Tag: book reviews


Review – Black Unicorn

Posted 7 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Black Unicorn by Tanith LeeBlack Unicorn, Tanith Lee

This is my first book by Tanith Lee, I’m pretty sure, which surprised me. I’ve always known the name, always known that people thought I’d be interested, and I’m sure I have actually bought some Tanith Lee books before, but I’m pretty sure that this is the first I’ve read. I was interested, but not really absorbed — Tanaquil is okay, but the relationship with her mother, even the stranding in the desert, felt fairly average. There’s not much explanation of the world — which in some ways, I prefer: at least Tanith Lee didn’t give me a massive spiel about the world, cramming it too full with information. It’s a slim book, reads fast, but it wasn’t tipping above ‘okay’ for me.

What changed my mind and earned it four stars was the ending — not so much anything Tanaquil did, or the major events of the plot, but the fact that in the perfect world, Tanaquil and the peeve corrupt everything. And not just that on its own, but the way that Tanaquil reacts: the betrayed feeling, the anger. Some writers might have made her grateful just to have witnessed it or whatever, but Lee imagines what it would be like to be denied that, and I like the way Tanaquil deals with it.

Plot-wise, it wasn’t that special, and I’m not sure I want to read the other books in the series. But those scenes, those moments, did speak to me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sorcerer's House

Posted 5 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sorcerer's House by Gene WolfeThe Sorcerer’s House,Gene Wolfe

I picked this up to read a couple of chapters, and ended up staying up to finish it. It’s deceptively simple to read, to just race through: epistolary novel, check; unreliable narrator, check; creepy twins and doors to Faerie, check. It’s Gene Wolfe, though, so you can bet it’s not as simple as that, and reading other reviews — particularly Neil Gaiman’s, to whom the book is dedicated — showed me I missed a few tricks. Which is fine: I like books with rereadability, even if I’m not really inclined to reread this one in particular. If you can craft a book so it reveals more of itself over time, that’s good going, in my books.

Obviously, everything I said about the narration is true. It is an epistolary novel, with a central character who has a very distinct character-set. He can turn his life story around so that you pity him or hate him, cast him as the villain or pity him as one who has been cast in that role, and I think that’s entirely intentional. It’s not that he’s unintentionally creepy. I actually found the character to be more so than the supernatural events around him — a certain lack of affect, the feeling that something’s come loose inside this guy.

I’m not overwhelmed with the treatment of women in this book — every woman wants to sleep with Our Hero, for example, and quickly opens up to him, and I don’t see why. He’s not charming, he’s unsettling. But maybe that’s because we see him through his own report of himself to his brother… I don’t know. I’m not a fan, anyway. Even if it works for the character, I could have done with a female character who really stood out.

I do think the narration is very clever, the way Wolfe makes the epistolary novel work for him, and works around situations where there might be some difficulty with the form in a way that… well, it seems contrived, but it also fits the world and characters.

Worth a try, I think, though I probably agree with other reviewers that it’s not Gene Wolfe’s best.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Hidden Landscape

Posted 3 September, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Hidden Landscape by Richard ForteyThe Hidden Landscape, Richard Fortey

Geology is not my thing, generally — in fact, aside from one other book, which was by Richard Fortey as well, I’ve generally found it quite boring. The attraction here is Fortey’s writing, which is clear and passionate. Beautiful, even. Most of that is the sheer enthusiasm and inventiveness with which he treats his subject: metaphors and vivid descriptions abound, even as he’s being very clear about the geological forces at work and what the features of the landscape mean.

Unlike Earth: An Intimate History, this book discusses solely the geology of the British Isles. It touches on most areas as it does so, going through Scotland and Wales, Cornwall, East Anglia, some of the small islands offshore… It’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but it goes from the oldest rocks of our islands to the newest, discussing their formation and weathering, and what that means for the landscape and the future. It might be surprising that even in a book originally published twenty years ago, there’s a lot of discussion of the potential of climate change to completely alter our landscape, but I think that’s because it takes a long view (necessarily so!). Whether climate change is man-made or not isn’t important: it happens, either way, and part of the story of geology is climate change.

