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Book Review – Salvaged

Salvaged is a science fiction novel that features more biology than physics, with a touch of romance. Author Madeleine Roux is new to me, but I was interested in this book because I’m always looking for stories that explore the implications of biotech or biochemistry in fictional setups. I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. If you’d like to support this blog, you can pick up your own copy using my Amazon affiliate link here.

Rosalyn Devar has fled her family and her problems and has found a new life working for a salvage company in space. But when her excess drinking is reported, she is given one last chance before being cut loose from employment.

Strange deaths have been reported on a couple of ships recently and now another ship, the Brigantine, has seemingly gone down. Rosalyn is sent to investigate and salvage the vessel, but things are not exactly as expected.

The crew on board the Brigantine has been infected with a strange parasite that has put them into some sort of suspended animation as it tries to control their minds. Rosalyn struggles to discover the source of the parasite while staying alive and uninfected herself.

This was a fun book to read, but the basic plot reminded me a lot of Julie Mao from The Expanse. I’ve only seen the show, so that is what my comparison is based on. This isn’t really a criticism because the plot takes the characters in a different direction that The Expanse story.

I enjoyed this book and read it pretty fast. It also functions well as a stand-alone novel and the ending kept me guessing with how it would end. There aren’t any devastatingly new science ideas here, but it was still a nice exploration of how biology can play a role as a speculative element in fiction.

Read more of my reviews here.

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Book Review – Bad Blood

This book was not on my radar at all until I watched the Netflix documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. This was the first I had heard of Elizabeth Holmes and her start-up blood testing company, Theranos.

If you don’t know the story already, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of college at Stanford and started her own company, Theranos. The premise behind the start-up was that they claimed to have a new technology that would allow patients to have multiple blood tests performed using only a finger-stick to procure a tiny amount of blood. No more scary needles!

It turns out that Holmes sold the idea to investors and to customers well before actually having that technology. John Carreyrou is the investigative journalist with the Wall Street Journal who uncovered and disclosed Theranos’ massive fraud.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is the story of how Holmes built Theranos and how the company managed to lead on venture capitalists, board members, and customers such as Walgreens and Safeway for several years. I enjoyed this book and found the practices that Theranos engaged in to be shocking and despicable. Much of the information appears to have come from former employees who realized that the company wasn’t going about things the right way.

I did feel like the middle of the book became a bit too bogged down in names and tales from one employee after another, to the point that the details began to blur and felt unnecessary to repeat.

The final downfall of Theranos was fascinating and, given Holmes’ charisma and connections, it is somewhat surprising that she couldn’t continue the charade for even longer.

I listened to this book in audio format and found the narrator (Will Damron) to be easy to listen to and understand. If you’ve seen the Netflix documentary, this book is still worth a read, giving far more detail that it was possible to have in the movie. Even knowing how it ended, I found myself entranced by the company’s downfall. To pick up a copy, follow my Amazon affiliate link here.

Find all of my book reviews here.

My Most Anticipated Books of 2020

I’m pretty happy with how much I read in 2019, but now it’s time to look ahead at my reading for 2020. I think I’m going to stick with some of the same goals: read at least two non-fiction books, two classics, and continue trying to finish or keep up on series that I enjoy.

My goal in terms of numbers is to see if I can read 50 books this year. I managed 43 books in 2019, so while 50 is a stretch, I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m trying to keep myself organized by creating a shelf on Goodreads for my planned reading, but it already contains 100 books. We’ll see which ones I get to!

Here are a few of the books that I’m most excited to read in 2020.

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

I’m a long-time fan of The Dresden Files series, so I’ve been waiting for this latest release. Peace Talks is book #16 and will be out July 2020. Start this series about a wizard private investigator in Chicago with Storm Front.

The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett

This is actually a series, rather than a single book. I read the first one, The Warded Man, a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to go back to read the entire series. I didn’t get to this one in 2019 so it’s going to the top of my list for 2020.

Circe by Madeline Miller

This book is about the Greek goddess Circe and is a reimagining of her story, told from her perspective. I’ve picked it for my book club for February, so I’ll be getting to this one soon.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

This is the first book in the series on which The Expanse television show is based. I’ve been a fan of the show but I’ve never read the books. Hoping to change that this year.

