pay twice that or more for a single book. Or that many people have tiny incomes which certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up with a reading speed like mine. And that libraries are great, but may not have great stocks of the books you want to read (sorry, Leuven library, but your English-language selection isn’t expanding fast enough to keep up with me).

This isn’t a justification for piracy. It’s just noting that books are actually expensive and a luxury for some people. Just because books are easy and cheap for you to obtain doesn’t mean that holds true for everyone. Stick to the stuff that’s indisputably true — piracy deprives authors of earnings.

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Review – Starlings

Posted 28 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Starlings by Jo WaltonStarlings, Jo Walton

Received to review via Tachyon; publication date 30th January 2018

It’s no secret that I love Jo Walton’s work, and I’d better add here that I’ve spent time with her as well — I’d call her a friend. Still, I knew her work first, and this is a fun collection. Jo may say she doesn’t know how to write short stories, but all the same everything here works pretty well. I only knew ‘Relentlessly Mundane’ and some of the poetry before, I think. It was nice to re-encounter the poetry here and spend some time with it — reading it online wasn’t the same at all. I hadn’t read the play, either, ‘Three Shouts on a Hill’; entertaining stuff.

My favourite of the short stories… hmm, possibly ‘Sleeper’, and I liked ‘What Joseph Felt’ a lot too.

Really, I never know quite how to review short story collections: suffice it to say that I enjoyed it, and I think it’s worth it, especially if you’re already a fan of Walton’s work. I’m glad I got to read it ahead of time.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Neanderthals Rediscovered

Posted 27 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthals Rediscovered by Dimitra PappagianiNeanderthals Rediscovered, Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse

For a book that promises to be all about Neanderthals and not so much about our ancestors, this didn’t totally deliver. The Neanderthals are compared to our (more direct) ancestors in pretty much every chapter, and not just where the two may have met and interacted. Nonetheless, it’s a good survey of what we currently know about Neanderthals thanks to work by people like Svante Pääbo who’ve taken it to the lab, and people who work in the field.

Honestly, it’s not as in-depth as I hoped, but it is an interesting subject and some of the photos in the full-colour plates are well worth a look — reconstructions, sites, skeletons, etc.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Ninefox Gambit

Posted 26 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha LeeNinefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

Received to review via the author and Netgalley; publication date 14th June 2016

I am so late to this one. I’m sorry, and especially sorry because when I finally picked it up, I read it in an evening and immediately formulated a plan to go and pick up the sequel at my earliest convenience or possibly earlier. I didn’t start out that well with it, because the talk of maths blindsided me; once I started treating it like magic, however, and therefore subject to rules I may not understand, I got really fascinated by the whole system. It does keep you on your toes, and often avoids spoonfeeding you the things you need to know, so if you’re looking for something to turn your brain off and settle into, this isn’t it.

However, I got totally caught up in the characters, too. Not so much because they’re likeable — I’m not sure they are — but because I wanted to know what made them tick, what was going to happen, and how they were going to achieve their goals — or indeed, what their actual goals were.

I don’t know how to say more about this without merely describing it or giving spoilers, but suffice it to say I enjoyed it a lot. There’s something of the feel of Ancillary Justice (and the sequels) about it, although in many respects it’s totally different.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Proust and the Squid

Posted 25 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Proust and the Squid by Maryanne WolfProust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf

Despite the exciting-sounding title, this is actually a book about the science of how we read. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I read it and the review I wrote then is one of the reviews that I seem to have lost in the ether, but I do remember finding it generally entertaining, though I wished at times there were more citations so I could go and read more about the things Wolf claims.

One thing I really want to look up is the results of the study into AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) and how it affects the acquisition of reading skills. It seems a little eyebrow-raising that there should be specific problems with AAVE and not with, say, the Yorkshire dialect in Britain — maybe that’s for lack of studying it, I don’t know. It just seems a little bit suspect when you consider the way people view users of AAVE as uneducated, and all those other racial stereotypes.

Some interesting stuff about dyslexia, though.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff

Posted 24 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher MooreLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christopher Moore

When I started reading this, I got really sucked in. I loved the idea, and I’m not opposed to making light of Jesus’ life — especially as despite Biff’s irreverence, Jesus (Joshua) comes across as a principled person doing his best to understand the world and what he’s here to do. I enjoyed Philip Pullman’s take on it, for example. I didn’t even mind the mild obsession with sex and bodies and all of that, because it makes sense that a young boy would wonder about those things and be caught up on those things and be a silly ass about those things.

But the longer it went on in that vein, the more tired of it I got. Yes, yes, women and sex, we get it; is that the best punchline you’ve got? Oh, you’ve got a fart joke too. That’s the entire basis of the humour, along with some anachronisms. It’d probably work as a short story, but at this length, I got very tired of it. I perked up a little when some female characters showed up who seemed intelligent, and then — oh. Sex again, plus making fun of Chinese names. Oh, she’s called “Tiny Feet of the Divine Dance of Joyous Orgasm”. And she’s called… “Pea Pods in Duck Sauce with Crispy Noodle”?

