Review – The Viral Storm

Posted 21 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Viral StormThe Viral Storm, Nathan Wolfe

If you’re already familiar with pop science books about diseases, this isn’t really going to surprise you any. It’s competently written, though at times the statistics are a little off (as another reviewer pointed out). I don’t agree that he’s too unduly alarmist, though; our current environmental and social conditions are just about perfect for a pandemic (viral or otherwise) to sweep through the world’s population. If you doubt it, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry should disabuse you of that notion, rapidly. And our world is more interconnected now, not less.

I hoped that this might be a little more in depth, given Wolfe being a biologist and all, but there’s nothing that really elevates it above other pop science books available. It’s honestly rather forgettable.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dark Sky

Posted 20 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dark Sky by Mike BrooksDark Sky, Mike Brooks

In the first book, sometimes I found myself doubting that the Firefly references were intentional because they just felt misplaced (“I am a leaf on the wind”… during a successful flight?! why would you do that to me?!). In this book, the references just… I don’t know it couldn’t be heavily inspired by Firefly, when there’s a scene in which one character wonders if “bi zui” (shut up) is the only Mandarin the captain knows. Hmmm… sounds so familiar… And if this is like Firefly, I think I know exactly what the next book is going to be like based on a tiny scrap of the summary. Two words (well, a name): Adelai Niska.

It’s not a bad thing that it’s reminiscent of Firefly, but it can be distracting. Still, it has a lot of features which aren’t like Firefly, like the Maori bruiser Apirana (who would actually prefer not to beat people up for a living). There’s sweet relationships between various members of the crew, and everything trucks along fast enough to keep me interested. It’s derivative, yeah, but it’s entertaining, and I’m along for at least one more book.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 20 December, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 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 Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyActually, I’m not in the middle of anything at all, except Kushiel’s Dart, which I’ve been persistently not feeling like reading. Too much terrible stuff happens to Phèdre and Joscelin, and I’m just not in the mood for their world right now. Hopefully I’ll get it back soon…? I am 50% of the way through, so I don’t want to just stop, though of course it’s a reread so I know what happens.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Priam's Gold by Caroline MoorheadI’ve just finished Priam’s Gold, by Caroline Moorehead. It’s about Heinrich Schliemann, the man who excavated at Troy to prove that Homer’s epics were referring to real historical events. It’s partly a biography of Schliemann, but it does also trace his whole archaeological career and the later movements of the treasure he found. That means there’s a couple of chapters on WWII and the way both sides looted art.

Other than that, I just read Winterwood, by Dorothy Eden. It’s a Gothic-ish mystery/romance, sort of in the vein of Mary Stewart’s work, and it actually gave me a couple of surprises…

What will you read next?

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellI don’t know. I honestly feel like some very familiar rereads — Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, maybe, or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cat Valente. Maybe even some Mary Stewart, though I’ve been spacing out those rereads a bit. It is the time of year to snuggle down and be cosy around here, after all…

And what about you, o gentle reader?

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Review – Herding Cats

Posted 19 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Herding Cats by Sarah AndersenHerding Cats, Sarah Andersen

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 27th March 2018

If you’ve read Sarah Andersen’s other books or seen her comics online, you know more or less what to expect from this book. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not a story, it’s just a bunch of cute strips by someone who is having a lot of fun and has some things to say — and that’s great. This book did change things up a bit by including a section on art and being online in this day and age; not bad or untrue, but I was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t more strips speaking for themselves (although the section is illustrated).

It’s a fun collection, and I still find myself saying “it me!” when I read Andersen’s strips about anxiety, introversion, etc. Not sure how much of this will be new if you’ve read the strips online, though — I read them only sporadically, and still recognised quite a few.

Rating: 4/5

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Project More Joy

Posted 18 December, 2017 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

I don’t know many bloggers who don’t want to grow their blogs, and I think we’ve all heard pretty much the same advice. Post regularly (but not too much), review new books (but don’t make it all ARCs that other people can’t get yet), review the stuff your readers are interested in (but don’t get too specialised), take part in memes and tags (but not too many)… It can get to be an obligation. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find myself picking my next book because “oh, it’s been a while since I reviewed a fantasy novel” or “everyone must be bored of non-fiction reviews, I should pick something else”.