Honestly, I take away as little understanding of schists, gneisses and nappes as I started with; it’s the kind of information that won’t stick in my head. But I enjoy the way Fortey presents it, and so thoroughly enjoyed it even knowing I’m not going to retain the information.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Selfish Genius

Posted 29 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of the Selfish Genius by Fern Elsdon-BakerThe Selfish Genius, Fern Elsdon-Baker

If you’re looking for pure drama, sorry, the title is just intended to be flippant. If you’re looking for a genuine, in depth critique of Dawkins’ work and public persona — everything from his published research to his way of communicating with the public to his attitude in The God Delusion — then you might well enjoy this. Fern Elsdon-Baker has a scientific background and is an atheist, and has some fairly large bones to pick with Dawkins, while acknowledging at the same time his work in the field, his intelligence, and the accessibility of his popular science books.

Mostly, Elsdon-Baker respects Dawkins, and just disagrees with the way he chooses to express himself, pointing out that he often acts as though science is right now, rather than a subject which is always growing and making new discoveries. There’s some critique of his actual ideas as well, though, and this isn’t some kind of tone argument — Elsdon-Baker firmly believes that there is a correct way to communicate science to the public, and Dawkins isn’t doing it.

The writing is clear, and Elsdon-Baker makes it constantly clear on what grounds she criticises Dawkins, on the background to the various issues discussed, and the fact that this is an opinion, and most of it is not factual. I enjoyed reading it, and not just because I think it’s high time someone criticised Dawkins professionally and thoroughly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Behold the Man

Posted 27 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Behold the Man by Michael MoorcockBehold the Man, Michael Moorcock

Moorcock’s Behold the Man is entirely different to his Elric books, or Gloriana, or anything else of his I’ve come across so far. Certain people might find it offensive because it undermines the sanctity of Jesus Christ, and tangles that story up in a lot of sexual and mental health hangups. Worse, the figure who becomes Jesus is not altruistic, but self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Still, I think it’s a very interesting way of looking at the story, even if I don’t like the way it portrays Christianity. In a way, it suggests the power of the Christian message: the pure message survives even through a human being’s selfishness and fallibility. The time travel aspect isn’t very prominent, and I don’t think it was really written as science fiction — speculative fiction, yes, but I wouldn’t call it sci-fi. Really, it toys with ideas of identity, predestination, time loops, etc. Technology is not a prominent aspect.

It’s an easy read, actually: I read it in about an hour. If you don’t mind Moorcock playing with basics of Christianity, then you might well find it interesting.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Naked Ape

Posted 26 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Naked Ape by Desmond MorrisThe Naked Ape, Desmond Morris

I think the concept of this approach to humans as an animal like any other is a brilliant one. We are prone to thinking of ourselves as a species apart, when we’re not, and even if we were, we could do with putting back in our places sometimes — being human doesn’t mean we’re more worthy than any other creature, all of which have their own adaptations to deal with the environment they find themselves in. We’re particularly versatile, yes, but because we evolved that way, not because of some special merit.

Anyway, while the approach is interesting, and Desmond Morris’ writing is engaging, this is definitely out of date. He keeps a few too many of his human expectations kicking around, like expectations of gender roles and sexuality. It is a really old book, which explains it, and it could undoubtedly do with some updating.

If you’re particularly attached to notions of humans as being sacred, set apart, etc, you won’t want to read this. And if you have any sexual hangups, you won’t want to read this, either — there’s a whole chapter on sex. Granted, it’s a very old view of sex, considering it only in terms of adaptations (dare we whisper to Morris that homosexual behaviour could persist in a population simply because it feels good and only strict monogamy would mean that any ‘gay gene’ would die out?), but still, it can be fairly explicit.

I don’t agree with Morris on many aspects, but his attempt to study humans as animals must be commended.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Monster of God

Posted 25 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Monster of God by David QuammenMonster of God, David Quammen

I enjoyed Quammen’s Spillover more than this book, but that’s not to say this wasn’t an interesting read too. In a similar way to Spillover, Quammen takes the reader on a tour of the world. He doesn’t just report on predators from afar, but goes to get close up and personal with them, and with the people who’ve really spent time in their environment. It’s still a little difficult to believe he could understand these animals or even that way of life with such short exposures, but he did his research and spoke to the people who did know, which puts him ahead of people who theorise from afar.

