Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.
That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game–as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war.
If, after The Ghost Brigades, you were still unsure about the ethics of the Colonial Union, you’re going to be sure about them after this. The Colonial Union is pretty much exactly as ominous as the name initially suggested to me. But I’ll get into that shortly.
First off, I want to say that as with every John Scalzi novel, the characters are fantastic. We’re back with John Perry, only now he’s retired. Until the Colonial Union throws a wrench into his plans for being a small community leader on the farming world of Huckleberry. So he, Jane and Zoe are thrown straight into a colonization project on a new world. Since many of the other races in the universe have banded together to stop colonization and the frequent wars that errupt because of it, this is way more risky than it sounds as the discovery of their colony could lead to all of their deaths.
John is a wonderful character and seeing him in this morally ambiguous situation really brings out his better traits. He clearly knows that colonization on a large scale like humans do is wrong when it pushes alien races out of their home worlds but at the same time he can’t really change the entire basis of the Colonial Union. So he has to make sure his new colony of Roanoke stays undetected and therefore safe. But while John is stuck between a rock and a hard place, his ingenuity eventually allows him to succeed where it would have been so easy to fail.
The plot is fantastic. John Scalzi crams a lot into just over 300 pages. We go off and see our characters found a new colony, learn that they’re not where they’re supposed to be, struggle to try to make the colony functional and eventually fight for their lives when the Colonial Union and the rest of the universe face off. At the same time, this is also a wonderful personal story. The relationship between John and Jane is wonderful and loving but not without its struggles. And of course Zoe is now a teenager and life is never simple when you’re a teenager on a new colony with two alien bodyguards with their own agendas and struggles. In the end, The Last Colony is a both a very human story of love and survival and a political thriller that asks you to question the world around you, particularly the motivations of various governments.
This is the third book in the Old Man’s War series and although the ending is satisfying in itself, it leaves open so many possibilities in the next few books. I can’t really get into the details of the ending because that would be a massive spoiler but let’s just say I definitely did not see that coming. John Scalzi is one of the few novelists who consistently surprises me and I honestly can’t wait to read more of the Old Man’s War series.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.
They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.
Readers of Stephen King know that Derry, Maine, is a place with a deep, dark hold on the author. It reappears in many of his books, including Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and 11/22/63. But it all starts with It.
Before reading It I had only read one Stephen King novel and felt it was kind of ‘meh’. But that was many years ago so when I got this one for my birthday from a huge Stephen King fan, I figured I’d give it a try. In the end, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the novel but the main word I can use to describe it is ‘weird’.
I was never scared of clowns as a kid (I didn’t love them but I wasn’t scared by them) so I don’t think It was as scary as it could have been, but it was still pretty scary. Stephen King is the master of the slow burn and I was honestly engrossed throughout the 1100 page novel. The book starts with a six year old child being dismembered by a freaky clown but there’s more to the tension than just the gore factor. There’s a sense of evil throughout the novel a sort of unnaturalness that hangs around the whole town of Derry. When you add in the fact that the town has more violent crime and an absolutely ridiculous number of child murders, it really sets up the atmosphere. So even though It is 1100 pages, I can be confident in saying this book will never truly bore you.
As for the plot, it was a bit confusing at first as there are several time skips. But as the book moves on and you get into the rhythm of the writing, they’re easier to follow and help build the tension I mentioned before. The two main storylines are the present day adults being contacted about coming back to Derry and finishing the job of killing It. The past storyline is, obviously, the adults when they were children and how they discovered the evil lurking beneath Derry and almost ended it. There are a couple of little subplots along the way, like the Interlude segments where the town librarian, Mike Hanlon, is piecing together Derry’s mysterious past and trying to figure out why such evil lurks in such a small town. And of course there’s the matter of Henry Bowers and Beverly’s awful husband throwing a wrench into things but I can’t really go into much detail about that without spoiling some nice plot twists. Needless to say, It isn’t just a book you can skim through; you really need to pay attention to appreciate just how wonderfully the different narrative threads come together in the harrowing climax.
