Karlstar's (Jim's) Reading for 2019
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Welcome to 2019! Is it that time again already? Here's what I've been reading so far in 2019.
Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (started in 2018)
The Hound of the Baskervilles; A Study in Scarlet; The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Guns of Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day by Giles MIlton (ER book)
Magefall by Stephen Aryan
Van Richten's Guide to Vampires BY Nigel Findley
Dune by Frank Herbert
Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton
Lion In the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Aida D. Donald
Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain
Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell
The Fall of Gondolin by J. R. R. Tolkien
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Meditations on Middle-Earth edited by Karen Haber
Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster
DragonRiders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (3 in one SFBC omnibus edition)
Azure Bonds by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb
The Wyvern's Spur by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb
Lewis and Clark The Journey of the Corps of Discovery by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
The Course of Empire by Eric Flint and K. D. Wentworth
You Die When You Die by Angus Watson
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu
To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer
Head On by John Scalzi
Earthclan by David Brin (includes Startide Rising and The Uplift War)
My ratings always include a STTM rating - Slogging Through The Mud, or how much time is spent on travel.
I use a 1 to 10 rating system because I started rating books long before LT and because I like the additional granularity. Here's my rating scale explained. Looking at this after writing it, I see I give out too many 7's. However, checking my LT books, the 8 ratings stop right around book 500, so I'm consistent there, but I only have about 70 books rated 9 stars or higher, so either I'm being too tough or there just aren't that many 9 or 10 star books.
1 - So bad, I couldn't finish it. DO NOT READ!!!
2 - Could have finished, but didn't. Do not read. This one means I made a conscious choice not to finish, usually about halfway through the book. Something is seriously wrong here.
3 - Finished it, but had to force myself. Not recommended, if you're a complete-ist you'll regret it.
4 - Finished it, but really didn't like it. Not recommended unless you have to read everything.
5 - Decent book, recommended if you have spare time and need something to read.
6 - Good book, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it.
7 - Good book, recommended for everyone. I may have read it more than once, and would consider buying the hardcover edition.
8 - Great book, I would put it in the Top 500 of all time. Read more than once, I probably have the hardcover.
9 - Great book, top 100 all time. Read more than once, if I don't have the hardcover edition, I want one!
10 - All-time great book, top 50 material. Read more than twice, I probably have more than one copy/edition.
This year I will be reading more books recommended by the fine folks here in this group! That includes Chasm City, The Guns of Dawn and Magefall. I've also decided that I really want to add the Everyman's Library editions of books to my library, starting with one from Doyle.
Unfortunately, we are moving, so all 1700 or so of the books are going to be packed up and since our new home does not have nearly as many shelves, most of the books are going to spend a few years in boxes.
Happy New Year! Wishing you many good books this year and the time to read them. Good luck with the moving!
>1 Karlstar: Happy 2019. :) Tchaikovsky is an author I keep meaning to get around to. I have Children of Time on my Kindle and was originally intending to read it last year, but then I learned there was a follow-up book being published in 2019 so I decided to hold off for now. That way if I like the first one I can read them together.
>1 Karlstar: I hope 2019 is a wonderful year for you and your reading. I shall be tagging along to see how you are getting on.
Happy new year! I hope it is a good one for you and that the house move goes well.
Good luck with the moving, and I hope you still manage to find some time for reading.
Chasm City by alastair reynolds
STTM: 2 - lots of in city travel, which is more exciting than it sounds
This was recommended by several people here on LT, including BookstoogeLT .
This book had one great thing going for it, I did not want to put it down. It reminded me of some of Peter F. Hamilton's scifi - complicated, advanced science set in a complex and colorful world. This is really the story of one confused man, pursuing a vendetta against another across space and time. The setting, Chasm City, is a domed city on a world with a hostile atmosphere but a strangely convenient canyon that provides easily available atmosphere to those living in the dome. It is also the site of a strange cyber-biotic plague that destroys cyber enhancements or makes them go berserk. Chasm City is a highly divided society - the poor do without cyber in The Muck while the rich manage to deal with the plague in The Canopy.
Overall, I found this to be a very interesting sci-fi thriller, with some societal commentary thrown in. At times I was puzzled about why he'd put Chasm City together the way he did and I'm not certain I bought his redemption theory, but it definitely was fun to read.
Are you going to read the other books in that universe. revelation space is the first, set across the same time as Chasm. It gets a bit odd by the end, but the first few are great.
>14 reading_fox: I actually read it and didn't really care for it. Any other recommendations from this universe?
Guns of Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
STTM: 3 - surprisingly little for a military story
Rating: 6 out of 10
This is a pretty standard 'coming of age' story, with the setting of the military. It is the story of Emily Marshwic, the current head of an old, distinguished family, a bit down on their luck these days. With no parents, Emily is trying to get the family through. Soon after the story starts, the 2 neighboring countries of Lascanne and Denland enter into a vicious war when the king of Denland is assassinated. Emily is from Lascanne and they immediately have to defend themselves from the invading 'republicans'. First her brother in law is drafted, then her younger brother. Then comes the 'Women's Draft' and Emily essentially volunteers.
