Thursday, December 29, 2016

Heaven’s Queen

Rachel Bach
Completed 12/23/2016 Reviewed 12/28/2016
2 stars

SPOILER ALERT:  This book is a direct sequel, so be forewarned that the summary by definition is a spoiler to its predecessors. 

My usual experience with trilogies is that the second book is weaker than the first, and the third book is better than the second because it contains the climax.  Well, I was proven wrong with this book.  While the second book was a tad weaker than the first, I felt that the third book was much weaker than the second.  It seemed pointless.  Maybe I shouldn’t have read it right after the second book.  I can’t say for sure if that made a difference.  But while reading it, I just wanted it to end. 

Devi and Rupert show up nearly a year after the end of the second book because of time dilation in hyperspace.  They were thought to be dead.  But once they’re found to still be alive, they are wanted by everyone.  Devi has the virus that can stop the phantoms, but the virus wreaks havoc for everyone else, and eventually will kill Devi.  So everyone is trying to stop her.  And Rupert is wanted as a renegade for helping her. 

But now they are totally in love.  And the first major conflict occurs when her former lover Anthony shows up to bring her in.  Devi chooses Rupert over Anthony and the chase begins.  Now, I like a good romance, but so much of the rest of the book seemed to wallow in Devi’s love for Rupert.  Every action she took was some sort of reinforcement of her love for him.  It got tedious. 

I also found that the action became too formulaic, and I became bored with it.  It ran at such a high pace for too long.  It’s like when something begins as a ten out of ten in intensity, it’s hard to maintain that.  You have to keep upping the game to maintain that intensity.  And it just wasn’t upped enough for me.  I got to the point where I could predict when the next action sequence was going to take place within a few paragraphs. 

The bright spot of the book was the conclusion of how Devi wanted to save the universe from the phantoms.  That part was good, but it was smothered by the love and the action. 

I’m going to give the book only two stars because it was so disappointing for me.  The first book is amazing.  It’s well worth reading.  The second book is very good.  It still had me in its grasp.  But this third book couldn’t hold it together until the end.  Maybe I should have separated my reading of it from the second book by a different book or two.  It might have made a big difference in my reception of the action, the romance, and most importantly, the book as a whole.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Honor’s Knight

Rachel Bach
Completed 12/10/2016 Reviewed 12/12/2016
4 stars

SPOILER ALERT:  This book is a direct sequel to its predecessor, Fortune’s Pawn, so be forewarned that there will be some spoilers of the first book in this review, specifically in the summary.  For some reasons, like most trilogies, the second book always feels a little weaker than the first book.  I think this is because the first book in a good trilogy brings the reader something new.  The second book is no longer new, so it doesn’t seem as good.  That’s the case with Honor’s Knight.  It’s really good, but not quite the same bang up excitement I experienced with the Fortune’s Pawn.  I expect the third to pick up because it’ll be the big climax.

The story continues pretty much where the first book left off.  Devi has had her memory wiped, so she doesn’t remember anything of her romance with Rupert.  In fact, like a hypnotic suggestion, she’s physically repulsed by him.  She’s also been wiped of any memory of what Rupert is and what happened in the big showdown with Brenton.   So in the first half of the book, Devi is in a perpetual state of confusion.  In the meantime, she’s still seeing the phantoms that nobody else can see, and a mysterious blackness begins covering her fingers.  Needless to say, all this is freaking her out.  Fortunately, the action picks up, requiring her memory to be restored.  All the interpersonal conflicts of the characters eventually resume and the significance of her “gifts” becomes clear.

The big conflict of course is between Rupert and Devi.  Should there still be any semblance of a relationship between them given what has happened so far?  Is she angry enough or should she be angrier.  It’s a tough call.  I felt she should have been angrier, but at the same time, I want them to get together because I guess I’m a sucker for a good romance.  The relationship will probably reach its climax in the third and final book, just like the main plot.  But it is the topic of a lot of strong feelings one way or the other in reviews on the internet. 

There isn’t that much more to say about this book.  I give it four out of five stars like its predecessor, even though I felt it was a little weaker than the first.  If I gave half stars, I’d give it three and a half, but it’s better than a three star book, so it gets four.  The end is sufficiently action-packed, and Devi is still her terrific, fierce, mercenary soldier self.    The first half dragged a little when she’s confused with missing memory, but it picks up strongly as soon as the action kicks into gear and she gets her memory back.  I’ve already jumped into the third book.  This is great space fluff.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Stone Prince

Fiona Patton
Completed 12/3/2016 Reviewed 12/7/2016
3 stars

I liked this book.  While it has same-sex relationships, it’s not the great gay fantasy novel, but it’s good.  The author really does her best in the scenes between the main character Demnor and his companion Kelahnus, and telling the story about their relationship, from its rocky start to the present conflict where Demnor has to marry a woman for political reasons.  Demnor is a pretty damaged character.  He is the heir to throne and the power of the Living Flame, but he has been shaped by his powerful, emotionally abusive mother who is the current ruler.  So the story really centers on Demnor and his struggles in life and love and inheritance, and Kelahnus’ response to it all.

I really liked Kelahnus.  He’s not just a lover.  He’s part of what you can consider a concubine guild where people are trained to be the lovers of the hierarchy.  They serve the function of providing companionship until the aristocrat gets married.  And even after that, the relationship usually continues in some form.  In the case of Demnor and Kelahnus though, the two have fallen in love.  This creates a problems for Demnor’s future as Aristok (King) and the need for him to marry for political reasons and provide an heir.  Kelahnus has to navigate through all of Demnor’s political life while not despairing. 

The first half of the book was my favorite part, where we get to know the characters and the special social structure of the world.  The second half takes a big turn into politics.  I felt like it dragged, turning the book into the fantasy equivalent of a tedious space opera.  This brought the book to a snail’s crawl for me, losing the spark of the first half.

This is a shame too because the book had so much going for it.  Besides the companionship structure and the fluidity of sexuality, gender has a prominent role.  The aristocracy can be either male or female.  For example, all the children of the Arsitok are Princes, even the girls.  Women also serve in the military.  What makes this aspect of the book so great is that it is not an issue.  It just is.  It’s really well written in that respect.  And it’s easy to miss if you don’t pay attention to the pronouns of the soldiers, guards, and aristocrats.   

The magic and spirituality of the Living Flame concept was really interesting too.  Demnor is the heir of this powerful magic that helps him and his army in battles.  I thought it was understated, or perhaps underutilized.  The scenes with the flame are predominantly in the second half of the book.  It almost seems like it’s used sparingly on purpose, perhaps it has a much larger role in the next books in the series.

