YouKneeK

My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, I also read horror, thriller, and mystery stories.  For more info about me than you could possibly want, check the "My Profile" link on the right-hand column.

Review: Crucible of Gold (Temeraire Book 7 of 9)

Crucible of Gold (Temeraire) - Naomi Novik

This is the seventh book in the Temeraire series.  I enjoyed it a lot, on about the same level as the previous books, and definitely more than the sixth one.  Unlike the last book, there weren’t as many unlikeable characters and I think that helped.  I don’t have too much else to write about -- just a couple comments within the spoiler tags.

 

 

I expect that Riley isn’t really dead and will show back up sooner or later.  When a fairly significant character dies, it’s usually made more obvious and definite.  I won’t be terribly disappointed if I'm mistaken; I don’t much care one way or another except for the sake of the characters who do care.  I haven’t cared much for him since his conflicts with Laurence in the earlier books.

 

I thought Granby was better developed in this book.  I enjoyed learning more about him and seeing him play a slightly more prominent role in the story.  I also was very happy to see him finally put his foot down with Iskierka.  I hope he doesn’t back down in the remaining books.

 

(show spoiler)

 

Even though it took me 9 days to read this, it was only a reflection of my work schedule and not of my enjoyment of the book.  I was on a business trip for a little over a week, with many 16-18 hour work days.  I read most of this book within three days; the rest of the days involved reading the same paragraphs over and over with my eyes while my brain thought about work until I gave up the attempt. :)

 

Next Book

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik, the next book in the Temeraire series.

Review: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon

I liked and disliked different aspects of this book.  This is a detective noir-type story, set in an alternate version of Alaska where most of the Jews were resettled after World War II and have built a Yiddish community.  Despite the alternate history setting, this doesn’t have any science fiction elements.  The alternate history aspect is just there, without explanation.  The story opens up with the main character, Detective Meyer Landsman, discovering that somebody has been murdered in the same hotel where he lives.

 

As you might guess, the book is heavily focused on Jewish culture.  I enjoyed that, just as I usually enjoy books that feature a culture outside my personal experience, but I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said in the beginning.  There’s a glossary in the back of the book but, by the time I thought to look for it, I was a third of the way into the book and had already figured most of it out for myself long ago.  The dictionary on my Kindle was less helpful than usual because most of the words I had trouble with were Yiddish and/or used in a slang context.  The translator function has no idea what to do with Yiddish.  At one point, my dictionary told me a word being used to mean policeman (latke) was a potato pancake.  This may be technically accurate, but I find that policemen and pancakes typically do not do the same types of things in books, and there can be confusion if one mixes the two up.

 

I don’t read many detective noir books, so I’m far from an expert, but this one seemed to have a lot of the overused themes I associate with them:  Our main character is, predictably, told not to investigate this particular murder.  He of course continues to investigate it anyway.  He makes stupid decisions and puts himself in danger that could have been avoided.  He has a lot of personal baggage and a drinking problem.  A lot of seemingly-unrelated events “coincidentally” all turn out to be related.  And the book has so much tobacco in it that somebody who purchased the physical book could probably roll up the pages and smoke them.

 

The story had a slow start, and not just because of the initial terminology confusion.  Most of the information was relevant eventually, but there was a lot of back story provided in the beginning about characters I didn’t much care about.  This book is more character-driven than plot-driven, and I often enjoy those types of books, but I wasn’t that crazy for these characters.  Some of them did grow on me, but I was never that invested.  The main character in particular was a type I have trouble appreciating, and the general atmosphere in his head, where we live throughout the book, is pretty bleak.

 

Despite all my negative comments, I did enjoy the story pretty well.  Every time I picked it up, my attention would wander and I had trouble getting back into it.  Before long, however, I’d find myself several pages further along and caught up in the story again.  There’s a good deal of sarcastic humor, and I particularly enjoyed that.

 

Next Book

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik, the 7th book in the Temeraire series. 

Review: Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire Book 6 of 9)

Tongues of Serpents - Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire series.  For me, this was the weakest in the series so far.  It wasn’t a bad book, and there wasn’t any particular aspect of it that I disliked, but it didn’t hold my attention as well as the previous books.  I think one big reason was because I disliked so many of the secondary characters.  There were still some good secondary characters around, but they didn’t get that much page time. 

 

But just because I liked this book less, doesn’t mean I disliked it.  There were still plenty of great moments, and this book had an interesting setting that I enjoyed reading about.  The middle part held my interest quite well and several sections had me anxious to learn what would happen next.  There was also a new character introduced who was fun to read about. 

