Book Review: The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

Rating:  ★★★1/2

The Wolf of Oren-yaro follows the story of Queen Talyien of the Jin-Sayeng, the first woman to ever sit the Dragonthrone.  Her marriage to the rival clan’s heir, Rayyel, was supposed to unite the fractured lands, ruled by warring Dragonlords.  However, Rayyel leaves the night before their coronation, and she is crowned alone.  Five years later, Rayyel has finally requested a meeting with his wife, and Talyien is all too eager to reconcile, even if she might be walking into a trap.

If I’m being honest- this story is not quite what I was hoping for.  There is action and adventure, there is political intrigue, but mostly, this is a story about a failed marriage, and a woman who would go to seemingly any length to make it work.  I was often frustrated with the amount of inner monologue dedicated to the husband when Tali also had a son at home to think about.  I was frustrated at the selfishness of her, at the infuriating decisions she makes.

Despite the fact that I am also a single mother, I found Talyien very hard to relate to.  I know every family situation is different, and Talyien’s choices are valid, but felt very dated.  Almost every scene that brought up Rayyel I was thinking to myself- “Why hasn’t she kicked him to the curb yet?!”  I wanted her to want to be more independent then she seemed, and at the end, during the final climactic scene, I was pretty disappointed with her feelings on the matter.  Her husband is definitely not the sort of man I’d waste breath on, that’s for sure.

My issues with Tali aside- it doesn’t take long for the action to start, and the action scenes strike the perfect balance of excitement without overextending themselves.  Tali finds herself in all kinds of interesting situations, and if you aren’t looking too closely at the logic of the plot, I think the right reader could have a lot of fun with this book.  There were some scenes I found myself laughing along with, and it kept the pages turning.

The writing was mostly good.  There were a few places where it felt amateurish and the dialogue a little stiff- but for the most part I have few complaints.  The pacing could use a little work.  The book seemed like it fell into a pattern at some point- we’d get some action, then a flashback scene, and then a few chapters of Tali’s thoughts on the whole thing.  I wasn’t always sure the flashback scenes were needed, although they did occasionally give some nice backstory.

I’m not really sure this book or series is right for me, but plenty of readers are already enjoying it, so take my review with a grain of salt.  The Wolf of Oren-yaro released on February 18, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books who provided an eGalley in exchange for an honest review!

 

 

Book Review: The Bear by Andrew Krivak

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

Rating:  ★★★

The Bear is a literary science fiction/fantasy tale about the last two people on earth.  It’s short, and can be read in just a day if you have the time.  The two main characters are known only as Father and Girl.  When the story begins the girl is very young, and we watch as her father teaches her to survive the world.

The depictions of nature and scenery are beautifully done.  It’s hard to imagine a world in which everything is covered by forests and fields, the remnants of residential areas grown over and covered by soil, a place where animals have no fear of man kind.  There is a sense of wonder to it all.

The Bear feels like a fable rather than a book.  Something handed down over generations and told by a campfire.  The author never dives into the past- what happened to mankind, how these two people came to be the last on earth.  It’s strictly about the story of these last two survivors.

The pacing is slow despite the high level of tension and conflict found at the heart of the book, and the reader grows to care about the characters slowly throughout.  This is why the book ultimately ended up being only a three star read for me.  The story felt very heavy and lonely, and I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to read a story like this one.  Everything else about the book- the setting, the writing, the feelings it evoked, are easily a four star read, but when I put the book down I was left feeling a little sad.  It’s unlikely that I’d ever pick this up to read again.

I’d recommend this to readers who like man versus nature stories or nature lovers in general.  The Bear released on February 11, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

Part of what I love about science fiction is that it covers so many different topics.  Sometimes when I mention to others that I love science fiction, I feel like I occasionally get a funny look or two.  And then I wonder how many awesome books the person sitting across from me has either read without really realizing it was science fiction, or missed out on because they turned their nose up at something with the label.

So I thought I’d share some of my favorite sub-genres with you today, along with a few suggestions to check out if you’re looking to try some of them.

Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic

I love stories about the end of the world.  Granted- my favorites are those that usually explore the darker side of human nature, books like Wanderers and King’s The Stand, but I also like hopeful stories that explore the survival of humanity as earth is becoming uninhabitable (e.g. The Calculating Stars).

