Tag: books

Review – An Artificial Night

Posted 8 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuireAn Artificial Night, Seanan McGuire

In An Artificial Night, Toby ends up confronting one of the Firstborn in order to save children — both mortal and fae children, snatched away to join Blind Michael’s Ride. I think in the previous books we’ve had a reference or two to him here or there, but now he comes out in full force, and full horror. Toby has to be a hero, of course, even when her Fetch arrives to say hi early in the book. As ever, she goes through the whole thing a couple of steps from being killed, and the reader lets it work because we love heroes.

I think this is the book that really got me into this series: it’s so clever, the way the mythology is used and added to, and there are so many great emotional notes that I shouldn’t name for fear of spoilering people.

I do still feel that for all that Toby suffers in this book, it’s lacking in teeth in one way: I never really felt that someone we love was at risk, even when Toby behaved recklessly. We know she’s going to be fine, and I feel like I’m always waiting to see her reckless behaviour really hurt the people around her — not just because they’re worrying about her, but because she’s really pulled someone else into trouble. In the first book, there was Dare, of course, but… that was the first book. It feels like the stakes should be raised, and yet this book is remarkably bloodless in that sense. The person who suffers is Toby — and it’s not that it means nothing, but I’m just expecting the way Toby behaves to get Quentin killed or something. By rights, she should’ve by now.

Despite that quibble, it’s a strong book in the way it uses the mythology and ratchets everything up to the ending, and I enjoy it a lot.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 7 August, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 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.

Cover of Die Laughing by Carola DunnWhat are you currently reading?

I picked up Carola Dunn’s Die Laughing today; it’s the next in the Daisy Dalrymple series, and while it’s not particularly fresh and new (even within the series), it’s good to just sit and let the book take it away. They’re always absorbing, even if they’re not super new.

I’m also partway through Within the Sanctuary of Wings, which I should give some more attention to!

Cover of The Warrior Queen by Joanna ArmanWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished The Warrior Queen, by Joanna Arman. Ostensibly it’s about King Alfred’s daughter, Æthelflæd, but in practice it’s mostly about the menfolk around her. I know that’s the hazard with women in history, but it was really heavily waited toward discussing Alfred, or Æthelflæd’s husband, or her brother. The two-ish chapters discussing her in her own right are pretty interesting, but… meh. Also, the book is badly edited and just all round a bit suspect.

What will you be reading next?

Something from my August TBR, most likely, but what I couldn’t say! I might hurry up and get to The Fated Sky before my wife does…

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Lent

Posted 6 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Lent by Jo WaltonLent, Jo Walton

This review might be a little spoilery, so if you want to go in totally blind, this is more than just a high level overview of the setup. Just as a warning!

Though I didn’t know much about Savonarola, I thought that even for Jo, making me like him might be too much of a task — and here he’s the main character! But it works: with the first section of the book, we’re introduced to Savonarola, his genuine piety and his earnest attempts to rid himself of his sins, to the point where the first return burns. It’s just a horrifying moment, this holy man who loved God finding himself plunging into Hell, and finding that all his life has been a kind of cosmic joke, because there is no forgiveness, and even his “god-given” skills of prophecy and banishing demons are actually due to his demonic powers.

And then it begins again. This was a weaker part of the book for me, because it’s hard to avoid the repetition of all the different lives while also making it clear how much of a grind it is. The different lives are interesting in themselves, and it’s fun getting to see other sides of the same characters, and every return is still awful. But the actual resolution comes both too fast and too slow — it felt half too easy and half like reading it was about to become a drag. It’s an awkward line to walk, and I do think the book does a good job with something that’s difficult to portray well.

The section of this that is historical fantasy is beautifully done, and making me like — or at least be fascinated by — Savonarola when I was predisposed not to was quite a feat. I feel like I’m still chewing this one over, in a good way, even if I ended it not quite sure how I felt exactly. If I rated solely based on the punch in the gut of the first return section, I’d give it five stars.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Superior

Posted 5 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Superior: The Return of Race Science, Angela Saini

As a history of race science and an examination of what people have believed about race from a scientific(ish) perspective, Superior is a good book. It gives a good account of where some of the current beliefs come from, and the ups and downs of race science in the wider science community. She’s sharp on the fact that there are journals, people and most especially funds, like the Pioneer Fund, that are deliberately advancing a racist agenda, and they need to be scrutinised.