Yes, this book is the first of a series.  As I stated at the beginning of this review, I liked it, but I did not love it.  I found the second half somewhat tedious and it put me off from reading the rest of the series.  I was really glad however, that the book is self-contained.  It doesn’t leave you hanging for the next book in the series.  I give the book three stars out of five.  Maybe if the author could have edited out about half of the second half, I would have enjoyed it more.  The remaining action could have lifted the pace and made it a little more exciting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fortune’s Pawn

Rachel Bach
Completed 11/26/2016 Reviewed 11/28/2016
4 stars

I was really surprised by this book.  It’s space opera and I enjoyed it.  As my followers know, I generally don’t like space opera, but I seem to be warming up to it.  I think it depends on the book.  This one has a pretty good in-your-face kick-ass female main character and a good beginning.  Oh yeah, and I need to mention it’s the first book of a trilogy.  It’s a pick from my book club.  I usually don’t like reading books from series for book club because then I often feel the compulsion to read all of it.  But this one was so fun, I just might.

The book follows the adventures of Devi Morris, a mercenary who has risen high in her career.  Her goal is to get into the King’s elite corps, the Devastators.  You can’t join the Devastators, you have to be chosen.  A great way to get noticed is to get a security job on the Glorious Fool, a trade ship that gets into trouble so often that a one year stint on it is equivalent to five years anywhere else.  She takes the job and of course trouble ensues.   

Devi is a great character.  Her narrative is told well in first person.  I really got into her character with the narration.  I could understand her drive for perfection in her job, as well as her distraction by the handsome Rupert.  The same way she goes after her career, she goes after her men.  It was hilarious and heartbreaking.  I’m not positive, but I think this book passes the Bechdel test:  Devi converses with another female character and it’s not about men, which is so interesting to me because so much of the book is about her chasing a man. 

The plot is fun, it’s basic space opera, although being the first third of a trilogy, it doesn’t get too far into all the subplots.  The book is basically about Devi getting used to the motley crew of the Glorious Fool, her obsession with Rupert, and the introduction of the aliens of the universe.  Three of the four races are on the ship.  One is not, but we meet them farther in.  There’s an invisible monster that Devi has to fight and a mysterious monster that seems to be helpful and powerful.  They’re all pretty cool.

 This book gets an easy four stars.  It’s fun, it’s an easy read, and it was the sort of fluff I needed after a couple of good but heavier books.  As I started out this review, I may just follow up and read the rest of the trilogy.  The conspiracy plot was just beginning at the end of this book and I didn’t find it tedious the way I often find conspiracy and politics in space opera to be tedious.  Instead it set me up to want to finish the trilogy.  So surprise…I enjoyed a space opera and highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Larque on the Wing

Nancy Springer
Completed 11/20/2016 Reviewed 11/21/2016
4 stars

This is a difficult book to categorize.  I suppose it qualifies as magical realism, although I’m not an expert on that genre.  At the very least, it’s a fantasy about a woman with some magical abilities.  It won the Tiptree award which honors SF/F books which deal with gender issues.  It’s highly deserving.  This is perhaps one of the most creative ways of exploring gender issues that I’ve read in a long time. 

The story is about Larque, a 40-something year old woman with a husband and three sons who has the ability to make doppelgangers of herself and others.  She has made one of her 10-year old self that is causing trouble.  On top of that, she’s come across a hidden part of town where she gets a makeover into a sexy young gay man.  To make things even more complicated, Larque’s mother can blink away things she doesn’t like or blink them into forms she finds more pleasing.  By the middle of the book, there are three versions of Larque running around, the 10 year old, the gay man, and a plastic, soulless, virtuous woman.  Larque’s existential question is to either remain a gay man, or integrate all her selves back into one middle aged woman and reconcile the life she wanted for herself with the life she has.

It’s a complicated premise, and Springer did a terrific job of creating an understandable plot despite the complexity of the doppelgangers and the blinking mother.  The mother reminded me of Dolores Umbrage from the Harry Potter series, evil wrapped in a compact package, ignoring pleas for love and understanding so that she can see the world how she wants to see it.  It’s all both funny and frightening. 

There is a much referenced quote that I’d like to quote as well:  “Dimly, with her burning heart more than her mind, she began to understand why she had always liked gay men. They suffered, were persecuted, they were outsiders in a world where studbuck male heteros held all the power, they did not count, they were Other – the way women were.”  This quote speaks so perfectly to both women and gay men, on how we experience the world, as the Other.  And the timing of reading this quote in this book, when current events demonstrate how much the white male heteros are trying to hold onto all the power, was just perfect for me.

My only complaint with the book was that the 10-year old Sky was often too whiney.  I think she was supposed to be.  After all, she was supposed to be 10 and un-nurtured.  But it got to me after a while, and I felt distracted by Sky rather than feeling like she was integral to the story.  It all makes sense and comes together in the end, but her journey was just a little too annoying. 

I give this book four out of five stars.  I found it to be a refreshing piece of fantasy, or magical realism, or perhaps we could call it suburban fantasy.  It came real close to being five stars, but the annoying Sky character broke my love affair with the book.  I highly recommend it though for anyone who feels powerless, has unreconciled aspects of themselves, or feels unsatisfied with where they ended up in their lives.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What Did Miss Darrington See?

Jessica Amanda Salmonson, ed.
Completed 11/13/2016 Reviewed 11/14/2016
5 stars

This is an anthology of feminist supernatural short stories written between 1850 and 1989.  Almost all the stories have a ghost, but none are truly horror stories.  At least not like how we consider horror today.  They are just mostly ghost stories with the most common theme of women trying to be authentic.  None of the stories are man-hating, although one of the stories has a man who is rather a cad.  They are almost all simply about fulfillment in a woman’s life, or the lack thereof, and that issue brought forth by the appearance of a ghost. 

Many of the older stories are classical gothic story-telling.  A few are magical realism.  Several deal with lesbian relationships, or at the very least have homoerotic overtones.  Some of these in the older stories feature what was known as Boston marriages, relationships between two women who lived together without the support of a man.  The relationships were not always sexual, but in these stories, the implication that they were is pretty evident.

I really enjoyed most of the stories.  I found them quite emotionally engaging without being maudlin or soapy.  There were only a few I didn’t care for.  One, “The Teacher” was about a man who goes back to visit an old school teacher who barely remembers him.  Another, “Pandora Pandemonia” was a short piece mostly filled with classical imagery.   I didn’t get either of these stories.

