Book Review Archives

BOOK REVIEW: Dust by Hugh Howey

REVIEW SUMMARY: Satisfying conclusion to a remarkable science fiction series

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The end to a post-apocalyptic epic where people have survived underground in silos but are finally going to find out whether they can survive in the wasteland above.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Has the feel of a science fiction series we’ll tell our grandchildren about; shows improvement in pacing from previous books in series; surprise ending.
CONS: Lacked enough surviving characters to keep us as engaged as we were in earlier books of the series; subplot about the endangered child was not rewarding enough.
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Over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I’m taking a look at a new graphic novel adaptation of Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows.

From the post:

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks is the first book in The Night Angel Trilogy. Yen Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group has just released a graphic novel adaptation by Ivan Brandon and Andy MacDonald. I first learned about the graphic novel when Weeks visited Denver as part of his book tour for The Broken Eye, book three in his Lightbringer series. Having enjoyed the Yen Pres adaptations of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books, I was excited to see how Shadows transferred to the comics medium. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

Click over to the Kirkus Reviews Blog to read the rest of the review.

BOOK REVIEW: Glory Main by Henry V. O’Neil

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong military science fiction debut.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Lieutenant Jander Mortas and three other shuttle crash survivors seek escape from a harsh alien planet that may be even more dangerous than they first assume.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Satisfying character arc; interesting and original aliens; gripping fight for survival; lots of potential for future entries in series; a killer ending.
CONS: The story would benefit from stronger characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Henry V. O’Neil’s Glory Main is an unexpected, yet satisfying, military sf novel.

Though the majority of my reading these days consists of fantasy and urban fantasy titles, military science fiction will always be my favorite sub-genre of fiction. It’s been a while since I read any military science fiction but I’ve been playing a good amount of the video game Destiny lately and it rekindled my interest in good ol’ fashion space war. Fortunately I stumbled upon Henry V. O’Neil’s novel Glory Main: The Sim War Book One, one of the winners of the Harper Voyage digital submission contest. If Glory Main is to serve as any indication, Harper Voyager Impulse is publishing some quality novels and well worth keeping an eye on.
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BOOK REVIEW: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

Marcus Sakey’s latest book is the second in his Brilliance saga. A quarter of a century ago, a small percentage of the population was born with special abilities: pattern recognition, heightened senses, and others that set them apart from the rest of the population. The result was a society that has begun to take advantage of their gifts: the United States is in the midst of a technological boom, while tensions have begun to emerge between abnorms and normal, not unlike we’ve seen before in comics such as The Uncanny X-Men. A Better World picks up shortly after Brilliance leaves off, where agent Nick Cooper toppled a president while working under the Department of Analytics and Response (DAR). The first novel in this cycle was an excellent look at the response to differences: fear, restrictions, monitoring, and more. It’s an interesting look at a move from a far freer society to a militarized police state.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A fast-paced, addictive steampunk fantasy adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Octavia Leander is sent to the war-torn frontier to cure its dying inhabitants with her healing powers. However, the enemies of Caskentia want her for themselves, and Octavia’s queen would rather see her dead than in their hands.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Well-drawn main characters; fast-paced, exciting narrative.
CONS: Secondary characters and much of the back-story could have been developed further to enhance the primary tale.
BOTTOM LINE: The Clockwork Dagger is a skilfully-woven tale, complete with a love-story, an elaborate conspiracy, and a fascinating magico-spiritual healing system.

Apparently, I’ve been a fan of all things “steampunk” for years, but I never knew it. At least, not until a year ago, when it all came together that my love of old technology, dirigibles, funky corsets, and the words “engine” and “gears” landed me squarely in the steampunk camp.

I set out to learn all I could about the various incarnations of steampunk aesthetics, and paid special attention to its development in contemporary fiction. That’s when I came across Beth Cato’s debut steampunk novel The Clockwork Dagger, and jumped on board that airship without so much as a “toodle-loo.”
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Lukewarm plot is window dressing for real life puzzles and games that have been created around this new series.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Hunger Games meets alien invasion story pits twelve teenagers against each other in a fight to the death that will save their own civilizations.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Globe spanning plot; easy to read; fun and very challenging puzzles are embedded into the text.
CONS: Will require more suspension of disbelief that many readers will be willing to give; I was turned off by the teen-against-teen ultraviolence; very light characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Preteens and teens will probably find this to be an edgy action story, adults will enjoy decrypting the puzzles.

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BOOK REVIEW: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Last year I reviewed Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice before it swept the major SF awards–including the Hugo, the Nebula, the Golden Tentacle, the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and the Locus Award, as well as nominations for Phillip K. Dick award, Tiptree Award, and Compton Crook Award. Today marks the release of the second book in the three-part series, this one titled Ancillary Sword. If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice yet, and you don’t want spoilers for that book go read that review and that book instead. I highly recommend. (Also, Carl Slaughter recently interviewed Ann Leckie on Diabolical Plots, go check that out too.)