As much as I enjoyed the plot, I was a little less enthusiastic about the characters. Not because they’re poorly made or anything like that. It’s just that some of them are rather stereotypical and are therefore kind of boring. Eddie is the hypochondriac kid whose hypochondriac mother fusses over him incessantly and Ben is the fat kid who loves the beautiful girl (who loves someone else) and is bullied terribly at school. All of the characters in the Losers (the name they call their group) are easy to relate to but I think they are a bit predictable. It would have been nice for Stephen King to put some twists on these sort of child archetypes. Despite this, at least the characters are interesting, if a little predictable.
One of the most bizarre things about the novel was the origin of Pennywise. I won’t go into too many details because of spoilers but it’s just weird. The theological/existential questions it creates are terrifying in and of themselves but when I got to the climax and discovered the origins of Pennywise the clown it kind of threw me. It makes sense and Stephen King does a good job explaining things while maintaining the suspense he’s built up, but it’s still weird as heck. There’s no other way to describe it.
All in all, I’d have to say I enjoyed It. Stephen King is a good writer and anyone who can keep suspense up for 1100 pages deserves the title ‘master of suspense’. The only real criticism I can levy is that it would have been nice for him to play around with the child’s characters a little more so they weren’t quite so predictable and didn’t conform to the usual stereotypes. But if you’re looking for a suspenseful read, I’d say go no further and try this one. Especially if you’re already scared of clowns.
I give this book 4.5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Three months after her trip through the vortex, Marisa MacCallum is having second thoughts about her engagement to Darian Fiore as she struggles to adjust to royal life.
But when palace spies uncover a secret plot to assassinate the royal family and eradicate the Crimson Knights, Marisa and Darian must put their plans for the future on hold to stop Savino da Rocha and his legion of warrior giants from stealing the throne.
After narrowly escaping an attempt on her life, Marisa is left to defend Crocetta while Darian marches off to war. But when Savino strikes at the heart of the kingdom with supernatural powers of darkness, Marisa must wage an even greater battle against the spiritual forces bent on destroying her family and ending the Fiore dynasty forever.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Normally, I try to avoid books that deal with heavy religious themes. They just aren’t for me as most of them come off as overly preachy and generally obnoxious. With that said, I did love The Carnelian Tyranny, which basically follows the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ in an alternate world. So what made this book different from so many religion-themed books I’ve read? Well, for one there’s not all that much preaching. Yes, there are scenes where the characters pray and debate their faith but it never comes across as Cheryl Koevoet herself saying to her readers “You must accept Christianity”. No, it was just a book where faith is presented as a normal part of many of the charcters’ lives and that was that.
And what really separates The Carnelian Tyranny from many other books I’ve read with similar themes is that while the religious aspect is part of the plot, it’s not necessarily the main focus at all times. No, Marisa’s doubts about her engagement and her role as the future ruler of Crocetta are front and centre. There’s also the whole Savino angle as our devious Count isn’t going to take Marisa’s perceived insult toward him lying down. So the religious plot and the political plot are intertwined in a way that feels quite natural, particularly in a society generally modeled on Medieval Europe. And of course there’s also Marisa and Darian’s relationship, which becomes strained because Darian doesn’t understand why Marisa is so reluctant to get married young and Marisa is having a hard time accepting her new high status even though she knows it’s her duty (and her birthright).
Marisa in this second book is a little more confident and just a little more sure of herself. She’s working hard to learn the language of her people as well as the customs and responsibilities being a ruler of Crocetta involves. Marisa has Darian to support her but their relationship obviously isn’t perfect. They argue and fight but you can always tell they love each other deeply. I can’t go into much detail without spoiling some amazing plot twists, but when they get separated it’s this love that keeps both of them going even when things seem completely hopeless. Best of all, Cheryl Koevoet doesn’t neglect her secondary characters as she lets us see things not only from Darian and Marisa’s points of view but also those of Marisa’s brother Marcus and a few other notable characters.
