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Book review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Fifth Season, we were introduced to Essun after the loss of her family. In The Obelisk Gate, we find out what happened to her daughter Nassun after her father killed her little brother and took off for parts unknown.

Essun works diligently to fit in and provide aid and stability to the underground community that has taken her and her traveling companions in. But politics and infighting, within the community and between the Stone Eaters who show up in unexpected places, make her situation precarious. Her Orogene abilities grow ever more powerful; meanwhile, Alabaster is dying, inch by inch.

Nassun travels across the ravaged countryside with her increasingly unstable father, until they reach their destination, a school that supposedly can cure Nassun of her Orogene nature. She, too, shows an increase in her power, much to her father’s dismay, leading to discord and treachery.

Environmental conditions worsen, vicious gangs roam the land; and the Obelisks approach.  And both Nessun and Essun are asked to consider the possibility of the prior existence of something called “the Moon.”

2017SFFReadingChallengeLike the first, illuminating excerpts from this culture’s foundational texts are sprinkled throughout the novel.  I love this method of providing back story and cultural context.

A worthy follow-up to the first volume. I can hardly wait for the third!

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/F Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see what others have been reading.  And once there, consider joining us.

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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Book review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often I run across a novel that I almost literally cannot put down.

The Fifth Season is such a novel. I resented the time I had to spend away from it.

On a planet that might be Earth, a giant rift opened in the ground near the capital city Yemenes, creating volcanic eruptions and violent earthquakes that ripple across the land. In some areas of the planet’s single land mass, these eruptions and earthquakes have been mitigated by Orogenes, people with a special ability to quell the land and harness its power. Orogenes are despised and feared, even persecuted and murdered, by the ordinary folk, unless they wear the uniform of the Fulcrum — the school where Orogenes are trained to use their power in a constructive and controlled fashion.

But no Orogene can prevent the destructive atmospheric fallout from the Rift. The eruption has instigated a Season — ash coats the world, sunlight is obscured, plants and animals die off, and human life becomes increasingly precarious.

The story follows three women:

  • Essun, a middle-aged mother who hid her Orogene abilities from her fellow villagers, including her husband, but passed them along to her children
  • Damaya, a young trainee at the Fulcrum
  • Seyenite, a graduate of the Fulcrum, on her first big mission

These women live their lives, follow their orders, and try their best to stay safe. But their lives have an unexpected convergence; what one does in her youth severely impacts the life of another some ten years later.

Scattered throughout the novel are hints of the underpinnings and history of the cultural socioeconomics and societal structure. Pieces of lost technology (or “deadciv” artifacts) turn up now and then; some are benign, some are deadly. And just what are those large crystalline structures occasionally seen floating through the air?

2017SFFReadingChallengeFabulous world-building. Intriguing characters. Fascinating plot. Within 10 minutes of finishing this book, I bought the second of the series and pre-ordered the third. Yes, it’s that good. Yes, you should read it.

Why are you still here? Go get it now.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

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Book review: ‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every so often I indulge in a fluffy historical romance as a palate cleanser after a steady diet of more serious fiction. But I want well-written fluff, so I’m choosy about which authors to read.

I’ve long been an admirer of Amanda Quick‘s (*) work, and picked this one up, expecting another of her light-hearted Regencies. ‘Til Death Do Us Part is not a Regency, and not so light-hearted, either.

Calista (a name which I cannot encounter without thinking of Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame) Langley has a stalker. She thinks this person may be someone she rejected as a client for her “introductions” agency, and engages the brother of another client to help her find out the stalker’s identity and put a stop to his sinister gifts.

Trent Hastings approached Calista at her business, thinking she was running some sort of scam on his vulnerable younger sister. Realizing she was on the up-and-up, and recognizing the danger she’s been placed in, he volunteers to use the deductive skills he’s honed as a writer of detective fiction to locate her tormentor.

Much action, danger, and Victorian-era repressed romance ensue.

It’s been…oh, several years at least since I last read an Amanda Quick novel. She doesn’t disappoint. The mystery hangs together fairly well; the final twist is indeed a surprise, although I had begun to suspect all was not as it seemed with that particular person somewhere around the second or third time the character showed up in the story. The romance between Calista and Trent is medium-warmish, but not knock-your-socks-off don’t-let-the-kiddies-read-this-book steamy. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Personally, I don’t want an “insert Rod A into Slot B” sex scene, so I appreciated the, uh, discretion with which these episodes were approached.