 

I have a few more spoiler-ish comments within the spoiler tags:

 

I thought Iskierka was a little less annoying in this book, but I think that’s just because Caesar and Rankin were even more annoying than she was.  I guess I should have expected Rankin to show back up eventually, but I wasn’t at all happy to see him, and he provides plenty of annoyance in this book.  At least Caesar seems to be more than a match for him, but Caesar is pretty annoying himself.

 

I did love the new dragon, Kulingile, who came from the smallest egg.  I was invested in his story after he hatched, and I was curious about him even before he hatched.  I suspected the smallest egg would end up being something interesting.  It was also nice to have a newly hatched dragon in the party who wasn’t completely obnoxious, unlike Iskierka and Caesar.

 

I also really like Tharkay, which is hard to justify when he gets so little page time.  Even when he’s with the characters the entire time, we see so little of him that sometimes I forget he’s there.  I wish he was in the books more, but I’m glad he keeps showing up.  He seems like the more sensible and reliable character, even more so than the main characters, despite his initial appearance to the contrary.  Authors tend to enjoy sacrificing some well-liked secondary character for emotional impact; I hope Tharkay doesn’t suffer that fate.

(show spoiler)

 

 

Next Book

A standalone book called The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon.  I’ve never read anything by Chabon and, happily, I don’t know anything at all about the book.  It was on a list that many of my reading selections come from, and it went on sale not too long ago, so I slotted it into the schedule as one of my series-break books.  After this, I plan to finish up the last three Temeraire books.

Review: Victory of Eagles (Temeraire Book 5 of 9)

Victory of Eagles: A Novel of Temeraire - Naomi Novik

Victory of Eagles is the fifth book in the Temeraire series.  I really enjoyed this one, at least as much as the first book.  Unlike the fourth book, there weren’t any niggling annoyances to distract me from a story that I had been otherwise enjoying.  There was a small change in the storytelling format that I particularly loved. 

 

I’m going to put the rest of my review within spoiler tags so I can freely discuss some things in more detail.

 

 

About half of the book is written from Temeraire’s perspective.  This was the aforementioned storytelling format change that I loved so much.  The previous books have all been from Laurence’s perspective, only allowing us to see what Temeraire thinks and feels by observing and listening to him through Laurence’s eyes and ears, and relying on Laurence’s interpretations.  That always niggled at me a little bit, because it's unrealistic for Laurence, who had never been around dragons until recently, to perfectly interpret Temeraire’s every thought and mood, and yet we’re given little reason to believe his interpretations aren’t always 100% accurate, and they have to be if the author wants us to know what Temeraire’s thinking because we have no other way to learn it.  By allowing us to read from both perspectives, Novik opened up her options.  We could see some of the private thoughts of each of them that the other was unaware of or didn’t fully understand. 

 

The parts near the beginning where Temeraire roused his fellow dragons in the breeding grounds to get organized and go join the war effort were awesome – my favorite parts of the book.  I actually wouldn’t have minded pushing off the reunion between Temeraire and Laurence a little longer, just to have gotten more of that.  In any case, I really hope Novik keeps letting us alternate between the two characters’ points of view in the rest of the books.  The series is called Temeraire, after all! 

 

I really liked the brainy dragon Temeraire met at the breeding grounds, Perscitia.  She was a great character.  She sort of reminded me of Hermione from the Harry Potter books, if Hermione had been a dragon. :)  I was disappointed that it doesn’t look like we’ll see her in the next book since Laurence and Temeraire are headed to Australia and it doesn’t seem like she’ll be going. 

 

Iskierka on the other hand… Ugh!  She is starting to drive me crazy.  When she was first introduced, she was funny.  Since then, she has steadily gotten more annoying to me.  I meant to mention her annoyance factor when I reviewed the last book, but I forgot.  This time she was so annoying that I didn’t forget. :)  When they were sailing away to Australia and she wasn’t with them, I was feeling relief that maybe we’d finally be rid of her, at least for a while.  And then guess who shows up?  I like Granby, but not enough that I want to endure more Iskierka.  I’m worried that she’ll have a larger role in the next book, with apparently much fewer dragons, so I hope Novik manages to make her a little more appealing.

(show spoiler)

 

 

Next Book

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik, the sixth book in the Temeraire series.

