Tag: books

Review – Blood & Guts

Posted July 30, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Blood & Guts by Roy PorterBlood & Guts, Roy Porter

This didn’t really work for me as a history of medicine, even a short one. Each chapter treads the same ground, but with a different theme, instead of following the history of medicine through chronologically.

That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting in places, and I liked the inclusion of so many images to go along with the text, but it didn’t feel like there was anything to get my teeth into. I felt like it would have been much better done chronologically, even if it was in broad swathes of time: ‘early societies’, ‘the Classical world’, ‘medieval Europe’, ‘British empire’, etc. Something like that would’ve worked a lot better for me.

Also, I know he says up front that he’s not even going to touch on Eastern medicine, but considering the way we’ve imported alternative medicines as a commodity here, it would actually be relevant to talk about their development and give them some more credit.

Rating: 2/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted July 29, 2014 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “how many books do you own the most from”. I’m gonna be totally unscientific here and just take some wild guesses.

  1. Jo Walton. I own all her books, often in several formats. I think this one’s a safe bet.
  2. Ngaio Marsh. I have all those omnibuses. Omnibii?
  3. Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading everything she writes since I was, uh, thirteen ish?
  4. Guy Gavriel Kay. Again with the multiple formats.
  5. Ursula Le Guin. I don’t own everything she’s done, and I don’t usually have multiple copies, but I think she might still outnumber eveeeryone else. She’s just so good, I’m willing to try anything she’s done.
  6. Steven Brust. This is Jo Walton’s fault. I haven’t even read most of them yet.
  7. Tanya Huff. This is a guess, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. I’ve bought most of her books, though I haven’t read them all yet.
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien. Everything bar the twelve volume history of Middle-earth, I think. Multiple editions.
  9. The Gawain-poet. Whoever he (or she?) was. I own so many translations — probably at least nine?
  10. The Beowulf-poet. I’m not quite as big a fan as I am of the Gawain-poet, but still. I’ve got a facing translation one, Heaney’s, Tolkien’s… the list goes on.

So, what about everyone else? Strangely, Dorothy L. Sayers does not make the cut, because I borrowed my copies to read.

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Review – Darwin’s Ghost

Posted July 29, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Darwin's Ghost by Steve JonesDarwin’s Ghost, Steve Jones

I really like the idea of Darwin’s Ghost, taking and updating Darwin’s groundbreaking research, and often showing how relevant it still is, how little of it has actually been disproved. Often people who criticise Darwin haven’t actually read On the Origin of Species, and so they have an inaccurate understanding of what he actually said. Steve Jones goes through all of this in quite a lot of detail, giving modern examples and correcting things where Darwin didn’t quite get it right.

That thoroughness does make the book pretty hard going, though. The topic doesn’t have to be — I’ve read another explanation of the early transmission and spread of HIV, for example, which wasn’t boring at all (though it had other faults) — but Jones’ writing ends up feeling rather stodgy. I’m completely fascinated by the subject, and reasonably knowledgeable about it, so if I thought that… I don’t know what other readers would make of it.

The main effect seems to have been to make me really want to read On the Origin of Species; I’m told that Darwin’s prose is quite readable and even interesting, and comparing it to the view of it I got from this book will be interesting.

Rating: 3/5

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ARC August

Posted July 28, 2014 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

I’m already signed up for one readathon this August, but hey, what’s one more…

ARC August: Hosted by Octavia @ Read Sleep Repeat

I know that there’s a couple I must get to, because they’re being released soon or have already been released.

  1. Carrie Patel, The Buried Life. Mostly I just need to get round to reviewing this, but I do have a bit to finish up and I want to read back over it a bit.
  2. Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire. I need to give this one some serious time, I think from what I’m told!
  3. Joe Abercrombie, Half a King. I’m just gonna make an awkward guilty face here, ‘kay?
  4. Karen Maitland, The Vanishing Witch. I may finish this before August, but I do have a busy couple of days ahead.
  5. Thomas Sweterlitsch, Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Ditto.
  6. Felicity Pullman, I, Morgana. Because Arthuriana!
  7. José Alaniz, Death, Disability and the Superhero. I already have this started, but I know I wouldn’t finish it before the start of August. It’s tough going in that it’s very academic.
  8. Jen Williams, The Copper Promise. This is a somewhat random pick from my teetering piles, on the grounds that I’ve seen it around.
  9. Edgar Cantero, The Supernatural Enhancements. Random pick based on it being one of the most recent e-ARCs I’ve received.
  10. W.B.J. Williams, The Garden at the Roof of the World. Because this is the ARC I’ve had longest, and I’ve been finding the look of it somewhat daunting.

