i may be a bad person… i’ve chatted with some people who love Butcher’s Codex Alera series. i powered through the first 1/3 of the first book (“Furies of Calderon”) before i threw in the towel. Really i think it’s just the tempo and style of the writing that throws me.
i am NOT saying this is a bad book by any stretch, just that it’s not a book for me personally. Butcher did some really cool things with the elemental forces of the world, bonding them with users who could then harness that power in a sort of partnership. That hooked me early on, but i managed to spit the hook right out.
Book Club of One grade: N/A. On Butcher’s series don’t ask me. Find a reviewer who finished at least the first book and see what they though. Buuuut, for me it’s a solid pass.
Brief review inbound:
The first book of the Farseer trilogy was soundly in the OK territory for me. If i had more time to devote to reading i may continue into the other books, but for now i’ll let the first stand for my dip into this entry on the list of NPR’s Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy books.
The first quarter of the book was difficult for me to get through. It felt flowery and over written. The middle of the book settled into a pace that was much more agreeable. The last quarter of the book was pretty dang good. All the parts combined are what make the book OK for me instead of garnering a higher personal rating.
Hobb does an amazing job building political intrigue, and “The Wit” and “The Skill” are both very interesting takes on magic/telepathy. She builds a world that’s rich with history and social structure which is nice. My biggest obstacle was honestly just the style the book is written in.
Book Club of One Grade: C. It’s a solid one though. If you have a taste for purple prose you can’t go wrong with Hobb (that’s honestly NOT a stab at all, that’s a genuine statement from me). One day, when i’m semi-retired maybe, i might return to these books to see how everything plays out. Between the magicy-mental powers and people getting “forged” (you’ll have to read the book for an explanation on what that means) the concepts are really really good.
This series is much-loved by many, making several “top” lists. Maybe it just didn’t click with me…
The opener to Feist’s Riftwar series was a bit of a chore for me to power through. There were some moments, especially early on in the book, that gave me hope that things were going to gel between myself and the book… but it never came to fruition.
i felt like most of the characters were flat, filling archetype roles and not much else for me. The pacing seemed to drag on. It was a book filled with so many of the standard fantasy tropes that i just never really could engage with the story-line. \
The Tsurani were interesting, i wouldn’t mind to learn more about their culture and their war-like motivations, i’m just not sure i’m willing to read through two more books to get that information.
Magician isn’t a bad book at all (i know i’ve painted that picture of it). It’s just not as good as some of the other reads from NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels of all time. It’s also not the worst i’ve read from the list so far (looking at you Sunshine!). All-in-all the best descriptor i have for it is “Meh”. i can see where someone could really fall in love with this world and the story, that someone just isn’t me.
Book Club of One grade: C-. If you really love the standard fantasy tropes grab a copy of this book. If you’re looking for something more in your fantasy reads, maybe look elsewhere. (The Way of Kings would be my most recent read i’d suggest.)
The Crystal Cave follows the development of Merlin from the Arthurian mythos before he was THE MERLIN we all have ingrained into our imaginations. It follows his growth from a child into a young man.
The story has some twists and turns along the way, with Merlin fleeing multiple times for his life, establishing himself a few times by the cleverness of his mind and wraps up with him manipulating Uthur into treachery that will ultimately lead to the birth of Arthur, an event that Merlin has foreseen.
The book was well written and the characters compelling. It’s interesting how Stewart weaves fantasy with history in this book.
Book Club of One score: B-. It’s a solid book, actually one of my most enjoyable “Arthur books” (The Once and Future King being my all-time favorite of the genre). i found out that it’s part of a series, a series that i could one day see myself returning to. i think overall i enjoyed Stewart’s writing more than the content of the book. Her writing has a nice tempo and is nuanced and interesting to me. If you love Arthurian stuff and want some “prequel” action this could be your best bet!
Old Man’s War is a seriously fun ride from start to finish.
It’s got some graphic violence, some thoughtful dialogue, heartfelt moments, irreverent moments, cool sci-fi tech, and low-fi likable characters.
The book follow the adventures of John Perry a 75 year old starting his career in the Colonial Defense Force as an infantryman. While set in the future humans haven’t achieved any extended longevity, so a 75 year old military recruit has the potential for some real entertainment value. What has the potential for even MORE entertainment value? A whole army of 75 year old military recruits! Ships and ships full of them!