Review: Empire of Ivory (Temeraire Book 4 of 9)

Empire of Ivory  - Naomi Novik

Going just by the story, the characters, and my general entertainment throughout most of this book, I would have rated this at five stars.  I’m giving it 4.5 stars, the same as the last two books, but I’m rounding down to 4 on Goodreads whereas I rounded the previous two up to 5.  The reason I'm rating it so much lower, in spite of enjoying it so much, is that there were a couple things that particularly annoyed me, one being what I consider to be a major story discrepancy.  More details are in the spoiler tags further below.

 

Aside from that, I thought the story was very entertaining.  I enjoyed it at least as much as the first book, and slightly more than the second and third.  I was especially engrossed by the end, and I’m eager to start reading the next book.  Unlike the previous books, this one ended with quite a cliff hanger and I look forward to finding out how Laurence and Temeraire will get themselves out of their current predicament.

 

The rest of my comments include some spoilers for this book and also for the previous three, so I’ll put them in spoiler tags:

 

The discrepancy that bothered me so much was the way everybody completely ignored Temeraire’s history with the disease.  Early on, when Laurence first learns that all the dragons are sick, he comments that they’d “had word” of the illness.  This was true enough, I guess.  In book two, when the courier dragon Volly landed on their ship to deliver messages, Volly was sick and his captain James said “half the dragons are moaning and sniffling about”.  So, yes, they “had word”.  They also had a nice little exchange of dragon germs.

 

Temeraire caught that same illness, about a week after Volly had left.  In this fourth book, at around 28%, there’s finally a mention of Temeraire’s own illness, but everybody still seems to doubt the connection.  Nobody mentions that Temeraire caught it after being exposed to one of the sick dragons.  The connection seems like it should have been obvious, if only to Laurence and the dragon surgeon Keynes who had been with them.  It seemed to me like Novik cheated, trying to drag things out for dramatic effect at the sacrifice of logic and consistency.

 

A more minor thing that niggled at me was the misrepresentation of where Laurence’s wealth came from.  Novik really downplayed how much of it came from his capture of Temeraire’s egg and the subsequent harnessing.  We’re told that the Admiralty pays little for the capture of a dragon compared to that of a ship, and that “Laurence had established a handsome capital while still a naval officer.”  These things are technically true, but presented in a misleading way.  Laurence didn’t capture a dragon, he captured an egg, and most of his wealth came from that bounty rather than from the capture of the ship itself, which admittedly happened while he was “still a naval officer”. 

 

Along those same lines, Temeraire also mentions in this book that Laurence bought his breastplate with the money he earned from taking the French ship, but he knows the money came from his egg.  In book one Laurence told him, after presenting the gift to him, that “it is quite your due, you know, for the better part of it comes from the bounty for our having taken your egg from the French.”  So again, everything stated is technically true, because the egg came from the ship, but presented in a way that seems intentionally misleading.  Maybe Novik was afraid reminding readers of that aspect of things would take away from the anti-slavery message in this book, or maybe I just read too much into it, but it seems odd that she would remind readers of some aspects of Laurence’s capital but avoid mentioning the most relevant aspect at the same time.

(show spoiler)

 

 

Next Book

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik, the fifth book in the Temeraire series.

Review: Zodiac by Neal Stephenson

Zodiac - Neal Stephenson

Zodiac is the first book I’ve read by Neal Stephenson, an author I see mentioned fairly often, often with mixed reviews. My own reaction to this particular book is a little mixed. 

 

The title, Zodiac, refers to a type of motorized raft the characters used. The story is set in Boston and is told from the first-person perspective of a character who tries to catch, publicize, and prevent corporations from dumping toxic chemicals into the Boston Harbor.  Naturally the big, powerful corporation people aren’t happy and don’t take his interference lying down. 

 

The book is probably better classified as a Thriller than as Science Fiction. There was at least one small science fiction element but, for the most part, it seemed entirely based on technology and scientific knowledge from the 1980’s, when the book was published.  There’s a decent amount of science, usually explained well enough for the layman to understand, and I never felt like I was reading infodumps.  I learned some things, and I liked that. 

 

On the other hand, the story itself just wasn’t that appealing to me. Since the book is more story-driven than character-driven, it was hard to be too enthusiastic about it if I wasn’t enthusiastic about the story itself.  I liked the main character well enough, but I never felt attached, and I didn’t feel much interest in the other characters at all. 

 

As far as entertainment level, this was pretty middle-of-the-road for me. There were parts when I did feel more eager to learn what would happen next but, mostly, I didn’t feel any compulsion to keep reading when I had other things to do.  Fortunately, this was a pretty short book.  If it had been stretched out into a longer book, I might have had more trouble making it to the end.

