Tag: book reviews

Review – Spineless

Posted 24 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spineless by Juli BerwaldSpineless, Juli Berwald

I’m so behind on reviews that it’s been a while since I read this, oops. I’m not a huge fan of jellyfish, but I can be entertained greatly by reading about something I don’t know even if I’m not already a fan, and such was the case here. Jellyfish didn’t particularly strike me as interesting, biologically, and they still don’t hold much fascination for me in themselves — but the book definitely grabbed my interest and kept it. There’s lots of interesting facts, albeit I couldn’t immediately verify the ones I checked up on (the claim, for example, that there’s a jellyfish that zips its mouth shut so tightly that trying to forcefully unzip it simply rips the jellyfish’s face).

It’s a little prone to wandering into autobiography, with some filler chapters like the one about how to prepare jellyfish to eat, but this is pop science: one expects that kind of detail and filler when you’re talking about as vague a subject as this. Going into it with that level of expectation, it was generally entertaining, full of the sort of facts I like to randomly tell my wife, and a quick read.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fire Logic

Posted 21 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fire Logic by Laurie J. MarksFire Logic, Laurie J. Marks

This book has been on my to read list a really long time, and I thought it’d be a sure thing. It’s got queer characters, the opening caught my attention — particularly with the character eager to go and view a manuscript! — and the elemental magic seemed potentially interesting. It’s a fairly standard set-up, I suppose: the invading army, the guerilla defenders, people’s way of life at risk, and Our Bold Heroes… But in the end, this was a really slow version of that. Realistic, in some ways — worrying about supplies and morale — but slow.

Too slow for me, alas. That combined with the writing style — everyone “cried” everything, even when a shout, sob, or any other loud noise is not exactly the appropriate reaction — and a general sense that I just wasn’t catching on… Meh. Life’s too short. It’s not my thing, the end.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – All Systems Red

Posted 20 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

“Oh no, I’m having a feeling” just about sums up poor Murderbot’s life. But I’m starting in the middle here. Let’s go back to the beginning: All Systems Red is the first novella in a series. Murderbot is the main character, an organic/machine hybrid created for guard duty and overall security. Murderbot is, as of this novella, deployed with a group of overall quite decent humans who are surveying a planet. When things start to go wrong, it turns out that Murderbot is their best chance. You see, Murderbot’s hacked its own governer module, and that means it has a degree of free will not normally enjoyed by constructs like itself.

(It has no illusions about what it is, hence the name “Murderbot”, which it has given itself.)

Dr Mensah and her team turn out to be rather great human beings, and they react well to Murderbot’s free will, allowing it to help them and ultimately… well, no spoilers! Suffice it to say that Murderbot spends quite a bit of time with them, to its own dismay. Humans are difficult, and it would much rather be watching the equivalent of Netflix.

It’s just all… so charming, despite being murdery — Murderbot has a lot of anxiety and yet also cares about the humans its meant to be protecting. It doesn’t have to take risks to help them, but it does. I would say I want to give Murderbot a hug, but the poor thing would be utterly horrified at the idea.

I’ve read All Systems Red before, of course, but I haven’t read the final novella in the series, so a reread seemed like a great idea. I agree, past self! It was a great idea. Murderbot makes me happy.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sorcerer to the Crown

Posted 17 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho

It’s been a long while since I first read this book, so even though I knew The True Queen wasn’t a direct sequel, I really wanted to reread this first. I’m glad I did; although I remembered the broader strokes, there was a lot I’d forgotten, particularly about Zacharias and the big secret he spends most of the book hiding. Which is odd, because Zacharias is rather more to my taste as a character that Prunella — but Prunella is definitely the more memorable, with her determination to get what she wants and needs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In Sorcerer to the Crown, Zacharias has just inherited the staff of the Sorcerer Royal, after his mentor’s death. Given his race and some mysterious circumstances surrounding his mentor’s death, though, many English sorcerers are refusing to accept his authority. And that’s far from his only trouble… particularly once he meets Prunella. Prunella’s mother is totally unknown and her father long gone, but she was raised by the headmistress of a school for well-born girls. In this world, girls aren’t meant to use magic, and the school’s purpose is more to school it out of them than school it into them. After a visit, though, Zacharias is soon convinced that girls like Prunella should be taught.

