Did Not Finish, Vol. 1

So after posting a string of 4- or 5-star rated books on here and my Goodreads, I feel a responsibility to be honest. It’s not normal for me to like everything I read; I’ve just gotten really good at picking books over the years, and I can kind of sense whether or not I would like a book prior to reading. But I still abandon books, not as often as before, but it still happens. Sometimes I abandon books based on what little I read of the sample chapters. It doesn’t take much for me to write off a book and not look back, although sometimes I put it aside and wait a couple of years before trying it again, but that’s rare.

Here are some of my DNFs over the years, in no particular order.

Invader by C.J. Cherryh, second book in the Foreigner series
Stopped at around 30%
I read the first book not too long ago and thought it was okay, if a bit tedious and boring, but since I like long series and politics in space, I decided to push on with the second book. People kept saying the series gets better later on. So yeah, why not? Turns out, they’re wrong. j/k. They’re only sort of wrong. The writing is still tedious and boring, but less so than the first book, and a lot of plot elements set up in the first book are brewing with the promise of real action, most likely to be continued in the third book. So I’m mildly interested.
Verdict: Will reread some other time when I’m older and hopefully more patient

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
DNF at sample chapter
You might remember this one as that popular book about a mysterious plane crash and its mysterious survivors being mysteriously connected somehow. Like Lost (the TV show), but with fewer interesting characters. The premise intrigued me, but the writing failed to capture my interest. Plus, it kind of comes off as an excuse for the author to vent his personal and political “feelings” for the “state of the world.” I didn’t read far enough to get a sense where he falls on the spectrum nor did I care. Politics in space? EXCITING. Politics here on earth? HARD PASS.
Verdict: Nah

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews, the third and last book in the Hidden Legacy series
DNF at page 2
While I like the Andrews’ writing for the most part, I have no love for this series. Kate Daniels will always be a favorite of mine. This series, however, will always be on my to-be-burned list. The first book is a billionaire romance disguised as comic-book urban fantasy and it was very nearly awful; the second book wasn’t as bad, but that’s in no way a compliment. The third book showed no improvement, but not a surprise. I only sampled the sample chapter to see if it was worth finishing the series–it’s not.
Verdict: Nope

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, first in series and the last I’ll ever read of it
DNF at sample chapter
I have read and DNF’d this author once before. I just completely forgot about it. The prototype for these books is basically why I have an I am too old for this shelf. What we have here is a young, “sassy,” “snarky,” “fiesty,” “strong,” “smart,” heroine with some athletic prowess and a talent for “assassination.” She somehow gets in trouble and is offered a chance to avoid a death sentence. Either be executed or be used by the kingdom for “assassination” purposes. She chooses life, obviously. Then she becomes an “assassin” who then falls for a boring pampered prince (aka her royal equivalent), and then she spends the rest of the series frolicking in the woods in between “assassinations.” Right? IDK. I’ve never been able to finish these books.
Verdict: Haha, of course not

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, second Memoir of Lady Trent
Not a DNF
This is a very good series, one that I have every intention of returning to soon, just have to find the time and mood for it. The first book was excellent (it’s a historical scientific study of dragons! In the wild!) and Lady Trent is a character I’m invested in, but I didn’t like how things ended for her or her husband, so I’m setting this book aside for now but not indefinitely.
Verdict: Will read when the mood strikes

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel, second in the Themis Files
DNF at sample chapter
There’s nothing wrong with this book except for the way in which it’s written. If you like epistolary and sci-fi, chances are you would enjoy these books more than I did. I kind of liked the first one actually and was interested in continuing the series, but I have no love for the epistolary style. Just thinking about it makes me set things on fire not want to read any further. It’s not the book, it’s me. Well, maybe it’s the book too, but it’s mostly me this time.
Verdict: Not for me

Changeless by Gail Carriger, second in the Parasol Protectorate series
Not a DNF
Like the Lady Trent series, I plan on returning to Alexa Tarabotti’s world some time in the near future because I had fun with the first book, but so far, I haven’t been in the mood for Victorian steampunk romance. And also, I’ve heard that, as much as Gail Carriger makes fun of and calls out Victorian norms and mores, she doesn’t quite do the same for England’s role in colonizing over half the world. So for now, and in the foreseeable future, I’m in no mood for favorable portrayals of colonialism in fiction, regardless of genre.
Verdict: Will read when the mood strikes

