Tag: book reviews

Review – Cinnamon Blade

Posted April 16, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor by Shira GlassmanCinnamon Blade, Shira Glassman

There’s a lot to like about Cinnamon Blade: Cinnamon Blade herself is a cat burglar turned superhero who also happens to be Jewish and bisexual, and her background — and that of her more religiously observant best friend — are baked into the story in little ways. Her relationship with Soledad, a woman she has ended up rescuing again and again, is passionate and at the same time dorky and cute.

Unfortunately, I think maybe I just don’t quite get on with Shira Glassman’s writing, which just doesn’t do much for me… and I definitely didn’t work well with the jump-start the romance got, heading straight off into mildly kinky (public) sex and more or less staying there, with superhero interludes. I wanted more of the other stuff — Blade’s relationship with the team, for instance, because the little we got to see of Captain Werewolf (the aforementioned more religiously observant best friend) was pretty cool.

It has its moments, and it wasn’t a bad way to beguile a half hour, but not quite my thing either.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You

Posted April 14, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto MooreYour Favorite Band Cannot Save You, Scotto Moore

This book started out promisingly for me: a music blogger finds a new track on Bandcamp by a band that seems to have come out of nowhere. Once he listens to it, it’s life-changing: it’s the best song he’s ever heard, a full-body experience of bliss. And there’s going to be 10 more tracks, one released each day…

It’s likely that it’s best to know as little as possible about this one before going in, but to some extent I found that people saying that made me expect more of a mystery than there actually was. I was hoping for more buildup, more mystery; instead, this book is way more in your face than that. And that’s where it kind of lost me: I didn’t want it to come straight out and tell me what it was going to be so soon. I felt like the concept of this music was good enough it needed to be strung out for a good long while, teasing the reader.

The places it goes are fun, but it wasn’t what I thought I was settling in for, and it felt a bit too… well, like I said: it felt in-your-face. It said the quiet bit out loud. Consequently, it kind of lost me and I didn’t buy in for the rest of the ride.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Rules of Contagion

Posted April 13, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Rules of Contagion by Adam KucharskiThe Rules of Contagion, Adam Kucharski

The Rules of Contagion is slightly out of my wheelhouse, being less about infectious disease and more about the principles underlying all kinds of contagion. Certainly, there are many examples taken from infectious disease, and it’s a rather on-the-nose choice to read in the current climate (for posterity: I write this review in the midst of the UK’s lockdown to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2)… but a good amount of it is discussing other ways of “going viral”: computer viruses, internet memes, and even failure in the financial sector.

I found it reasonably clear and easy to understand, and luckily the math content is pretty light and more theoretical than anything. I did feel sort of like it got stranded in the weeds, though: I wasn’t sure where it was going, and as a consequence, I wasn’t sure whether we got there or not.

In the end, it sort of felt like I was being told a series of cool anecdotes and snippets from research, without them being entirely related to each other. There’s no ur-theory of contagion here, just a ramble connecting some various strands of contagion theory together. That’s not uninteresting, but it feels a little unsatisfying!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Knit One, Girl Two

Posted April 12, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Knit One Girl Two by Shira GlassmanKnit One, Girl Two, Shira Glassman

Knit One, Girl Two is a short, low-stakes f/f romance. Clara’s into dyeing yarn, but she’s looking for inspiration for a new set of colours. She finds that inspiration in paintings by Danielle, a fellow Jewish woman, and Danielle is just as excited as she is by the chance to collaborate. They bond through the shared endeavour, which goes big time thanks to Danielle’s famous uncle, and a shared fandom. The only conflict in the novella is something that’s going on for Danielle, leaving her unable to paint and unhappy.

One thing I enjoyed a lot was how Clara dealt with hearing that something was going on for Danielle, via a rumour. She knows she can look it up… but she doesn’t, and instead sends a message to Danielle explaining that she knows something is happening, but she doesn’t want to pry. It’s a really cool and respectful way to go about it, which helped smooth over something I’d have found rather awkward.

The writing is fairly simple and matter-of-fact; the dialogue and descriptions didn’t really take off for me. It’s a cute story, and I’m so glad it’s out there providing f/f representation, Jewish romance, and low-stakes happiness… but I’m afraid it probably won’t stick with me. It’s a good companion for half an hour of reading, especially because it is low-stakes: things happen which you can care about, in the way you care about your friend’s latest drama or your sister’s work issues… but it tugs lightly on the heartstrings, rather than playing one of Paganini’s Caprices.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Nine Lands

Posted April 9, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Nine Lands by Marie BrennanThe Nine Lands, Marie Brennan

The Nine Lands is an anthology of stories linked by the fact that they’re set in the same secondary world. Some of these I’ve read before, I think; there’s something very familiar about several of them, at least. The stories aren’t really otherwise linked, with different themes and characters in each one. Each works well as a short story, giving a little glimpse of the world around whatever plot or character is at the centre.

