Discussion:
RI 2019: Ten picks
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Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-01-01 04:36:23 UTC
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HAPPY NEW YEAR RASFW!

Going back through my "RI" postings for 2019, I have pulled ten together
into sort of a "Best Of 2019". Aside from the first, which I put there
on purpose, they are only generally grouped in descending order -- there
is certainly no book (or series) here that I did not enjoy.

It is the case that mostly these are either stand-alones, or first-books.
I didn't think it really fit to include entries in ongoing series that I
did enjoy (Skulduggery Pleasant, for example). The exception to this
is technically in a series, but basically is a new cast of characters.

In the case where I read and reviewed a series in a burst, I have
included the titles of the other books, but it still counts as one
entry.

The notes are as I posted before (I may have fixed a few typos), with some
new notes [in brackets] before each review if I had anything else to say.

=====
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]

Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
https://amzn.to/2DKtVqS

What if bands of mercenaries were just called 'bands'. And what if they
gave themselves names? And what if we make a whole book around the
metaphor of a group of tired middle aged guys getting the band back together
and going on tour?

Well, frankly, it would be really good.

Clay Cooper works for the city watch in a small out of the way town.
He's happily married to a smart woman who brings in much more money with
her horses than he does with his peace keeping, and he has a wonderful
young daughter who makes friends with frogs. He has a dark history, but
has finally managed to calm his temper and make peace with himself. Mostly.
There are things in his past he would have done differently, or not at all,
and they do wear at him some nights.

It's wearing a bit when he comes home one evening following an after
work round at the tavern where the younger set wanted to hear stories
of the greatest band ever, Saga, stories Cooper would just as soon forget.
And then he gets home, and there is Gabriel, Saga's front-man on his doorstep,
wanting to get the band together again. It's not the first time.
Gabriel is adrift in life, his marriage failed, the money gone and no
purpose centering him. But this time is different; it's not some quixotic
scheme of lucrative arena appearances or half-baked plans to take real
gigs again. This time it's family.

The only good thing to come out of Gabriel's marriage was Rose. And though
he discouraged her, she was bound and determined she would be in a mercenary
band just like her dad. She even had the natural talent for it, and had
built a local following, so when the call came out from the Republic of Castia
for mercenaries to turn back the HeartWyld Horde, Rose answered. And when
the Horde turned out to be the biggest collection of monsters in the last
hundred years, and when all of Castia outside the walls fell, Rose is trapped
in the following siege -- if she is alive at all. Help me persuade the
others, Gabriel pleads with Cooper. We have to go after Rose.

It's a terrible choice, but an easy one for Cooper. Rose is almost certainly
dead. Cooper has a wife and daughter he loves more than his own life. He
sends Gabriel away.

Except:

Her eyes fluttered open. "Daddy?"

"Yes, angel?"

"Is Rosie going to be okay?"

His heart froze. His mouth opened and closed as his mind
groped for a suitable response. "You were listening earlier?"
he asked. But of course she'd been. Eavesdropping had become
a favourite habit of hers since overhearing him and Ginny
whispering one night that they were getting her a pony for
her birthday.

His daughter nodded sleepily. "She's in trouble, right? Is
she going to be okay?"

"I don't know," Clay answered. Yes, he should have said.
Of course she is. You could lie to children if it did them
good, couldn't you?

"But Uncle Gabe is going to save her," Tally mumbled. Her
eyes drooped shut, and Clay hesitated a moment, hoping she
had fallen back asleep. "Right?" she asked, eyes open again.

This time the lie was ready. "That's right, honey."

"Good," she said. "But you're not going with him?"

"No," he said softly. "I'm not."

"But you would come if it was me, right, Daddy? If I was
trapped by bad guys far away? You would come and save me?"

There was an ache in his chest, a seething rot that might
have been shame, or sorrow, or sickening remorse, and was
probably all three. He was thinking of Gabriel's broken
smile, the words his oldest friend had uttered before walking
out.

'You're a good man, Clay Cooper'.

"If it was you," he said in a voice still fierce for how
quietly it spoke, "then nothing in the world could stop
me."

Tally smiled and tightened her tiny grip. "You should save
Rosie too, then," she said.

And just like that he cracked. Clamped his teeth shut on a
sob that threatened to choke him, closed his eyes against
the well of tears, too late.

He goes.

Nothing is easy. Gabriel has pawned his magic sword. The rest of
Saga are scattered. One is the King; he's certainly not going to
go haring off. Another has good reasons to kill all the rest. None
of them are young men, Castia is a thousand miles cross-country,
and the HeartWyld is no more friendly to humans than it ever was.
And yet: "You would come and save me?"

In some ways, this is a very Pratchett book. In fact, if you think
of Clay Cooper as a somewhat more substantial Fred Colon, you won't
be too far wrong. Although I believe Eames is a Canadian, Cooper
and his mates are very English types, and some of the action is
very funny. Some of it. In other places it grabs you by the heart
or throat. Think half Spinal Tap, half Conan, half Fafhrd & the
Grey Mouser and half Fawlty Towers. I'm sure that there are many
music industry jokes I missed, but I got enough, and in the end
it's more than a funny book.

This is a second world fantasy, and humans are not native to the
setting, having been brought to the world by the almost vanished
Druins, who were themselves not native. With the fledgling human
kingdoms not able to drive back the monsters of the HeartWyld, bands
of mercenaries formed, selling their services in a heroic age just
now passing, until the last Druin noble makes the monsters probably
unkeepable promises, and sets them against Castia (whose hands are
not at all clean, for the usual colonial reasons).

