March Reading and Writing Updates

Wow! Somehow it got to be March already! And of course I’m behind schedule from where I wanted to be on my reading, but I’m not surprised, given that I set a bit of an unrealistic goal.

Looking back at February, here is how it went: I managed to finish Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene (review here) and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (review here). I just finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert this past weekend (technically in March) and I have a review coming up on that book later this week. With some work-related projects and other obligations, I got bogged down and didn’t get through all the other books I wanted to.

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The other books I’m currently reading are The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. With a long drive this weekend, I’m making solid progress on Harrow the Ninth because I’m listening to that as an audiobook. I also pulled out The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (my physical non-e-book read) after I finished Magical Midlife Madness, but then decided I needed to catch up on The Dragon Reborn before starting it.

I haven’t given any writing updates recently. I hardly made any progress in February, but I’m expecting that to improve in March. Current projects include the first draft of a hard sci-fi stand alone novel with a working title of East of the Sun, continued work on a stand along sword and sorcery novel called Daughter of the Sun, and a rewrite of a short story involving dream magic. I don’t know why both novel projects involve the sun, but I think East of the Sun will get renamed at some point.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Brandon Sanderson sort of shamed all writers out there in regards to productivity last week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out his video here. So clearly I need to up my writing game.

Are you reading as much as you had hoped this year? Are you a writer? Tell me about your projects in the comments above.

Book Review – Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary is the newest book by Andy Weir (author of The Martian). I read this last year but wanted to still review it here. This book is a stand-alone hard science fiction story set on a space ship. Like The Martian, it features a lone protagonist who must survive his predicament, but in this story, he also must save all of humanity.

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Here is the blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found it took several surprising twists that kept me guessing at the outcome until the end. Being a fan of Andy Weir’s earlier books (The Martian, Artemis), I did go into this with certain expectations. While parts of the story are told in a non-linear fashion, it worked out well to fill in the gaps in Ryland Grace’s memory and give the reader the full story.

The ally that he meets was a wonderful character and I found their initial interactions believable despite the need for fiction to speed these types of challenges along. And I know that I’m being intentionally vague here because I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.

Overall this was one of my favorite reads of 2021! It won the Goodreads Choice award for Best Science Fiction for 2021 and is under development as a movie.

Did you read Project Hail Mary yet? Let me know in the comments above. Have you read The Martian or Artemis (my review here)? How do they compare to this new book?

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Magical Midlife Madness

This book was gifted to me and I’ve had it sitting on my desk for a while now, taunting me with it’s pretty cover. Magical Midlife Madness is the first book in a paranormal romance series (Leveling Up) by K. F. Breene. It appears to be self-published, which isn’t necessarily a strike against it as I used to do book reviews for “indie” press books and am open to the idea of reading books that aren’t a product of a major publisher.

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Here is the blurb:

A woman starting over. A new house with an unexpected twist. A cape wearing butler acting as the world’s worst life coach.

“Happily Ever After” wasn’t supposed to come with a do-over option. But when my husband of twenty years packs up and heads for greener pastures and my son leaves for college, that’s exactly what my life becomes.

Do-over.

This time, though, I plan to do things differently. Age is just a number, after all, and at forty I’m ready to carve my own path.

Eager for a fresh start, I make a somewhat unorthodox decision and move to a tiny town in the Sierra foothills. I’ll be taking care of a centuries old house that called to me when I was a kid. It’s just temporary, I tell myself. It’ll just be for a while.

That is, until I learn what the house really is, something I never could’ve imagined.

Thankfully forty isn’t too old to start an adventure, because that’s exactly what I do. A very dangerous adventure that will change my life forever. I have a chance to start again, and this time, I make the rules.

This book had a fun premise and while parts at the beginning were a bit awkwardly written, it got better in the middle. Jessie is an entertaining character that takes a risk on a new chapter in her life and discovers strange magic in a small town and within herself.

There is a romance aspect to the story and a larger threat that is not fully explored in this book, so don’t expect any resolution to either of those parts of Jessie’s tale. I don’t know if I’ll keep reading this series or not. It was easy and fast to read, but didn’t grab me as much as some other books.

Have you read any books by K. F. Breene? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – All Our Wrong Todays

I’m not sure how I heard about this book, but I ended up reading it for a book club, or rather, I listened to the audiobook version. All Our Wrong Todays is written and narrated by Elan Mastai.

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Here is the blurb:

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

This is a book about time travel and what can happen when you try to change the past. Tom Barren starts out as an unlikeable character in a utopian society where you can infer that no one is truly happy. When he ends up in an alternate time line, he must decide if it’s right or wrong to try to put things back the way they were. And what if he continues to make the world worse?