Spoiler: they all get new, heavily modified and augmented, bodies. Scalazi does an interesting job digging into the what-ifs of 75 year old minds in super-human 20-something year old bodies. Perry’s brief moment with his old body (while in his new body) had me a lil’ misty!
While keeping a brisk pace that makes this book what i consider an “easy-read” Scalazi touches on themes like: Consciousness and identity, and the morality of war… you know the light fluffy stuff.
Book Club of One grade: A. Fun & Fast but with some meat on the bones here and there. Old Man’s War would make a great read to pack for a trip! If you want a the literary equivalent to a sci-fi Die Hard pick this book up! i liked Old Man’s War so much that when i found out it was a series i got genuinely excited! i fully plan to dip back into this world!
Anathem is a meaty sci-fi romp through a number of philosophical thought experiments. When i use the term “meaty” here i mean meaty like a primal cut of beef brisket: It’s large (this is quite a read), and dense (i’d guess close to 50% of the word-count of Anathem is dedicated to philosophical debates).
The Title “Anathem” is a mashing together of Anathema and Anthem and refers to a sort of ceremony of disgrace that takes place during the story.
Stephenson does a good job using a sci-fi setting that’s not Earth to make some great observations about life on Earth as we know it. Two of my favorite of these observations were the “Jeejaw” and “Slines”.
Jeejaws are the cell-phones of Stephenson’s world. The world is seperated into Avout and Saeculars. Avout are those pledged to a monastic tradition and committed to a minimalist lifestyle, most of the main characters are Avout. Saeculars represent basically everyone else in the world. The Avout live without Jeejaws and they find them to be intrusive and great distractions when they move out and interact with the Saecular world. It was just another nudge to help me see the intrusive impact my own cell-phone has made in my life.
Slines: Slines represent a sort of popular culture consumer in the Saecular world. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider to those enamored with popular culture you’ll likely find in the Slines a familiar sort of occurrence…
The story-line is pretty sweeping overall (but the book is certainly long enough to contain such an ambitious plot). You’ll travel from simple monastery life, through Anathem’s world-at-large, and eventually wind up in space with pan-dimensional beings… Things wrap up with a very jarring, and intriguing, exploration into the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, with an interesting twist asking, “what if the many worlds have some sort of effect on each other?”.
Book Club of One grade: B+ Worth the read. Anathem is not light reading and sometimes it felt like the story-line was moving in fits and starts, you may spend many pages on a dinner chat then in two pages find yourself across a continent or into space itself. Overall the concepts it lays out, the social insights, and the refreshing story-line make it a fine piece of Sci-Fi.
The sweet sweet taste of speculative science fiction!
Let me open by saying there’s quite a bit i really liked about this book… and not a lot that i disliked (got ya!)
It really was a refreshing read for me: A Strange cylindrical object hurtles through our solar system. The closest space-ship makes an unplanned run for the object to see what it is and finds out it’s an alien spacecraft (cue orchestra hits here).
One of the things i most liked about Rendezvous with Rama was that it doesn’t spoon feed the reader explanations for everything the explorers find on the vessel. It’s packed with mystery the way raisin bran isn’t packed with raisins. When i finished the last page of the book it left me wondering what certain areas in the giant ship were really for, about the ecology of the place, about… well, about so very much!
i know that there is a whole series of Rama books that Clarke penned, and honestly i’m torn. Part of me wants to read them, i want to dig deeper into the mystery that is Rama with him. Yet, i also want to keep the curiosity alive and not plug it with explanations.
To pass judgement: Book Club of One grade: A. It’s fun, it’s thrilling and tense without dipping into horror. Rendezvous with Rama is a near perfect read for a long trip, by car, plane, or space craft!
The tale of a post-WWII nurse who finds herself 200+ years back in time! Scottish highland shenanigans and political intrigue abound! Oh… and it’s a romance novel…
It’s my first dip into a real “romance novel”. Granted, i’ve read lots of books where romantic interests were front and center, even some books that if made into a movie would certainly fall into the category of “Chick-Flick” (spoiler: i LOVE a good chick flick! haha). “Real” romance novels use a lot of words like “Slippery”, and “Swollen”, and “Thrust”… There’s also the phrase, “He sheathed himself all the way to the base…” (that’s in there… double entendre intended)
Pardon me while i fan myself off! This is sexy stuff!