I will probably not stick solely to this list, especially since I’m doing Strange Chemistry reading month too and I still have books they gave me to read, but it’s a start. In fact, I’m gonna make this list a to-do goal on HabitRPG, just to give me that bit more of a kick in the butt. (HabitRPG is great. Addiction, I have it. Check it out if gamifying your life, including small tasks, sounds good.)

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Review – Delete This At Your Peril

Posted July 28, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Delete This At Your PerilDelete This At Your Peril, Neil Forsyth

I picked this up at the library because I needed something light, and the humour reminded me of my dad a bit. I can imagine him stringing along a scammer in this way, though I think he’d be more subtle and clever about it. It’s amusing enough at first, in this case, but after a couple of exchanges I was skimming them all and shaking my head at the reductio ad absurdum of some of it.

I wouldn’t buy this, but it might be worth a flick through if you’re looking for something funny.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Panic Attacks

Posted July 27, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Panic Attacks, by Christine InghamPanic Attacks, Christine Ingham

I never actually finished reading this, because by the time I was halfway through, I was actually getting better. I’m returning it to the library now because I think it may be useful for other people, and right now, I don’t need it.

That said, I did find a lot of comfort from reading Ingham’s assurances that you can get better, and will gladly add my voice to that. The prognosis for someone with panic attacks improves if you know from the start that you can get better, and I’m here to assure you that you can. As my counsellor pointed out, I may always be an anxious person, and that means I have to work a little harder, but it’s possible. See also my Mental Health Awareness Month post for more about my personal journey.

The book itself is easy to read and encouraging, without minimising the fear you may feel if you have panic attacks. I had quite a few pages bookmarked in the half that I read. But really, like I already said, I think the most important thing was that it told me I could get better, when I wasn’t hearing that from a lot of people. And it told me I wasn’t alone.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted July 26, 2014 by Nicky in General / 42 Comments

Time for Stacking the Shelves! I have not bought books this week! I have been to the library three times, though… Still, this is a much smaller haul than it could be, knowing me. (If you don’t believe me, go back and check last week’s.)

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Unthink by Chris Paley Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans Cover of The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero Cover of Tales from the Palace of the Fairy King by Daniel Lieberman

I’ve already read Unthink; I’m being pretty good at keeping on top of my books from bookbridgr. The next two are from Netgalley, and the last one direct from the author. Thank you to everyone involved in giving out ARCs and review copies!

Library (fiction)

Cover of Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey Cover of Windhaven by Lisa Tuttle and G.R.R. Martin Cover of This Is The Way The World Ends by James Morrow Cover of The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The first two I actually own; Guardian of the Dead I own in Kindle format, though, and I only really use my Kobo lately, and Windhaven is… I think I’ve owned it in ebook for about five years, probably longer, and the site I bought it from has shut down leaving me with no access. So. Libraries! Then This is the Way the World Ends (I’ve checked the title and it should have the is in it; why the SF Masterworks cover omits it is anyone’s guess, though the physical copy I actually got has it right) doubles up for two of my challenges, one to read ten new-to-me SF Masterworks, and one to read all the books recced in Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010, which you’ll see below.

Library (non-fiction)

Cover of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker Cover of Delete This At Your Peril Cover of Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Fillippo Cover of The Search for Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

I’ve been meaning to read The Better Angels of Our Nature since I did the Everyday Moralities class on Coursera. The humour of Delete This At Your Peril reminds me of my dad (look it up, Mum — you’ll agree). I’m planning to read all the 101 SF novels recced in the third book here; not because I think it’s particularly better than any other book of recs, but because it spans twenty-five years and contains a lot I haven’t read yet/need to reread.

As for Philippa Langley, well, I’ve heard that she’s a bit… over-enthusiastic about Richard III and that she came across slightly batty on the documentary. So far the book isn’t contradicting that impression. Still, apparently Michael Jones’ chapters are worth it.

Comics (library)

Cover of the comic Mara by Brian Wood et al

Random choice from the library’s graphic novel section!

So, what’s everyone else been up to? Have y’all been good or bad this week with your buying habits?

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Review – The Language Instinct

Posted July 25, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The language Instinct by Steven PinkerThe Language Instinct, Steven Pinker

When it comes to something I don’t know much about, I’m pretty easily swayed by other people’s arguments. Like, I finished this book feeling it was pretty intelligent and interesting, and then I read some criticisms and reviews and heck, I don’t know what to think. Still, I did find it interesting, and while the book looks deceptively slim for how long it took me to get through it, Pinker expresses his arguments clearly, with examples and sourcing, etc.

His basic argument is that we’re hardwired for language. That, as with our sight, hearing, etc, we have a ‘language sense’; if properly stimulated during the critical period, our brains quickly figure out how to parse language (at least, the language spoken around us when we are at that age, even if that language is sign language). We don’t need to hear every word or possible sentence structure (couldn’t possibly) to pick up on the rules of grammar and apply them, when speaking and when listening. This only refers to the critical period; a child will learn grammar instinctively on being exposed to a language, but an adult must learn it by rote, in the same way as you have to learn to process visual input during the critical period for that, or you’ll never have the same visual acuity as someone who did.