I enjoyed reading this, the writing was pleasant and the characters were interesting. I did have a couple of problems with the subject matter. It is clear that the writer made absolutely no attempt to write a 'realistic' military fantasy. That wouldn't be a problem if the author hadn't just hand waved the training, to the point where it was a joke. The training chapters are terrible and the action sections have problems off and on. Don't get me started on the technology!
The other problem for me was that while this reads like a 'coming of age' story, Emily is too old for that. I'm not sure what the technical term is for a story about a person learning about their capabilities, but I guess this is one of those.
A good read, I just wish it had lived up to its potential a little bit more.
>15 Karlstar: - Not really. RS is the start of the series. He's written a couple of short stories diamond dogs which mostly won't make that much sense unless you're aware of some of the universe background. And a SF/Crime duology set in the glitter band - The prefect and Elysium Fire but again the backdrop is partly the longer story played out in the RS stories.
Century rain is possibly my favourite of his other standalones.
Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day by Giles Milton
Rating: 5 out of 10
This is a personal point of view of the events of June 6, 1944, though some things that happened on June 5 are included. On one hand, I liked the point of view of the low level individuals presented, which included young ladies working as radio operators and nurses, as well as paratroopers, Rangers, commandos, infantrymen, sailors, civilians and Germans. Generals and such were mentioned, more so on the German side, but this was mostly about the lower ranks. Unfortunately, such a low level, scattered view of the events of the day made it a scattered book. This was much more of a personal recollection of events than a history, but without the necessary backdrop, it did get confusing. Still, the individuals stories make for a very intense book. It was also quite graphic.
Possibly because this was an ER advance copy, there are no maps!! That made it even harder to keep track, while I've read a lot about D-Day, the geography of Normandy is not my specialty. That, perhaps explains some things about the book, as it was written by someone from England. For me, a history book of this type with no maps, diagrams or photos is seriously lacking.
The author also made some puzzling choices when referring to unit sizes and ranks, it felt at times when he was talking about squads or platoons or companies he referred to them as battalions or regiments.
The next book on my list, Magefall, hopefully will be a cheerier read.
Next up: Dune. It came up here when I discovered one of the trilogy was missing and then it came up again in a side conversation in a game, so I decided it is time for a re-re-(re?)-read. Its been a long time, in any case.
>22 Narilka: Agreed! I am very much enjoying it. I have to admit, sometimes going back to books that are so well written is a real pleasure. I love reading new books and new authors, but it is really hard to compare them to the greats.
Still working on Dune, I should have been done by now but there's often other things that require reading and that darn work thing.
A work, and reading, not getting time left to read for your own pleasure.
Partly at that place myself, at the moment.
I hope it will pass, fast, so you can get back to the essentials :)
Dune by Frank Herbert
Rating: 10 out of 10
My original LT review, updated:
There's really not much I can say about this scifi classic that hasn't been said better by others. The characters, premise, plot and writing are fantastic. Published in 1965, this book was way ahead of its time. Just being based on a non-Western culture was innovative. The author cleverly did not make this book technology based, but instead made it humanity based, which has stood the test of time much better. Complex yet direct, this only gets better with time. I recently had a chance to re-read it and I think I enjoyed it more now in 2019 than I have any previous reading.
As a science fiction book goes, this one is a little light on many of the standard scifi concepts. There are no aliens, no AI's, no robots, spaceships are just concepts (so far) and not complex pieces of machinery, FTL travel is an assumption, not a technology. Even so, this still feels like a science fiction novel.
Things in the book that might have bothered me in the past did not bother me at this point in my life. Several of the characters have extraordinary ability to read people, situations and other subtle clues to effectively manage people and predict the future. What's important is that this future society does not depend on machines to get by - it relies more on specially bred people. Is there space travel and fancy machines? Sure, but they aren't the backbone of the story. I almost said they aren't the foundation of the story and I realized that it shares that with the Foundation Trilogy - a future story driven by people not technology. These folks don't move planets or blow up stars, but it still feels futuristic.
I'll move on to the next book soon but for now I'm diving back into my unread book pile.
Dune is one of those clearly SF books that feels like fantasy, and hence oft becomes the suggestion for the Space Fantasy sub-genre. I haven't read it for years but recall greatly enjoying it, unlike any of the sequels.
>28 pgmcc: I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'm glad it is still as amazing for me, it was refreshing to read something that good again.
>29 reading_fox: I've never heard anyone say that about Dune before. While there isn't a lot of 'tech', there just as clearly isn't any magic or tech that is just hand waved into existence. At least not yet.
I re-read Dune a few months back and was glad I did. It is a pretty fantastic read.
Who's looking forward to the next season of American Gods? While I thought the ending of last season was ridiculous, I'm hoping they get back to the plot of the book and from the very brief previews, it looks like they might. I'm at last curious enough to give it a try.