What intrigues me about them is the way the human need (instinct?) to survive effects each character.  Will they do whatever it takes?  Will they commit unspeakable acts in the interest of protecting themselves and their families? Or will they come together and unite for a common cause?

First Contact / Alien Invasion

I love all fiction with aliens for a few different reasons.  The easy answer is the almost limitless opportunity it gives an author to exercise the limits of their imagination.  What kinds of tech do they have?  What kind of rituals do they practice?  What sort of hierarchy does their society follow?

But the more complex answer is that alien civilization can act as a sort of mirror, reflecting back all the ugly and beautiful truths about our own civilization.  It gives the reader a chance to question why things are the way they are, how they came to be that way, and how we could set ourselves on a path to change (hopefully for the better).

Dystopian / Utopian

This is an easy one and probably the most accessible to those who aren’t necessarily fans of SciFi and Fantasy.  I like dystopian because I think it’s interesting to consider how the in-book society evolved into what it became.  Qualityland, for example, is very obviously derived from Amazon’s dominion over the retail space.  On the other hand, utopian books examine what it might mean to try and please everyone, or put them all on an even playing field.

Science Fiction Thrillers

And of course- probably my most favorite genre of all- the science fiction thriller.  Not because they have any higher purpose, but because they are damn entertaining.

There are a couple other genres of SciFi I’m hoping to explore this year.  Topics that interest me or genres in which I’ve only read one or two books, but have enjoyed, despite not having had the time yet to dive deeper.

Biopunk

Biopunk is described as “derived from cyberpunk [that] focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology” (Wikipedia).  I read, and once very much enjoyed, Borne, but I’d love to see what else exists in the genre and how it is deployed.  The big one I have slated for this is Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but I’ve talked about that particular book quite a bit recently and wanted to spotlight something different.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is described as a “combination of low-life and high tech” (Wikipedia, Sterling Bruce, Burning Chrome by William Gibson preface).  Infomocracy probably fails on the first count.  I don’t think either of the two main characters are necessarily “low life”, but the book has a very urban, gritty, feel that I think qualifies it.  Last year I listened to SerialBox’s Ninth Step Station that I’d say qualifies as cyberpunk also.  Another book most people are probably familiar with is Ready Player One.  I loved them all and I definitely want to read more.

What are your favorite science fiction sub-genres?

Book Review: The Chill by Scott Carson

The Chill by Scott Carson

Rating:  ★★★

The Chill is about a small town, Galesburg, that was once drowned underwater to make a new dam. We follow the ancestors of the people from that small town, now living in the “new” town of Torrance.

When I first started reading, there were a lot of jumps in the POV. So much that I wondered who the main characters even were, and if I’d ever get to spend enough time with any of them to care. The answer is yes and no. Focus does slow down to a handful of main characters, but I still think there were too many, and while I cared about a couple of them, I didn’t care about all of them.

In addition to the POV jumps, the book is weighed down by the description about dams and dam construction. It wasn’t as much as say, the church construction in The Pillars of the Earth, and some of it was interesting, but a lot of it went over my head.  Towards the end, I was confused by a lot of the description about where the characters were and what they were doing.  For example, at one point I swear Aaron swims into a tunnel, and a chapter later I swear Gillian is climbing into the same tunnel.  I think maps of the tunnels might have helped.  (I read an ARC, so it’s possible one is included in final copies.)

It was hard to feel excited about the plot when I was never entirely sure what the stakes were. The characters keep mentioning how they are going to get back at New York City, but I was never really clear on precisely how that was going to happen (flood? tainted water supply?). The Chilewaukee reservoir (The Chill) the story centers on, is a reserve basin and not connected to anything else. Specifics are mentioned towards the end, but by then I was mostly over it.

I feel like the true climax, and the story that felt suspenseful, came much earlier than the end.  I was enjoying the book for the most part until then, and after that point everything came to a full stop for me.  Ultimately, pacing and structure were an issue for me.

That being said- I did like the supernatural part of the story and unraveling the mystery. There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief needed for it to work but those were my favorite parts. I just wished they’d been a little more frequent? It was like the author wasn’t sure if he was writing a thriller or a horror or a science fiction story. It wasn’t quite enough of any one of those things to be effective, and the result was muddied.