Still here? For a high level summary of Ancillary Justice, go read the review. At the end of Ancillary Justice, Breq succeeds in bringing out the internal conflict of the many-bodied emperor of the Radchaai empire and starting out-and-out interstellar war, taken into the confidence by one side of Anaander Miaanai while the other one sabotages the interstellar gates to try to keep the news from spreading.

The second book starts with Breq taking the only assignment from Anaander that she would accept–to visit Athoek Station, an important station where Lieutenant Awn’s sister Bosnaaid lives. Although she is only given one ship, Mercy of Kalr, Breq is promoted to the position of Fleet Captain to ensure she has authority over other captains she crosses. Her friend Seivarden is one of her lieutenants on the ship. Breq wishes to go to have the opportunity to make amends to Bosnaaid for the role she played in Awn’s death. Anaander wants Breq to go to make sure that Athoek Station is ready to defend against attack from the other Anaander. But nothing with 3000-year-old Anaander Miaanai is ever simple–Anaander has already shown herself very capable of great trickery, able as she is to bypass security systems and AIs with powerful access codes. Breq knows that Anaander wouldn’t let a powerful person like Breq go without some kind of insurance, but what form will that insurance take?

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BOOK REVIEW: Final Days by Gary Gibson

REVIEW SUMMARY: Complex and convoluted, but also fast and fun.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A dangerous artifact from a long-lost alien race threatens to destroy the earth.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Lots if interesting story ideas; fast-paced narrative; cool tech; it never gets boring.
CONS: Not as cohesive as it could be; characters that sometimes blend together.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good story with lots of sense of wonder and action — enough that I’m looking forward to the just-released sequel (The Thousand Emperors).
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You can follow Rachel S. Cordasco on her bookish adventures at Bookishlywitty.blogspot.com and Bookriot.com.

Haunting, mesmerizing, moving: these are just some of the words that come to mind when I think about Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. Each novel is under 400 pages, and each packs into it so much psychological, emotional, philosophical, and ecological inquiry that you start to think that they must be huge, hulking volumes that should make your bookshelves cave in.

Now, you’ve probably seen a million reviews of this trilogy, and rightly so, for it deserves recognition and invites fascinating discussions. Therefore, instead of recapping the story or outlining the plot, I’m going to focus on three major mysteries/questions/problems in these novels and why they’re so compelling.

Oh, and by the way, there may be spoilers here. I’m not guaranteeing anything.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: 7 standout stories + 18 good stories – 4 stories mediocre or worse = a very good collection.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-two best science fiction stories of 2013.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 27 of the stories are worth reading and 9 of those were outstanding; a huge short fiction anthology like this provides readers with diverse concepts and writing styles.
CONS: A small handful of stories just didn’t work for me.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good anthology and a wonderful snapshot of the 2013 short science fiction scene.

Here’s a pretty impressive fact: Garder Dozois’ annual Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology has been running for thirty one years. I’ve been following this series for years and I have to say, the series is an annual treat I always anticipate with eagerness. It has continually proven itself to be an excellent source of good science fiction. Sure, there are the occasional stories that miss the mark for me personally, but the stories are overwhelmingly enjoyable.

The same holds true for this year’s volume. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection boasts seven hundred pages and thirty-two pieces of fiction first published in 2013 — that includes short stories, novelettes and novellas. In comparison with the last twelve volumes, it seems as if there were even more outstanding stories this year than in previous years, either a sign that fiction is getting better, or that this year’s selection better matches my own personal taste. In either case, an anthology like this offers something for everyone. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll say that the value of such an anthology is more than the sum of its parts; it broadens your reading horizons, allowing you to experience a diverse set of writers and writing styles, and most all, a variety of the mind-expanding ideas that are the hallmark of science fiction. This anthology has all that in spades. Add to that Dozois’ extensive recap of the science fiction year as well as an addendum of fiction honorable mentions, and any science fiction will have hours of excellent reading ahead of them.

The standout stories in this anthology are:
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A diverse and well-balanced anthology that delivers on its promises.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of 24 military science fiction stories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories with highlights by Karin Lowachee, Linda Nagata, and Yoon Ha lee; beautiful Galen Dara Cover art.
CONS: As always with an anthology, some stories stronger than others; story order imperfect.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential set of stories for readers interested in military science fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a pair of worlds dominated by the magic of stars and moons, a building conflict threatens.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fascinating cultures and societies; diverse set of protagonists; interesting ecology and magic systems; wonderful cover art.
CONS: Some worldbuilding elements are only skin deep; novel skirts some of the meat of events in its focus on its characters.
BOTTOM LINE: A successful transit from SF into Epic Fantasy that retains the author’s signature voice and style.