With a relatively unpredictable plot and some great character development, The Carnelian Tyranny is a solid second book. On top of that, there was also some great world-building as readers were introduced to the politics of the entire world of Carnelia because Crocetta is not as isolated as it may appear. There are outside forces constantly at work and not all of them are friendly toward Marisa as the new ruler. The only real quibble I have with The Carnelian Tyranny is that I felt everything was wrapped up too neatly in the end. There weren’t any outside threats other than Savino when the story was over despite the fact many countries/kingdoms would love to attack anyone near them when they’ve proven weak (as history has shown us time and time again). And one of the outside kingdoms that came to Crocetta’s aid didn’t actually play that big of a role in the war against Savino. I felt there was more to explore in the way of international politics.
However, if you loved The Carnelian Legacy, you’ll probably enjoy The Carnelian Tyranny as much as I did. I can’t wait for the third book.
I give this book 4/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Amazon.)
Kal was not a thief. He certainly did not intend to steal any dragon’s treasure.
He was an adventurer. Avid art collector. Incurable wealth adjuster and risk-taker. Kal had legendary expertise in the security arrangements of palaces and noble houses the world over. He hankered for remote, craggy mountaintops and the dragon hoards he might find hidden beneath them. Besides, what harm was there in looking? Dragon gold was so … shiny.
Most especially, he was not planning for any treasure to steal him.
That was a little awkward, to say the least.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Dragon Thief starts with our loveable rogue Kal foolishly trying to steal a dragon’s horde and finding a gorgeous, naked woman amongst the treasure. What’s a rogue to do? Does he rescue her as well or is this some sort of trap set up by the dragon? What could a dragon possibly want with some random woman? Well, as Kal finds out there’s more to the woman than meets the eye because the woman, Tazithiel, is a Shapeshifter. And although she’s not happy about a thief in her hoard, things take an interesting turn and the two work out a mutually beneficial truce that turns into a friendship, then something more.
Both Kal and Tazithiel have problematic pasts and both have huge trust issues. Kal has trust issues by virtue of his chosen profession while Tazithiel has a horrific past filled with abuse because of her shapeshifter status. Yet they come together with a fascinating goal: to find out what’s on the other side of the 25 league tall mountains that encircle the Island World. Is there a world beyond there containing something other than islands surrounded by poisonous clouds? What manner of creatures live beyond the Rim-Wall Mountains? Obviously Kal and Tazi’s journey isn’t as straightforward as they’d like, but they do find answers in an interesting way by the end of the book.
Marc Secchia has brought his trademark painstaking care to world-building once again. Not only do we learn so much more about various islands and cultures within the Island World, we learn a lot more about dragon lore and the fate of Aranya and the Sylakian Empire. There are also more technological innovations than we saw in any of the previous books because Dragon Thief takes place 311 years after Aranya, which was the most recent book in the Island World’s long timeline. I don’t want to give away too much, especially if you’ve read the previous books in the same world, but let’s just say some things have changed tremendously while others will never change. Especially people/dragons.
While the beginning is a bit slow after Tazithiel decides not to eat Kal on the spot, the beautiful writing style keeps things interesting as the two new lovers work out their issues. After that, the plot speeds up quite a bit because dragons aren’t exactly the kind of creatures that are welcome everywhere in the Island World. And once Kal introduces Tazi to some of his friends and associates…let’s just say things get interesting as Tazi discovers a whole difference side of our thief. Best of all, throughout the book there is Marc Secchia’s trademark humour that had me quite literally laughing out loud at some points. So while there are some pretty heavy themes in Dragon Thief, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Although there’s no official sequel set, the ending is satisfying yet leaves a little wiggle room if Secchia wants to continue the story of Tazithiel and Kal. Their actions have some very fascinating implications for our Island World and I can’t wait to see what he does with the new revelation about the Rim-Wall Mountains.