Clay Cooper is the heart of this book, and in the beginning you
wonder how he and Saga could tie their own shoes much less be "Kings
Of The Wylde", then gradually you begin to understand what he was,
what he is, and that Gabriel was right.

Five stars.

=====
[This was a re-read, but I enjoyed it as much as in middle school].

The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster (Author), Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
https://amzn.to/2EFcmJk

There's a saying that any man can do any amount of work, as long as it's
not the work he's supposed to be doing. Case in point: Norton Juster who
had a Ford Foundation grant to write a book about architecture for children.

In the event, that book was never finished, and the result was 1961's _The
Phantom Toolbooth_, one of my favorite books growing up. This is the story
a bored young boy of indeterminate age named Milo:

There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do
with himself -- not just sometimes, but always.

When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was
out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming
home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he
was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there
he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested
him -- least of all the things that should have.

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,"
he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school.
"I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems,
or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where
Ethiopia is or how to spell February." And, since no one
bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of
seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

Then one day he returns from school to his apartment to find a mysterious
package:

"ONE GENUINE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH," it stated -- and then it
went on:

"EASILY ASSEMBLED AT HOME, AND FOR USE BY THOSE WHO HAVE
NEVER TRAVELED IN LANDS BEYOND".

"Beyond what?" thought Milo as he continued to read.

"THIS PACKAGE CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ITEMS:

"One (1) genuine turnpike tollbooth to be erected according
to directions.

"Three (3) precautionary signs to be used in a precautionary
fashion.

"Assorted coins for use in paying tolls.

"One (1) map, up to date and carefully drawn by master
cartographers, depicting natural and man-made features.

"One (1) book of rules and traffic regulations, which may
not be bent or broken."

And in smaller letters at the bottom it concluded:

"RESULTS ARE NOT GUARANTEED, BUT IF NOT PERFECTLY SATISFIED,
YOUR WASTED TIME WILL BE REFUNDED."

Having nothing better to do, Milo assembles the toolbooth, gets in a
electric car he had long ago tired of and drives into one of childhood's
greatest adventures.

Accompanyed by his stalwart companion Tock, the watch-dog, and the
less than reliable Humbug, Milo gets stuck in The Doldrums, jumps
to Conclusions, has to eat his words, is sentenced to the dungeon,
battles demons and returns Rhyme & Reason to the kingdom of Wisdom.

Obviously it is an allegory of sorts, but I still find it a delightful
one with many striking turns of phrase and leaps of logic. For instance:

Except for these, and the big brass cannon being pulled
along behind, they all looked very much like the residents
of any other small valley to which you've never been.

or:

Thick black clouds hung heavily overhead as they fled through
the darkness, and Milo, looking back for just a moment,
could see the awful shapes coming closer and closer. Just
to the left, and not very far away, were the Triple Demons
of Compromise -- one tall and thin, one short and fat, and
the third exactly like the other two. As always, they moved
in ominous circles, for if one said "here," the other said
"there," and the third agreed perfectly with both of them.
And, since they always settled their differences by doing
what none of them really wanted, they rarely got anywhere
at all -- and neither did anyone they met.

This particular edition is the 50th anniversary one, and has essays
from Juster and a number of other people. I read Juster's (and now
know that he was the model for The Wheather Man) but did not bother
with the others. Curiously, there is not one from Jules Feiffer
who provided the famous illustrations, and who as far as I know is
still alive and working.

It is often the case that old favorites can disappoint, especially when
read from an older and more cynical perspective. That is not the
true here, and _The Phantom Tollbooth_ remains a delightful book.
If you have never read it, you should. If you have children, they should.

=====
[This was a year for harem/reverse-harem books. If you don't mind some
(OK, a lot) of sex with your adventure this is a pretty good fantasy
as well.]

Rise of the Shadow Rogue
by Mike Truk
https://amzn.to/2Id7UCp

Growing up a street urchin at the fringe's of Port Gloom's crime
Family, Kellik wants in. Now, he faces his final test from membership,
an almost impossible heist specified by his "mentor" Everyman Jack.
Despite the layout of the building and the disposition of the guards
not being what he was told, and despite the guards apparently being
tipped off, somehow Kellik succeeds. And yet when he presents the
proof to Everyman Jack, expecting to be officially "made" in front
of a drunken celebration, Jack proclaims the purloined article a
fake, and Kellik a liar.

At the moment of his anticipated triumph, Kellik is read out of the
Family entirely, run through with a crossbow bolt and dumped in the
harbor as dead. And in fact, he should have died, but an unlikely
series of events (and some clever words from a man who can barely
even speak at this point) lead him to a down-on-her-luck healer and
a second chance at life. At first one thought drives him: Revenge
on Everyman Jack, but even more than that, an explanation for what
happened. But as he starts to put together a team, he comes to
realize that, oddly, he cares less and less about rejoining the
Family that cast him out, and more and more about cleaning up the
corrupt city they infest. It's odd. There's certainly nothing in
his background that would inspire such thoughts. Is there?

This is an entertaining second world fantasy. Port Gloom doesn't
quite reach the "heights" of Lankhmar or Ankh-Morpork, but that's
the kind of place it is; perhaps a bit more like the latter as it
is home to many different races and species. Kellik provides an
entertaining first person narrative, and if the harem aspects seem
a bit tacked on to the basic story, well, there may be a reason
Kellik is so magnetic.

