Tag: book reviews


Review – A Local Habitation

Posted 28 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuireA Local Habitation, Seanan McGuire

Finally, I’m proceeding with my rereads to get on and maybe someday finish this series! This is the second October Daye book, featuring Toby and Quentin as they delve into a mystery in a neighbouring duchy. For one reason or another, Sylvester hasn’t been able to get in contact with his niece, January, and for political reasons among the other fae, he can’t go himself. Since Toby amounts to an independent contractor, sending her doesn’t count, and Quentin’s just along for the ride… so off October goes, quickly finding out that there are murders being committed at January’s computing company, and even the strongest of the fae who work there are being killed.

To me, the killer is fairly obvious all along, but then I do have the advantage of having read the book before. There are some delightful ideas and bits of fae lore here: I love what we discover about the night haunts, for instance, and the idea of a Dryad being maintained in a server after the death of her tree. There is a sense in which this book is just one continual long thrashing of Toby — if she’s not being attacked by an actual enemy, she’s being seduced by a fae who can drain her and leave her for dead; if she’s not worrying over Quentin being injured, it’s because she’s got to worry about Connor instead… But in a sense, that’s what the whole series is like.

It feels like this book could’ve been resolved faster if Toby was thinking with her brain instead of rolling around trying to avoid the next punch by instinct, and it’s certainly not my favourite of the series (though I haven’t read much of the whole series, my money is currently on An Artificial Night for that title, of the ones I’ve read before), but it’s enjoyable enough and has some fascinating stuff going on, like the idea of how to save Faerie.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith

Posted 27 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How Do We Look / The Eye of Faith by Mary BeardHow Do We Look / The Eye of Faith, Mary Beard

This volume is a slightly odd book in that the two halves aren’t really related, except by being companions to the same TV series, Civilisation. The first half looks at how the human body has been portrayed throughout history — so both what we look like and how we see ourselves — and the second half discusses portraying the divine, iconoclasm, and art history through that lens.

It’s a pretty quick read, with illustrative photos: this is a companion to a TV series, after all, not an in-depth academic treatise. That shows in the relatively broad, shallow approach it necessitates, but it’s nonetheless an interesting book. Mary Beard’s a good writer and respected academic, and the book does come with Further Reading and References, so it’s not as slight as it might look.

Nonetheless, there’s not much to say beyond that! Both topics are interesting, and I’d be glad to read more in-depth discussions — by Mary Beard or someone else.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – Kill The Queen

Posted 26 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Kill the Queen by Jennifer EstepKill the Queen, Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep’s Kill the Queen is joyfully tropetastic: after Lady Everleigh witnesses the massacre of everyone who stands near to the throne before her, except one traitor, she escapes due to her hidden magic and plans to disappear, becoming just plain old Evie, despite her promise to the previous queen to take back the throne. She falls in with a group of gladiators and ends up training as a gladiator herself, not noticing the parallel with the fact that the first queen of her bloodline rose to the throne via combat as a gladiator. Throughout the book, she discovers that skills she learned as the seventeenth in line to the throne are useful — things that dealt with certain customs that nobody more important had the time to cater to, like baking a particular kind of pie and learning fiendishly complex dance steps.

It continues in that vein throughout: it’s readable, and fairly well-paced, and it has all the obligatory spices like a fairly obvious deeper plot, and a hate-to-love romance. It’s basically brain candy, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reading the second book or not, but it was fun.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Stars Uncharted

Posted 25 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Stars Uncharted by S.K. DunstallStars Uncharted, S.K. Dunstall

Stars Uncharted features a ragtag crew getting into trouble, slowly becoming a found family, dodging around the universe to avoid bad guys of various stripes. If that sounds somewhat familiar, then you’re right. It has a very Firefly-ish, Expanse-ish, Long-Way-To-A-Small-Angry-Planet-ish, Dark Run-ish feel… which didn’t hold any surprises for me or stand out in its little sub-genre, but did scratch an itch… and make me want to read more like it again. (Firefly is such a comfort thing for me!)

It does have its different features, such as the body modding plotline that is such an important part of the plot and understanding various characters: everyone is infinitely plastic in appearance, and a good modder can do anything — changing you right down at the molecular level if necessary. This is woven into the plot pretty inextricably, featuring in several characters’ secrets and motivations, holding up the action at times, and enabling the next twist in others. It’s used pretty well, honestly, and the skills of the two modder characters help to steer the story in a slightly different direction, avoiding it being mere chase scene after fight scene after chase scene.

I did find that I’d figured out Roystan’s secret well, well before any of the characters had cottoned on at all, which was a little frustrating. Not sure if the authors plan to write another book and make it a series, but I suspect I’d read it if they did. And I thought that the hints of romance between two of the characters were a little… well, it felt like a cut and paste job. I did understand why those two characters, but it all felt a bit cookie-cutter predictable, like it wasn’t quite about those two people in particular, but just about adding a bit of extra spice along the way.

