Review – Strange Practice

Posted 14 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Strange Practice by Vivian ShawStrange Practice, Vivian Shaw

If you’re looking at the cover and expecting some sort of Victoriana setting, that’s actually misleading. It’s set in modern London, and modern technology actually plays a significant role in all of this. It’s also utilised sensibly in that people pick up the phone and call each other rather than running around helplessly after being attacked — the characters do get separated at times, but not in situations where just pick up your phone would be the answer, something I find irritating in some urban fantasy when it isn’t dealt with.

So the plot: Dr Greta Helsing is the heir to a medical practice for supernatural creatures, treating everything from decaying limbs for mummies to sore throats in Banshees. There’s a whole community of supernatural creatures living among humans, and Greta happens to be one of the people they’d consider allies. Surprise, surprise, someone doesn’t like that, and so she gets entangled in a larger plot against supernatural creatures of all sorts.

I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed her drive to help people, and I enjoyed the characters around her — including Lord Ruthven and Varney the Vampyre, a demon who is not actually evil, ghouls who might have odd eating habits but are really pretty harmless… I enjoyed the group dynamics, too. In the end, I just had fun reading it, and immediately wanted the sequel (which isn’t out yet, alas). It was a lot of fun, from the concept (the monsters’ doctor) to the characters (Ruthven in particular) to the epic note during the ending (featuring a particularly important mythological character).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Horns of Ruin

Posted 13 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Horns of Ruin by Tim AkersThe Horns of Ruin, Tim Akers

The Horns of Ruin is a fun, rather frenetic steampunk adventure with a very kickass heroine. There’s a lot of fascinating ideas in the world-building — the gods and the way divinity works, the invocations which are based on stories about the divinities, the interplay between the three gods… It feels like a piece of a larger world, maybe a tie-in for a game. Eva refers to her spells as buffs at one point, even!

This doesn’t always lead to the best storytelling, and it is a very linear plot which just features Eva bashing heads in, then briefly recuperating before going off to do it again. But it has its charms, and I enjoyed the ride.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 13 December, 2017 by Nikki in General / 2 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 The Power of Babel by John McWhorterThe Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, by John McWhorter, for a challenge. It surprises me how much of this I actually know or already believed to be true; I though I didn’t really know that much about language formation. It is a little boring when it goes into examples, because without being able to pronounce them they just sort of wash over my head, but I expect other people would quite like it. Especially all the pop culture!

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodEverything felt pretty terrible, so I reread the next Phryne book in the series, Murder in Montparnasse. It has some pretty heavy themes, of course — domestic violence and cold-blooded murder — but I still find something about the books so soothing.

What will you read next?

Cover of Cibola Burn by James S.A. CoreyAs a reward for doing a ton of adult and sensible things, I’m letting myself read whatever I want through to the end of the year. That said, I’m pretty sure my wife would like me to hurry up and get started on James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn, so that might be the next thing. Also, I have some novellas I should really get round to reading for review: The Sisters of the Crescent Empress, Prime Meridian, a couple of others.

What are you reading?

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Review – What On Earth Evolved… In Brief

Posted 12 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of What On Earth Evolved?What on Earth Evolved… in Brief, Christopher Lloyd

It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. To a biologist, the choices of species aren’t particularly surprising, though I might perhaps have included fewer animals and more bacteria and plants. Even though this is a cut-down version of the full book, it’s still pretty exhaustive (and at times a bit exhausting). It’s full of interesting titbits, but nothing at great length, and a large portion of the back is taken up by charts attempting to put things into some sort of ranking as to how much it has affected the world. The focus is very much with Lloyd’s subtitle, “100 Species That Have Changed the World”.

Easy enough to read, though perhaps one you might prefer to dip in and out of than just read straight through.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Stars Are Legion

Posted 11 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Stars Are Legion by Kameron HurleyThe Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley

Hurley is an amazingly inventive author; there’s no doubt about that. Each of the worlds she creates is full of fascinating detail: in this book, it’s the living worlds and all their layers, the different environments that Zan travels through in the course of the book, the living or semi-living technology they use. The details are, well, visceral — which is a bad match for the squeamish. Surprise! That includes me. The sensory aspects of this book just had me constantly wincing, not wanting to even try imagining them.

It doesn’t help for me that the characters are not entirely likeable, and their endgame is necessarily a secret from Zan (which leaves the reader figuring things out at the same pace). Terrible actions for a goal I can support, I can get past — when characters just do terrible things and interact with terrible people and I’m not sure if the goal is worth it, even to them… Well, it’s difficult for me.

I think Hurley is a great writer with a lot of intriguing ideas, but I prefer her non-fiction essays and commentaries. It’s not her, it’s me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Swordspoint

Posted 10 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Swordspoint by Ellen KushnerSwordspoint, Ellen Kushner

Back when I first read Swordspoint, I wasn’t totally won over. Something about the sting in the romance really didn’t work for me — I wanted Alec and Richard to be a lot easier to categorise, their love to have less sharp edges. But going into it for this reread knowing that’s the way it is, I actually enjoyed it all quite a lot: the back and forth of banter, the trading of barbs, the politicking and, yeah, the bond between Richard and Alec, and what it will drive them both to. Swordspoint does have sharp edges, and the love story is not as saccharine as some might wish (including teenage Bibliophibians), but in reality it works really well.