It doesn’t really engage directly with the science itself, though, which is where it falls down a bit for me: Saini’s opinion on the material is clear, but I feel that I’m being told I should rubbish the data without actually being shown the data. She presents the work of scientists like Cavalli-Sforza as being inherently racist — in this book, it’s racist to track gene frequencies in populations and how they change over time, because… because it just is, darn it! I don’t think we can hide from facts just because they can be used as ammunition by our opponents, and it’s simply a fact that the human race is not homogenous. You’ll find some genes at a high frequency in some populations, and a very low frequency in others. That’s just inevitable unless the human race has always been geographically contiguous, and breeding has been entirely random across the whole geography, with no local clumps of people who are related to one another.

Now, does that actually mean anything? For my money, no. It can tell us things about history and about the pressures on survival/reproduction in past populations, but it doesn’t predict anything much about people now. As Saini does point out, it’s entirely possible that there is more variation between me and another random white British person than between me and someone from Pakistan (as long as you don’t pick someone I’m actually closely related to). Populations of modern humans haven’t ever been isolated long enough to speciate, as proven by the fact that all populations on Earth can readily reproduce. We’re just not that different, though some populations have developed adaptations to local conditions (like pale skin, lactose tolerance in adulthood, and sickle cell anaemia).

But isn’t it better to argue that from data, look right at what the race scientists are saying and refute their claims, than pretend there are no differences between populations at all? I’m pretty confident their data is rubbish, from my own knowledge and experience, but I haven’t been given any of their data by this book. I’ve been told they’re bad and wrong people, I’ve been told what their motives are, but in most cases here I have no real idea of how they’re trying to prove their points or what they’re arguing, except that they’re wrong. Yes, you’ve told me! But why are they wrong? What proof have they presented?

As a history, then, I’m all on board — it’s valuable to see how race science developed, and the motives of the people using it — but don’t file it with the pop science books, because it doesn’t go there. I feel no better qualified to refute the claims of race science than I was before I read it. It makes a moral argument, but (with a couple of exceptions) not a scientific one. I’m still rating it quite highly, because I think it’s a valuable read, and it’s not the book’s fault it’s been marketed as science, but if you actually want to get your teeth into the science, you’ll need to start with the references and go look at the actual sources.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Posted 4 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth DickinsonThe Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson

I reread this because I wanted to read the sequel, just out recently. It’s stood alone for a few years now, and almost feels complete in itself: the story of a young girl, Baru Cormorant, who comes of age just as her home is taken over by the Empire of Masks. She vows vengeance in her heart, while on the surface she plays their game, and keeps on playing it as she becomes the Imperial Accountant for another land in transition. She keeps on playing the game as she gets embroiled in a rebellion, though she’s now compromised by her love — a love the Masquerade would kill her for having — for the Duchess Tain Hu.

The ending is one of those awful punches in the gut that you kind of know is coming, but which still feels awful and which you keep hoping you’re going to be able to dodge. It’s amazing that this book about an accountant manages to be riveting, really shows how money has the power. Sometimes I think it’s simplified a bit too much in this book: it’s a bit too easy to push this lever and get that reaction from the people of the country. But in principle, it works, and it’s a hell of a ride. There are so many characters to love even as you know nothing good is going to come of this.

It’s a shame that when I read the first 10% of the sequel, it didn’t work for me — something felt off, and people’s reviews encouraged me to put it down and let The Traitor Baru Cormorant stand alone. Luckily, in a bleak way, it does stand alone — and really, after everything that happens in this book, I don’t think there’s anything that would feel like enough of a payoff, or enough of a triumph. I kind of like the idea of treating it as a standalone, with that awful and hopeful ending.

Rating: 5/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 3 August, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Hey guys. So bad news on the Breakfast front; he’s gone as of Friday evening, fairly unexpectedly. I’m not really wanting condolences much right now; if you want to express them, could you stick to liking this post or just commenting something nice and unrelated?

I’ll continue things much as normal around here, because that helps, but please don’t take it personally if I forget to comment back or anything.

Books read this week:

Cover of Too Like The Lightning

Reviews posted this week:

Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse. I still find the world refreshing, but the plotting itself feels so… predictable. 3/5 stars
Necessity, by Jo Walton. I did not expect this series to lead here, but there’s so much fascinating about it. 4/5 stars
Forces of Nature, by Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen. Not bad at explaining some things, but the physics still mostly goes beyond me! The series is probably better for that. 3/5 stars
Tower of Thorns, by Juliet Marillier. This kind of nudges in a direction I hoped the books wouldn’t go, but it’s still a fascinating story. 4/5 stars
Magic Strikes, by Ilona Andrews. Vastly entertaining, as with most of this series, and starts stepping things toward the epic overarching story… 4/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. This week’s post about my current reads.
An August TBR. Planning for what to read in August!

What’re you reading?

And also, if you’re going to Worldcon, sound off! Let me know! I’ll be there and so will my wife.

