Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eye on New Releases for 10/21/2014


In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember. 

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara’s home. And only a winter child—and the ice dragon who loved her—could save her world from utter destruction.

Hm, I don't remember this story being set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Sounds more like whoever wrote the blurb hadn't read either work so they just assumed they were set in the same world because they both have dragons.  .  

Review: more mini-reviews

If you're not already reading the Dagger and the Coin series, I can't help you.  It's not Abraham's best series, but it's very good and enjoyable.  Definitely a must for all fans of epic fantasy.  One of the things I liked about the fourth book was how the re-appearance of a dragon did not become the "deux ex machina" plot device it could have been.  Abraham's ability to play on the tropes of the genre is one of the things I like about these books.

Rating: 8/10.

Full Fathom Five is the third book in the loosely connected Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone.  One of the really interesting things about these books is how closely interconnected gods and mages are their world.  Gladstone does this by using a very legalistic component in his books so that there are lawyers, contracts, courtroom drama, etc.  This gives the books a very unique feel in a genre that sometimes feels stagnant.

This particular book features people who create idols for foreign businesses on an island much like Hawaii.

Rating: 8/10. 

This is my second book by K.V. Johansen.  The first was 2011's Blackdog, and while the world was interesting, the story felt too long and drawn out for the plot.  The Leopard is an improvement, featuring some characters from Blackdog as well as new ones.  The writing feels stronger and never gets bogged.  The two books written so far have a very mythic feel to them with gods, demons, sorcerers, curses, and quests.

Rating: 8/10.

After the disappointment that was last year's Dangerous Women, Rogues was quite a relief.  It is clearly a much stronger anthology than the other.  Most of the stories are quite strong and entertaining.  Even the authors I don't generally read or like managed to write decent stories.  This anthology may not be quite as impressive as Warriors, but it's certainly worth a look.

Rating: 8/10.

This is another sequel and third book for a series that doesn't seem to have a name, I think.  This loose series is very much on the science fantasy scale, like the Clarke quote, where any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  In this future, matter and information are interchangeable and virtually indistinguishable.  

This third outing was not quite as enjoyable as the first book, but I liked it a lot.  Rajaniemi is an author to watch.

Rating: 7.5/10. 

I've seen this one called a "side-quel" to Blindsight, which doesn't make much sense to me.  What I think is more accurate, it that it's a companion piece to the 2006 book about sentience and intelligence.  This tackles some of the same ideas, but in a different way that is kind of hard to describe.  In the appendix to this book, the author suggests, "faith-based hard sci-fi", which is certainly interesting.  I didn't enjoy Echopraxia quite as much Blindsight, but then a lot of ideas in this one were over my head.  The two books together are certainly full of fascinating ideas and just beg for multiple re-reads.

Rating: 8.5/10.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: A Taste fur Murder

A Taste fur Murder
by Dixie Lyle

Format: Mass Market Paperback, 330 pages
Cover Art: Mary Ann Lasher
Release Date: February 25, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1250031075

Meet Deirdre “Foxtrot” Lancaster. Trusted employee of eccentric zillionairess Zelda Zoransky, Foxtrot manages a mansion, a private zoo, and anything else that strikes her boss’s fancy. Her job title is Administrative Assistant, but chaos handler would be more accurate. Especially after she glimpses a giant ghost-beast in Zelda’s pet cemetery. For some strange reason, Foxtrot is seeing animal spirits. And, ready or not, in this mystery from Dixie Lyle, the fur’s about to hit the fan…

Still reeling, Foxtrot comes home to find her cat Tango—her dead cat Tango—alive and well and communicating telepathically. But that’s not all: There’s an ectoplasmic dog named Tiny who changes breeds with a shake of his tail…and can sniff out a clue like nobody’s business. So when a coworker drops dead while organizing closets, Tiny is on the case. Can Foxtrot and her new companions ferret out the killer among a menagerie of suspects—human and otherwise—before death takes another bite?

As you can tell from the blurb, A Taste fur Murder is not a typical mystery cozy.  It does seem to be following a trend lately in mainstream mystery and fiction to add a more fantastical element to the story.  In fact, this book might almost have too much supernatural stuff in it as the reincarnated cat and the doggy ghost are hardly the only bits.  It certainly does feel like Foxtrots character and the readers both get thrown in the deep end. 

One of the best elements of the book is the humor, which reading the biography, the author seems to have in spades.  There is a good deal of humorous interaction between the main character and her animal companions.  Foxtrot’s interactions and dialogue with the other humans in the story is also good and well done, though some characters are hardly used at all so few really stand out. 

Where this novel really fails though is in plotting.  There are a couple of big plot holes that are fairly obvious.  Also, many of the logical arguments used in the book are so daft they wouldn’t fool a ten-year-old child.  This means that the main character makes some really stupid decisions that could be solved by just an ounce of common sense.

So, this book may be a mildly diverting read for the casual reader, or someone looking for something a little different with a bit of humor.  However, more discerning readers may want to look elsewhere. 

