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: Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Ok, I think I’m traumatized now! Believe it or not, I read this book for the first time without knowing much about the story or anything about how it ended.  There was enough foreshadowing that I felt pretty sure something horrible would happen by the end, but it ended up being a bit beyond what I had expected. 

 

I really enjoyed reading it, though. This is probably one of the more accessible classics I’ve read, and not just because it’s so short.  The story quickly captured and held my interest, and I could sympathize with the characters.  Steinbeck did a great job of making the characters’ motivations clear without spelling everything out in excruciating detail.  I felt like I understood exactly how and why everything happened the way it did.

 

This could easily be read in a single sitting, although I read it in three. I started it late last night, and then I read a little more while I was eating breakfast in the hotel lobby.  (Yes, I’m on yet another business trip.)  Thank goodness I didn’t finish this while I was eating breakfast.  I’ve never tried it before, but I suspect bursting into tears over one’s oatmeal would draw strange looks.  I finished it later in the evening, safely tucked away in my hotel room.  This book is not safe for reading in public places.

 

This was my first Steinbeck read. It may take me a while to cycle back to him, but I’d definitely like to try some of his other work in the future. 

 

Next Book

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolf.

Review: The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins

I liked some aspects of this book, and the story held my interest, but for some reason I didn’t completely connect with it.

 

This is a fantasy story set in the “real world”, in the present day. The basic premise, at least so far as we understand it at the beginning of the book, is that several orphaned children are adopted by a powerful man they call Father to be apprentices.  They live in a ginormous library, and each child is assigned to a different “catalog” that they’re supposed to study.  Our main character, Carolyn, is assigned to the catalog of languages.  This isn’t a normal library, though; it’s full of knowledge that teaches them abilities that would seem magical to a normal human.

 

The story is a bit non-linear and a little twisty, which I enjoyed. I takes a while before all of the layers are revealed.  It’s also darker than my description makes it sound.  Father’s teaching methods aren’t very nice.  The children are mostly adults throughout the story, except in some of the flashbacks, and they aren’t very nice either.  I didn’t have any trouble with that aspect of it, but I would not recommend this to anybody bothered by reading gruesome descriptions, violence, or harsh language. 

 

I think I enjoyed the book more in the beginning when I was still figuring out what was going on. The revelations as the story progressed were interesting, but they just made me like the characters less and I also thought some events felt too contrived, even within the context of the story.  I never really connected with any of the characters, and I also felt disconnected from the humor.  Sometimes the book made me smile or laugh, but there were more times when I would recognize that something was supposed to be funny but not feel the humor.  I’m not usually that hard to please when it comes to humor, but for some reason I just didn’t really connect with it in this book.

 

So this was moderately entertaining for me, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.

 

Next Book

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, my classic selection for the third quarter.

Review: Children of God (The Sparrow Book 2 of 2)

Children of God  - Mary Doria Russell

Children of God is the sequel to The Sparrow which I loved.  I liked this one a lot, but not quite on the same level.  In the first book, I was addicted to both the characters and the story.  With this book I was still addicted to the characters, and I did enjoy the story, but I wasn’t as thoroughly caught up in it. 

 

The format is similar to the first one.  We have two main time periods set several years apart, each of which continue from where the two main time periods in the first book left off.  There’s also a third time period that we see only occasionally, taking place further in the future.  In the first book, the mystery of how we got from point A (the earlier time period) to point B (the later time period) was a large part of what held my interest.  In this book, the story was more straight-forward despite the different timelines.  They were more like separate stories that converged, rather than two ends of the same story as in the first book.  There were some surprises, and it held my interest well, but I wasn’t reading it with that same desperate desire to fill in the missing pieces. 

 

Some of the new characters introduced in the book were less likeable, although I did love how the author gave some of the characters more shades of gray.  I think there were arguably more complex characters in this book, and I liked that.  I also liked that we got to know some of the characters on the alien planet better.  On the other hand, I missed the banter and fun that appeared more frequently in the first book.