Two pieces really stood out for me.  One was “The Little, Dirty Girl” by Joanna Russ.  I was surprised by this piece because I’ve only read novels of Russ, and they are Science Fiction and very avant-garde.  I found her novels difficult to understand, but this story was not only understandable, but very touching.  It’s about a woman who sees a little girl wearing a dirty out-of-date dress.  The girl follows the woman around and the woman eventually begins to take care of the girl.  It soon becomes evident that the little girl is a ghost although she manifests quite physically.  It also becomes clear that the girl represents the woman’s inner child and helps her reconcile her own mother-issues.

The second piece I really liked was “The Doll”.  It’s about a woman who becomes obsessed with a life-sized representation of the former mistress of a castle.  This is one of those stories with homoerotic overtones.  The editor does a great job of providing introductions to each story.  These intros are really helpful in inspiring thoughts and questions about the stories.  Particularly, it made me wonder if this is really about suppression of homoerotic feelings, or about closure in obsessive relationships.

A third story I wanted to mention is “A Friend In Need”.  It’s a relatively newer story about two women who discover they were each other’s imaginary friends growing up.  It explores what we sometimes will do to get through abusive childhoods.  This story was imaginative and emotionally gripping. 

I give this book five out of five stars.  It’s the first book in a long time to which I had an emotional response.  I started out appreciating it academically, but then with each story, it drew me farther and farther in, so that by the last story, I was simply captivated.  I don’t expect everyone to have the same response to this book.  The stories are a lot more subtle than what we’re used to.  But if you’re up for a subtle set of stories written by women about women, then I highly recommend this anthology.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trouble and Her Friends

Melissa Scott
Completed 11/6/2016 Reviewed 11/9/2016
2 stars

“Trouble” is the username of India Carliss, a former hacker who gave up her underground life traversing the net to be a network admin for an artist’s colony when hacking became criminalized.  She left everything behind, including her friends and girlfriend.  Three years later, someone is causing trouble in the net using her username, implicating her in illegal activity.  Trouble and her ex go on a quest to find the culprit uncovering a much more sinister plot.

I’m not a fan of cyberpunk, but this book won a Lambda Literary Award, and Melissa Scott has won more Lammies than any other author.  So I thought I’d give it a try.  Unfortunately, it just reinforced my dislike of cyberpunk. 

The story takes place in both the virtual world, written in italics, and the real world, written in normal font.  At first I thought I’d like this.  The imagery of the virtual world is reminiscent of movies like Tron, with lots of bizarre colors and shapes representing networks, data, and bulletin boards.  Yes, this book is over twenty years old, so the cyber bulletin board phenomenon is still at its peak.  After a while, though, it felt pretty simplistic and hackneyed.  Worst of all, reading italics for too long put a strain on my eyes. 

The one thing I have to give this book props on is the prose.  In general, it’s quite good.  It was easy reading from that perspective.  Where the book lacks is in the plot.  There isn’t too much of one.  The book can be divided into two halves, the first half being Trouble and her ex, Cerise, individually fretting about Trouble getting into trouble, and the second half, Trouble and Cerise fretting together about Trouble getting into trouble.  Okay, there’s a little more than that.  They take a journey to a town that’s both virtual and real to find the non-Trouble.  They meet some mildly interesting characters along the way.  But it mostly felt like nothing really happened, and most of the dialogue is rehashing the plot to that point.   

I think the book was missing tension, particularly tension between Cerise and Trouble.  You would think that the relationship between the two women would be fraught with tension since Trouble just walked out on Cerise three years earlier with nary a word.  But Cerise was too forgiving for me and their working together was much too easy.  There’s some mild sexual tension, but even that seems unrealistic by normal standards of human emotions.  Life’s messy, but little in the interaction between these two was messy. 

I give this book two out of five stars.  It just didn’t do anything for me.  Finishing the book became a mechanical process.  I really didn’t care about Trouble or her friends, or her enemies.  

Friday, October 28, 2016


J.M. Frey
Completed 10/22/2016 Reviewed 10/24/2016
4 stars

Triptych was a surprisingly good book.  It’s about alien refugees from a dead world coming to live on earth and integrating themselves into our society.  It specifically follows one alien, Kalp, who comes to fall in love with and enter a relationship with a human couple, Gwen and Basil.  There’s a little more going on in the book than simply that, but that plot is a substantial portion of the book.  Told from the point of view of the alien, it is one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in a while.

What I liked best about this book was that it looks at humanity from the point of view of the alien.  It makes it an examination of human behavior from an outsider’s point of view.  There are some scenes which are a little trite, like confusing laughing and crying and of course sex and fighting.  But they are done well and keep the story moving.

Kalp the alien is a wonderful character.  He is so earnest in his attempts to integrate himself with humans that I just ached for him.  The aching grows as he falls in love with Gwen and Basil.  You see, on his planet, unions are made of threes, not twos.  Hence the title:  A triptych is usually a painting or some other art on three frames hinged together.   By having three persons in a relationship, one can bear and raise a child, the second takes care of the bearer, while the third continues to work and support the whole family.  So it is natural for Kalp too fall in love with the couple.  The fun, and eventually, the heartbreak comes in as the three adapt to the triptych.

Needless to say, this setup does not sit well with everyone.  Some humans show their lack of humanity as they target the aliens and their lovers for assassination.  It is an obvious reflection of our society’s intolerance to the LGBT community.  But I didn’t mind being hit over the head with the metaphor because the characters, particularly Kalp, are so well done.  And the writing is particularly good for a first novel. 

This book is definitely a hidden gem, one that I wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t worked on the LGBT resource list for Worlds Without End.  It was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award several years ago.    I give this book four stars out of five for the interesting take on bisexuality and polyamory with the twist that the third is an alien.  But also because it was highly readable and a great third person narration from the alien’s perspective.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin
Completed 10/15/2016 Reviewed 10/18/2016
4 stars

This book is a bit of a difficult read at first.  There are three character narratives, one in second person present, the other two in third person present.  Each character is an orogene, someone who can move or stay geophysical forces like earthquakes and volcanos.  Through them, we learn what it is to be an orogene in three different circumstances.  First, you are young and your gift (or curse) is first discovered, you are taken to the Fulcrum, where you are assigned a Guardian who has often abusive control over you.  Second, you are halfway through your orogene training in the controlled environment that is none too pleasant.  But now you’re outside the Fulcrum on a journey and have to use your gift.  Third, when you live with your gift hidden from everyone, or as hidden as possible.  (Sorry, it’s quite by accident that I began writing in 2nd person).  None of these situations is pleasant.  It turns out being an orogene isn’t pleasant.