What I liked particularly about this one was that he pulled in threads of literature, history, sociology… all kinds of ways of understanding the complex impact alpha predators have on us, and the impact we have on them. It’s obviously very human-centric still: all of these alpha predators have been impacted by human encroachment on their territory. I don’t know if there’s any alpha predator in the world not feeling human pressures, but the relationship seemed particularly close/fraught here, with the animals Quammen picked.

It’s a bit of a dense read, but still interesting.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Homer's Odyssey

Posted 24 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Homer's Odyssey by Simon ArmitageHomer’s Odyssey, Simon Armitage

It’s funny to think I didn’t enjoy Armitage’s work the first time I came across it. I think it was his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that changed that. He brought something fresh and dynamic to the poem, which made it a very different reading experience to other translations and adaptations. He’s done the same here with The Odyssey. This is not a translation, or even a completely faithful adaptation: I can think of several places where it departs from the original poem.

However, he brings that same dynamism to Homer’s voice as he did to the Gawain-poet’s. Some of the turns of phrase still ring perfectly true, mixed in with the modern vernacular he uses as well. I’m sure it drives purists crazy, but I set aside any professional qualms and just read it for enjoyment, and thought that he rendered some scenes beautifully — more true to the spirit of the original than any stuffy translation, too, I think.

If you want to read The Odyssey without reading the phrase ‘rosy-fingered dawn’, and you don’t want to worry about Greek customs (xenia, for example), this makes it very easy to follow the story and understand the basic motivations of all the characters. It has a robust beauty to it that wouldn’t work in translating, say, Vergil, but I think in translating Homer it works very well.

Rating: 5/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 19 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is ‘top ten books everyone’s telling me to read’. Which really isn’t hard, because everybody’s always on at me to read something, heh.

  1. Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch. I love Scott Lynch’s first two books, and I actually got this one back when it was an ARC. I’m just terrible. I’ve bought it since and still… Mum and my partner both reaaaally want me to get on with it.
  2. The Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold. Again, so many people want me to read these. I’ve actually read Cordelia’s Honor, and I wasn’t that impressed? But I was also cranky and feeling a bit harassed. If nothing else, Jo Walton’s recommendations mean I should really get on with it…
  3. Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas. I read the prequel short stories way back before the first book was out, and wasn’t really interested enough to read more. But I hear so much about the trilogy, and Leah was urging me to read it, so.
  4. Pantomime, Laura Lam. I’m going to read this reaaaally soon, or that’s the plan at least. It’s the only book I can think of, other than arguably The Left Hand of Darkness, with an intersexed protagonist.
  5. The Enchantment Emporium, Tanya Huff. This has been recced me a couple of times, and it’s the book I happened to pick up for Tanya Huff to sign for me at Worldcon, so there y’go.
  6. A Song of Ice and Fire, G.R.R. Martin. My first rec for this came from Robin Hobb when I was about fourteen, and I still haven’t got round to it — and the recs are mounting up. It’s actually one of the books in a reading challenge I’m doing, so I’ll get round to it soon.
  7. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out, and now there’s a whole trilogy. Also in my challenge list.
  8. Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell. I’ve read part of it. I have the special edition, signed. I’ve read Attachments and Eleanor & Park. And yet. I’ll get there eventually. Sorry, Leah, and everyone.
  9. Yendi, Steven Brust. I read the first book of the series at Jo’s recommendation, promptly bought a whole bunch of the omnibuses, and then… got distracted by so
  10. The Healer trilogy, Maria V. Snyder. I like Snyder’s work as a casual fun read, and my sister will kick me if I don’t hurry up and read these. And probably many other books too; she likes kicking me.

What’s on everyone else’s lists?

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Review – Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise

Posted 18 August, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Coral by Steve JonesCoral: A Pessimist in Paradise, Steve Jones

Starting with coral and working his way around, Steve Jones covers a lot of different topics to do with evolution, geology, the environment, and the impact us humans are having on said environment. This was probably the most compelling of his books that I’ve read, but I have to say I still didn’t find it breezy: fascinating as coral is in many ways, it’s not that fascinating to me.

Also, Jones clearly has a thing with Darwin — it’s not exactly that he copies Darwin, but he certainly emulates his works and interests, trying to present them anew to this century’s audience. Something about the way he’s always harping back to Darwin is starting to get on my nerves.

Rating: 2/5

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