 

Next Book

I’ll be continuing on to the fourth Temeraire book with Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik.

Review: Black Powder War (Temeraire Book 3 of 9)

Black Powder War  - Naomi Novik

Black Powder War is the third book in the Temeraire series.  I enjoyed this one at about the same level as the previous two books. I was particularly happy when the story didn’t quite go in the direction I had expected it to based on the end of the last book, as described in more detail in the below spoiler.

 

I had expected them to go straight back home and to see Temeraire start arguing for dragons to have more rights and freedoms, which I wasn’t sure would be that entertaining of a story to me.  I expect that’s still coming, but I wasn’t disappointed that it didn’t come in this book.  I might also have let out a small groan when the book began and I realized they were still in China, because I’d been expecting the journey home to take place “off page” and I thought, “Oh no, we’re going to have to do another trip by sea.”  It was entertaining enough the first time because interesting things kept happening, but I didn’t particularly want to do it again.  I was therefore very happy with the unexpected happenings at the beginning of the book that led to them taking a different route with many detours.

(show spoiler)

 

I continue to enjoy the characters, and there were a couple new characters in this book that I enjoyed and hope to see again.  I have a comment about them in spoiler tags below which really isn’t a spoiler in itself, but I mention their names since my comment is about their names.  That, combined with my earlier sentence, makes it obvious they’re still alive at the end of the book.  With so many people I know reading this series, I want to be extra cautious.

 

I really enjoyed Tharkay, and Arkady too, but I had a terrible time keeping their names straight.  The characters themselves were memorable and distinctive; it was just their names I had trouble with.  Since one was a human and the other a dragon, it was impossible to be confused for long, but it did make for the occasional hilarious misinterpretation when a character seemed to do something totally bizarre and I realized I was picturing the wrong character.

(show spoiler)

 

I did enjoy this quite a bit and I still look forward to continuing the series.  There were a couple of times, maybe, when things started to feel a little sluggish, but it never lasted long before something happened to catch my interest again.  I also thought the ending was more satisfying than in the previous book.  I could find a thing or two to nit-pick about, but it felt like it flowed more naturally out of the events of the story and it was also entertaining.

 

Next Book

(Since late last year, I’ve been including this section in my reading journal thread on LibraryThing at the bottom of each new review I post.  Usually it isn’t this long; often it’s just a sentence stating which book I plan to read next.  I originally started including it on LT because people following my reading journal won’t see a notification about the next book I add to my shelf, unlike here on BL and on Goodreads, and that’s something I personally enjoy seeing from people I follow.  I’ve found that this section often generates some discussion on LT, which is impossible here on BL since you can’t comment on people’s shelving updates.  Also, sometimes I have more to say like I do today, but I feel funny about putting up a separate post for something that will be of little interest to most people so I just leave it off altogether when I post here.  For those reasons, I’ve decided to start including this section here on BL too.)

 

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson.  I’ve heard a lot about this author, and I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews about his various books, but this will be my first time reading anything by him.  I’ve been trying to get around to him for quite a while.

 

I've been planning for a while to read this book now, after the third Temeraire book, and I have another standalone planned for after the sixth book also, to break things up a bit.  I started to waver on this plan when I realized this book would probably fall during my upcoming business trip.  Temeraire might be a safer bet for keeping me entertained during the flights, since I already know I enjoy it.  I decided to stick with my original plan, mostly because my flight schedule this week is ridiculous.  If my book happens to put me to sleep, when I don’t normally sleep well on planes to begin with, that will only be to my advantage because I’ll need the sleep.

 

Speaking of travel, I’ll likely be reading more slowly and posting less over the next month or two.  I have the trip this coming week, then I’m up for the on-call rotation the week after.  It falls on quarter end which is always a little chaotic, so I’ll likely be working a lot during the evenings also.  Then I’ll be traveling a minimum of two weeks in July to support a project.  I expect I’ll still be around reading what other people are posting, and posting the occasional review myself, but I’ll probably be even quieter than usual -- and probably even less coherent because I’m going to be tired. :)

Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire Book 2 of 9)

Throne of Jade  - Naomi Novik

This is the second book in the Temeraire series.  The first book in a series has an advantage, at least in my case.  If it’s written well, and especially if it takes a different approach than anything I’ve read before, its “newness factor” gives it an edge.  The second book is a better test of whether I’ll be able to sustain my interest in the series. 

