Tag: books

Review – Phoenix Extravagant

Posted July 19, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha LeePhoenix Extravagant, Yoon Ha Lee

This was, I must admit, not quite what I’d expected from the author of Ninefox Gambit et al; it’s a more straightforward story, and one whose audience I found a little hard to place. I think a lot of my reaction to the book is because of that clash between expectation and reality, rather than a comment on the book. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but I ended up having difficulty putting together what I think and feel about it because of that difference.

There was a lot I loved immediately, of course: a book where the protagonist shares my preferred pronouns is always a thrill, and the fact that it mostly goes unremarked on in the story was nice too. (It’s not quite ignored; there are a few references to Jebi’s gender and presentation. What we don’t get — as far as I remember anyway — is any clear description that marks out what sex Jebi “really” is, which was a huge relief to me.) Vei is great as well — I loved her! Arazi, the giant dragon automaton, is also pretty awesome and has some cool abilities.

Howeeeever, I didn’t really understand the relationship Jebi forms with Vei, and the level of loyalty the two of them have for each other. It feels slightly out of nowhere, and I felt like some threads weren’t super well dealt with. (The fact that Vei killed Jebi’s sister’s wife, for instance.)

I guess in the end the whole thing didn’t quite come together for me, and the ending left me with a rather melancholy, trailing-off feeling. It was an enjoyable read, and yet it didn’t quite work out for me. I’m positive part of that is because I found Ninefox Gambit et al a challenge in a way I really enjoyed, and this is not that kind of book instead. It takes a long hard look at colonialism, so it’s not that it’s an easy book… but I guess it just didn’t spark with me in the same way.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Pandora’s Jar

Posted July 18, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Pandora's Jar by Natalie HaynesPandora’s Jar, Natalie Haynes

I picked this up somewhat on a whim, and then was hesitant to actually get round to it — I couldn’t quite say why. Which was silly, because once I picked it up, it immediately sucked me in: Haynes discusses the original portrayals of ten women from Greek mythology, what they meant to their original audiences and what they’ve come to mean. It’s not solely about rehabilitating them, but about looking again at them and everything they’ve meant — it doesn’t lionise Clytemnestra, even though it points out that her vengeance has some preeeetty solid reasoning behind it, for example.

I enjoyed the close reading of various texts, including some I knew from studying classics. I’d never viewed Phaedra so sympathetically, I must admit, even though I read the same version of Hippolytus (though I, too, found Hippolytus himself absolutely unbearable, ugh). Haynes often discusses the subtleties of translation, displaying an easy knowledge of the texts in their original form which frankly makes me jealous. (Not for nothing did I consider studying Classics next.)

I think of all them, I found the chapters on Medusa and Medea the most interesting — Haynes digs into the heart of their stories and displays it all, the good and the bad, and some of it may surprise you. Some of it is sadly unsurprising (surprise, patriarchy!). I found pretty much all of it fascinating, and it makes me a lot more interested to read Haynes’ fiction.

Rating: 5/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted July 17, 2021 by Nicky in General / 12 Comments

Wow, it’s warm out! And in. Actually, it’s just warm. And today there’s a Lions game and a Wales game, and tomorrow I’m attending a Ceremony of Eternal Bonding on FFXIV, so it’s a busy weekend. 🤣

Anyway, I have no new books this week, so it’s straight onto the recap.

Books read this week:

Cover of Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston Cover of Pandora's Jar by Natalie Haynes Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews Cover of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Reviews posted this week:

…And that’s everything! How’s everyone doing?

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Review – Food: The History of Taste

Posted July 17, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Food: The History of TasteFood: The History of Taste, ed. Paul Freedman

This is a fairly academic volume, it feels like; it reminded me of reading essays about literature through history or something like that. The chapters are written by different people, so they vary in how fascinating (or not) they might be: I did like the late chapter about the development of restaurants, which added nicely to what I knew from William Sitwell’s whole book on it.

