Review – The Glass Magician

Posted 18 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Glass Magician by Charlie N HolmbergThe Glass Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg

Like the first book, this is basically a bit of cotton candy, and I enjoyed it as such. The alt-Victorian-ish world isn’t sketched out very clearly, but the magic system is fascinating, and it gets extended somewhat in this book, which is interesting. And I can’t help but want Thane and Ceony to get together, even though it was kind of abrupt in the first book.

Ceony herself continues to be irritatingly impulsive and lacking in self-awareness. In the last book, it made a certain amount of sense; no one else was planning to go and rescue Thane. In this book, there are plenty of people who are way more qualified than she is, and she succeeds only in making things more complicated (although of course, in the tried-and-true style, she ends up saving the day even despite that because she has heart and pluck and throws herself in there).

It’s not a particularly surprising story or world, but it remains fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Clouds of Witness

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

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

What do I even have to say about these books anymore? This is the second Wimsey book, and it ups the emotional involvement somewhat by bringing in Peter’s family, and therefore higher stakes. I love all the stupid, unreliable, ridiculous characters, and the clever ones too, since they’re often one and the same character. I love the fact that if you pay attention, there are clues throughout — if you know your literature. (I refer to the references to Manon Lescaut.)

Yes, it’s Golden Age detective fiction, with everything that implies. At times, things don’t seem to be moving along much further, things get confused and convoluted, and you just long for people to do some straight talking. It’s Peter and Bunter that carry it, along with some help from the Dowager Duchess — I read these books originally because they’re classics, but I came back again (and again, and again) for the characters and the cleverness of Sayers’ writing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – American Gods

Posted 16 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of American Gods by Neil GaimanAmerican Gods, Neil Gaiman

I know that there’s probably a ton of “problematic” themes/scenes/descriptions in this book; without paying much attention to the specifics, I’ve still gained the impression that Gaiman isn’t exactly beloved of the social justice crowd, for various reasons. And I can definitely understand the criticisms of some of his actions, statements, aspects of his writing… but American Gods is still a really satisfying, solid read, and I enjoyed it. I found some of the mythology a little too obvious this time round — “Low Key Lyesmith”, really? The hints were just way too obvious for someone with a solid knowledge of Norse mythology.

Still, the other mythologies that are glimpsed are less well-known to me, and I love the way they’re all woven together to make a rich story that’s like a tour of the US and of its people’s history. I’ve no doubt there are gods that should have been included and aren’t, and that other gods have more prominence than they probably should (well, Odin for one). But honestly, I wasn’t thinking that while I was reading. I was just enjoying it.

It’s true that Shadow, the main character, is a bit of a cypher — intentionally. It’s hard to like someone who seems to go through life so numbly. But really, I’m here for the game Gaiman’s playing with the mythology, so it works for me all the same.

Some of the stuff that really doesn’t work for me, though, would include the way the female characters are treated: so much sex and lying, and “bitchiness” (for lack of a better word)… I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel quite right.

It’s a fun read, though not perfect. I think that has to be my conclusion.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 16 August, 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 Stars Are Legion by Kameron HurleyI’ve finally returned to Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion! I’ve been meaning to finish it for ages, but I needed to refresh my memory, so I’ve started over. I’m also reading Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale; I’m not quite sure what I think of it yet. I’m enjoying the style and the Russian background, but on the other hand I keep putting it down for days at a time. Oops.

What have you recently finished reading?Cover of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Yesterday I finished up Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb, at last — it’s still really good, though I do find Fitz rather frustrating at times. Still love Verity, too, for his tireless work and his kindness and just — agh, the kind of character I always love. I’ve also just finished reading a history of Vikings, The Hammer and the Cross, by Robert Ferguson. I found it a bit long-winded, though there’s some good stuff.

What will you read next? 

Cover of Pantomime by Laura LamThere’s quite a few options on the table, including starting the second Farseer book, Royal Assassin. I need to start reading Pantomime properly — I stopped so I could include it as one of my Reading Quest books. And I still want to start on my reread of Kushiel’s Dart.

