Tag: book reviews

Review – X-men: Storm

Posted August 17, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of X-men: Storm by Warren EllisX-men: Storm, Warren Ellis, Terry Dodson

This Storm comic seems to rely on other events surrounding it, and certainly expects you to be up to speed on who everyone is — at least in the first issue. It actually gets a bit more explanatory later on in the volume, which confused and then began to ignore me.

Since my exposure to X-men previously has just been brief crossovers with other comics and a huge childhood obsession with an animated TV series, it’s fair to say I come into this pretty new. I liked the Storm portrayed here: struggling with past bad decisions, trying to feel her way into being a true leader, and not completely sanitised. She chooses not to kill at several points, but that’s because she knows what it’s like to use lethal force; it’s a real choice, not just idealism.

All in all, I can’t rate this that highly because there’s so little here, but I think there’s a current solo Storm comic, and I’m thinking of picking that up. There isn’t enough here to let Storm shine, and the comic seems pretty dated in the way it tells its story now, but it does hint at compelling and interesting aspects of Storm’s character.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Y: The Descent of Men

Posted August 16, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Y: The Descent of Men by Steve JonesY: The Descent of Men, Steve Jones

This book is another of Steve Jones’ updates/responses to/homages to Charles Darwin’s work. It’s probably remarkably different in many ways, in terms of the content, but it is an interesting read. I do think Jones goes a bit too much into gender essentialism — I played rough with my sister and the local boys, which the female-bodied are allegedly hard-wired not to do — and sometimes his constant reiteration that the Y chromosome is dying out seems a little hysterical, like maybe it might give fuel to the men’s rights people.

And if he could maybe stop talking about promiscuous gay men causing the spread of AIDs in every book, that’d be great. (I don’t care how true it may be, straight people get AIDs too, thank you very much.)

There is interesting stuff here in terms of genetics, foetal development, even the development of the human race as witnessed by the Y chromosome. Honestly, though, I’m not finding Jones’ work that fun to read — it seems to drag on forever — so once I’ve finished the last one I have out of the library, that’ll be it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Elysian Fields

Posted August 15, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonElysian Fields, Suzanne Johnson

Received to review from Bookbridgr! Although I would normally hate jumping into a series in the middle, this doesn’t seem to be a bad point to do so. There’s a fair amount of exposition to get you settled in the world and up to date with the events of DJ’s life. It slides along pretty fast, and got me hooked because I really, really wanted to know what happened regarding a certain event in the first few chapters.

What drove me slightly nuts was working out who DJ was will-they-won’t-they romancing with, and which of them had the best chance. I was quite cringy at the early scene with Jake, the loup garou, because of the whole creepy (though admittedly so) “I can sense your fear and I like it” thing. That might’ve come off better with a bit of character history, but perhaps not.

Overall, this is pretty fun, and New Orleans makes a good setting for it. I’m not wildly in love, though, and I won’t be picking up the other books unless they appear on the library shelves and beckon (which is always possible).

Rating 2/5

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Review – Jurassic Mary

Posted August 15, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters by Patricia PierceJurassic Mary, Patricia Pierce

I couldn’t resist grabbing this when I came across it randomly in the library. I was hoping for more books on dinosaurs, but I’ll take a biography of an amazing female scientist any day. The unfortunate thing about Mary Anning is that she wasn’t treated as the professional she was. Or, rather, she was accepted as a professional fossil hunter, but she wasn’t given the recognition she deserved. And unfortunately, a lot of what we know about her is framed by the male geologists and scientists who relied on her.

