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.

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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!

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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.

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Comic Review – Hedra

I picked up Hedra by Jesse Lonergan on a whim because it was short, featured a female astronaut, and I liked the minimalist style of the cover. I’ve been exceedingly busy at work since COVID started, so I haven’t had as much time to read and write as I would like, but I’m going to try to get back to posting some short reviews here again.

Hedra is a purely picture story with no words at all. Despite that, it does an amazingly effective job in telling the story of an astronaut who leaves earth in the aftermath of a nuclear war. What she finds as she travels through space is engaging and unexpected.

I really liked the way the artwork was laid out as well, with every page taking on different variations in the grid seen on the cover. I read this on my phone Kindle App, so I was able to zoom in to see some of the smaller pictures better. I was left a little puzzled by the ending, but overall I enjoyed this book and I would “read” any follow-up to this tale.

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Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I read this book last year and it was one of my favorites for 2019. If you’re looking for something to read that discusses a medical subject that is not related to pandemics at all, then this might be a good one to pick up right now. You can help support this blog by clicking on my Amazon affiliate links.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a journalistic investigation into the origin of the HeLa cell line used in a wide range of medical and biological research.

This book relates the authors search for the origin of the cells and the person behind it. While attempts had previously been made, Skloot was able to finally reach an understanding with the remaining family members to discover the story behind the cells.

Henrietta Lacks was a young African-American women who worked as a tobacco farmer and sought help at Johns Hopkins when she developed cervical cancer. During the course of her treatment, a doctor took a sample of her cells and then proceeded to use them in ongoing research without her informed consent. Mrs. Lacks’ cells were the first that were able to be sustained and grown repeatedly and finally allowed cell culture technology to flourish, leading to numerous discoveries and therapies, even today.

This books delves into the ethics of medical research and informed consent and looks at how our current system for this research has developed. At the time when Henrietta’s cells were collected, these ethical concerns had never been considered. Part this story also concerns racism and how society took advantage of African Americans through medical research.

Henrietta’s remaining family finally learned that her cells had been propagated and sold by biological supply companies, earning a vast amount of profit for everyone except her family. This resentment made it difficult for the author to communicate with them, but she worked to overcome their fears and much of the book is about her relationship with them.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was a great book to read and one of my favorites from 2019.

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Book Review – This Is How You Lose the Time War

I picked this book up on a whim when I was looking for more stand-alone science fiction novels. I haven’t read a lot of time travel fiction, so why not explore a bit?

This is How You Lose the Time War was just nominated for a Hugo in the Best Novella category as well. I wasn’t familiar with authors Amal El-Mohtar or Max Gladstone prior to this. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

The way that this book is structured is unusual in that it is told from the perspectives of two opposing time-traveling agents, Red and Blue. Each one works for their faction to win a war that has raged across alternate timelines. The narrative switches between short scenes in which each agent finds a letter from their opposite, followed by the text of that letter.

I really like the way that this book was written as it was a fresh way to explore this type of concept. The language was beautiful but also a bit inaccessible at times. I’m sure I missed some of the references that the book makes.

The best part of this novel for me were the glimpses of each alternate reality through history, from Atlantis and prehistoric times to fishing villages and space battles. We never get to see much of each one, but the characters experienced just enough to draw me in.

Overall, I felt this book was too long for what it was trying to do. Part of the ending was easily predictable, but one aspect did surprise me. I think that it could have been just as effective though with fewer exchanges between Red and Blue.

This book won’t be for everyone, but as it is a novella, it’s fairly short. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t going to be one of my favorites.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The City in the Middle of the Night

I am still very much behind on my book reviews, but since the Hugo award nominees were just announced, I thought I’d share my thoughts on those nominated works that I’ve already read. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

So this is a book review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. This book has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel. I listened to the audiobook version of this a couple of months ago. I reviewed the authors previous book, All the Birds in the Sky, here, and it was one of my favorite reads for 2019.

The premise in The City in the Middle of the Night is that people have colonized a planet that is tidally-locked. That means that it doesn’t rotate, so one side always faces toward the sun while the other side always faces away from it. This sets up a rather inhospitable environment where one side of the planet is too hot for people to survive, while the other is unbearably cold.

On this planet, humans have struggled to survive along the border between these two extremes. Making their lives even harder, dangerous alien life lives on the planet and the technology that was brought with the original colonists is breaking down and cannot be rebuilt.

The novel is told through the perspectives of two main characters. Sophie is a student in the city of Xiosphant where people’s circadian rhythms are regimented by the government in the absence of normal day-night cycles. She is in love with her best friend, Bianca, but when she takes the blame for her friend’s minor theft, she finds herself dragged from the safety of the city.

Abandoned and left for dead in the night outside the city, Sophie is beset upon by an alien called a Crocodile by the cityfolk. She surrenders herself to the monster, only to learn that the creatures are sentient as it helps her survive the cold and return to the city.

The second main character is Mouth, a member of the Resourceful Couriers, an illegal caravan that trades between cities, risking the dangers of the road. Mouth was once a member of the nomadic citizens, but all her people died tragically, leaving her alone to remember their culture. When she arrives in Xiosphant, she becomes obsessed with obtaining a citizen artifact from the palace. Her own story starts to overlap with that of Sophie and Bianca as Bianca joins a building rebellion and Sophie begins to engage again with the people of the city.

The plot is secondary to the relationships in this book, and while the narrative kept me interested, in the end, I found myself wanting more resolution in terms of the plot that had been building from the beginning. My opinions of each important character changed as I learned more about them and as they made their choices through the story, and they all felt very real and well drawn to me. I didn’t necessarily like them all, but I understood why they behaved the way that they did to each other.

I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as All the Birds in the Sky. It almost feels like the plot needs a sequel, but my understanding is that this is currently a stand-alone book.

Read more of my reviews here.

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