The opening of this book was a big turn off for me because of the way in which it is written (all exposition, with Tom essentially writing about what had happened), but also because I didn’t like Tom. Once he used the time machine, the story was easier to read. I did find some of the concepts interesting. Some examples include the author’s take on what happens to your consciousness when you time travel and have changed your own past, and also the horrifying experience of the traveler in one form of time travel in this story.

Elan Mastai is also a producer and writer on the television series This Is Us. Have you watched that show (I have not)? Does it share any themes with this book? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Neverwhere

This was the second time that I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. One of my book clubs had decided to read it and since it had been quite a while since I read it the first time, I picked it up again.

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Here is the blurb:

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

I found this to be an odd little book. Richard Mayhew is cast into a secret fantastical world beneath London after he stops to help an injured girl on the street. He encounters rat-speakers, a fierce bodyguard, and numerous other strange beings in his pursuit of the girl named Door. Trying to reclaim his former life, he is caught up in Door’s quest and the mystery surrounding the death of her family as they flee enemies with an ever-changing agenda. I enjoyed this book, but I felt like I never quite knew what was going on. It lacked tension until the end but was otherwise enjoyable to read.

I’m always torn on Gaiman’s books. I really didn’t like American Gods, but found this book readable and intriguing, despite its flaws. Many years ago I read some of the Sandman graphic novels, but I don’t remember them well. So, I’m going to try to read The Graveyard Book soon because that is one that’s been recommended to me a few times.

Have you read Neverwhere? Do you have other books by Neil Gaiman you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Midnight Sun

I was looking for something easy to read to break up the longer, more complicated novels I had been recently reading and grabbed this only to discover it was over 600 pages long. Oh well! Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer is an odd story. It is basically a rewrite of Twilight but told from Edward’s perspective rather than Bella’s.

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Here is the blurb:

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

In Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer transports us back to a world that has captivated millions of readers and brings us an epic novel about the profound pleasures and devastating consequences of immortal love.

I don’t know that this book lives up to the hype of it’s blurb, but it did keep me reading. I also don’t think this book would make much sense if you haven’t already read Twilight, since much of that story isn’t communicated from Edward’s perspective. Jacob is barely mentioned and while there are some scenes and dialogue between Edward and Bella that I don’t believe were in the original book, there simply isn’t a lot of conflict outside of Edward’s own head.

If you are already a fan of the series, then this book will probably add a little more dimension to the story you already know. But if not, then you can skip this one. I enjoyed it for what it was and I appreciated that it poked a little fun at itself as well.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Great Hunt

With the recent television adaptation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, I’ve decided to finally read/re-read the entire series. Many years ago, I had read up through book 7 or 8, but then found myself forgetting key details of the story while waiting for the next book to be published. I told myself that someday I’d go back and read the entire 14-book series. I started this last year with the first book – The Eye of the World. I didn’t have time to write a review of that one (and I still may go back to do it), but here are my thoughts on book 2 – The Great Hunt.

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Here is the blurb:

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

For centuries, gleemen have told the tales of The Great Hunt of the Horn. So many tales about each of the Hunters, and so many Hunters to tell of…Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages. And it is stolen.

So this blurb doesn’t really describe much of what this second book is about. Readers of the series will recognized that first paragraph as the repeating intro that starts each book, a reminder of the theme of a cycle to the events of the world that is integral to this story.

The Great Hunt follows our main character, Rand Al’Thor as he follows (and at times leads) a group of Shienaran soldiers in pursuit of the Horn of Valere after it is stolen by Darkfriends. His internal conflict about his newfound powers continues and ostracizes him from his friends who don’t know his secret.

The characters are introduced to several new enemies (Selene/Lanfear and the Seanchan), threatened by old ones (Padan Fain, the Children of Light), and betrayed by those once thought to be friends. This book splits up some of our characters as well, with Egwene and Nynaeve starting their training at Tar Valon. But this division doesn’t last and by the end, the story threads all converge, bringing the tale to another semi-conclusion.

I’ve already started the third book, The Dragon Reborn, and I’m hoping to get through one a month. Look for my next review soon!

Have you read the series? How far did you get? Are you watching the show? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Gideon the Ninth

I had heard a lot of buzz about this book and finally had a chance to grab the audio edition. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is the first book in The Locked Tomb series, and the audiobook is narrated by Moira Quirk.

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Here is the blurb:

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Given that description, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. And even as I delved into it, I wasn’t on familiar ground in this story. Gideon and Harrowhark start from a place of long-standing enmity but are forced to work together to solve the mysterious challenge set before them by the Emperor amid strange necromancy, a crumbling tower of secret puzzles, and a competing cast of necromancers and cavaliers from the other houses.