 

I really enjoyed this book.  I’m especially still enjoying the characters.  Also, something about Novik’s writing style just holds my interest well.  I haven’t found this series to be particularly “twisty” or surprising so far, but I still get wrapped up in the story even when I’m not on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next. 

 

This book has some similarities, structure-wise, with the first book.  It tells a complete story, with the main problems wrapped up by the end.  Also, just like in the first book, we’re given a big hint about what direction the larger story will take in the next book.  Another similarity is that the second half is quite a bit more action-heavy than the first half, and I enjoyed both halves.

 

I did think the ending was too abrupt.  As I approached the end, I decided the problems at hand would surely be carried over to the next book because it didn’t seem like there was enough time left to resolve them.  Instead, everything was wrapped up really fast.  The earlier parts of the book covered events in far more detail, so I think that made the fast ending seem more jarring.  I liked the way things ended, I just wish it had been drawn out a little more, with some more details and events to help me buy into it better.  Some major spoilers to try to explain my issues are below within the spoiler tags.

 

 

One minute Laurence and Hammond were speculating that Yongxing might be behind the attacks, after they realized who the young boy was.  The next minute Laurence was attacked again and Temeraire immediately went after Yongxing based on the pure speculation he had just overhead.  Then the next minute Yongxing is dead, some time passes "off page", and we find out their speculations were correct.  Then everything is wrapped up to everybody’s satisfaction.  (Well, except Yongxing’s dragon, of course, who I felt rather bad for.)  Even though the speculation about Yongxing’s guilt made sense, and even though Temeraire’s outraged reaction based on minimal information fit his character, it just seemed a little too convenient somehow that, after all the problems and confusion, suddenly everything just fell into place.

(show spoiler)

 

 

In summary, I enjoyed it a lot, but maybe a tiny bit less than the first book.  I’m headed straight into the third book. :)

Review: Feast or Famine (Temeraire Book 1.5 of 9)

Feast or Famine - Naomi Novik

This was a light-hearted and fun short story that the author says takes place between books 1 and 2 of the Temeraire series.  Temeraire and Maximus want breakfast, but the people who feed them haven’t come to work yet and they don’t want to wake up their tired crews so they try to get it themselves.  Minor chaos ensues.

 

I doubt this would be very entertaining if one isn’t already familiar with the characters, but I enjoyed it.  It can be read for free here.

Review: His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire Book 1 of 9)

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire) - Naomi Novik

Until early last year when I read and loved Uprooted, also written by Novik, I’d only been mildly interested in reading this series.  The synopsis didn’t sound all that interesting to me, and I’d seen mixed reviews for it on my feed.  Even after enjoying Uprooted so much, I wasn’t sure if that would have much bearing on things since this series was written many years earlier and has a completely different type of story.  I enjoyed this book far more than I had expected or hoped.  It caught my interest in the very beginning and held it straight through to the end. 

 

The story is set in an alternate version of our Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used in battle, told from the perspective of characters on the British side.  That premise didn’t sound very interesting to me, but Novik writes characters and camaraderie very well and she also writes action scenes well.  Contrary to my fears, the book was much more than just a string of battles.  In fact, the bulk of the action doesn’t really start until over halfway through.  The first half is more about setting the stage, introducing the reader to the characters and to how things work.  I enjoyed both halves equally.  This book doesn’t really have any sort of cliff hanger at all.  It would work perfectly well as a standalone, but I definitely plan to head straight into the next book. 

 

The story centers around two characters, the human Laurence and his dragon Temeraire.  Laurence is a captain in the British Navy and has never remotely considered joining the Aerial Corps as a dragon handler, but his life takes a surprising turn at the beginning of the book.  Conveniently, we get to learn about how everything works through his inexperienced eyes, and I really enjoyed that part.  Laurence and Temeraire are both great characters, and I also liked several of the secondary characters although we didn’t get to know them quite as well.  Laurence is a bit stiff and duty-bound, but I really liked him and found him easy to root for.  He usually made rational decisions, and he tried to do things for the right reasons.

 

The language that Novik used worked well for me also.  Keeping in mind that I am not remotely an expert on the classics, nor a history buff, the language in the book seemed to have enough archaic terms and phrasings to feel authentic to me, and I didn’t notice any major anachronisms.  If I have one complaint, and it’s really a minor one, it would be that the book really doesn’t give much of a view of life outside of the military environment.  It also would have been interesting to see things from the perspective of other countries.  I’m not sure how that really would have fit into this story though, and it was entertaining as it was.  Maybe some of the later books will expand the setting a little bit. 