I must admit that given how academic it felt, I kind of zoned out a lot with this, and I ended up continuing to read because it was mildly enjoyable rather than because I was really retaining information. If you’re interested in more vibrant popular-history stuff on the history of food, this isn’t it: the academic feel keeps it rather dry, and at least one of the essays simply regurgitates its sources in huge chunks rather than doing a lot of interpretive work.

It was okay, but not something I’d hold onto myself — but depending on your level of interest and knowledge on the subject, it might be just the thing.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Checkmate to Murder

Posted July 16, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. LoracCheckmate to Murder, E.C.R. Lorac

Something about the setting and set-up of this reminded me of a previous book of Lorac’s that I’ve read (Bats in the Belfry, I think), but it’s more of an atmosphere thing than a repeat of the plot or something like that. I actually guessed what had happened in the end fairly early on, just from the way certain things were emphasised and leaned on, but I enjoyed the ride of how it gets unravelled and the culprit caught.

E.C.R. Lorac’s books always have a pleasant quality I find it hard to put my finger on. Part of it is competence, and the fact that I can trust her to work out the story in a satisfactory way. Part of it is that she doesn’t usually dwell on the characters who are awful, but on the decent and hardworking people who are trying to put things right, or adjust to the awfulness of whatever crime has been committed. Her detective is always so conscientious and decent — such a complete fantasy, but one I enjoy.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 15, 2021 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

Real quick, this week:

Cover of The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia PostrelWhat are you currently reading?

A few books at once, as usual! But I’m in a hurry, so I’ll stick to saying that I’ve just started The Fabric of Civilization, by Virginia Postrel, and I’m finding it fascinating. The first chapters go into specific elements of fabric (thread, dye, etc) describing their origins and development.

I’ve also started a reread of The Paradise War, by Stephen Lawhead. It seems almost impossible that the suck fairy hasn’t visited this book I loved as a teen, but it was so formative to my tastes that I’m giving it another go.

What have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Magic Strikes, which was a reread, and remains a heck of a lot of fun. I overestimated how much the arena scenes featured in the book, though!

What will you be reading next?

Should be Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho, since it’s coming up as a book club read. But, as always, I can’t promise I won’t be tempted by shinies, especially with my wife currently reading K.J. Charles’ Will Darling books, which I have not yet started…

So… what are you reading?

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Review – Ancestors

Posted July 14, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Ancestors by Alice RobertsAncestors: A Prehistory of Britain in Seven Burials, Alice Roberts

To get my nitpicking out of the way, the subtitle is really inaccurate. There are a lot (a lot) more than seven burials discussed here: I wouldn’t be surprised if it managed to get up to seven burials per chapter, though I wasn’t counting. It makes sense, in a way: many prehistoric remains are fragmentary, and they can tell us more in aggregate — which does lead me to my other peeve with this book, which is that many of the examples were actually not even British. Sure, each chapter discussed British remains as well, but there’s inevitably a lot of discussion of other burials, including quite a bit of detail about places like Shanidar.

I guess what I had hoped for was a book that really focused in on seven specific exemplary burials, and was quite exhaustive about those, discussing all the different factors we know about that specific individual, that specific grave. At least, that’s what I expected with the subtitle, at least. So, it isn’t that. There is quite a bit of detail about some of the burials, including some fascinating ones I didn’t know about, but it is really much more of a general survey of prehistoric burials, mostly in Britain, but using burials in Europe and further afield to help contextualise them. Which also makes sense, but is not how the title sounded.

Despite those peeves taking up a lot of my writing space so far, I did really enjoy the book. There are some burials here which really intrigue me, like the full chariot burials, complete with horses. Roberts mentions some ideas that really fascinate me, like the idea that maybe offerings to the water were actually funerary offerings, not offerings to abstract deities. She suggests that some of the “missing” dead (we would expect to find more prehistoric remains than we do) could have been cremated and scattered on water, with offerings thrown in after them — or even that bodies could have been placed on rafts with their belongings, and then the offerings ended up in the water when the rafts deteriorated.

It’s an interesting idea, at least, and the book had a few such titbits. Although I knew a little about most of the burials she discusses, if not all, there was definitely some new material in here and stuff that surprised and fascinated me. Worth the read!