 

I guess this review is more a comparison of the two books than a review of this book on its individual merits, but it’s hard not to compare them and it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to read this book without having read the first one.  The author does provide the necessary back story, but I think the emotional buildup from the first book goes a long way toward creating the investment and interest necessary for this book.  I probably would have rated this lower if I hadn’t read it straight after the first.  I’m giving it 4.5 stars on the sites where I can give half stars, but I had a very hard time deciding whether to round up or down on Goodreads.  I decided to round up, based on my enjoyment level as I read it.

 

Next Book

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.

Review: The Sparrow (The Sparrow Book 1 of 2)

The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

I loved this book.  The two page prologue sets the stage very well.  It tells us that Earth learned of an alien planet and, for reasons only hinted at in the prologue, a Jesuit delegation is the first to travel to that planet.  The end of the prologue says, “They meant no harm.”  Which of course tells the reader that things don’t go well!  And at that point I was hooked. 

 

In the first chapter, our main character Emilio Sandoz has returned from the mission to the alien planet alone.  He’s broken physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  We alternate between that time period and the past, beginning just before the characters learned about the alien world.  We know from the beginning that awful things have happened, and we slowly zero in on those events from both ends of the timeline until finally, by the end, we have all the answers.  Non-linear story formats often work well for me, and this one particularly kept me hanging on every word.  I enjoyed both timelines equally.

 

It’s good that I didn’t know anything at all about this before I started reading it, or I might have been more reluctant to try it and I might have missed out.  Our main character is a Jesuit priest, so religion is a big part of this book.  Religion evokes strong opinions, whether in favor of it or against it, and authors often can’t resist trying to sway people to their own views.  When that happens, the book feels preachy and trite and is often full of tiresome “debates” between characters.  Even books that align with my own views are annoying to me if the author is too repetitive or obvious about it.

 

This book wasn’t like that, though; it was done really well.  The characters are who they are, and they believe what they believe.  I never felt like the author was trying to convince me of any particular viewpoint.  I didn’t have to agree with the characters’ interpretation of events in order for the story to feel meaningful and believable.  I could be an outside observer, invested in and sympathetic with the characters, but considering things from many perspectives without feeling like the author wanted me to settle on one particular perspective.  I was very invested in both the characters and the story.

 

There is quite a bit of humor in this book, particularly in the “past” portions.  I don’t know if I’d call this a dark or depressing book exactly, but it does go to some dark places, and you know from the very beginning that things aren’t going to end well.  I knew the best I could hope for was a bittersweet and hopeful ending.  I think if I hadn’t been prepared, if I’d been blindsided by how everything turned out with the mission, I would have rated this book lower.  Instead, the book became more about figuring out how things went wrong, and what exactly happened, and learning how this vibrant character we saw in the chapters from the past came to be in the wrecked state we saw in the chapters from the future.

 

I wasn’t completely without complaint.  There were some things that seemed a bit logically flawed to me, and one character (Anne) who occasionally rang false for me, but I enjoyed the general story so much that I was able to overlook any niggling annoyances.  There’s no question that I’ll be jumping straight into the sequel, although not without some fear.

Review: Weaveworld

Weaveworld - Clive Barker

Weaveworld is a standalone fantasy written in the late 80’s, set in the “real world” at around the time it was written.  We follow two main characters, Cal and Suzanna.  In the beginning, Cal gets a glimpse of a secret world hidden in the weave of a carpet, and longs to visit it.  At around the same time, Suzanna is urgently summoned by her grandmother, whom she barely knows.  Her grandmother is the last remaining guardian of that secret world, but naturally she’s too ill by the time Suzanna arrives to give her any useful information.

 

The story caught my interest right at the beginning.  It was a bit cheesy and melodramatic at times, with a definite 80’s vibe, but it was interesting.  However, I started to lose interest after the first third or so, and from there it fluctuated.  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time exploring the mysteries of this secret world and its inhabitants; I was particularly interested in that.  Another problem I had was that there is a lot of hopelessness that permeates the second half, to the point that I almost didn’t care what happened by the end.  The story did pick up for me some toward the end, but I think the first part was my favorite.

