Review – The Philadelphia Chromosome

Posted 15 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica WapnerThe Philadelphia Chromosome, Jessica Wapner

If you’ve read The Emperor of All Maladies, you already know a little about the Philadelphia chromosome, but this book goes into more depth on it and focuses exclusively on this form of cancer, bringing in some case studies and describing the scientists and physicians who were intimately involved in the research and the long road to a treatment for the cancer caused by the Philadelphia chromosomal translocation. It’s a fascinating story and well written — actually oddly gripping, if you find research like this interesting. Like a lot of the best books describing research, it made me want to get out there and do some of my own, and maybe someday be as instrumental in saving lives as some of the scientists mentioned.

I was asked with The Emperor of All Maladies if I thought the book would be a stressful read for someone who is afraid of cancer. So the same report for The Philadelphia Chromosome: I think some of the treatments and symptoms described are pretty awful, as you’d expect, but it doesn’t tend to get deeply personal or emotional about them, and the cancer caused by this particular mutation is actually extremely treatable. You might even find it a good place to jump on with learning more about cancer to demystify and undemonise it a little for that reason.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 14 February, 2018 by Nikki in General / 5 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 Camelot's Blood by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Blood, by Sarah Zettel; it’s the last of Zettel’s books set in Camelot, and a reread for me. I think it’s the first time I’m rereading it since I wrote my dissertation, so it’s been a lot of fun revisiting it and seeing what I think now. I’m hoping to have finished it by the time this post goes up, but we’ll see.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Virus X by Frank RyanVirus X, by Frank Ryan. It’s a little old now, and somewhat out of date, but that only adds to my feeling of wonder that human civilisation hasn’t yet been decimated by a pandemic. People list it as an irrational fear, and it really isn’t — we’ve had so many near-misses already.

What will you be reading next?

I haven’t decided! Probably fiction, though; I’m getting my non-fiction urge scratched by my dissertation research on TB. (I know, a far cry from romance novels set in Camelot.) But if I can find the book on TB I want, I might read that.

What are you reading lately?

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Review – Ghost Talkers

Posted 13 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette KowalGhost Talkers, Mary Robinette Kowal

It took me ages to finish Ghost Talkers, and it really shouldn’t have — it’s well written and well paced, the idea is fascinating, and I wanted to know what happened… I just also came over all sulky because I (foolishly, given the setting) wanted a happier ending, and what I hoped for was quashed surprisingly early in the proceedings. Not that that surprised me, but I’d been hoping it would somehow… do something else. The book did surprise me later with one or two twists and turns, but that initial disappointment made me reluctant to get on with reading it. I imagine that should very much be filed under ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

I enjoyed the main character, Ginger, and her relationship with her fiancé. I enjoyed the concept of mediums becoming involved in the war, and ghosts reporting in to them with their last known whereabouts, etc. It almost doesn’t need the murder mystery, though that experience does give Ginger a personal stake (as if the other circumstances weren’t enough) and gives Kowal a chance of demonstrating what the mediums in this situation would go through, experiencing the last moments of ghost after ghost. I wished there’d been more of some of the other mediums, especially Helen; her limitations in society given her ethnic origin would’ve made the story quite difficult if she was the main character, but I can’t help but wish she had been. Not that I didn’t love Ginger, but Helen would’ve been extra special.

Overall, very enjoyable; I just wish it had dodged the plot element that I immediately predicted. It’s not that it’s a bad plot or that keeping the plot very similar while constraining one of the characters in another way wouldn’t have been rather cliché, because it’s a fun story and the workaround I’m thinking of (trying not to give spoilers) would’ve been fairly predictable in itself. And certainly, that a character experiences a major loss in the context of WWII is just appropriate. But… but… I wanted different for Ginger.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Monstrous Commotion

Posted 11 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of A Monstrous Commotion by Gareth WilliamsA Monstrous Commotion, Gareth Williams

After reading his book on polio and his book on smallpox, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Gareth Williams turning his hand to something like the Loch Ness Monster — but nonetheless, I knew he was a good writer and understands science and the importance of evidence. And Nessie is fascinating, of course; even if there is no Nessie (and I tend to think there isn’t) then it’s fascinating how people have believed there was a Nessie, and spent their whole lives searching for her. I needn’t have worried, anyway: Gareth Williams presents the evidence without much sign of being partial. He notes when people’s evidence was convincing or their testimony likely to be trustworthy, as well as noting when people carried out fakes.

It turns out to be exactly as fascinating as you’d expect, looking at all sorts of people who made or broke their reputations hunting for the monster. In the end, we have very little direct evidence pointing to the existence of a Nessie, so unsurprisingly the book looks at the human side of the drama, along with the sciences that, over time, people have brought to bear on the problem.

I’m sure some writers wouldn’t be able to make this interesting, but to me, Williams did. And if nothing else, he had me wanting to believe in Nessie, for all that he attempted to stay neutral himself (and I wouldn’t like to pin him down on either side of the debate for absolute certain, though I think a lot of people wish it could be true but don’t think it is).

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 10 February, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

This week I did buy some books, but a few of them were just for reference and I won’t be posting about them here (probably). Still, I got a couple of pop-science/history books about diseases that I think I’ll probably review for this blog, so here are those titles!

New books

Cover of The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson Cover of The Great Mortality by John Kelly Cover of And the Band Played On by Randy Schiltz

Cheerful stuff.

