Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“The uncomfortable feeling that God, nevertheless, required a little help form men, and what he mostly got was hinderance.”

Opening historical fiction set during England’s twelfth century. Peters combines medieval history and a modern who-done-it, starring a crusader turned Benedictine monk.

“Brother Cadfael himself found nothing strange in his wide-ranging career, and had forgotten nothing and regretted nothing. He saw no contradiction in the delight he had taken in battle and adventure and the keen pleasure he now found in quietude.”

Not at all Christian in either intent or style, the story nevertheless accepts that Cadfael and those around them are not beset by the doubts and conflicts over faith which be devils moderns.

“When you have done everything else, perfecting a conventual herb-garden is a fine and satisfying things to do.”

The church and clergy are not spared Peters’ critical pen. On the other hand, wrongly accused innocents and young lovers (often one and the same) get special dispensation. A pattern that will persist through the series.

“He had been scouring the borderlands for a spare saint now for a tear or more, looking hopefully towards Wales, where it was well known that holy men and women had been common as mushrooms in autumn in the past, and as little regarded.”

“God resolves all given time.”

Book Review: Black Guards by A. J. Smith. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Black Guards (The Long War#1) by A. J. Smith.

(Three Stars)

“They’ll just assume we’ll go into the wilds and lie low. The idea of us going to Tiris is so stupid it won’t occur to them.” “So, our stupidity is what’s going to keep us alive?” “Precisely … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Engaging epic fantasy. Good world building. Touted for being Lovecraftian, but I didn’t feel it. In fact, Smith’s supernatural dimension felt more organic to his world. Prose was easy to read.  A little humor.

Numerous non sequiturs: “He was flabby, with little muscle, though still immensely strong.” (Huh?) “… carefully placed a bolt, and pulled back on the drawstring.” (Wrong order.) “She’d fed him some of the baled of straw.” (She picked up bales of straw as she fled? Why didn’t she get something nutritional?) “… as the horses barreled into Continue reading

Book Review: A Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Clash of Eagles (Clash of Eagles #1) by Alan Smale

(Four Stars)

“Heading west in as straight a line as they could manage. Which, being Romans, was pretty d—d straight.”

Excellent alternate history. Imperial Rome invades thirteenth-century North America in search of gold. Smale drops the reader into the story and supplies details as the Romans march west. Good character and plot development.

“Even when you were younger. Would you have spoiled her?” “You don’t have daughters, do you?” “No.” “Ask me again when you do.”

Lacks a believable antagonist after the opening scenes. Marcellinus is his own worst enemy, of course, but someone to butt heads with would add to the fun. Sintikala is that and more, but Continue reading

Book Review: Beholder’s Eye by Julie E. Czerneda (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Beholder’s Eye (Web Shifter’s #1) by Julie E. Czerneda

(Four Stars)

“Death came in along the ecliptic, undetected until it cracked the starship’s hull and began to hunt.” Did she mean “elliptic”?

Excellent. Czerneda created an alien lifeform which felt both familiar and other. First person narrative draws the reader into the protagonist’s thoughts and crisis.

“I can do this, I thought. I realized, belatedly, that Esch had not doubted me. I had doubted myself.”

In classic fashion, begins well after the start of the story, if not exactly in the middle. Backstory is supplied as needed. Well done.

“There are always those who fear the unknown. And what am I but Continue reading

Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

(Three Stars)

“Shugli believed his falconers. It took a watcher to recognize another watcher. Against an unknown enemy, only one strategy would succeed: stealth.”

Better-than-average science fiction series opener, which admittedly is a low bar. For all that, the character development and storytelling is exceeds the norm. While the close of this story resolves nothing, it is a closing, rather the usual abrupt cut.

“Stay away from the me-me-me. Clients want you to talk about them.” “I didn’t realize we needed to make the client feel good about themselves. It seems dishonest.” “This is Continue reading

Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Skyward (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson

(Five Stars)

“It was awesome!” “You just said you thought you were going to hurl.” “In a good way.” “How do you hurl in a good way?”

Possibly the best story Brandon Sanderson has written. Yes, I know. Better than most of his adult fantasy. Written for young adults, but will engage many readers.