In summary, plenty to keep me busy!

What are you reading?

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Review – The Real Lives of Roman Britain

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

Cover of The Real Lives of Roman Britain by Guy de la BedoyereThe Real Lives of Roman Britain, Guy de la Bedoyere

I picked this up mostly because Guy de la Bedoyere worked on Time Team, which I loved as a kid and now watch sometimes with my wife. He was their Roman expert, or one of them, so that’s a pretty good endorsement (and it amused me to notice a blurb from Tony Robinson on the front!). The problem, as ever, is that there isn’t really that much material for the “real people” of Roman Britain, because there’s no rich written record to refer to. There’s scraps — an inscription here, a letter there, an eloquent tomb — but often de la Bedoyere is pressed to make more than a paragraph or two of the material he has. It’s about real people, alright, but there’s so little we know about them, that doesn’t necessarily add to what we know.

Which is not to say it’s a bad book; it’s solidly based on the archaeology and records we have, and there are some fascinating glimpses at life in Roman Britain. But it’s less a full picture than a glance through a door that’s open just a crack.

Mind you, I’m sure de la Bedoyere feels closer to the people he writes about than we do, reading about it — he’s examined the evidence first hand, perhaps worked on the excavations. This might be more satisfying if you’re in that position, too!

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 15 August, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Hey everyone! This is possibly my final regular Top Ten Tuesday post because, great as some of the themes from The Broke and the Bookish have been, it’s starting to feel like work to participate. The themes are quite often repetitive or just not applicable to me. I’ve done 164 previous Top Ten Tuesday posts; perhaps it’s no surprise that my inventiveness is running out. I still plan to check back and participate when I’m interested in the theme, but I’m not going to schedule posts ahead anymore.

That said, here’s a look at my Top Ten Top Ten Tuesdays!

  1. Book blogging confessions.
  2. Underrated Arthurian novels.
  3. Desert island reads.
  4. If you like epic fantasy…
  5. Heroines.
  6. If I’m found with amnesia, give me these books to read.
  7. My weird bookish habits.
  8. Books that scared me.
  9. Books for my mother.
  10. Bookish things I want to know about friends.

I’ll still be swinging by other people’s posts too, so I’ll see you all soon!



Review – Wicked Plants

Posted 14 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wicked Plants by Amy StewartWicked Plants, Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants is one of those books which seems, to me, more like the sort of thing you dip into, flip through, and ultimately probably leave on the bookshop shelf. The illustrations are quite pretty, and some of the facts are entertaining, but all in all it becomes a list of facts, grouped into categories of varying usefulness/interest.

If you’re fascinated by all the ways the natural world can kill us, this might well be your thing — and if you love plants in general, and spend a lot of time gardening, it might be a good idea to know the baddies hiding in the hedgerows, too. But for me it was more of a curiosity, and I only finished it because it happened to be what I had on hand when I couldn’t sleep.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Spellslinger

Posted 13 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Spellslinger by Sebastien de CastellSpellslinger, Sebastien de Castell

Received to review via Netgalley; published 4th May 2017

I’ve read one other book by Sebastien de Castell, Traitor’s Blade, and it was a lot of fun, much like this — although aimed at a different audience, somewhat, given that this is essentially a coming-of-age story, and deals with the various trials and tribulations of proving yourself to your society, living up to your parents’ expectations, and discovering you’re just not like everyone else. It surprised me in that it doesn’t take the easy way out, emotionally. Kellen has to get through the whole book with more or less the same advantages he started with.

The family dynamics are just… painful. They’re plainly abusive, even when they express affection/pride in any way, and it’s just not at all fun to read for me. The way Kellen’s friends turn their backs on him, too. I don’t want it to be a true depiction of people, of family and friendship, but I’m afraid it really can be, and that’s kind of awful.

Spellslinger doesn’t go easy on the protagonist or the reader, it has a pretty cool magic system and world-building, and plenty of space for more adventures. Oh, and a talking animal sidekick which is not a dog, but a squirrel cat. I’m here for this.