As some of their number die mysteriously, suspicion between the houses increases and no one can be trusted. Does an ancient necromantic monstrosity stalk the halls of Canaan House? Are the necromancers and cavaliers stalking each other? Or is there something even darker going on?

The narrator in this audiobook is British and the accent adds an archaic flair to what is supposedly a science fiction story (given that each house occupies a different planet).

I really enjoyed this book and I’m planning to read the second one (Harrow the Ninth) soon.

Have you read Gideon the Ninth? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

My Best Books of 2021

While I haven’t been posting book reviews regularly, I have been continuing to read a lot of books this year. My Goodreads goal was to read 50 books for 2021 and although I’ll fall short of that, I expect to reach 43 books read by the end of the year. So what did I think of what I read? If you want to see my favorites from the year, keep reading below!

And my required notice: Links in this post are for Amazon’s affiliate program and purchases help to support this blog.

First, the stand-alone novels:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow was the first novel I had read by this author. This was a wonderful portal fantasy and you can read my full review here.

I read another book by Alix E. Harrow and also loved this one. The Once and Future Witches follows three sisters as they rediscover witchcraft in a slightly alternate history tale.

I had never read anything by Octavia E. Butler but listened to Kindred as an audiobook this year. This was a disturbing tale of time travel, racism, and slavery. Now I need to read more books by Octavia Butler.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a fun science fiction tale with an emphasis on science. While I did question one aspect of the biology, it was quite entertaining.

I fit two re-reads in: these books were past favorites and remain so:

I can’t remember how many times I have read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey over the years, but it had been at least 20 years since my last read. I’m always nervous to re-read something I remember so fondly, wondering if it will still stand up to my memories of it. But this book is still a solid winner in McCaffrey’s introduction to her Dragonriders of Pern series. I even wrote a review of this one here.

Then of course with the recent movie release, I had to go back to Dune by Frank Herbert. I had only read this once before and I found that I enjoyed it a lot more this time around. I never read beyond the first book though so I will likely put more of this series on my growing to-be-read list for 2022.

Best series:

I have a bad habit of starting series and not finishing them. So for 2021, I managed to read two complete series and start another that made this list.

I started to read The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo when the recent television adaptation was released. This was a spur of the moment read and these books hadn’t been on my radar prior to the series. But if you’re looking for a YA fantasy series with some romance and fun magic, then these are great.

The first book in The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty had been on my to-be-read list for a while and I’m sooooo glad I finally started this series. This story is set in a world of magical djinn and follows two main characters through struggles for power over the magical city of Daevabad. This series was nominated for a 2021 Hugo Award and has some wonderful political machinations, bad guys who really justify their actions, and a slow-burn romance. I’m actually still reading the last book of this one and I’m dying to know how it ends.

I picked up the first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series (The Calculating Stars) last month and didn’t have time to get to more in the series, but I loved it. This is an alternate history where the space program is accelerated in the 50’s and women are chosen to be astronauts sooner than our real history allowed.

While A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine could be read as a stand-alone novel, there is also a sequel. I liked this first book more than the follow-up though. This is science fiction set in a far future empire with a focus on political machination and intrigue in a uniquely built culture. I also wrote a review for this one here.

Non-fiction:

Lastly, I do try to read some non-fiction every year and did fit a few in. The most thought-provoking one of these for 2021 was Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. This book examines our social structures and racial disparities in a disturbing assessment of American culture. I learned a lot reading this one and would highly recommend it, even if you don’t think you need to do any reading on this subject.

So those are my top picks from the year! Did you read any of these? Do you have any other recommendations? Let me know in the comments (above, near the date). Coming soon – the entire list of books read in 2021, then my planned reads for 2022.

Book Review – The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch is book #3 in the Gentleman Bastard series. I reviewed the earlier books, The Lies of Locke Lamora (#1 – review here), and Red Seas Under Red Skies (#2 – review here). I also listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Michael Page.

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Here is the blurb:

With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

These books are a lot of fun but also take some dark turns. This one in particular will open up wounds from reading the first in the series (The Lies of Locke Lamora) because much of the book follows Locke’s backstory in happier days before all the tragic stuff happened in the first book.

However, we do finally meet Sabetha who is alluded to in the earlier books, but has never made an appearance. She is a worthy rival/love interest for Locke, and their banter keeps this book going through a less deadly plot than the earlier installments. The poison lurking in Locke’s system also provides a countdown type of urgency to the story.

I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly awaiting the next one in the series. There is no release date yet for The Thorn of Emberlain (#4).

Have you read any of The Gentleman Bastards series? Let me know what you thought in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

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