If you haven’t read any of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, Dragon Thief is a great place to start. It’s funny and touching, fast-paced yet with plenty of character development and there is some incredible world-building going on here. And if you’re already a fan like I am, Dragon Thief is a great installment in the overall story of the Island World. It builds on what we’ve seen and learned in previous books and introduces us to both an old friend and a whole new cast of characters to love. You really can’t ask for more.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
*Not available until Decmber 12, the release date.
Like all of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, you don’t really need to read this one in a particular order. However, it does help if you read the books in order of publication because of certain minor spoilers that crop up. Here’s my current recommended reading order:
- Aranya (Shapeshifter Dragons #1)
- The Pygmy Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragon Legends #1)
- Shadow Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragons #2)
- Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)
- Dragonlove (Dragonfriend #2)
Like I said, you don’t have to read all of these books before Dragon Thief but they will certainly give you a greater appreciation of all of the mythological references contained within the book. For example, there are references to the Pygmy Dragon, Hualiama and Aranya. They’re easy to figure out in the context of the book but again, you’ll have a greater appreciation of just how intertwined Secchia’s various series are and how rich the mythology he’s created is if you do. With that said, if you’ve read the first two Shapeshifter Dragon books you may want to wait until the third is out because there are some minor spoilers in the references to Aranya throughout the book. And of course the very existence of dragons is a bit of a spoiler considering how dire Aranya’s situation is at the end of Shadow Dragon.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
THE ENEMY IS INSIDE US.
The SymboGen designed tapeworms were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world’s population began attacking their hosts turning them into a ravenous horde.
Now those who do not appear to be afflicted are being gathered for quarantine as panic spreads, but Sal and her companions must discover how the tapeworms are taking over their hosts, what their eventual goal is, and how they can be stopped.
Parasitology was originally meant to be a duology, not a trilogy but in the end I don’t think Mira Grant could have fit all of this into two books. Yes, some people will probably complain this is just a bridge to the last exciting installment but there is a lot of important stuff going on here. And despite all of the information that is thrown at us (perhaps because of it), Symbiont is a thrilling page-turner.
At the end of the last book, we found out a very interesting fact about Sal: she’s a parasite, just like Adam and Tansy. Sally Mitchell died the moment her brain was damaged in the crash; Sal the parasite took over her brain and gained control of her body. This revelation has some fascinating implications, some of which I can’t go into because of spoilers but the most interesting one had to do with her relationships. How does Nathan feel now that he knows he’s dating a parasite? He takes things surprisingly well because the parasites who have managed to integrate properly with the human brain are surprisingly human. They have social issues like Tansy’s propensity for death threats and Sal’s use of slang but they’re self-aware, they have emotions and they have a very similar survivor instinct. The really troubling thing rising from this revelation is what about the sleepwalkers, the zombie-like creatures who are just humans whose parasites took over the brain? I don’t want to spoil too much but let’s just say there’s a key thing that separates parasites like Sal from those in the sleepwalkers.
Sal is really growing as a character. Of course she’s not a kick-butt badass like you would expect the main character in a virtual zombie apocalypse to be, but she’s not a wimp. Sal goes through a lot in this book and she comes out the other end stronger. She’s far from perfect but she does learn to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. For the first time since we’ve met her, she ends up being alone for an extended stretch of time and it’s very interesting to see what she does when faced with a horrible situation. At the same time, we learn a lot more about the secondary characters like Dr. Cale and Dr. Steven Banks, the head of SymboGen and the man who has essentially caused this entire sleepwalker mess. None of the secondary characters are what they pretend to be, especially one character I won’t name who was one of Sal’s friends.