This is magnificent world building.  It’s incredibly imaginative, a world where the magic is in control of the earth.  It’s a little like being an earth bender from the cartoon Avatar: The Last Air Bender.   But here it’s all about the earth.  “Earth” is used like we use “Hell”, and “rust” is a curse.  The continent is called The Stillness, but it is anything but still.  Hence the need for orogenes to keep the ground from shaking.  But the world is afraid of the orogenes for the potential destruction they can cause as well.  So they are rounded up and taken to the Fulcrum, a sort of school where they are watched by their sadistic guardians and trained in their gift.

As you can see, the world is very dark, but not dark in a typical middle-ages pseudo-European world.  People are light and dark skinned, male and female, and not exclusively heterosexual.  It makes for a really well-rounded world.  I have to say I occasionally had a hard time remembering who was what race, which I think speaks to how much I am conditioned to thinking that the characters of a story are always default white.  

The prose is also amazing.  I have to admit, 2nd person is not my favorite tense to read, but those chapters read more easily than I expected.  I think it speaks well to Jemisin as a writer.  I had a much tougher time reading “Halting State” by Charles Stross, which was also written in 2nd person.    Here the narrative flows much better, though it still took me several chapters to get into the swing of the tense.  Especially since it alternates with chapters written in 3rd person present.

The one thing I didn’t find was empathy for the characters.  I was really interested in what was happening to them, but I wasn’t right there with them.  I never completely immersed myself into the story.  I found this sad because I was all ready to jump on the five star bandwagon that this book has been riding.  Maybe I’m still in a place where I can’t let myself go completely when I’m reading.  I found myself a little distanced from it, able to observe that this was an intense, well-crafted book, but not able to feel it.  So I give this book four stars out of five. 

As a sort of post script, I want to add that the reader should be aware of the glossary at the back of the book.  It really helps with understanding the universe of the book.  I didn’t discover the glossary until about halfway through the book.  Finding it made a bit difference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Kappa Child

Hiromi Goto
Completed 9/24/2016 Reviewed 9/25/2016
4 stars

I’ve never read any of the “Little House on the Prairie” books but I understand the general gist from having seen a few episodes of the TV series back in my youth.  They represent a child’s view growing up in prairie homesteading days written for children.  The main, unnamed character of “The Kappa Child” is a bit obsessed with the book.  So when her Canadian family of Japanese descent moves from the lush metropolitan Vancouver, BC to the Canadian prairie, of course she’s going to compare and refer a lot to her favorite book.  But the worlds couldn’t be any more different, with her father’s dream of growing rice rather than something that would actually flourish.  And her father is abusive to the children and the mother. 

The book takes place in the present of the adult protagonist with flashbacks to her childhood moving to the farm.  In the present, she encounters a Kappa, a green water sprite, part frog, part turtle, part human.  But rather than real traditional fantasy, the encounter has more of a magical realism quality.  The encounter, which involves sumo wrestling as Kappas are prone to engage in, leaves the protagonist supernaturally pregnant.  So she must deal with her unbelievable, undetectable pregnancy, the pain of her childhood past, and her not-so-great present relationships. 

I realize the summary of the book is somewhat confusing, but the book reflects that.  The narrator, our protagonist, is an unreliable narrator, often not realizing the reality of what’s going on around her.  She has incredibly low self-esteem, and not so great relationships with her sisters and friends.  So the view we get of her life is skewed toward the negative.  But that’s not to say that the book is a confusing downer.  It is in fact a pretty good read where the jumps between the past and present are actually very easy to follow. 

What’s most confusing is the Kappa aspect.  At the end of the book, the author fully explains what a Kappa is from Japanese mythology.  It left me wondering about the significance of the main character being pregnant with a Kappa child.  Is that what I was supposed to be getting out of it?  Or perhaps, she  herself is the Kappa child. 

Even though I couldn’t quite figure this out, I really enjoyed the book.  The narrator has a very interesting perspective on her life.  It makes the book very readable.  I give the book four out of five stars.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Greg Egan
Completed 9/5/2016 Reviewed 9/13/2016
4 stars

This book is science fiction in the true sense of the term:  it is fiction that deals with science.  In this case the science is genetics.  A family is on a tropical island studying butterflies with a strange genetic mutation.  A civil war breaks out and the parents are killed, leaving Prabir to care for his younger sister Madhursee, getting them rescued.  Twenty years later, Madhursee returns to the island to study the growing number of genetic mutations in the region, leaving Prabir to deal with his ghosts from the past. 

The book is very hard science.  I was surprised at how technical the biology was.  There were times I had to skim over the prose because it was too technical for me.  However, I gleaned enough to get the basic gist of what was going on.  My lack of deep understanding didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. 

The characterization is really good.  Egan wrote Prabir well, delving into the mind of a nine year old, and then presenting him twenty years later, more than a little controlling and broken.  The other characters are good too, but Prabir is the main character and it’s his perspective that the book is written in. 

I should also note that the author is Australian.  His familiarity with the tropics and the politics of the region creates a realism that a non-native wouldn’t have.  It took me a while to integrate this fact with the organic nature of the book.  It reads so naturally of the tropics of Indonesia.   

I give this book four out of five stars.  I really enjoyed it even though the science is quite hard.  It gets especially exciting as the book progresses and Prabir discovers the other mutations that have been infesting the region.  It’s a smart, exciting read.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spaceman Blues: A Love Song

Brian Francis Slattery
Completed 9/3/2016 Reviewed 9/13/2016
4 stars

This is one strange book.  It’s about Wendell Apogee who is trying to find his lover who has suddenly disappeared.  His search takes him through the underbelly of New York, where he encounters parties, cockfights, aliens (illegal and extraterrestrial), and a city below the city.  It’s fantastically imagined and quite well developed for such a short book.  And it has a wild ending you don’t see coming. 

Wendell is a pretty good character.  He starts off rather blandly, but then happens to become a sort of superhero.  It’s rather strange and quirky, but the development is satisfying.  There are also several Latino characters, which is quite rare for a science fiction book. 

The one thing I didn’t care for in this book was the prose.  I found it at times to be too much, to over-descriptive, sometimes causing me to lose my focus on the story.  It’s like losing the forest for the trees.  But if you can push past the prosy parts, the book is quite readable.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say about the book.  If I go into much more detail describing it, it gives away too much for this short book.  And my creative juices just are not flowing enough yet.  Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed it, despite the prose.  The quirkiness of the plot and the little universe Slattery creates really kept me going.  Four out of five stars.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mistborn: The Final Empire

Brandon Sanderson
Completed 8/25/2016 Reviewed 8/25/2016
4 stars

Mistborn is another book club selection.  I didn’t vote for it, but I didn’t mind it winning.  It has always been one of those books I should get around to reading.  I knew it had a lot of praise, so I guess my expectations were a little high.  When I actually opened the books, I found it difficult to get into, to the tune of about a quarter of the book.  Finally, I started to like it, adventure revved up and most importantly, I felt like I was getting into the head of Vin, the main character.