All in all- not a bad book, I just wished it had been a little more exciting.  The Chill can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.

Book Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Rating:  ★★★★

My only experience with Ken Liu thus far has been in his translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and Death’s End.  But I know he has a few beloved books already published out there, so I jumped at the chance to read this.

I generally try to read the introduction whenever one is included, and I definitely recommend reading the intro to The Hidden Girl and Other Stories.  Liu talks a little about his writing process and how he went about selecting stories for this book.  He says that stories are co-told by an author’s words and a reader’s interpretation; that writing a story is like building a house in which the reader moves in, arranges the furniture and decor to suit their tastes, and settles down.

He also goes on to say that it would be impossible for him to construct a home in which everyone was comfortable, so he selected the stories that he himself felt most comfortable in, and asks that the reader “find a story..to make [their] home.”  I adored the metaphor and knew with that short but sweet introduction I was in for a treat.

That being said, I really am terrible at reviewing collections.  So terrible in fact, that I’ve put this off for two months because I read it in December.  It took me a week because these were stories that often required some processing afterward, so I know it’s worthy of a fantastic review and I’ve no idea how to convey that to you.

So bare with me friends, I’m doing my best.

The first two stories “Ghost Days” and “Maxwell’s Demon” absolutely blew me out of the water.  They were both eye opening, haunting.  They were stories I think it would benefit everyone to read at least once.  While “Ghost Days” is about the importance of history and immigrant experience in America, “Maxwell’s Demon” is about the experience of a woman of Japanese descent in America during WWII.

For me, the stories that follow didn’t quite live up to the enormous standard by those first two stories.  What they do instead, is follow, as Liu himself put it, a “meta-narrative”.  Trailing different and yet similar themes (AI, digital immortality, virtual reality, shared experiences, parent-child relationships, etc.) weaving together an inventive tapestry of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I will say this book ventures to some dark places.  Sometimes I’d read a story and have to put the book down for a bit because it was that dark.  Many stories don’t have a happy ending.

I do think the book finished strong, despite being a little bogged down in the middle.  Other highlights include the miniseries starting with “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” and “The Hidden Girl”.

In the end, I liked The Hidden Girl and Other Stories enough that I will certainly be checking out Liu’s other work.  This collection is well worth picking up for fans and newcomers alike.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories releases on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Love Stories

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic, in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m assuming, is a Love Freebie.  I actually used to read quite a bit of romance, and I’ve already done a favorite couple’s post in the past.  You’ll probably see a few of the same couple’s here, but hopefully there are a couple new ones also.  I’m going with favorite love stories- so not everything here falls strictly into the romance category.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – I’ll go ahead and get the easy one out of the way.  Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy don’t have quite an enemies to lovers romance, but it was probably a prototype for that.  It certainly doesn’t start out with googly eyes.

The Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning

The Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning – So it’s paranormal fantasy, but it’s also primarily a romance.  This has a “love is the path to redemption” trope, which feels a little outdated now, but Moning made it work in the best way.  Adam is an immortal Fae cast out from Faery.  Gabrielle is just a simple law student, and the only person who can see Adam.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – This is probably the only tragic romance I’ll ever read (knowingly anyway).  The relationship between Roxane Coss and Katsumi Hosokawa is devastating, and I was blubbering like a baby whale by the end of it.

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – A historical fantasy romance.  Jamie and Claire’s relationship isn’t perfect, and sometimes it’s downright traumatizing, but these two just had some great chemistry on the page.  I’d keep reading these books, but they’re all like 800 pages long, and I’m not entirely confident the story is headed where I want it to since some future parts have been spoiled for me.  Either way- this was a great book.