With the global situation spiralling out of control as more and more SymboGen parasites become self-aware, you’d think that Symbiont would be a never-ending series of depressing events, each worse than the last. While that’s certainly true at first, you at least get hints that there might be hope out there despite the different factions competing over the fate of the human race. There’s SymboGen, who wants to make a profit out of this by modifying the sleepwalker parasites. Then there’s Dr. Cale, whose motivations remain unclear. And finally there’s that unnamed secondary character who wants the total destruction of the human race as we know it. Sal and Nathan are stuck between a rock and a hard place and sometimes it seems like there’s no real ‘right’ or ‘good’ side. But they’re not going to let the human race go down without a fight. It will be interesting to see how Mira Grant decides to resolve the situation in the third book, Chimera. Although we have a lot of our questions about parasites answered here in Symbiont, there are some very critical questions left open by the end of the book.
So here we have a second book that’s not only exciting, but satisfying in terms of answering questions readers have while posing new questions for the third book. Sal has grown immensely as a character and Mira Grant’s end of the world scenario is terrifyingly plausible and realistic. With great characters, plenty of excitement and some amazing world-building, you can’t go wrong with a Mira Grant novel. I can’t wait to read Chimera.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Amazon.)
Are You A Human Ostrich?
Do you stick your head in the sand at the thought of dealing with a task that seems boring, complicated, or unpleasant? Do you pay your bills late because the last time you balanced your checkbook was more than six months ago? While working on a task do you keep thinking you should be dealing with a different task?
- Is your living space messy and your life unorganized?
- Do you clean up only when family or friends will be visiting-only to let your place fall back into untidiness after they’ve gone?
- After you’ve cleaned for visitors, do you tell yourself “it doesn’t count!” because you weren’t doing it for yourself?
- Have you stopped having visitors over because you’re ashamed of your mess?
- Do you worry you’ll feel embarrassed if the landlord, a plumber, or a repairperson needed to visit your place?
- Do you constantly compare yourself to people who seem to “have it together?”
- Does your habitual procrastination leave you feeling depressed and anxious?
- Do you know the 25 characteristics and behaviors of the human ostrich?
- Are you concerned that your child or someone you care deeply about is becoming a habitual procrastinator?
[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback from the author at Book Expo America 2015 in exchange for an honest review.]
I am a habitual procrastinator. I have been since I was in middle school because I could always get away with a good mark despite doing my work late the night before (especially essays for English). And I never really grew out of that habit. Instead, it’s migrated to take over other things in my life like cleaning and other generally unpleasant tasks. So when I met David Parker at BEA offering a copy of his book, I was quite willing to give it a try. And I did, several months ago.
So why didn’t I review it until now? Surprisingly, the answer is not procrastination.
The answer is that I’ve virtually cured my procrastination since reading it in beginning of June. Of course I’m not perfect (and this book does not expect perfection) but I have really, really improved from where I was. It was especially helpful while I was preparing for my big move in the middle of August and needed to do an insane amount of inventory and cleaning. I’m not the sort of person that believes powerfully in self-help books, but this one is definitely one that worked for me.
David Parker starts the book describing his own procrastination and habitual procrastinators will end up nodding along. “Yes, I definitely do that…I also think [x] negative thing whenever I don’t get things done”, etc. He then describes how procrastination becomes a habit and then how it absolutely takes over your life. Then in the second section of the book he goes on to describe how to take steps toward curing your procrastination using his J.O.T. Method™ (Just One Thing Method).
I didn’t follow the instructions exactly but the idea of writing done just one thing, doing it and then crossing it off appealed to me. I’m sure it seems so simplistic and ridiculous to people who don’t sufer from procrastination but for me it really did help. I could see what I was doing and I finally had motivation to do it just so I could cross off that item. As time moved on, I made longer and more sophisticated lists where I was doing several things every day in order to get my life back together. For example, I began vacuuming every Friday night before I went online so that I didn’t keep leaving the vacuuming until someone was coming over or until it was so filthy I couldn’t stand it. Again, this may seem very simplistic but I can’t describe what a relief it was to finally be doing something—and to have the motivation to do that thing.
