Tag: book reviews


Review – Agatha H. and the Airship City

Posted 27 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Agatha H and the Airship City by the FogliosAgatha H. and the Airship City, Phil & Kaja Foglio

Agatha H. and the Airship City is based on a number of graphic novels by the same authors. And it’s… okay. It’s a fun adventure story, female protagonist with brains, etc. But something felt off to me — the way her figure was constantly emphasised, the whole bit where she was in her underwear… I don’t know what the context of that is, but if it worked in the comics, it didn’t work here. Especially since the opening made her seem so very young, and then suddenly it’s all about her being a young woman and people perving on her. Bleh.

I might check out the graphic novels, but I’m not going to read any more of the books. I don’t think they make good adaptations, or the authors don’t translate their ideas well to a novel rather than a webcomic. It felt pretty mediocre, which is kinda disappointing since I know people adore the series.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Sabriel

Posted 25 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sabriel by Garth NixSabriel, Garth Nix

It was lovely to reread Sabriel. I think I read it quite a few times when I was younger, but luckily, Garth Nix seems to have lost none of his charm for me. It helps that he has a female protagonist who isn’t perfect, who ends up with a near-broken nose, battered to bits, and still finds love — but that love isn’t the most important thing: the important thing, the thing Sabriel really has to accept, is the passing on of her father’s duties to her, and her own entry into adulthood.

I enjoy the fact that no detail is wasted, too. The story could open with Sabriel crossing into the Old Kingdom: not much terribly important happens before that, just scene setting. But then it turns out to be important because the story cycles back to that location, because the previous Abhorsen knew it would from the Clayr — and we get to see life on that side of the border, we see the people Sabriel’s been raised with and how that interacts with what she has to become. And we see people that later will prove important: those innocent schoolgirls who are Charter Mages, who ultimately give up their life to help Sabriel, because that’s the person she has to become, the person who accepts those lives as part of the cost of what she must do. They have a kind of strength that serves Sabriel well, both because she’s been raised among them and because they then help her, even though she ends up so alien to them. And I like the little details, like the dying schoolgirl’s touch to Sabriel’s ankle which is ultimately what gives her the strength to fight on, or Horyse’s vision of what’s going to happen to him.

The nice thing about the UK ebook of this is that it contains some commentary from Garth Nix on the process of writing the story. It was interesting to have him point things out, like the focus on clothing, armour, weaponry, that adds the touch of realism — I hadn’t thought about that before. It can be a liiiittle jarring to read those at the end of chapters like that, but I’m glad that extra content was included anyway.

I think of the three books, this is actually my favourite. Lirael has its attractions too, but I’m most attached to Sabriel’s character and the vitality of her romance with Touchstone — I always thought that bite/kiss to keep them both in Life when her father rang Astarael was the most wonderful thing ever, and I still found that scene pretty powerful.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ignobel Prizes

Posted 22 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ignobel Prizes by Marc AbrahamsIgnobel Prizes, Marc Abrahams

I like reading popular science books that dig deep into something serious like genetics or something. But, a book that digs shallowly into something frivolous like the history and recipients of the Ig Nobel Prizes works just fine for me too. It’s light reading, obviously, and some of it is gross, weird, and pretty much all of it is just silly. Which is, probably, what makes it so interesting.

Marc Abrahams is the founder of the awards, so this isn’t exactly an impartial look at the awards, and I do like someone else’s comment that the book “tr[ies] too hard to make it seem like they don’t take themselves seriously”. Yep. It’s all very ridiculous.

What makes it fun to me is that all of the research in this book has been genuinely carried out, and some of it is surprisingly sensible when you learn about the rationale behind it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Death in a White Tie

Posted 20 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death in a White Tie, by Ngaio MarshDeath in a White Tie, Ngaio Marsh

I think this is the first Alleyn mystery where I genuinely felt for the victim, which helped greatly in my enjoyment of the story. It’s the first one where you spend part of the book following the victim closely, too, and where Alleyn has personal feelings on the matter, both of which I think are relevant. I know that the trope of the personally involved detective can be exasperating — and Alleyn even refers to it, in one of those unsubtle bits of meta — but at least it’s another way for the reader to engage with the case.