Any particular reason you would think about starting your own blog? I can tell you, it's a lot more work than keeping a catalogue here. Well, actually, it is only as much work as you make it I guess :-D
>35 BookstoogeLT: I actually have 3... 2 dormant ones and one that is active as my campaign diary for my home D&D (3.5 edition) game. Of course, for some reason for me at the moment wordpress isn't showing the site logo page icon.
Should have been:
>36 Karlstar: Well, I think your D&D journal one is way more work than I've EVER put into mine. Good luck :-D
Just as an fyi, you have to get rid of the "wordpress.com/view" in your link. With that, it takes one to their own home page.
>37 BookstoogeLT: Thanks, it is a bit of work but I enjoy it and the gang seems to enjoy the adventures. I always mess up the wordpress URL, I think I managed to get the right one this time.
>39 Karlstar: As long as you enjoy it, it's not really work, that's my philosophy in regards to hobbies.
And yes, the url is now correct.
>40 BookstoogeLT: Its not work at all - until I go back months later and realize I need to fix some of my tortured grammar.
Sorry folks, way too long since I reviewed something, so here's some catching up.
Magefall by Stephen Aryan
STTM: 1 - almost none
Rating: 6 out of 10
This is the 2nd book in the Age of Dread series. Unfortunately I did not realize that and I haven't read the first book. It wasn't too hard to follow, though there were a few annoying references to characters that never made an appearance in this book.
It picks up the action from the first book, following several young mages. One who is leading a new colony of mages and trying to live quietly, one who goes off to join a new Royal Cadre of mages and one who is out for revenge.
Mage talents in this world are spontaneous, randomly occurring to individuals who then need training to contain and use them. Mages are feared and resented by those without mage talents.
Unfortunately there seems to be little limit on mage abilities. There's no specific fields or types of magic, while some mages are better than others at some things, there seems to be no limits on what can be done or learned, provided the mage puts in the effort. That explains why people fear mages, there is no real way to contain them. That makes mages hunted people and the various plots explore that.
I thought this was good, I enjoyed the characters and the action. The unlimited nature of magic in the book bothers me a bit as that causes a lot of potential plot problems that aren't handled, but all in all, this was interesting to read. I'm not sure how this ended up on my wish list, it was either an Amazon recommendation or one of you folks, but since none of you are listed as having it in your collection, I'm going to blame Amazon.
>43 Karlstar: Yep, definitely not me. I just checked to see if I had ANY books by an "Aryan" and no luck. Sounds very familiar all the same :-)
>44 BookstoogeLT: I don't recognize any of the 8 other people on LT who have the book from this group.
Just finished up Vampire of the Mists and am in the process of writing my review. I saw you had reviewed it last year and you mention it was book 2 in the series. I was under the impression it was book 1. Is there a prequel book later on or something? Just curious
>47 Karlstar: I just looked and Vampire of the Mist was published in '91 and I, Strahd in '93. I'm guessing I, Strahd takes place chronologically before Vampire of the Mist?
>48 BookstoogeLT: Very much so! I guess they must have decided to go back and put the story that was outlined in the module into book form. I guess this is the classic case where the order of publishing is not the order of the story. Why did you pick up this 'series'?
>49 Karlstar: I was wanting some Forgotten Realms and figured I'd give this a try. Couldn't be worse than any of the other FR stuff and I had zero interest in anything new.
I'm a big fan of Doug Niles' Moonshae series, though the first was better than the second. I also didn't mind the series with the Nameless Bard, but I don't own them and I don't recall the titles. Of course, Salvatore's Drizzt stuff is the best.
>51 Karlstar: "Drizzt stuff is the best"
Oh man, that got a good chuckle from me. Salvatore is one of the reasons I gave up on FR. I kept expecting more from him than some of the no-name/new authors they used and I got exactly the same quality.
Are you a FR reader? Keeping up with the current stuff or anything?
>52 BookstoogeLT: I went through a phase where I read every FR book, either because I had it or borrowed one from a friend who had a good collection. There were some truly terrible ones. I haven't picked up a new one in a while, except for the Salvatore stuff. I think he's better than most of the module writers turned novelists they used to use. Ed Greenwood had some good books too, but then he really went downhill.
Another review from a book I finished a month ago while I catch up.
STTM: 0 - everything happens in East Berlin
Rating: 6 out of 10
I got this book as a gift, one of the rare books that was purchased for me that was not on my wish list. They probably picked it because of the time and setting, 1949 East Berlin. I guess this book falls under the category of 'spy thriller'?
The hero of the story is a German Jew and Communist who fled Berlin to America in the 30's, though how he did so is unexplained. While in the US, he married and had a son. Now McCarthyism has forced him to move back to East Berlin, to the same part of town as his old family home. There, he soon meets old friends who have either returned also or somehow survived. The price of 'escaping' the USA has come with a price though, he now has to report on the Germans and the Communists to US Army intelligence. The beginning of the book starts as if this is going to be a story about the Berlin airlift, but that has almost nothing to do with the story.