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky – What I loved so much about this story was the obstacles each person had to overcome within themselves to be able to go on to love the other person.  That they accepted each other in the end as they were was just so uplifting to me.  Omat and Brandr quickly went on to be one of my favorite couples of all time. (Review here)

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys – This was another surprise favorite from last year.  It’s historical fiction more than it is even romance, but the romance between Ana and Daniel was one of my favorite parts.  Their story follows a “lovers from opposite sides of the tracks” trope. (Review here)

TCS_MRK

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – Including this is probably cheating, since it’s not even remotely a love story, and Elma and Nathaniel York are already very much in love when we “meet” them.  But they are still one of the cutest and most romantic couples in fiction.  I’m including a link to The Lady Astronaut of Mars because to me, it’s so important to their story, and made their romance in TCS that much sweeter. (Review here)

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – I’m not actually the biggest fan of Philippa Gregory, but I did love this book.  I loved not ever knowing if Edward IV would return to Elizabeth or be turned against her by his family.  Their’s is definitely a tumultuous relationship.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – This is another historical romance.  I keep meaning to read more of Kearsley because this one is such a favorite but other books keep taking precedence.  This is probably one of the sweeter relationships portrayed, and it’s a slow burn sort of romance.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning – Mac and Barrons are probably my favorite romantic couple of all time. Their story follows an enemies to lovers trope for sure.  I kind of gave up reading these, because I think the author needed to end it after book five and lost her way, but the Fever novels are some of the few I’ve reread.

And that’s it!  What are your favorite love stories?

Book Review: The Resisters by Gish Jen

The Resisters by Gish Jen

Rating:  ★★★

The Resisters takes place in a world where most jobs have been eliminated due to automation, the world is flooded thanks to climate change, and America is run by a deranged AI people refer to as Aunt Nettie. We follow the lives of one Surplus family, through the eyes of the husband and father, Grant. (Surplus are those people that were deemed unretrainable when Automation took over, and therefore don’t work anymore, but are expected to consume via their Living Points, alotted to them via Aunt Nettie.) The daughter of this family, Gwen, has a golden arm. She can throw hard, fast, and with almost perfect accuracy. Eventually this leads the family to start up an illegal Surplus baseball league.

I was frustrated with this book on multiple levels. I suppose I’ll get my big complaint out of the way and tell you there are no chapters, only four parts, and we all know how much I love that…

But most importantly, I could not shake the feeling that this story was told from the wrong person’s POV. Grant is largely an observer in all these events that feel like they happen to his wife and daughter. And sure he’s a valid character, but I just don’t think he was the right character. The plot revolves around Gwen. We are told her story via GreetingGrams (basically letters) that are sent back and forth to her parents in one part and it frustrated me because I wanted to care about Gwen more than I did and couldn’t because of this distance created between her and the reader.

The worldbuilding is vast and detailed, and the author manages to comment on many relevant issues: racism, sexism, politics, climate change, privacy…. but again, Grant is largely unaffected by many of them, given his removal from much of the action. It just didn’t feel like effective commentary to me.  It’s Gwen that experiences what it’s like to be one of two female players on a high performance baseball team, Gwen that attends a university where she is the only person of color thanks to a process called “PermaDerming” (bleaching your skin, basically).

As far as plot and pacing go- this is a character driven book, and most of the action is saved for part four. Most of the characters are likable (except for one whose personality was all over the place).  Most of the book is slow and there were several times I wanted to DNF.  I did become more invested around the halfway mark, as Gwen’s story picks up, but a lot of it was just too slow for my taste.

Finally, the ending was really a disaster for me.  I think in America we expect stories about baseball to be uplifting, and while some of the games had the powerful feeling, the ending is ruined by some very dark events that take place and don’t really seem to fit the tone of the rest of the book.

Overall I had very mixed feelings.  If you are interested in the dystopian aspect, I recommend reading it with a buddy so you can pick it apart and bounce ideas off each other.  If you are interested in the baseball (I was not) then go ahead and give it a try.  You might enjoy this more.

The Resisters can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy.

Month in Review: January 2020

Hello friends!  I hope we’ve all had an excellent start to the new year!  For myself, I wish I’d gotten a little more read, but I did better than last year so that’s something.  And with my review of The Vanished Birds yesterday, I managed to get through all of the many ARCs I had committed to for January so I’m happy I’ve kept on track with those at least.

Novels/Novellas Read: 7

Short Stories: 3

Pages Read: 2,900

Average Rating: 3.8

Female Authors: 6

Favorite Reads:

Most of what I read this month was at least a 4 star read, but looking back, these two stood out as my favorites:

The God Game by Danny Tobey

Followers by Megan Angelo

Other Reads Completed:

Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga #2) by Kameron Hurley

The Broken Heavens (Worldbreaker Saga #3) by Kameron Hurley

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

Wonderland by Zoje Stage (RTC!)