The actual puzzle aspect of the story is more or less as usual: a character you wouldn’t normally suspect ends up in it up to the neck, where the guy who looks like a sure thing is actually innocent. Still, the reasoning does make sense, all the timings match up, etc, so it makes perfect sense, which Ngaio Marsh is admittedly good at (apart from the weird mix of opportunism and premeditation in the crime in the first Alleyn book).

As for Alleyn’s personal life, well. I still can’t help but feel he’s a cut rate Wimsey. His relationship with Troy has some similar ups and downs to Wimsey’s with Harriet, but we don’t get to see as much interaction, as much of the push-and-pull they feel, and so it feels less compelling. I know I’m biased as a major fan of Sayers already, but I can’t help the feeling.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fortune’s Pawn

Posted 17 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fortune's Pawn by Rachel BachFortune’s Pawn, Rachel Bach

In many ways, this is awesome and completely up my street. Mysteries in space (not that it’s a detective story, but there are unexplained phenomena), kickass female lead in a mech suit who owns her sexuality and doesn’t take any crap from anyone. The problem for me is that alongside all of that, there’s a heaping of romance tropes, including “we shouldn’t be together because I have secrets and you might get hurt” and even “I might hurt you”, which sets us up for one of those horrid endings where the guy decides he knows what’s best for his partner without thinking about what she might prefer.

All in all, though, it is fun. The action scenes work well, and you never get the sense that Devi is somehow getting preferential treatment from the author. She can screw up, she can get her ass kicked, and it doesn’t just follow the dictates of the story. She feels real in that sense: she’s not just driven by the story.

It’s a quick read, and the sci-fi aspects are enough to keep me interested despite the romance not really being to my taste. The next book might change my mind, but for now I’m definitely along for the ride.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Out on Blue Six

Posted 17 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Out on Blue Six by Ian McDonaldOut on Blue Six, Ian McDonald

Had this from NetGalley aaaages ago, and finally got round to reading it now. It’s something very much in the vein of 1984, with some aspects clearly riffing on that, and it gives me really major déjà vu about something I’ve read before (but which I suspect was published since). It’s one of McDonald’s earliest novels, published in the year I was born, and yet I don’t think it’s gone out of date as speculative fiction so often can.

In a way, I found it predictable: once you know the roles of certain characters and how they fit into society, you can see how it’s going to end. That doesn’t diminish the fun of the ride, though: this is a quicksilver, frenetic book, a strange new world. I love the concepts here, filched from mythology and jumbled back up to make something new: Lares and Penates, household gods, mixed in with stuff straight out of 1984.

While I didn’t like this as much as I liked The Broken Land, and the writing style isn’t always entirely for me (too disconnected, jumbled, like an abstract painting), I think it’s worth a look, particularly if you enjoy dystopian stories. The last chapter or so is all a bit of a rush; a lot suddenly happens in a few words, and I could’ve enjoyed seeing it unfold more completely, but I like what’s sketched in for us as the result of the climax of the story.

Rating: 3/5

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Reviews – Vintage Murder & Artists in Crime

Posted 15 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Vintage Murder, by Ngaio MarshVintage Murder, Ngaio Marsh

As with the other books, this is a nice little mystery with a carefully set up puzzle. It relies on all sorts of coincidence and such, but at least we’re seeing more of Alleyn as a person, and the omnipresent Nigel Bathgate has not contrived to get himself into Alleyn’s pocket for his holiday.

From what I gather, the setting here is close to Marsh’s heart in two ways: it’s set in New Zealand, and in the context of a theatrical company. That gives it some good moments of description: there’s one interrogation with a lovely setting, and there are some characters who are very lovingly described. There’s a bit about Maori culture, too, but mostly that felt like a set piece tacked on for some exotic interest.

I think I can see a development here toward something I’m more interested in reading — Alleyn, Fox and Agatha Troy, introduced in the next book, might draw me in properly for good. We’ll see.