Moons and Stars rise and fall in the skies, and with it, does the powers and abilities of the practitioners of magic wax and wane. Nations and cultures too, and even effects on a continental, global scale. The last time the dark star arose, the geography of two worlds changed irrevocably. For you see, two worlds are bound by these moons and stars, their ebbs and flows. Two worlds, with the same peoples, the same cultures, but with distinctly different histories. Enough that a broken people on one world is a power on the other, an Empire seeking to bridge the gap, and conquer its neighbor. With invasion, intrigue, and the dark star rising, the fate of these two worlds are inextricably linked, and those living on them swept up in a time of tumult that will change them all, if not sweep them away entirely.
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BOOK REVIEW: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

REVIEW SUMMARY: Less True Blood, more a darker cozy mystery set in a town filled with secrets and hiding a killer. For fans of Harris’ many series it is a chance to revisit some supporting characters. An easy read, but filled with red herrings and a problematic conclusion.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting, fairly diverse cast of characters; for fans of Harris’ other series, they will revisit familiar side characters; easy to get into, didn’t bog down much; sets the stage for what could be a fun to read trilogy.
CONS: Red herrings galore; we have characters with powers but they don’t get much action; there were so many characters, 3 POVs and not enough time to really get to know all the players; have to wonder if newcomers to Harris’ books will be as drawn to the characters and world without the anchor of the other established series; the final reveal of the killer was wrapped up too quickly; left this reader feeling underwhelmed.
BOTTOM LINE: While not without flaws, this was an easy read and I enjoyed revisiting some characters. I will read the next one, but not at the hardcover price.

The problem with reviewing an author’s work when you are already familiar with their other series is that you tend to focus on what the book is not, versus what it is. However, the truth is that one of the first thoughts I had upon finishing Midnight Crossroad was that it was not True Blood. If you are hoping for a steamy romance or a blond viking vampire, you won’t find it here. While there is the broad hint at some romantic feelings among some of the townspeople, there is no romance in this book.
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BOOK REVIEW: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

REVIEW SUMMARY: The world-building is not as deep as Best Served Cold and The First Law trilogy, and there is a bit of a quick twist at the end but Half a King is a fast paced enjoyable read.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Yarvi, second son of a King, born with only a partial arm, is heading for the ministry when both his father and older brother are killed. As King, he is quickly betrayed, and must survive on his wits as he plots his vengeance.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fast paced, with Abercrombie’s expected action and bleak world.
CONS: Not much new in the setting as the world is similar to Abercrombie’s other novels; ending has a convenient twist; could have been an awesome fantasy.
BOTTOM LINE: The world feels familiar, the revenge theme is present again, the ending a bit rushed…but if you enjoyed the worlds of Best Served Cold and The First Law trilogy, you’ll enjoy Half a King, the first novel in the Shattered Sea trilogy as well.

Joe Abercrombie’s world’s are harsh. There is no middle class, only Royalty and those associated with Royalty and the poor, the slaves, the wretched, living in the mud (many of them going “back to the mud”).

So what can Abercrombie do to make one of his world’s worse? He makes one of his lead characters handicapped. Not “Nine Fingers” handicapped but half an arm, unable to hold a shield, in the usual harsh Abercrombie-esque world where warriors rule. Then he makes him a King, and then a slave.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Incorruptibles, by John Hornor Jacobs

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: On the frontier of an Empire squabbling with the indigenous elf-like inhabitants and its global rival, a fateful trip shepherding a governor and his family upriver throws two mercenaries into intrigue and danger.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong pair of central characters; excellent and original worldbuilding; gritty, sharp and potent action and dialogue; a beautiful book cover.
CONS: A few more thousand words to flesh some of the worldbuilding would help clarify some matters.
BOTTOM LINE: An absorbing turn into secondary world fantasy that deserves a wide audience.

The Incorruptibles is a turn into secondary world fantasy for John Hornor Jacobs, best known for his horror and dark fantasy. In it, Dveng “Shoe” Ilys and Fisk are a pair of long-time partners in the mercenary business in the territories. Their current job (along with their young recruit, Banty) is to shepherd a bunch of rich Rumans — a Governor’s family, no less — as they steam upriver on their riverboat. It is Banty’s impulsiveness, however, that will bring these mercenaries into close contact with Gnaeus’ family, and it is the mercenaries that will stand between the family and the very dangerous frontier. Not even the feral elf-like vaettir is the most dangerous thing in the Territories, not when a potential failure of the real reason for Govenor’s Gnaeus’ trip upriver could mean a world war.

