Tag: book reviews

Review – Foxes in Love vol 2

Posted June 23, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – Foxes in Love vol 2

Foxes in Love

by Toivo Kaartinen

Genres: Graphic Novels
Pages: 114
Series: Foxes in Love #2
Rating: five-stars
Synopsis:

This is a simple comic about simple foxes. Blue and Green continue their simple adventures in the second volume of Foxes in Love. This series is a heartwarming and humorous collection of comics exploring family, life, and relationships, told by two foxes living their lives together.

Volume 2 contains 9 exclusive comics which were never released online as well as 8 colorized comics which were previously only released in black and white.

I absolutely adore Toivo Kaartinen’s Foxes in Love comics. I’ve read most of them, over time, but I was glad to get a copy of this as well to keep on my shelf and support the author. The comics are sometimes just funny, sometimes really romantic, sometimes a little bit profound… it’s a mix.

It’s perhaps best not to read the whole thing in one sitting: charming as the comics are, they don’t have a storyline or anything, and it can get a little “samey”. I picked up volume 3, but I’ll give it a little time before I read it.

Obviously you can also just follow the comic online in various places if you want to see if it’s to your taste.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Email

Posted June 21, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Email

Email

by Randy Malamud

Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 184
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

Do you feel your consciousness, your attention, and your intelligence (not to mention your eyesight) being sucked away, byte by byte, in a deadening tsunami of ill-composed blather, corporate groupthink, commercial come-ons, and other meaningless internet flotsam? Do your work life and your social life, hideously conjoined in your inbox, drag each other down in a surreal cycle of neverending reposts, appointments, and deadlines?

Sometime in the mid-1990s, we began, often with some trepidation, to enroll for a service that promised to connect us-electronically and efficiently-to our friends and lovers, our bosses and merchants. If it seemed at first like simply a change in scale (our mail would be faster, cheaper, more easily distributed to large groups), we now realize that email entails a more fundamental alteration in our communicative consciousness. Despite its fading relevance in the lives of the younger generation in the face of an ever-changing array of apps and media, email is probably here to stay, for better or worse.

Randy Malamud’s Email is a bit of a meditation on email and what it can be used for, with some glimpses into the history of the medium… but mostly it’s a little sceptical, a little dismissive. Now and then he gives into the wonder of the fact that we can almost immediately contact people all over the world and say anything… but mostly he harps on the fragmented focus, the lack of profundity, etc.

As someone who kept in contact with my now-wife mostly only through email for long months when they were teaching in a remote area in Finland, I think Malamud’s vision is sorely lacking. I had whole 100-email threads with friends full of ideas and chatter, which is the only reason I know that after 100 emails in a thread, Gmail starts a new one. I’ve written stories with other people going back and forth by email.

Of course I work with boring, transactional emails every day — and of course those emails aren’t wonders of the world. But I think there’s a lot more to it than Malamud’s willing to see, and more history he could’ve dug into. I know I always harp on about Personal Stereo and Blue Jeans as being my favourites so far from this series, but I crave more books like those two.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – This New Noise

Posted June 20, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – This New Noise

This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC

by Charlotte Higgins

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Pages: 288
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

'The BBC, to my mind at least, is the most powerful British institution of them all, for, as well as informing, educating and entertaining, it permeates and reflects our existences, infiltrates our imaginations, forms us in myriad ways.'

Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian's chief culture writer, steps behind the polished doors of Broadcasting House and investigates the BBC. Based on her hugely popular essay series, this personal journey answers the questions that rage around this vulnerable, maddening and uniquely British institution. Questions such as, what does the BBC mean to us now? What are the threats to its continued existence? Is it worth fighting for?

Higgins traces its origins, celebrating the early pioneering spirit and unearthing forgotten characters whose imprint can still be seen on the BBC today. She explores how it forged ideas of Britishness both at home and abroad. She shows how controversy is in its DNA and brings us right up to date through interviews with grandees and loyalists, embattled press officers and high profile dissenters, and she sheds new light on recent feuds and scandals. This is a deeply researched, lyrically written, intriguing portrait of an institution at the heart of Britain.