Books read this week

Cover of A Monstrous Commotion by Gareth Williams Cover of An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles Cover of Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of The Laws of Medicine by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Reviewed this week

Changing Planes, by Ursula Le Guin. A charming travel guide to the alternate dimensions (planes) you can reach from an airport… 4/5 stars
The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bollander. I liked a lot of things about this, but it didn’t quite come together for me. 3/5 stars
I Am Morgan Le Fay, by Nancy Springer. An interesting view of Morgan’s character, though I found it very young. 3/5 stars
Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. A perennial favourite of mine — what else can I say? 5/5 stars
Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart. A fun fictionalisation of real events and characters that left me wanting more. 4/5 stars

Other posts

WWW Wednesday. My weekly update.

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Review – Girl Waits With Gun

Posted 9 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Girl Waits With Gun by Amy StewartGirl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun is based on the real story of Constance Kopp and her sisters, and draws inspiration from the real facts of her life — newspaper articles, family documents, etc — but it’s definitely a fictionalised version, giving Norma Kopp the hobby of looking after pigeons and so on. As a story, it’s entertaining, but perhaps more so knowing that Constance was a real person and this is one attempt to interpret her thoughts and feelings, her hopes and fears, during the time she was menaced by a mill owner who refused to pay for crashing into her family’s cart and wrecking it.

I thought it might turn out dry, but actually I got pretty into it, and on putting it down I was frustrated that a particular character didn’t know a particular fact — I won’t say what, because of spoilers. It’s enough to make me want to hurry up and pick up the next book as soon as I can. It’s obviously speculative, and it’s anybody’s guess what the Kopps would have thought about it, but it makes for a good story.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Strong Poison

Posted 8 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. SayersStrong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

First of all, I love that the new edition has an introduction by Edward Petherbridge. Ian Carmichael was a brilliant voice for Peter, but if I could picture Peter, I think it’d be Petherbridge I’d see. And his introduction is fitting: erudite and respectful of Sayers’ work, but also playful.

The novel itself, well: it’s Strong Poison. I love it for so many reasons. Okay, I do get a little frustrated with Peter for making the fact that Harriet is likely to be hanged about how awful it is for him, when he barely knows her and has just fallen in love at first sight. But there’s so much witty banter, and Miss Climpson is a delight as well. And there’s the fact that this is the start of a relationship which is never fulfilled until it is equal: they start off so unequal, and Harriet’s prepared to just give in and leave things that way, but Peter steps back and waits and waits and… There could be an easy happy ending, but instead there’s a relationship that has to be worked at, until mutual respect is reached rather than pity or gratitude. No consent but free consent — how can I not applaud that story?

The mystery itself is of course tortuous, but you’d expect that from a Golden Age story like this. Peter, Miss Climpson and Bunter keep it from being weighed down — along with Parker’s delightful realisation about Mary.

Rating: 5/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 February, 2018 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 Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyThe only thing left in progress is Kushiel’s Dart. I’ve got back to rereading that, at least — I just got through all the stuff in Skaldia and they’re back in Terre D’Ange. I forget how much goes on in each volume! Each book could practically be its own trilogy in a different author’s hands.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette KowalI just finished Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal. It really shouldn’t have taken me so long, because I liked the premise and the characters and the world… but I got pouty about what happens to one particular character early on, and didn’t want to re-engage with the book because not fair.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of How to Survive A Plague by David FranceI’m not sure. I should do more background reading for my dissertation, though, so I might read How To Survive a Plague by David France, or one of the books I have on how the CDC and WHO tackle emerging diseases. It’s been a little while since my last disease-related reading spree…

On the other hand, there’s still a lot of Ursula Le Guin I want to reread!

What are you reading?

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Review – I Am Morgan Le Fay

Posted 6 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of I Am Morgan Le Fay by Nancy SpringerI Am Morgan Le Fay, Nancy Springer

I Am Morgan Le Fay is a young adult novel which tries to give Morgan Le Fay more of a reason for her actions and more psychological depth. It’s reasonably successful in that, though it’s not one of my favourite Arthurian stories I’ve ever read — it seems a bit slight, and Morgan’s behaviour and the outcome was entirely obvious. The mythology is a bit of a hotchpotch, but I didn’t mind that too much because it was so lightly touched on. Cernunnos is a character, but it doesn’t really go into the significance of magic and how that’s linked to divinity in their world.

I kind of think I might be able to judge this better once I’ve read I Am Mordred as well, to see how Springer handles Mordred. Mary Stewart manages to excuse Mordred everything while throwing the blame on Morgan, and there’s always blame to go around in Arthurian stories, so I’d kind of like to see where it shifts in this case. Presumably not to Mordred, but to whom?

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Only Harmless Great Thing

Posted 5 February, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke BolanderThe Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bollander

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date January 23rd 2018

I didn’t actually know much about this before picking it up: only that there was an elephant, and it somehow involved the Radium Girls. I loved the bits from the perspective of the elephants, the stories they tell: it might be a little much at length, but in little doses it was cleverly done, figuring out the way they’d think and communicate. I wasn’t in love with the modern-day plot of making the elephants glow (it seemed a little goofy to me as an idea, so I didn’t get into the character who suggested it), but the interaction between Topsy and the Radium Girl who trained her was poignant and fascinating.

Overall, it’s an interesting idea and there’s some definite gems in the writing, but I’m not sure how long it’ll stay with me. It didn’t quite come together for me, the three threads of narrative.

Rating: 3/5

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