The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch

This is the latest book in the Gentleman Bastards series and is due out sometime in 2020. I caught up on this series in 2019, and I need to know what happens next. Read my review of the first book here.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

I really enjoyed All the Birds in the Sky by this author last year (read my review). This book is more science fiction that her earlier novel and takes place on a planet that is tidally locked and I’m curious to see how that is handled.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

I’ve read reviews of this one and it sounds like something I might like: magical school, secret societies, and murder! It’s also a stand-alone novel, so I’ll avoid getting into another series.

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

I started to read The Witcher books in 2019 with The Last Wish and I’m two thirds of the way through Netflix’s show. Sword of Destiny is the second book and, like the first, is a series of short stories.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

I picked this book up at New York Comic-Con and it has dragonriders. I also loved how excited the author was about the story, but I think it could be the start of another series.

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

I think that Peter Hamilton is one of my favorite science fiction authors, writing very long and complicated stories with some unique characters. This is the first book in his newest series.

A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne

I ended up reading the first book in this series, A Plague of Giants, after picking it up at New York Comic-Con also and loved the way this story was told (my review). I received this second volume from Net Galley and I’m looking forward to where the story goes next. Pre-order now for a February 4 release date.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

This book is a portal fantasy and I read some reviews of it that made it sound like something I’d like. Then it was on sale so I picked up a copy. I really like the cover, also.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

A new Hunger Games book! This will be out in May 2020 and while I didn’t love the original series as much as some people, it was a quick and solid read.

That’s hardly all of the books that I’m excited about for 2020. I was tempted to put The Winds of Winter or Doors of Stone on this list, but until I see a definite release date on those, I’m not going to get too excited about them. If you’d like to purchase any of these other books through my Amazon affiliate links it will help support this blog.

See all of my book reviews here.

My Best Books of 2019

Well 2019 is over and I wanted to look back on my year’s reading and pick out my favorites. Since some of these were parts of series, I’m going to limit my picks to no more than one per author. If any of these interest you, use my links to help support this blog (at no additional cost to you).

I’m going to list these in no particular order and reviews are still forthcoming on some of them.

The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton was the final volume in a multi-volume science fiction saga that I listened to as an audiobook. If you like very long and complicated plots stretched across the galaxy, this is a great series. You can find by review here. Start with his earlier book, Pandora’s Star.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was an amazing surprise of a story inspired by the fairy tales of eastern Europe. This is a stand-alone fantasy novel that I listened to as an audiobook. While I had a little trouble adjusting to the narrator’s accent, it ended up fitting the book perfectly. This may have been my absolute favorite for the year. It looks like there is a chance that it will be adapted into a movie as well. You can find my review here.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders was another surprise audiobook pick for me that I chose as part of an Audible sale. I had heard the author speak at New York Comic Con in 2018 and had been interested in her work. This stand-alone novel relates the story of a witch and a mad scientist as they work to save the world. You can find my review here.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book in the Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch. I also read the sequel, but I enjoyed the plot better in this one, with plenty of swords and female pirates. If you want to start this series, pick up The Lies of Locke Lamora.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was one of the non-fiction books that I read in 2019 and was a great choice. This book relates the author’s efforts to discover more about Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who unknowingly contributed her cervical cancer cells to science, leading to numerous discoveries in biology and medicine. While the book does discuss the scientific side of the subject, its main focus is upon Henrietta the person and her life and family. I haven’t written up my review on this one yet.

I became aware of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo sometime after the Netflix series inspired by the book spurred articles criticizing the approach in regards to discarding books. Given that I am not the best housekeeper, I thought I’d take a look at this one. I’m glad I did, as her approach to organization has helped me learn to make better choices about what to keep and what to give up (yes, even books). It’s part of the reason why I can sit at a clean (well, half-way) desk and get more writing done now. I have a long ways to go in the process, but I fell better about getting my messes under control. You can read my full review here.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one of two classics that I was determined to read in 2019. I hadn’t been aware of what this book was about and just delved right in. I listened to the audiobook version of this one, narrated by Sissy Spacek. While I was confused at first, once the main plot expanded past the daily life of the children, I quickly realized that this book was about racism and prejudice. I plan to put more of my thoughts into a review soon.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and was published thirty-five years after that first look at her frightening dystopian future. I found The Testaments to be a more enjoyable read than the first book, mainly because it was a bit more hopeful. The scope of the story is greater, with the narration split between three characters rather than just Offred from the first book. If you’re unfamiliar with these novels, The Handmaid’s Tale has been on sale for no free lately.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was my second pick for a classic book to read in 2019. I lucked out this year in choosing classics that I actually liked, which is not always the case. This novel tells about Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who receives a treatment to make him smarter. But this change comes with unanticipated consequences and the ending of this book is heartbreaking.