 

There are some horror elements, but mostly I would just consider it a fantasy story.  The horror elements were more gruesome than creepy, and a bit over-the-top at times.  The cheese factor was pretty high, at least in the beginning.  After a while, I’m not sure if it was toned down or if I just got used to it.  As one example, the term used for a power possessed by some women in the story is the menstruum.  Yes, really.

 

So I guess I have mixed feelings.  I did like the characters, and I enjoyed the imagination and potential of the story, and I thought it was told pretty well.  On the other hand, I was sometimes bored by the direction it took and I rolled my eyes at some of the cheesiness.

 

Next Book

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  This is another book I’m going into blind, knowing nothing at all about it except that it’s apparently science fiction of some sort.

Review: League of Dragons (Temeraire Book 9 of 9!)

League of Dragons: A Novel of Temeraire - Naomi Novik

Well, that’s it.  The last book in the Temeraire series!  I thought the ending was satisfying.  It wasn’t particularly surprising, maybe, but I was happy with how things ended up and I enjoyed the last book as much as I had enjoyed the previous books.  The rest of this review consists of general, spoiler-free comments on the series as a whole.

 

I really enjoyed the whole series even though, in retrospect, it lacked some of the things that are most likely to earn my enthusiasm for a book.  In particular, Novik used a straight-forward and consistent story-telling style.  There were surprises here and there, but this isn’t a twisty story with an intricate plot that keeps you confused and anxious to learn what the heck is going on.  I do normally prefer a twistier story, but it held my interest well anyway.  I would be surprised though if somebody who isn’t crazy for the books from the beginning were to change their mind if they tried to keep reading.  The things that made the series enjoyable for me from the start are mostly the same things that sustained my interest through to the end.

 

Novik writes action scenes well, and she also does very well with making characters likeable and sympathetic.  She writes the interactions between characters well too.  I was happy that there wasn’t much romance in the series; I think that would have taken away from the more interesting relationships and been more a source of annoyance than anything.  There isn’t anything too deep here, but I liked the theme of duty versus morality that showed up throughout the series, forcing our characters to decide which should take precedence when those two things were in conflict and to deal with the consequences of their choices.  Even though the series is set during a war, it has a fairly light tone.  Bad and discouraging things happen, but there’s also a decent amount of humor and optimism. 

 

I plan to keep an eye out for future books the author publishes, and I’ll read the new anthology (Golden Age and Other Stories) sooner or later.  Right now I only see a $25 hardcover available for pre-order so I’ll either borrow it from the library if it’s available, or I’ll purchase it when there’s a reasonably-priced Kindle edition available.

 

Next Book

A standalone fantasy book from the 80’s called Weaveworld by Clive Barker.  This is one of those books on my list that I bought on sale a while back and know absolutely nothing about, so I look forward to being surprised.  Hopefully in a pleasant way, but we’ll see. :)

Review: Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire Book 8 of 9)

Blood of Tyrants  - Naomi Novik

Blood of Tyrants is the eighth and penultimate book in the Temeraire series.  I enjoyed it equally as much as the previous books, although a little more unevenly.  I was fully engrossed for the first 75% or so, but I occasionally felt restless toward the end.

 

Some of the early events, though occasionally frustrating, really highlighted Laurence’s character growth throughout the series, and Temeraire’s too.  I was also happy to see my favorite secondary character show back up.

 

This book doesn’t exactly end on a cliff hanger, but it did feel a little less wrapped-up than the previous books, setting the stage for the final events coming up next.  I look forward to finding out how the series ends.

 

Next Book

League of Dragons by Naomi Novik, the last book in the Temeraire series, not counting the anthology due out next month.

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.

Currently reading

The Shadow of the Torturer
Gene Wolfe