Review – Heroine Complex

Posted 9 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah KuhnHeroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn

I got this to review at some point, but I also bought a copy… a fact which I now regret. Okay, there’s a lot of cool things about it: female Asian protagonists who kick ass in different ways, a casually queer character, bitey flying cupcakes, the main character talks frankly about anxiety… And for quite a while I was enjoying it a lot.

It’s just, I don’t like reading books where people like me are called dead inside, even in jest. I’m sure the main character isn’t intended to be read as asexual — it’s mostly that she’s forced herself not to feel in order to control her powers (let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…) — but the lack of sexual attraction to people she describes is my every day and whole life. And I’m okay with that; it doesn’t bother me or my partner, and I don’t think I’m broken because of it (anymore). It’s just the way I’m made.

It’s not my “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”.

Yes, that’s what Evie calls her lack of sexual attraction — her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”. Neatly calls up two stereotypes about people who aren’t interested in sex: that we’re robots, and that we’re dead inside. And before you protest that nobody says that, I saw it twice on my twitter the day I was reading this book.

I kept going for a while with the book, but when I put it down to go out and came back, I found that I was just tired of it. Tired of the romance scenes punctuated by Evie wondering why her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron” had stopped working. I can get a person feeling that way and calling it that; I can understand that it’s not targeted to hurt people like me by reiterating the whole “you’re dead inside” meme. It doesn’t mean I can keep enjoying the book.

Reader, I put it down. I have plenty of books to read that don’t remind me constantly that people think I’m a dead-inside robot.

The flying bitey cupcakes are still a cool image, though.

Rating: 2/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – Tutankhamen

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

Cover of Tutankhamen by Christiane Desroches-NoblecourtTutankhamen, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt

I read this when I was a kid — I think I got my copy from my mother, who was about as fascinated by Tutankhamen as I was. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt’s book is a serious, albeit now somewhat outdated, analysis of the objects found in Tutankhamen’s tomb and their significance, along with how Howard Carter found the site and the context of Tutankhamen’s reign. It can be pretty dry and serious, describing some of the artefacts in detail; I was surprised to realise that I read it with as much attention as a child as I did now as an adult. Clearly, Tutankhamen’s treasure cast a spell on me!

If you’re looking for the very latest information, of course this isn’t going to help. But if you’re looking for a solid introduction to the tomb and the early interpretations of the objects found within, I suspect this is one of the best. More so where the objects are concerned than where the mummy itself is concerned, though.

Despite the fact that some of it is dry, it’s worth remembering that this book kept me spellbound as a nine or ten year old, and again as a twenty-eight year old. It’s fascinating stuff.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK
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Sell me a book!

Posted 7 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 21 Comments

This is your opportunity to get me to read something, anything, you think I really ought to read. There’s just one catch.

It has to be from my backlog.

Quick access links:

2011 Backlog.
2012 Backlog.
2013 Backlog.
2014 Backlog.
2015 Backlog.
2016 Backlog.
2017 Backlog.

So pick a favourite book, or something you’d like to hear my thoughts on, and ‘sell’ me it by letting me know exactly why it’s interesting or exciting or toe-curlingly awesome. In return, I promise I will endeavour to read it within a month of this post, unless I get so many responses that it’s unfeasible (unlikely, given my usual commenting rate on here).

(Hint: if you think of something but you’re not sure if I own it, you could just use my blog’s search function. That also goes for checking whether I’ve already read it.)

Yes, this is a shameless way of trying to get myself excited about books I might’ve forgotten all about.

Some examples from my friends elsewebs

Ryan @ SpecFic Junkie:

I’m reading Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are [Frans de Waal]?_ right now, and while it has some overlap with The Bonobo and the Atheist with regards to animal data and anecdotes, it’s got a whole bunch of new stuff and feels great.

Saga: Volume 6 [Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples] I haven’t read yet, but I WILL READ WITH YOU because SAGA

The Ghost Brigades [John Scalzi] is a good read, fun Scalzi time, but I mostly recommend it because The Lost Colony is as good as Old Man’s War and I’ve got reviews here.

