Worlds Apart

August 7, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

apartWorlds Apart by James Riley

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With Worlds Apart, Riley brings his Story Thieves series to an end. As expected, he takes the threads from the previous books and winds them back together into a single strand. Most of the characters from the previous books find their way into the story, and they interact in ways both expected and not. The book feels familiar in style and tone, but it isn’t as compelling as the other books, which surprises me, since this is the culmination of the series, and the stakes are high.

At the end of Pick the Plot, the fictional and nonfictional worlds had been separated, and Worlds Apart shows what happens when they no longer interact. In the nonfictional world, imagination is stifled, and people are boring. When Owen finds himself drawn back into fictional events, everything starts to come together as he risks everything — quite literally — to defeat Nobody and rejoin the two worlds.

The book brings the series to a satisfying close, but it wasn’t the BOO-YAH ending I expected. It didn’t help that Pick the Plot was creative and exciting, both in structure and story, and Worlds Apart seemed to plod along in parts. I found myself having to force myself to return to the book, when the previous book had been one I hadn’t been able to put down.

Obviously, anyone who’s come this far with the series will want to see how it concludes, and I can’t say that I didn’t like the book, but it wasn’t as fun as the previous books in the series. I’d still recommend the series to younger readers, and to older readers who enjoy the cleverness of books like the Thursday Next series. It falters a bit near the end (which is exacerbated by the Return of the King syndrome, where we get two endings too many), but the rest of the journey is a lot of fun, and it would be a shame to pass up the whole thing for that reason alone.

Started: July 17, 2018
Finished: July 25, 2018

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Pick the Plot

August 1, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

plotPick the Plot by James Riley

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The whole Story Thieves series has been pretty clever so far, but Riley raises that cleverness a notch by turning the fourth novel into a choose-your-own-adventure story. Since the series frequently breaks the fourth wall for Owen and Bethany’s adventures, Riley brings the reader in as an important character in the story, which makes sense, since most of the CYOA books were written in the second person. Pick the Plot, though, is not.

This time around, Owen is trapped in a time prison back in prehistoric times, and the prison is set up so that it resets at the end of each day, putting the prisoners back on their first day there, with no memories of what happened in the previous day. Since the story sometimes sends the readers back to the beginning of the story to pick the next choice in a situation, the conceit works well, even if it means the story is pretty much on rails. As I was reading, I cheated with some choices so I could make sure I read the whole book, but it turns out that Riley will still steer you in the direction he wants you to go. There is a divergence in the story that alters part of the plot, but it reconnects with the ending so there’s still only one complete plot. For a book in a series, though, this is to be expected; if there were different endings, it would affect the next book.

Speaking of which, it looks like Story Thieves is coming to an end with the next book. While I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories set in this universe, I’m glad that Riley is working toward a known ending, instead of carrying the series out through too many books. It’s been a fun ride, thanks in part to how clever it’s been, but it feels like it will be going out on a good note. I’ll be starting the final book immediately after this one, so I’ll let y’all know.

Started: July 15, 2018
Finished: July 17, 2018

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Messenger’s Legacy

July 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

legacyMessenger’s Legacy by Peter V. Brett

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Right as I was starting to read The Core, I discovered that Brett had another novella that fell between books three and four of his Demon Cycle. Since I was finishing out the series, I figured I needed to read it, too, but since I had already started The Core, I decided to wait to read this one. That was both a good idea and a bad idea.

It was a good idea, because I didn’t remember Briar from the previous books, and The Core helped jog my memory and let me know who he was. It was a bad idea, though, because by the time I finished this book, I knew what had happened to him when he was younger, albeit just in the broad sense. Messenger’s Legacy feels superfluous afterward, since all it does is flesh out the details. Had I read the book in its right place, it might have had a different effect on me, and it’s certainly not fair to judge the novella on my own failure to stick to the timeline, but it definitely makes a difference.

