Book Review – Dragonflight

Sometimes I wonder if books I had read and loved when growing up would still stand up if I read them again now. One of my book clubs decided to read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey a few months ago, so I had a chance to evaluate that idea.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I read everything that Anne McCaffrey had written, including multiple re-reads of the Dragonriders of Pern series. I have to say that Dragonflight certainly still stands up as one of my favorite books of all time. While it is the first book in a series, it can also be read as a stand-alone.

Here is the blurb, which is a bit spoilery:

To the nobles who live in Ruatha Hold, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise—and take back her stolen birthright.

But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world. . .

The first sections of this book were originally published as novellas in Analog Science Fiction Magazine. The first of these, Weyr Search, won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for Best Novella, making McCaffrey the first woman to win either award.

The story follows two main characters, with Lessa being the more dominant lead character. She came across as more prickly and less trusting than I remembered her to be. The plot moves quickly and introduces the reader to the telepathic dragons and the civilization that has adapted to Pern and the unique threat of Thread that falls from the sky.

I have always felt like the Dragonriders of Pern were more fantasy to me than science fiction, but on this re-read I do see how the science fiction aspects are woven in to hint at the underlying science background to the world of Pern to a greater extent than I remembered in this first book.

If you’ve never read anything by Anne McCaffrey, this is a wonderful book to start with. You can also continue with books 2 (Dragonquest) and 3 (The White Dragon) to complete the first section of the series. In my opinion, the eleventh book, All the Weyrs of Pern should have been the last book, as I felt like nothing else needed to be resolved after that ending. I read one or two in the series after that, but it just wasn’t the same world to me.

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Book Review – The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a book that intrigued me when it was first released in 2019. I finally had a chance to read it, and it is the best book I’ve read so far in 2021.

In the early 1900s, a young woman searches for her place in the world after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

This book can be described as a portal fantasy – where Doors open into other worlds and the story follows the characters who travel through them. Yet it is also more than this and is not a simple adventure through one such Door. The novel is written as a book within a book, with January reading sections of the strange book from the blurb as she explores her own glimpses of these worlds. It becomes more complicated than that, but I don’t want to spoil how this book evolves as you learn what is going on.

The characters were believable and January has to struggle through situations made worse by her race and gender. Every time she is told to “know her place” I wanted to slap someone. But she has friends who stand by her side through everything, and her dog, Bad, who never willingly leaves her side.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was nominated for both the Nebula (2019) and Hugo (2020) Awards, as well as the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best First Novel. I’m sure this book will end up as one of my favorites for 2021.

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Book Review – Black Leopard, Red Wolf

I listened to Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James as an audiobook (narrated by Dion Graham), and while this book is technically listed as book 1 in a series, it can be read as a single contained story.

Here is the blurb:

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

I’m torn with my reaction to this book. It was certainly a unique read, but it is very much not going to be for everyone. From the beginning, this book depicts specific violence, including torture, rape, dismemberment of children, slavery, and cannibalism. The themes in this story are dark, and the author doesn’t shy away from any of it.

That being said, the fight scenes are very well-written and I could follow every bit of the brutal action. The fights are also pretty realistic in that they end quickly, the wounds are gory, and the narrator in this audiobook edition is brilliant in terms of his inflection and pacing (actually for more than just the fights).

The story is also full of sexual innuendo and acts, and it covers a full range of sexual preferences. This aspect felt a little unnecessary in a few places, but for the most part fit in with the overall tone of the story.

The timeline in this book is convoluted and Tracker’s story is told as he relates it to an interrogator after all the events. Within this story, parts are told out of order, and I felt like this device wasn’t necessary. It made a complicated plot with an extensive cast harder to follow than it needed to be.

Otherwise, I did actually like this book. Once I had the characters straight in my head I had to read on to discover what was truly going on. Tracker is not privy to the truth behind his search and has to decide who to trust and why everyone wants to find a mysterious boy. There is no clear good and evil here and everyone is acting for their own personal reasons.

This book is noted to be book 1 in The Dark Star Trilogy, but this volume wraps up the main events by the end without any cliffhangers. I can see the potential for a greater story. Given the complicated nature of this book, I’d probably have to reread it before continuing with the series in the future.

Have you read Black Leopard, Red Wolf? Let me know what you thought in the comments. Please follow the links to help support this blog.