Also, I have to admire the character name 'Everyman Jack' and the
pen name (I presume) 'Mike Truk'. This book does not reach the end
of Kellik's quest, and I will read the next one when it comes out.

=====
[This is the mid-series book, but really it's a good stepping on point
as we switch progatonists here.]

Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles Book 4)
by Ilona Andrews
https://amzn.to/2nQY3vZ

The previous Innkeeper books focused on Inkeeper Dina Demille, her
living & semi-sentient Inn, The Gertrude Hunt and her werewolf relationship
issues. This entry focuses on Dina's sister Maude, and *her* vampire
relationship issues.

Of course in this setting, vampires & werewolves are human-related alien
(as in space alien) species, so full moons, and turning into bats are
not problems. That's not to say vampires don't have a lot of other issues.
As warlike, headstrong, paranoid and hidebound species it could hardly be
otherwise. Maude *thought* she understood vampires. She married one,
after all, and her daughter is half-vampire. But it turned out when it
counted that she didn't and she found herself disowned by those she had
made her family and cast out to a miserable frontier planet with a barely
survivable climate and no prospect of being able to work her way off and
barely any way to keep her and her daughter in food.

When rescue finally comes from the family who will *never* abandon her
she spends her time at The Gertrude Hunt putting her life back together
and fighting Dina's enemies, but The Gertrude Hunt has attracted its own
vampire hanger-on.. Does she dare go down that path again? If she does,
it will be on her terms this time.

This is the most "Kate Daniels" book of the Innkeeper series so far.
Although Maude's story is written in the third person rather than
the first, unlike her sister she's a warrior, and the Andrews'
tactical worldview comes as naturally to her as it does to Kate. She
deftly analyzes her new situation, her problems in making a place for
herself (having learned all too well that love does not conquer all),
the challenges offered by the clan's enemies (and they are that,
even if they have set things up to seem otherwise) and the opportunities
offered by what could be friends. Of course while doing all that she
somehow has to manage a prospective mother-in-law who has already nearly
killed her once, a daughter who tends to break her playmates and
the galaxy's deadliest wedding.

This is my favorite Innkeeper book so far (though there is very little
Inkeeping in it). We still have the ongoing meta-plot of the missing
Demille parents, which gets very little service here, but which remains
on both sisters' minds, so I'm sure there is more to come.

=====
[This was the first Medrano I read. He has some tropes, waxing & waning.
This series has less of the RPG setup he tends towards. It drops a bit
after book one, but not precipitously.]

Heaven's Fallen (Mantles of Power Book 1)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
https://amzn.to/2GRzogX

Mortal Gods (Mantles of Power Book 2)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
https://amzn.to/2GRzQMb

The Amazon recommender pitched _Heaven's Fallen_ at me back in April,
but I only recently got around to it because the cover looked a bit
anime to me and I had plenty of others in my to read stack. In the
event, I liked it quite a bit.

Having been discovered in an illicit love affair, and assigned as
punishment to a minor administrative post in a agricultural area
where nothing interesting ever happened, Angel Isalla had uncovered
a conspiracy in the Heavens. A conspiracy to do what she never learned
because as soon as she voiced her suspicions to a mistakenly trusted friend,
she found herself beaten, shorn of her wings, almost fatally poisoned and
cast down from The Heavens into The Hells.

She surely would have died except for the incredible happenstance of
the demon healer Kanae being out gathering herbs in just the right spot
to stop her descent. Taken home by Kanae, her wounds treated and the poison
neutralized, Isalla starts to become familiar with the oppressive, but not
necessarily "evil" environment of The Hells, and to make plans to deal
with the problems in The Heavens.

As it happens, she had sent a note with her suspicions to her lover, and
finds that in itself was enough to get her captured and also brought
to The Hells. When Isalla is healed enough, she and Kanae set off on
a rescue mission though Kanae is very ambivalent as she has also come to
care for Isalla herself...

When I say Isalla was cast down, it's not quite that simple. The Heavens,
The Hells and the Mortal Lands are all dimensions, essentially, with portals
between them. It does seem that generally one goes "down" through portals
to The Hells, but at any rate, Isalla's enemies had to open portals beneath her
during her fall, it's not the cosmography where you can just fall off a cloud
or whatever and end up in Hell. It's also not a Western cosmology at all.
Angels aren't "good", demons aren't "evil", mortals aren't souls in play
between the two -- they are all just different kinds of beings who (largely)
live in different places.

In general I found the two main characters here appealing. I would say
that Isalla does come off a bit naive and unsure at times, but she is
fairly young for an angel, and has just had her worldview upended. There
is a kind of Hurt/Comfort vibe going on and some almost Chalkeresque things
going on with Isalla's lover (which it's left very ambiguous whether we should
approve of or not), and Medrano does seem to believe strongly in the healing
power of lesbian polyamory (though he doesn't write actual sex scenes).

Book two of the trilogy, _Mortal Gods_ continues the storyline, expands the
setting to include the Mortal Lands, and reveals a bit more about the
conspiracy. I won't say much that would spoil the ending of _Heaven's
Fallen_, but it's a good follow-up and I enjoyed it as well. Book three
is due out in September, and I will be reading that one as well.

=====
[Book two is now out.]

Star Pirate
by Mia Archer
https://amzn.to/2SBcTjn

The alien invasion has made Natalie/Night Terror aware of things at the
periphery of the Big Picture, but it turns out one Earth woman knew about
it all years earlier.