Thus far, I think I’m going along with him. I do have questions of a sort of chicken and the egg nature: which came first, the brain’s Universal Grammar module, or language that necessitated it? I’m inclined to think that the structures that we now use to understand language were used for something else earlier in our evolution, and became co-opted into our communications array (so to speak) over time. Our brains formed language, and then the language formed our brains…

All in all, I don’t know whether Pinker’s right, but I found his work convincing. Having read a couple of other books on language, including Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass, and applying what I know from those too, I find it hard to disagree with Pinker even where I want to, for example about relativism.

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday Thoughts: Bookish Shame

Posted July 24, 2014 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

Thursday Thoughts prompt via Ok, Let’s Read, this week on “bookish shame”.

Do you read exclusively one of the following or a mix: Adult, New Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade? What are your opinions on shaming adults who read YA? Do you agree or disagree that adults reading YA deters actual young adults from reading because they may “feel as if their genre is taken over?” Do you think NA as a whole gets a bad reputation? Do you think it’s deservedly so?

I don’t read anything exclusively. I don’t really see YA, NA, etc, as genres: that’s more like fantasy, SF, crime, etc. I just view them as helpful pointers as to whether a book is going to be suitable for a given audience. Nothing that stops you reading outside that audience, and there’s no reason to discourage anyone from reading, no matter what. I think there’s bad books in all genres, for all ages, and good books too. We just tend to hear more about the big ones, like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey that a lot of people dislike.

Now, I do have problems with both of those books I mentioned, but not because of the genre or intended audience. I don’t like Twilight because it treats an unhealthy relationship as the epitome of romance; I don’t like Fifty Shades of Grey because whatever the author claims, it portrays an abusive relationship and makes excuses for it. It’s badly researched, at the very least. I’ve read both those books, too, though not the whole series, so it’s not as though I’m judging them based on nothing but the buzz.

I disagree that adults reading YA should discourage anyone else from doing so. Whether it does or not, I don’t know, but I don’t see why it would. I’ve read all sorts of books aimed at all ages since I learned to parse a sentence, and it never bothered me that anyone else was or wasn’t reading them. If nothing else, it proves the books are accessible and interesting, and not just narrowly targeted at teenagers’ problems or whatever like some books I’ve read that wanted to cram a moral down my throat.

There are some types of books I feel snobby about, but I try to keep in mind that every time I feel that way, I’ll end up loving a good example of the genre. Some markets are more flooded with mediocre books than others, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of quality out there.

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Review – Eleanor & Park

Posted July 23, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

I have conflicting feelings about Eleanor & Park. I know that various aspects of it really troubled some people, from the treatment of the characters of colour to the way it deals with Eleanor’s fraught home life. I don’t know enough about American culture and history to really comment on that, other than acknowledging that some people find it problematic, e.g. in the exoticisation of Park’s looks and the stereotyping with his mother. I think everything Rowell does here is an honest attempt, though; I think there’s a conscious effort to bring in more diverse characters, it’s just that it brings in a lot of new problems with it.

Still, despite that, I actually really liked the book. I tend to enjoy Rainbow Rowell’s style anyway, and in this book I enjoyed the way she portrayed a teenage relationship. It’s dramatic life and death stuff, and while I don’t think I ever behaved that way, people I know did. Just discovering hormones and making a big mess of themselves over it and each other. It’s complicated in this case by Eleanor’s relationship with her step-dad, and Park’s discomfort about whether he’s the kind of son his father would want. I think parental situations had a fair amount to do with the rather desperate coupling up I saw sometimes: if you’ve got someone to think about while whatever’s going on at home kicks off, then it’s a bit more bearable. Or you’re less alone. Etc.

I think someone else said that to write for teenagers, you have to remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and I think Rainbow Rowell evokes that pretty well here.

When it comes to dealing with the difficult themes around Eleanor’s family, again, I think it’s an honest attempt. She evokes the feeling of threat well when she’s in Eleanor’s POV; it comes through a lot less when she’s writing from Park’s point of view, though. In a way, that’s realistic: we never know exactly what’s going on behind someone else’s eyes. But in this case… Park was so shocked when Eleanor spilled everything, and I’m just thinking, hey, there were plenty of warning signs, in neon.

All in all, though, I found Eleanor & Park a really easy read, and I liked Rainbow Rowell’s attitude to it that she mentioned at the signing I went to — she couldn’t write some happy ever after for Eleanor and Park, because they’re still kids. It’s not the end of their story, it’s the beginning. I really like that she didn’t go for the easy end where everything’s alright: she gave us hope, sure, but no more than that.

Rating: 4/5

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