I’m currently re-reading God’s War [Kameron Hurley] and alkjdflkasjdf loving it more than the first time I read it. Bug-magic, queerness, a society that’s predominantly female and racism and war and it’s really, really good.

Zoo City [Lauren Beukes] was really, really good. An unfiltered take on a non-Western world with non-Western magic and unf.

redphoenix of Habitica: 

I read Caraval [Stephanie Garber] recently. If you enjoyed the worldbuilding of the Night Circus [Erin Morgenstern], it’s in a very similar vein and I found the plot to be less predictable than Night Circus’s (but thoroughly enjoyed both!). Additional note for Caraval: the emotional driving force for that book is the character’s love for her sister. As someone with younger sister, I could definitely relate, and the plot doesn’t just treat the sister as a macguffin.

Arabella of Mars [David D. Levine] is a pitch perfect Victorian-era-girls-having-adventures romp (and we were on a panel with the author of that book at the Nebula conference last year)

I thoroughly enjoyed Jade City [Fonda Lee] (NB I read more than one Godfather book and also lots of martial arts; it was great to read something of both over-the-top genres so I’d be curious as to what you thought of it)

Ghost Talkers [Mary Robinette Kowal] made me cry and miss my husband, so you may also want to time that for proximity to Lisa. It _sucked_ not to be able to go find him for comfort snuggles.

Sparrow Hill Road [Seanan McGuire] is one of my desert island books!!!

If you dream of flying or paragliding, Updraft [Fran Wilde] is perfect (with some solid aerodynamics)

Lemoness of Habitica:

Seconding Ghost Talkers <3

Across the Wall [Garth Nix] is a collection so not all of them are equally good but there were a few in there that I thoroughly enjoyed!!

SIX OF CROWS [Leigh Bardugo]. PLEASE READ SIX OF CROWS. The pace is excellent, the characters are complex and compelling, and it really does feel like the most satisfying of heists in terms of the way information is withheld and revealed. I will say that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are really two halves of a whole, so I’d have them both on hand to read at once!!

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Review – Carry On

Posted 7 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On, Rainbow Rowell

When I was feeling a bit rough, Carry On felt like an excellent choice for some light reading. It’s all the joy of fanfic — willing characters to get together, enjoying the riffs on the canon (in this case, Harry Potter), enjoying the commentary on the genre — with the inventiveness of original fiction as well; it’s not a copy of Harry Potter, and there are some rather clever things going on with the language, the relationships, the inner thoughts of some of the characters. Agatha is a great commentary on the Chosen One’s destined girlfriend; she opts out and goes away and we’re rather glad for her, without that icky feeling prominent in a certain subset of fanfic where the gay couple are glorified above all else and the straight love interest is vilified just for existing. Agatha has a point.

Penelope is great fun, too; she’s like a combination of the best bits of both Ron and Hermione, with more of a sense of humour than either.

And Baz. I never got what people saw in Draco Malfoy as a character, but Baz is great — his ambivalence about Simon, his difficulties in coming to terms with the way things actually are (because of course, he doesn’t fit the traditional story any more than Agatha or Simon do). It’s like the characters are all framed by this traditional hero’s journey narrative, and they rebel and burst out of it in all directions while the adults around them try to keep things on course (especially the Mage, but also Baz’s father and aunt, to some extent).

There’s little of the pure evil type of thing going on here, no Voldemort who can be unequivocally hated. Everyone means well. There are blinded revolutionaries and turn-a-blind-eye aristocracy, and if they could only meet in the middle things would be better, but it’s not about fundamentally bad people, a fundamentally wrong cause.

Simon and Baz together is just… it’s very much of a piece with Harry/Draco fanfic (which I never read, but was aware of), but it makes the two characters really fit, and their relationship seem inevitable.

So yes. I enjoyed it. Again.

Rating: 5/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It

Posted 6 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe ItThe Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It, Christopher Hastings, Gurihuru, Danilo Beyruth, Tamra Bonvillain

Like Deadpool, only pinker. And less gory than the little Deadpool I’ve read. It very much doesn’t take itself seriously, of course; there’s a lot of comic violence, silly twists and odd meta. Some of the meta is oddly poignant — the commentary on the fact that Captain America doesn’t ever get a happy ending, for instance — and some of it is just silly. Why does Gwen Poole costume up? Because an extra might get killed in Comic Book World, but the hero never does!