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Graphic Novel Review – Fence Volume 1

When I looked back at my books from 2020, I realized that I didn’t read ANY graphic novels. So I’m trying to catch up on some that I had really wanted to get to. Also – they’re always quick reads. So of course when I saw this series about fencing, I had to pick up the first collection (paid links support this blog).

Fence is a series of graphic novels by C.S. Pacat (writer), Johanna the Mad (illustrator), Joana LaFuente (colorist), and Jim Campbell (letterer). Here is the blurb:

Nicholas, the illegitimate son of a retired fencing champion, is a scrappy fencing wunderkind, and dreams of getting the chance and the training to actually compete. After getting accepted to the prodigious Kings Row private school, Nicholas is thrust into a cut-throat world, and finds himself facing not only his golden-boy half-brother, but the unbeatable, mysterious Seiji Katayama…

Through clashes, rivalries, and romance between teammates, Nicholas and the boys of Kings Row will discover there’s much more to fencing than just foils and lunges. From acclaimed writer C.S. Pacat (The Captive Prince) and fan-favorite artist Johanna the Mad.

I read this very quickly and I found myself wishing that I had the next volume! The story follows Nicholas, a persistent underdog fencer, as he tries to make the varsity team at a boarding school. If he fails, he won’t be able to keep the scholarship that lets him stay there. Who doesn’t want to cheer for the underdog?

Even through the fencing in this story focuses on epee, there are a couple of references about how sabre is the better weapon. And it is clear that the author is familiar with the fencing world.

In this early volume, I was a little confused to see the author’s approach to gender, but it seems like the fencing world in this story is genderless or maybe gender-equitable. The events aren’t split by men/women, and neither is the team at the school. One character who is pictured in a skirt and with more feminine features is referred to with male pronouns, and some characters are definitely queer and/or have same-sex relationships. Once I realized this was the approach being taken, it was fine and I had no further trouble following who was who.

I definitely enjoyed this book and already ordered the next two volumes because I need to find out who wins the tournament! Have you read Fence? Let me know in the comments.

Read more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Lover Revealed

Hah, I finished another book! This is part of a series that I stumbled into last year (The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J. R. Ward) and it’s basically about sexy vampires and their eternal battles against the slayers. I’m not going to go back to rehash the earlier books in the series at this point, but each one mainly focuses on one pair of characters and their romance as the main plot continues. Lover Revealed is book 4 (links help support this blog).

Here is the summary blurb:

Butch O’Neal is a fighter by nature. A hard-living ex-homicide cop, he’s the only human ever to be allowed in the inner circle of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. And he wants to go even deeper into the vampire world—to engage in the turf war with the lessers. He’s got nothing to lose. His heart belongs to a female vampire, an aristocratic beauty who’s way out of his league. If he can’t have Marissa, then at least he can fight side by side with the Brothers…

Fate curses him with the very thing he wants. When Butch sacrifices himself to save a civilian vampire from the slayers, he falls prey to the darkest force in the war. Left for dead, he’s found by a miracle, and the Brotherhood calls on Marissa to bring him back. But even her love may not be enough to save him…

I don’t remember how I found this series, but I have to think it was part of my effort to occasionally branch out and read something different. So while there is a huge romance component to these books, the author does a brilliant job in building suspense and tension through each one for the non-romance elements as well.

While the main episode of each book is resolved, numerous side plots and an overarching plot thread through the series. The story in this book did not completely go where I thought it would, which is always a nice surprise. By this fourth book, the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood has grown more complicated, with added political facets, deeper character relationships, and tragedy.

At over 500 pages, Lover Revealed is not a quick read, but it is an easy one. I’m sure I’ll pick up the next book in a couple of months. If you want to start reading this series, look for Dark Lover, book 1. Are you already a fan? Let me know in the comments!

Read more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – New York 2140

While Kim Stanley Robinson’s books may be popular with some readers, I’ll have to remind myself in the future that they just aren’t for me. I’ve read part of his Mars trilogy and his Science in the Capitol series. New York 2140 is one of his newer works and my local book club chose it for an upcoming discussion.

In an attempt to make my reviews quicker to write so that I actually post one for every book I read, I’m just going to give you the blurb here:

It is 2140.

The waters rose, submerging New York City.