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BOOK REVIEW: Wolfsbane by Gillian Philip (Rebel Angels, Book 3)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A highly satisfying read, this third (out of four) book in Philip’s Rebel Angels series gets us one step closer to the dissolution of the veil that separates our world from the Sithe world. Meanwhile, Seth is trying to keep his clan safe and his son Rory out of trouble, and not succeeding with either.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent characterization; well paced plot; Philip’s writing is sure to get an emotional reaction out of the reader as she builds on the previous installments in the series.
CONS: Change in character POVs and jumps between 1st person and 3rd person POV can be jarring; readers new to the series are not advised to leap right in at this volume.
BOTTOM LINE: While much Urban Fantasy hasn’t thrilled me, Philip’s Rebel Angels series easily defines everything I want out of an Urban Fantasy novel. If you’re in need of an UF palate cleanser and enjoy adventures into the Fae realm, this might be just the thing.

For those of you new to this multi-generational urban fantasy series, here’s a very quick and simplified recap of the story so far:

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You can follow Rachel S. Cordasco on her bookish adventures at Bookishlywitty.blogspot.com and Bookriot.com. She is a huge fan of robot stories.

Robot Uprisings had been floating in my peripheral vision for a couple of months before I finally picked it up, but man am I glad that I did. Filled with androids and Roombas, service bots and “minids,” this eclectic and wide-ranging anthology offers us many possible worlds in which humans and their mechanical creations fight, love, outsmart, and kill one another. And if that doesn’t entice you, then allow me to name a few of the contributors: Hugh Howey, Cory Doctorow, Daniel H. Wilson, Nnedi Okorafor, Robin Wasserman, Ernest Cline.

That’s right. And with many of these stories originally written for the anthology, we have in Robot Uprisings fresh, often frightening, stories from some of the best scifi writers at work today. Thus we have stories about killer robots, rogue AIs, “ascended” AIs, and spider-like fuel-pipeline sentinels. In some stories, the robots/androids remain mostly offstage, having already thrown off their shackles, as it were, and attacked the human societies that produced them (“Lullaby,” “Eighty Miles an Hour,” “Executable,” “Human Intelligence,” “We Are All Misfit Toys,” “Small Things”). Others imagine how such an attack might begin (“Complex God,” “Seasoning”). And then there are those stories that offer a less threatening view of our mechanical friends, who might joke around with their sysadmins or even care for a baby (“Epoch,” “The Robot and the Baby”).
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I’m a sucker for graphic novels with great protagonists. A good case in point is Ben Hatke’s recently completed Zita the Spacegirl comic series—comprised of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl—published earlier this summer. Framed with Hatke’s outstanding artwork, the series is an earnest, adorable and kick-ass story following Zita’s adventures far out in space.

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Ben Blattberg is a freelance writer currently living in Texas. He blogs about movies and story structure at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com and makes jokes on Twitter @inCatastrophe.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a magical LA ruthlessly run by a cannibal magician, a thief with a magical talent gets caught up in a heist.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fun world-building with some darkly vivid imagery, and a fast-moving caper plot that pulls readers along.
CONS: Some jarring plot shifts and murky character motivations.
BOTTOM LINE: I wouldn’t want to live in van Eekhout’s grim, magical LA, but it’s a fantastic place to visit; and despite a few hiccups, the book is a fun thrill-ride.

If you’ve ever been to sunny Los Angeles, you know that it’s a dread-laden city of madness, where the palm trees merely bide their time till they wake and push us all into the unforgiving Pacific. Or maybe that’s just me; maybe Los Angeles strikes you more as a city of pretty people cavorting in endless sunshine. Greg van Eekhout channels both versions of LA into his new novel, California Bones, an expansion of his earlier short fiction story “The Osteomancer’s Son“. Looked at one way, California Bones is a light-hearted epic heist story in a magical, alternate California; looked at another way, it’s a dystopian Grand Guignol about a decaying bureaucracy ruthlessly ruled by the biggest cannibal in town. Either way, it’s a fast-moving adventure with some heavy stakes, and only a few bumps along the way.
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[GUEST REVIEW] Narelle Ho Sang Reviews BALD NEW WORLD by Tieryas Liu

REVIEW SUMMARY: In Bald New World, Tieryas Liu explores social complications, structure and
culture of a world in which everyone loses their hair.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story follows Nick Guan as he moves between a Dystopian future set in L.A. and parts of Asia with a twisted plot revealing shocking truths about hair loss on a global scale beneath a seedy underworld filled with spies and murder.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Descriptive, engaging narrative that is smart in its observations of popular culture; deep, personal narrative set against intense, raw scenes.
CONS: Fast paced ending gave illusion of being a tad rushed.
BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful, clever narrative that builds an intriguing look at a plausible yet fantastic future while remaining a personal story of man’s struggles with societal norms and family.
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