Some years previously Flynn (not her real name) was at a SF Con and
lured to the hotel room of a beautiful woman whose sexy alien cosplay
turned out to be just a *little* too good. By the time she escaped
and killed the slaver who had captured her she was a *long* way
from home. In the Civilized Galaxies, in fact, of which the Milky
Way is definitely not one. Not having any real desire to go home
(especially if it might lead other slavers to a defenseless planet
where the women look like the ruling race, but come in all kinds
of different sexy exotic colors), Flynn decides piracy is for her.

Well, piracy and confidence jobs. Her specialty is seducing beautiful women
and then slipping off with their prized possessions, and she has just made
the ultimate score: Lifting the tiara from the Selevas Princess Royal, Seleya.
She can't help but feel a little bad about it; there really was a connection
there. Not bad enough to return it; let's be practical.

Princess Royal Seleya is to some extent a bird in a gilded cage,
or "poor little rich girl". With a mother whom she hates and fears,
and who shows no sign of dying any time soon, her life is a constant
round of assassination attempts and court politics. Now, having
lost the Tiara, and in the process of being de-designated as official
heir, Seleya finds that things literally cannot get any worse. It's
liberating in a way. Could a princess use her pro forma military
training to actually pursue a pirate?

If the Night Terror books are Archer's homage to comics, this series
is her love letter to Star Wars, the events and characters of which
are frequently namechecked (Flynn is a fan, after all) and to which
many of the situations have obvious parallels.

It's fun and it's frequently funny.

I also think Archer is doing some things with scale here that are
savvy. Many Star Wars (or lately Firefly) inspired books use their
vague movie science and totally lose sight of scope. One recent
such I read talked about "across the Universe" instead of something
semi rational. Archer makes her Civilized Galaxies much too large
an expanse and polity to make even any semblance of sense, but I
*think* she knows that.

=====
[This is an interestingly scoped book. It reminds me of the line
the "Hark a Vagrant!" Canadian cartoonist gave to one of the
Dominion's rebels: "Yes, we'll have a revolution. A small one --
they'll know what we mean!" ]

Skyship Thrive (Thrive Space Colony Adventures Book 1)
by Ginger Booth (Author)
https://amzn.to/31of12U

In the fairly near future, something has happened to Earth. It's
not entirely clear in the flashbacks we get, but it seems to be
more of a biosphere collapse than just the coastal flooding associated
with global warming (though there is plenty of that as well).

Luckily a star drive has been discovered and terraforming efforts
are underway. Unluckily, it is a 100 year plan and the final crisis comes
after only 40 years. Suddenly the extrasolar colonies are flooded with
'last ship out' refugees which they are totally unprepared to handle.
On Mahina, an extra-solar gas giant moon, there is barely an atmosphere
established, and it is patchy and prone to anoxia inducing oxygen droughts.
Nonetheless the completely overwhelmed terraformer technicians in the
enclosed city of Mahina Actual do what they can for the settlers and then
close the doors, knowing they are completely outnumbered.

Years later ex-cop Sassafras Collier participates in a rebellion against
Mahina Actual, which she ends up betraying (for the best reasons: there
was going to be a massacre which she couldn't support). She takes
concessions from the terraformers as her pieces of silver: From now on
each settler child will be issued a personal gravity generator and some
early years healthcare.

After serving twenty years on a prison farm, Sass is shocked as she
comes out in the world again. Many people don't use the generators
and become spindly and unhealthy. Other's don't carefully monitor the
ambient oxygen levels and become brain-damaged due to frequent anoxia.
In short the colony is still failing to thrive.

Still Sass considers that she has done her part, and after twenty years
tied to one place, wants to move around. Having carefully managed her
prison wages and the farm crop sales, she has enough, nearly, to take
ownership of one of the few skyships left on the colony, but she'll need
a partner, and a crew..

As Sass gathers a crew of oddballs, youtube stars, gamers and fugitive
scientists around her, she finds herself drawn back into the basic problem
of Mahina, and perhaps this time she can actually do something about it.

This book is part _Farmer In The Sky_, part _Search The Sky_ and part
_The Grapes Of Wrath_. It's a fairly "small" book. Mahina really has
no more people than a medium sized city and the level of violence needed
to effect change is very minimal once someone is determined to do it.
The change that *can* be effected is minimal as well. There is still no
way to accommodate the settlers in Mahina Actual, but perhaps with enough
small changes the rolling snowball will start to get bigger on its own.
There are some nice touches in the rituals around the baroque week that
being a moon of a gas giant causes, and some nice character beats
with Sass and her misfits. I do have a problem with the idea that
talking computers will lead to the end of reading for most folks -- the
story itself makes clear how inconvenient that is that I couldn't buy it.

There are more books in this series, where presumably Sass will try to
find out what has happened to the *other* colonies both in the same
solar system and elsewhere and I plan to eventually check them out.

=====
[Yeah, it's probably porn. Entertaining though!]

Enthralled: Book 1: The Crystal Heart
by Prax Venter
https://amzn.to/2DL54Ug

When does erotica turn into porn? It's a moving line, but I'm pretty sure
that when you spell 'come' with a 'U', you've crossed it. Still this
is entertaining enough porn.

The opening here is a bit like the opening for the movie (and
presumably the book) "Ready Player One". After a particularly
unfortunate fast-food accident Mark has just gotten a legal payout
which he puts into a new VR gaming rig. He has noticed that society
is splitting into those who take advantage of VR fasttime to get
educations and training and who climb society's ranks, and those
who do not and who stay on the bottom. He figures he needs to be
one of the first sort, particularly as his accident has left him
partially disabled.