I don’t think the book is necessary to read if you’ve already finished the series, but if you’re reading the series fresh, make sure you drop this volume into its right place. It will be new to you there, and will set the ground for the character when he enters the story as a key player. Not having read it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of The Core, but it would have made a difference had I read it in its proper place in the chronology.

Started: July 14, 2018
Finished: July 14, 2018

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The Core

July 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

coreThe Core by Peter V. Brett

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It’s weird to think I’ve only been reading The Demon Cycle since 2013. It feels like it’s only been three years, tops, but by the time I got into it, The Daylight War had only just come out in paperback, and I had to wait for the last two books to come out along with everyone else. I hate waiting, but I also hate losing track of details from one book to the next.

The good news is that Brett does such an extraordinary job of building his world that it only took about 100 pages to be completely familiar with what had come before. Characters came back to me quickly, and as they did, so did their stories. The biggest struggle I had was remembering which events went with which book, but that didn’t affect the story, since that wasn’t relevant to the plot itself.

The book seems to polarize people, namely in how Brett brings the series to a close. More to the point, it’s in how long it takes to get there. Brett populated his saga with a ton of characters (not GRRM levels, but still one that might require a spreadsheet), and it seems like he was wanting to make sure each one got their own conclusion, so it takes well over half the book to get to the journey to the final confrontation, and then well over three quarters (maybe even seven-eighths) of the book to get to that confrontation. It then takes almost no time to get through it, which surprises me, for all the build-up Brett put into that moment.

So I’m at odds with the book, because it’s well written, strongly compelling, and vivid, but at the same time it’s a little rambling, and doesn’t bring a level of epic heroism to the conclusion that I expected after all this time. The series has such a strong start, and even as the story loses its focus in the last two books, it’s still readable. I mean, this is the longest book I’ve read this year, and it only took me two weeks to finish it. I feel like this is a three-star book, tops, but for all that Brett brought to the entire series, and how well he built this world, I’ll bump it up to four.

Started: July 1, 2018
Finished: July 14, 2018

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Beneath the Sugar Sky

July 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

sugarBeneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

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The Wayward Children┬áseries is everything a good fantasy should be. It has interesting characters, all of whom could play the lead role in their own story, and all of whom play an important role in the mysteries that are unique to their home. As much as I loved the conceit of Every Heart a Doorway, though, I wasn’t thrilled with the story. McGuire won me over with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, so of course I was going to read Beneath the Sugar Sky. In the end, though, I didn’t like the story as much, even though it worked perfectly well.

McGuire takes the characters she created in her first book and writes an adventure story that uses all of their different skills, but it doesn’t have the kind of impact Jack and Jill’s story did. I think it’s because the story of Sticks was personal, while the other two books are more ensemble stories, so we don’t get to stay focused on any one character. What characters are here are sympathetic, and we get a good sense of their motivations, but I’d prefer to read Cora’s story instead of going on an adventure to help Rini (who, to be honest, was a bit of a prima donna).

Like the other books in the series, Sugar has great characters, diverse characters, great ideas, great themes, and a strong narrative. I just wish it had been another standalone story instead of a group adventure. I feel like McGuire created her cast of characters in the first book, and now it’s time for us to read their individual stories. Of course, without an ensemble book every so often, we’d run out of characters, so I can’t complain too much.

Started: June 20, 2018
Finished: June 21, 2018

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Spiderlight

July 10, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

spiderSpiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This is one of those books where I wish I had live-Tweeted my reading experience, since when I started, I wasn’t impressed. At all. Admittedly, Children of Time had set me up with high expectations, but I wasn’t expecting a story that started off sounding like someone’s last D&D adventure, complete with rogue, mage, barbarian, thief, wizard, and prophecized quest. It felt so derivative and so common that I started wondering if Time had been a fluke. In my notes, I wrote, “it’s fantasy, it’s a quest, it’s irreverent … and it’s frankly not as engaging”.

Fortunately, that was just the first chapter.