The plot soon thickens as the brand new spy is caught between the US, the Communists and the new East German government. There are things to report on that all sides want to hear about, others who are working for one or more than one of the security services and the ever present fear of a new Communist purge.
This one rapidly got out of control, I guess as you might expect from a spy thriller. I was a little put off as the reluctant civilian quickly became a German James Bond in just a few days. However, I really liked the historical backdrop, I've read almost nothing about life in late 40's/early 50's Berlin.
A Night Without Stars
STTM: 5 - some long trips
Rating: 6 out of 10
My rating on this is somewhat biased, as I really enjoyed the Void trilogy and this book along with The Abyss Beyond Dreams is sort of a side-story to that series. That and it is somewhat of a Commonwealth novel.
For those not familiar with the Void trilogy, the Void is at the center of our galaxy but it is not a black hole. It is an area of space with its own physical laws that periodically expands and absorbs stars to power it. Powerful alien species have tried to barricade it or stop it and failed. Humans have sent fleets into it with 2 results - they settled the planet of Querencia an the planet of Bienvenido.
This series concerns the settlers of the planet Bienvenido. Cut off from the rest of humanity and limited by the Void to a 1800's level of technology, they have struggled to hold the planet against The Fallers - aliens who fall to Earth, capture and consume humans and assume their form. All of that is explained in The Abyss Beyond Dreams. In this book, the balance is tipping towards the Fallers and the humans are getting desperate. Technology has advanced some, but not fast enough to help - instead technology is part of the problem. The Peoples Security Regiment still does what they can to find and wipe out the Fallers but they are about as moral as you'd expect for the security force of a totalitarian dictatorship - mostly not at all.
Can the few humans with Commonwealth technology evade the PSR and the Fallers and help humanity survive?
While the 'aliens among us' theme is a really old one, it makes for an interesting book set against the backdrop of the Void and the Commonwealth. A bit contrived? Sure, but still fun.
>53 Karlstar: I tried to read as many as I could but gave up after a couple of years. Just too many sub-par reads :-D
>53 Karlstar:, >56 BookstoogeLT: How was the trilogy that starts with Homeland? I’ve had that on my Kindle for ages, but I’ve never gotten around to it. I would just put blinders on and treat it as a trilogy because I’m definitely not up for fitting in the 30+ Drizzt books, much less the 285+ Forgotten Realms books! Especially not after some of your comments. :)
I loved those old Baldur’s Gate computer games set in that universe. I played the Icewind Dale games too, but they weren’t as memorable.
>57 YouKneeK: I find Drizz't books to be not at the bottom of the pile but sadly, that doesn't say that much. Salvatore can write some really good action scenes but fails spectacularly in characterization. In a trilogy you won't notice it, so much, but when there are 30 books, well....
And Karlstar might have a different opinion to offer you ;-)
>57 YouKneeK: >58 BookstoogeLT: I might! If you are looking for 'great' fantasy, then just keep going. If you are looking for good action fantasy, somewhat game related, then you'll enjoy them. He doesn't spend a lot of time developing characters, except in a few places with Drizzt and Wulfgar, where they get extra time to be developed. Actually, maybe more so with Wulfgar. The action is good though and for me, he did a lot to develop bits and pieces of the Forgotten Realms. I love what he did with drow society - and dwarves, don't forget the dwarves!
I like Homeland, Sojurn and Exile, but I started at the beginning with the Icewind Dale trilogy.
>56 BookstoogeLT: I just saw an auction post for some of the Dark Sun novels, did you read any of those? I think I borrowed them from someone, I do not have them.
>61 Karlstar: I've never heard of this particular sub-series of DnD. I just looked up the first book and saw it was written by Troy Denning. I've read enough of his stuff to know that I can't stand the man's writing. So it'll be a series I'll have to pass on.
>62 BookstoogeLT: I'm trying not to be mean, but I totally agree with you on Denning. If there are FR books I haven't read, they were written by him. There were some Dark Sun novels written by Lynn Abbey though, which I do have and were quite good. Now they are selling some FR novels too, the Maztica trilogy.
>62 BookstoogeLT: How about these? Your questions about the FR books got me to thinking about which ones I like that I do not have, so I picked up the first two from ABE.
>64 Karlstar: Have not heard of those. I was looking through my calibre database and it looks like I've read less than 100 out of over 300+ Still a good chunk but I suspect I stayed away from a lot of the earlier novels due to them being crap even by fans (from what I could gather from the few reviews around)
I stopped reading FR novels a long time ago, other than Salvatore, I think it was in the mid to late 80's was the last time I could claim I had read all that I knew about and a lot of those I borrowed.
I couldn't find from a fast scroll-up: what the R in "FR"
stands for. Thought I might just ask? -- Fantasy and ____________?
>67 rolandperkins: Sorry about that! They were originally published by the TSR company, the creator of the Dungeons and Dragons game and the company that also published the Forgotten Realms game setting, written originally by Ed Greenwood. They had a lot of their module writers write novels set in the game world. Some are better than others, but most are just fun.
