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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Review – Spineless

Posted 24 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spineless by Juli BerwaldSpineless, Juli Berwald

I’m so behind on reviews that it’s been a while since I read this, oops. I’m not a huge fan of jellyfish, but I can be entertained greatly by reading about something I don’t know even if I’m not already a fan, and such was the case here. Jellyfish didn’t particularly strike me as interesting, biologically, and they still don’t hold much fascination for me in themselves — but the book definitely grabbed my interest and kept it. There’s lots of interesting facts, albeit I couldn’t immediately verify the ones I checked up on (the claim, for example, that there’s a jellyfish that zips its mouth shut so tightly that trying to forcefully unzip it simply rips the jellyfish’s face).

It’s a little prone to wandering into autobiography, with some filler chapters like the one about how to prepare jellyfish to eat, but this is pop science: one expects that kind of detail and filler when you’re talking about as vague a subject as this. Going into it with that level of expectation, it was generally entertaining, full of the sort of facts I like to randomly tell my wife, and a quick read.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 22 June, 2019 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

It’s been another week! This week my sister took me out for some stress-busting book retail therapy, and it was Good. The bunnies gave me some pocket money, and I had £10 off from a full stamp card…

(I also got a stack of psychiatry textbooks from my mother, because it turns out my next degree will almost certainly be an MSc in Mental Health Science.)

Bought:

My usual rather odd mix, I think!

Read this week:

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Reviews posted this week:

A Talent for Murder, by Andrew Wilson. I found this rather bland, despite the copious details of Christie’s life shoehorned in. Or possibly because of the shoehorning. 2/5 stars
Sorceror to the Crown, by Zen Cho. A reread, and just as enjoyable the second time! 4/5 stars
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. A reread, because I hadn’t got round to the last book yet, and I wanted a refresher. I do love Murderbot, social anxiety and all. 4/5 stars
Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks. Just didn’t work for me. Slow, and there’s something about the style… meh. 2/5 stars

Other posts: 

WWW Wednesday. The usual update!

And that’s me! I caught up last week, only to find myself with a gazillion tabs open again now. Sigh. It never ends…

How’re you doing? Good books, something you’re excited about? Weirdest book ever on the go? Let me know!

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Review – Fire Logic

Posted 21 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fire Logic by Laurie J. MarksFire Logic, Laurie J. Marks

This book has been on my to read list a really long time, and I thought it’d be a sure thing. It’s got queer characters, the opening caught my attention — particularly with the character eager to go and view a manuscript! — and the elemental magic seemed potentially interesting. It’s a fairly standard set-up, I suppose: the invading army, the guerilla defenders, people’s way of life at risk, and Our Bold Heroes… But in the end, this was a really slow version of that. Realistic, in some ways — worrying about supplies and morale — but slow.

Too slow for me, alas. That combined with the writing style — everyone “cried” everything, even when a shout, sob, or any other loud noise is not exactly the appropriate reaction — and a general sense that I just wasn’t catching on… Meh. Life’s too short. It’s not my thing, the end.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – All Systems Red

Posted 20 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

“Oh no, I’m having a feeling” just about sums up poor Murderbot’s life. But I’m starting in the middle here. Let’s go back to the beginning: All Systems Red is the first novella in a series. Murderbot is the main character, an organic/machine hybrid created for guard duty and overall security. Murderbot is, as of this novella, deployed with a group of overall quite decent humans who are surveying a planet. When things start to go wrong, it turns out that Murderbot is their best chance. You see, Murderbot’s hacked its own governer module, and that means it has a degree of free will not normally enjoyed by constructs like itself.

(It has no illusions about what it is, hence the name “Murderbot”, which it has given itself.)

Dr Mensah and her team turn out to be rather great human beings, and they react well to Murderbot’s free will, allowing it to help them and ultimately… well, no spoilers! Suffice it to say that Murderbot spends quite a bit of time with them, to its own dismay. Humans are difficult, and it would much rather be watching the equivalent of Netflix.

It’s just all… so charming, despite being murdery — Murderbot has a lot of anxiety and yet also cares about the humans its meant to be protecting. It doesn’t have to take risks to help them, but it does. I would say I want to give Murderbot a hug, but the poor thing would be utterly horrified at the idea.

I’ve read All Systems Red before, of course, but I haven’t read the final novella in the series, so a reread seemed like a great idea. I agree, past self! It was a great idea. Murderbot makes me happy.

Rating: 4/5

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