Rating: 6.5/10.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

Were the Dark Ages truly the lost centuries they are so often portrayed as? How could a world so profoundly shaped by Rome and encompassing such remarkable societies as the Byzantine, Carolingian, and Ottonian empires be anything other than central to the development of Europe? In the Inheritance of Rome, award-winning historian Chris Wickham defies the conventional view of the centuries between AD 400 and 1000 with a work of remarkable scope and rigorous yet accessible scholarship.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword
by Ann Leckie

Format: Paperback, 354 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Cover Design: John Harris
Release Date: October 7, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0316246651

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would a agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

The sequel to the multiple award-winning Ancillary Justice is a smaller story with a simpler, more straightforward plot, but it’s no less enjoyable for that.  The much-remarked upon use of gender pronouns in the first book is of course still used in this book, but it was either more toned or perhaps I was used to it this time so I hardly noticed it.  The “villain” that was revealed in the first book is also much less present in this book, as is the whole bit about distributed consciousness. 

So what is this book about?  It has much less space opera and is much more about politics and social divisions.  When Breq arrives at Athoek Station, she has a dramatic effect on the political balance of power, both on the station and on the planet the station orbits.  There is a good deal of examination of conquest, colonization, and militarization, and the consequences thereof. 

I didn't mind the differences in Ancillary Sword and really enjoyed the book.  I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series.  Strongly recommended.

Rating: 8/10.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: some more mini-reviews

This book tells the story of a young man who searches for his lover in a shadowy world of magic.  Along the way he encounters two mysterious women seeking to help their mentor, a once-powerful wizard, from losing his magic to a treacherous enemy.  It's a lyrical quest story much like the author's seminal work, The Last Unicorn.  I probably liked The Last Unicorn more, but then it's considered a classic for a reason and this book is certainly worth reading.

Rating: 8/10.

Return is a limited edition novella set in the same world as The Innkeeper's Song and follows one of that book's characters in a side story.  If you enjoyed The Innkeeper's Song, you should enjoy this too.

Rating: 8/10. 

A decent, but somewhat forgettable story about Christmas.  Given Pratchett's satirical abilities, I expected a little bit more out of this book.  On the other hand, it's Discworld so it's still a good read. 

Rating: 7/10. 

Kraken Bake is the sequel to Karen Dudley's first novel, Food for the Gods.  I really enjoyed the first book, a blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery, about young chef in ancient Athens.  I didn't like this one quite as much.  Partially because Dudley seemed to drop the mystery angle and also because the main character acted like an ass with too much forced drama.  I still eagerly look forward to the next book. 

Rating: 7/10.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Eye on New Releases for 10/7/14

Before being sewn-together, Heraclix was dead—merely a pile of mismatched pieces, collected from the corpses of many troubled men. And Pomp was immortal—at least, so she thought. That was before her impossible near-murder at the hands of the necromancer, Heraclix's creator. But when playing God, even the smallest error is a gargantuan weakness. When the necromancer makes his, Heraclix and Pomp begin their epic flight.

As they travel from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul and, even, to Hell itself, they struggle to understand who and what they are: who was Heraclix before his death and rebirth? What is mortality, and why does it suddenly concern Pomp? As they journey through an unruly eighteenth century, they discover that the necromancer they thought dead might not be quite so after all. In fact, he may have sealed his immortality at the expense of everyone alive . . .

 (B&N, Amazon)
Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would a agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

 (B&N, Amazon)
Award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan has invited some of the best and most exciting writers working in fantasy today to let their imaginations run wild and to deliver stories that will thrill and awe, delight and amuse. And above all, stories that are filled with fearsome magic! Authors include Garth Nix, K.J. Parker, Justina Robson, Ellen Klages, Christopher Rowe, Isobelle Carmody, Tony Ballantyne, James Bradley, Karin Tidbeck, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Frances Hardinger, Kaaron Warren, Genevieve Valentine and Robert Shearman.

 (B&N, Amazon)
The mantis cyborgs: insectlike, cruel, and determined to wipe humanity from the face of the galaxy.

The Fleet is humanity’s last chance: a multi-world, multi-national task force assembled to hold the line against the aliens’ overwhelming technology and firepower. Enter Harrison Barlow, who like so many young men of wars past, simply wants to serve his people and partake of the grand adventure of military life. Only, Harrison is not a hot pilot, nor a crack shot with a rifle. What good is a Chaplain’s Assistant in the interstellar battles which will decide the fate of all?

More than he thinks. Because while the mantis insectoids are determined to eliminate the human threat to mantis supremacy, they remember the errors of their past. Is there the slightest chance that humans might have value? Especially since humans seem to have the one thing the mantes explicitly do not: an innate ability to believe in what cannot be proven nor seen God. Captured and stranded behind enemy lines, Barlow must come to grips with the fact that he is not only bargaining for his own life, but the lives of everyone he knows and loves. And so he embarks upon an improbable gambit, determined to alter the course of the entire war.