Tag: books


Review – In Other Lands

Posted 23 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanIn Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan

I haven’t loved Sarah Rees Brennan’s work before, finding it just a little too predictable, but In Other Lands won me over completely. I love Elliot in all his porcupiney glory; I love Luke, because he secretly reads books (how else does he know words like “epitome” but not how to pronounce them?) and he supports Elliot and Serene and protects people; I love Serene, because even though she subscribes to a whole bundle of stereotypes about men, yet there she is caring about Elliot and Luke and supporting them throughout.

I can understand people who don’t love the characters. Elliot, for example, comes across as a bully, particularly when Luke explains how things have felt from his point of view. And it’s true that sometimes Elliot is just not that nice. But there’s also a reason for all his behaviour that made me hurt for him: the way his mother left, the fact that he’s been bullied so mercilessly… Yes, he’s nasty to people almost on principle, but I can tell you from experience that it’s easier to assume that everyone has bad intentions rather than trust them and get hurt, after a remarkably short period of being bullied. It’s no wonder he reflexively lashes out — and if you read the whole thing, you see that he does try. He does know what he’s like, and he does try.

It does make me wonder why Luke sticks by him, though Elliot is always supportive of Serene, so that does make some sense. And it is worth noting that while Elliot might not be the most pleasant character, he spends a lot of time trying to avoid people getting killed.

(And while Luke is nearly always nice, it’s important to remember that hey, he kills people without question, beats people up for looking sideways at Elliot, etc. He’s not exactly perfect either.)

And of course I can get why people don’t like Serene; particularly if you don’t read through to the end, her character (and the elven society) comes across as “reverse sexism”. It’s kind of powerful in the way it exposes some of the ridiculous stereotypes about the way women behave, but if that was all there was to Serene, she’d be just as unlikeable as a male character who looks down on women. That isn’t all there is, though, once she forms a relationship with Golden; although it’s basically just flipping sexism round, and there’s a lot of humour in that, Serene as an individual turns out not to be just about reverse sexism. I particularly liked some of the interactions between her and Elliot, as they realise their relationship means different things to both of them.

That’s all about the characters. What about the world? It’s relatively generic, but spiced up by the odd comments Elliot makes about how things go in stories about other worlds, giving us a little bit of meta.

In the end, I found it very enjoyable, and if there’s an aspect of it being “like fanfiction” in terms of willing the couple to get together, the wish fulfillment, etc — well, I’ve read some damn good fanfiction in my time, and this captured some of the delight of the best fanfiction. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – Cro-Magnon

Posted 22 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Cro-Magnon by Brian FaganCro-Magnon, Brian Fagan

Cro-Magnon is reasonably informative, albeit perhaps a little out of date and about as focused on the Neanderthals as on the Cro-Magnons. It had fairly similar information to a lot of other books I’ve read about human evolution, not really managing to make the Cro-Magnons stand out as a specific group worth a whole book. The recreations were mostly pretty uninspired, and the assumption that gender roles would be something straight out of a 50s sitcom (as someone else put it) was pretty eyeroll inducing.

There is some interesting info here, but in the end… I got a little bored, I guess. Not much of it is sticking with me, except my eyerolling at the idea that women were subordinate to men from the start.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – The Written World

Posted 21 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Written World by Martin PuchnerThe Written World, Martin Puchner

I’ve seen some complaints about the historical accuracy of this, particularly in regard to the earliest sections, but I’m unable to judge because it’s not really my area of history at all — inasfar as I know my history anyway, which is often patchy. I simply enjoyed The Written World as a summary, from one perspective, of how some stories and books have changed the world in being written (or in the case of previously oral works, written down). Puchner writes compellingly about books I haven’t read yet, and really makes them sound tempting — The Tale of Genji, for example (though he also makes Don Quixote sound fascinating, and I did not love that at all).

It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you love books and you want to read about some books that have been important in shaping society, then this should be right up your street (up your bookshelf?).

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Posted 20 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers

A reread, of course. Not the best of the Wimsey books, but full of Sayers’ usual brains and wit. There’s some excellent character interactions — especially one between Lord Peter and Parker, where Peter is somewhat resenting the fact that he’s working with the police and potentially having to betray friends. There’s some great quotes, like Peter saying that books are kind of like shells that we discard when we grow out of them, but which lie around as a record of people we used to be. Yes!