It’s fun, and I actually really enjoyed the way Batroc the Leaper was used. It says Gwen skips an origin story, but in a way I’d say Batroc briefly does the whole mentor thing with her, and we get some hints of how she came through to Earth-616; if there’s ever a plan of giving her more of an origin story than that, I hope she stabs it in the face, because that would be less interesting than her running around maniacally having fun in a world she knows to be a comic book.

I think the joke might get old after too much of it, but for now, I’d try more Gwenpool. And the art is adorable.

Rating: 3/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Unstacking the Shelves

Posted 6 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Hey everyone!

Perhaps it’s no surprise, but after the epic barrage of books for Christmas, I didn’t get anything this week. So I just get to showcase the books I read!

Books read last week

 Cover of The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It Cover of Lumberjanes Vol 1 Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Fossils by Richard Fortey

Five stars: The Goblin Emperor (reread), Lumberjanes to the Max vol 1.
Four stars: Fossils: The Key to the PastThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (reread).
Three stars: The Unbelievable Gwenpool: Believe It.

Reviews posted this week:

Prime Meridian, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I feel like saying too much about this would be a disservice — not that it has an epic plot to be spoiled, but I don’t think I’d be able to convey the right things. 4/5 stars
Imagining Head-Smashed-In, by Jack W. Brink. About the buffalo jump called Head-Smashed-In, this goes into all the details of how people made the buffalo jumps work and why they needed them. It goes into a lot of detail I didn’t really find interesting at times, but it’s definitely a great window into a different way of life. 4/5 stars
The Statues that Walked, by Carl Lipo and Terry Hunt. Fascinating stuff about Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, and debunks the “ecocide” theory credibly. 4/5 stars
The Earth After Us, by Jan Salasiewicz. More geology-focused than I hoped (perhaps not surprising, given the author’s other book I’ve read) but it does have a good chapter at the end that was more what I was looking for. 3/5 stars
The Glass Town Game, by Catherynne M. Valente. This feels very like the Fairyland books, but if you’re a fan of both those and the Brontes, this might well be right up your alley. 4/5 stars
Winterwood, by Dorothy Eden. Not the most original or fascinating Gothic-romance-mystery I’ve ever read, but solid enough fun. 3/5 stars
Suspicious Minds, by Rob Brotherton. Not about conspiracy theories as such, but about why we believe in them. I found it interesting, though not always surprising. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

2017 stats. What I read, when I read it, and other such fascinating stats from 2017’s reading year.
Game of Books 2018. Did you join in my little game last year? Whether you did or not, you miiiight be interested in checking out this post which explains how I earn points by reading whatever I want, instead of a strict challenge.

So how’s everyone’s 2018 looking so far? Read anything good?

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Review – Suspicious Minds

Posted 5 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Suspicious Minds by Rob BrothertonSuspicious Minds, Rob Brotherton

Suspicious Minds is not a book about conspiracy theories in the sense of recounting different conspiracy theories for the sake of convincing you of them, or indeed of debunking them. Instead it examines what makes people so susceptible to believing in conspiracies, with a good deal of sympathy — it can be tempting to ask what on earth some people are even thinking to believe the outrageous things they do, but Brotherton doesn’t laugh at them too much. Instead, he shows why the human brain is so prone to believing these things, so easy to influence.

It mostly wasn’t surprising to me, but it’s a good summary of what we know about conspiracy thinking, and it’s a healthy reminder to mind what you believe yourself lest you end up exclaiming that the naked emperor is wearing the most fabulous clothes.

It’s a Bloomsbury Sigma book, though, and I’m relatively unsurprised that it’s good; they tend to be very readable and cover interesting topics. I’m just about at the point where I’m willing to pick them up regardless of the subject.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
The above affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, provide a small commission for me if you purchase something.

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Game of Books 2018

Posted 4 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 15 Comments

It’s time for another game. A game to keep me reading my backlog.

A game of books!