Vin is an orphan, half noble, half skaa (lower class).  She survives as a thief, running around with gangs.  She has a gift for luck, making things go her way.  Then she stumbles upon a gang that shows her that her gift is much larger than she thought.  And this gang has a much larger mission than just stealing.  They want to overthrow the tyrannical government that keeps the skaa as slaves to the nobility.  She joins the group, growing in her powers and trying to help with the coup. 

The book is clearly a statement on the evils of slavery and classism.  But it also touches on the seduction of money and power.  The best parts of the book for me were the scenes where Vin is disguised as a noble woman, attending balls, and trying to spread and gather rumors as to the state of the nobility.  She often reflects on the comforts of having money to dress and eat well versus where she was before this mission, sleeping in alleys and eating what she could find. 

The book is also quite a complex universe.  Sanderson imbues this world with magic, but it’s a very specific kind.  It uses metals to produce a desired effect, including having sway over people, seeing into the future, and travelling at the speed of racing horses.  Called Allomancy, it is the gift that Vin has.  One problem I had with the book is that there’s a lot of description of the different aspects of Allomancy.  I found this to be fairly boring.  However, when Vin is using it, the action soars, reminiscent of the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.  There are times when she’s following Kelsier, her mentor, and times when she’s actually doing battle.   Both types of scenes are riveting, as is being inside Vin’s head during these scenes. 

As I mentioned, the book goes through a lot of exposition with the Allomancy.  It also goes into great details in the plot to overthrow the government.  I found the details to be rather dry and my mind wandered a lot here.  Unfortunately I think the dryness is necessary because it all does make sense when the status quo does begin to unravel and when the magic is in use.  But at 650 pages, I thought some judicious editing could have disposed of some of the extraneous exposition. 

There are a lot of characters in the book as well.  I felt that I couldn’t get into the heads of the other characters as much as was available to me.  Particularly, Kelsier, Vin’s mentor and the leader of this group of revolutionary thieves, is basically a second main character.  There are a fair number of scenes where he is the point of view.  But I never felt him the way I felt Vin.  Kelsier was more like a major secondary character, and the scenes with his POV were somehow out of place when we should be focusing on Vin. 

Even with the complex magical system, I was only going to give this book three stars.  Fortunately, the ending is quite a page turner.  It makes up for the unnecessary length of the book and the lack of empathy I felt for Kelsier.  I also appreciated the fact that the book wraps up nicely considering there’s five more books in the series.  So I settled on four stars out of five.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Marissa Meyer
Completed 8/7/2016 Reviewed 8/22/2016
Three stars

It took me a long time to get around to writing this review.  Not because the book wasn’t any good.  I just didn’t have anything really original to say about it.  The book is yet another play on the Cinderella theme, this one is science fiction rather than fantasy.  Cinder is a cyborg, and because of that, she is lower class.  She has a stepmother and stepsisters, there’s a handsome prince, and she even has a pumpkin colored car.  A lot of these parts are fun.  But there is a whole second plotline that could almost have been told without having to rely on the Cinderella tropes.  They felt good enough that I think they could have been expanded without the fairy tale parts and been a successful standalone story.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the first half of the book.  It was an easy read, having just finished a much more difficult book.  But once I figured out the big plot reveal, I got bored with it and simply wanted it to end.  There’s a plague decimating the population.  The Queen of the Moon promises to give the prince the cure if he marries her.  The problem is that the Queen of the Moon is evil and can exert her will over people to keep them in line.  Marrying the prince would bring a huge segment of Earth’s population under her control. 

Okay, so now that I write it out, the book sounds pretty juvenile.  And it is.  The book was recommended for grades six through eight.  I often like juvenile fiction.  But I felt that the plot reveal is too easy.  I also wondered if we needed another fairy tale retold with a twist.  In fact, this book is one of a series of fairy tale retellings.  And in this book, when you get to the end, it leaves you just hanging.  Even if it is a series, I’d much rather have a book be more self-contained, unless we know it’s simply a large book cut into parts by the publisher, like LOTR.

I give the book three stars out of five.  It’s light fluff and fun if you let it be fun, not expecting too much out of it.    

Friday, July 8, 2016

Imperial Earth

Arthur C. Clarke
Completed 7/4/2016, reviewed 7/5/2016
3 stars

Couched in a travelogue story about a man from Titan visiting the earth to help celebrate the U.S.’s quadricentennial, this novel is a look at where we can be in another two hundred years.  It predicts a future where being bisexual is the norm and technology has advanced us to a non-aggressive, relatively peaceful world.  It is great reading, though in place of much action, Clarke’s writing fills you with a sense of scientific wonder. 

Duncan Makenzie is the second clone of the family which administers what passes as government on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.  He is chosen by his “parents” to represent Titan at the U.S.’s quadricentennial and to “father” a new clone for the family from himself.  The story is predominantly about his travel to Earth, his exploration of what Washington and New York have become, and his finding out about what happened to the two loves of his youth, Calindy and Karl.

The plot is dotted with scientific and social predictions.  Clarke spends a lot of time talking about space travel using hydrogen.  Titan is primarily a hydrogen mining colony for this purpose, holding up its economy with this industry.  He also talks a lot about the search for extraterrestrials and the technology needed to accomplish this. A little more closer to today, Clarke predicts the internet, hand held devices, and Skype, although their use is still command line oriented rather than graphical interfaces.  And granted, picture phone calls have been predicted for a long time. 

Clarke predicts that technology has made the world a better place, more peaceful, with very little violence.  This is a dream that many writers have fantasized about, but we never seem to accomplish.  Looking at life today, the growth of technology has done nothing for peace.  Even the work week for many of us has stretched beyond forty hours rather than shrinking it, increasing stress rather than reducing it.  Today, it is still a pipe dream, but perhaps it can still be something to hope for.

Also on the social level, I found it very interesting that Clarke did a terrific job writing about a bi-normative society with minimal propaganda.  He doesn’t beat us over the head with it, it just is.  Duncan simply loved both Karl and Calindy when he was younger.  This is very refreshing and amazing for a book published in 1976.