The second chapter started out with an effective, evocative piece of horror, which brought my attention back. I hung on a bit longer, the story started to develop, I started to get a hint of something larger than the story, and then I realized exactly what Tchaikovsky was doing. He was taking all the standard tropes of fantasy fiction and subverting them. Completely. He makes the reader question the motives of any character in fantasy, and forces them to look at events from another perspective.

He also imbues his story with a sense of humor that borders on irreverence. It helps to get a better feel for the story when the powerful wizard just wants to set everything on fire, or when the thief can’t help needling the barbarian. Tchaikovsky also adds heavier themes to his story, like the rogue having to constantly deflect the barbarian’s advances because, after one tryst, he thinks she belongs to him. That helps us remember that this is still a serious story with important things to say. And then he adds his own commentary on the genre itself that makes us question what we’ve taken for granted:

… he was thinking about all those powerful men and women … sitting on their hands for decades, knowing that [evil] was out there, and defeatable, but feeling no particular inclination to go do it, because they knew that someone else would eventually take up the slack. Which is exactly the problem with prophecies.

It makes you look at your favorite epic fantasy series a bit differently, huh?

The story is compelling, the themes are thoughtful, and the characters are vivid and likable. And the ending … well. I’m not spoiling a thing, but there’s nothing disappointing about it. My concerns at the beginning were unfounded, and after reading Children of Time, I shouldn’t have doubted Tchaikovsky. Spiderlight is fantastic.

Started: May 29, 2018
Finished: June 13, 2018

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My Soul to Take

June 12, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

takeMy Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

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It’s been a long haul to get through this series. I’ve liked it, but when each book is 400+ pages, with tiny type, and limited time to read, it makes for a long reading project. I started the first book at the end of January, and finished the last one days away from May. It also didn’t help that I had to include Joplin’s Ghost, which was another hefty book.

Speaking of Joplin’s Ghost, the reason I read it was because the main character of that book, Phoenix, is a central character in My Soul to Take, but I couldn’t really see why. Her character plays a role in Fana’s story, but I couldn’t see why it had to be Phoenix, as opposed to another character, even one that had already been introduced. My guess is Due included her so readers would feel compelled to read her other book, like I did. As good as it was, I appreciate it, but it also aggravates me.

By now, so much has happened to change the core immortals from My Soul to Keep that it seems like they’re all playing fast and loose with that immortality. It seems like everyone’s getting immortal now, which makes the whole premise less special. Granted, the story has shifted away from the immortals to Fana and Michel, who are now basically gods, and how they view the rest of the world. The way the book ends means that Due could return to this series again, but I hope she doesn’t. I think the more time she spends with the story, the more convoluted parts of the story become.

I know it sounds like I didn’t like the book or the series, but I did. Due is a talented writer, and I like how she develops her characters, but three months with one series is a long time, and it might have bred some contempt on my part. I would recommend it to readers of modern fantasy and horror, but maybe they should parse the series out over time to avoid burning out on it.

Started: April 14, 2018
Finished: April 28, 2018

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Bigfoot and the Bodhisattva

June 4, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bigfootBigfoot and the Bodhisattva by James Morrow

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I go into some of Morrow’s works knowing I’m not going to get all of it, but most of this short story (novella?) went over my head. The story is pretty much what you would expect based on the title — Bigfoot decides to find more meaning in his life by pursuing Buddhism. His friend the Dalai Lama gives him certain tasks to complete to raise his consciousness, but he’s still Bigfoot, so that goes about as well as one would expect.

The story has the sense of humor, depth, and wisdom one would expect if you’re already familiar with Morrow’s work. I just don’t have much interest in Buddhism for it to keep my interest, and I found myself glazing over long portions of the story. Maybe that’s Morrow’s point, that Buddhism won’t work for people who don’t accept it, but it felt like a much longer work than it was (43 pages) because I kept checking out.

This might be best read by people who have an understanding of Buddhism, as they may better appreciate the disconnect between the meditative practices and a Bigfoot attempting to follow them. Me, I was looking for something closer to Shambling Towards Hiroshima or The Madonna and the Starship, where I better understood the satire because I understood the real world events that carried the satire.

