Tag: books


Review – Spider-woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.

Posted 7 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spider-woman: Agent of Sword by Brian Michael BendisSpider-woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D., Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev

It would probably have helped if I’d read the Skrull invasion stuff which figures highly into Jessica’s emotional state here, or other stuff that explains Madame Hydra’s obsession with her, but this was better than the Spider-woman: Origin TPB. The art felt more alive; I liked a lot of it, though in some places the colour palate was so limited it was hard to make sense of what I was seeing.

Again, though, this isn’t the Jessica I’m used to seeing from Captain Marvel and the recent Avengers: The Enemy Within. It’s dark and she’s tortured and not sure where the hell she fits in the world. I did like the brief glimpse of the team caring about her, particularly Carol.

And let’s be honest, I spent half this book wondering if they were counting Teddy Altman as a Skrull and if someone would try to kill him.

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Review – Spider-woman: Origin

Posted 7 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spider-woman: Origin by Brian Michael BendisSpider-woman: Origin, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Luna Brothers

I’ve loved what I’ve seen of Jess in Captain Marvel, but this is a long way from that cheerful character. This is Jessica’s dark past, her birth and her training as a member of Hydra. We see a couple of flashes of her later humour — when told her costume doesn’t count as a uniform, she retorts that she’ll just go and break that to Captain America — but mostly this feels a bit flat, despite the emotional content. It just goes too fast: one minute she’s a seven year old in an adult body, the next she’s an adult who’s willing to sleep with her enemy to get what she needs, using her body consciously and purposefully.

The art is okay, but nothing special — people kept talking about the Luna brothers when I was looking up this comic and raving about them, but the art here felt kinda flat here, too.

Still, it’s good to have more backstory on Jessica Drew.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 5 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Volume two of Saga! I really love the comic timing this series has. I need to get my hands on volume 3 now.

Before that, I think it was Identically Different, which is a book on epigenetics, which I already enthused about at some length.

What are you currently reading?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, still. I stalled on it because I was busy with work and then I get distracted by non-fiction, so, oops. I do want to get back to it, it’s atmospheric and interesting even though I’ve just realised I have no idea when it’s set. It has that sort of heavy gothic novel type atmosphere. Maybe a bit like the feel of some of Sarah Waters’ work, and Shirley Jackson.

The other thing I’m reading is The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw. I really enjoy her historical fiction, there’s something very satisfying about it, and this one is set in Constantinople. It reminds me both of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work (though I think it helps that in my edition, it’s even set in the same font) and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic.

I’ve also read the first story in The Dragon Griaule, so presumably that’s up next. I’m intrigued by this version of dragon lore.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, the plan to read Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) and Augustus (John Williams) came to nothing, so maybe those next? I do need to get working on reading stuff that I can’t drag back to Cardiff with me, so maybe Bear Daughter (Judith Berman).

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Review – Saga Volume 2

Posted 5 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Saga vol 2 by Brian VaughanSaga, vol. 2, Brian Vaughan, Fiona Staples

I thought I must’ve rated the first volume higher than I actually did (only three stars!), because I really enjoyed this one. I still like the art, and Fiona Staples does a wonderful job at the expressions that make the characters come to life.

It’s been a while since I read the first volume, so I couldn’t remember all the subplots properly, but it came back as I was reading and while you’re missing a bit of backstory here and there, it seems to work anyway. The Will intrigues me, and Lying Cat makes me laugh: Brian Vaughan has pretty good comic timing, and he tends to ping my sense of humour just right. Not just with Lying Cat, but with the dialogue and just this feeling that these characters are people.

I like that it’s (alien) life in all its complexity: weird obsessions, babies, procreation, death both natural and violent, love, hate, and everyday concerns like clothing and food don’t get forgotten.