And you know, the advice isn’t bad if you just want to grow your audience, maybe sell some books through affiliate links (not one so far from mine!), be a popular blogger with a ton of followers, get all the ARCs…

But I found myself looking at the books I’m hoping to get for Christmas and briefly thinking I’d like to reread the rest of the series… and then thinking, hm, no, I reread that earlier this year, nobody wants to see me review that again.

Wait, what? Who am I reading for? Why have I suddenly turned my hobby into a job? Why do I have to periodically keep having this realisation?

I don’t follow other people’s blogs because I necessarily want to read the books they do, or want them to review particular things. I follow other people’s blogs to share the joy of reading, and I don’t have to share their taste closely for that. And it’s valuable to me to know if someone whose taste I know has read a book five times in a year, because hey, that means it’s exceptional in some way! And while I don’t read much of certain genres or authors, if I see a blogger tearing through all the books by a certain author, first of all, I’m glad for them, and second, maybe it’s worth a try as a gateway into the genre. Enthusiasm is a real recommendation.

So here’s my endeavour for the year ahead: read the books I want to, not the books I think I should. Reread when I like. Don’t worry about varying my reviews or writing some deathless original prose about a book I’ve read five times now. I’m just going to share what I’ve enjoyed, and why I’ve enjoyed it, and if that’s neither useful or interesting to people, that’s fine. It turns out I’m not here for the audience, for the affiliate link sales, for the ARCs. I’m here to share how much I love reading.

(Not that that means things will necessarily change. I like doing Stacking the Shelves, commenting on other people’s posts, reading and reviewing books of all genres. I just might not worry too much at all about whether I’m posting too many non-fic reviews in a row or whether it’s excessive to read The Goblin Emperor again.)

Hence: Project More Joy. And to share a bit of joy around, here is Breakfast Bun hiding under a cabbage leaf.

Breakfast Bun under a large cabbage leaf almost as big as he is.

“Sssh, I’m a secret!”

Here’s hoping you’re all along for the wild, book-enjoying ride with me.

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Review – Locust

Posted 18 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Locust by Jeffrey LockwoodLocust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of The Insect That Shaped the American Frontier, Jeffrey A. Lockwood

Well, that title is a heck of a mouthful. I picked this as the next target for operation “be less scared of bugs by learning about them”, since locusts are not likely to be a problem where I am, but they’re just freaky enough (particularly in some of the accounts of locusts blotting out the sky) to make me a little bit uncomfortable. Less safe than bees, but further away.

In any case, Locust is a mostly interesting discussion of locusts and their impact on the North American frontier. People starved thanks to locusts, and the damage they caused is almost beyond imagining now — because they disappeared. The book follows the people who tried to predict locust movements, who tried to fight them, and who tried to find them again after their disappearance to solve the mystery of why. It gets a little long-winded at times, particularly where it goes into biographical details about people I frankly can’t be bothered to retain information about (important as I’m sure they were in their own lives), but there is a lot of interesting information as well.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Raven Stratagem

Posted 17 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeRaven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve been struggling to think of how to review this book, because it was a total whirlwind of stuff I really enjoyed, from the machinations of Cheris/Jedao to the characters to the countermeasures people try to employ. I really want to know more about the deeper plot between Jedao and a character who has mostly been conspicuous by their absence so far. I found it easier, this book, to concentrate on the plot and ignore the magical-science stuff surrounding the calendar, math, etc. I just took it as read and focused on the characters.

Perhaps it’s best I don’t try and say too much about it. It’s hard to describe, and all I can really say is that I enjoyed the characters (perhaps more so in this book than the last) and how things worked out. I enjoyed the twists of the narrative. And most of all, I stayed up all night to finish it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Zika: The Emerging Epidemic

Posted 16 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of ZIkaZika: The Emerging Epidemic, Donald G. McNeil

This isn’t written by a scientist studying Zika, but by a science reporter. Given that, it’s not terribly in depth about the disease itself, but rather provides something of an overview, written in an engaging and easy to read way. If you’re interested in learning the facts about Zika (at least as per the point when the book was sent to press), this is a good choice to my mind. It’s sometimes a little reliant on anecdotes, because of course much of the in-depth research on Zika was (and is) yet to be completed. Obviously, he has an interest in making it sound interesting and more than a little horrifying, but broadly speaking I trusted the sources he used.