A "Game of Books" image, based on the Iron Throne

By some miraculous alchemy, I figure out how many points I want to aim for in a year, and then I can earn them in various ways through reading. It goes like this…

PointsAcquisitionLengthJoy Factor (calculated before reading)SeriesHow long did it take to read?
0Comic or novellaFrom the bookshop straight to my eyeballsNot in a seriesLess than a week
12018, borrowed, ARC, etc250+MUST READ NOWFirst in a seriesLess than two weeks
22017400+It can waitNext in a seriesLess than three weeks
32015-2016500+I'm not exactly pumpedFinishes a seriesLess than a month
42013-2014600+Do I have to?Less than two months
52011-2012700+WHY?OMG NIKKI

So say I have a book I purchased back in 2013… let’s say I read A Shadow in Summer. Purchased in 2013, so that’s four points for acquisition. It’s 336 pages long according to Goodreads, so that’s one point for length. I’d rate it as “it can wait” — it’s something I intend to read, but I don’t feel a burning need — so that’s three points if I finally get round to it. It’s the first in a series, so that’s one point, and… let’s say I devour it overnight, so I get no points for “how long?” Altogether, that’s nine points toward my monthly goal of 120, chosen based on my progress last year.

To work this out for yourself, you might want to see how many points you’d get for an average easy read from your TBR pile, and then add them up and multiply by however many of those you’d read in a month. That was my original reasoning, and it worked quite well in encouraging me to read longer books which would reduce my overall number of books per month, but get the same amount of points.

I have a template spreadsheet all ready here, and you’re welcome to steal the formatting from my own (locked for editing) sheet if you want to add in more of the bells and whistles. Feel free to customise it however you want, for your own goals; I only ask that you have fun and credit me for the idea, with a link back here.

Let the games begin!

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Review – Winterwood

Posted 4 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Winterwood by Dorothy EdenWinterwood, Dorothy Eden

Winterwood is a Gothic-ish mystery/romance, very much in the vein of Mary Stewart’s work. I think it rather reminded me of her Nine Coaches Waiting — though of course, I don’t actually read these books for originality. I wasn’t sure if I could root for the pairing, given that the main male character is married at the beginning and certainly affectionate and respectful with his wife, but it worked out fairly well with both halves of the potential romance keeping in mind the barrier between them. The characters are reasonably likeable — Flora is spoilt and willful, but also generous and capable of great affection, which redeemed her somewhat for me. Charlotte, Daniel’s wife, is obviously troubled and at times is rather transparently wicked, but there are also moments where Eden manages to get across some of the pathos of her character. Daniel is a little bland, though.

If you don’t expect too much of it, it’s a nice distraction. Eden’s writing isn’t bad, though she can’t quite evoke a sense of place the way Mary Stewart can — I didn’t ‘feel’ Winterwood the estate very much.

Rating: 3/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US
The above affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, provide a small commission for me if you purchase something.

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Review – The Glass Town Game

Posted 3 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Glass Town Game, Catherynne M. Valente

The Glass Town Game feels a little like Fairyland-lite. Based on the childhood games and stories of the Brontes, including Branwell, Valente delivers another kind of portal fantasy in which the Brontes find themselves in the middle of their own imagined world. The four are generally fun to follow, though Branwell is rather annoying (probably quite in line with the real Branwell). It’s all very whimsical and charming, but the Fairyland books are better at that, so it didn’t quite work for me; I’ve seen Valente do it better.

That aside, it’s an absorbing read, with so much cleverness, including sly references to the Brontes adult work and little pieces from their biographies, etc. It ticks along at a fine pace, and each of the siblings gets the eye of the narrator on them in turn, dissecting their faults and flaws and cheering for their strengths and cleverness. You can’t quite root for Branwell (though you can understand him), but Charlotte in particular makes an excellent heroine. The first half is a little slower, and might take some getting into, but after the halfway point it picks up pace a lot.

If I were recommending somewhere to start with Valente’s work, it wouldn’t be this, but it’s definitely entertaining and beautifully written. It’s more in line with the Fairyland books in terms of style than her adult novels; it doesn’t come across as more poetry than prose, if that’s something which bothers you about her books like Deathless and Palimpsest.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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