The BBC is a British institution, and one which has been agonised over a lot. It sometimes feels like that’s something which happened only in recent years, but Charlotte Higgins’ This New Noise makes it clear that we’ve agonised over the BBC for as long as it has existed — and we’ve never had the halcyon perfect days that I think many people imagine. It’s always been what it is now, and as contentious as it has been now.

At times, I think Higgins tells the story a bit out of order, making references to events she explains properly later. This might work well for someone who has been alive for a bit more of the BBC’s lifespan, but I was not yet very engaged with the news for some of these! I also wasn’t really aware of the various directors-general, so just mentioning their names didn’t really contextualise things.

It’s still an interesting history, especially where it discusses people I didn’t know about at all, whose roles have been forgotten, like Hilda Matheson. She sounded pretty great (though of course it’s easy to make idols of people). All in all, an enjoyable read, and a useful point of view.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Mirror Mended

Posted June 19, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Mirror Mended

A Mirror Mended

by Alix E. Harrow

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 128
Series: Fractured Fairytales #2
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can't handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White's Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she's desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

Will Zinnia accept the Queen's poisonous request, and save them both from the hot iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path?

A Mirror Mended follows more or less straight on from A Spindle Splintered, and Alix E. Harrow doesn’t give you a lot of background or reminding about the first book — they’re probably best read back-to-back. They don’t follow straight on in time, but they might as well: part of the issue in A Spindle Splintered is that Zinnia hasn’t really thought about what the events of the previous book mean for her. She’s running, still.

I found it all somewhat less, well, charming, without Charm so actively in the mix somehow — her love for Zinnia, her determination to help her, is a really strong part of the appeal. She’s not gone, of course, but for the majority of the story she’s in the background, and Zinnia is trying really hard not to think about her too much.

The romance in this book feels a little too speedy, though I think it could’ve worked for me with a bit more time. I still enjoyed what Harrow did with the meta nature of the story, though, and it’s a fun read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Lost Gallows

Posted June 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – The Lost Gallows

The Lost Gallows

by John Dickson Carr

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 288
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

John Dickson Carr lays on the macabre atmosphere again in this follow up to It Walks by Night in which Inspector Bencolin attempts to piece together a puzzle involving a disappearing street, a set of gallows which mysteriously reveals itself to a number of figures traipsing through the London fog, and the bizarre suggestion that a kind of fictional bogeyman, Jack Ketch, may be afoot and in the business of wanton execution. An early gem from one of the great writers of the genre. Also includes the rare Bencolin short story "The Ends of Justice."

The Lost Gallows is, I think, one of John Dickson Carr’s earlier novels, so I went in with fairly low expectations — the melodrama and bombast of his other Bencolin books isn’t entirely for me, but he’s still a plotter of ingenious mysteries. I don’t know if it was because I went in fully prepared for that, or maybe I’ve learned more sympathy through enjoying his later books, but this one wasn’t so bad.

It is of course very colourful and highly dramatic, with some surprisingly prosaic explanations; it’s full of atmosphere, using the London fog as a device in a similar way (though a very different tone) to Christianna Brand’s London Particular. It’s funny thinking about how ubiquitous that fog was, and yet I can barely imagine fog being so thick, so awful.

If you like a bit of adventure in your mystery novels, this one has that as well — the narrator puts himself in the thick of things, and there are a couple of very breathless scenes.

It all ends up feeling almost too prosaic for the fantastic atmosphere, but it works out interestingly enough.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Across a Field of Starlight

Posted June 16, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Across a Field of Starlight

Across a Field of Starlight

by Blue Delliquanti

Genres: Graphic Novels, Science Fiction
Pages: 345
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

An epic sci-fi graphic novel romance between two non-binary characters as they find one another through time, distance, and war. An amazing story that explores the complexity of human nature and what brings us together.

When they were kids, Fassen's fighter spaceship crash-landed on a planet that Lu's survey force was exploring. It was a forbidden meeting between a kid from a war-focused resistance movement and a kid whose community and planet are dedicated to peace and secrecy.

Lu and Fassen are from different worlds and separate solar systems. But their friendship keeps them in each other's orbit as they grow up. They stay in contact in secret as their communities are increasingly threatened by the omnipresent, ever-expanding empire.

As the empire begins a new attack against Fassen's people--and discovers Lu's in the process--the two of them have the chance to reunite at last. They finally are able to be together... but at what cost?