There’s plenty more room for world-building, and I feel like things might really kick off in later books — this did feel like an origin story, though there are one or two themes that I imagine will be explored further.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Martian

Posted 12 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian, Andy Weir

Reread, because I just felt like it. It’s a great adventure story which uses a lot of reasonable, modern science to imagine how we’d get people to Mars to explore — and what we’d do if someone was stranded there. The main character, Mark, is funny, which both builds sympathy for him and ameliorates some of the frustrations of the way things just keep going wrong. I love the bit in the afterword by the author where he explains that he found that each solution to the last problem naturally presented a new problem for the characters; now that’s a good way to put a story together.

Most of the characters aren’t that well rounded, because so much of it relies on reporting Mark’s diary entries as he struggles to survive on Mars. It mostly still works, though, and there’s some excellent snark I just love, e.g. the whole “Elrond” meeting.

It’s not a perfect book, but I enjoy it a lot. If you’re a fan of the Apollo 13 movie, or of space stuff in general, then I think this should appeal — as well as if you’re into survival adventure stories.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 12 August, 2017 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

Good morning! I’m in the UK again, visiting my parents for my birthday, so I’d better go with the tradition — here’s a pic of one of the buns which my wife sent me! Here Breakfast is somewhere he shouldn’t be, looking very curious…

He’s going to get himself in trouble any minute now.

So, right, the haul. Here goes…

Received to review:

Cover of Harkworth Hall Cover of Swearing Off Stars Cover of Fowl Language by Brian Gordon Cover of Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

I asked for Harkworth Hall after reading Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review, and it was worth it! Swearing Off Stars was a random grab, while I got Fowl Language because I’ve loved the cartoons from Brian Gordon’s series that I’ve seen around.

Fiction books bought:

Cover of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older Cover of The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston Cover of The Red by Linda Nagata Cover of The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Cover of Arena by Holly Jennings Cover of In the Shadow of the Gods by Rachel Dunne Cover of After the Crown by K.B. Wagers Cover of Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Cover of The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin Cover of Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson Cover of Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson

 Cover of Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

I know, I know, it’s an amazing haul. Woohoo for the American Book Centre in Amsterdam — definitely recommended: great deals on books, a good selection, and friendly staff. 10% off for students, too! A bunch of these were just €6.99, which is amazingly cheap for imported books in Europe.

Non-fiction books bought:


 Cover of The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukharjee Cover of A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley Cover of The Button Box by Lynn Knight

I was initially going to complain that I wanted more non-fiction books, but I let myself buy a few more as I passed through London, and now I have quite the satisfactory haul!

Books read this week: 

Cover of Hengeworld by Mike Pitts Cover of Catching Breath by Kathryn Lougheed Cover of Fowl Language by Brian Gordon Cover of The Secret History of the World by Jonathan Black Cover of Harkworth Hall

Four stars to: Hengeworld, Catching Breath, Harkworth Hall.
Three stars to: Fowl Language.
One star to: The Secret History of the World.

Reviews posted this week:

Star-shot, by Mary Ann Constantin. This wasn’t quite my thing, but I was still impressed by the way it was written and some of the fascinating images. 3/5 stars
Machine, by Jennifer Pelland. This left me with pretty mixed feelings. It’s a powerful story, but also disturbing. 3/5 stars
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. I want more, but this is still a great book. 5/5 stars
The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne Valente. Very fun, although also depressing. 4/5 stars
Life Unfolding, by Jamie T. Davies. A really fascinating exploration of how the human body develops. 4/5 stars
The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg. This is a bag of cotton candy as far as my brain is concerned. Sweet and some fascinating magic. 3/5 stars
Incognito, by David Eagleman. Very readable, but it won’t contain any surprises if you’ve read other pop-sci about the brain and its weird ways before. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was Forced To Read (And Loved).
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update!
The Reading Quest. My sign-up for a new readathon.

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