(My kingdom for a story with strong bonds without romance being required — oh right, my wish has already been granted: I’m thinking of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.)

It’s fun enough, and I’ll probably read future books by these authors or in a series with this book, if I come across them… but I probably won’t be in a hurry.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Rosewater

Posted 24 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Rosewater by Tade ThompsonRosewater, Tade Thompson

I struggled with this book so much. I’d read such glowing reviews from a whole range of people, but I just couldn’t get into it. Probably part of that is my own fault for reading it on the treadmill (though that normally isn’t a problem) and in little bits, but a lot of it was the narrator’s obsession with sex. I don’t know how many orgasms he had during the book, some of them spontaneous, let alone the number of erections he talks about (seriously), but everything for him seemed to revolve around sex. That’s what women mostly seemed to be for, for the narrator: the first question through his mind always seemed to be a variant on “can I fuck her?”

I especially did not enjoy him in gryphon form fucking a butterfly-winged stranger on what amounts to the astral plane. Just… no thank you.

There is some fascinating stuff here with the setting (Nigeria), the isolation of the US, the xenoforms, Wormwood… but for me it was buried under the general unpleasantness of Kaaro. He’s not particularly ashamed of using his talents to become a thief, and he’s definitely not ashamed of his objectification of women and his complete shallowness. There was an awesome potential whole different book here about Oyin Da, or Aminat, or Femi, but instead they’re sidelined and putting up with Kaaro’s shit.

I don’t know. I don’t get it, guys. I appreciate some aspects of it — SF set somewhere other than the US (or to a lesser extent, the UK/Europe)! The concept of a network of fungal infection allowing mindreading in sensitive people! Awesome! But.

I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Murder Most Unladylike

Posted 23 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder Most Unladylike by Robin StevensMurder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens

I picked this up because the author had a delightful thread on Twitter, basically. It’s not something I would normally pick up, perhaps, given that it’s sort of middle-grade-ish in target audience — but it’s a mystery story and I was told it was entertaining (and inclusive!) so I thought I’d just go ahead and give it a shot. And it was enjoyable: Daisy and Hazel are at a boarding school and become friends, and this term they’ve decided to imitate Holmes and Watson and become a crime-investigating duo. Daisy considers herself the brains of the outfit, while Hazel is the heart (and more often than not has some smart ideas of her own) and the writer, following Sherlockian custom. When Hazel finds a dead body which disappears by the time she goes back to show someone, they realise they’ve found the perfect case.

As befits the audience, it goes along at a hefty clip, and the mystery isn’t too difficult for the audience to get into themselves. It does a nice job of evoking the historical setting without getting into too much detail, using Hazel’s outsider status as a foreign student to explain what might not be familiar (although it all is if you were into Enid Blyton’s books as a kid, as I was). All in all, it still wasn’t my thing, but it was fun as a change, and it is something I’d happily recommend to someone of the right sort of age and/or interests.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – Band Sinister

Posted 22 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. CharlesBand Sinister, K.J. Charles

“Georgette Heyer, but queer,” they [being people on Twitter] said.

“I’m there!” I said.

That’s pretty much the summary of this book, though there’s significantly more sex in this than Heyer would’ve got away with, and a lot more free-thinking, philosophy and queerness. The situation, though, is kind of classic: Guy and Amanda live in significantly straitened circumstances, trying their best to be as quiet as possible while a relative holds the purse strings, making them live on her charity. Amanda chafes at this somewhat and hits on a way she can earn them some money: she writes a Gothic novel and easily sells it. The hitch? Well, she based it on the stories about a neighbouring family — with whom her family has a long, storied and unpleasant history.

Then she decides to ride over there to do research, falls from her horse, is seriously injured, and her brother has to go join her in the den of iniquity as a chaperone. Thus do Guy and Phillip meet — and of course, Phillip is in fact much-maligned and really not at all as dreadful as he’s painted (albeit admittedly being queer, and atheist, and fairly promiscuous).

What follows is mostly a delightful exploration of a relationship based on communication — albeit with one or two snags — and consent. If anyone tries to claim consent isn’t sexy, send them this: it absolutely is in this book, and makes the sex scenes worth reading even for those who have no interest in the mechanics, because the emotional content is there. It’s not insta-luv, but the respect and carefulness is there throughout.

The happy ending is decidedly Heyer-ish in tone and effect, and it delighted me. The characters also delighted me — Guy is a dork, and Phillip a sweetheart, and both of them care immensely about the things close to them in a way that draws you into their feelings and motivations just perfectly.