 

There seem to be a lot of people I’m following who are reading this series right now.  To those people, I apologize in advance because I’m going to ignore any future posts about the series while I’m reading it, unless the post is for one of the books I’ve already read.  Once I’m familiar with the characters and setting of a series, I find it much too easy to extrapolate future events based on even vague comments, so I plan to play it safe.  As usual, I’ll be going back to read reviews from people I follow after I finish each book, even the reviews I’ve already seen previously.

Review: The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (Knickerbocker Classics) - Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm

I started reading this book on January 2 of this year and I’ve been slowly, slowly working my way through it.  It’s 752 pages and contains 211 stories.  I think, if I had tried to read this book all at once, I probably would have given up on it.  As it is, I’m not sure finishing it is the wisest thing I’ve ever done.  It was entertaining at first, but it grew increasingly repetitive and tiresome.  It was tolerable in small portions, though.  It also made pretty good bedtime reading.  I usually started off reading my regular book before bed but, if I wasn’t feeling tired as bedtime approached, I’d pull up this one and read a couple stories.  More often than not, I was feeling quite sleepy after that. :)

 

The repetition cannot be understated.  There were some stories that were nearly identical, with small changes to the details.  In other cases, part of one story was cobbled together with part of another story to make a new story.  In yet other cases, the story was more changed, but the underlying plot elements were very similar to that of other stories.  As far as general themes and character types went, those were repeated constantly.  Similar stories tended to be grouped together, which made the repetition that much more obvious. 

 

I’m probably making it sound a little worse than it actually was.  There were some entertaining stories and some funny stories.  It was particularly interesting to see older versions of some of the modernized fairy tales that are well-known today. A few of the stories were so bizarre that I just started at my Kindle in puzzlement for a while before shrugging and moving on. 

 

The stories are over 200 years old, and they very much reflect the morals and attitudes from that time.  In particular, there is an awful lot of racism.  Although I never lost sight of the fact that this was a product of the times in which the stories originated, I think the repetition made it more difficult for me to just acknowledge it and then move on. 

 

I would like to leave you with a handful of the oft-repeated lessons that I “learned” from this collection:

  • Pretty girls are always pure of heart.
  • Ugly girls are always wicked.
  • Princes are randomly wandering around all over the place, particularly in the forest, and they’ll marry the first pretty girl they see.  Immediately.
  • Your chances of being married by a prince are greatly increased if you’re poor or if you’ve been mistreated by your family.
  • If you’re one of three brothers and you’re not the youngest, you’re arrogant and you’ll likely fail miserably at everything you do because you’re rude to people.
  • If you’re one of three brothers and you are the youngest, your family will think you’re stupid and make fun of you.  On the bright side, you’ll likely obtain a kingdom or at least great wealth just by accurately and politely answering nosy questions from random people you meet.
  • There’s no need to plan ahead for any quest or trip you take.  Just take off when the mood strikes, and you’ll meet creatures along the way who happen to have exactly what you need, sometimes before you even know you need it.
  • If things aren’t going well on your quest, just stand around and look despondent.  If you’re a girl, maybe shed a tear or two.  Somebody is bound to show up and do all of your work for you.

Review: Vici (Temeraire "Book" .5 of 9)

Vici - Naomi Novik

Vici is a short story that serves as a prequel to the Temeraire series.  It can be read for free here.  In the beginning, we meet a man named Antony who is being sentenced for his crimes.  He’s given the option to have an honorable death by trying, and surely failing, to kill a dangerous dragon in the area.

 

It was a pretty cute story, and it made me laugh in several places.  Since this is my first exposure to the Temeraire series, I don’t know if any of the characters in this story are in the main series.  My guess, based on what very little I know about the series, is that this story takes place quite a bit before the main story and is meant more as an explanation for how things came to be the way they are.  Either way, I’ll find out very soon since I hope to start the first book later today.

Review: Apex (Nexus Book 3 of 3)

Apex: Nexus Arc Book 3 - Ramez Naam

Apex is the final book in the trilogy that began with Nexus.  It begins at pretty much the same instant that the previous book left off.  I thought it wrapped up the trilogy well, although there was one thing near the end that I wish hadn’t happened.  By the end, the author had addressed all of the many little plot threads and character arcs.  He didn’t necessarily tie everything up into a neat little package, which can sometimes feel unrealistic anyway, but he provided a good idea of where things would go next and left me with a sense of hopefulness.