Rating: 3/5

Cover of Artists in Crime, by Ngaio MarshArtists in Crime, Ngaio Marsh

I was quite hopeful about Artists in Crime bringing Alleyn to life for me a bit more, since this is where he meets his love interest. In a way, the whole set-up of this relationship is reminding me a lot of Lord Peter, especially since Alleyn’s mother has a title and so on. It’s not exactly parallel, but close enough to annoy me a little.

Still, it does introduce a bit more of a human side to Alleyn. Bathgate’s role is thankfully reduced, though the annoying creature does contrive to be present. Inspector Fox and all the other steady, reliable characters who attend Alleyn’s crime scenes are present, and I am getting fond of them, especially since Fox is just different to Alleyn, not lesser in the way that, say, Watson is. Alleyn doesn’t condescend to him like Wimsey to Parker, too.

I’ll need a bit more time with Troy to decide what to think about her and the relationship with Alleyn, but at least she brings in more of a personal life for him.

The mystery in itself, in this book, is typically convoluted and puzzle-like. I did catch on to most of the clues now, because I’ve sort of got used to the shape of these mysteries.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Death in Ecstasy

Posted 9 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio MarshDeath in Ecstasy, Ngaio Marsh

Well, I guess I’d better give up the disclaimer about what I think of these. They’re harmless, easy fun, concerned with setting up a puzzle and then working it out, with lots of red herrings and interesting people along the way. Nothing ground breaking, but comfortable.

This one did give me a little bit of unease because of the swishy, blatantly queer couple who were a walking, talking pair of stereotypes. At least they were harmless, but Marsh wrote about them rather unpleasantly and nobody thought any good of them. At least Alleyn, as I imagine him, wouldn’t be an ass to them in person about it, but would respect their relationship (as long as he thought it was real, not just theatrics and melodrama). I suppose I am getting to like him, though I think I’m building on him in my own mind more than Marsh is in the text.

This one only slightly breaks the trend — there’s no reconstruction, though the group do gather together again to talk it over, which is pretty close.

The statement I spotted in another review that Nigel Bathgate does nothing and could he please be murdered now is sadly accurate. The one point I liked was when Alleyn rings up and tells him to act as if he’s talking to Angela. That was a bit amusing.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Nursing Home Murder

Posted 8 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio MarshThe Nursing Home Murder, Ngaio Marsh

This is my third Ngaio Marsh novel and I still have somewhat mixed feelings. I’m not into her detective character at all — there’s been too little personality and depth, just a lot of surface shine — and the structure is now formulaic. Set-up for a murder with many potential motives -> murder which is very awkward for lots of people -> Alleyn investigates without explaining much to anyone -> Alleyn has a reconstruction done -> this flushes out the murderer, who incriminates himself without need for a trial, and who is the least suspected person -> an epilogue in which Alleyn explains everything.

I have got the next three books now, though. There’s something relaxing and easy about these, even a little compulsive, perhaps because I don’t care much for the characters and so for me, there are no high stakes. Generally the plots are full of coincidence, misdirection, and meta-nods at the genre (“if this were a murder story, you would suspect the least obvious one, of course!”).

I think you could pretty much class these as cozy mysteries.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Enter a Murderer

Posted 6 June, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Enter a Murderer by Ngaio MarshEnter a Murderer, Ngaio Marsh

I found this a bit more engaging than the first book, and more plausible besides in the way the murder is worked out, but I’m still not sure what I think of Marsh’s work, or perhaps specifically Alleyn. I haven’t got a handle on him at all; I can never quite tell what he’s meant to be thinking, what he’ll do, and whether he thinks it’s awful fun or perfectly awful, except when we’re directly told. Perhaps the alternating, alienating POVs of him and then Bathgate don’t help there. For all that they’re supposed to be friends, I can’t for the life of me understand why.

Still, I cared more about the mystery in this one, and read it all in one go. And I’ve ordered the second omnibus, because I sense that this ambivalence might go on a while. We’ll see, I suppose.

Rating: 3/5

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