“It’s not your fault you’re a bloodthirsty ball of aggression and destruction.” “I am?” I perked up. “Like, that’s how you see me?” She nodded. Awesome.

Sanderson mostly tells the story from deep inside the head of his protagonist: Spensa. She has a great inner voice. But key scenes include other points of view which increase rather than diminish the conflict.

“I’d always assumed that when I made it–when I finally got here–I’d stop feeling so afraid. But maybe, deep down, I was … worried.”

Your typical Harry Potter/ Top Gun/ Lord of the Rings gathering of misfits, who train, grow and bond, but Continue reading

Book Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

(Four Stars)

“Everything is connected. And all of it is vulnerable.”

Ready Player One meets Terminator. A chilling morality tale about life in a connected society. Well-conceived and told. Complex cast of stereotypical, but believable characters, designed to rub sparks from each other. None of them fit, one doesn’t even belong among them, and then there are the cops.

“What I do these days is a victimless crime. Money isn’t money anymore. It’s all just ones and zeroes.” “We’re all just ones and zeroes. The trick is figuring out which of us are ones and which of us are zeroes.”

Why not five stars? Didn’t care for the framing story–told too much and served no purpose except as a hook to book #2. Over-the-top profanity–unnecessary and lazy.

“Feels as solid as a paper airplane. It’ll fly, but I don’t know how well it’ll land.” “Relax. That’s hackers for you. We kinda make the parachute after we jump out of the plane.”

Quibbles: Brains may be computers, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all wired alike or that you can just plug in and upload and download thoughts. Twice refers to Sidewinders as air-to-ground missiles; they aren’t.

“If Typhon was designed to protect America, she must first invokes chaos … because they have to be willing to accept us, she said. Because in chaos is opportunity.”

As we become more connected, not only does privacy, but accountability disappears. The real power in Washington lies with the bureaucracy, not the three constitutional branches. And a scenario such as Wendig describes–out-of-control AI concocted by quasi-official agencies two or three times removed from public visibility or control–is possible. Or soon will be.

Quis custodiet custodes?” Juvenal (“Who will guard the guardians [themselves]?”)

Book Review: Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Star Nomad (Fallen Empire #1) by Lindsay Buroker

(Four Stars)

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” “I know where I left the ship six years ago.” “That’s a no, right?”

Pseudo-Star Wars post Episode Six: defeated empire, dead emperor, Jedi/Sith, battered old freighter, wise-cracking captain, guys competing for the self-sufficient woman’s attention, but better. Humor.

“You humor is–” “Inappropriate, I know.” His eyebrow twitched. “It’s how I distract myself when I’m scared for my life.”

Well-drawn cast of conflicting and conflicted characters. Everybody’s got secrets and crossed purposes. Oh, and there are pirates and flesh-eating Continue reading

Book Review: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Here Be Dragons (Welsh Prince’s #1) by Sharon Kay Penman

(Five Stars)

“Poor Wales, so far from Heaven, so close to England.”

Excellent historical fiction. A critical time of Welsh and English history brought to life through Llewelyn ab Iorwerth and Joanna, daughter of John Plantagenet. Inaccuracies and anachronisms are few.

“If sunlight were not silent, she thought, it would sound much like Llewelyn’s laughter.”

Gives even minor characters enough depth. In the inevitable tension between accuracy and a good story, Penman usually goes with the story. And what a story it is.

“The true significance of this charter is that it changes privileges to rights.” “A pity it will be as short-lived Continue reading

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Three Stars)

“There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.”

Disappointing. I like Jane Austen; I like structured magic; I like historical fiction; I like the writing of Mary Robinette Kowal. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit. Kowal follows too closely in the footsteps of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, even to the characters and plot. What Austen lacked in horizon she made up in clarity of describing the world of rural Regency daughters. This book rings false because it is too self-conscious. (Subsequent Glamourist Histories, more properly historical fantasy, are richer and more enjoyable.)

“Jane plucked the fold [of glamour] from the shelf and held it out to Miss Dunkirk, the light dripping in strands of gold that would have made Rumpelstiltskin proud.”

If Jane is so plain, who are Continue reading