Tag: book reviews


Review – The Division Bell Mystery

Posted 7 December, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonThe Division Bell Mystery, Ellen Wilkinson

I was fascinated to read about the background of the author of this book: she sounds like a really interesting person, one of the first female MPs, and really dedicated to her work and her constituents. Respected across party lines, too! I was a little worried that her work was included for the novelty of the author being an actual MP writing about a mystery set in the Commons, but it’s competently done and the little personality sketches feel so real. She didn’t overwhelm the work with her actual knowledge, but she definitely used it to advantage.

The mystery itself isn’t exactly revolutionary, and her female femme-fatale style character (and the male reactions to her within the story) were so very, very typical of the period, but the ending brings in a surprisingly real note of pathos, and the setting is somewhat unique. It comes together into an enjoyable little amateur detective story, with some funny lines, some interesting details, and some surprisingly vivid thumbnail sketches of a few characters. I enjoyed it enough to rank it a cut above the sort of baseline enjoyment I’ve had with other British Library Crime Classics.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Pax Romana

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

Cover of Pax Romana by Adrian GoldsworthyPax Romana, Adrian Goldsworthy

Pax Romana is a popular history style examination of the peace imposed by the Roman Empire, and how peaceful it actually was, as well as how it benefitted or oppressed the lands and peoples that fell under Roman sway. Although I called it popular history, it’s not super popularised: the evidence is meticulous, and the pace slow. It’s popular history in the sense of being perfectly comprehensible to the interested outsider to the field, rather than being simplistic.

The overall theory of the book is that the Pax Romana really was, in general, beneficial — and that Rome’s rule really was relatively peaceful and benign, with exceptions being just that rather than the overall rule. A lot of the time the evidence suggests that benignity was due to basically ignoring local squabbles and leaving places to govern themselves with minimal interference, while the legions only marched in for serious matters.

How far do I agree with Goldsworthy’s views, based on the evidence presented? Well, he definitely makes a good case for it, though I think he takes the long view to a great degree and I think there were likely people within the Roman Empire who felt oppressed by it, as well as people who were relatively unaffected by it. I do agree with his view that the Roman Empire wasn’t ruled simply through brutality: it certainly wouldn’t have had the longevity it did, if that were the sole basis, and it wouldn’t have been something people actively wanted to be part of — and it was something people wanted to be part of, more often than not.

It’s definitely a worthwhile look at whether the Roman Empire is really so degenerate as its painted.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Requiem for a Mezzo

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

Cover of Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola DunnRequiem for a Mezzo, Carola Dunn

The Daisy Dalrymple books are definite cosies: mostly victims the reader will dislike, while the real culprit is never someone the reader is meant to like, or had a really good reason if they are; a ‘clean’ romance, with Alec and Daisy decorously falling in love with only hints here and there of physical lust; blood and guts minimised. Requiem for a Mezzo continues in that vein as expected, with the poisoning of a woman who rather made the lives of everyone around her miserable — a literal diva who has made a career for herself as a singer at the expense of her sister. The villain is not quite as expected, mind you — but I won’t spoil that part for you.

The investigation goes along as expected: various suspects, the weird complication of a Ukrainian terrorist group (an issue mostly skirted around and not used to full potential), plenty of red herrings. Daisy remains likeable, though not someone I’d ever invite round to my house (someone would be sure to die). She’s a little bit too perfect, despite her unfashionably rounded figure and her freckles (it all just makes her sound comfortable and cute to the modern reader), but she gets away with it. Alec isn’t too clever, but avoids ever relying hopelessly on Daisy’s help. It’s all within the bounds of tolerability — this makes it sound like I’m damning the books with faint praise, which is not my intention: I deeply enjoy them for the cosy mysteries they are.

I found the resolution of this one maybe a little too pat. I don’t believe in the motive, and feel like we ended the book without an answer as to who was the real culprit. But it’s still fun, and there were some lovely character moments: not just Daisy and Alec, but little glimpses of other people’s thoughts and feelings that make it feel a little more real.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Rogue Protocol

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

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha WellsRogue Protocol, Martha Wells

In this installment of the Murderbot series, our favourite SecUnit ends up protecting a new group of humans (at some risk to itself, as ever), finding out more conspiracies and hinky things going on, and making friends with a human-form robot who starts off too twee for words and yet somehow grows on both Murderbot and the reader. I do miss ART and dearly hope that all of Murderbot’s friends can come together somehow for Netflix and popcorn, but it’s another fun adventure all the same. The ending got to me, actually, more than I expected: Wells does a great job of making the companions of the week (so to speak!) relatable.

If you’re new to Murderbot, don’t start here. Despite the companion-of-the-week issue I slightly have with the series, the background information about SecUnits isn’t present in this book, which would make it unclear for a new reader, and Murderbot’s past is a big part of what drives it in the books too. Starting at the beginning and going through chronologically seems best to me.

I’m excited to see how the final novella wraps everything up: I have it open in my Kobo app. Here goes!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sandman Slim

Posted 30 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sandman Slim by Richard KadreySandman Slim, Richard Kadrey

I’ve had this book for ages, so I felt it behooved me to finally pick it up! It turns out to be a fairly typical urban fantasy book: it feels very Supernatural, with the angels and demons and the humans stuck in between; the guns and blood and guts and gore (although of course I’m talking about later seasons when it comes to the apocalyptic stuff). The main character, Stark, always had a natural aptitude for magic, and let his arrogance about it suck him into a group that eventually sacrificed him to demons for power. Now he’s back, and he wants revenge. It’s all so familiar and a little tired, and Stark’s attitude is much the same.