There is one part that is disturbing, the cloning process.  Successfully cloned embryos are gestated by a farm of women who want to have children.  The disturbing part is that they are mentally or physically disabled in some way.  It’s like Clarke is saying that these women have no option for having children other than by joining a baby making farm.  He’s also saying that these women want to have children for the sake of the birthing of children and giving them away, not for the sake of loving and raising them.  I can’t imagine where he got this idea. 

I give this book three stars out of five.  Really, it’s a four star book, but I took off one star because of the baby farm concept.  That was too disturbing to ignore in rating the book.  Otherwise, it was very readable despite the hard science.  The chapters are short, making the technology easy to follow, rather than being overly long complex descriptions.  The character of Duncan is extremely well developed, and the distinction between himself and his “fathers” is subtle but tangible.  The plot may be a little thin, being primarily a travelogue, but it is a very good, interesting read.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Catherynne M. Valente
Completed 6/24/2016, reviewed 6/30/2016
2 stars

This is another book I listened to on CD.  It was reviewed by io9 as a story about a sexually-transmitted city.  And that’s about the gist of it.  It’s a very ethereal book about a city on the edge of reality that can only be visited by having sex with someone who has a tattoo of a part of the map of the city on their body.  It follows four strangers who all have an encounter that takes them to the city of Palimpsest and their quests to return.  Despite the interesting premise, I didn’t enjoy it.

My biggest problem with the book was the prose.  It’s beautiful, poetic, and completely distracting.  I think there is a fine line between great and gratuitous prose, and this was the latter.  It’s the type of prose that’s great for a short story, but simply too much for a full length novel.  I found myself bored listening to it, and constantly losing my place.  I had to read through lots of other people’s reviews to try to get parts of the plot I missed.  It made me wonder if I would have appreciated it more if I read it instead. 

Another problem I found with the book was the plot.  There isn’t much of one.  The book is all about the premise.  It’s basically about four people who are constantly trying to have sex to get back to Palimpsest and figuring out a way to stay permanently.  I guess you would call this a character study.  I have to say they were somewhat interesting people, all damaged in some way, all looking for something better.  But there just didn’t feel like there was any movement to the book.

The best part of the book was reader.  She did an excellent job with the accents of the characters.  Besides an American, there were Japanese, Russian, and Italian characters.  Her inflection was also quite good.  It was the only thing that made the prose tolerable.

I give the book two stars out of five.  I toyed with giving it three stars for the effort, but I just didn’t enjoy the book.  Again, I wonder if I would have liked it more if I had read it instead.  It’s too bad there was little plot and the prose was so distracting because I really liked the premise.     

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bending the Landscape: Horror

Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel, ed.
Completed 6/26/2016, reviewed 6/30/2016
4 stars

“Bending the Landscape” is a series of original collections of gay and lesbian short stories in different genres:  Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.  This edition is Horror.  I found it very interesting.  As in the title of the book, the landscape of horror is bent a bit.  Only a few stories are what I would call classic horror.  The rest are more like speculative fiction of horrific things.  They didn’t evoke outright fear and loathing as much as sadness and despair.  Most are very disturbing and some are even surreal.  

My favorite story was the very first.  “Coyote Love” bends the notion of “coyote ugly” and turns it inward.  A straight man wakes up to find himself in bed with another man.  But instead of finding his partner ugly, he attempts to deal with the ugliness inside. 

The second story, “Explanations Are Clear” was also quite good.  The main character’s partner has a habit of “getting lost”.  At first, we are led to think it’s directional, but the reality is that she changes, adapting to her environment.  It really hit home for me, making me reflect on my own chameleon-like tendencies, not being true to myself when confronted with different interpersonal environs.

One thing that has always struck fear in my heart has been the pink triangle.  In the story “Triangle”, a man finds an original pink triangle at an antique store while on a business trip.  He buys it for his partner who is writing a novel about gay men in the holocaust. The twist in this story is that this little patch of cloth might be endowed with a supernatural power. 

A few of the stories are near-future stories.  The one that really got to me was about a future where gays and lesbians are hunted down and executed.  One gay man hides in a marriage to a woman and takes pills to destroy his libido to survive.  In addition, he’s a police photographer who accompanies squads on raids and photographs the executions.

All the stories are well written.  They are provocative and horrifying in sometimes very subtle ways.  Even though I was hoping for cheap fluff horror, I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars out of five.  Except for some graphic scenes in “Coyote Love”, I think people who don’t enjoy standard horror would appreciate this book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Storm Front

Jim Butcher
Completed 6/18/2016, reviewed 6/21/2016
4 stars

“Storm Front” is the first of The Dresden Files books.  I had been meaning to read some of these books for a long time, but never quite got around to it.  Now it’s the October selection for Book Club.  I didn’t mean to read it so early, it’s just that I was house sitting for my mother-in-law, she had the book on mp3, an mp3 player, and I wasn’t into reading anything else I had brought with me.  It turned out to be a fantastic experience.  First of all, it’s easier to listen to a book when you’re doing something other than driving.  Secondly, the book lived up to all the hype that I’d heard. 

Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire in Chicago.  He’s called by the police to investigate a murder with black magic written all over it.   Shortly after, he takes a private missing persons case because, well, he needs the money.  He may be a wizard, but he’s not exactly rich.  While trying to solve these two cases, Harry finds out that his life is also in mortal danger.  A dark, gritty, noir novel, with lots of tongue in cheek humor, this is perhaps the first urban fantasy that I really enjoyed. 

While I enjoyed the book itself, the experience was amazingly enhanced by the narrator, James Marsters of Buffy fame.  He read it like the narrator of a 1940s black and white Bogie movie.  Written in first person, Marsters drew me into Dresden’s personality and kept me locked into the world that Butcher created.  I particularly liked the breath-work.  Marsters sighs a lot as he’s reading Dresden, adding an extra dimension to the character. 

One of the most fun parts of the book is Bob the skull.  He’s a spirit that lives in a skull in Dresden’s sub-basement laboratory.  He’s been around for hundreds of years.  Bob helps Dresden with making potions and other magical activities.  Marsters reads him rather foppishly, making all the interactions with him quite humorous.   There’s also a faerie named Toot-Toot who helps Dresden, although the scene with him is rather short.  I expect Toot-Toot shows up more in later novels as I understand the fae aspect grows in importance as the series progresses.

The book is not particularly deep or profound, just terribly fun.  As soon as I was done, I wanted to listen to more.  I give this book four out of five stars.  I give James Marsters’ performance five stars.  I’m sure reading the book is great, but listening to this performance was a tremendous experience. 