A number of people have given this book relatively low ratings because McNeil is a big proponent of the advice to delay planned pregnancies if you live in a Zika-infected area. It’s unfeminist, people say; it ignores the fact that some of these areas have a high risk for sexual assault, it ignores female choice, etc, etc. I don’t quite get it: the first instance, he refers to planned pregnancy, so it’s not like he’s saying “don’t get sexually assaulted”. In the latter, you can choose to have a baby when you’re at risk of contracting Zika if you like, but then you must know and accept that your child could die or be severely harmed by it. McNeil doesn’t say “pregnancy should be banned and people who get pregnant should not get healthcare”. He says, “If I wanted a healthy baby, and I was planning to become pregnant, I would wait until I was sure I wasn’t at risk for Zika.” Which is fairly easy, since as far as we can tell, once you’ve had Zika once, you’re immune and there would no longer be a risk. And of course, there’s the potential for vaccines and eradication, in the longer term.

There’s also a bit of criticism of people who get pregnant in Zika-affected areas and then don’t take precautions not to contract Zika. Which is fair: you can choose to do risky things, but why should anyone think it’s a good idea?

All in all, I don’t think McNeil is wrong (or anti-feminist). He’s giving solid advice backed up by what we know of Zika. I don’t believe it’s anti-feminist to point out that drinking alcohol when you’re trying to get pregnant is likely to harm the baby once you do conceive if you don’t realise it, and that you’re best just avoiding drinking alcohol if you want your baby to be healthy. This is a similar situation.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 16 December, 2017 by Nikki in General / 28 Comments

Hello everyone! It’s been a long week, but it’s better than last week. I have my money back from Paypal, for one… Busy week ahead too; I’ve got an assignment due, and me and my wife are travelling to the UK (from Belgium) to spend Christmas with my parents. So much to do!

Received to review

Cover of No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin Cover of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Yay, Ursula Le Guin! I didn’t really expect to be approved for this, so I’m happy. Must read it stat, of course. The other one sounded intriguing from the summary, so we’ll see how that goes…

Books read this week

Cover of Tutankhamen by Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt Cover of The Power of Babel by John McWhorter Cover of Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood

Not a very productive week, reading-wise! Oops. All of these get four stars, though!

Books reviewed this week:

Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey. If you’re enjoying the series at this point, this is more of the same… with some especially big implications towards the end. 4/5 stars
Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. Preferred this on rereading to how I felt about it as a teen — I think I expected more straightforward romance back then. But this time I just found it a delightful melodrama of manners, as advertised. 4/5 stars
The Stars are Legions, by Kameron Hurley. So. Weird. I think I prefer Hurley’s non-fiction, even though I think she’s very inventive and her writing is good. 3/5 stars
What On Earth Evolved… In Brief, by Christopher Lloyd. Interesting to dip into, though not terribly surprising for me. 3/5 stars
The Horns of Ruin, by Tim Akers. There’s some fun stuff going on with the worldbuilding, but it feels like reading an action videogame — it’s all go! 3/5 stars
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. I didn’t see this around much, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I actually found it a lot of fun, and I’m excited for the next book. 4/5 stars
The Godless, by Ben Peek. I found the world really interesting, again, but I didn’t get into the characters or plot, somehow. I’m not sure I’ll bother reading the sequels. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The latest on my reading pile.

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Review – The Godless

Posted 15 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Godless by Ben PeekThe Godless, Ben Peek

This is another case where there’s some really cool world building, but I really didn’t get into the story/characters. It was interesting enough to follow them right to the end, and I did want to know more about some of the characters — okay, I admit it, particularly Zaifyr/Qian — and what brought them to where they are at the point of the story… but I’m not planning on reading more in the series. For me, characters are the major thing, and sometimes I felt like the narrative didn’t give enough time to their motivations and plans. Sometimes I just did not get what the connections between actions or scenes were; probably partly my fault, but also a feature of Peek’s style.

I wouldn’t say that I’d avoid Peek’s work in future, because there was a lot of interesting stuff in the world that he created. It’s just that it didn’t quite cater to my interests in terms of people to root for. That’s not always important for everyone, so if the idea of the dying gods and the power manifesting in individuals and the military campaign all appeal, I’d definitely recommend giving this a go.

Rating: 3/5

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