 

I did have more trouble staying focused while reading this book than I did with the previous one.  The structure is similar, with short chapters that jump around between characters, but not all the plot threads in this book held my interest even though I think they were necessary to the greater story.  I wasn’t bored, really; I just sometimes had to rein my attention back in when we moved away from the characters and storylines that I was more interested in.

 

The trilogy brought up a lot of interesting ideas about what would happen in a world where you could take a drug (of sorts) and have the ability to share thoughts and feelings.  Throughout the course of this trilogy, we see a variety of ways in which it could be used -- both good and bad.  Considering the implications, and whether the good outweighs the bad or vice versa, was one of the most interesting aspects of the trilogy.  There were a few things I was skeptical about but, in general, I could easily picture real people reacting in the various ways that people reacted throughout the trilogy.

Review: Crux (Nexus Book 2 of 3)

Crux (The Nexus Trilogy Book 2) - Ramez Naam

This is the second book in the trilogy that started with Nexus.  I won’t talk about the plot, because doing so would spoil the story from the first book.  I’ll just say that the story picks up about three months after the end of the first book and progresses more or less along the lines you might expect.

 

I think I enjoyed this as much as, if not slightly more than, the first book.  It felt more consistently fast-paced.  One thing that helped is that, while there’s still quite a bit of moral ambiguity, the characters don’t debate it as much.  The format was also somewhat different with shorter chapters, a larger cast of point-of-view characters, and rapid changes between characters.  I know some people don’t like books that have a lot of characters, but for me it depends on how distinctive those characters are and how interesting their stories are.  In the case of this book, each character’s story was interesting to me.  The characters were also distinctive enough that I never mixed them up, although I can’t say the same for the author.

 

I was surprised to see several editing issues, because I don’t remember any glaring errors in the first book.  There were large sections that seemed perfectly fine, but then I’d start noticing several errors.  Poor Claire, a minor character, had a particularly rough time.  Not only did her name get misspelled, but she had to stand in for another guy’s wife at one point.  They were in bed at the time, so I’m sure that was awkward.  (No, it definitely wasn’t intended to be that way in the story.)  I enjoyed the story too much to be terribly annoyed about the errors, but they were a little distracting so I hope there are fewer in the third book.

 

I find myself really on the fence in regard to what I think about where things are going in the story, even in terms of potential consequences that the good guys seem to consider a good thing.  The bad things are really, really bad, but the “good things” are a bit horrifying to me also, or maybe it’s just that they’re portrayed idealistically and I think the reality would be very different.  I’m going to reserve judgment until I finish the trilogy and then I might discuss it more within spoiler tags, depending on what I think by the time I make it to the end.  Either way, I’m pretty absorbed by the story and I look forward to seeing how the author concludes it.

Review: Nexus (Nexus Book 1 of 3)

Nexus (The Nexus Trilogy Book 1) - Ramez Naam

Nexus is the first book in a science fiction trilogy. The term “Nexus” refers to an illegal drug of sorts that contains nanotechnology. After being ingested, Nexus creates a network that allows people with the drug in their system to share thoughts and emotions with each other. College students have secret parties where they all take Nexus and then they glory in the empathy and the oneness of it all. Evil people use it for mind control.

 

There are two main point-of-view characters. Kade is a brilliant college student who, along with a friend, has significantly enhanced what Nexus can do. He has idealistic visions of sharing it freely with the world so it can be used to improve society. Sam is an agent for a U.S. military organization. She works to prevent the distribution, development, and use of the drug so that it can’t be misused.

 

It was really an interesting story. It did lag in spots, mostly in the first half, but I didn’t have much trouble staying interested. The main parts that lagged for me were the discussions and arguments about the morality of suppressing or sharing something like Nexus. The arguments were written well enough, and would have been interesting in a smaller dose, but anybody who reads a lot of science fiction has probably seen similar arguments before in various contexts. I felt like they came up a few times too often.

 

In the second half, things got quite intense, and pretty violent. It's definitely not the most graphic book I've read but, if there are any particular types of content warnings that will make you avoid a book, I think it’s safe to say that those warnings apply here to at least some extent. If you don’t mind a brutal book, this one has an interesting story and is written well. I also liked and empathized with the characters, and the moral dilemmas were real enough that I often wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen or who to root for.

 

This book doesn’t really end in a cliff hanger; it would stand alone if you don’t mind not having all of your threads wrapped up at the end. There’s clearly much more story to tell, and I plan to move directly on to the second book to find out what happens next.