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Review – Magic Strikes

Posted 2 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona AndrewsMagic Strikes, Ilona Andrews

In the third book in this series, Kate finds that Derek’s got himself into some kind of trouble, and it seemed to be tangled up with Saiman’s involvement with an underground arena that pits people against one another in gladiatorial bouts, with real blood, guts and death. It’s pretty obvious where that’s going to lead, and yes, there are some epic team-ups in the arena. There’s also progress on Kate’s non-courtship with Curran, and we get to see several characters old and new kicking butt in lovely ways.

(There’s also finger-gnawing anxiety for one particular character, and no shortage of high stakes, but that’s what you get with Ilona Andrews!)

As always, I find myself pondering the classification of these books as paranormal romance. I’m wary of saying a thing isn’t paranormal romance just because I like it… but I think that genre label is sometimes used to dismiss a book that (if written by a man) would be urban fantasy, and I’m also wary of that. The thing is, I really don’t see these books as being all that much about the romance, especially not the first two or three. The real driver of these books is Kate’s given purpose in life — to kill her biological father — and the way she struggles with it, sometimes willing to follow it, sometimes throwing caution to the wind. It’s a slow process of her letting people in, and that doesn’t mean Curran, primarily: it means having a best friend, it means having an adopted kid, it means trusting and protecting Derek…

I mean, there is romance there: there’s a lot of sexual tension between Kate and Curran, and their stupid banter is the reason these books crease me up with laughter. (A particular kind of laughter which my wife can pinpoint to meaning “ah, Nikki’s reading that series”, embarrassingly.) But I’d more readily categorise something as romance when the plot is all about driving the characters together and the end payoff is the relationship. The drive in romance is typically toward Happy Ever After — to the point where people get very upset if something is billed as romance and doesn’t have a Happy Ever After — but I think the real drive here is about Kate facing her demons, and the romance is just one part of that.

On the other hand, I am also totally ready for Kate and Curran to hurry up and get together already, so that’s probably a vote that it is romance — I don’t have opinions this strong about Peter Grant and Beverley Brook, after all. And there are things about the relationship that are pretty tropey: His Furry Majesty can be kind of creepy at times, in a way that can be very wish-fulfillment-y for some people. (Never mind that Kate usually flings that back in his face and things are rarely less than equal between them.)

The point is, there’s a lot going on in these books, and though romance and sex are a part of it, there’s also a very long game being played concerning Kate and her biological father, and that story is also pretty riveting. This book takes a step further in that direction… but just a step.

Rating: 4/5

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An August TBR

Posted 1 August, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Greetings! It’s August somehow: the month of my birth, and the month of Worldcon! Give me a shout if you’re attending Worldcon and would like to meet up! I’m shy, but if we have books in common it’ll always work out.

Last month was not the greatest, though I did finish 15 of the 20 books (and 20 books overall), which isn’t bad at all considering the mess that was the last week of it. (If you didn’t hear, one of our bunnies is really sick.) The theme for this month is tackling my “on-deck” books; books that are either half-finished, due back at the library, due for review before the publication date, or just stacked on top of my desk for no apparent reason. I’ll also include the next book in a couple of series, to keep me on track with those. Let’s see how many this is… I’ll set a cap of 20!

Cover of Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews Cover of The Warrior Queen by Joanna Arman Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

  • Facism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright. I think this was recced by someone on Litsy? Anyway, it’s due back at the library and I’ve renewed it a bunch of times already, so here goes!
  • Magic Bleeds, by Ilona Andrews. To keep chugging along with my reread/catchup! This will be a delight.
  • The Warrior Queen, by Joanna Arman. I’m partway through this book about Aethelflaed. It’s not that great, but I’d like to see if it improves now that (halfway through) we’ve actually got onto the part of history where Aethelflaed was doing things instead of just existing.
  • Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen. I don’t want to know how long I’ve had this out of the library, but I finally dipped into it last week. Just need to finish up!
  • Within the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennan. Finishing the reread!
  • Turning Darkness into Light, by Marie Brennan. Hopefully before it actually comes out, since I have an ARC! I can’t wait.
  • The 12:30 from Croyden, by Freeman Wills Crofts. I was supposed to buddy read this, uh, months ago. Oops.

Cover of Die Laughing by Carola Dunn Cover of How Long Till Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin

  • Die Laughing, by Carola Dunn. Should be an easy read, and it keeps me ticking along through the series!
  • The Blue Salt Road, by Joanne Harris. This one’s short, and due back at the library.
  • How Long Till Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin. I picked this up in May, and then other stuff happened. Time to read more!
  • The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I meant to read this in July. My wife’s started reading The Calculating Stars now, so I’d like to get reading!
  • Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier. Also one I meant to read in July. Looking forward to seeing what happens.
  • One Salt Sea, by Seanan McGuire. Next in the series!