Prunella has other ideas in mind, of course.

The story bombs along at a great pace, and that description doesn’t cover nearly everything that ends up happening. There are some great side characters (Mak Genggang! Rollo and Damerell!) and some fascinating alternate history uses of magic and magical creatures. Zacharias is serious and conscientious, and burdened with a lot of conscience, while Prunella acts as an excellent foil with her self-interest and drive (though coupled with intense loyalty to her friends, including Zacharias).

All in all, it’s a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it very much a second time as well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Talent for Murder

Posted 16 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Talent for Murder by Andrew WilsonA Talent for Murder, Andrew Wilson

I was quite interested in this story based on what I know about Golden Age crime fiction, and about the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie for several days at one point in her life. As far as I know it’s genuinely still a bit of a mystery what happened during the days she was missing, and this story attempts to fill in the gaps, introducing a mysterious man who wants Christie to kill for him, and thus engineers her disappearance.

There are some aspects of this that are genuinely interesting — Wilson’s description of the helplessness and disgust his version of Christie feels when the man makes her dance to “Yes! We Have No Bananas!” is quite effective. For the most part, though, I felt like the handling was clumsy: details from Christie’s life, no doubt gleaned from her autobiography and other materials, are sort of shoehorned in to convince the reader that yes, this really is Christie, this is really is what happened. It doesn’t work for me — the “verification” is just a little too blatant. (Even if I can’t tell what’s real and what’s invented!)

What’s more, the tone — apart from a couple of scenes — didn’t much work for me. There’s something so bland and generic about it, even while Wilson is working with a rather colourful person. So all in all, I found it rather disappointing and after a hundred pages or so, I found myself putting it down for good without regret. The library can have it back, with pleasure.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Magic Burns

Posted 14 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns, Ilona Andrews

The second Kate Daniels book plunges straight into action, with Kate teaming up with Jim to fight a guy using a salamander to set things on fire. Things escalate from there, as is usual for Kate, while the book also introduces more important secondary characters in the form of Julie and Andrea. Julie is a vulnerable girl Kate spends most of the book trying to protect; Andrea is a knight of the Order who can put a bullet through a pinhead at god knows what distance. (Together, they fight crime! Well, kind of, a little bit, actually.)

There’s more mythology mixed into the pot — including a healthy dollop of Irish mythology, with the appearance of the Morrigan and a warrior with a skillset like that of Cú Chulainn — and a lot more frenetic fighting, running and pure badassery. I love the hints towards Kate’s heritage — I’m not sure why I never twigged further in advance, given the evidence, but somehow the first time I was not going in the right direction at all.

And as before, another thing I love is that Kate is indeed a total badass, but a badass who knows that sometimes the fighting has got to stop. That some things you have to protect, and sometimes you want to just go home and find the person you love waiting there. The fact that she’s willing to be vulnerable — not only that she wants these things, but that she’s willing to say she wants them — makes her a surprisingly positive character for me, where you might expect a female mercenary to be, well, more mercenary.

There’s still no real romance here — some flirtations, of course, and hints at what’s to come. But for those who expect paranormal romance to be a total sex fest, well… either this book has been mislabelled, or you’re maligning the genre unfairly.

did find that the fast pacing here sometimes left me behind a little. I’m not sure if that was the speed I was reading or just the frenetic pacing, but a couple of times I did end up thinking “wait, what now?” and have to read back a little. It’s not a perfect book, in stylistic terms: I still find a lot to enjoy, all the same.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Raven Stratagem

Posted 13 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeRaven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve made the mistake of waiting too long to review this after finishing my reread, and I’m not sure I have much more to add than the first time. And to describe the basic outline of the book is in many ways to spoil the experience of reading it: I think the best way to experience this for the first time is probably to go in knowing nothing more than you’ve been told in Ninefox Gambit, and then hang on for a wild ride. You’re almost certainly going to be wrong about some things, and that’s part of the cleverness of it.