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is an epic science fiction romance between two non-binary characters as they find one another through time, distance, and war.

I really wanted to like Blue Delliquanti’s Across a Field of Starlight a lot, because there’s a lot to like about it. The sheer diversity of body types, the queer normativity, the different types of relationships… there’s so much here, and the art is lovely, and the sheer energy in some of the facial expressions and body language is great.

Unfortunately, I found it a little hard to follow at times — the jumps felt too sudden, so that I wasn’t always sure if scenes were supposed to be connected or not. I adored the whole roleplaying game the two main characters set up between them, and I’d have loved a little more of that context to understand more of why they act the way they do together. A little more world-building would’ve been nice, too, to understand a little more than “evil Empire is evil” and “the resistance can be just as bad”.

I still did enjoy it, and I’m sure some of the deficiencies are mine: I’m not as adept at reading visual media as I’d like to be. But for me, I was left with some questions.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Hyphen

Posted June 13, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Hyphen

Hyphen

by Pardis Mahdavi

Genres: History, Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 160
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate has been a central point of controversy since before the imprinting of the first Gutenberg Bible. And yet, the hyphen has persisted, bringing and bridging new words and concepts.

Hyphen follows the story of the hyphen from antiquity - Hyphen" is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning "to tie together" - to the present, but also uncovers the politics of the hyphen and the role it plays in creating identities. The journey of this humble piece of connective punctuation reveals the quiet power of an orthographic concept to speak to the travails of hyphenated individuals all over the world. Hyphen is ultimately a compelling story about the powerful ways that language and identity intertwine.

Mahdavi - herself a hyphenated Iranian-American - weaves in her own experiences struggling to find her own sense of self amidst feelings of betwixt and between. We meet six other individuals who are each on a similar journey and watch as they find a way to embrace the space of the hyphen - rejecting the false choice of trying to fit into previously prescribed identities. Through their stories, we collectively consider how belonging only serves to fulfill the failures of troubled states, regimes, or institutions and offer possibilities to navigate, articulate, and empower new identities.

Pardis Mahdavi’s take on the Object Lessons series, Hyphen, is part-informative, part-memoir, and it’s a format that works well. I still far prefer the books that focus in on the object in question, but this one alternates the two quite well, using the one to help to illuminate the other. It’s probably one that will make a different kind of sense to Americans, since a good portion of the discussion is about “hyphenated Americans” (a phrasing I haven’t heard before, but which apparently has a history), and it delves into the history around that.

Not that immigrants in other countries don’t have similar stories, but I’d also hesitate to generalise. There are certainly parallels with “hyphenated British” experience, and it’s certainly not better here, just different (though increasingly the same all over, I guess; thanks globalisation).

Anyway, Mahdavi’s take on the hyphen wasn’t perhaps the detailed history of punctuation that I might find fascinating (though I have read a book about hyphens before, if memory serves), but it was interesting.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Vinyl Frontier

Posted June 12, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Vinyl Frontier

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record

by Jonathan Scott

Genres: History, Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 288
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

The fascinating story behind the mission, music, and message of NASA's Voyager Golden Record -- humanity's message to the stars.

In 1977, a team led by the great Carl Sagan was assembled to create a record that would travel to the stars on NASA's Voyager probe. The Vinyl Frontier reveals the inside story of how the record was created, from the first phone call to the final launch, when Voyager 1 and 2 left Earth with a playlist that would represent humanity to any future alien races that come into contact with the probe. Each song, sound and picture that made the final cut has a story to tell.

The Golden Record is a 90-minute playlist of music from across the globe, a sound essay of life on Earth, spoken greetings in multiple languages, and more than 100 photographs, all painstakingly chosen by Sagan and his team to create an aliens' guide to Earthlings. The final playlist contains music written and performed by well-known names such as Bach, Beethoven, Chuck Berry and Blind Willie Johnson, as well as music from China, India and more remote cultures, such as a community in Small Malaita in the Solomon Islands.

Through interviews with all of the key players involved with the record, this book pieces together the whole story of the Golden Record. It addresses the myth that the Beatles were left off of the record because of copyright reasons and will include new information about US president Jimmy Carter's role in the record, as well as many other fascinating insights that have never been reported before. It also tells the love story between Carl Sagan and the project's creative director Ann Druyan that flourishes as the record is being created.