Of course your procrastination won’t disappear overnight and it may take several months like mine did but it is such a relief to act like a normal adult now. I’ve finally said goodbye to my awful middle school habits and have taken responsibility for my life. It’s easy to fall back into the trap of procrastination, but Parker also deals with that in his book. If you fall off the horse, get back on again and don’t beat yourself up about it. He has very practical solutions for dealing with the negative self-talk all of us procrastinators have. And if you’re someone who is close to a procrastinator, there’s also a chapter for you to better understand and support them on their journey to ending procrastination.
Basically, this is a pracitcal no-nonsense approach to ending procrastination. It’s written in clear language that everyone can understand and it actually helped. I think that’s really all you can ask for in a self-help book, right?
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Moira is a powerful empath, a psychic graced with the ability to read emotions and memories. Her skill is as much a curse as a gift, for in the harshly stratified city of Braxton empaths are slaves. Clever and beautiful, Moira has learned to rely on no one but herself. Determined to escape life as a concubine, she kills her master, and is imprisoned for the crime.
This could be the end for Moira, but the government has need of her skills. A mysterious serial killer known as the Phoenix has been planting suggestions in his victims’ minds that drive them to murder and suicide. To gain her freedom, Moira partners with Keenan Edwards, a handsome young detective, to stop the killer.
Hunting the Phoenix will bring Moira on a more dangerous road than she imagined, forcing her to confront dark minds, twisted moralities, and her growing feelings for the detective.
[Full disclosure: I requested and recevied a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
I wasn’t really sure what I expected from Mind of the Phoenix, but it certainly exceeded whatever expectations I did have.
Moira is a truly amazing character. She’s been a slave in a pleasure house for years until at the age of 19 she was sold off to a private owner that she then killed. She evaded capture for 6 months before being taken into custody pending execution—until even the Elite (the powerful empaths that work with regular humans to suppress their less powerful brethren) admit they need her abilities to solve a recent spree of suicides that are likely murders. Throughout the investigation we see Moira start to open up just a bit. In the beginning she’s very cynical and sarcastic, both of which are clear defense mechanisms considering what she’s been through. And then as time goes on and Keenan shows her some of the good in the world, she opens up to him a bit. She still struggles with her inner demons and she doesn’t exactly have rose-coloured glasses on by the end of the novel but she at least softens her outlook a little bit as she sees the good in some people.
Keenan is truly an enigma. He’s not your typical tough, silent detective type and he’s certainly not the typical bad boy type of person that you see in so much fiction now. He’s just a man struggling with demons of his own, much like Moira. As a detective he’s seen a lot and feels quite a bit of responsibility on his shoulders. In a world that is clearly morally skewed, he does the best he can to be a good person. He’s not perfect—the second scene where he holds Moira’s head under water definitely shows that—but he’s not a monster. And he’s certainly not the type of man Moira is used to and can easily fit in one category.
Lest you think so, let me say clearly that any romance between Moira and Keenan is not the main focus of the story. Jamie McLachlan does a great job of depicting the inner struggles of the characters while at the same time moving the plot along quite quickly. The mysterious Phoenix is on the loose, implanting commands in people’s minds that make them commit suicide when a certain phrase is read. How can he or she be stopped when you don’t know who you’re looking for or what their true motives are? Moira can search through minds but not even she can undo some of the blocks the Phoenix places in them—at least not without utterly destroying the mind of the victim. When you think you know the true identity of the Phoenix, the plot twists and you’re left wondering whether or not that person is the Phoenix. Jamie McLachlan writes great interpersonal struggles, but she also writes one heck of a murder mystery.
If you’re looking for something a little different from the regular fantasy/speculative fiction, Mind of the Phoenix is the perfect book for you. It has political intrigue, two separate murder mysteries and some great intrapersonal/interpersonal conflicts. And yes, it has just a hint of romance and deals with the whole idea of putting the past behind you so you can live in the present. Best of all, it’s extremely well-written. You’ll be up reading into the early morning hours just like I was last night. I can’t recommend this book enough and I really can’t wait for the next book in the Memory Collector series.
I give this book 5/5 stars.