Oh, and I’ll just bet the section on interpreting sex/gender in burials reaaaally chapped some people’s hide. Ahaha.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Raybearer

Posted July 13, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Raybearer by Jordan IfuekoRaybearer, Jordan Ifueko

I found this book a little frustrating: I got into it immediately, and then there was a timeskip which kind of knocked me out of things again, and I didn’t find my feet again until the last third or so of the book. There were parts where I raced through it, and then a middle section that I just kind of plodded through. I did enjoy the bonds between Tarisai and the others, particularly the bond between Tarisai and Dayo; the fact that it was so strong and yet determinedly non-sexual and non-romantic was great.

It’s definitely YA, and it feels very young, but there is some ambiguity there in some of the characters and relationships, which gives it a bit more depth than it might otherwise have.

I’d be interested enough to read the second book: the world at least feels interesting, and there’s a good sense that there’s a lot more out there (something which always does it for me with fantasy settings). There’s a lot of enjoyable detail that shows this isn’t your standard medieval-Europe inspired fantasy, too.

Rating-wise, I feel torn — easily four stars for the parts I tore through, but a meh for the middle part. I guess I’ll compromise on 3 — but it’s a 3 that’s close to 4 in some respects.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs

Posted July 12, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa RandallDark Matter and the Dinosaurs, Lisa Randall

Welp. This book is a lot of dark matter, and not much dinosaurs. Which is more or less what I expected, of course: the title is a really obvious gimmick. And yet, I think I’d have enjoyed it more if it had just been billed honestly. Dark matter itself is fascinating — why do we need to drag the dinosaurs into it?

Well, the author’s contention is that dark matter may explain the alleged periodicity of Earth impacts by meteorites (a theory which I believe is actually in question and has always been a bit of a niche theory — at least in the pop science I’ve read before). She takes a great deal of time explaining the solar system and the formation of the universe, then a bit of time explaining meteorites, then finally gets round to explaining dark matter. By this point, two thirds of the book are done, and she finally introduces her own theory. Finally, in the very last chapter, we finally hear why she’s linking dark matter and dinosaurs.

It’s not badly explained or uninteresting, it’s just very badly titled. I was pretty sure there would not be much by way of dinosaur content, but you do have to live up to this kind of title a bit better than that, to avoid confusion. In the end, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for — too much time spent on the “this is how the universe came about” which I’ve read eleventy-three different times, and at least twice this very year. Randall doesn’t have the charisma to really carry that off, for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Plain Bad Heroines

Posted July 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforthPlain Bad Heroines, emily m. danforth

In some ways, I guess it’s a surprise I picked this up, since it relies heavily on horror tropes and on the reader recognising horror tropes and horror movies and sly little references. That’s never really been my thing, though one or two authors have tempted me into that realm, or interesting concepts, etc. Anyway, the blurb tempted me in despite my total wussiness, and actually, I can’t say I was ever really creeped out.

It follows three women in the present as they make a movie about events of the past, when a girls’ school seemed cursed and some girls died in weird and unpleasant ways. It starts to seem like maybe the curse is real, because weird things keep happening around these three women now in the present. Or is it just the movie getting under their skins?

The book plays with that ambiguity throughout, and it feels like it’s building toward something explosive and genuinely frightening — there is a real tension and weirdness to it, but for me it never quite came off. The revelations that happen actually diminish the climax of it: now you know what’s going on, it seems much more mundane, even when weird stuff is still happening. It didn’t hold onto enough of the unknowable weirdness to really be unsettling. In the end, you get some answers, and for me at least, it was too many answers. It never managed to reach the fever pitch it was trying to build — I didn’t get even a little bit unsettled.

One thing that did work is the charge between three of the female characters — and the love between two of the characters in the past/flashback portions of the book. Those relationships work very well, and the way those relationships are far from idyllic, but sometimes capture moments of bliss, really works out for me.

Rating-wise, I feel like 2 is pretty fair. I didn’t DNF it, so there was stuff that kept me hanging on… but it was 600+ pages of waiting for it to live up to the promises it was making, and for me, it didn’t.

Rating: 2/5

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