Zenith Man by Jennifer Haigh

The Lion’s Den by Anthony Marra

A Good Marriage by Stephen King

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods by Maria Dahvana Headley (available free here!)

ARCs Received:

This is not including the ARC of Wonderland (pictured above), which I snuck in in January because I didn’t want to wait.

The Chill by Scott Carson – Has been getting some mixed reviews, but the blurb feels like it’s speaking so directly to me I couldn’t turn it down.

Pretty Things by Janelle Brown – A con artist who learned the trade from her mother, works a young heiress in the scam of a lifetime “where their intertwined lives give way to a winter of aspiration and desire, duplicity and revenge.”  Yes. Please.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon – Last year I strayed away from historical fiction, but it’s one of my favorite genres, and I want to get back to it this year.  It’s the story of a “socialite spy…who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII.”

Machina by Fran Wilde (and others) – Sent to me by Serial Box!  I loved Ninth Step Station, and was really honored when Serial Box reached out to me about Machina. I’ve already started listening to the first episode and it’s as great as I expected.

I did not receive any eGalleys in my effort to cut back on the number of ARCs I’m committing to.  (Which is not going well.)

PopSugar Prompts Completed: 5/50

A book published in 2020: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A book that passes the Bechdel Test: Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker #2) by Kameron Hurley

A book with the same title as a movie or TV show but is unrelated to it: Wonderland by Zoje Stage

A book about or involving social media: Followers by Megan Angelo

A book with a robot, cyborg, or AI character: The God Game by Danny Tobey

Other Posts from January:

Reading Challenge: 20 in ’20

Discussion: Books on a Budget

Book Haul

How was your January?  Anything special you’re looking forward to in February?

 

 

Book Review: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

Rating:  ★★★★1/2

This book is so difficult to put into words.  The blurb isn’t inaccurate, but at the same time I feel like it doesn’t do a great job of conveying how brilliant this story really is.  Nia Imani is captain of a space crew, transporting goods for Allied Space.  The problem is, they travel by what is called pocket space, eight months for her is the equivalent of fifteen years planet side.  She watches her friends’ and lovers’ lifetimes go by in just a few short years.  We also follow Fukimo Nakajima, the woman responsible for saving humanity and launching everyone into space.  Finally, we have Ahro, a mysterious boy with a traumatic past.

This is largely a character driven book.  The plot meanders from different places and view points, exploring the relationships between characters and how the choices they make effect them.  Some choices we regret, some we can’t let go, and others are bittersweet.  Could you choose one family at the expense of another?

One thing I loved about this book was the setting.  If you’re looking for a sprawling intergalactic adventure, this is a good place to look.  We visit farming worlds with purple skies, bustling high tech cities, abandoned planets overrun with dogs, the list goes on (though I will add, most time is spent on the ship between worlds). I was always excited to see where the crew was going and who they’d meet next.

In part three, the plot shifts in a big way.  Where the book was previously content to take it’s time, suddenly every scene is filled with nail biting tension. You don’t know if the characters you’ve grown to love and spent all this time with will live, and if they do, how damaged they’ll come out on the other side.

This was a big point of contention for my friend the Captain @ The Captain’s Quarters (her review can be found here).  It didn’t work for her and I completely understand why. The last third doesn’t feel like the rest of the book.

That being said- I didn’t mind the plot shift.  I felt like the book had become very comfortable in part two and part three brought some much needed conflict to the story.  I am also very accustomed to books like this so maybe I half expected it.  Where I agree with her, is that the ending was mildly unsatisfying.  I won’t spoil it, but I felt like it really could have used an epilogue to wrap it all up nicely.

My biggest complaint about the book is that the chapters are on average 30 pages in length (with some reaching up to 40 pages), which I know I’ve said before and I’ll certainly say again, makes me crazy.  I want an opportunity to put the book down if I need it, and not in the middle of a chapter.

Overall I really loved this book and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from Simon Jimenez in the future.  Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy.

The Vanished Birds can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.