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik, the third in the Temeraire series
Not a DNF
This is another series that has a similar colonial problem. Told from the point of view of a high-ranking British officer, the writing paints a favorable picture of the British Empire. Believable and realistic because of the character telling the story, but not exactly a perspective I’m eager to return to or one that can keep me reading well into book #9. I don’t know what the series is like in later books; perhaps Captain Laurence grows and gains insight and takes an uncharacteristically un-British turn in his story. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway, and we do see a little bit of his character growth at the end of the second book. I’m hoping to see more of that as he and Temeraire continue their journey from China back to England.
Verdict: Will read when the mood strikes

Sword-Dancer by Jennifer Roberson, first in the Tiger and Del series
Stopped at chapter 5
If written from Del’s point of view, I would have been done with this book years ago and probably would have finished the series by now. But no, in between Del’s chapters, you get Tiger’s chapters and he is an irritating he-man sort of character who’s also kind of an ass, and I have no patience for that kind of nonsense, not in fiction or irl. Fortunately though, I hear he and the series get better in later books, which is good to hear and the reason I’m still trying to finish this book.
Verdict: Will finish… some day…

Stardust and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
DNF at sample chapters
No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get into Neil Gaiman’s writing as much as the rest of the world. So I’ve concluded it’s not from a lack of trying on my part since I have read 4 of his books (American Gods, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Good Omens). I just don’t like Gaiman’s writing as much as everyone else. To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what so many see in his books. I mean, they’re fine books. But that’s just it. They’re fine books. Yet so many people rave about them as though they’ve never read good contemporary fantasy. Maybe that’s just it. Many of them don’t read enough fantasy and Gaiman’s are the only genre books they read, which goes to explain all the ravings.
Verdict: Maybe some day, if either book is chosen for a book club

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Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: February 17 to 22, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I have never audiobook’d a whole series before, but I might have to for this one because Simon Vance is simply amazing. He should read all the books that way I could enjoy them all, even the ones I probably wouldn’t like–pretty sure he could make me like ’em. So 5 stars for him and 4 stars for the book itself because, honestly, I don’t know how far I’d get or how much I’d enjoy if I’d read these books on my own.

The writing is very descriptive, with long passages about early-19th Century culture and society of both Britain and China, and then there are more long passages about politics and intrigue. The previous book was mostly about Napoleon and his continued efforts to take over the rest of Europe; this book expands on that some more, but now there’s also China thrown into the mix as both Britain and France fight for the Celestial Emperor’s favor.

In middle of all of that, you have Temeraire and Laurence and their unbreakable bond. Or, well, what we thought was unbreakable. It was revealed at the end of the first book that Temeraire is a Celestial, the most prized breed of Chinese dragons, and here we learn that Celestials are companions only to Emperors and crown princes. Laurence is most definitely not royalty–he’s barely nobility–and so the Chinese disapprove of his bond with Temeraire, and they would very much like their dragon back. The British aren’t willing to comply with the request, but they see it as an opportunity to gain an alliance with the Emperor–and to one-up the French–and so they ship Temeraire, Laurence, and the rest of their crew halfway around the world.

Peking and Macao of the early-19th Century are a sight to behold for the British envoy and a whole new world full of wonder, for Temeraire especially who’s eager to learn of his birth country and discover his roots. The lives of dragons of the East are fascinating to him, and the more he learns about them, the more he’s pulled away from Laurence. Laurence, too, is fascinated by the treatment of dragons in Peking, and not just of the Imperials and Celestials, but of the smaller and less important breeds too. He’s surprised that they all can live among people so peacefully, and thus comes to understand why Temeraire is so taken in by what he sees. At the end of this book, Temeraire and Laurence are still in China.

I’m most impressed by how Naomi Novik inserted dragons into actual history, and with just a little adjustment, she’s inserted dragons into the tides of Chinese politics that will forever change the landscape of China for centuries to come. Colonialism is on its way, gradually at first but it’s coming nonetheless. I can’t help feeling a sense of dread, knowing what’s coming in just a few years, but since this story is told from the British perspective, there’s a sense of accomplishment and celebration in the writing, especially near the end, when the British envoy have permanently established themselves in China to open up more trading opportunities.

It will be interesting to see how much Novik sticks to or deviates from history in later books. I looked ahead and see some hints of Temeraire and Laurence traveling the Silk Road, visiting the Ottoman Empire, and making a stop in Russia. Lots to look forward to, and I can’t wait.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

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