Catching up on reviews, part 1

I’m behind on a lot of reviews and short on time, so I will try to say a few words about the books I couldn’t get to. They’re all really good, and I’ve been having a great time just reading and enjoying the ride. If you want to know more about any one of them, let me know and I will write a more comprehensive review.

 

The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant, #5.5)
The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant #5.5) by Ben Aaronovitch
Read from May 30 to June 06, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Read it here.

Takes place during the Summer Olympics of 2012 in London, and all security forces around the city are on high alert. Peter gets a call about a magical situation near an Olympic stadium that has turned into a standoff, so he rushes over to see if he can contain it by himself since Nightingale is out of town.

This is an interesting piece but it’s literally too short to review and reads more like an outtake than a short story. It sort of expands on Nightingale’s past, but not enough to tell you much of anything. And that’s why I think it’s an outtake–a scene too interesting to scrap but doesn’t necessarily fit into the next book.

If you’re looking for something to tie you over until Book #6 comes out, this story will sort of do it. It’s always fun to return to Aaronovitch’s London and see what Peter is up to these days, but these shorts make me want more.

 

The Mad Scientist's Daughter
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Read from April 30 to June 01, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A post-apocalyptic fairy tale for the robotics age about a girl who falls in love with a mechanical boy. I picked this book up on a whim not knowing much about it other than the author’s name, which sounded vaguely familiar, and I’m glad I gave it a chance because it’s a great story told by a talented writer.

This is YA but not too YA that it lost me completely. There’s enough YA in it for those who like YA, and there’s enough robot things in it for those who like robots and robot theories. The writing is engaging and uncomplicated, but the ideas presented are complex and compelling. Many of Isaac Asimov’s concepts of AI and robotics are examined through the love story, and I found that the author did a good job bringing these ideas to the present age and applying them to modern sensibilities. This is a long about way of saying this book can double as political satire since it explores issues concerning the humanity of robots, particularly their sentience and autonomy. Recommended for people who like a blend of fairy tale and sci-fi.

 

The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur, #1)
The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur #1) by Hannu Rajaniemi
Read from May 01 to 31, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A fascinating read about a fascinating world filled to the brim with fascinating advanced technology and mind-boggling concepts. This book completely blew my mind the moment I finished reading and kept me dazed in a book hangover for weeks afterward. I was blown away by the complex worlds (and worlds within worlds) the author created and I wanted to experience them over and over again. But now that those effects are wearing off, so are my feelings regarding the book’s ingenuity and the author’s prowess. That’s not to say I don’t like it anymore; I still like it a lot and look forward to continuing Jean le Flambeur’s flighty adventures. But I can’t help but see the fascinating world building as a distraction from a fairly clever (but thin) heist story set in outer space.

There are two story arcs that converge near the end. The thief’s story is all about cyberspace and neuroscience and outsmarting systems much clever than himself, and he’s quite a clever fellow. The detective’s story is woven with decadence and a steampunk atmosphere, as though someone brought Victorian England to outer space. Each story has a mystery and both the thief and the detective have to solve their respective mystery before their time runs out, but the things they’re chasing after aren’t what they seem. They’re mysteries within mysteries.

I enjoyed the chase and trying to stay one step ahead of both characters was exhausting and a lot of fun. I don’t read that much hard sci-fi, but I suspect this book might be a popcorn read in its genre. It’s fun, fast, and impressive–great, if you’re in the mood for mind games.

 

Fair Play (All's Fair, #2)
Fair Play (All’s Fair, #2) by Josh Lanyon
Read from May 23 to 25, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

I read Josh Lanyon not so much for story or mystery or character, but for setting and realistic portrayals of disjointed relationships. He likes to explore dysfunctional relationships and has a knack for making them seem realistic. His characters aren’t always likable, but their stories are hard to put down. However, I find the mystery elements in these stories not lacking exactly but not as interesting as the characters’ day-to-day life. This book is no exception. It’s a good story and all, and the writing is classic Lanyon, but it didn’t pull me in. Plus, the mystery was kind of dull and repetitive since something similar happened in the last book.

Elliott and Tucker have moved in together following the events of Fair Game, and their life on Goose Island is pleasantly domestic with Elliott still teaching history at the university and Tucker still an FBI agent. Then one night, they get a call informing them that Elliott’s father’s house (Elliott’s childhood home) has burned to the ground. The investigation turns up signs of arson and it turns out someone is after his father. So he takes it upon himself to find the person responsible. Meanwhile, the arson and attempts on his father’s life put more strains on his relationship with Tucker. Although things work out in the end, they take awhile getting there. I found myself bored for much of Elliott’s investigation.

 

Dust (Jacob's Ladder, #1)
Dust (Jacob’s Ladder #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Read from February 01 to May 18, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

This is an interesting mix of sci-fi and fantasy. The story takes place on a living space ship, but a lot of magic is used throughout and there is a war going on that has roots in mythology. A lost princess with no memory of her past is found living among servants at an enemy house. The rest of the story is about rescuing her and trying to get off the ship.