This is one of the not-really-high-stakes mysteries, though; the death was of an old man, and was somewhat predictable, and the person who killed him didn’t try to cover his tracks by attacking other people. It becomes more of an intellectual puzzle, though there are some good bits about the feelings of particular characters. I don’t want to say too much in case anyone’s interested in reading this and forming their own opinions about the murder, so I’ll stop there! A solid mystery, but not the most emotionally involving of the Wimsey books, nor the cleverest.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 20 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a slow reading week for me, with one really disappointing book, but I’ve got an assignment done and I’ve been doing quite a bit of work, so that’s not bad!

Received to review:

Cover of The Toy Maker by Robert Dinsdale Cover of Semiosis by Sue Burke Cover of Quietus by Tristan Palmgren Cover of Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

I really should stop requesting until I’m all caught up, but it was so tempting…

Read this week:

Cover of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Cover of Restless Creatures by Wilkinson Cover of The Written World by Martin Puchner

Four stars: Six of Crows, The Written World.
Two stars: Restless Creatures.

Reviewed this week:

The Power of Babel, by John McWhorter. Surprised me somewhat, since it contradicted some of the stuff I’d always read about languages, e.g. that only children turn pidgins into creoles where they become actual full languages. 3/5 stars
Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine. So much fun, and a really quick read. Like a classic adventure story. 4/5 stars
Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers. The motive and method are just so clever in this one. 4/5 stars
Priam’s Gold, by Caroline Moorehead. More of a biography of Heinrich Schliemann than really being about Troy, though there is some interesting stuff on when the Russians looted the treasure from Germany. 4/5 stars
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I reread it again, so no surprise that I loved it again. 5/5 stars
Lumberjanes to the Max: Volume 1, by Noelle Stephenson et al. So much fun, and really cute too. 5/5 stars
Fossils: The Key to the Past, by Richard Fortey. Not Fortey’s most fascinating work in terms of the prose, but all the colour photography and reconstructions make it worth having just to look at! 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday. My bookish resolutions for 2018!
WWW Wednesday. The latest on my TBR pile.

How’s everyone doing? Good week, bad week, somewhere in the middle?

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Review – Fossils: The Key to the Past

Posted 19 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fossils by Richard ForteyFossils: The Key to the Past, Richard Fortey

This is probably more of a reference book than one to read straight through; it’s beautifully illustrated with sketches and photographs reproducing common and interesting fossils, and it has advice on how to identify fossils, clean them up and store them, along with the relatively straightforward explanations of how fossils form, how they can be useful, and specific titbits on various different individual fossils.

The information wasn’t new to me, and it isn’t Fortey’s finest writing, though he can always make geology sound fascinating. It’s a beautiful book, though, and one I’ll definitely keep for reference.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – Lumberjanes to the Max Volume 1

Posted 18 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Lumberjanes Vol 1Lumberjanes to the Max: Volume 1, Noelle Stephenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen

Lumberjanes is really fun and really cute. The art is very typically Stephenson’s style, very much like Nimona, which I rather enjoy — it manages to be expressive and dynamic without appearing painstakingly polished. I enjoy the character designs a lot, perhaps especially Mal and April, and Ripley is just tons of fun. It’s meant for a younger audience, mostly, but I think it can appeal on other levels as well, especially with the puns and references — not many kids are going to understand why Jen (I think it was Jen) shouts, “By bell hooks!”

It’s pretty much all about ladies, and that’s pretty darn badass. There’s an adorkable crush between Mal and Molly, and the whole thing is about the friendship between the girls and how it helps them with everything that’s going on at the camp.

Which also involves magic and Greek mythology, no kidding.

I really enjoyed it, in an uncomplicated and delighted way.

Rating: 5/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – The Goblin Emperor

Posted 17 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

Another reread, still a favourite. It’s like a hot bath after a long day, because the main character is a good person — not someone without faults, but someone who is aware that he has faults and that he has human feelings, and tries to be mindful and generous despite suddenly gaining power over people who have harmed him. It’s not really about conflict — although there are several serious ones — or about any particular endgame. Maia just wants to be a good person, and to rule his people well. He hardly considers turning away from the responsibility, even though it is unasked and unwanted and he’s totally unprepared. It has to be him, so he does it.

And he does a good job. That might be the most unrealistic thing about it, but it’s just difficult enough and involves just enough of building a support network that it works for me. I love the characters around Maia and how they help him, and how they all gradually warm to him or, in some cases, not — and why they warm to him, or not.