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Review – Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes

Posted 3 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Identically Different by Tim SpectorIdentically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes, Tim Spector

I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, since it mentions the widely ridiculed Lamarckian theory of inheritance, and the subtitle “Why You Can Change Your Genes” might sound a tad self-helpy. Luckily, it is actually a sound examination of current epigenetic theory, based on MZ and DZ twin studies looking at heritability. It makes an excellent follow-up to James Watson’s DNA, in that it moves on from the gene-centric view of biology to the more nuanced ideas we have now.

I’ve always been fascinated by epigenetics. The whole idea is what made me interested in potentially becoming a geneticist: the idea that Lamarck wasn’t entirely wrong, that events within a person’s life can be passed on to their children and grandchildren. (The famous giraffe neck example was unequivocally wrong, however.) The example given then, and raised in this book, is that of potential epigenetic changes caused by IVF treatments, and the general lower health of children conceived via IVF.

What really fascinates me now is that maybe my anxiety issues are related to the methylation of some of my DNA, preventing transcription of some proteins. And that would probably be a self-feeding process, with stress causing the original methylation and then decreased availability of a particular neurotransmitter causes more anxiety (less ability to regulate emotion) and more stress. If I could only remove those methyl groups from my brain cells, I could stop taking my medication and get on with my life. If I could magically go into research right now, that is undoubtedly where I’d go.

The book covers a lot of different topics — sexuality, gender identity, athletic ability, talent, religious belief — and manages to do so without stepping on too many toes, to my mind. It presents a much less deterministic version of genetics and the epigenome than Watson’s DNA does, which people may find more palatable.

It was basically the sort of book where I spent a lot of time texting people saying “did you know…?” I found it an easy read, and it has copious amounts of footnotes and opportunities to do further reading. Another one I heartily recommend!

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Review – DNA: The Secret of Life

Posted 2 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of DNA: The Secrets of Life by James WatsonDNA: The Secret of Life, James Watson

This is much, much better than James Watson’s 1968 The Double Helix, which is full of unbearable ego and sexist opinions. It even contains a chapter which explains the discovery of the double helix sans most of the commentary that made the earlier book annoying. Watson has definitely matured, thank goodness, and into a man I wouldn’t mind discussing genetics with. For example, he emphasises choice for pregnant women who know their babies have genetic disorders, insists that women have a right to decide on abortion which it is barbaric to deny, which I wouldn’t have predicted from his earlier book and which suggests a more liberal outlook than I expected.

In terms of the science alone, minus any comments on the writer, this is an excellent primer on DNA, covering most of what we currently understand about DNA. Being published nearly a decade ago now, it doesn’t comment on newer discoveries like the epigenetic control of gene expression, but it does cover just about everything in my college level online genetics class right now, with the added benefit of being something you can take at your own pace and without the horrible quantity of math that actually putting theories into practice requires (for example, he talks about finding a gene by reference to its association with a marker: I can calculate that if you give me half an hour, a calculator and a piece of paper — and allow me to cuss a good bit). It’s accessible to the layman, I think, but I still found it of interest despite my genetics classes and general interest in the field.

Some books leave me feeling that I’ve taken the wrong path in life. This is one of them. We know so many amazing, beautiful, astonishing things about DNA — and we have so much more to learn. This book made me long to have taken the other path in which I forced myself through the sciences for my A Levels, took a degree in genetics or something related, and became a geneticist. Watson clearly evokes the potential for this knowledge, and makes me wish I could add whatever intelligence I have to the process.

Skip The Double Helix, except as a historical document, but I do recommend DNA: The Secret of Life with little reserve.

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Review – Silent City

Posted 1 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Silent City by Alex SeguraSilent City, Alex Segura

I was hopeful about this one when the publicist contacted me via my blog to offer me a copy. Chris F. Holm and Adam Christopher blurbed it, and I’ve certainly enjoyed their books. Plus there was a reference to similarities between the main character and Matt Fraction’s Clint Barton, which… hmm, I don’t really see.

Anyway, the problem with this is for me, it felt like a pretty standard detective story in style, tone, plot, characters… There’s nothing surprising about an alcoholic PI, though Pete Fernandez is a bit more the worse for wear than most. One aspect I did like was some of the relationships in the story, like Pete’s with his ex-girlfriend. That felt a bit more nuanced than typical for these stories.