On his way home to start his online training, his AI assistant makes
him a surprising proposal: Somehow she has wangled an invite to the
online VR erotic game "Crystal Heart" for a virtual day, and she
would like to spend the day, in a virtual body, with him before he
starts his curriculum. Mark never knew she thought of him "like
that", and hopes it won't be awkward afterwards, but decides that
she's been a good helper all these years, so why not?

The "day" goes as well as he could have hoped. His AI manifests as
a hot demon succubus, and "Crystal Heart", while clearly written for
sex has enough fun quest elements to make for an interesting locale.
After an entertaining day of clearing up a unicorn infestation, and
a night of wild hot sex, Mark goes to "sleep" happy that he's had the
chance for a bit of vacation before buckling down to work... to wake
unexpectedly still in "Crystal Heart" in a Groundhog Day situation,
something that his AI is clearly in the know about but which he isn't
supposed to be..

Events escalate quickly, and Mark finds himself charged by the original
AI of the game with fixing the code damage (which manifests as rips in
reality) to the "Crystal Heart" world before maybe being able to wake
back up to the "real" world, which is apparently also in a heap of
trouble (with, I suspect, his assistant AI as one of the first victims).
Playing as a "Collector", he must gather a harem of chimera girls and
wield them into a force that can heal the world..

I think that a "harem" book has a bit harder time than a "reverse
harem" book in making the setup appeal to a randy reader without
the hero appearing to be a creep or removing agency from his harem
members. Venter's no Kay Elliott, but I think he does this pretty
well, and gives each girl a reasonably delineated character. I
would prefer it a bit more on the erotica side with more fades to
black and get on with the plot instead of yet-another-full-sex-scene,
but it was interesting enough that I want to see what comes (no
'u') next.

=====
[Chaste YA is apparently not yet dead!]

Voice of Power (The Spoken Mage Book 1)
by Melanie Cellier
https://amzn.to/2IbC1dt

Voice of Command (The Spoken Mage Book 2)
by Melanie Cellier
https://amzn.to/2ENx8X4

Voice of Dominion (The Spoken Mage Book 3)
by Melanie Cellier
https://amzn.to/2ENLmap

Speaking of Harry Potter knockoffs, here is one done right, and
actually still in the YA domain: No sex or harems here. There is
still, of course, young love. And perhaps 'knockoff' is too strong.
Let's say it has influences and goes its own way with them.

Ardann is a medieval-ish second world nation at war, a war that has
been going on for over thirty years now. The nobility has paid a
price, to be sure, but the Mulan-like conscription amongst the
peasantry is biting even harder.

Elena is one of those peasants. Her brother has won a rare scholarship
to the royal university (training to be a mentat, basically), and
is the family's only chance to break free from poverty, so he can't
go, and her younger sister has always been sickly so sending her
would be an automatic death sentence. Now 16, Elena has resigned
herself to her eventual fate when the turns 18. That's not what
fate has planned for her however.

Walking through the woods foraging for food, Elena comes across two
teens from her village beating a young boy. When she intervenes,
they explain he was drawing in the dirt, copying words from a
parchment dropped by a group of mages who came through town on their
way to the capital. Elena is as horrified as they are and realizes
that the child must be taught a lesson vivid enough that he never
does it again.. which point she believes has been reached, and
over-reached, by the teens. Written words have power, and they are
lucky the child hasn't caused a village destroying conflagration
or worse -- Only those with the mage gift can safely read or write.

After taking the child home, sees a mob gathering around her family's
small shop. Apparently the teens have talked, and it is known the
mage visitors bought some supplies at the store, so in some way
Elena's family has bought near catastrophe down on the town. Her
father is unable to disperse the mob and things look to turn ugly
until in panic Elena yells 'Stop!' and they do.

The next day, detective mages ride out from the capital to trace
the untrained and barely disciplined use of power, and Elena finds
herself dragooned into the royal mage academy as the only Spoken
Mage known to be in existence. A peasant amongst nobility, Elena
is despised by most of her classmates and much of the staff. She
hasn't a clue what she did, or how to do it again, and being there
certainly hasn't solved her family's problems, or taken her away
from the threat of war. In fact, it has probably made everything
worse.

I quite liked these. I was prepared for there to be an evil plot
by the nobility to keep the peasants down, but in fact writing *is*
deadly (if anyone knows why, it has not yet been explained) and the
nobles have reasons for what they do -- without those reasons being
fully congruent with the reality faced by the lower classes. They
have their own blind spots without being actually evil (mostly).
Elena brings a valuable corrective perspective, and, very gradually,
she is making herself heard.

The books have a Potter-like structure with each focusing on one
of the years of the four year academy, but as in that saga, the
realities of the overarching conflict have a way of reaching into
the academy walls, and pulling the students out of them.

The end of book three saw Elena taking an action that I am not at
all sure was a good idea. Though her reasoning is sound it seems
to solve one of her problems without bringing on the change she is
working for. It will be interesting to see how that works out in
the final book which is to be published at the end of this month
(June 2019).

Recommended.

=====
[More RPG, more harem. Likable pop-culture men's adventure]

Arena
by Logan Jacobs
https://amzn.to/2JjbhrQ

OK, how could I not read a book with an Amazon blurb come-on like this?

Thank you, thank you, thank you all for coming. What a great
looking group of people we have here today. As your President,
I feel it's important to tell you all about this guy. He's
a great guy. A real stand up guy. A real go-getter. His
name is Marc Havak, and let me tell you, this guy is going
to be huge.