Also… it was super distracting for me. i’m all for healthy sexuality, heck i really enjoy healthy sexuality! But the constant jumps to sexy-time with steamy (granted creative) descriptors was just too much for me. Let me explain by not talking about The Sex: Epic battles are AMAZING, but if a novel spends too much time describing every sword-stroke and wound inflicted in flowery and creative language it eventually (by which i mean quickly) becomes a distraction to the story-line.
Outlander was pretty well written overall (even the gratuitous sexual encounters were written with some real skill). i really wanted to like Outlander. Characters with complex personal and political motivations. Strong(ish) female lead. Scotsmen!!! But alas it still never managed to grab me. Jamie felt like a perfect hero up until the end of the book. Claire was an engaging heroine, complex in her actions and reactions, but close to the end of the book she pulls a stint as a seer-level insightful immersive psychologist… that really killed it for me. There were hints at some cool fantasy elements that never really seemed to develop: a scene with a witch where something engaged with the lead character and a cameo by Nessie, but neither went anywhere and could have been removed without affecting the plot…
Outlander was also plagued by a villain with thin motivations. There was nothing likable about Captain Randall… An enemy with nothing likable is just not very engaging to me (even Satan himself knows how to party!).
After reading the first book i think i’m done with the series. If you want to read something that throbs, thrusts and swells but don’t want to check your brain at the door you can’t go wrong with Outlander… But if you’re looking for time travel fantasy that features a strong female lead go with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
Book Club of One grade: C-, see above if you’re wondering if you should read this. Written with skill but not my cup of steamy, sweaty, throbbing tea.
My year of reading in 2017 was (like most of my goals for 2018) a tad lack-luster… Normally i read 50+ books in a calendar year. 2017 i consumed a grand total of 32 books… i did spend quite a bit of reading time consuming RPG related materials, which i didn’t really add to my consumption totals.
Pity-party behind us, let’s look at my top 5 reads in 2017 (in no particular order, except for my #1 pick)
Small Gods -Terry Pratchett
Wasn’t a huge Pratchett fan before reading this gem. If you want to know more about Small Gods you can see my Book Club of One review here: Small Gods: Book Club of One Review
A History of the World in Six Glasses – Tom Standage
A walk through human civilization breaking it all down in eras of imbibement! Chock full of great information. It is a little sad that our era is best described as the Coka Cola era… Other eras being marked by beer, or wine, or whiskey…
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
i read The Handmaid’s Tale way back when i was in High School and it was a jarring powerful book that stuck with me! My re-read was possibly even more jarring! So well written, a powerful message, and possibly even more timely now than when i first read it.
Frankenstein -Mary Shelley
So, i’d never read this rock solid classic until this year. What a book! Nothing at all like the portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster that Hollywood has given us for decades now. Read this classic gem!
My #1 pick for 2017: The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
i can’t think of any book that i’ve read recently that has challenged the way i view things more than The Hidden Life of Trees. Skillfully written, engaging, and packed with thought-provoking ideas. Read this book and never look at a tree the same again!
Well, there you go. My favorite reads from 2017 just in case you’re looking for something to feed your head, and your mind, and your brain (the holy triumvirate given to us by the great musician and philosopher Dewey Finn) maybe one of these will fit the bill!
Disclosure: i’ve read the first three books in the series. In a series that currently sits at 41 books (with two more waiting in the wings for release) i felt like reading the whole series would be an undertaking in itself. An undertaking on par with the NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books (the herculean task the Book Club of One is currently doing!).
Here’s what i think you should know about the Xanth books:
There’s going to be more puns than a dad-joke competition. i LOVE a pun so i was the proverbial pig in slop! Some folks get weary of puns after a while, those folks are to be avoided… and if you’re one of those folks it may be best to avoid Xanth.
Xanth books are overall FUN. They’re light and goofy and tons of fun. Don’t think you’re picking up high fantasy or you’re going to be disappointed.
They are about the pay-off at the end. Every one i’ve read has a sweet (and worthy) pay-off in it’s final pages. (the second one, “The Source of Magic” has a very cool pay-off indeed!)
If you’re looking for something to pick you up and have a hankering for wacky fantasy then Jump into the expansive pool that Piers Anthony has created and swim around in his world of Xanth.
Book Club of One Grade: Solid B! The books are light and fun and tend to be a pretty quick read. Brace yourself for word-play and embrace the wonder of Xanth!