Cover of Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier Cover of One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire

  • The Subversive Stitch, by Rozsika Parker. I’ve had this out of the library for way too long, and it’s actually from the stacks, so I really should pick it up soon. Though I’m wondering if it’s worth buying the more recent edition, in case anything changed…
  • Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea, by Sarah Pinsker. I was in a book club with Sarah Pi; it’s high time I read this. I’ve already read a couple of them, actually.
  • Gene Machine, by Venki Ramakrishnan. I started this and then got distracted, but it’s due back at the library on the 5th. Whoops.
  • The Gendered Brain, by Gina Rippon. Started this last month, but ran out of brain due to The Rabbit Situation.
  • The Aztecs, by Richard Townsend. I may have had this out of the library since… Christmas?
  • The Piltdown Forgery, by Joseph Weiner. I think the ‘who’ of this case is quite obvious, but it’s still fascinating. And the book is, wait for it, due back at the library.
  • Heartstone, by Elle Katharine White. I started this ages ago and then stopped for… I don’t know what reason. Time to finish it!

Cover of The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon Cover of Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

So that’s the lot! Let’s see how I do this month…

What’re you reading this month? Or are you winging it?

Don’t forget to let me know if you’re going to Worldcon!

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Review – Tower of Thorns

Posted 1 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Tower of Thorns by Juliet MarillierTower of Thorns, Juliet Marillier

After the events of Dreamer’s Pool, Blackthorn and Grim are both rather well-settled in Dalriada, respected by their community and particularly by Lady Flidais and Oran. Blackthorn is more or less resigned to staying put and awaiting the end of the term set on her by Conmael, and Grim… well, he’s happy, taking care of Blackthorn, doing odd jobs for local people. Still, when a woman called Lady Geiléis arrives pleading with Oran for help, it’s no surprise that Blackthorn is caught up in it. Where Blackthorn goes, Grim follows — even if one of Blackthorn’s long lost friends has also shown up on the scene, disrupting the dynamic between them.

I love the way this book is put together: the mystery, the slow revelation of the backstory through the story about Lily and Ash, and the way it also brings to light things about Grim and his past. There’s so much that goes on in this book in terms of development, even while there’s a kind of ‘monster of the week’ to provide the excuse. The backstory is heartbreaking, of course, and even though I saw the ending of it coming a mile off, it’s still powerful. Look away now until “spoilers endeth here” if you want to remain spoiler-free!

The betrayals were also fairly expected, but it still works — it’s so amazingly sad that Blackthorn found someone from her old life again, opened up to him, and was even beginning to hope that it might mean she could act against Mathuin… and was betrayed. Especially the way her love for her dead family is used against her by someone who knows very well how to use it. I found the reappearance of that character suspicious, and didn’t particularly like him, but I did find myself hoping it wouldn’t happen. Alas.

Blackthorn and Grim work beautifully together as a partnership, and I’m a little sad that it’s clearly trending towards a more conventional romance in the end. I was really hoping that they would remain as they are: non-sexual and non-romantic, but nonetheless deeply necessary to one another. Their bond read that way to me from the start, and I find it more interesting than a conventional romance. I’m hoping Marillier can stick the landing and make me happy about it, but I’m not convinced yet by a long shot. As ever, though, the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim is what holds the book together and makes everything work. It’d be interesting without them, but it wouldn’t be so full of feeling — for all that these are characters who don’t talk much about their feelings.

Still — and the spoilers endeth here — it’s an engrossing story, and I found myself tearing through it. Marillier evokes this half-fairytale Ireland well, and though I didn’t find myself surprised by the plot, it definitely gave me feelings!

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 31 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 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.

Cover of Too Like The LightningWhat are you currently reading?

I’m most of the way through Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer, and it’s still not really working for me. It’s one of those where I feel like the payoff is constantly just one more revelation out of reach, and now I’m really close to the end, so I will be finishing it, but… I find myself thinking that this book was not for me, probably.

I have got a couple of other books on the go, including the rather lighter Her Royal Spyness, which promises to be one of those fluffy mysteries I can nom in a day or two.

Cover of Perihelion Summer by Greg EganWhat have you recently finished reading? 

I think the last thing I finished was Greg Egan’s Perihelion Summer, which didn’t impress me very much. I found it flat and lacking in characters who I could possibly care about.

I’ve way slowed down my reading speed the last week, with all the stress, so there’s not much else since my last WWW check-in!

Cover of Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie BrennanWhat will you be reading next?

Working on the Lady Trent books and then the new book which I got as an ARC! Other that that, who knows? It’s a big world full of all the tastiest books, but I’m not sure what I’ll be in the mood for, so I’m not over-committing!

What are you currently reading?

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