Perhaps it’s best not to think too much about how sustainable the political system described would be, with the use of swordsmen to outsource arguments. I just enjoyed Swordspoint for the melodrama of manners that it is, and thrilled along with Alec to Richard’s skill and ferocity as a swordsman.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Abaddon’s Gate

Posted 9 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. CoreyAbaddon’s Gate, James S.A. Corey

If you’ve enjoyed the books up to this point, then this is more of the same — and I mean that in the good way. If you’ve been numbed by scientific inaccuracies and maddened by stupid things the characters do, then you’re not going to want to continue, because this very much continues in the same vein as the previous books. I find it enjoyable; it’s brain candy, but there’s a place for that on my shelves.

There is an element of sameness about these books in the way that it focuses on Holden and co, and therefore Holden never quite learns and he always somehow gets into trouble, dragging his crew with him. It is nice that the narrative is aware of this, though, and his crew call him out — and he’s forced to remember that he’s not in fact all that important by the events of the book. Still. Sometimes Holden gets a little too much for me, much as I love his crew.

It remains an entertaining mindfuck if you’ve enjoyed what Corey’s done so far. It widens up the world and brings in more sci-fi elements — not just humanity expanding out of the solar system, but more signs of what might be encroaching from outside. I’m still intrigued.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 9 December, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning, folks! It hasn’t been the greatest week for me, since a scammer of some sort took over my Ebay account and spent most of my money. But I’ve tried to keep my mood up by finally spending a couple of Amazon vouchers I’d been saving, and reading whatever I felt like instead of sticking to a firm rule.

Books bought:

Cover of Maps to Nowhere by Marie Brennan Cover of The Terracotta Army by John Man Cover of Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Cassen

A bit of a random assemblage, I know!

Books read this week:

Cover of Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen Cover of Suspicious Minds by Rob Brotherton Cover of Three Stones Make a Wall by Eric H. Cline Cover of The Statues That Walked by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo Cover of Dark Sky by Mike Brooks

Four stars: Herding Cats, Suspicious Minds, Three Stones Make A Wall, The Statues that Walked.
Three stars: Dark Sky.

Reviews posted this week:

Camelot’s Sword, by Sarah Zettel. Not my favourite of the series, but still a great trip into the Arthurian world. 4/5 stars
The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. There were aspects of this that were really strong, but sometimes the style of the narration just got on my nerves and was way too dry. 3/5 stars
The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. A good casual read, but I felt it was very much pitched at the layperson and that sometimes Wohlleben was a little overenthusiastic about how he interpreted facts. 3/5 stars
The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan. I really just wanted more from this — the world just felt bland and one-dimensional. 3/5 stars
The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams. A reread for me, and one which I found surprising in a few ways — sometimes in how frustrated I was with the characters, sometimes in how the plot went because I really didn’t remember it! Overall, still solid epic fantasy, though. 4/5 stars
Cleopatra’s Heir, by Gillian Bradshaw. A fascinating version of Egypt just after Cleopatra’s death, and an interesting character study of a historical figure we don’t know much about. 4/5 stars
Castles: Their History and Evolution in Medieval Britain, by Marc Morris. Highly enjoyable, and informative without being exhaustive. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The latest and greatest on my TBR list this week.

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Review – Castles: Their History and Evolution in Medieval Britain

Posted 8 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Castles by Marc MorrisCastles: Their History and Evolution in Medieval Britain, Marc Morris

If you’re fascinated by castles, then I definitely recommend this book. It’s not just a dry recounting of what castle was built when, but an examination of why castles were built and what they were used for, and what they say about the people who built them. There are some gorgeous photos and ideas for places to visit, but it’s not intended as an exhaustive guide — it focuses on a couple of example castles, rather than talking about every single significant or interesting castle in Britain.

Even better, Morris keeps the tone light, knowing just when to comment wryly or appreciatively about the people and ideas he’s writing about. It’s not just an interesting read in terms of the information given, but an entertaining one too.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Cleopatra’s Heir

Posted 7 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Cleopatra's Heir by Gillian BradshawCleopatra’s Heir, Gillian Bradshaw

Bradshaw always writes strong historical fiction that reminds me a little bit of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work, and Cleopatra’s Heir is no exception. She takes the little that is known about Cleopatra’s son, Caesarion, and plays with it — what if he survives? What if he really is Caesar’s son? And if he is, what if he’s also epileptic, as Julius Caesar was known to be? She writes about genuine medical treatments of epilepsy, and the way people generally saw it. Some of her characters are perhaps a little too good to be true in their understanding of it, and especially in how well they deal with Caesarion’s arrogance… but people like that do exist, and without that family, the story wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying.

It’s an interesting what-if, and it’s also an absorbing story. It explores what it might be like to be Cleopatra’s son, and what it might be like to survive the fall of your dynasty. And it explores what it might be like to go from being Caesar’s son to being nobody, to having to rely on your own wits and knowledge for once. Of course, for the story to be interesting, it’s no surprise that Caesarion has those skills and learns to use them, but it’s still a satisfying arc.

I’m not sure I’m convinced by the Octavian we see here. He was perfectly capable of being ruthless, and I don’t think he’d have let sentiment get in his way. Even if he pitied someone, my impression is that he wouldn’t have taken a risk on them being faithful to a promise made when killing them would be so much safer.

Still. That wouldn’t be as satisfying for an ending, and Bradshaw definitely knows how to balance faithfulness to history and historical personages, and an entertaining story.

Rating: 4/5

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