I do have some… qualms, I guess; I know Brennan is an anthropologist, and I do trust her to be generally respectful, but it feels a little weird to see shamanism and other religious practices and cultural traditions in what feels like a fairly typical fantasy setting in other ways. I don’t really know enough or come from the right background to know how well it’s done and whether it feels right, so I can’t really comment any further on this, but it is worth knowing that it’s definitely in play in these stories.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Castle Skull

Posted April 8, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Castle Skull by John Dickson CarrCastle Skull, John Dickson Carr

I don’t know why I persist in subjecting myself to John Dickson Carr. This is the third book of his I’ve tried, I think, and it’s just… not for me. His work feels stilted and contrived, lacking the style of someone like Dorothy L. Sayers or the breeziness of Agatha Christie’s best. His genius detective, all but infallible, all but omniscient, just gets on my nerves. In fairness, almost all of the clues are there, but it’s hard to solve the mystery (though in another sense, it’s obvious) when everybody is so opaque; not even the Watson really feels alive, despite the access to his thoughts you have with him as the narrator.

Just… not for me, and I really need to remember that; I’ve had the same problem with Dickson Carr’s other series detective, and I just… don’t enjoy the contrived nature of his plots.

This is the second book in the British Library Crime Classics line of reissues that featured the sealed book ending: if you could take it back to the place you bought it without cutting it open to read the ending, you got your money back. It’s sort of interesting to think about that kind of gimmick. I wonder how well it worked! I can’t remember which Golden Age book I’ve read did this now… maybe it was John Dickson Carr’s other book, though?

In any case, argh, I should have put this down and given up, but I still had the tiniest bit of curiosity to satisfy.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Walking to Aldebaran

Posted April 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian TchaikovskyWalking to Aldebaran, Adrian Tchaikovsky

Received to review via Netgalley

I’m really late to this one, I know, but it caught my eye on my Kindle today and I dug in. It was a longer read than it looked, but it still went down pretty easy; by 60% of the way through, I had a solid idea about where it was going. I hadn’t quite caught all the nuances, though. But this is starting at the end.

To start at the beginning, Walking to Aldebarais a novella-length story about Gary Rendell, a somewhat Mark Watney-esque character who is lost within the depths of a Big Dumb Object. The Mark Watney comparison is mostly referring to the narration, which has a very similar tone; Rendell, however, is rather less ingenious and rather more to putting his head down and charging at whatever it is that’s bothering him. Mostly, he just wants to go home, but the Crypts (his name for the Big Dumb Object) are vast, confusing, and full of physics that makes no sense.

I’ll be honest: while reading it, I was mostly thinking about how much more it would be up my wife’s alley. There’s a lot of weirdness going on, and some horror elements, that all in all reminds me of the work of Jeff Vandermeer or China Miéville. The narration is fairly straightforward — at times, Gary starts talking about how he got there, telling the story of the expedition and how the Big Dumb Object was discovered, but mostly it’s pretty linear and I thought I knew what was happening by around about 60% of the way through.

However, Tchaikovsky is not without his tricks. I didn’t quite catch on to everything until I peeked at other people’s reviews/discussions on Goodreads. That’s all I’ll say; too much would spoil it. It’s possible that I was having a particularly dim day not to spot it right away, of course, but I still appreciated it very much once I “got” it.

Overall, quite enjoyable, and I think it’s possible this is one that will stick in my head, despite it not being an outright awesome match for my reading tastes.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Masked City

Posted April 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Masked City by Genevieve CogmanThe Masked City, Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City might be my favourite book of the bunch so far. It mostly features Irene, on her own, doing her thing. The motivations aren’t all about world-ending disaster or terrifying eldritch horrors, and at root it’s all about friendship and going to any lengths necessary for someone. Almost at the start, Kai is kidnapped by Fae and taken to a high chaos world that is inimical to his very nature, to be sold to the highest bidder. It will lead to a war between the Fae and Dragons, and it probably won’t end well for Kai, so Irene plunges in to save him.

It is a little annoying that every book relies more or less heavily on the repeated plot motif of Irene being cut off from the Library. In the first book, she’s chaos-infested; in this book, she’s too deep into chaos to reach the Library… It makes sense that she can’t always be popping back and forth to research things, but I feel frustrated by how little of the Library we see.