Yes, it’s fluff. But it’s fluffy romantic suspense done well.

(*) AKA Jayne Ann Krentz

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Book review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness.”
~~~
Pause for a moment and ponder that quote.
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I’d substitute cardamom for vanilla (because I’m not overly fond of vanilla), but otherwise, yes. This is what books smell like. Imminently satisfactory, is it not?

Charles Manx loves children. He wants children to be happy all the time. He seeks out special children so he can take them to Christmasland where, as you may have guessed, it’s always Christmas and children are always happy. Taking these children to Christmasland and leaving them there has the side effect of keeping Manx young and vigorous, but that’s merely an inconsequential bonus to Manx’s generosity of spirit.

Victoria McQueen, usually called Vic, rides her bicycle as an escape from her tense home atmosphere and warring parents. One day when she is still quite young, she discovers her bicycle gives her the ability to travel across a non-existent bridge and find things. She finds jewelry, and scarves, and photographs, and all manner of lost things. She tells the grownups cover stories about where she finds these items, and as she grows older, eventually comes to believe these stories herself. Because riding a bicycle across a non-existent bridge and coming out miles or even whole states away would be crazy, right?

On one of these excursions, Vic encounters Charles Manx. Manx recognizes Vic’s special talent and wants to take her to Christmasland. Of course, her talent will fuel his continued youth, but that’s not his primary motivation, of course. He has true compassion for Vic’s unhappy life and wants to alleviate her pain and suffering. Really, he means nothing but the best for these special children.

Vic manages to escape Manx. She grows up, grows older, has a child, endures multiple hospitalizations and medications (both doctor-ordered and self-prescribed) to deal with the trauma of her kidnapping and the constant murmur of voices in her head.

Then Charles Manx takes her son. And Vic must summon all her courage to go after him.

That’s the story. But this book is really about love. Vic’s love for her son and for Lou, the father of her son; Lou’s love for Vic and their child; Vic’s parents’ love for her, although she didn’t recognize such love until nearly too late; the sacrifices all parents make to keep their children safe; even Manx’s twisted version of love for the children he “saves”: all of it, every word of this novel turns on love in its many-splendoured and sometimes malformed manifestations.

NOS4A2 isn’t the best book ever, but it’s well worthy of the multiple award nominations it received and it’s certainly worth the time one spends delving into its nearly 700 pages.

Hint: Make sure you read to the very last page. Really. The VERY last page. Otherwise, you miss out.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

Book review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

They called it “dragonscale”. And no one knew where it came from. It showed up as fine lines of black and gold, tracing the skin in loops and swirls and delicate patterns. Eventually, those who contracted the disease burst into flames and died, often taking buildings and other people with them. The uninfected feared the infected and began to set them aside in hospitals and camps and detention centers.

But some of the infected learned to control their fiery outbursts and channel them into a semblance of productivity or protection. Harper, a nurse, abandoned by her husband when she contracts the disease, is taken in by such a group in need of her medical abilities. They live in secret, hiding from the self-appointed Cremation Squads who scour the country looking for the infected. The group itself, however, is not ideal, and seems to headed down the path of becoming a religious cult. Harper and a few of her new friends begin looking for a way out.

I liked this well enough. It’s reasonably well-written; the story is engaging and the characters are mostly sympathetic; but the “…they would never do that/see each other/be here again” thing at the end of most chapters eventually became annoying. And the ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger, unless you’re like me and read all the acknowledgments, etc., at the end of the story. Because the real ending is hidden away back there.

Worth reading once.

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Book review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The heat is nearly unbearable.

The ice caps melted; the sea-level rose; the fossil-fuel economy collapsed; worldwide famine ensued; and Asia took the lead in science- and technology-driven solutions. Unfortunately, the genetically-engineered crops produced by the agricultural research companies also produced horrific diseases for crops and for people, further decimating global population and food supply. Riots, black markets, corporate espionage, ethnic cleansing…the world of 100 years or so from now is not a pleasant place, unless one is very wealthy.

And in Paolo Bacigalupi’s future vision, one is either very wealthy, or one is not. The only denizens of a nearly non-existent middle class are the calorie-men, like Anderson Lake, the manager of the factory where much of the action of this novel centers.

