Reading List – December 2021

This year, many of you noticed something: I read a lot of crap. Just absolute, stinky trash books that I hated. This ranged from the Earthsea series to the Ninefox Gambit series to a few other books scattered here and there, but it also meant I spent a lot of time not reading anything good.

That changes today, my friends.

Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite authors, and it’s been a right long while since I last read his Foundation trilogy. I didn’t read the expanded series with his 1980’s self-fan-fiction writings, but now I think I’m up for it. I have, on this blog, reviewed several of the Robot stories (I, Robot, The Caves of Steel, The Robots of Dawn), as well, so I know I like his style.

So here we are, last month of the year and our last hope!

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series

I read the original trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) as an undergraduate. The main thing I know won’t translate well to 2021 time is the smoking, so I assume other parts won’t age well, either!

Also, I’m only presenting three of these books – the rest will only be available on my Goodreads page.

See my old reviews here

Reading List – November 2021

I read a lot of history books in my preferred era, but there’s always something missing. When I read about the Jacksonian Era without reading about the Revolutionary Era, it would be like a future historian reading about today without understanding the Vietnam War or who Reagan was. This month, I’m reading a variety of “prequel” books to my preferred era.

1776 – David McCullough

David McCullough is what one would call a “super famous” pop historian. 1776 is one of his more famous works, and I know it’s alright because I read it before (long ago, albeit). The focus of the book is on, of course, the year 1776 (which, for you non-Americans, is well known as the year history began).

From this book, I hope to glean information about the Revolution, including what average people thought and how infighting between tory and rebel contributed to the coming political age. If I remember correctly, though, it may just be a military history, which is interesting in and of itself.

Union 1812 – AJ Languth

The War of 1812 is a war easily forgotten in American classrooms. Even I, who really cared about my American history class, noticed that this important event was only briefly spoken about. Perhaps it’s because the capitol was burned, or perhaps it’s because the treaty of Ghent pretty much gained Americans nothing, but people just don’t know that much about the war unless they go looking.

Me? Oh, you know me. I’ve read up on this baby, but I admit my knowledge is quite stacked. I’m familiar with the Southern Theater and the associated Creek War, but I know little to nothing about the Northern Theater. I want to read this book with the intention to draw more information regarding that less-successful-theater, as well as look into the roles of the Madisons, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams.

You Never Forget Your First – Alexis Coe

The quirky title and a CNN article praising Coe’s You Never Forget Your First got me interested enough to rent this one from the library for a little perusal. This is actually a biography of George Washington, which I thought would go along well with 1776 up there.

Washington is one of the more interesting founding fathers (if only because he’s not Jefferson who, regardless of your opinion on him, I find incredibly dull to read about), so I’m excited to see what Coe has dug up. The articles I’ve read praising the book indicate she brings a new vision and interpretation of the historical documents, so perhaps I should have boned up on the more typical works first! 😉

Hint, however: I have already read this book as of posting, and I did read another George Washington biography in the meantime. I have a brief aside comparing the two, but you’ll have to read the review when it comes out to discover my thoughts!

Cherokee Mythology – James Mooney

I believe, wholeheartedly, that the history of Indians has been so woefully overlooked that it’s a sin. As a North Carolinian who grew up in the western part of the state, I’ve always been at least a little interested in the Cherokee. I even wrote about Sequoyah, an important Cherokee inventor, on the Carrot Ranch. Though it’s not terribly difficult to find information on the Cherokee post-colonization, I was looking for something more foundational and old. I wanted to see what pre-columbian history and thoughts are available to us.

This book contains a pretty in-depth history of the Cherokee people as well as a pretty large collection of myths. It was sanctioned by the government, and most of the information comes from primary source documents. There’s a companion, The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, that may be of interest to me later. Both are free on Project Gutenberg as they are now in the public domain.

Book Review: Revenant Gun

I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.

The Book

Revenant Gun Read 2021Raven Stratagem
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
2018
Amazon Link

I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.” You can read my other reviews of Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem on the links given. This review will contain spoilers for the earlier books in the trilogy.

Non-Spoiler Review

Just like the rest of the books in the series, this book was just perfectly ok. It’s very out-there, and it’s not even really sci-fi. It’s fantasy in space. *spoiler for previous books* The previous books set up this world such that the government is fractured, so there’s still a lot of room left to play with here. It’s important to note that Jedao died in the first book, but Cheris ate his memories and sort of became Jedao in the second book.