I hung on a little longer, but in the end, I didn’t finish this book. There are aspects about it I was curious about, but at 250 pages through, I sat back and thought about whether I wanted to invest more of my life in it.

No, I don’t.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Warrior Princess

Posted 23 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Warrior Princess by K.M. AshmanThe Warrior Princess, K.M. Ashman

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 22nd August 2017

I really appreciate that someone’s taken a bit of Welsh history and made a novel from it — there’s plenty of Welsh history to choose from, but apart from books based on the lives of some of the Tudors, I can’t think of many other books that really touch on it. While I knew about Nest ferch Rhys (Nesta, here; I believe that’s a popular version of her name which maybe sounds better to the English-speaking ear), I didn’t know anything about Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, for whatever reason, so if nothing else I’m grateful to this book for drawing her to my attention!

The style is a little disappointing, though; I found it rather wooden at times, even with the author’s attempts to vary the vocabulary by varying the inquits (asked, sighed, etc). The pacing was quite slow, too, and I felt at times like I was having the information dumped on me, rather than introduced organically. If you enjoy the author’s writing style, it’s likely you’ll enjoy this as well; it’s probably a personal taste thing as much as anything.

I did appreciate the historical note at the end — always good to get a bit of the background, so you know where to research if you’re interested.

Rating: 2/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 23 September, 2017 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

Good morning, folks! Here’s the second part of the great Calgary book haul, featuring all the fantasy books I got! Plus some more review copies, of course.


Cover of Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Cover of A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter Cover of Everfair by Nisi Shawl Cover of The Tower of Beowulf by Parke Godwin

Cover of The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish Cover of American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett Cover of The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky Cover of The Innamorati by Midori Snyder

Cover of Nobody's Son by Sean Stewart Cover of I Am Morgan Le Fay by Nancy Springer Cover of Warrior and Witch by Marie Brennan Cover of The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power

Cover of The Painter Knight by Fiona Patton Cover of The Granite Shield by Fiona Patton Cover of Devil's Call by J. Danielle Dorn

Quite a few from my backlog of wishlist, there! Looks like it’s gonna be fun.

Received to review:

Cover of Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden Cover of Ironclads by Adrian Tchiakovsky Cover of Weaver's Lament by Emma Newman Cover of A Long Day In Lychford by Paul Cornell

Cover of A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright Cover of Nanoshock by K.C. Alexander Cover of Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

I’ve been meaning to read Annie On My Mind forever, so yay for getting that. Well, yay to all of them (and thank you to the publishers/publicists).

Read this week:

Cover of The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera Cover of Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig Cover of Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

It hasn’t been a reading week, really, as you can see — I’ve been focusing on replaying Final Fantasy VIII with my wife, which is a different sort of fun!

Reviews posted this week:

Harkworth Hall, by L.S. Johnson. I have a couple of minor quibbles, but I was pretty hooked all the same. 4/5 stars
The Deeper Genome, by John Parrington. It starts off simple, but it does start delving into stuff I wasn’t very familiar with. Definitely worth reading. 4/5 stars
The Ghoul King, by Guy Haley. Quinn intrigues me, even though he isn’t outwardly the best person. I need moooore. 4/5 stars
The Button Box, by Lynn Knight. A lovely survey of women’s fashion through the medium of the family button box. 4/5 stars
Defy, by Sara B. Larson. The main character is a girl disguised as a boy. Everyone seems to know her secret, though. Meh. 2/5 stars
The Emerald Planet, by David Beerling. I didn’t expect to love this, but I really did — it’s fascinating stuff. 5/5 stars
Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. This is a reread, and I’m relieved that I still loved it. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. What I’m reading right now (or as of Wednesday, anyway).

How’s everyone?

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Review – Assassin’s Apprentice

Posted 22 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin HobbAssassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb

It was a little odd rereading this, because it’s been quite a while since I read these books, and yet they’re still so very familiar! I know every beat, and I think I could practically recite some of Fitz’s monologues. It’s still a great book, though the familiarity perhaps spoils things a little bit — I know exactly where things are going, and how stupid Fitz is being about x, y and z. I always had the urge to reach into the book and shake him, and I definitely had that now. Especially, perhaps, because last time I read it I was a teenager, like Fitz, and now I am an adult and oh my goodness, Fitz, don’t be an idiot.

I love the characters so much, particularly Verity. I can’t imagine why people would ever have preferred Chivalry, because from the sound of it, he was just too perfect. In contrast, Verity is blunt, sometimes unthinking, but he’s so dedicated to his people. He’d sacrifice anything, and he also cares for the small people — including Fitz, whom others consider a liability or a worthwhile thing to sacrifice.

I find Burrich frustrating, because his opposition to certain things is just based on superstition, as far as it appears to Fitz — he expects Fitz to obey him without ever explaining why. Of course, we’re meant to feel that way, ’cause he’s a stubborn ass, but I still find him frustrating.

I’m looking forward to rereading the rest of the trilogy. Except for that bit — Hobb is all too good at making her characters suffer.

Rating: 4/5

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