So I guess that The Giver by Lois Lowry is also considered a classic now, so that’s three for me for the year. This was a quick read that I picked up with no real idea of what it was about. I think I read it in a day and a half, and with the upsurge in dystopian fiction, this book isn’t as shocking as it may have been when first published. However, the story was well-done and I liked how it challenged the superficial utopia of the society in the book.

Anyone by Charles Soule was a pick that I obtained from Net Galley and I had never read anything by this author before. I just reviewed it here. This book was exciting and easy to read, despite the complicated implications of being able to slot your consciousness into another person’s body. I need to read more of this type of action-science fiction because I really like it.

That’s it, my favorites for the year! I’m planning to catch up on my reviews for some of these in the next few months. For now, I’m going to plan my 2020 reading and look at my most anticipated reads ahead.

Find all of my reviews here.

Book Review – Anyone

This book was a random choice for me and turned out to be one of the best books I read this year. Anyone by Charles Soule is a page-turner that asks how the world would be different if you could transfer your consciousness into another person. I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The story in Anyone occurs in two separate timelines. One of these follows Gabriella White, a brilliant neuroscientist, as she works in her home laboratory and accidentally transfers her consciousness into her husband’s body. She immediately realizes the potential ramifications of such a technology and, after figuring out how to return to her own body, fights to make sure that her discovery doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

The second timeline falls twenty-five years later. Annami is a young woman working for the corporation that runs all of the world’s “flash” technology, through which Gabby’s discovery allows customers to hop into other bodies all over the world. Annami is living some sort of double life and has plans for revenge. Initially, her motivations are unclear, but as the book unfolds, the separate plots come together and we learn how the world (and Annami) evolved to reach their current state.

Anyone is not a light-hearted book and the characters suffer through some devastating events. Annami starts out by renting her body out through the darkshare underworld to make a huge amount of cash quickly. She has no say in what happens while in that state and the risks are high. The world depicted in Anyone is dark, and people use the flash for all kinds of underhanded and sinister purposes.

The two separate stories of Gabby and Annami contrasted well and filled in details about the flash technology in a complementary way, making the novel flow well. There is plenty of action to be had, and I found the book hard to put down. The characters also embody a nice amount of diversity that I don’t see as often as I would like.

The revelation at the conclusion was well-done in that it was shocking as I realized what was going on only shortly before the characters did. The only criticism of this book that I can really have was that I thought that the ending was a little abrupt after that.

While I haven’t read any other books by Charles Soule, I will be looking out for his work in the future. If you’d like to support my blog, use this Amazon affiliate link (at no extra charge to you) to buy a copy of Anyone.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Seven Blades in Black

I had never read anything by Sam Sykes, but I liked the description of this book. It featured a woman with a sword, a magical gun, and an attitude, so I thought I might like it. I did acquire this book to review as a courtesy from Net Galley.

Seven Blades in Black is the first book in a new series by Sam Sykes, but you can read the first book on its own and get a solid story. While the main plot isn’t over (by far, I’d guess), the main action of this first book is brought to a close.

Sal the Cacophany is a bounty-hunter with a tragic hidden past. She has tried to put her anger aside so that she can live through each day, but she keeps a list of names of those who wronged her in a pocket, waiting for the day that she can satisfy her vengeance. Meanwhile, she spends her time seeking out renegade Imperial mages known as Vagrants. Having served in the same capacity in her own past, she uses her knowledge to track them down, kill them using a magic gun, and then gathers the Dust from their remains, selling it for profit.

At the beginning of the book, Sal is held captive by the Revolution and is questioned by Governor-Militant Tretta Stern just before her planned execution. The two great powers in the world (the Imperials and the Revolution) have been at war for a long time with little regard for the civilians who struggle in the desolate Scar. Most of the novel is written as Sal relates her recent activities to her captor, forestalling her execution by a few hours and then a few days.