In this book, characters like Kujen and Inesser become important. They were mentioned a few times before in earlier books, but Kujen’s shadowy evil finally takes center stage as the Jedaos (yes, multiple) combat him. Inesser finally shows up, but she suffers viciously from the “Worf Effect” wherein she’s supposed to be strong for the sake of showing a villain being stronger. Inesser is there simply to show that the newer Jedao is still a Mary Sue, unbeatable character, and that just made her so useless to me. Oh, and that newer Jedao? He’s an unkillable, immortal spaceship/human/alien with every single skill you could ever want. He’s a creation of Kujen and he makes literally no sense to me from a character creation perspective.

I also never really understood why Jedao had to go along with Kujen’s orders. He didn’t have the Kel formation instinct, so he wasn’t biologically bidden to do Kujen’s will except that Kujen could have him knocked out if he didn’t. He was immortal and pretty much all-powerful. Jedao had nothing to fight for, no reason to live, and was pretty much suicidal, so I didn’t see why he worked with Kujen at all.

The character I’ve liked throughout the book, Ajewen Cheris, barely shows up in this one, and even then it’s the Jedao in her head that’s important. The multiple Jedaos thing really got to me, and I didn’t like it at all. Cheris has never been as compelling ever since she ate Jedao’s memories, but she was still my favorite character because her adventure was the most fun.

Despite all my complaints, the book was still somehow fun to read most of the time. It was alright, I guess.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book is literally about a bunch of overpowered people flying around in spaceships/aliens trying to kill Kujen, who everyone hates. Even the people who work for Kujen hate him. They make up a bunch of excuses as to why they can’t kill him, most of it due to the Kel inability to disobey orders, and the rest of it to do with the bullshit magic system that isn’t well explained at all. It still feels like an anime where the armies “HAVEN’T EVEN USED THEIR FINAL FORMS!” until Kujen finally bites the dust.

And, the entire time, Jedao is just this absolute teenager’s hero. There’s nothing wrong with him except his ‘craziness,’ which isn’t even clearly insanity. It seems like he gets depressed and makes everything harder for himself, but that’s about it. Cheris as Jedao makes a little more sense because she really cares for people and the servitors, but even she seems like this weird, senselessly powerful thing that can’t be beaten.

After reading all three books, the only thing I’ve learned about battle strategy in this universe is “Jedao can’t be beaten and there’s no use trying.” That’s it. If Jedao is leading you, you’re invincible (at least as far as groups go). There is no point to this. Kujen never had a chance, not once Jedao decided he had to go.

Next week:

I’m just glad this is done and I don’t care what’s coming next, to be honest.

Book Review: Raven Stratagem

I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.

The Book

Raven Stratagem read 2021Raven Stratagem
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
2017
Amazon Link

I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.” You can read the first review of the series, Ninefox Gambit, here.

Non-Spoiler Review

At times, I thought this book was way better than the first, but other times I was like “hecks no”. The first chapter, at the very least, wasn’t as mind-blowingly crazy as the first chapter in Ninefox Gambit. The plot was very political and complex, which is always something I can dig, but some of the many issues I had with Ninefox Gambit remained difficult to trudge through in this book. In addition, it just wasn’t as fun as Ninefox, but it did have a more reasonable, better plot that wasn’t just a smash-up of Starship Troopers and Heart of Darkness.

The big issue is still that this just doesn’t feel like sci-fi, but like fantasy. Sure, “science, when sufficiently advanced, seems like magic,” but this just doesn’t even feel like science fiction. They fly around in moths, not ships, which I guess is fine. But everything feels like this vaguely East-Asian flavored space magic. The battle scenes, as a result, read like an anime wherein they’re just shouting names of moves that don’t make sense.

Something else that bothered me in this book was that one of the main characters, Mikodez, had a trans-man brother who he often had sex with. I don’t mind the trans part, no matter what you may think about North Carolinians, but the brother part? Got me. Reeeeally got me. Not a fan of incest, not a fan of “my brother’s hard cock” type of thing. Hard nope. Had to put the book down for quite a while after that part, even if it was brief.

Lastly, the book didn’t really focus on the main character of the first book in the way it did in the first book. The narrator-focused characters were all new, and they all had their own interesting flavors, but Cheris as she was presented in Ninefox Gambit was one of my favorites.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The story of Raven Stratagem was that General Jedao abducted a Kel Swarm by hijacking the Kel’s heirarchical structures. The Kel have something called “formation instinct,” which means they can’t disobey orders without significant discomfort or death. Because of Jedao’s standing, he couldn’t be disobeyed by anyone other than non-Kel or failed Kel, so he kicks them off the ship.

Everyone figures out that Jedao plans to bring down the hexarchate government by making people love him, and a bunch of people defect from the hexarchate because Jedao’s a smug bastard. But no one can figure out how Jedao intends to make his splinter faction work for good.

That is, at least, until they realize that it’s just Cheris pretending to be Jedao. She’d eaten his memories in Ninefox Gambit, and most of Raven Stratagem led you to believe that she’d been killed or completely possessed by Jedao. Cheris, as she was presented in the first book, was perfectly powerful for her position. She had to fight Jedao as well as her enemy, and that was probably the most tense part of the book. Here? Cheris with Jedao’s skills was way, way too overpowered. Mary Sue all to heck. She didn’t have the same characterization at all, and she may just as well have been Jedao. The only difference I could detect between Cheris in Raven and Jedao in Ninefox was that Cheris was nice to servitors and good at math. That’s just added powers, nothing else.

Next week:

One left! Sure, it’s a tad bit longer, but it’s the last one and then I’ll be done!

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit

I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.

The Book

514kzejr15lNinefox Gambit
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
2016
Amazon Link

I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.”

Non-Spoiler Review

First, I really enjoyed reading this. I think it was becuase the tension was always high, and I thought it felt like a lot of good modern sci-fi. There were concepts I liked – like the Black Cradle form of immortality – and Cheris was a great character to follow. The fact that the book was enjoyable as long as I shut my brain off means that I did like reading it at times. However, there were elements that I typically don’t like.

On the back of the book, one of the reviewers said this book is “Starship Troopers meets Apocalypse Now – and they’ve put Kurtz in charge… An unmissable debut.”

That was probably too accurate.

This book felt a lot like Starship Troopers, which I found to be just OK. And Apocalypse Now is a bit too on the nose. This book was basically a mashup of those two stirred together with the worst science fiction I’ve ever read. I have no idea why the author even thought it a good idea to go with a far-future feel rather than high fantasy, because the “calendrical” stuff was more like magic than science. When there needed to be any explanations of what was going on, the pages would explode with a wall of word salad that would confuse anyone. The word salad was there to confuse you and distract you from the fact that no, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. It’s magic fueled by religion, no science anywhere, no matter how much math they say is involved.

The villains never, not even once, made any sense. I never got the feeling that they presented any real danger, because even the intercepted messages from Vh indicated they were always losing. The twist at the end about who Shuos Jedao really was not only didn’t take me by surprise, but it felt like a total letdown because I couldn’t agree with him on many aspects.

Overall, it was a fun read, but I really think it felt more like an anime than it should have. There were lots of “formations” and weird names of ships and formations that made me think someone was going to shout “HADOKENNNNN!!!!” any second. However, the problems I had with the book were too big to really overcome, and the walls of word salad put it over the edge.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I thought the plot of the book was mostly ok. Kel Cheris, a soldier, is strangely good at math and is manipulated by a spy into becoming anchored to an undead general (i.e. she hears a voice and sees a shadow no one else can). The mechanisms of that were interesting, but like all the other “sci-fi” elements in this book, it was bullsh*t and full of word salad. They made a big deal out of Jedao being insane and a traitor, but one too useful to put to death for good.

Anyway, they got her attached to General Jedao and they went and basically whipped up on their enemy. Kel Nerevor was a rival with Cheris for a while, but then became suddenly subservient when beaten in calendrical sword dueling, then was captured and not heard from again. I was sorely disappointed in that whole sequence.

As mentioned in the non-spoiler review, the bad guys never felt like a real threat. Cheris kept feeling down when her men would get killed, but there were weird soldier-focused-viewpoints that showed they didn’t care because they were Kel, the disposables. Even when the amputation gun (it was magic, don’t let this book fool you) came up, I was like “This is trumped up because the enemy shouldn’t have waited until they were invaded to do this.” The weapons escalated in a nonsense fashion that I found anime-like.

Toward the end, Jedao and Cheris are backstabbed by their government, and Cheris eats his soul in order to become Jedao+Cheris combined. It’s revealed that Jedao became a traitor because he didn’t like the government, and I was like, “Uh, duh.” The “twist” was both obvious and had only been a twist because Jedao hadn’t told Cheris before. I hate twists that shouldn’t be twists, twists that are just because one ally wouldn’t tell the other person what was going on.

Anyway, it ended with a resolution to go after the immortal leader of the hexarchate/empire, and I was like, “This is Ancillary Justicejust not done as well.”

Next week:

Well, there’s another book in this series, and I’m just crazy enough to keep going despite the first being just fun without much reason behind liking it! Onward to Raven Stratagem!

Reading List – September 2021

Though I think he’s not been blogging for a while, I have thought about Brian from Books of Brian and his review of the Machineries of Empire series. I’ve decided to go ahead and explore these books and see what he liked about them.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire Trilogy

An innovative set of books, this trilogy explores a brand new universe from the mind of a new author. I’ve read that there’s supposed to be a lot of east Asian inspirations in these, and I think that will be pretty cool. I don’t know much else about them, so it’ll be exciting to jump in and find out more!

Divider

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Book Review: His Name Was Zach

Last year, I reviewed the second book in this series – Her Name Was Abby – and was absolutely blown away. Because the third book (out now, but not at the time) was coming, I decided to back up a hot second and read the first book in the series: His Name Was Zach.

The Book

His Name Was Zach
Author: Peter Martuneac
2019
Amazon Link (and hey, if you’re reading this in the couple days after the review dropped, book’s FREE right now!)

I really enjoyed the second book in the series last year, and I will say you can easily read that second book without reading the first. I like it when books give you that option, so feel free to look at that review and consider it if this one doesn’t look like you.

Like with Her Name Was Abby, I wanted to say here that some rather intense and somewhat violent situations occur within the book. This book also has more sexual themes and violence, and the amount of information and events that could be upsetting are more numerous in this book. They are, indeed, well done, and it’s very clear who the good guys are, but you might want to know these things are coming if you’re considering the read.

Non-Spoiler Review

Super action-packed, fast-paced, and contains ups and downs in tension that keep the story interesting throughout. The chapters and mini-storylines are somewhat episodic, but they build to a “season finale” at the end of the book that’s worth sticking around for.

At first, I was a little worried about how useless Abby seemed to be, but there was a huge turning point early in the book where she made the decision to “grow up”. Martuneac, who is great at metaphor and symbolism, excellently coupled this change with hints and foreshadowing with what was to come. Even though Abby shared a smaller portion of the narrator’s attention with Zach, paying attention to her gives a better sense of what’s coming.

Speaking of Martuneac’s inherent artfulness in writing, he continues an amazing spree of American history allusions. I don’t think it was as fully developed in this volume as in the second book, but it’s still got this post-reconstruction, going-out-west sort of feel. It’s filled with the ideas of individualism, struggle against the wild (the zombie-infested landscape is known as The Wild), and dealing with those people who are fleeing civilization in order to fulfill their own sick ideas of pleasure.

For better or worse, the villains were truly villainous. It doesn’t take a long time to meet Henry, so I think it’s not a spoiler to say that guy was REALLY terrible. You’ll hate him, and you’ll love to hate him. Genuinely terrible person.

Perhaps it’s because I read the second book first, but I’m a terrible person and will compare it a little bit to Her Name was Abby. This book was genuinely enjoyable, but I must admit Abby was better composed, written, and complex. Like I said above, Henry was really, really bad, and he posed a good villain because you just wanted him to die. His presence and activities in that early piece of the book did serve to better define main characters Zach and Abby, but he was a bit on the “moustache twirling evil” side. Later villains introduced in different “episodes” within the book were a bit more complex (Vicky, the Irishman, to some extent Mayor Calvin), but they didn’t have the political and emotional complexity of the villains in book 2.

Ultimately, part of what this book does is prepare you for the end. It’s a building experience, and then that ending is like “OMG.” You kind of know it’s coming since Martuneac uses foreshadowing like an absolute boss, but it still hits like a truck.

Anyway, long story short, these human-focused, post zombie-apocalypse books are really good. Zach has a few more awkward tell-instead-of-show moments, but as a whole I would recommend it, especially so you can enjoy book 2 to its fullest.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

Spellbound, an anthology put together by David Alatorre and including a story by Robbie Cheadle, comes to the blog next week! Stay tuned!

Book Review: 1NG4

This was me taking a chance on a book gotten on a Free Book weekend. The book was short enough, though, that I wanted to go ahead and share it with y’all rather than hold back!

The Book

ING4
Author: Berthold Gambrel
2019
Amazon Link

I found Berthold Gambrel’s website through Peter Martenuac’s website. He writes extremely thoughtful reviews (including one of my own free book, American Chimera, which simultaneously makes me feel nervous and very proud), and I thought someone with such detailed thoughts and good writing skills would write a good story.

Non-Spoiler Review

1NG4 was an intriguing story (was it a short? I think it was more of a novella, maybe novelette) with a great setting. While people think that science occurs in its own vacuum, I very much appreciated the way money, politics, and science overlapped in this near-future sci fi short.