The Golden Record is more than just a time capsule. It is a unique combination of science and art, and a testament to the genius of its driving force, the great polymath Carl Sagan.

I don’t know how it took me so long to get round to starting Jonathan Scott’s The Vinyl Frontier, because the Golden Record (as included on Voyager 1 and 2) is a fascinating topic. I’m glad I finally got to it, because Scott writes a lovely biography of the Golden Record here (and a bit of a eulogy for Carl Sagan, too). He captures perfectly the naive hope of it, along with the genuine hard graft, and the difficult thinking to find ways to portray humanity that might mean something to an alien encountering it when we are gone.

He covers the human part of it as much as the technical side (or more so even), and his portrayal of the relationship between Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan is tender and sympathetic. I’ve no idea if it was as lovely and inevitable as he makes it sound, and I’m sure Carl Sagan was no saint, not even a pothead saint, but Scott’s clear admiration is actually enjoyable to read.

Thinking about the Golden Records does always make me imagine someone finding them. I often imagine, though, it’s more likely to be our own descendents. Regardless, what would they or those alien to us make of it all? I wonder.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Den of Wolves

Posted June 10, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Den of Wolves

Den of Wolves

by Juliet Marillier

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 414
Series: Blackthorn & Grim #3
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Feather bright and feather fine,
None shall harm this child of mine...

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies...

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone...

Apparently I never posted this review back when I read the book, so here’s a belated one!

Den of Wolves draws the story of Blackthorn and Grim to a close. I waited quite a while to read it, because I didn’t love the direction their relationship was growing in: I adored their bond, but didn’t love that it had to oh-so-typically become a romance. Books with strong bonds between adults that are exclusive and necessary to each member without being romantic are rare enough.

Still, by this point I was ready to accept the direction and enjoy it, and I did: it felt natural for Blackthorn and Grim to find each other and get past their traumas, eventually (much of the book is spent with them apart). I do enjoy that Blackthorn’s feelings about Grim are a good part of the way she manages to rise above her trauma and do the right thing at the right time.

It was also nice to get some answers about Conmael; that was obviously coming, but it could’ve been anticlimatic or weird, and it wasn’t.

The other story of this book features a young girl, Cara, and her relationship with her father… and his decision to send her away while a wild man, a builder, returns to create something called a heartwood house. Blackthorn meets Cara and begins to untangle that mystery with her; I’ll confess that I’d wanted a certain character to be a bit more ambiguous, rather than turning out to be super evil, but mostly other characters around that story had some shades of grey.

It’s a lovely conclusion to the trilogy, but I am glad I waited and let the fact of Grim and Blackthorn’s coming romance settle before I read it, so I didn’t get cranky about it!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Final Acts

Posted June 9, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Final Acts

Final Acts: Theatrical Mysteries

by Martin Edwards (editor)

Genres: Crime, Mystery, Short Stories
Pages: 347
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

"… and what a motive! Murder to save one's artistic soul… who'd believe that?"

Behind the stage lights and word-perfect soliloquies, sinister secrets are lurking in the wings. The mysteries in this collection reveal the dark side to theatre and performing arts: a world of backstage dealings, where unscrupulous actors risk everything to land a starring role, costumed figures lead to mistaken identities, and on-stage deaths begin to look a little too convincing...

This expertly curated thespian anthology features fourteen stories from giants of the classic crime genre such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Julian Symons and Ngaio Marsh, as well as firm favourites from the British Library Crime Classics series: Anthony Wynne, Christianna Brand, Bernard J. Farmer and many more.

Mysteries abound when a player's fate hangs on a single performance, and opening night may very well be their last.

Final Acts is another collection from the British Library Crime Classics series, edited as always by Martin Edwards, and this time all themed around the theatre and acting. It’s a fun spread of stories, not all using the theatre in quite the same way, and as usual demonstrating a bit of a spread across time as well.

The one thing to note is that there’s a repeat story in here, by Christianna Brand. I’m not sure which other anthology it appeared in, or whether it was maybe included with one of her novels, and I’m also not sure (because of that) whether this is the repeat or the other is the repeat. Still, bit disappointing.

Still, as usual, a fun handful of stories.

Rating: 3/5

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