Book Review: Peony by Pearl S. Buck (Five Stars)

Book Review: Peony by Pearl S. Buck

(Five Stars)

“You paid money for me, but that does not make me yours. A human creature can’t be bought whole.”

Excellent. Buck delves deep into the thoughts and emotions of the title character and those closest to her. Unlike typical novels, the reader is immersed in the flow of hopes and uncertainty of all the principal cast. Based on history, Buck explores the assimilation of Jewish communities which had existed for hundreds of years in China.

“Out of the dark and sullen bottom of a lake the lotus flowers bloomed upon its surface, and she would pluck the flowers.”

A full immersion for the reader in the life and times of a Jewish remnant in China. Paradoxically the Jews in Europe, persecuted to death, kept to their faith and culture; while Jewish communities in China Continue reading

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Book Review: West of January by Dave Duncan (Four Stars)

Book Review: West of January by Dave Duncan

(Four Stars)

“Revenge was my choice … and I was crazy again. That helped a lot.”

Incredible world building. What if a world, very similar to ours, was in tidal lock with its sun–almost? First published in 1989, this tale slowly introduces the problem and how various groups try to solve it. Followed plot line makes sense in the end.

“Why, when the gods created friendship, did they leave us mortal?”

Some great turns of the phrase: “Voice thin as a lark’s ankle.” “As innocent as a raw egg.” “Madness hung over the grasslands like the stench of rotting meat.”

“Nothing argues more convincingly than cowardice.”

Unlike his contemporary Robert Jordan, Duncan puts a huge story into a single volume–one which he finished. There’s potential for a separate novel in each chapter, but Jordan stays focused. The result is a challenging, satisfying epic. Instead of creating a never-ending story, Duncan wrote more novels.

“I want … no great dying, the next time the sun comes west of January.”

Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Kearne (Three Stars)

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Book Review: A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings #1) by Kevin Kearne

(Three Stars)

“You’ll be safe. Probably.”

As good as Kearne’s Iron Druid series, but needs polishing. I stopped and started reading it several times as the fractured storytelling, while innovative, broke the rhythm. Too many main characters, too many countries and cultures, too little continuity. (A more readable map may have helped, but the ebook map was unreadable.) Everyone sounded the same, despite a maze of cultural details meant to differentiate. In a word: boring.

“My primary talent so far was not thinking things through to the possible consequences of my actions.”

Even with the explanation of how the Bard came into possession of so many journals, the circumstances of several deaths would have prevented him from knowing all he claimed. On the other hand, Kearne ties himself Continue reading

Book Review: Rogue Protocols by Martha Wells (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Rogue Protocols (Murderbot Diaries #3) by Martha Wells

(Five Stars)

“The only smart way out of this was to kill all of them. I was going to have to take the dumb way out.”

Wells hits another home run. She hones the voice and character of her snarky rogue security unit, the titular murderbot. This plot is convoluted enough that any comments risks being a spoiler, so I won’t. Love the cover art.

“… and your SecUnit prayed for the sweet relief of a massive accidental explosive decompression, not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.”

The stories are standalones but there is a background story arch which makes more sense if the stories are read in order.

“Or Miki was a bot who had never Continue reading

Book Review: The Road Ahead by Hali C. Broncucia (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Road Ahead by Hali C. Broncucia

(Three Stars)

This is weird. I liked this story: a contemporary post-apocalyptic female hero’s journey. Good premise; engaging protagonist. I started this review intending to give it four stars, but as I wrote I realized it made no impression on me.

Normally I record quotes as I read, to give readers of my reviews a sense of the writing style of the author. I got to the end of The Road and discovered I’d written nothing. Broncucia writes well; her writing just didn’t move me. In fact, I paused several times while reading it, uncertain whether I wanted to finish it.

Loses one star for the obviously-driven-by-sequel-concerns afterword tacked on the end. It was hokey and added nothing to this story.

Other than that, a good first novel.

Book Review: A Splendid Exchange by William J. Bernstein (Three Stars)

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Book Review: A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein

(Three Stars)

“Today’s massive container ships, jet planes, the Internet, and an increasingly globalized supple and manufacturing network are just further evolutionary steps in a process that has been ongoing for the past five thousand years.’

Economics 101 as told by an elderly English-wannabee uncle. Old-fashioned syntax mars a serious, in-depth study of world history as seen by an economist. (When you’re only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.)

“That not one American in a hundred has heard of [the Treaty of Nanking] Continue reading

Book Review: “Loss of Signal” by S. B. Divya (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Loss of Signal” by S. B. Divya

(Five Stars)

“If someone offers you a chance to cheat death, the sane response is to accept it, right? Maybe not.”

Nice. Very short: very focused; very powerful. Hard science fiction, but even firmer grasp on the emotions of being alone, unarmed, and … scared to death. Find it on tor.com. Enjoy.

“The moon loomed, familiar and white, filling most of my view as I rotated toward it: my cratered dream; my harsh mistress. The blanched horizon terrified me.”

Nice artwork by Jun Cen, though the phase of the moon and the earth don’t match as they should.

“You act out the scenes in your head, and you’re always the hero.”

 

Book Review: Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriet Gillem Robinet (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriet Gillem Robinet

(Five Stars)

“What you reckon owning land be like?” “We’ll wake singing and go to bed laughing. We be having both joy and peace.”

Historical fiction of the best sort. Robinet looks into the lives of freed slaves in the post-Civil War South through the eyes of a young freed slave. Pascal has a heap of challenges, but how he learns to face them makes for entertaining and educational reading.

“White folks should be glad we free so they don’t got to be so mean no more.”

Thoroughly researched. Of necessity in a story this compact and intended for young readers, Robinet simplifies her peripheral characters to allow extra depth to her central cast. Nevertheless, the spectrum of characters presents Continue reading

Book Review: The Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Age of War (The Legends of the First Empire #3) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Five Stars)

“[Rhunes] didn’t live long, but while they lived they burned brighter.”

This series, and Sullivan’s storytelling, keeps getting better and better. This is epic fantasy at its fullest and most satisfying. A turning point of history revolves around the courage and daring of a mixed bag of characters, most of whom have secrets and scars and a few of whom aren’t what they seem. Magic, multiple species, ancient wisdom and new discovers–all that and more.

“Regardless where you are born, the world has a way of finding you and ruining everything.”

The extra that Sullivan brings to the mix is his excellent story development. His plots are complex, but well timed and executed. The greater story grows naturally, and you the reader know things about each character that they don’t know. And yet you are teased with Continue reading

Book Review: “The Martian Obelisk” by Ellen Datlow (Five Stars)

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Book Review: “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata

(Five Stars)

“You have to do everything you can, until you can’t do anymore.”

Amazing story. Like legacy science fiction, addresses the issues of today with clear-eyed reality. Excellent storytelling. Sparse, just-right character development. We learn about Susannah and Nate through their actions.

“We assume we can see forward to tomorrow, but we can’t. We can’t ever really know what’s to come—and we can’t know what we might do, until we try.”

A welcome antidote to the nihilistic gloom or mindless fantasy that pervades modern SFF. Looks reality in the eye, but doesn’t blink.

“This all looks like hope.”

(2018 Hugo Award Short Story finalist)