Review – Extraordinary Insects

Posted 4 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-ThygesonExtraordinary Insects, Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

I am not, as most people know, a fan of insects. In fact, there was a time not long ago when the mere thought of insects practically made me hyperventilate, and I’d still appreciate if they could keep their creepy little feet well away from me. But there’s always a world of things to know, and actual knowledge helps to replace instinctive fear, so I’ve been reading around somewhat, now and then, just as I did with deadly diseases. It’s kind of helping.

Anyway, Extraordinary Insects has some interesting titbits, it’s true. A lot wasn’t surprising to me — I have a biology degree, I think we can take it as read that I can grasp taxonomy — but there were some interesting facts. It was just… kind of thin, in the end; there were a couple of eyebrow-raising points where I quibbled with the facts as presented*, but the most part it was just a moderately entertaining, quick read, suitable for a layperson but not for anyone looking for depth. (Which is a big ask from popular science, perhaps, but I know plenty of popular science books that have been satisfying to me!)

(*For example, she claimed that binomial species names are always, invariably, in Latin. They are not. Many contain Greek as well, not to mention those that contain names.)

So in the end, fairly ambivalent. Meh.

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 3 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 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.

Cover of The Just City by Jo WaltonWhat are you currently reading?

I’m getting stuck into a reread of The Just City! I never got round to reading the third book, and then I felt I’d better remind myself of all the details, so here I am. I do enjoy the way Simmea throws herself into her new life and makes it sound so wonderful, while we do see the gaps from the other points of view. Also it is weird reading this and knowing a character or two from Lent (and again, yes, I keep saying it, from Assassin’s Creed).

What have you recently finished reading?

I spent today (Tuesday, when I’m scheduling this post) finishing off Angela Saini’s Superior. It’s an interesting history of race science, but I’m not entirely sure I’d call it pop-science myself, though it seems to be being categorised there. I don’t feel like it gave me a good handle on the actual data presented by race scientists, or why it’s wrong other than It Just Is and some generalities. Granted, I haven’t looked at the original work at all yet — there is definitely science you can critique by saying it just does not work that way.

Cover of The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew WilliamsWhat will you be reading next?

Not sure! I should make a start on The Stars Now Unclaimed, as that’s a book club read. Admittedly I’ve peeked into it and read a handful of chapters already, but I’m really not far in. Not even enough to understand what I’m getting into, really!

What are you currently reading?

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Review – A Natural History of Dragons

Posted 2 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

I thought I’d read this more recently, but apparently not since 2016? It’s surprising how fresh it all stayed in my mind, really! This is one of my favourite series, I think, and there’s so many reasons why.

Reason one: Isabella. She’s far from perfect as a person — she’s prone to speaking before she thinks, thinking badly of people, thinking herself above people — but she also grows throughout the books (learning that her colonialist assumptions are just that, for instance). From the start, she has a thirst for knowledge, and a commitment to science; to finding out the truth and sharing it, while doing her best to be ethical and deal fairly with the people she meets.

Reason two: the science. It’s dragons, but it’s also a Victorian naturalist going through proper scientific process. Making a hypothesis and testing it. In this book in particular, I laughed because she called out bad statistical analysis in her younger self, pointing out that the cry that “it can’t be coincidence!” is really… not how science is done, and it could be coincidence.

Reason three: the dragons, of course.

There are other reasons to love the series, though they mostly come in the later books. I do enjoy the romance between Jacob and Isabella; I think I’ve gained in appreciation for it since I first read the book. It feels necessary to shaping who Isabella is, what she believes, what she’s later able to do.

When I first read the book, I worried a little that it would set up a kind of pattern: Isabella goes to research dragons, stuff happens, she returns home to prepare to do it again. But it’s better than that: you can follow genuine scientific progress through the series, as Isabella slowly starts to piece things together, and there have been hints all along. It’s great. I do recommend these books so much.