Anderson Lake prowls the street markets of Bangkok, hoping to find pure, unaltered food — a real canteloupe, an actual vine-grown tomato — that he can purchase and take back to his employer for gene analysis and modification. What he finds, eventually, is Enniko.

Enniko — the Windup Girl of the title — is a “New Person”, the genetically-engineered, vat-grown human-like plaything of a Japanese businessman, who left her behind in Bangkok when he grew tired of her. Her unaccompanied presence in the city is problematic, and she places herself under the protection of unsavory individuals for her personal safety.

Around both of them, Bangkok is aswirl with civil unrest, thievery, police corruption, political assassination attempts, and the outbreak of a new and mysterious disease. There’s so much going on in this story that it’s nearly impossible to synopsize.

It’s not an easy read: lots of characters and subplots to follow; lots of Bacigalupi-created neologisms; lots of untranslated Asian-language words (presumably Thai, but I could be wrong). The word meanings can be gathered from context, but it makes for slow going initially.

Have I mentioned that I loved it? I did. It’s fabulous. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, horrifying, and spectacular. Once I finally got into the story, I could hardly bear to put it down.

2017SFFReadingChallengeThis is not a story for everyone. But it was the story for me.

(If you like China Miéville, you will love this. Trust me.)

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

Book review: Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

Bright's PassageBright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Henry Bright was one of the lucky ones. He came home from The Great War. But he wasn’t entirely unscathed. He has, um, issues. When his wife dies in childbirth, he sets fire to their home and takes off across the countryside with his newborn son, fleeing his wife’s vengeful family and the wildfire he inadvertently caused.

This is one of those library books I must have put on my list because the cover blurb sounded so good. Kudos to the blurb writer, because that blurb was the best thing about this book.

No. The best thing about this book is it’s short.

Okay, it wasn’t really THAT bad. I gave it three stars, after all; it was readable and even enjoyable in a few spots. But I feel like there was a much better book lurking in there somewhere — a book that deeply explored Henry Bright’s trauma and coping mechanisms rather than presenting them in a whimsical fashion. Not that I didn’t appreciate the talking horse, or the goat, or the tree…I don’t know.

I finished this book in just a few hours. I don’t necessarily want the time back. I just wish the time spent had been more satisfying.

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Book review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7)The Dark Tower by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh boy, how to review this without spoilers.

*thinks*

Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower drives him forward relentlessly and, as in the previous installments, people fall victim along the way. You’ll need a tissue. Maybe even a box of tissues.

Still, with the tears, we get grand resolutions, climactic confrontations, a few  gag-inducing gross-out moments, and an intriguing explanation for the presence of Character King (as opposed to Author King) within the narrative.

In the end, ka is truly a wheel.

My main quibble isn’t the presence of Character King, as seems to stick in the craw of other readers. Once that was explained, it made sense in context and I accepted it for what it was. No, my chief gripe was Mordred, as Susannah’s baby was named. As a concept, he was excellent: a child conceived from the line of Arthur for the purpose of destroying his father. As a character, he was pointless: simply a bootless boogieman, the promised confrontation with whom turned out to be…well, less than satisfying.

Said quibble aside, I enjoyed the time spent here, traveling with Roland and ka-tet, as we reached the Tower together, at last.

Safe travels, Roland. I’ll visit you again someday.

(NOTE: I read the Scribner first edition trade paperback published in 2005. This review links to the hardcover so it shows the correct cover art.)

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Book review: Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rob Broadhead is in therapy, even though he is resistant to everything his therapist suggests. But he keeps coming back, week after week, session after session, until finally, a breakthrough is achieved.

The story that underlies that eventual breakthrough is the story of Rob’s experience at Gateway, a space station that houses the mysterious spacecraft of a vanished race known as the Heechee. Rob was a prospector, a person who takes a chance and joins an expedition to one (or more) of the unknown destinations pre-programmed into the Heechee ships in the hopes of finding something spectacular and making a fortune.

Rob made a fortune. And it broke him.

Frederik Pohl constructed his tale in bi-fold manner: Rob’s therapy sessions with his AI psychiatrist; and his time at Gateway, learning about Heechee navigation and preparing for his trip into the unknown. It’s an effective tool, revealing Rob’s psychosis and its triggering event a little at a time. And the information revealed about the mysterious and long-gone Heechee is intriguing enough for me to seek out the rest of the series. Well done, Mr. Pohl.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

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