Still, Patricia Pierce does a decent job of bringing Mary Anning to life and pointing out how amazing her achievements were, given her social context. I could do with less speculation about her romantic life, about which there appears to be not a shred of proof. Maybe she just wasn’t interested? But that didn’t take up too much space: it just struck me as falling into the trap of seeing Mary Anning the way her contemporaries would’ve, with too much emphasis on her being a ‘spinster’.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Sarah Canary

Posted August 11, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sarah Canary by Karen Joy FowlerSarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler

I do not know what to make of this book. I suspected I wasn’t going to enjoy it, since I haven’t enjoyed other stuff by Karen Joy Fowler, but that’s not exactly what happened. I did get caught up in the story, intrigued by the mystery of Sarah Canary. At the same time, I felt like it was one of a type of novel I don’t get on very well with, something very opaque, where motivations aren’t clear and things just happen to the characters as if they are just giving themselves over to whichever way life pushes them.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that kind of story, it just doesn’t really do anything for me. Well, I’m sure there are exceptions, but this wasn’t one — the best I can say is that I read it very quickly, I had no intention of stopping, and I did find it interesting. Partially because of the genre-twisty is-this-SF question about it, rather than because of it — ambiguous stories don’t bother me, but the combination of style and character here did.

On the other hand, I did like the portrayal of B.J. For all that he’s clearly “not all there” in colloquial terms, he’s good at heart and the way he sees the world makes for an interesting point of view. The passages from his point of view were maybe the best in the novel, for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mindstar Rising

Posted August 8, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. HamiltonMindstar Rising, Peter F. Hamilton

Mindstar Rising is a reasonably entertaining technological thriller, though I’m not going to touch the politics aspect of the speculative world Hamilton has created. The pace is okay, enough to keep you interested, and there are some characters that you get a little caught up in — Julia, for example, and her grandfather; I felt pity for the wreck he was in, and sympathy because of the way he adored her. And Julia… I sympathised with the way she was struggling to figure out how she fit into the world.

On the whole, though, I won’t be reading more of Hamilton’s work, at least until I’ve got this ridiculous stack of books down a bit (unless there’s another Hamilton book hiding in the pile). I think it’s something more in my sister’s line than mine, perhaps. Anyway, my main problem was the main character, Greg Mandel. He was just bland to me, up to the point where he used his psychic abilities to seduce a much younger, vulnerable woman. Then I started feeling twitchy. It’s one thing to use it against people in criminal investigations — although even then, I feel like someone’s thoughts and emotions are really their own business and no one else’s — but using it for the sole purpose of getting laid?

Also, man, I have had enough of the male gaze-y crap. There are intelligent women in this book, strong women, but I think every woman Mandel comes across is evaluated first in terms of how she looks. I’ve had quiiiiiite enough of that, thank you.

Entertaining, like I said, but I’m not feeling the enthusiasm.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – A Love Like Blood

Posted August 7, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Love Like Blood by Marcus SedgwickA Love Like Blood, Marcus Sedgwick

A Love Like Blood is a pretty disturbing book. I wasn’t sure that to expect when I requested it from Bookbridgr, and I’m a little worried that everything I say or tag it with is going to spoil the story somewhat. It’s a mystery, a slowly unravelling one, and part of that mystery is actually what genre we’re in here. I suggest you don’t read beyond here in this review if you’re planning on reading this; while I’ll try not to include spoilers as such, it still might inform your reading of the novel.

Given Sedgwick’s previous work, I expected it to have paranormal elements; I wasn’t expecting the darkness of this story, though perhaps from this quote on the back, I should’ve: “the worst monsters are entirely human.” I’m still not sure how exactly I feel about that bait-and-switch — everything about it seemed to suggest a sort of gothic vampire novel, especially with Lindqvist blurbing it.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing. I admire the structure of it, the way it plays with the reader’s expectations: it’s very conscious of other books in the various related genres, I think. I admire the way it comes together, and of course it leaves me thinking back over the story and what each little event described means — because it does all mean something.

I’m a bit baffled by the way some reviewers reached the end of this and then still complained the character was not likeable enough to follow for the whole book. Well, if you read for likeable characters, then that’s valid, but I can’t understand finishing the book and then feeling that Sedgwick accidentally made his protagonist a creep.

In terms of the writing style, I found it a pretty easy read. It’s written in a slightly old-fashioned style, since it’s narrated from the point of view of an educated Englishman during/post WWII; I thought that was reasonably well handled, though I do find myself wondering why the narrator is telling the story, and to who.