Friday, June 24, 2016


Naomi Novik
Completed 6/12/2016, reviewed 6/20/2016
4 stars

“Uprooted” is a marvelous twist on the tales of the magic forest.  There are good forests and bad forests.  Here, it’s The Wood that harbors evil, is full of monsters, and seems to have a malevolent spirit all its own.  The only power that protects the townspeople from this evil is the wizard known as the Dragon.  In exchange for his protection, he takes one young woman from the town every ten years.  “Uprooted” is the story of one such woman, Agnieszka, and her journey of coming into herself and her own powers.  It’s full of action and suspense and is a fun read.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Agnieszka.  Being the narrator, her character is the best developed.  She’s young, naïve, and stubborn.  She first thinks she’s the captive of the Dragon, but slowly realizes she’s his apprentice, that she was chosen because of her budding magical abilities which even she didn’t know she had.  As she develops, she realizes she has a much more organic approach to magic, as opposed to the more academic style of the Dragon.  It makes for tense and sometimes humorous moments with him. 

I’ve read some reviews that claim that Agnieszka is a Mary Sue.  As I read through the criticisms and the descriptions of what a Mary Sue is, I can see that somewhat.  A Mary Sue is a young or low-rank person who saves the day with unrealistic abilities (thanks Wikipedia).  But I think Agnieszka is a little more complex than that.  She’s not the pretty little ingénue.  In fact, her best friend is, but the story revolves around Agnieszka anyway.  She struggles with everything and everyone around her, and she’s not always right. 

Besides the fact that this book is the July selection for my book club, what drew me to it was that the author’s inspiration was Polish fairy tales and the Baba Yaga myth.  Soooo, I don’t know any Polish tales, but I am a little familiar with Baba Yaga.  She appears in the form of a journal of magic spells that Agnieszka finds.  And the story basically takes place in a variant of Poland and the characters all have Polish names.  The one thing that perturbed me a little, though, was that sometimes the author transliterated the characters' names, like using the letter V, which is a W in Polish, or using Stashek instead of Stasiek or Staszek (the diminutive for Stanley).  Well, you can’t have everything.

A special mention needs to be made of the Wood.  The author imagined quite a wondrously malevolent forest that is not just full of evil things, but is evil itself.  It is basically a character unto itself.  I haven’t read anything else by Novik, but I think it speaks to her world-building ability. 

I give the book four stars out of five.  It’s a well-written fantasy with a strong heroine in an imaginative universe.  It’s a lot of fun and some of the sequences were intense page turners.  The only reason I did not give it five stars was because I thought it lost a little steam in the end.  It was complicated, almost esoteric.  But in all honesty, I had several things come up in my personal life with less than fifty pages to go which made it difficult for me to concentrate on the ending.  I had to read it twice to make sure I understood it, and I lost my emotional involvement with it.  It was still well worth the read and I look forward to the discussion of it in book club.   

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Tower of Swallows

Andrzej Sapkowski
Completed 6/5/2016, reviewed 6/7/2016
4 stars

This is the fourth book of the Witcher Saga, and the seventh book of the Witcher series.  Unlike the other books, the prose and form of this book are wondrous.  It felt like Sapkowski finally honed his writing ability and came up with a much more mature storytelling style.  It created a tone that is much more serious and less straight-forward swashbuckling adventure, lending a gravity to the plot which wasn’t as evident in the previous books.

The form that Sapkowski uses is to have multiple narrators telling the story.  The perspective changes depending on the narrator.  But the narration isn’t told in big blocks.  It bounces back and forth between the perspectives to pull all the different emotions and tensions out of the story.  It doesn’t rely on a single third person omniscient thread.  Rather it makes a linear story out of multiple threads.  The result is a much more powerfully developed universe that the previous books only hinted at.  One could argue that the universe of the Witcher was already well developed by the scope of the saga.  However, I feel that this book fleshed it out in a piece of fine literature.

Be aware that giving a plot summary here is a spoiler if you haven’t read the previous novels.  As usual, I’ll keep it brief so that it doesn’t give away too much. 

The story continues with the Witcher searching for his ward, the apprentice witcher/sorceress Ciri.  Up to this point, she has been escaping capture by the hordes of bad guys who have been after her.  In this installment, she finally succumbs to a powerful bounty hunter.  The main plot of this book is the telling of how she gets captured and plight after that, while the witcher and his company traverse dangerous roads in their search for her.

The story is also much more adult, in that Ciri has a relationship with another young woman in the ragtag group of outlaws she had fallen in with in the last book.  It’s handled really well, not going into a lot of detail, but allowing it to have a profound affect on her.  This makes up for Sapkowski’s use of the word “sodomites” which made me bristle when he plopped it into the first book. 

I again give this book four out of five stars.  This time, it’s not because it’s as fun to read.  It’s not.  It’s because it is much more serious in tone and mature in style.  It should be noted that this book has a different translator which may have had an influence on the word and phrase choices.  Overall, I feel this is the strongest of the books, except perhaps for the “The Last Wish” which introduced the Witcher in a series of short stories.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Heart-Shaped Box

Joe Hill
Completed 6/1/2016, reviewed 6/1/2016
3 stars

Most people recognize heart-shaped boxes from candy packaging.  In this book, the box is big and contains the suit of a dead man, and his ghost.  Judas Coyne buys this suit because he collects souvenirs of the macabre.  What could be more tantalizing than buying a ghost?  Unfortunately, the ghost is real and wants to murder Jude and anyone who tries to help him.  Although I had trouble with the first third of the story, the suspense stayed tight throughout the rest and had a pretty pleasing horror novel experience.

Don’t let the name of the main character make you groan.  Judas Coyne is a death metal rock star who changed his name to cut himself off from his past.  He left his real name behind to disassociate himself from his abusive father.  Since his divorce, he’s had a string of young girlfriends, even though he’s now 54 years old.  Despite the predilection towards younger women and things macabre, he is actually a decent character, much more relatable than I thought he’d be. 

I should explain my comment about the first third of the book.  I was initially turned off by the book because a lot happens in the beginning, including the appearance of the ghost.  This made it seem that Hill was playing all his cards up front in the first section, pulling out all the stops.  When the first section was done, I couldn’t figure out how he could keep the story at such a high level of suspense for the rest of the book.  Fortunately, he didn’t have to.  The plot after the revelation of the ghost kept my interest.  This was a surprise because I didn’t feel like his writing was that strong.  And it really isn’t that great, but it was good enough to keep me reading. 

Despite the adequate prose, I have to say that Hill was very good at describing the creepy supernatural stuff that occurs towards the end of the book.  No spoilers here.  I just wanted to note that it was good, strong imagery.  It would be easily translatable into  good special effects in a movie.