Started: April 15, 2018
Finished: April 16, 2018

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Joplin’s Ghost

May 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

joplinJoplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due

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I’ve enjoyed Due’s novels so far, but I wasn’t expecting to read Joplin’s Ghost so soon. I’ve been working my way through her African Immortals series, but when I started the fourth book, it felt like the characters in the beginning were supposed to be familiar, even though I hadn’t met them before. Then, near the end of the prologue, there was a mention of Scott Joplin, and I realized that Due was pulling two of her stories together for this book. Since I like reading these things in order, I figured I needed to set My Soul to Take aside and read Joplin’s Ghost to get caught up.

The story is about Phoenix Smalls, a singer who’s on the brink of superstardom when she starts having visions of Scott Joplin, the early 20th Century ragtime composer. It’s no spoiler to note that she’s being haunted by Joplin’s ghost, but how Due handles the haunting is pretty brilliant. The story shifts back and forth from modern times to Joplin’s day, telling both their stories. There’s a parallel between their lives that drives the haunting, but Due makes that parallel thematic as she examines how creators balance their desire to make art with their need to make money.

I prefer Joplin’s story to Phoenix’s, namely because Due includes a gangsta rap subplot in the modern day that doesn’t do much for me. The story does better when it focuses on the two of them, and while the subplot plays an important role in Phoenix’s story, it feels a little cliched and stereotypical. Due has shown over multiple novels that she eschews cliches and stereotypes, so it felt strange seeing them in this book.

I’ve enjoyed Due’s African Immortals series, but I really enjoyed Joplin’s Ghost. She notes in her afterword that she did a lot of research into Joplin’s life, and it shows. She realizes his character well, as well as Phoenix’s, and as their stories intertwine, she story shines its brightest.

Started: March 30, 2018
Finished: April 12, 2018

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Blood Colony

May 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

colonyBlood Colony by Tananarive Due

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MAN, it took me a long time to finish this book. I like Due’s style, and her plots have been interesting, but somehow Blood Colony took me about three weeks to finish. Even other, drier books haven’t taken that long. Somehow I just couldn’t stay engaged with this story like I did with her other two books (though The Living Blood took me about two weeks).

I do like how Due shifts her themes around from book to book. Each one has been a look at immortality, but where My Soul to Keep was a personal look, and The Living Blood looked at it from a more epic perspective, Blood Colony is a mixture of the two, since Due introduces us to a competing group of immortals while showing us Fana as she attempts to become her own person. As the two groups intersect, we see that the blood reveals a new power, and what it suggests is chilling. It’s reminiscent of Carrion Comfort, in the way that the immortals can control other people, but it’s not a carbon copy thriller.

I like where the book takes us, but I felt like it was a lot of story for not a lot of payoff. Part of it, I think, is how much ground Due has to cover. Not only does she have to give us the history of the new group of immortals, but she also has to show us what’s happened with Fana over the last fifteen years or so. Since both stories take us to the same conclusion, we need them both to get the whole story, but it can sometimes feel long-winded.

The characterization feels weaker here, too. It may be due to Due bringing in so many characters, but I didn’t feel the kind of connection with Fana and Jessica like I did in the first two books. I expected it to be the other way around, since by now I should be familiar with them, and Due wouldn’t need to spend as much time developing them, but somehow I felt the distance. The book forces them apart, so the distance there is physical, but I didn’t expect that to be true of them in the story, too.

Due gives the story a good depth, showing Jessica and Fana having started up a commune to disperse the blood for its healing effects, but the story doesn’t have the same OOMPH as the first two books. There’s one more book left in the series (so far; apparently, readers thought this would be the final book in the series, which would have been a disappointment), and I’m hoping Due can bring it back with that book. I’m eager to be finished with the series so I can move on to other books on my list.

Started: February 25, 2018
Finished: March 18, 2018

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