I did also enjoy reading it a second time, knowing everything that happens from before, though. Firstly, because there’s so much to analyse, to notice, to figure out in terms of clues you missed before and sly references, foreshadowing… Raven Stratagem is really rich in that, and it’s rewarding as a reread for that reason — not just for pure enjoyment (though that’s the only reason one should ever need) but also to fully appreciate what’s going on.

I feel like even bringing up aspects of characters I liked and why would be too much info for the spoiler-phobic, so I won’t say anything beyond: oh and possibly gah my heart.

Finally, as a kind of in-joke for readers of this book: would you wear a scarf knitted by Mikodez? I totally would. The risk of it strangling me would be worth it.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Heartstopper

Posted 11 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heartstopper by Alice OsemanHeartstopper, Alice Oseman

Heartstopper is just freaking adorable. Charlie and Nick attend an all-boys grammar school, and they really meet when they find themselves in the same form (odd, since Nick is in year 11 and Charlie is in year 10? but what do I know, grammar schools can do what they want in many ways; or mine certainly did, anyway). They quickly become friends, and Nick even coaxes Charlie to join him in playing rugby. They hang out together… a lot… and Nick quickly becomes Charlie’s defender and closest friend. And, of course, a mutual crush develops.

The art is cute, and while there is a little bit of angst and confusion, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. I’m a little mad about the cliffhanger this book ends on — and I know I could go looking for the rest online, and probably will, but aaarggghh, that so typical plotline where — well, I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that I want to get back to them being adorable, whether that’s as friends or boyfriends.

It’s also kind of awesome how British it is. And a grammar school, too! That’s a world I know well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Middlegame

Posted 10 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuireMiddlegame, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley

I’m still digesting this one, quite honestly. Let’s see if writing it down helps me figure out what I think! Middlegame is a novel in which time is mutable: the two main characters are living out their lives time and time again, and when they fail, time is reset back to a crucial decision point and try again and again to get the right outcome. This isn’t a spoiler — it’s apparent from the start, because the story begins at the end and jumps back.

Roger and Dodger are twins. Roger has command over language, while Dodger is a math prodigy. They were created by an alchemist desperate to prove the theories of his creator and mentor, and their whole lives have been manipulated by him to try and achieve both power and control. The question is really how exactly the twins will achieve their power and not be under his control.

Over and over again their lives touch just a little, and they speak to each other through some kind of link. Over and over again they are separated — sometimes by meddling, sometimes by being human and flawed and not good at their strange relationship. Their relationship is the center of the book, and you can’t help but root for them as they get it right and wrong and right again. I found the timeline a little difficult to follow, because I’m so bad at remembering any kind of numbers (I’m the Roger half of some equation, clearly), and that kind of impacted how I felt about the book — I found it a little frustrating that I kept losing my bearings. It’s cleverly done, though, and the full extent of what Roger and Dodger are takes some time to unfold and really become obvious; the broad strokes are fairly obvious from the beginning, but there’s still a sense of revelation as the book unwinds.

I think, in the end, I’m not head over heels in love with the story, but I think it’s well done and enjoyable. There are some gruesome bits and gore — touches of McGuire’s Mira Grant persona, in some ways — and the complex timeline combined with those is probably what brings down the rating a bit for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other readers I know make of it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Short History of Europe

Posted 6 June, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Short History of Europe by Simon JenkinsA Short History of Europe, Simon Jenkins

I’m just going to confess something here: I didn’t finish this. It seemed to be exactly what it purports to be from the title: a short (yep) history (yep) of Europe (yep). It doesn’t try to be particularly exciting about it, and I found that I felt like I was just being hurtled through the canonical key points of European history. Sure, that’s mostly what I expected, but a better prose stylist would have made it more interesting, and an insightful historian could have found some illustrative moments that aren’t in the standard playbook.

As it is, I felt like I was cramming on history for a test, and I ended up letting it go back to the library. More than that, I got the impression that Jenkins is fairly anti-EU, and other reviews confirm that. Given that I still believe in the European Union, me and this book weren’t destined to have a fruitful relationship.

Rating: 2/5

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