All in all, I think I’m rating this a slightly uneasy 3/5. It possibly deserves more in some respects, but I can’t say I liked it. This is a compromise between the fact that I found it interesting but also repellant.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Gloriana

Posted August 7, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gloriana by Michael MoorcockGloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen, Michael Moorcock

When I started reading Gloriana — maybe even before that, when I read about the premise — I was very doubtful about whether I’d like it. The way the plot revolves around the fact that Gloriana can’t have an orgasm just baffled me: it made it sound like that was the most important thing in life, which… it isn’t. Still, actually reading the book, and especially the ending, made me think that aspect of it is actually a metaphor. I understand people who find the ending abhorrent: there’s a rape scene which may seem to imply that someone who is anorgasmic just needs to be raped.

Reading both the original and revised endings, though, I don’t think that was where Moorcock was going with that. In both, he emphasises that what finally allows Gloriana to find fulfilment is not anything really to do with sex, but that for the first time in her life, she can focus solely and entirely on herself. For the rest of the book — the rest of Gloriana’s life — she’s too concerned with being a queen, with being a country. But here, in both scenarios, whether she takes control of it or not, she becomes an individual in her fear.

Now, why that had to be via sex and sexual violence is a question that’s definitely valid to ask, but it is important to read something carefully if you’re going to critique it. More immediate to me are the questions about consent concerning children and animals, which are not dealt with critically at all — rather the opposite.

In any case, all of that aside, I really liked Gloriana. Not so much for individual characters as for the whole idea, the plotting and scheming, the setting. Which is not to say that the individual characters weren’t of interest — they were, in their tangle of motivations and confusion of feelings. Montfallcon, particularly, was interesting because of the way his motivations were unveiled piece by piece, slowly. The labyrinthine world of the court as a whole, though; that, I really liked. I haven’t actually read Gormenghast, but from what I know of it, I think Moorcock made a worthy tribute to it in many ways here.

The writing itself was, to my mind, easy to read. He doesn’t go for any false archaisms, though the style isn’t contemporary, and while he piles on the adjectives and so on, I do feel that’s an intentional embarrassment of riches, like the court itself.

I can understand why people dislike this book, or never finish it, but I’m glad I did.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Women of the Cousins’ War

Posted August 6, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Women of the Cousins' War by Philippa Gregory et alThe Women of the Cousins’ War, Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, Michael Jones

I don’t get on well with Philippa Gregory’s fiction, so I’m not terribly surprised that I wasn’t a great fan of this either. I do like David Baldwin’s work, though I think I’ve already read a full biography of Elizabeth Woodville by him; Michael Jones’ work here is strong enough and based solidly enough on actual research to intrigue me.

I actually quite liked Gregory’s introduction, ridiculously long as it is. She does actually raise valid points about the writers of history, and about how historical fiction and historical fact interact. I can at least relate to her powerful interest in the subject. On the other hand, there’s very little actually known about Jacquetta, the biography she writes, and it reads very much like the fiction books she’s already written, stripped of dialogue and sprinkled with “maybe”.

Overall, I can see this being interesting to people casually interested in the period, with enough experience of non-fiction not to complain too much about the equivocal statements (guys, if they stuck to the facts we know for absolute certain, we could say they were born, married, had children, and died — often, that’s about it; if we presented speculation as fact, that would be rather dishonest and not helpful at all to the field). I can’t really recommend it for people who’ve already delved into non-fiction on the period: this doesn’t offer much of anything new.

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Review – Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985–2010

Posted August 5, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di FillippoScience Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985 – 2010, Damien Broderick, Paul Di Philippo

This isn’t exactly filled with sparkling deathless prose, and if you’re expecting something definitive or unassailable, I think you’re a bit batty. If you think you’re going to agree with every choice, I think you’re more than a bit batty. It’s basically a list with some commentary, comprising of a number of novels which the authors found notable in one way or another — not necessarily literary merit, but sometimes just really cool ideas.

It’s an interesting list, a little more diverse than I was expecting, and I’m planning to go through it reading all the books. Sometimes the commentary by the authors is useful, sometimes it amounts to little more than a plot summary, but either way it usually gives you a feel of what the book is about, at the very least.

Rating: 3/5

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