Gambrel imagines a unique dystopia in which water has swelled over the shores and the oceans are bigger. There’s new supernational governments (and thus funding sources), and there’s lots of mystery. I’m also very impressed at how quickly he could build an entire world in such a short space.

Also impressive was how he was able to include a full plot alongside the worldbuilding within the space. He was able to feed information smoothly between all the other pieces of information. Before the titular character 1NG4 shows up, we meet a couple of scientists investigating a mysterious object that can generate nearly infinite energy. They’re not told where it’s from, what it’s about, or what they’re really supposed to understand – but they’re doing it, because it’s a job. Like real scientists would.

Twists about what 1NG4 really is, what’s going on, and the alignments of the professors kept the story moving. If you’re looking for a short sci-fi in an interesting and political world, this one is a good option for you.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I don’t like giving too many spoilers of indie books, but this one’s two years old now so I’m going to go straight to the part I care about spoiling: messy endings.

Often, I don’t like messy endings. Binti: The Night Masquerade had a horrible messy ending. 1NG4, however, had a messy ending that made sense. Some things just remain a mystery, but Gunnar and Jenny’s story really does wrap up. He leaves room for more to occur within his world, but he essentially finishes. The messy ending, wherein things like 1NG4’s true origins and some information about the energy machine are not explained, still works out well.

If Gambrel chose to write another entry in the series, I’d probably go for it!

Coming Up Soon:

This book was a surprise entry – I’ll continue with D. Wallace Peach’s Liar’s and Thieves on Monday!

Reading List – July 2021

It’s the summer indie book month, and boy do we have some hot reads this July! You’ll want to stick around for these.

1NG4 – Berthold Gambrel

I recently met Berthold Gambrel through his website, and I then also followed his twitter. Peter Martenuac (of His Name Was Zach fame) retweeted that 1NG4 was on a free weekend, so I had to check it out!

Not only that, this is a pretty short book. That’s why, on THIS WEDNESDAY, I’m going to be posting one more review than usual on my blog!

Amazon Link

Liars and Thieves – Diane Wallace Peach

I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). Peach is a reliably good author, and I’m excited to see what this new series entails. One of Peach’s sneak previews that she posted on her blog indicated that at least one of the main characters was going to be a goblin, and any sort of non-human character excites me. I don’t believe I’ve read anything published with a goblin main character, so it’s time to see how Peach pulls that off!

Amazon Link

His Name Was Zach – Peter Martuneac

Last year, Peter Martuneac submitted his book Her Name Was Abby through my review request form. Though it was the second book in the series (Zach, here, was the first), I was blown away. I assume Martuneac experienced some artist growth between the two books, but I was very into Abby and looked forward to reading this installation. The third book is out, too, so I have to catch up!

Amazon Link

We All Die In the End – Elizabeth Merry

Elizabeth Merry and I follow each others’ blogs, and I know she’s got great style. Her characters are vivid, and her prose beautiful. This collection of shorts (“scenes”) look to be connected by setting, and I think the book as a whole may benefit from this connection. Definitely looking forward to what each tale may hold for me.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Reading List – February 2021

Despite my deep love of political history, I’ve not read any political treatises! Woe, woe is me! This month is intended to fix that gap in my knowledge.

As you may also know, the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic is starting this month! Be prepared at ANY MOMENT for a Sue Vincent book review!

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

atlas shrugged read 2021

Ayn Rand’s philosophy of “objectivism” is one of the most important political philosophies in modern (mostly American) politics. Libertarians, especially, can point to a lot of her writing as essential. She’s cited by famous people such as Mark Cuban, Ben Shapiro, and both Pauls (Ron and Rand). Objectivism states itself to be entirely logical, which makes it really hard to argue against because believers can just claim you illogical to argue against them.

But what really is objectivism, and how did Rand develop it? That’s what this dive into a horrifyingly long book is going to be about. At least there’s supposed to be a fiction element surrounding the political!

The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto reading 2021

What better way to follow up a libertarian, capitalist behemoth than by reading the Communist Manifesto? Partially chosen because Atlas Shrugged is so long that I worry about getting everything done in the timeframe I’ve planned for myself, the Manifesto is short and entirely focused on talking about… well, communism. At risk of getting myself put on some sort of list, I’m reading this and hoping to learn more about the world in which we live.

The Prince – Niccolo Macchiavelli

The Prince reading 2021

The Prince is the 16th-century political treatise on how to be a dangerous mofo and unify Italy. Most kids learn in high-school about this how-to manual for dictators and evil monarchs, but I happen to question the modern applicability of a book written so long ago. Nonetheless, important books such as these are essential to understanding our world, times, and culture.

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here