Time for some late reviews.
A Lion in the White House by Aida D. Donald
STTM: talk about travel, but not while travelling!
Rating: 6 out of 10
I confess that I knew very little about President Theodore Roosevelt before picking up this book. I knew he was related to Franklin Roosevelt and that he was from New York, that was about it. He became President in 1901 when McKinley was assassinated, then was re-elected to 1 term.
This was a good, short biography of the President, mostly about his time when he was not President, including his 1 term as Governor of New York State. Interestingly enough, at the time he was a progressive Republican, very active in breaking up monopolies, curbing the powers of business and was a strong proponent of worker's rights. He also was a proponent of a strong Navy to project America's interests abroad and ultimately, prepare for WWI. As President, he also organized the building of the Panama canal, though under somewhat dubious circumstances. He was also a great conservationist, placing quite a bit of land in the West under federal protection.
Part of the reason I enjoyed the book was for another view of the late 1800's and early 1900's. As a general history book of this time, it was a bit lacking, but as a biography, it was quite good.
Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
STTM: does going in circles in a theme park count?
Rating: 7 out of 10
I love Dream Park and I have ever since it first came out back in 1982. The concept is that after the catastrophic California earthquake, a new company builds a new amusement park, with state of the art attractions, including a fully immersive gaming area. The game is implements with actors, some automation but primarily holograms used to create a 'realistic' setting within the park for a 'Gamemaster' (two of them, really) and a group of live action gamers to live out a multi-day adventure. To make things just a little more interesting, there is industrial espionage and murder in the park.
The plot is good, the adventure within an adventure is fascinating and there are plenty of good characters involved. The 'live action' gamers are pretty much what you'd expect from a group of gamers, but since they are actually forced to interact in the 'real' world, it gets interesting. Not great reading, but I enjoyed re-re-reading it.
You can argue about their choice of technology and the possible low level of automation involved; I think in today's world such a thing would be implemented with VR. However, when I look at the commercials for attractions such as the Pandora world attraction or some of the other 'interactive' attractions now, they weren't far off.
>73 BookstoogeLT: Some from recommendations here, some from recommendations on Amazon and re-reads are just whatever appeals to me from my library. A buddy and I got talking about Dream Park, so it got on the list for a re-read. I blame you for the FR reads!
>75 Karlstar: Thanks. It's always interesting to see other peoples strategies for reading :-)
There is one weird thing I noticed about this year's reading, it's heavy on the 1800's, particularly the American West. It started with the Sherlock Holmes stories, one of which was partially set in mid-1800's Utah, then the biography of Roosevelt, then some Mark Twain short stories, then Jefferson's America and the book about the Lewis and Clark expedition and Fevre Dream, which is set on the Mississippi in the mid-1800's. Totally accidental, but I now know at lot more about the middle of the USA in the 1800's than I did before this year.
Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell
STTM: 1 surprisingly little space travel
Rating: 4 out of 10
While packing up my books recently, I discovered another batch of Science Fiction Book Club hardcovers that I had gotten from a friend at work. Every few years his wife made him give up ALL of his books and he was a very busy reader and big fan of SFBC, he used to order 3 or 4 books a month. After going through this latest batch of unread books, I actually got rid of some I knew I would never read and put some others on the 'read soon' pile. This is how I came to read Ragamuffin.
The author clearly had a a concept in mind when he thought of this novel - what if there was a whole culture in space based on Caribbean rastafarian culture? And another one based on the old Aztec culture? What if there was a loose confederation of planets ruled by high tech aliens that kept humans subjugated, except for the Ragamuffin (see above Rastafarian) pirates/bandits? Wouldn't that be cool?
In the author's universe there are a number of settled planets, all connected by a limited series of wormholes that are completely controlled by the aliens, who when they choose to punish rebellious humans, cut off planets from the rest of the wormhole chain. A human rebel group creates a super weapon to fight back - a young woman who is both super spy and super hacker. How she got created or why or by who isn't important, we meet her when she's in her early 20's.
There are, of course, humans who work for the aliens, enforcing 'order' in the galaxy through nefarious means. There are also some not so bad aliens, who will just use humans for their own purposes, they aren't quite so bad....
The book is mainly about the rebellion of the humans of course and how the super weapon gets involved in the rebellion, mostly by accident and mostly against her wishes. Unfortunately, I really wish the characters were done better. A month after reading this book, while I can remember what a couple of them were, I can't remember a single name. There are also amazing gaps in the alien technology and human society also. The author seems to completely miss the point that science fiction is supposed to be about how advancements in technology change the human condition and human society, he seems to have completely forgotten that part.
>79 Karlstar: You seem to have found sonething else to go into my category of "I would really like to read this book, could somebody else write it please?"
The Fall of Gondolin by J. R. R. Tolkien
STTM: 0 - I would never accuse the master of such!
Rating: 9 out of 10
Christopher Tolkien claims this is the very last Tolkien novel. Considering his age and that he's basically published all of the Tolkien material now, it's probably a true statement, though he admits he said the same thing for Beren and Luthien.