Sal’s tale starts as she tracks down Daiga, a nearby Vagrant. After their fight, she searches his tower and finds a note implying that Jindu, one of the names on her list, is recruiting Vagrants for something sinister. She realizes that she may have a chance to find him this time and the story follows her in her pursuit of her former associates.

Sal inadvertently ends up with two companions: Liette, an artificer and her former/current lover, and Low Sergeant Cavric Proud, a Revolutionary officer who is at first forced to pilot a gigantic armored tank-like device, but later stays because he begins to see his glorious Revolution through a perspective.

While the subject matter in this novel is dark and the protagonist is violent and vengeful, there is a lot of fun in the pages. I mean, Sal rides a giant bird named Congeniality and throws sarcasm around more than is good for her. Her gun, the Cacophany, is a powerful weapon, but also has a sinister aspect to it, communicating to her and becoming upset if she doesn’t kill often enough. But her sword is a plain blade and she has named him Jeff.

This is a long book that requires some attention throughout, but was a satisfying story in a unique setting. When the ending unfolds and the truth of Sal’s past is revealed, I was surprised to find her able to function as much as she does. Her backstory is heartbreaking and with knowledge of Jindu’s goals, she can’t escape confronting it, even beyond her goal of revenge. I’ll definitely pick up the next one in this series.

You can find Seven Blades in Black through my Amazon affiliate link if you’d like to support my blog. There is also a related novella (The Gallows Black) which could supplement your reading, or serve as a sampler before you jump into the longer book. Find other books by Sam Sykes below:

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Eridani’s Crown

Eridani’s Crown is a stand-alone fantasy novel by Alex Shvartsman. I received this book as an advance copy to help with proofreading, as I’ve known Alex for a few years through a local critique group. Alex was able to bring this book to publication through the help of Kickstarter.

Eridani and her brother Danchu are the crown prince and princess of Kozhad, a small city-state in the continent known as The Heart. At the beginning of the story, they are studying in Skond, a larger neighboring kindgom. When their home is overthrown and their parents are murdered, the two siblings are forced to flee and manage to stay barely ahead of their pursuit. After betrayal leads to Danchu’s murder, Eridani swears revenge against those who took her homeland.

When further events bring Eridani’s quest to a halt, she seeks the aid of a sorceress. As in much of fantasy, magical assistance has a high price, but at the time, Eridani doesn’t worry much about that. She plunges forward and leads her people to a series of victories.

Eridani is faced with a series of tough decisions that bring her goals into conflict with her loyalties. I can’t write anything more detailed about the plot without giving too much away at this point. She faces a prophecy brought on by her dealings in magic, but refuses to treat it as a serious consequence.

The events that unfold later become more unsettling. Eridani comes to learn what price she has paid for her power, and how the prophecy has affected her. While this story appears to be a more traditional fantasy tale in the opening sections, it turns into more of a character study as it progresses toward a bleak ending.

I prefer more upbeat stories in general, but the author does a good job in convincingly portraying the changes that occur with Eridani. I found myself rooting for her to win, but then even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, I still sympathized with her until nearly the end. This book will likely appeal to those who prefer a more grim take on traditional fantasy.

Fortunately, if you missed the Kickstarter, you can still pick up a copy as an e-book or in print. Use my Amazon affiliate link, and help support my blog, or check out some of Alex’s other books below.

Book Review – Blood of Tyrants

Blood of Tyrants is the eighth book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, and takes us to yet another part of the world, following Laurence and Temeraire as they continue to fight against Napoleon’s expanding empire.

In this book, there is a bit of a disconnect at the opening. Laurence awakens after washing up on foreign shores. He has no memory of the last eight years of his life — that portion that contains Temeraire and his life as a naval aviator. What could have been an exciting scene, as he is swept overboard in a storm, is left out and we begin with Laurence as he has to figure out what happened. He turns out to be in Japan, where he taken in and cared for, but is also a prisoner.

Some of Laurence’s actions as he tries to take in the oddities of Japanese culture are entertaining, but overall this part of the book was slow and ultimately has no bearing on the greater plot of the series.

While Laurence has been lost at sea, Temeraire refuses to give up hope that he still lives, but cannot begin to know where to look for him. The remaining crew and dragons head to China, where they have political business.

Of course Laurence and Temeraire are reunited eventually, and the story moves on to two other geographically distinct sections. While the overall plot moves forward, the book at this point feels like a series of novellas.

