Tag: book reviews

Review – Eleanor & Park

Posted July 23, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

I have conflicting feelings about Eleanor & Park. I know that various aspects of it really troubled some people, from the treatment of the characters of colour to the way it deals with Eleanor’s fraught home life. I don’t know enough about American culture and history to really comment on that, other than acknowledging that some people find it problematic, e.g. in the exoticisation of Park’s looks and the stereotyping with his mother. I think everything Rowell does here is an honest attempt, though; I think there’s a conscious effort to bring in more diverse characters, it’s just that it brings in a lot of new problems with it.

Still, despite that, I actually really liked the book. I tend to enjoy Rainbow Rowell’s style anyway, and in this book I enjoyed the way she portrayed a teenage relationship. It’s dramatic life and death stuff, and while I don’t think I ever behaved that way, people I know did. Just discovering hormones and making a big mess of themselves over it and each other. It’s complicated in this case by Eleanor’s relationship with her step-dad, and Park’s discomfort about whether he’s the kind of son his father would want. I think parental situations had a fair amount to do with the rather desperate coupling up I saw sometimes: if you’ve got someone to think about while whatever’s going on at home kicks off, then it’s a bit more bearable. Or you’re less alone. Etc.

I think someone else said that to write for teenagers, you have to remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and I think Rainbow Rowell evokes that pretty well here.

When it comes to dealing with the difficult themes around Eleanor’s family, again, I think it’s an honest attempt. She evokes the feeling of threat well when she’s in Eleanor’s POV; it comes through a lot less when she’s writing from Park’s point of view, though. In a way, that’s realistic: we never know exactly what’s going on behind someone else’s eyes. But in this case… Park was so shocked when Eleanor spilled everything, and I’m just thinking, hey, there were plenty of warning signs, in neon.

All in all, though, I found Eleanor & Park a really easy read, and I liked Rainbow Rowell’s attitude to it that she mentioned at the signing I went to — she couldn’t write some happy ever after for Eleanor and Park, because they’re still kids. It’s not the end of their story, it’s the beginning. I really like that she didn’t go for the easy end where everything’s alright: she gave us hope, sure, but no more than that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stroke of Insight

Posted July 22, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte TaylorMy Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor

Someone gave this as their example of what to expect from this book, and, well, it’s pretty instructive all on its own:

“I unconditionally love my cells with an open heart and grateful mind. Spontaneously throughout the day, I acknowledge their existence and enthusiastically cheer them on. I am a wonderful living being capable of beaming my energy into the world, only because of them. When my bowels move, I cheer my cells for clearing that waste out of my body. When my urine flows, I admire the volume my bladder cells are capable of storing. When I’m having hunger pangs and can’t get to food, I remind my cells that I have fuel (fat) stored on my hips. When I feel threatened, I thank my cells for their ability to fight, flee, or play dead.”

Plus a lot of being one with the universe, etc.

The book actually starts off with a good introduction to what having a stroke is like, albeit I felt that the science was aimed ridiculously low: I felt like even someone who didn’t know anything about the brain would get impatient with the tone. It was overly simplistic, maybe even a touch condescending. Still, that’s the best part of the book: whatever else you may say about her, Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist and can explain very clearly what happens to the brain during a stroke. For that aspect alone, I’m glad I followed up on the rec from the Coursera neurobiology MOOC.

But once we get onto oneness with the universe, I’m getting antsy, and once we’re thanking our cells for our bowel movements, I’m out the room.

Oh, and this review is a good critique of it from the point of view of a clinician.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Serpent’s Promise

Posted July 21, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Serpent's Promise by Steve JonesThe Serpent’s Promise, Steve Jones

I’m quite enjoying Steve Jones’ other book done in this sort of style, taking the work of Charles Darwin and revising, updating and adding to it. Unfortunately, this one fell flat for me. Using some of the central stories of a religion as a gimmick while making it clear how much you look down on people who profess religious belief… ugh. Just, ugh..