I really wish I could have liked this book more. Elizabeth Bear’s writing style and ideas are interesting, but this book just wasn’t for me. Maybe I picked it up at the wrong time and the story didn’t grab me because I found myself distracted easily by other books, then having a hard time returning to this one. But I’m still interested Bear’s writing and will probably try something else by her. Probably the Eternal Sky trilogy, which is a historical fantasy set in a Central Asian influenced realm. All three books have received rave reviews, and I look forward to starting the first one.

 

Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3)
Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3) by Liz Williams
Read from April 27 to May 18, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

There’s nothing quite like returning to a beloved series. I don’t really know what it is about these books that just feel right to me. Singapore Three and Detective Chen’s houseboat feel like a second home to me by now because so much of the writing is dedicated to the vibrant locales. I feel like I can navigate the streets and back allays just by following the books’ descriptions of each neighborhood.

This book starts out slow and builds up momentum as it goes. Chen and Zhu Irzh return to Hell, but this time for a sanctioned trip to escort Ms Qi, an ambassador of Heaven, to the Minister of War. Of course the trip turns out to be disastrous, more disastrous than expected, and the group find themselves in the middle of an impending war with Heaven and Zhu Irzh, in particular, finds his family in the middle of a coup. Things only get more awkward and hilarious from there.

The combination of Liz William’s humor and her takes on Chinese mythology, satire, and fantasy never fail to entertain me. I like that she’s placed Heaven in the role of the aggressor this time. Hell has always been accused of war mongering, and that’s because it’s Hell–war mongering is part of its charms. But seeing Heaven in that role puts certain things in a different perspective. Perhaps Heaven and Hell aren’t as different as Heaven likes to think…

Side note: I always thought Singapore Three was a franchise city, like there are at least 3 cities modeled after Singapore all over Asia (or the world?). But what if Singapore has been destroyed completely twice before and this is the third time it’s been rebuilt?

 

Currently reading:

The Birthgrave
Birthgrave (Birthgrave Trilogy #1) by Tanith Lee

I’m really enjoying this book so far, but if I had to describe it or explain why I like it to someone who hasn’t read Tanith Lee, I wouldn’t know what to say. The bare bones of the story is mythological. An unnamed woman wakes up inside a volcano with no memory. A malevolent spirit only she can see torments her with death. She has strange powers that only affect people who believe in her. Villagers think she’s a god, but outsiders who don’t believe in her sought to use her as leverage or for their own gain. She goes from one village or settlement to the next, but isn’t able to feel comfortable enough to stay anywhere for long. And every place she visits, death and destruction always follow when she leaves.

Without giving too much away, I can only say how it makes me feel. The writing is mostly introspective and has an eerie undertone, and the atmosphere is dreamy and fantastical. There’s also an cold sense of foreboding running through the story. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, but maybe that’s because I haven’t read much classic SF/F. Will have to dig out older SF/F for future reads.

Side not: I’m at 45% now and there’s still no explanation for the various depictions of naked women on the covers. The nameless goddess has never been without clothes. Sometimes she even wears a long veil that covers most of her clothed body, so I’m confused as to why she’s always naked in cover art.

 

Otherworldly news:

I’ve been following the Women’s World Cup, and it’s great to see how much attention these games are getting. Coverage this year is exceptional compared to previous years; almost every game is televised and almost every major news network is covering some portion of it every day, which is a huge improvement.

Things continue to heat up as we move to the the semi-finals. With the exception of Brazil going home early, there hasn’t that many surprising moments, but every game I’ve been able watch all the way through has been exciting. Almost makes me want to forget about the FIFA fiasco. Almost. How many days until the end of the Age of Blatter?

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2 thoughts on “Catching up on reviews, part 1

  1. thebookgator June 29, 2015 / 5:36 pm

    Excellent round-up. I’ve been considering the same idea. At the moment, I’m holding out for forcing myself to write reviews, because I’m a taskmaster that way.
    Thanks for alerting me to the Aaronovich short! I too have limited YA tolerance–glad Mad Scientist’s Daughter worked for you! Isn’t it odd how sometimes a book seems amazing at first finish, and then further reflection causes doubt? I think that happened to me with Richard Morgan. I still want to re-read Quantum. And Tanith Lee–the covers feel like leftovers from the 80s to me. I feel like all her covers I remember had a very sexualized angle. That plus super-ethereal setting and vague plotting turned me off. The volcano spirit sounds very interesting though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi June 30, 2015 / 10:07 am

      Totally understand about the taskmaster thing, plus the blog likes nicer when everything’s uniform. I’d like to go back to writing full reviews again, but summer keeps getting in the way. And compiling reviews this way frees me up to throw just about everything I’m currently reading and watching into the post. It’s chaotic at first, but once you find a format or look that works for you, typing out a post becomes a lot easier.

      Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon has been on my list for what seems like years, but for some reason I used to find it intimidating–must’ve been the hard sci-fi setting. But now that I’ve gotten through Quantum Thief, I’m up for a challenge. And your reviews of the rest of the trilogy make Altered look more enticing.

      As for the naked women on Tanith Lee’s book covers, instead of looking retro they just seem awkward and creepy and definitely not books I want to have around the house. But the naked women “artwork” must’ve been the way to get male SFF readers to pick up books written by female writers, or Lee specifically since her books were hard to categorize.

      [ETA] And industry people, being industry people, always have to use sex to sell things, hence the ridiculously naked covers.

      Like

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