But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever.

Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island.

Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building, Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides.

And how we too will change.

While the prose is solid and I found the characters well-drawn, I just wasn’t excited about the story in this book. There was a lack of tension throughout, and the most interesting mystery of the book is resolved without any drama or conflict. Every character that has an idea and tries to accomplish something manages to succeed at it without much trouble.

The book also delves into our financial system and is a commentary on the problems of capitalism as the world suffers social change spurred by rising sea levels. This side of the plot just wasn’t interesting to me as part of a novel.

Have you read New York 2140? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! And please click on the links above to help support this blog.

Read more of my book reviews here.

How Do You Plan Your Reading?

Cover art

Well we’re a week into the new year and I haven’t finished reading any of the books that I’ve already started. If I truly intend to read 50 books for the year, that equates to about a book a week, so I’m already behind!

View of my monthly and yearly goals, and my January books.

I thought I’d take some time to think about how to organize my reading beyond my Goodreads to-be-read list for the year. One feature that I would really like to see on Goodreads would be an easy way to sort books within a shelf into a particular (reading) order. Now I know you can sort them, but it’s not user friendly at all and I gave up on that some time ago.

I’m trying out a new App that I just found called Read More, which you can find here. It still isn’t quite what I want, but it let me import all of my Goodreads books and shelves with the premium version. I can sort books by to-be-read month and then I can track how many pages or minutes I read each day. I can set a goal for the year as with Goodreads.

It looks like you can highlight sections of a book you are reading, although I think you either have to type in your own notes/text or can possibly scan a page of the book since you don’t actually use the App to read the books.

Highlight screen.

We’ll see if this helps me stay on track to finish some books I started quite a while ago. You can also set a deadline for each book and the App will tell you how many pages you should read per day to meet that goal.

How do you stay focused to meet your reading goals? Do you have a favorite App or technique that you use? Tell me about it in the comments.

Reading Plans for 2021

I try to keep a list of books I want to read in the upcoming year on Goodreads. Inevitably, I go terribly off that initial plan, but here is what I at least see myself reading at this early point:

I set my 2021 goal at 50 books and there are already over 60 on this list. I imagine I’ll add more as my local book clubs make their selections and I find new releases that I can’t resist.

In the past, I’ve also set more detailed goals within that overall number, such as “read two non-fiction books” or “read two classics”. But most of the books on the list this time have just been rolled over from those I didn’t get to in 2020. Many are continuations of series that I have liked and keep trying to finish – Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle, The Earthsea books, etc.

Ultimately, I hop around a lot, grabbing whatever strikes my fancy that day. I also tend to read too many books at once which slows my pace and divides my focus. So maybe that’s something I should work on going forward – finish one book before I start the next? It’s so hard though when they’re all whispering READ ME urgently from their place on my shelves or the Kindle. I wish that Goodreads had a non-laborious way to sort the books on a shelf into a specific order, but I haven’t found that yet.

How do you decide what to read next? Are there any books that you are particularly looking forward to reading this year? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Summary 2020

With all of the craziness of this year, I haven’t had time to keep up with my book reviews. However, I did want to at least post a year-end summary because I did get a lot of reading done – not as much as I would have liked, but still more than I have done in other years.

Here is my summary graphic taken from Goodreads:

That’s a total of 39 books, which is a bit short of my goal of 50, and down a little from 43 in 2019. Breaking the books down into genre and categories, here are some statistics (some overlap):

  • Non-fiction = 6
  • Classics = 1
  • Science fiction = 19
  • Fantasy = 13
  • Graphic novels = 1
  • Mainstream = 1
  • Romance = 3
  • Novellas = 2

Favorite books of 2020 (links help support this blog):

Least favorite books of 2020:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  • The Last Human by Zack Jordan
  • Master of Sorrows by Justin Call
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Coming soon – books I’m hoping to read in 2021!

New Short Fiction Available!

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately with work and have been neglecting my blog here, but I wanted to announce here that I have a new short fiction story out now.

My story is called I’m Not a Superhero and is included in the Tales From Vigilante City anthology from Bloat Games.

Vigilante City is the setting for the SURVIVE THIS!! Vigilante City RPG and these stories all fit in with that setting, full of superheroes and villains. Pick up a copy and let me know what you think.

You can get a pdf here.

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