Review: A Tale of Two Cities

The Annotated A Tale of Two Cities - Susanne Alleyn

Ramblings about the Book

People who follow me may have seen me mention my intent to fit one non-SF&F classic per quarter into my heavily SF&F-based reading diet.  A Tale of Two Cities was my classic reading selection for the second quarter.  Last time, I chose an author and book that was completely new to me.  This time, I chose a book that I had been assigned to read in tenth grade but that I didn’t enjoy at the time and in fact didn’t remember at all about 25 years later.

 

My interest in this story fluctuated a little bit, especially in the first half, but I enjoyed it quite a bit by the end.  The first chapter starts in 1775, and the book was written by Dickens in 1859, so I guess that makes this historical fiction squared. :)  It’s set just before and during the French Revolution, which is a period of time I knew little about.  No doubt we discussed it in my tenth grade class, but those were the types of lessons that usually had me sneaking to read my own book if I was well-positioned to do so without getting caught, or nodding off in boredom if I wasn’t…

 

The characters never really grabbed me, except maybe toward the end.  Lucie in particular was hard for me to appreciate.  Dickens tells us about her impact on others but, for the most part, she just seemed to sit around and act distressed or sympathetic or on the verge of fainting without actually doing or saying much.  It's an interesting contrast with the more vivacious female characters in my previous classic selection, Pride and Prejudice.  Of all the characters, I think Lorry was the one who felt the most genuine to me, and he was the one I liked best.  Carton did grow on me quite a bit too, though.  I didn’t dislike the others; I just didn’t feel too invested in them.

 

Everything is very heavily foreshadowed.  This story didn’t hold many surprises, except for a few small ones, because the author telegraphed everything well in advance.  I was a little over halfway through the book when I finally put two and two together and predicted (correctly) how the book was going to end.  In fact, I felt a little silly for not realizing it at least a couple chapters sooner.  It’s possible that I subconsciously remembered it from 25 years ago, but the book never felt at all familiar to me as I read it.  Well, aside from the opening words anyway.  Despite knowing how things were going to end, I did get really caught up in the story and the emotion of what was happening in the later chapters. 

 

Ramblings about Annotations

Knowing I didn’t like this book as a teen, I was more nervous about reading it than I otherwise would have been, so I decided to get an annotated version.  I think this was the first time I’ve read anything annotated, and I had trouble finding the right balance.  I don’t normally skim when I read books.  If the words are there, I’m going to read them.  If my eyes glaze over and I don’t absorb them, I’ll probably go back and read them again.  So you might be able to imagine how I tackled the annotations at first.  I read every single one of them within the segment where they were presented.  In some of the introductory chapters, there were so many that I lost the flow of the story and had to go back and re-read the chapter afterward.  This may have contributed to my trouble getting into the story, but many of the annotations were very interesting, and I think more historically informative than the story itself, so I did want to read them.

 

On the other hand, the annotations were sometimes repetitive, and many of the terms that were explained were very obvious within the context and didn’t, in my opinion, need explaining. I guess younger teens and/or people who don’t read as much would appreciate them more.  Also, people with holes in their head.  The ones that gave historical context were the ones I enjoyed the most, when they weren’t repetitive.  For example, I got really, really tired of reading reminders that Dickens was using the title “Monseigneur” in a historically inappropriate manner.  I understood it the first time, really!

 

About halfway through the book, I started feeling really bogged down by annotations and I started to lose interest in them.  I finally managed to talk myself into skipping them, and I was glad I did.  I’m sure I missed out on other things of interest, but I had reached my limit.  I wasn’t even tempted to go back and skim through the ones I skipped after finishing the book.  If I read other annotated works, I’ll have to try different tactics to figure out what works best for me.  I think, as people have suggested, reading the story by itself and then going back to the annotations afterward will be the best course of action, with the occasional pause to read an annotation during my initial read if I see one tied to something that confused me.

 

Rambling Summary

Wow, that was a lot of rambling even for me!  I tend to have a rating in mind as I read a book, mentally adjusting it as my opinions change.  This book was no more than 3 stars for quite a while, but it grew on me and I mentally adjusted it to 3.5.  It wasn’t until I finished the book and reflected on how much I enjoyed the last few chapters and the way everything tied together that I realized I couldn’t give it less than 4.  Maybe I didn’t love it as much as many other people do, but I did appreciate it and I hope to give more of Dickens’ work a try someday.