The Fall of Gondolin is one of Tolkien's stories from the 2nd Age of Middle-Earth, the Age before the time of the Lord of the Rings. I don't think I need to review the story itself for you folks here!
There is probably less 'original' material in this book than in Beren and Luthien. The original, 'full length' tale of the Fall of Gondolin only takes up 70 pages. It is longer than the version that was included in The Silmarillion. The other two versions that are presented are even shorter. However, I really enjoyed the commentary and history that was included. The background on the story, how it changed over time and how it all fits into the history of Middle-Earth is fascinating.
If you expect this book to mostly be the story of the Fall of Gondolin, you'll be disappointed. This isn't the same as The Children of Hurin, which was a complete story. This is more like one of the old Lost Tales books, as much about Tolkien's writing as it is about the story itself.
Great, great stuff. I can't say I haven't read anything great this year, we were lucky enough to have new Tolkien to read.
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
STTM: 3 - a lot of river travel
Rating: 6 out of 10
I really had no idea what to expect from this book going into it. I don't recall reading any other reviews here on LT and I did not look at any before adding this to my wishlist, it fell under the category of 'Get more stuff by GRRM'. Since he started as a scifi writer and has also done a lot of fantasy, I guess I was expecting it to be scifi. Instead.. its historical fantasy? Set on the Mississippi River in the years before and after the Civil War, it takes place mostly on steamboats.
A down on his luck steamboat captain and owner, Abner Marsh is paid in gold to build a big, fancy, fast steamboat, as long as there are no questions asked - and the new patron gets to be captain! He agrees, provided he can build the fastest steamboat on the river - or at least one that can compete for the title. So is born the Fevre Dream, possibly the biggest, fanciest, certainly newest and possibly fastest steamboat on the river. However, there's something not quite right about Joshua York, the extremely pale, very eccentric patron who Marsh only sees at night.
You guessed it, this is a vampire novel. Except in Martin's Earth, these beings aren't exactly vampires. They are another race that have many of the same traits as vampires - sunlight sensitivity, great strength, long life and a thirst for blood. However, they aren't 'undead' and aren't bothered by typical anti-vampire defenses. Fevre Dream was written in 1982, so Martin certainly didn't borrow the concept of non-evil, non-undead vampires from Twilight, or even Barbara Hambly, (since Those Who Hunt the Night came out in 1990) maybe he even started the whole non-evil vampire thing.
The plot of the novel alternates between life on a steamboat on the Mississippi in the 1800's and a vampire novel. I don't want to give much more of the plot away, but if you think you'd like a mid-1800's novel crossed with a vampire novel, you might enjoy this. I liked it, but it wasn't fantastic. It was definitely different and he had some great minor characters. It conveniently skips over the Civil War years, but since it starts before the war, slavery is present.
>83 Karlstar: I read this about 4 years ago and was pleasantly surprised by it. I think I liked it quite a bit more than you did, but I’m glad you still liked it pretty well. For me, it may have helped that I hadn’t read that many vampire novels. I haven’t read Twilight or the Hambly series, anyway.
>83 Karlstar: I was going to say I had just read this a couple of years ago but upon review, it would seem it was back in '14. My, how time flies ;-)
My impression of the vampires was that in general they WERE bad but that the one we're reading about is an aberration of being not so bad. I could very well be off though, as that is just my memory of an impression. Not exactly the most reliable thing :-D
>83 Karlstar: Actually I was looking at this in a discount bookshop a couple of days ago and wondering whether to buy it. I got something else instead; a chouce I am already deeply regretting.
>87 -pilgrim-: Maybe you did miss out 'cos I liked it quite a bit too. Hope your something else proves to be a worthy pickup so you're not disappointed.
>89 -pilgrim-: Unfortunately it is showing every sign of being my worst read this year... :-/
With your combined recomnendations, I will take that as a BB and see if they have any copies left next time I am in town.
I read it in 2009 apparently. Also enjoyed it to some degree - there was a push to publish all of GRMMs non-GOT stuff in the large gaps between GOT books. Dark and brooding with good atmosphere, but I wasn't impressed by the characters.
So LT was down, probably for a few minutes Tuesday? and look at all the conversation I missed because I waited two days to check back! That and Wed. nights are gaming night, not computer night.
>84 YouKneeK: I think I'm just meaner than you when it comes to ratings. I did enjoy it, it's just not Game of Thrones quality?
>85 -pilgrim-: >86 BookstoogeLT: My thoughts and reviews are affected by my extreme dislike of Twilight and True Blood. Ugh, vampires. Ugh. Both Martin and Hambly's vampires are generically evil, but both feature a vampire who rises above their nature. You caught me being overly general, which I'm guilty of way too much in these reviews.