I give the book three stars out of five.  It’s a decent horror novel with enough creepiness to give me the willies, particularly in that first third.  I should note too that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read any King, but I felt that Hill was writing with his own style, not trying to emulate his father, or at least not emulating how King wrote up through the mid-nineties.  I don’t know if Hill will attain a level of stardom like his father, but he’s a good enough story teller that I’m interested in reading more of him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Last Wish

Andrzej Sapkowski
Completed 5/30/2016, reviewed 6/1/2016
4 stars

I’m totally out of order reading the Witcher series.  Having read Books 3, 4, and 5, I’ve now read the first book.  It was the first to be published in Poland as well as here.  Fortunately, the first book is a collection of stories about the Witcher that act as a prequel, or at least sets up the background for the Saga that begins in Book 3.  It introduces Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, taking a break to recover from injuries in the Temple of Melitere.  As he heals, he tells several stories of his monster fighting career.  It’s the sort of swashbuckling fun that this series is known for, and which inspired the immensely popular video games based on the books.

Being a collection of stories, I must point out my favorites.  The very first story is great.  It is the explains the nature of the Witcher and what he does best, fighting monsters.  I also liked the last story, where he meets the lovely, scary, and snarky sorceress Yennifer, who plays a big role in the Saga.  With her, he must defeat a powerful djinn before he destroys a whole town.  In another, we first meet his sometimes travelling companion Dandelion, a poet, troubadour, and storyteller whose mouth gets them into loads of trouble.  There’s also a story which is a sort of deconstruction of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Most importantly, the book introduces us to the background story from which the Saga which begins with Book 3 generates.  It tells the story of a Geralt dealing with the monster who comes to claim as his bride the daughter of the Queen of Calanthe.  This union is what spawns the sorcersess/witcher prodigy Ciri, who becomes the main character and source of all conflict in the Saga. 

Like the Saga itself, this book is a fun, easy read.  It focuses more on Geralt and monsters, which is what I had been craving through the Saga.  Again, I give this book four stars out of five because it is so fun.  It’s not great literature, but it’s a dark, high fantasy with snarky humor and swashbuckling action.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Salt Roads

Nalo Hopkinson
Completed 5/28/2016, reviewed 6/1/2016
4 stars

Nalo Hopkinson is fast becoming one of my favorite writers.  I’ve only read one other book of hers, “Brown Girl in the Ring”, but that was a fantastic book.  This one is also good, and large in scope considering it’s a rather short book, under four hundred pages.  It encompasses the lives of three women in three different times in history, 1700s Haiti before the slave uprising, 1800s Paris, and fourth century Jerusalem.  Their lives are intertwined by the actions of a goddess who influences their life choices.

All three main characters are incredible.  First there’s the slave woman who is the midwife and healer for the other slaves on her plantation.  She is the elder, and bears the responsibility for keeping the old ways.  Second, there’s Jeanne Duval, a mixed race Haitian dancer and actress in Paris.  She is the lover of a famous French poet.  The character is a fictionalized version of an actual historical person.  The third is the Egyptian prostitute and slave Meritet who goes on an adventure to what was Jerusalem after its fall and becomes St. Mary of Egypt.  Hopkinson creates three very vivid characters with lots of life who traverse intense difficulty to find resolution in their lives. 

Needless to say, a major theme of the novel is slavery, but it also discusses racism and sexuality.  It has a lot to say about same and opposite sex relationships, as well as interracial relationships and mixed race persons.  The brilliance of Hopkinson I think is that she can bring all this discussion into her characters while still maintaining awesome prose and plot. 

The one tough spot for me was the story line of the goddess Ezili.  It took me most of the book to really get into her sections.  I found the prose in her sections very difficult to absorb, particularly at the beginning.  It became a little easier to follow once I understood how she was taking possession of the characters. 

The narrative is a little non-traditional.  It bounces between first and third person and between the three main characters and the goddess.  Except for the aforementioned story line of Ezili, I didn’t have any trouble with it.

I give the book four stars out of five.  I took off one star for the Ezili narrative.  It prevented me from feeling total connection with the book.  However, that shouldn’t prevent one from reading the book.  The plots of the three women are completely absorbing, leaving you hoping for happy endings for their extremely difficult lives.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Lois McMaster Bujold
Completed 5/26/2016, reviewed 5/27/2016
3 stars

This is the sixteenth book in the Vorkosigan Saga, though this is only the fourth book in the Saga that I’ve read.  Fortunately, the books I did read gave me enough background for the character study that is this story.  It’s a touching novel of two people who find love again late in life.  It’s very different from the enormous space opera that this saga is.  The romance takes place in the foreground while the political intrigue is in the background.  Not being a huge fan of space opera, I did enjoy the book, but found it a little boring in patches. 

The love story of this novel is what makes the book so interesting.  The background is that Cordelia Vorkosigan, the Vicereine of the planet Sergyar, was married to the powerful Admiral Aral, who was also a prime minister and Viceroy.  Aral had a relationship with Oliver Jole, now an admiral himself.  Both Aral and Oliver were bisexual.  Aral has died, and now three years later, Oliver and Cordelia find love and comfort in each other.  In addition, Cordelia and Oliver have decided to have children by Aral using his frozen gametes.  The drama in the story unfolds in how the couple releases this information to the public and to Cordelia and Aral’s son, the main character of the saga, Miles.

The intricacies of this three-way relationship are the best part of the novel.  The book explores how Cordelia, Aral, and Oliver handled the original relationship while Cordelia and Oliver explore this new one.  It creates an understanding of bisexuality and how a non-traditional relationship may work.  The book is also profound in its handling of a new relationship between two older adults, past what normally would be considered marrying age.  It’s very touching, and I found myself rooting for them throughout the book. 

There is some great humor in the book as well.  The scene where they break the news to Miles made me chuckle out loud.  Also, while the romance is still a secret, Cordelia and Oliver’s getaways to an isolated lake don’t create rumors of the relationship, but rather conspiracy theories about the lake. 

The only aspect of the book that was problematic for me was that the release of the information about their relationship was basically the only drama in the book.  There were other scenes that carried some subplots of political intrigue, but they just weren’t all that interesting.  I felt like I had to wade through it to get back to the story of the relationship.  I found it to be quite boring, ruining the flow of the main plot.  It was as if Bujold had a great idea but had a hard time keeping it in the context of her universe. 

I give this book three stars out of five.  It’s good, but lacked the oomph to keep me from feeling intermittently bored throughout it.