It’s a quick read, and if you have a particular affection for the genre or the city-scape of Miami, then it might be worth checking out, but if your tastes in crime fiction are more for the excellent outliers and stuff that breaks the mould, then I probably wouldn’t go for this one.

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Review – Batwoman: Hydrology

Posted 1 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Batwoman: Hydrology by J.H. WilliamsBatwoman vol. 1: Hydrology, J.H Williams III, W. Haden Blackman

So here I am, jumping into another New 52 title. I was mostly interested in Batwoman/Kate Kane because I know she’s a lesbian, but I knew very little else about her, so it was a bit tough to just jump right in here, even though the New 52 is supposed to be a reboot.

I enjoyed it, though; I like that in contrast to what I normally think of when I think of the Batfamily, without supernatural elements, here we’ve got Kate Kane basically going through an episode of Supernatural. It’s interesting reading that at the same time as I’m getting into Batgirl — and I like that there’s plenty of stuff around in Kate’s normal life, too. More than Batgirl’s, maybe; I got more of a sense of the wider world surrounding Kate, anyway.

The art looks really cool; I love the red/black look Kate’s got going on.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 1 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 41 Comments

I thought I wasn’t gonna have anything this week, but then I won some ARCs from LibraryThing and ended up going shopping as well, so, uh. Whoops?

So, as usual, the Stacking the Shelves meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

ARCs/review copies

Cover of The Normans: From Raiders to Kings by Lars Brownworth Cover of the anthology Long Hidden

Comics

Cover of Spider-woman: Origin by Brian Michael Bendis Cover of Spider-woman: Agent of Sword by Brian Michael BendisCover of Batgirl by Gail Simone Cover of Batwoman: Hydrology by J.H. Williams

Other

Cover of Derrida: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Glendinning Cover of Barthes: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler Cover of Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody Cover of The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

Of the ARCs, I’m more enthusiastic about Long Hidden, but a book on the Normans hits me right in my interests too. Of the comics, Spider-woman! Because I’ve loved her appearances in Captain Marvel. And of the other books, well, Barthes and Derrida come from a feeling of, crap, I have an MA in literature and I don’t know much about literary theory, so they’re kind of a guilt thing. Though a bit of an interest thing too, since I’m TAing a class on Coursera where I’ve ended up talking ‘The Death of the Author’ and so on with the students.

I finished The Book of Imaginary Beings yesterday morning, which leaves only Dying in the Wool — which caught my eye because I’ve been looking for a cosy mystery type series since I ran out of Mary Stewart books, and Dying in the Wool is set in an area I know pretty well: Yorkshire. Also features a just-post-war widow, running about being a detective. Uh, so very sold. Incidentally, my copy happens to be signed, presumably because she’s a local author.

What’s everyone else been getting their grubby little hands on?

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 26 February, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
It hasn’t been such a busy week this week, reading-wise. The last thing I finished was The Double Helix, James Watson’s account of the discovery of DNA. God, he has an ego on him, and he’s sexist about it too, at least back in 1968 when it was published. Rosalind Franklin, “Rosy”, would have been much improved by doing something novel with her hair, apparently.

What are you currently reading?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and DNA by James Watson. Yes, that same James Watson. It’s better because it’s not focused on himself, and it even includes the account from The Double Helix in miniature, so just… stick to that one. I understand everything in it without a struggle: sometimes I think he does get beyond what most people are used to, like recombination, but heck, I’ve done the math on recombination — if a simple description stumped me, my genetics grade would be in trouble.

The Thirteenth Tale is quite good. It’s reminding me of something else, several somethings, but that doesn’t bother me too much — in some cases, I think the allusions are intentional anyway. It’s definitely better than Bellman & Black. And I love the book-obsessed main character largely because her thirst for books mirrors my own.

What do you think you’ll read next?
The plan is to finish reading Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) and Augustus (John Williams). But I think everyone’s pretty used to how little my plans relate to what actually happens.

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