>88 AHS-Wolfy: >89 -pilgrim-: >90 Sakerfalcon: Pleasantly surprised to see how many people enjoyed this and I'm glad my very vanilla reviews are helpful. :)
>91 reading_fox: Maybe we can have more discussion when some of these other folks have read it? In some cases, I definitely agree. I really did think Martin did a good job of creating 'Mississippi river boatmen' characters, if that makes sense. The kind of characters Mark Twain would write about/create, maybe.
>92 Karlstar: Where are your reviews on LT? I always check the book to thumbs up your review and then never see them. Do you not put them in the lt database but just in your thread?
>94 clamairy: I really, really did! I have the nice hardcover editions too and now the last two match.
>93 BookstoogeLT:, >96 Karlstar: I think when Karlstar first reviewed it, the edition he had shelved wasn’t combined with the main work page. So the touchstone went to the main work page, but his review wasn’t there because it was on a “different” work. It looks like somebody has combined them since then so now it’s showing up.
>97 YouKneeK: I probably have that problem for a lot of books, its not unusual for me to add a book and find that the version that comes up in the search, despite me using the exact ISBN, looks off or has significant errors. I probably should check that more often when the # of people who have the book or the # of reviews looks off.
>99 Karlstar: I read The Fall of Gondolin in Unfinished Tales, then again as it is told in the The Silmarillion. I also have the discussion of its evolution in The History of Middle-Earth.
I confess that I wonder what this new version has to add.
The Unfinished Tales version provided a fuller narrative version; the History describes the evolution of the text.
I had rather assumed that this was more an attempt to cash-in financially than genuinely new material. Am I wrong?
>100 -pilgrim-: I've read both of those two and I would say that the version in the book is longer, plus it contains a lot of material about how/when it was written. However.... I'm not 100% positive it is different than the Unfinished Tales version. I *think* it is, but I'd have to go back and look at Unfinished Tales again.
>100 -pilgrim-: I was assuming thst the material about the how and when was that which was covered in The History of Middle-Earth I forget which volume).
I understand that The Silmarillion is a compressed form, shaped by what Christopher Tolkien and his publisher considered marketable, so that it does not fully represent the tale that J.R.R. wanted to tell.
But if the Fall of Gondolin does differ from the version in Unfinished Tales, I am very curious on what basis the changes were made.
Like clamairy, I have been purchasing the new hardcovers, but haven't yet read them all. I think I have seven Tolkien works sitting in my hardcover fantasy TBR pile, versus 3 other authors. :( This must be remedied.
>104 MrsLee: I look forward to your reviews! They'll inspire some other folks to read them too.
Meditations on Middle-Earth edited by Karen Haber
Rating: 8 out of 10
When I read the blurb for this one on Amazon, I misunderstood a little. This isn't so much writings about Middle-Earth or hobbits or elves or such. There are a couple of those short papers, but it is mostly short writings by authors (14 - 16 pages, typically) about how and when they encountered The Lord of the Rings and how it influenced their lives. It has been on my wish list for years, my youngest daughter has made it a mission to get the oldest stuff off my wish list for me for Christmas, my birthday, etc.
The author list is awesome - Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Diane Duane, Raymond E. Feist, the Hildebrandt brothers (!), Orson Scott Card, Harry Turtledove, Terry Pratchett, Poul Anderson, Esther Friesner, several others.
Not all of the stories are the same, but many of them tell the tale about how the author encountered LoTR and how it affected their lives. Some of them are stories about LoTR and it's relationship to fantasy or writing in general. This is especially true of Ursula LeGuin's article, hers is an analysis of Tolkien's writing style.
For me, this was even better than I'd hoped. Whether the authors are younger or older or just about the same age as I, I could relate to the experience of finding Tolkien's books on the shelves of the library and how that changed everything. Several of them mention how it changed/started the fantasy novel genre. There are several not so subtle pokes at a couple of authors (who aren't included in the book, of course), particularly Terry Brooks.
I thought both the personal stories and the ones that talked about Tokien's writings or the writing business in general were great, unlike some short story collections, I didn't mind a single one of these, it really connected me more with every one of the authors.
My own personal history with Tolkien started in the public library. I was a non-stop reader and I'd already gone through most of the books in the children's and young adult rooms, but I kept seeing the ugly orange/brown Ballantine Books 1968 edition of The Two Towers. My brain says the cover was orange and brown but... it is actually pink and blue. Book 3 is mostly orange and blue and has a hydra on it. What? Not only was the cover ridiculous, non-informative and bizarre, but it was book 2. I picked it up and put it down I don't know how many times, until they finally had The Fellowship of the Ring, which has a slightly less strange and ridiculous cover. Though - what's up with the purple flamingos? However, once I read book 1 I was hooked and had to read book 2, book 3, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, then came the fantasy novel explosion in the late 70's and 80's with Brooks and so many other authors. They also let me into the adult section of the library and I read all of the fantasy and scifi and mysteries and lots of history and... That lead me to finding Dungeons and Dragons in 1978 and so on.