And you know, I was going to automatically give it 4/5 stars, but I didn’t actually have any quibbles. It was deeply enjoyable from start to end, both for the pastiche and on its own merits, and K.J. Charles can write more Heyer-esque stuff any day and just set up a direct debit on my bank account for it.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – Shades of Milk and Honey

Posted 21 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette KowalShades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey is essentially meant to be the novel Jane Austen would write if a magic called “Glamour” was considered an art that gently bred women should practice as part of the small touches that make a house a home. Jane Ellsworth is a plain woman, almost old enough to be entirely on the shelf, but she has a good heart and a talent for magic. Despite her fears of being a spinster forever, her talents draw the attention of several men in this book. And despite her fears of being eclipsed by her pretty sister Melody, her good sense and her talent are what carries the day, as she finds romance with someone who initially overlooked her and disparaged her talents, but who grows to appreciate what she can do and the person she is.

I don’t know what it is about this book, but it’s really grown on me with each reading — and even though it wasn’t something I loved the first time I read it, it really stuck in my head somehow. Partly because Kowal does do a compelling job of weaving magic into a fairly Austen-esque Regency novel: she’s fit it into society, thought about the implications for various trades, for war, etc. Possibly I’m also a bit of a sucker for the romance, for the way plain Jane and surly Vincent come together.

Also, it’s just really good to sink into and read all in one go.

I suspect it also helps that the later books use the setting but go on to fill it out: it’s not just magic and manners, but also political implications, and a bit more of the alternate history that would result. Having read Glamour in Glass and Without a Summer, this sets up a larger plot about progress and change; this book doesn’t contain much of it, but without it the themes couldn’t be developed so easily in the other books. If you do find Shades of Milk and Honey a little slight, but find the world interesting, the other books definitely expand on that!

But I’ve come to appreciate it for itself, as well. Possibly I was still being a snob about romance the first time I read it…

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

Posted 20 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by SWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali

My experience of this book is positive, but it is about rape, all kinds of rape, and it’s not skimpy on the details. If you’re going to find the topic of rape viscerally upsetting, please don’t read this review! I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe, although I think the book in itself is potentially really helpful.

The title pretty much encapsulates what the book is about: Sohaila Abdulali thinks that rape has been a taboo and difficult subject for too long, leaving too many struggling in silence, and now is a perfect moment to let in some more light and talk about the issue. This isn’t some academic pronouncement from on high: Abdulali herself was the victim of a violent rape, many years ago — something she is frank about, and an experience that retains its horror in the telling, although it is now an event she has healed from.

Despite that, she’s matter-of-fact, in a way that means my primary feeling about the book was not horror or despair or any such emotion, but the hope that I think she wanted to convey. I found the whole thing oddly comforting: she recognises so many different kinds of rape, so many different reasons and reactions and aftermaths. There’s no one right way to have been raped, here: she accepts all kinds of stories, whether it’s a child being raped by someone they trust or a prostitute who tried to say no after money had already changed hands. There’s no one type of victim she thinks is more justified in being hurt and feeling unsafe, no situation she singles out as being better or worse than another. Honestly, to me, the narrative here says: “What happened to you was bad, whatever it was. It’s awful, but we can look at it and unpick it and it doesn’t have to be this one big monolith dominating your whole life. But whatever it is, it’s okay.”

The book did have a couple of downsides — at times it felt a little scatterbrained, unfocused in its approach. It’s very personal, rather than being just academic or just political or just feminist — it’s Sohaila Abdulali sitting down and taking a look at the world, and making sure some things we keep in the dark are really seen for what they are and what they mean. She has plenty of statistics to quote, but in the end it feels like she’s sitting and working through a mass of trauma — not all her own — conversationally, opening up a space for it, and making us see it. Perhaps it makes sense, in that way, that it’s a little disjointed at times.

I’m very glad I read it. It sounds like a heavy topic, but somehow in Abdulali’s hands, it’s not. Or rather, it is, but it’s one we can handle, and must handle, and stop trying to look away from (either from fear or from respect for victims).

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , ,

Divider

Review – To Davy Jones Below

Posted 19 February, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of To Davy Jones Below by Carola DunnTo Davy Jones BelowCarola Dunn

In this book, Daisy and Alec have got married and they’re off on a cruise to the US. Because Daisy is Daisy, she quickly runs into a murder, and Alec is unwillingly drawn into the case because he’s the only policeman on board, and everyone turns to his experience (not to mention his rank). We get to spend some more time with Gloria and her father, and endure one of those typical “gold digging girl from the stage marries a millionaire with ill-intent” plots.

Mostly meh, in retrospect, though Daisy and Alec’s relationship and interactions remain fun.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider