Sunday, September 24, 2023

100,000 Hits

I reached 100,000 hits on this blog.  I started it back in 2014, making this my tenth year of writing book reviews.  It's been almost exclusively Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

I don't know if all the hits are actual readers, or if many are bots from around the world, paging through the blog.  Whatever, it's 100,000 baby!

You Sexy Thing

Cat Rambo
Completed 9/24/2023, Reviewed 9/24/2023
2 stars

This was the September selection for my online book club.  I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the runner up, The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.  I thought this book was a good premise that was not executed well.  My biggest gripe is that the point of view kept bouncing around, mainly between two characters, but also from the other characters on the ship as well as the sentient ship itself.  The book starts out from Niko’s POV, then spends a lot of time from the Princess’ POV.   I prefer when it’s one character’s POV, or when the change happens at chapter breaks.  There are some other issues that I’ll discuss later on, but this was the big one for me.  

The plot is decent.  A former military captain and her retired squad open a restaurant in a space station.  They’re trying to get a good review by a food critic when the space station begins exploding.  They escape on a sentient biomechanical space ship called You Sexy Thing, as in the hit song from the 70s.  The ship is commandeered by a pirate and they are taken to a pirate haven.  There the captain, Niko, short for Nicholette Larsen, as in the 70s ballad singer, confronts the head of the pirates, her long time nemesis, as well as an old flame whom she left there in the pirate haven decades ago.

The best part of the book for me was the ship.  It began not unlike many other spaceship computers in many other stories, but this one becomes more human, and a better cook, from knowing Niko and her crew.  I also liked Niko, despite her flaws.  I think the book would have been much better if it remained in her point of view throughout.  I wish I’d gotten to know her better than we do.  She has many interesting relationships, with her crew, with the ship, and with her long lost lover.

Of all the characters, I liked Princess Atlanta the least.  She was delivered to Niko in a stasis box at her restaurant.  Turns out she is heir to the Empress.  I found her to be very boring.  We spend too much time in her head through the middle part of the book.  Her observations and reminiscing held no interest for me, even when she witnesses the death of one of the crew by the pirate king.   

This book is part of a series called Disco Space Opera.  Except for the name of the ship, I found nothing very disco or disco-era related about the story.  And you’d think that with the ship’s name and the captain’s name, there’s be a lot more 70s references.  I kept looking for them, but there weren’t any that I could find.  I was very disappointed.  I felt misled by the series name.  I thought it would be more fun than it was.  In fact, I thought there was a lot more tragedy than there were things fun or comical. 

I also didn’t like the long periods where nothing happened.  And there were many.  The longest was perhaps the waiting while the crew is on the ship being taken to the pirate haven.  I think that part was intended to relay deeper understandings of the characters by their interactions with each other and the ship.  Instead, I found it to be terribly boring.  They also do a lot of waiting when they’re imprisoned by the pirate king waiting to be tortured or killed or whatnot.  

Lastly, I felt the ending was too nicely wrapped up.  Even though it has a cliffhanger for the next in the series, all the loose ends were resolved as you would expect.  

I give this book two stars out of five.  I thought the writing was uneven.  With the bouncing POVs and the long dry sections, I felt the author could have used a good editor.  And while some of the non-human characters were described decently, overall, I felt the world building was pretty weak.  I don’t have any intention of reading more of this series unless I hear overwhelmingly that the author has gotten better.  

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Divided Allegiance

Elizabeth Moon
Completed 9/17/2023, Reviewed 9/17/2023
4 stars

Another outstanding tale of Paksenarrion , picking up where it left off in Sheepfarmer’s Daughter.  Moon continues with excellent prose and world building, but this time, introduces elves, dwarves, and orcs.  This book didn’t suffer from second book in a trilogy syndrome.  It’s plot felt apropos of Paks’ growth as a warrior and exploration of her magical and spiritual side.  It ends on more of a cliffhanger than the first book did.  It’s certainly not a standalone book and leaves you wanting more.  I was impressed by how much I liked the story and how emotionally involved I was with the aloof main character.  My only complaint was technical:  It was reported on my ebook as 322 pages, but almost every page was two swipes.  I was only reading about 10-12 pages an hour and I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time.  Then I found on other websites that this book in other forms is over 500 pages long.  Sneaky.  So if you want to read this book, settle in for a longer than expected ride. LOL.

Paks takes her leave of the mercenary army at the urging of the Duke with the invitation to return at any time.  He wants her to find her true calling based on the magical powers she seems to have but has no control over or understanding of.  Hey journey meets her up with a half-elf to help her across the mountains.  He convinces her to follow him to a secret elven place where treasure may lie.  It’s on the way so she agrees.  It turns out to be a much more dangerous task than the elf revealed.  However, she escapes with much treasure.  Eventually she makes her way to a place for military and spiritual growth where she’s invited to train as a paladin.  The marshals there recognize that she’s quite advanced already and allow her to accompany a quest to find the hidden fortress of Luap, friend of Saint Gird.  Gird is the patron of warriors fighting for good against evil.  However, the quest is her toughest yet and full of terrible dangers.  

The coolest part of this story is the introduction of the different races:  elves, dwarves, and orcs.  After a fairly standard military first book, this one plays more on the fantasy aspect.  Like the first book, there’s a lot of traveling which at times gets a little boring.  The landscape is profusely detailed and slows the pace down.  But unlike the first book, more happens on the way, which makes up for the long dry sections.  And to be fair, it’s not that dry as the prose is still delicious.  

Paks is an interesting character.  She’s definitely not a Mary Sue.  Lots of things happen to her, good and bad, and her reactions are uneven and sometimes downright depressing.  Despite several years as a mercenary, she’s still a simple, good-hearted young woman with a fair amount of naivete.  At times, I sat there thinking, “No, no!  Don’t think like that!”  However she does, and the choices are not always good ones.  In fact the ending of this book is a big downer, but it does leave you wanting to see what becomes of her.

I give this book four out of five stars.  It held my attention well, even though I often felt I wasn’t making much progress because of the misrepresentation of the page numbers.  I think I would have felt like I was making better progress if it listed the pages as 528 normal length as opposed to 322 long pages.  But aside from that technicality, I loved reading it and will hit the last book in the trilogy after my next book club read.  

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Tempering of Men

Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Completed 9/9/2023, Reviewed 9/9/2023
3 stars

This book felt very much like a middle book of a trilogy.  It had a sort of lull in the urgency of the story.  But it was still a pretty good book, once I got into it.  The hardest part for me though was all the characters.  There are a ton in this book and they all have very complex names.  The setting is a pseudo-Norse culture, so the names are Nordic in style, as are the place-names and titles.  It took me about a third of the book to figure out who was who of the major characters, and the minor characters, well, I lost track of some of them.  I wished I had read this much sooner after the first book of Iskryne trilogy, A Companion to Wolves.  I think I would have enjoyed it even more.

Because of the names’ complexities, I can’t give much of a plot summary which would include them, except for a few, the ones I remember.  Isolfr, from the first book, establishes his own den/community of wolves and the men who are bound to them, as well as some women.  His wolf takes two mates, which means that the community has two war leaders.  So there is some conflict between them.  However, they go to wipe out the last of the trolls.  Now with no enemy, they have to figure out what to do with themselves.  Fortunately(?) another enemy appears, Rheans, i.e., pseudo-Romans.  They have invaded the island and are slowly trying to conquer it.  So the community, in fact, all of the wolf-linked and wolfless communities must come together to figure out how to fend off other men from their Scandinavian-like existence.

There are several subplots in the middle of the book which are interesting.  They include sending an emissary to the Rheans, which includes one of the war leaders, Skjaldwulf.  He gets taken prisoner as a witch because of his psychic connection to his wolf companion.  The other war leader, Vethulf, takes a group to kill a wyvern that is plaguing a community.  A third subplot includes two others, Brokklfr and Kari, who go exploring a cave and running into elves (alfs).

One thing I liked about the book is that there is a little more romance to the relationships between the men.  In the first book, sex seemed to be devoid of emotion.  In this book, Vethulf and Skjaldwulf are genuine lovers, as are Brokklfr and Kari.  While there are hardly any sex scenes in the book, you get the sense that the men actually love each other.  

The world-building is quite phenomenal, with the Nordic culture, the wolf-relationships, the names, the place-names, and the pantheon of Othinn, Thor, and Freya.  The prose is touch and go.  There were times where I really enjoyed it and other times when I found it confusing.  I think the confusion again came from all the complex names.  

I give this book three out of five stars.  It seemed like a lot of set up for the third book.  I was kind of surprised that the war with with the Rheans didn’t happen in this book.  I guess the the next book begins with it.  I am more intrigued by the third book, as the description says it follows Isolfr’s daughter.  Women don’t have a large role in this series.  So it will be interesting to see how the authors roll that plot line in.  

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Sheepfarmer’s Daughter

Elizabeth Moon
Completed 9/2/2023, Reviewed 9/3/2023
4 stars

I don’t usually like military novels.  This one is about a young woman who joins a mercenary army, complete with basic training and detailed massive battles.  However, I was pretty engrossed in this book.  I was taken in by Moon’s skill at describing combat so well with enough details to explain what the character was engaged in while keeping me focused.  Only occasionally did my mind wander during these scenes.  This was partly due to Moon’s amazing prose.  I almost never got tired of reading it.  This is the first book in a series as well as Moon’s first novel.  This book was nominated for a 1989 Locus First Novel award.

Paksenarrion, who goes by Paks, is an eighteen-year-old girl who runs away from home and a betrothal to a pig farmer to join a mercenary army.  She’s very tall and quite strong.  She loved hearing stories of battles from her older brother and always dreamed of being a soldier.  Now she’s committed to two years of service after basic training.  Despite an attempted rape by a despicable colleague, she successfully completes training and begins life as a soldier.  For a medieval-like army, it’s rather modern with its military style and acceptance of women in the ranks.  And Paks excels in her new field.  The story continues campaign by campaign with Paks becoming a star soldier and discovering her possible magical nature.  

What really jumps out at you in this book is Moon’s detailed yet engrossing battle scenes.  Moon herself was in the US Marine Corps and her goal with this novel was to write accurate battle scenes and military life.  She succeeds stupendously.  At the same time, Paks grows as a soldier and as a person.  She develops a sense of morality which is reflected in the type of army its financier, a Duke, wants to maintain. 

What really helps in this are the prose and the world-building. I couldn’t believe how well-described everything was, from the fighting to the people to the landscape.  Yet it was never boring or overly flowery.  Moon kept it concise without sparing interesting details.  And the world building was phenomenal.  The detail in the cities and villages and even in the specifics of the road they marched through was amazing.  It read like Moon had maps of all the land as well as detailed maps of each town they encountered.  But it was rarely boring.  

Paks and the cast of major characters are very well developed.  Except for occasionally getting confused with the plethora of side characters, I felt I grew with Paks and her fellow recruits.  Paks maintains a sense of innocence through her experiences but grows nonetheless.  There’s a particular sequence where Paks and two others not near the fort where they are held mildly captive when the army of an evil lord captures their armies, torturing and decimating them.  The sequence features the deepening of their friendship as they try to return to the Duke to warn him of what happened.  I was astounded at how much I empathized with the three and was devastated by the tragedy at the end.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  My only complaint was that it was a little slow during the long marches during the campaigns.  While things are revealed and clarified during these scenes, it did occasionally get dry.  Aside from that, this book was terrific.  And it astounds me that this was her first novel.  I’m planning on continuing this trilogy, and possibly reading the extended series.  For now, I’m sticking with the trilogy, as I already have a huge TBR pile.  Elizabeth Moon needs to be considered for a Grand Master honor.  I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve read of hers.  She’s prolific and puts out great things.  She’s become one of my favorite authors.  I highly recommend checking her out if you haven’t already.  

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

Robert Rankin
Completed 8/25/2023, Reviewed 8/26/2023
3 stars

This book lost in a runoff vote for my book club.  It was cheap so I got it.  It was fun, but not uproariously funny.  The ideas are great, like the title.  It had a lot of good running gags.  But in the end, I felt kind of empty, sort of like eating a big puff of cotton candy.  It’s sweet and fun, but in the end, it didn’t fill you up at all.  I was glad I read it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read another book by this author. 

Jack is a farm boy who leaves for the big city.  In this case, it’s Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town.  It’s grown immeasurably since its early days.  When Jack gets there, he finds it inhabited by sentient toys.  He comes across a teddy bear named Eddie who was an assistant to the great private investigator Bill Winkie.  Winkie is missing so Eddie has taken up his latest case, finding the serial killer behind the murders of famous nursery rhyme characters.  The two team up to solve a mystery that could mean the destruction of Toy City itself.

Despite being pretty fluffy, the characterization was pretty good.  Jack and Eddie are well developed characters.  Eddie is constantly trying to be taken more seriously than a teddy bear normally would be.  And he has a word-relationship problem so he can never complete a simile.  He can only say “as good as” or “as crazy as”, never completing the thought.  Jack is also well thought out as a thirteen year old doing adult things.  Some of it’s a little questionable, like getting drunk with Eddie.  I found that disturbing.  But overall, I liked Jack.  He’s read all the Bill Wilkie pulp detective novels so he knows how to play this PI game better than Eddie.  

What I liked most about this book was that it was rather fun.  It didn’t take itself seriously.  It was a lot like Robert Asprin, although I thought Asprin was better.  It’s a bit Monty Python-esque, just not quite as good.  The author is British after all.  Some of the jokes and puns fall flat, but others work.   I give this book three stars out of five.  

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Nettle & Bone

T Kingfisher
Completed 8/19/2023, Reviewed 8/19/2023
3 stars

I really liked the byline of this book.  “This isn’t the kind of fairy tale where the princess marries the prince.  It’s the one where she kills him.”  This is a subversive novel in that sense.  It is pretty dark, but very satisfying.  The prose is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Kingfisher.  I’ve really enjoyed her work so far.  The last book of hers I read was A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which was really inventive.  This one is inventive too, but I found it a slower read.  It’s only about 250 pages, but I found I couldn’t really zip through it until the last fifty pages or so.  That’s when it really grabbed me and I fought immense drowsiness to get through the end.  This book was nominated for a 2023 Hugo, which will be announced later this year, and a 2022 Nebula.  While I think this book is pretty good, I don’t think it’s exactly award worthy.

Marra is the youngest of three princesses.  Her eldest sister is married off to the prince of the large, neighboring kingdom to the north.  She dies by “accident” less than a year later.  Then her next sister is married to the prince.  When she becomes pregnant, Marra goes to visit her.  There she finds that the prince abuses her sister.  Vowing vengeance on the prince, she completes some impossible tasks to get the favor of a gravewitch to help her in her quest.  Together with the witch, a demon-possessed chicken, a reluctant fairy godmother, a handsome former knight, and a dog made of bones, she attempts her quest to kill the abusive prince.

What I’m finding of Kingfisher is that her prose always seems to be excellent.  Even when, as in this case, the story falls a little flat, her books are always incredibly readable.  Her world building is also quite amazing.  Her system of magic in this book, which not extensive, is unique and well defined.  I was impressed by the different levels of fairy godmothers.  I also liked that Marra was able to perform the “impossible” tasks as requested by the gravewitch.  

I really liked Marra as a character.  While she vows vengeance, she’s a rather reluctant hero.  When her sisters were married off, she was sent to a convent for safe keeping in case both died and she would have to wed the prince.  She actually liked the convent.  There she joined in the chores willingly and had time for sewing and embroidery, which she loved doing.  And the sisters were kind to her, and to each other.  When she leaves the convent for her quest, she’s nervous, unsure of what she’s doing, only knowing that she must do something to help her abused sister.  

Overall, I did like the book.  I just don’t feel it should win an award.  I would however, like to read more of Kingfisher.  She reminds me for some reason of Patricia McKillip in her style, content, and length of books.  She doesn’t have to write a huge tome to get a point across.  Sometimes a sweeping saga isn’t necessary for every idea.  A short book can do just fine to give you an entertaining fantasy experience.  I give this book three out of five stars.  It’s very good and very enjoyable.