I did enjoy his dedication to his murdered lover — he’s such a tough guy, but then he adores the very ground she used to walk on. However, that’s also a problem in terms of originality: a fridged girlfriend, really? Really?!

In the end, it’s fairly fast-paced (with one or two boggy parts) and amusing, but I’m not sold enough on the whole thing to actually pick up the rest of the series. Not enough room in one lifetime. It probably gets better later on in the series, but… the dark/gritty aspect is not really for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Unearthing the Dragon

Posted 29 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Unearthing the Dragon by Mark NorrellUnearthing the Dragon, Mark Norell

Ostensibly about the discovery of feathered dinosaurs and the science surrounding them, this book also contains a fair amount of male-gazey exoticisation of China. It’s full of photographs — more photographs and images than text sometimes — and a large amount of both photos and text is about China. Modern China, that is: the culture Norell ran into when working there, his nights out, his visits to markets, his thoughts on the people, and the shapely feet of young Chinese women. Seriously!

There are some nuggets of useful information in here about feathered dinosaurs, and some gorgeous pictures both of modern China and of dinosaur fossils, but I would honestly skip it. There’s something very gross about the way he treats China and particularly Chinese women: like some kind of tourist attraction.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Testament of Loki

Posted 25 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Testament of Loki by Joanne HarrisThe Testament of Loki, Joanne Harris

Received to review

I’ve been enjoying Joanne Harris’ Norse myth based works for a while, but this one just seemed a bit too goofy for me, for all that I like the characters and the idea. In this book, after Ragnarok, Loki finds a way out of Chaos through… a mythology-based video game, and then the brain of a teenage girl. He quickly finds that Odin has also found the same way into the world, and of course, Odin also wants to bring his son Thor through, and he’s already found the perfect host for Freyja…

Honestly, the possession bit just freaked me out: Loki’s tendency to take over Jumps (his teenage host) when he feels like it is just squicky to me, while the Aesir in the bodies of teenagers is also a bit cringy. It’s a shame, because Harris’ take has been generally clever, funny and transformative in a good way; her Loki voice is great. But this specific story just really does not work for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Magpie Lord

Posted 23 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. CharlesThe Magpie Lord, K.J. Charles

As always with Charles’ work, this book is entertaining, sometimes funny, and an almost distressingly quick read. I wanted more! Not that the story isn’t complete: that isn’t it. It’s just that I ended up wanting to spend more time with the characters: not just Crane and Stephen, though the tension between them and their back-and-forth is undeniably fun, but Crane’s man Merrick as well. Crane is the remaining scion of a dissolute family; Merrick has been with him since he was banished to China, and is as faithful to him as a hound. They’ve been through all kinds of adventures before Crane is ever cursed, so he trusts Crane and wants to save him from the curse. Stephen Day, a magician who says he can help Crane, hates him on principle due to the depredations of his father and brother.

Of course, Stephen quickly finds out he’s wrong to assume the present Lord Crane is the same as his family, and he finds himself drawn into Crane’s orbit as he struggles to figure out the magic that surrounds him and unwind the hatred and dark magic that seems to be choking Crane and his estate. As an additional draw, Crane turns out to be the descendant of a powerful magician, one all English practitioners know of. Also, surprise surprise, he’s physically attracted to Crane. (If you know Charles’ work, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all — nor is it a spoiler that they get together.)

The background story is pretty dark and icky, and there’s one awful scene — well-written, but horrible to read — in which another magician forces Crane to choke on his own cut hair. All’s well that ends well, though, with plenty of room for more stories. Which I know exist, so I’ll be off in search of those now.

Obviously not one for people who aren’t into LGBT romances, but a fun fantasy-mystery for those who are. There are sex scenes, which didn’t seem to be absolutely necessary for the plot, but did add to character development.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ballad of Black Tom

Posted 22 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValleThe Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle

It would probably help me appreciate this if I’d read Lovecraft’s original story, but on the other hand, I don’t really ever want to read Lovecraft, so there’s that! LaValle rewrites one of Lovecraft’s short stories, partly from the point of view of a young black man. Unsurprisingly, it comments on racism in the US both modern and longer entrenched: that part is easy enough to appreciate, even for an outsider. The response to Lovecraft is a bit beyond me: I don’t know if Black Tom is a character from Lovecraft or invented for the purpose, even.

It doesn’t feel like a novella about a character or a place or even an event, in the end: it does feel very much like a response — to the original, and to the world. I enjoyed that, though I imagine plenty of people will be complaining about stupid SJWs, etc.

There are some genuinely icky-squicky bits (well-written, but difficult to read) and moments of horrid claustrophobia, along with the awful and all too familiar treatment of people of colour by the police, which is equally horrifying. It’s well written, but I feel like I’m missing the point through not knowing the original.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Angkor and the Khmer Civilisation

Posted 20 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Angkor and the Khmer Civilization by Michael D. CoeAngkor and the Khmer Civilisation, Michael D. Coe

One of the complaints in reviews about this book seems to be that it reads like a textbook. It does: if you’re looking for something more casual, a tourist’s guide, then I’m sure there are books out there, but this isn’t it. It’s a scholarly consideration of the ruins of Angkor, the way the Khmer civilisation developed and the context in which it did so. It is illustrated with photographs and drawings, but it’s not a coffee table book for sure.

It can be a bit slow going, but there’s plenty of interest, to my mind. It’s better than the other book I read on Ankor, which was rather focused on this and that ruined building, and this and that inscription: there’s more of a sense of a people behind the monuments, in this book, which was welcome. It’s still slow going, but fascinating all the same for me.

Rating: 3/5

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