See, when the aliens came down and told us they'd enslave
all of the human race if we didn't send our bigliest warrior
to participate in their arena death games, I laughed at
them. It was really funny because they obviously didn't
know who they were dealing with. Know what I mean? Then
they said they would pick the greatest warrior, and they
picked Marc Havak. He seemed like such an average guy, but
he was a true blue American. He even worked as a truck
driver! That's the kind of good guy we want defending us
from aliens.

In fact Marc Havak is a truck driver and a put-upon and mostly disgruntled
one too. With the boss out of town his son is running dispatch and there
is no love lost there: Marc ends up working overtime on his birthday, and
it looks like he will miss the Halloween party that would be, like, his first
date in forever. Then the marines arrive.

Bundled away to DC on Marine-1, Marc conferences with the President (and his
hot and flirty daughter) and finds himself drafted to fight in some sort
of alien death match for the future of the Earth. Before he has adjusted
to that news, he is on an alien ship, shot into the sun, thrust into some
sort of alien zombie apocalypse and then dropped off at the arena world.

It's not all bad. For tech support he has an alien AI downloaded into a
super-hot human body, and she was never programmed for jealousy. He has
a dead former champion as an AI mentor and trainer, he makes friends easily
and it turns out he's actually pretty good at this arena thing.

This is a goofily engaging book that obviously doesn't take itself too
seriously. If you like humor, video games and sex, it's got you covered.
It's not clear to me yet if there will be a meta plot where Marc takes on
the lords of the game, or what he will do if he is pitted against other
good guys. The fact that I wonder is, I think, a good sign.
--
columbiaclosings.com
What's not in Columbia anymore..
Titus G
2020-01-01 06:30:06 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
HAPPY NEW YEAR RASFW!
Going back through my "RI" postings for 2019, I have pulled ten together
into sort of a "Best Of 2019". Aside from the first, which I put there
on purpose, they are only generally grouped in descending order -- there
is certainly no book (or series) here that I did not enjoy.
As it was someone calling themselves Titus G that complained that you
did not rate your reviews, I am grateful for this post. Thank you..
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
It is the case that mostly these are either stand-alones, or first-books.
I didn't think it really fit to include entries in ongoing series that I
did enjoy (Skulduggery Pleasant, for example). The exception to this
is technically in a series, but basically is a new cast of characters.
In the case where I read and reviewed a series in a burst, I have
included the titles of the other books, but it still counts as one
entry.
The notes are as I posted before (I may have fixed a few typos), with some
new notes [in brackets] before each review if I had anything else to say.
=====
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
https://amzn.to/2DKtVqS
What if bands of mercenaries were just called 'bands'. And what if they
gave themselves names? And what if we make a whole book around the
metaphor of a group of tired middle aged guys getting the band back together
and going on tour?
Well, frankly, it would be really good.
I stopped reading there. I will try it. For me, Pratchett is brilliant
in small doses and I haven't had one for a while.
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
Five stars.
=====
[This was a re-read, but I enjoyed it as much as in middle school].
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster (Author), Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
https://amzn.to/2EFcmJk
Yes. I reread this a year or two ago and loved it.

For brevity, I have snipped the remainder of your post but have kept a
copy to review the rest of your 2019 favourites later. Thank you.
Jaimie Vandenbergh
2020-01-01 17:25:22 UTC
Permalink
On 1 Jan 2020 at 04:36:23 GMT, "Ted Nolan <tednolan>" <Ted Nolan <tednolan>>
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
I've picked this up on that recommendation, since I know your reviews are
fairly close to my own. Looking forward to that hitting top of the stack.

I don't remember seeing any in your Read In posts, so if you haven't already
hit up "T Kingfisher" (Ursula Vernon's pen name for her 'not kids books'),
she's currently my best "If you liked Pratchett, you'll like this" author.
There's a lot of the Weatherwax, Death, Pteppic and Esk flavour in her work.
Not much Wizzard.

Cheers - Jaimie
--
"But people have always eaten people!
What else is there to eat?
If the Juju had meant us not to eat people
He wouldn't have made us of meat!" -- Flanders & Swann
Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-01-01 18:12:34 UTC
Permalink
Post by Jaimie Vandenbergh
On 1 Jan 2020 at 04:36:23 GMT, "Ted Nolan <tednolan>" <Ted Nolan <tednolan>>
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
I've picked this up on that recommendation, since I know your reviews are
fairly close to my own. Looking forward to that hitting top of the stack.
I don't remember seeing any in your Read In posts, so if you haven't already
hit up "T Kingfisher" (Ursula Vernon's pen name for her 'not kids books'),
she's currently my best "If you liked Pratchett, you'll like this" author.
There's a lot of the Weatherwax, Death, Pteppic and Esk flavour in her work.
Not much Wizzard.
Hmm, thanks, I'll check her out.
--
columbiaclosings.com
What's not in Columbia anymore..
t***@gmail.com
2020-01-02 15:12:24 UTC
Permalink
Post by Jaimie Vandenbergh
On 1 Jan 2020 at 04:36:23 GMT, "Ted Nolan <tednolan>" <Ted Nolan <tednolan>>
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
I've picked this up on that recommendation, since I know your reviews are
fairly close to my own. Looking forward to that hitting top of the stack.
I don't remember seeing any in your Read In posts, so if you haven't already
hit up "T Kingfisher" (Ursula Vernon's pen name for her 'not kids books'),
she's currently my best "If you liked Pratchett, you'll like this" author.
There's a lot of the Weatherwax, Death, Pteppic and Esk flavour in her work.
Not much Wizzard.
I'd like to try some T Kingfisher - what are good works to start with in your estimation?
- Tony
Jaimie Vandenbergh
2020-01-02 15:35:38 UTC
Permalink
Post by t***@gmail.com
Post by Jaimie Vandenbergh
On 1 Jan 2020 at 04:36:23 GMT, "Ted Nolan <tednolan>" <Ted Nolan <tednolan>>
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
I've picked this up on that recommendation, since I know your reviews are
fairly close to my own. Looking forward to that hitting top of the stack.
I don't remember seeing any in your Read In posts, so if you haven't already
hit up "T Kingfisher" (Ursula Vernon's pen name for her 'not kids books'),
she's currently my best "If you liked Pratchett, you'll like this" author.
There's a lot of the Weatherwax, Death, Pteppic and Esk flavour in her work.
Not much Wizzard.
I'd like to try some T Kingfisher - what are good works to start with in your estimation?
_Swordheart_ is a very good jumping in point. _Nine Goblins_ likewise.