Some parts of the science here were interesting, but overall it’s nothing I haven’t read elsewhere. Mostly it feels like Steve Jones riding his hobby horse, over and over. I’ve got several more of his books to read, but I’m starting to think he’s a one-trick pony.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Unthink

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

Cover of Unthink by Chris PaleyUnthink, Chris Paley

I received an ARC of this via Bookbridgr. I wasn’t sure what level it would be pitched at, but as a general rule, all things to do with psychology and the weird ways our brains work interest me. It turned out that this book was probably below the level I’m reading at when it comes to psychology, which is more Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, Paul Bloom, etc: because I rate my personal enjoyment of a book, that’s definitely knocked down my rating. But that’s no real comment on the content, which is interesting; just a lot of it, I happened to know already.

However, if you’re looking for a book with a lot of interesting facts, explained in an accessible manner, then Unthink may well be for you. It’s presented in a very easy to read format, with little chunks rarely more than two or three pages long, each with a descriptive chapter title. Despite the simple presentation, there is also a wealth of notes in the back which go into more detail, point to sources, etc.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Table of Less Valued Knights

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

Cover of The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie PhillipsThe Table of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this one when I requested it. On the one hand, I love Arthuriana and I have enjoyed several loose interpretations of it, even humorous/light-hearted ones. On the other hand, I’m not very good at humour myself, and can be a bit snooty about anything that messes too much with my views on Arthuriana.

It turns out, I really enjoyed it, and read it in pretty much one go. I love that while there is humour, it’s pretty gentle: it doesn’t single out any character as a laughing stock, and the characters aren’t there just to be laughed at. They’re still people, with goals of their own, and they’re likeable people at that. I somewhat feared Sir Humphrey would just be a laughable oaf, but he turns out to be a good guy even if he doesn’t subscribe to the kind of honour culture the Round Table stands for.

It is all very modern and anachronistic: there’s customs officials between the kingdoms, for example, for the sake of absurdity. There’s also pretty liberal views on LGBT people, including a knight who prefers to be called Gwendoline, and a gay relationship driving part of the plot.

All in all, it’s fun, and I’m really glad I read it. The tone is maybe reminiscent of Gerald Morris, albeit for adults, but otherwise it’s quite a fresh take on the idea of Camelot.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Rocket Girl: Times Squared

Posted July 19, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Rocket Girl, by Brandon Montclare & Amy ReederRocket Girl: Times Squared,Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder

Received to review from Netgalley.

Rocket Girl is kinda fun, though I felt like at a certain point, Dayoung’s flying around and crashing into things gets a bit boring and you want more substance. I do like that we’ve got a fifteen year old girl as the protagonist, though, and that she’s capable and clever, determined and principled.

Overall, though, the supporting cast just didn’t do much for me, and while the way the story plays with time is kind of fun, I wanted more from it. I’m not sure where it can go from here, either, given the ending, and… unfortunately, I’m not that interested.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Legends of Red Sonja

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

Cover of Legends of Red Sonja, by Gail Simone et alLegends of Red Sonja,Gail Simone et al

Received to review!

I didn’t love this TPB of stories about Red Sonja as much as I did the first TPB Gail Simone worked on, but I definitely appreciate what she did, the way she drew together female creators for this, and also the stories they all chose to tell. Women are prominent in many of them, and there are some delightful lines — like, “What’s wrong with men? I know plenty of decent male fighters.”

(If you don’t know why that made me laugh, well, it’s the flipside of what you usually get. Normally it’s a man damning women with faint praise for whatever skill or job.)

The whole storyline consists of a frame story with the Grey Riders, who are hunting Red Sonja, and then a series of stories told about her by her allies. What I loved about those was the way they emphasised different aspects of Red Sonja: her body, yes, but also her links with other women, her beliefs, her skill at fighting, and her cunning. Especially loved the little hat tip to complaints about her costume when she’s first given it, with the lady who gives her it telling her that if men are watching her curves, they aren’t watching her sword.