Nonetheless, this instalment has some very fun things, including the world-building about the natures of the Fae. Maybe it’s partly a fondness for the aesthetics of Venice that prompt my love of this particular book; Irene moves in a fantasy-Venice, in which the water doesn’t smell and there’s always a gondola going where you want to go. It’s deliberately charming, the very best of Venice; painted scenery against which the lives of the Fae (and this story) are hung. It really works as imagery and as a theme because Venice is treated like that in the real world, too.

There is a bit, I think in this book, where Vale tests Irene’s motivations a little, and that’s a really good scene (though sort of inconclusive), because Irene and all the Librarians feel a little shallow. They could do all sorts of good in the worlds, they have immense power to affect reality… and yet they’re only interested in books? I can understand a love of literature, but the Library feels hollow when you think about its alleged purpose: just to collect books. That’s it. Collect and preserve books. Not just unique knowledge — much of it isn’t applicable between worlds anyway — but obscure variants and unique copies of books that exist already in other worlds. It all feels a bit thin, and I worry at times that there isn’t anything behind that apparent central mission.

So yes, overall, probably my favourite, and probably the book that really made me enthusiastic about the series, too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Provenance

Posted April 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Provenance by Ann LeckieProvenance, Ann Leckie

I loved Provenance the first time I read it, focusing on Garal Ket and somewhat on Tic Uisine as being particular awesome points. I also enjoyed the gender-neutral characters included as a matter of course, and seeing something from outside the Radch, from a human point of view. Also, getting some screentime (so to speak) for the Geck! It’s all pretty awesome, but this time all of it was a background to Ingray’s journey, for me. If you’re used to Breq, she’s a much less put-together main character, and we also may feel less close to her as it isn’t a first-person narrative. Nonetheless, her journey to true self-sufficiency — and her healing from some of the wounds of a childhood spent competing with foster siblings — is great.

The book opens with her disastrous attempt to have a neman returned from Compassionate Removal (a sort of prison planet). The captain of the ship she’s about to travel on refuses to take anyone on board who isn’t fully consenting and aware of their destination, so the neman is awoken right there in the dock… and says e is not the person Ingray thought she asking for. Nonetheless, she ends up offering em the fake identity she bought to take that person home, and e ends up accepting — and throwing in with her to scam her family into believing e is the person she was hoping to find. Then the Geck get involved…

It’s an interesting society, which includes some stuff quite casually — part of adulthood is deciding on your gender and choosing your adult name! there is a third, officially recognised neutral gender! Ingray has a lesbian romance with a friend! — which I really enjoy as a) setting this planet apart from the Radch or from our own Earth, and b) the inclusiveness. The idea of the importance placed in this society upon “vestiges”, physical remnants that have been touched by one’s ancestors, is an interesting way to build up the society, too. Ingray’s relationship with her mother and brother are interesting and sad and ultimately rather affirming: despite mistakes made in the past, they remain a family and find a way through it all.

It remains a very enjoyable book, and I ate it up the second time as swiftly as I did the first. That said, if you’re looking for more of the Radch, or for a character more like Breq, this isn’t going to scratch the same itch.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – What’s Your Pronoun?

Posted April 5, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of What's Your Pronoun? Beyond He & She by Dennis BarronWhat’s Your Pronoun? Dennis Baron

What’s Your Pronoun? discusses something that’s on a lot of people’s minds, for good or bad: the humble part of speech we call the pronoun. Despite what some idiots protest, everybody uses pronouns all the time: I, you, she, he, they… They’re ubiquitous in speech and have been stirring up people’s emotions for years, whether it be wanting a neutral indefinite pronoun (for when you don’t know the gender of the person you’re referring to), or perhaps (like me) wanting to be addressed using a definite neutral pronoun (when someone doesn’t want to reveal their gender, or doesn’t identify with any).

Barron mostly discusses the former, because that’s something that he feels English is lacking (and which he has a fairly marked preference about, judging from this book). He goes over the numerous attempts to invent neutral pronouns, and some of the societal drivers behind that like denying women suffrage, getting used to women taking equal part in public life, and now the greater acceptance in Western society (the examples mostly stick to the US and the UK) of people who prefer to be gender-neutral.

It gets a little stodgy at times, personally, because I don’t care exactly when every different neopronoun was coined, and I’m less interested in a neutral indefinite pronoun (which English speakers usually solve with singular “they”, even if they believe that to be ungrammatical) than in a definite one. Baron is definitely behind singular they all the way, by the sounds of his arguments in this book, whether it be definite or indefinite: in answer to the cries of grammatical issues, he points out that singular “you” is a much more recent coinage, and one nobody even murmurs about these days.

I found it fairly readable, with some chapters being very absorbing and others getting a bit bogged down. If you’re interested in grammar, I’d recommend it.

Rating: 3/5

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