For shorts, Toad Words and Other Stories. The title story (a two pager) is
available http://www.redwombatstudio.com/2014/06/26/toad-words/ for an
immediate sanity check.

Just checked - TWaOS is now subsumed into a larger collection, _The Halcyon
Fairy Book_.

Cheers - Jaimie
--
Is everyone acting like a solipsist in here, or is it just me?
t***@gmail.com
2020-01-02 18:08:24 UTC
Permalink
Post by Jaimie Vandenbergh
Post by t***@gmail.com
Post by Jaimie Vandenbergh
On 1 Jan 2020 at 04:36:23 GMT, "Ted Nolan <tednolan>" <Ted Nolan <tednolan>>
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me. If you miss
Pratchett, this may be your cuppa. There is a second book which I have
so far been leary to read as they one sends off the original characters,
and I'm unreasonably scared it might not be as good. I will take the
plunge some time this year]
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
I've picked this up on that recommendation, since I know your reviews are
fairly close to my own. Looking forward to that hitting top of the stack.
I don't remember seeing any in your Read In posts, so if you haven't already
hit up "T Kingfisher" (Ursula Vernon's pen name for her 'not kids books'),
she's currently my best "If you liked Pratchett, you'll like this" author.
There's a lot of the Weatherwax, Death, Pteppic and Esk flavour in her work.
Not much Wizzard.
I'd like to try some T Kingfisher - what are good works to start with in your
estimation?
_Swordheart_ is a very good jumping in point. _Nine Goblins_ likewise.
For shorts, Toad Words and Other Stories. The title story (a two pager) is
available http://www.redwombatstudio.com/2014/06/26/toad-words/ for an
immediate sanity check.
Just checked - TWaOS is now subsumed into a larger collection, _The Halcyon
Fairy Book_.
Cheers - Jaimie
Thanks Jaimie!
- Tony
David DeLaney
2020-01-03 07:49:41 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
Elena brings a valuable corrective perspective, and, very gradually,
she is making herself heard.
i perceive wut u did thar

Dave, it rings true
--
\/David DeLaney posting thru EarthLink - "It's not the pot that grows the flower
It's not the clock that slows the hour The definition's plain for anyone to see
Love is all it takes to make a family" - R&P. VISUALIZE HAPPYNET VRbeable<BLINK>
my gatekeeper archives are no longer accessible :( / I WUV you in all CAPS! --K.
Joe Bernstein
2020-01-14 03:55:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
HAPPY NEW YEAR RASFW!
Going back through my "RI" postings for 2019, I have pulled ten
together into sort of a "Best Of 2019". Aside from the first, which I
put there on purpose, they are only generally grouped in descending
order -- there is certainly no book (or series) here that I did not
enjoy.
Thank you. I sometimes feel guilty over not reading your monthly
posts - loggers should stick together and all - but the taste you
manifest in the ones I do read is so unlike mine, and the selections
likewise, that I find it hard to keep reading. This worked for me
much better despite its much greater length.

(I don't remember *any* of the monthly posts I've read containing any
such long entries as many of these. Maybe I'd feel differently if
I'd read any of the monthlies the longer entries here came from.)
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
[This still stands out as the discovery of the year for me.
Kings of the Wyld (The Band)
by Nicholas Eames
You completely convinced me to read this. I haven't read *any* of
the Pratchett books you were comparing it to; you simply convinced
me this one is a book worth reading.

I see the Seattle Public Library has it, so that's easy.
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
=====
[This was a re-read, but I enjoyed it as much as in middle school].
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster (Author), Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
It is often the case that old favorites can disappoint, especially
when read from an older and more cynical perspective. That is not the
true here, and _The Phantom Tollbooth_ remains a delightful book.
If you have never read it, you should. If you have children, they should.
I've enjoyed it more as an adult than I did as a child, actually. I
think I was somewhat out of sympathy with the viewpoint in childhood
- though the way I remember feeling *then* is that I wanted secondary
worlds more cohesive and convincing. Anyway, I endorse everything
you say here, and am delighted to find there's a copy in the library
I'm in, that I can go and re-read again. (When I'm done re-reading
<Watership Down>, anyhow.)
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
When does erotica turn into porn? It's a moving line, but I'm pretty
sure that when you spell 'come' with a 'U', you've crossed it.
My understanding is that erotica has characters, and porn just has
mannequins. This is admittedly somewhat subjective, but a lot less
subjective than many such questions. Your description suggests to me,
but does not require, that the book in question is erotica.