Rating: 5/5

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A July TBR

Posted 1 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

How did I do with my June TBR? 10/10! Hurrah. So it seems like this idea is still working for me — and to be frank, between the Hugo nominees I still need to read and some agreements to catch up with particular series/authors, I’ve got quite a lot on my plate this month…

So here goes:

Cover of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyumi Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews Cover of The Cruel Prince by Holly Black Cover of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers Cover of Hild by Nicola Griffith

  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. I’ve been meaning to read this forever, and it’s on the Hugo ballot.
  • Magic Strikes, by Ilona Andrews. Always good to have something I know I’ll eat up in minutes on the list!
  • The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black. Was this really out just last year? (Oh, I see, just barely.) Anyway, it’s on the Hugo list, so I’m fitting it in at last! I seem to remember not always loving Holly Black’s books, but let’s give it a whirl.
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. I pounced on this when it was out in paperback, and then got busy. With the Hugos coming up, it’s time to dig back in!
  • Hild, by Nicola Griffith. I’ve, uh, had this half-read for a while. It’s time to finish up.
  • Forces of Nature, by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. I started this last week, and it sounds like a good way to get some non-fiction mixed in!
  • Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman. For the Lodestar Award voting!

Cover of Forces of Nature by Brian Cox  Cover of The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

  • Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland. I wasn’t actually sure if I was going to vote in the YA category of the Hugos, and then the library had this in. So it’s this book’s fault I have such a full menu this month.
  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. “Gah, finally” — my sister, probably.
  • The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I hear that the books are best judged together, so…
  • Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier. Yay! Finally I will get round to this!
  • Late Eclipses, by Seanan McGuire. It’s the next in the series, and I really don’t want to lose sight of the series I’m reading in between all the other lovely books I want to cram into my brain.
  • Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. For whatever reason I’ve forgotten, I promised to read this by August, so okay, here goes! I’ve tried starting it once before, but it didn’t really work for me at the time. I was busy, though.

Cover of Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier Cover of Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire Cover of Too Like The Lightning Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton

  • Superior, by Angela Saini. This is a book on race science I just picked up last week. I enjoyed Inferior, so here’s hoping this is as good.
  • The Just City, by Jo Walton. Technically I’ve promised to finish this whole trilogy, but I’ll start by rereading the first one!
  • The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton. Well, in for a penny…
  • Necessity, by Jo Walton. In for a pound. I haven’t actually read this one, but I’ll need to reread the first two before I can get to this one. My brain doesn’t hold the details, these days!
  • Lifelode, by Jo Walton. I loved this book, so I’m excited to revisit.
  • The Poison Song, by Jen Williams. I just finished The Bitter Twins and aaaah! Gotta know what happens.
  • The Stars Now Unclaimed, by Drew Williams. My Habitica book club pick for July, so it kinda has to go on my list.

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton Cover of Necessity by Jo Walton Cover of Lifelode by Jo Walton Cover of The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Should keep me busy, right?

N.B.: The original version of this to-read list had a book by a notorious racist who supported eugenics on it. I had no idea, and I’m sorry. I’ve swapped a different book in.

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Review – The Afterward

Posted 30 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Afterward by E. K. JohnsonThe Afterward, E.K. Johnston

When I read this, I more or less straightaway gave it to my sister. It’s light, sweet, and very easy to read — though it has some Moments, certainly. The basic premise is that it follows a group of knights, and one thief, who have returned from a fairly traditional fantasy quest. This is after everything’s gone down (mostly), and the story is shaped instead around the social conditions. For example, the fact that becoming a knight is so expensive that many knights get themselves set up and then have to go off and have an arranged marriage to pay for it all. Or the fact that after the end, there’s not much for a thief to do except go back to thieving.

It turns out, of course, that it wasn’t quite the end — there’s still something that needs doing. The thief Olsa ends up wrapped up in that, while the knight she fell in love with during the quest — Kalanthe — gets busy on that whole getting married thing. I’m going to say a spoiler now, so look away if you don’t want to hear it: there’s a happy ending. And that’s great, because we need lady knights and the lady thieves that love them and their happy endings, because gosh the world can be awful, and especially for ladies who love ladies.

There’s also other representation too, from the cover on down — a tutorial from one character to another in how best to deal with their tangled, tightly-curled hair, for example; a trans knight… If I recall rightly, there’s also an asexual character.

It’s a little piece of happy fluff, though there is a little bit of angst and longing in the middle, and a couple of genuinely painful and poignant moments. But mostly, it’s a feel-good book — not something Deep and Meaningful, except insofar as life and the bonds between people ever are Deep and Meaningful (which of course they are, but I’m digressing) — and I am so glad I got to give it to my sister.

(Who is not a teen anymore, of course, and I wish I could go back in time and give it to her as a teen, but I can’t. She can have it now, though.)

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 29 June, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Good morning folks! I’m super tired this week, so I’ve been kind of dragging behind a little on everything, but hey, here I am. How’s everyone been?

Read this week:

Cover of Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire Cover of Lent by Jo Walton

Reviews posted this week:

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. A reread of a book I used to adore! Still has a lot going for it, not least that end leaving everything open to the imagination. That’s also a frustration with it, at the exact same time. 4/5 stars
Valour & Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Kowal takes on a heist novel! Not my favourite, but it’s fun just to sit back and watch the versatility of this series. 4/5 stars
The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman. Decidedly meh. It felt so juvenile. 2/5 stars
Spineless, by Juli Berwald. Enjoyable pop-science with a touch of autobiography. Well, more than just a touch. 4/5 stars

Other posts:  

WWW Wednesday. The usual update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Poor little Pluto?‘ Is Pluto a good place to look for life? Well, at least the precursors to life, yes!

And now this post is written and ready to go out in the morning, I get to go and sleep.

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Review – Sunshine

Posted 28 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sunshine by Robin McKinleySunshine, Robin McKinley

This was one of my favourite books when I was in my mid-teens, and I was very curious to see how I found it this time. Sunshine is a fairly ordinary woman, or so it seems, working as a baker at her family’s cafe, ducking out on family night because she’s restless. It takes a while for the post-apocalyptic, alternative world to become fully apparent: this is a world of supernatural creatures, magic-users, wards, and cops who are out to stake vampires and deal with any threats from the Others. Part of that sinks in because Sunshine is very quickly kidnapped by vampires, of course, but the rest of it trickles through in a fairly organic way.

Kidnapped by vampires? Oh yes. At the very start of the book, Sunshine finds herself kidnapped and taken to an old abandoned house, near a ‘bad spot’, where a chained vampire waits. Of course, she expects to be dinner immediately — that’s what humans expect from vampires — but it doesn’t quite work that way, and she finds herself drawn into an odd alliance with a creature who should be a mortal enemy. It feels beautifully done — their odd reliance on each other, while they still don’t fully understand or perhaps trust each other.

And of course, Sunshine isn’t actually just a normal woman. Her magic is based on sunlight, and it’s been growing within her silently since she was a child. Her escape with the vampire Con is just the beginning.

I really enjoy that Sunshine isn’t very heroic. She’s scared and she wants to bury her head in the sand. Deeply. She wants to knead bread and bake cakes and feed people, mostly, and having to be a hero and hang out with vampires is an unfortunate roadblock. She doesn’t want to use her magic, though she fears not being able to. She’s not brave, she’s just doing what she has to, step by step. She could be all gungho and ready to slay, but we have plenty of women like that in fiction now. One who is a baker and also a reluctant badass is a little bit different.

There’s so much untold about this world, so much I’d love to know. Mel’s background. What happened during the wars. What happened before. What happened to Sunshine’s father, and Sunshine’s grandmother. More about the cops with whom Sunshine has a fragile alliance. More about other types of magic user, more about Yolande, more about what happens to Sunshine and to Con…

But at the same time, there’s something rather enjoyable about the fact that it’s a one-and-done (thus far). You can imagine so much for yourself, and you never have to be disappointed. There’s so much potential.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Valour & Vanity

Posted 27 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette KowalValour & Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal

Here Mary Robinette Kowal takes on yet another genre crossover. We’ve had the fantasy romance, the fantasy spy book, the fantasy revolution, all wrapped up in a historical analogue. Now we get the spy caper novel, as Jane and Vincent find themselves robbed on their way to Murano to work with the glassmakers there. The novel continues to explore their relationship, and the limits of their art and magic, while also bringing in some new characters, and another whole new backdrop. I love that Kowal had Byron only visiting on the days he visited in our history (according to records) — I love that eye for detail she brings for the world, like her Austen dictionary.

Valour & Vanity probably isn’t my favourite — actually, during the scam I get a little second-hand embarrassment for them being taken in. But as a chapter in the Vincents’ lives, it’s entertaining and pushes the historical fantasy a little further. What Kowal does in these books is clever, and always completely readable.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 26 June, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 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?

Actively, hm, I seem to have accidentally started Forces of Nature, by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. I’m finding it more interesting than the other book in this series, and I actually understood some physics, so yaaaay me. I enjoyed the micro to macro to micro again discussion of snowflakes quite a bit. Here’s hoping the rest of the book keeps it up!

Other than that, I’m also reading The 10,000 Year Explosion, which I just picked up last week. I’m not very far into it, though.

Cover of Lent by Jo WaltonWhat have you recently finished reading?

I liiiiterally just finished reading Lent, Jo Walton’s new book. I feel like I might need to read the last couple of sections again to really compass it, but it feels like it ended quite abruptly. (On the other hand, much more repetition could have been infuriating. Hence the reread of the last bit, though to let it settle in so I can actually decide.)

Before that, it was An Artificial Night, because one of these days I’ll get through all the Toby Daye books.

Cover of The Bitter Twins by Jen WilliamsWhat will you be reading next?

Well, before the end of June I ideally want to finish The Bitter Twins and Revenant Gun, so I need to get stuck into one or the other. I’ve already started The Bitter Twins, so I think I’ll get stuck into that properly.

After that, who knows, but I have many ideas about what my July TBR will look like….

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Dark Days Club

Posted 25 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dark Days Club by Alison GoodmanThe Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman

In theory, this could be pretty awesome. Lady Helen has been raised by her aunt and uncle after the mysterious death of her mother, a strange woman who was possibly a traitor to the British crown. She was wild and rebellious, and Helen must behave herself completely to try and avoid being touched by the shadow of her mother’s misdeeds. Strange things are happening, though: Lord Carlston is interested in her, and she seems to have her own strangeness, a wild strength and agility unlike anyone she’s ever known. She quickly discovers more: that there are dark forces among humans, feeding on them, and that Carlston — and herself — represeent a force that can fight them and save people.

I said it was awesome in theory, and it would be. I found the opening quite interesting, because it started out like a historical novel. The setting felt okay, but it quickly started to sound a sour note: Helen manages to get away with just about anything, and that just wouldn’t have worked in the time period — especially not for a young woman as highly scrutinised as her. It’s fantasy, of course, but still: it otherwise copies over a lot of the attitudes of the period, and at times there are references to her being constrained by her sex and station. Just only when it’s convenient for the plot.

It just kind of felt too juvenile for me in the end, and too telegraphed — it was obvious where certain things were going. And at the end, though Helen acts like she’s made a choice of her own free will, really she just had the choice to do otherwise taken away from her. She doesn’t feel particularly admirable at that moment, and given that’s where we finish the book, I didn’t feel much inclined to follow her further adventures. It’s a shame.

Rating: 2/5

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