Red Sonja is kind of a male fantasy fulfilment thing. The chainmail bikini makes no sense, and probably chafes. But Gail Simone has made me feel very fond of her anyway: she and her team take everything about Sonja makes it feel more real, more worthy of celebration. She might’ve started as a sexist fantasy, but she doesn’t have to stay that way.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stranger on the Shore

Posted July 17, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Stranger on the Shore by Josh LanyonStranger on the Shore, Josh Lanyon

Received to review. Josh Lanyon’s a writer I’m always happy to curl up with — well, with his books, anyway — in pretty much the same way as I’d read Mary Stewart (before I ran out of her books). Mind you, I don’t think Mary Stewart featured a single gay character, while I don’t think Lanyon’s written a non-gay romance.

This was fun, in the way I usually find Josh Lanyon’s books: a bit of tension, sparks flying between the romantic leads, etc, plus mystery and unexpected danger, etc. I usually work out his plots pretty quickly, and this wasn’t an exception. The clues were a bit too obvious. Nonetheless, the exact identity of the murderer was a bit of a surprise, because I didn’t particularly have anyone nailed down for that.

The romantic relationship… For the most part, it worked for me. I could believe in the characters’ complex feelings, and in their connection. But, Pierce fell into the same trap as many romantic leads in YA books and so on (an odd comparison to make, I know). There were traits that were supposed to make him sympathetic in an odd way, but which led to rather creepy things. Like, having sex with someone to get their DNA for a test. And then entering into a real relationship with that person without ‘fessing up. Just, ugh, sure Pierce is supposed to have trust issues, but I don’t see how that makes it any better for him to violate someone else’s trust.

I am not going to quote from the sex scenes, but only one of them made me giggle, which is a start. There are some things that should never be compared to silly string or smashed champagne bottles, I’m just saying.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – 21st Century Dodos

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

Cover of 21st Century Dodos by Steve Stack21st Century Dodos, Steve Stack

Received to review. I might be a bit below the target age for this one — I remember some of these things, like cassettes and candy cigarettes and Jif, but other stuff was on its way out before I got there. I’m about to turn twenty-five, so I’d guess I’m about ten years behind some of this nostalgia stuff.

It’s not a very substantial book, but if you feel like a bit of nostalgia and an opportunity to go ‘I thought I was the only one who remembered that!’, then this might be for you.

Some of it hasn’t yet gone the way of the dodo for me: my parents get milk delivered, and I remember watching the milk float arrive on those illicit late nights I stayed up reading, sometimes. Okay, the first time it actually really freaked me out. But still. Milk float.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains

Posted July 14, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil GaimanTruth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell

I got this to review from Headline via Bookbridgr. Like I needed another source of goodies! Anyway, I hadn’t read this short story before, so my first experience of it was this version with Eddie Campbell’s illustrations and the slightly odd partial graphic novel format (which I wanted to kill with fire because for whatever reason I found the lettering hard to decipher, I don’t know if I’m the only one).

Viewed as a sort of fable/folk tale, I enjoyed it. The structure is great, too: the slow unspooling of information so that it all comes together close to the end, and if you were to start reading it again right away, you could appreciate the little clues. The art worked well for me, too, slightly unsettling and vivid, without any attempt to be photo-realistic.

What didn’t work for me so well was the treatment of women. The frankly unnecessary rape scene in the middle — I’m not going to tone it down and say it was “almost” a rape scene: it was a man having sex with his frightened wife after beating her, let’s call it what it is — and the idea of an independent, fierce young woman dying because her hair is tied to a thorn bush. That sort of works in a fairytale sense, but in reality… if I had to separately break every strand of my hair to get free, I would (yes, even back in the days when I had long hair and it was my pride and joy). I’m pretty sure 99% of people with long hair would value their lives over their hair.

And you know, the main character… I could forgive him wanting vengeance, and I could forgive him for the thing he can’t forgive himself for. What I can’t forgive him for is lying there on the floor of a hut where a woman has given him hospitality while she is beaten and raped for doing so — after he got her to come out from where she was hiding with promises she wouldn’t be harmed. Especially as it’s all focused on how uncomfortable he thinks about it — I’m pretty sure a woman in that situation would be feeling worse.

I know it’s set in a different culture, etc, etc, but it isn’t even necessary to the narrative or characterisation. Passing the woman’s husband outside would yield the same information, and we could avoid the whole sorry episode.

Rating: 3/5

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