(Of course, most novels have non-character characters, essentially
mannequins, so where do you draw the line? Well, if this were about
cooking porn, say, it might be problematic, but hint: if any of the
mannequins participate in fully described sex scenes, it's porn.
Finding that happening in the first pages of the first Meredith
Gentry book is why I still haven't tried to read anything else by
Laurell Hamilton.)
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
=====
[Chaste YA is apparently not yet dead!]
Who said it was? What YA do you read to think that?
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
Voice of Power (The Spoken Mage Book 1)
Voice of Command (The Spoken Mage Book 2)
Voice of Dominion (The Spoken Mage Book 3)
by Melanie Cellier
The next day, detective mages ride out from the capital to trace
the untrained and barely disciplined use of power, and Elena finds
herself dragooned into the royal mage academy as the only Spoken
Mage known to be in existence. A peasant amongst nobility, Elena
is despised by most of her classmates and much of the staff. She
hasn't a clue what she did, or how to do it again, and being there
certainly hasn't solved her family's problems, or taken her away
from the threat of war. In fact, it has probably made everything
worse.
I quite liked these. I was prepared for there to be an evil plot
by the nobility to keep the peasants down, but in fact writing *is*
deadly (if anyone knows why, it has not yet been explained) and the
nobles have reasons for what they do -- without those reasons being
fully congruent with the reality faced by the lower classes. They
have their own blind spots without being actually evil (mostly).
Elena brings a valuable corrective perspective, and, very gradually,
she is making herself heard.
These sound *very* much like a YA version of Trudi Canavan's "Black
Magician" trilogy. I mean, *a whole lot*. I could easily believe
that Cellier did no more than read that trilogy and think "Well, it
would be so much better if ... and ... " and so on, but I think it a
little unlikely that all the things you mention that the two series
have in common are pure chance.

The setup is completely different. Sonea is a poor slum dweller;
the king hires the magicians annually to sweep the slums beyond the
walls, and in this year's sweep Sonea is discovered to have magical
abilities. She doesn't turn out to have *unique* abilities, except
by dint of work she does with someone else (the Black Magician) whose
abilities are rather *more* unique. That said, "A peasant among
nobility, Sonea is despised by most of her classmates and much of the
staff. She hasn't a clue what she did, or how to do it again, and
being there certainly hasn't solved her family's problems." No war,
though. The noble mages turn out to have reasons for the things they
do as well as to be blind to their effects on the rest of society,
and Sonea gradually shifts some points of view. Canavan's focus is
more or less organisational - there's a reason her first book is
titled <The Magicians' Guild> - but she uses the rest of her world
to illustrate the organisation's workings, so seems to me that's six
of one, half a dozen of the other. Sonea takes actions "that I am
not at all sure were good ideas" at times.

So I'm not saying Cellier simply plagiarised Canavan, not at all.
I'm just saying the two series are too close for chance to be the
most plausible explanation.

Joe Bernstein
--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-01-14 04:11:58 UTC
Permalink
Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
HAPPY NEW YEAR RASFW!
Going back through my "RI" postings for 2019, I have pulled ten
together into sort of a "Best Of 2019". Aside from the first, which I
put there on purpose, they are only generally grouped in descending
order -- there is certainly no book (or series) here that I did not
enjoy.
Thank you. I sometimes feel guilty over not reading your monthly
posts - loggers should stick together and all - but the taste you
manifest in the ones I do read is so unlike mine, and the selections
likewise, that I find it hard to keep reading. This worked for me
much better despite its much greater length.
I have certainly let Amazon pull me in directions I might not otherwise
have gone, but I can't say I regret it.
Post by Joe Bernstein
(I don't remember *any* of the monthly posts I've read containing any
such long entries as many of these. Maybe I'd feel differently if
I'd read any of the monthlies the longer entries here came from.)
It depends on my energy level and the time I have. For much of
2018/2019 I had more time that usual to read and and *sometimes*
(motivation is always an issue..) to do reviews.
Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
When does erotica turn into porn? It's a moving line, but I'm pretty
sure that when you spell 'come' with a 'U', you've crossed it.
My understanding is that erotica has characters, and porn just has
mannequins. This is admittedly somewhat subjective, but a lot less
subjective than many such questions. Your description suggests to me,
but does not require, that the book in question is erotica.
That's probably a pretty good definition..
Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
=====
[Chaste YA is apparently not yet dead!]
Who said it was? What YA do you read to think that?
Well, certainly the youngsters in the Liaden setting YAs (_Fledgling_, _Balance
of Trade_) get up to a bit more than you might expect. Same for Skulduggery
Pleasant. Even Rowling in the later books seems more character-frisky than
here..
Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
Voice of Power (The Spoken Mage Book 1)
Voice of Command (The Spoken Mage Book 2)
Voice of Dominion (The Spoken Mage Book 3)
by Melanie Cellier
These sound *very* much like a YA version of Trudi Canavan's "Black
Magician" trilogy. I mean, *a whole lot*. I could easily believe
that Cellier did no more than read that trilogy and think "Well, it
would be so much better if ... and ... " and so on, but I think it a
little unlikely that all the things you mention that the two series
have in common are pure chance.
Interesting! Had not heard of those. I may have to check it out.
--
columbiaclosings.com
What's not in Columbia anymore..
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