I also love the thought that goes into the complexities of the language, including the non-verbal language involving their ear positions. I don’t always follow the patterns, but it seems consistent and commensurate with long-existing languages. It’s a secondary world Tolkien would find a fascinating start toward building a rich and complete world, I do believe.

Rating: 5/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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WWW Wednesday

Posted 17 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Restless Creatures by WilkinsonRestless Creatures, by Matt Wilkinson. It’s evolutionary biology focused on the importance of locomotion in selection, and in theory it should be right up my alley… in practice, I just kind of want to have finished it. It’s not bad and I don’t feel like it’d be fair to drop it… but it’s mostly either principles I’m not interested in (physics of motion), principles I know extremely well already (homology in HOX genes), or principles I both know well and am not interested in (physics of flight; blame my years as an RAF cadet).

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoSix of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo. I found it a really quick read, and I’m pretty into some of the character dynamics… though I have some reservations about how some things are going to turn out. It’s a lot of fun, anyway, and I’m glad I picked it for this month’s book club read on Habitica.

What will you be reading next?

Cover of Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette KowalApart from the follow-up to Six of Crows, I want to knuckle down and actually finish my reread of Kushiel’s Dart — I think I only stalled because I was busy at the time, and I’m about to hand in an assignment and have at least a few days’ breathing space. Other than that, from my ‘sell me a book’ post, I want to pick up Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers. 

What about you? What’re you reading?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 16 January, 2018 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Top Ten Tuesday has moved homes! You can now find it at That Artsy Reader Girl‘s blog. Since I did want to post something about this topic — “bookish resolutions/goals” — I thought I’d join in again, at least for this week!

  1. Read for joy. I still keep on reading books I think I “ought” to read, or picking up something from my backlog just because I was interested in it once and I no longer am. There’s space for that, when it’s a topic I want to learn about or something I’d like to comment on, but this year my resolution is definitely to read primarily for joy.
  2. Write reviews within 24 hours of finishing the book. I used to do this, and then I fell into bad habits. No more writing of vague reviews because the book didn’t leave much of an impression and it’s been three weeks…
  3. Keep up my practice of commenting on at least one other blog per day. I’ve been doing this almost every day for two years now, and it might not be ideal for my reading list — argh, so many books I want — but it’s a great way to keep in touch with other bloggers.
  4. Earn my book purchases. Me and my wife have a system we call “Adulting: The Game”. We get stars for stuff we do towards various goals like keeping up with chores, eating more healthily, keeping up with class, taking care of our finances… I get to buy one book per twenty stars I earn. (But it’s okay for me to use Amazon vouchers, etc; that counts as gifts.)
  5. Read from my backlog. Last year’s goal was 200, and I didn’t make it. This year… we’ll see. But I’m doing well so far, with eight of the ten books I’ve read being from my backlog.
  6. Catch up with ARCs. I’m going to try to stop looking at Netgalley and requesting stuff. Of course, that’s partly fuelled by the fact that I can only “wish for” books from a lot of publishers on Netgalley now, but it’s also because I have one heckuva backlog there.
  7. Give up on Goodreads. I used Goodreads to catalogue my books for years, but now I’m just using it as a way to get some book recommendations from reviewers I’ve known for years and to post my own reviews for them. Gone are the days of making any obsessive searches to get all my lists to agree.
  8. Reread when I want. This kind of goes with “read for joy” — I love to reread, but I haven’t been doing it as much as I’d like because I feel like I should only be providing “fresh” content for my readers. Pffft, half the time people don’t even know that I’ve posted a review for a particular book before; there’s no drop in interest for my reviews of books I’ve reread. I think enthusiasm is more valuable to readers anyway.
  9. Go to bed a little earlier than necessary to get in some time to read. Or, as me and my wife put it, “bookbed”. We did that a lot before Christmas, and it was nice. Time to resurrect it, if only because it’s entertaining to watch Lisa gasp and cuss as she reads James S.A. Corey’s books.
  10. Read things that scare me. Whether that’s reading books about bugs, physics that turns my brain inside out, or just massive fantasy tomes that would squash my bunnies flat if I dropped them, it’s always good to challenge yourself. There’s a big place for comfort and familiarity in my reading repertoire, but it’s also important to step into the unknown.

So what’re your resolutions?

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