Even with the disjointed structure of this book, the series continues to improve following the chore of reading Tongues of Serpents. Familiar characters return, and the story moves back to a more direct conflict between Napoleon and the other world powers. While this still wasn’t as strong a book as the first three in the series, it sets up a reasonable expectation that the author can wrap the story up in one final book.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Dark Prophecy

Dark Prophecy is book #1 in the Soul Storm series by Ann Gimpel. I had read an earlier version of this book shortly after its release, and the author released a revised version of this series a few years later. Since I had never finished reading the series *and* one of my goals for the year is to finish reading series, I picked up this book to re-read before delving into the next two.

My original review was written about the first version of the book, and can be found here under the title of Psyche’s Prophecy. I can’t say that I picked up on any major differences in terms of the character or plot, so I’m simply reprinting my review below.

In Dark Prophecy, author Ann Gimpel takes us to a near and possible future in which resources are scarce and rolling blackouts and gasoline shortages are increasing. Amid this burgeoning dystopia, psychotherapist Lara McGinnis stays busy, counseling disturbed teenagers, OCD patients, and couples with marital problems.

The story immediately takes on the trappings of a thriller before delving into the fantasy aspects that are at the heart of this mixed genre tale. Dr. McGinnis learns that patient Ken Beauchamp is abusing his pregnant wife and steps in to offer the woman assistance. Her help comes nearly too late. Mr. Beauchamp puts his wife in the hospital in critical condition, disappears from the authorities, and begins a course of stalking and retaliation upon Dr. McGinnis for her interference.

In her private practice as a psychotherapist, Lara has found that her long-time ability to read auras has always been handy. However, she has more frequent and disturbing visions as the conflict with Mr. Beauchamp and the unpredictable blackouts across the city continue. On top of this, a graduate student, one of her other patients, and even her live-in boyfriend, Trevor, have all had a common dream. Lara tries to solve this mystery while everything around her spirals deeper into chaos and her visions become darker.

The first half of this book kept me up at night, both as a page-turner and in sympathetic fear for Dr. McGinnis. This is a very good thing if you’re a fan of that type of story, but if the thought of having a stalker break into your residence will give you nightmares, then you may want to read this only during daylight hours.

As the story progresses, Lara must face who she is and what her paranormal abilities mean. There are dark forces at work other than Ken Beauchamp, and ancient mythologies turn out to have real relevance to modern life. Lara and Trevor’s characterization sparkled as they confronted new facets to Lara’s power and the inevitable changes to their world.

In the second half of the book, I felt like the tension lagged. Although to be fair, it was more like the type of tension changed, because this is where the fantasy aspects became heavier. A lot of information about magic, witches, and power is introduced that seems more like buildup for the next volume.

While there is a definite conclusion to this book, there are also many questions left unanswered. Dark Prophecy is the first book in a trilogy and I’m reading the second volume, Dark Pursuit, right now.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Crucible of Gold

As one of my reading goals for 2019, I planned to finish reading several book series that I had enjoyed but never completed. One such series was the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which brings dragons into the military of the Napoleonic Wars. I found that the sixth book (Tongues of Serpents) really dragged, so it took me a while to get back to the series.

Crucible of Gold is book #7 and picks up from the end of book #6 with Laurence and Temeraire still exiled to Australia. But this time, instead of wandering through a mainly uninhabited land, he is finally sent off to do something more interesting.

The French expansion now threatens Spain and Brazil, and Laurence is thought to be the best person to negotiate with the Tswana people as they threaten the Portuguese leaders in Rio. With Australia deemed reasonably close to Brazil, Laurence and Temeraire are sent off via ship for the New World. Of course, things do not go as expected, and one tragic event galvanized the story and made me truly wonder where it was going once more.

Eventually, they encounter the Inca and make a series of narrow escapes. The different human-dragon interactions and the variety of cultures was one of the more unique aspects of the story at this point. Much of the rest of the book involved travel from one place to the next, with a generally less focused story than the early books.

Interestingly, I found that starting with this book, each installment becomes less of a self-contained story. Each volume has a more indistinct ending and flows into the next book. At the same time, there are also larger jumps between places and time within one book.

This was still a better book than Tongues of Serpents and gave me hope for the last two books.

Find more of my book reviews here.

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