By the time I got to college and was lucky enough to be able to take both a sci-fi and fantasy reading/writing class, I'd already read most of the books for the class - but I read them again anyway, of course, why wouldn't I? At one point the teacher pointed out that while it looked like I was sleeping through some classes, I always knew what they were talking about and I always knew the answers to the questions. Turns out I just hadn't mastered the knack of staying awake in boring classes or meetings yet, which took me many years at work to master.
I feel honoured to know someone who really got in at the beginning of D&D. Red book, I presume?
Jefferson's America by Julie Fenster
STTM: 10 - so much exploring!
Rating: 7 out of 10
Another book with a slightly misleading title. This book is not at all about America in the early 1800's. It is all about the Louisiana Purchase and the explorers who turned the vast amount of land from a bit mystery into a part of America. It is not just about the Lewis and Clark expedition, but the expeditions that explored the Upper Mississippi, the Red River, the Arkansas (Arcansa) River and of course, Lewis and Clark's long expedition to the headwaters of the Missouri, across the Rockies to the Pacific and back.
It is easy to forget that even after the Louisiana Purchase, most of the states of Mississippi and Alabama were Spanish territory, as was East and West Florida. Once the territory of 'Louisiana' was purchased from the French after the Spanish had transferred it to them, boundaries needed to be set and the territory explored. The borders were very fuzzy and several nations were racing to find a water route to the Pacific.
I love history and I had never read anything about the explorations of the Upper Mississippi, Red or Arkansas Rivers. What these people went through is simply amazing. With no roads, sometimes in boats that were poorly designed for the trip, they still somehow made their way up the rivers and back, providing tremendous amounts of information on the Native Americans, plants, animals and geography of huge areas.
Very interesting and well written, I would recommend it if you aren't already familiar with the subject.
More catching up:
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
STTM: lots of flying, no slogging!
Rating: 7 out of 10
I've read all three of these books in the past individually - Dragonflight, Dragonquest and The White Dragon. These are more classic scifi from the 70's, though this is a little bit of a fantasy crossover. It also clearly inspired some of the concepts found in Eragon, though there is no magic. This is the old SFBC three-in-one hardcover edition I must have picked up at a library book sale.
On Pern, somewhere in the galaxy, humans live on the very Earth like planet. Unlike Earth though, there are flying dragons who are also capable of teleporting! Dragons can go *between* to any place the dragon (or rider) can accurately visualize. 'Accurately' becomes very important in all three stories. How exactly dragons can teleport is never explained, they just do. Science, you know.
Unlike Earth, Pern is periodically attacked by the alien 'Thread' - mindless space spores that devour all plant and animal life if not burned away before or after landing from the Red Star that periodically orbits near Pern. The dragons and dragonriders are dedicated to protecting the planet from Thread, but after 400 years with no Thread, even the dragonriders are starting to think that thread will never come again.
Of course, it does, or there wouldn't be three novels! In the first, the leaders of the Dragonriders, in particular Lessa, must find a way to handle the Thread seriously while seriously under strength. Thread is more of an environmental hazard, it is not intelligent and there does not appear to be any directing intelligence, just 'mindless' insect type of life trying to spread. In the second novel, Dragonquest, Thread continues to fall, but they still haven't determined the best way to be in the right place at the right time and now there are political problems. The White Dragon is a bit different in plot, as it mostly follows a single dragon and its rider, though the main plot continues.
I always enjoyed these books, though reading them all at once made me realize why I never remember much of Dragonquest. It is mostly politics and is not nearly as interesting as the other two books. This is not hard scifi, there's lots of things that are ignored, but still, it is a good read. McCaffrey clearly wanted to explore some... alternate living arrangements, which I guess was a thing in the early 70's. That's part of the structure of the book, but not overwhelmingly so.
>109 Karlstar: I re-read these a couple of years ago (maybe more, not sure) and I remember thinking that I was glad to have read them again but it would probably never happen again. THAT is one of the dangers of a re-read :-(
However, I do have this edition, that I bought from the sfbc :-) Nothing like a glossy pink cover with a dragon on it to class up a shelf!
>109 Karlstar: These are in my TBR. I still can't believe I've never read them before!
>111 Narilka: I’ve never read them either. The series is on my list and I really want to try it, but I doubt I’ll get to it within the next couple years.
I still love all the early Pern. dragonsong being my favourite. I always felt they are Fantasy, with the later SF elements very much added in afterwards.
>110 BookstoogeLT: I think I agree, it was long enough since I read them but I won't need a re-read for a long time. That's partly because now I remember enough to not need one.
>111 Narilka: >112 YouKneeK: They are good stuff, give them a try!
>114 Sakerfalcon: I liked all of the other books too, though I think I'm missing a couple of the later books. Thanks for the link, I opened it but have to read through it later.
Azure Bonds and The Wyvern's Spur by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb
STTM: 4 some adventuring travel
Rating: Azure Bonds - 6 out of 10; Wyvern's Spur - 5 out of 10
These are both 'Forgotten Realms' books, published by the TSR company and set in their game world of Faerun aka The Forgotten Realms.
Azure Bonds starts out in typical sword and sorcery fashion. A swordsman wakes up after what is apparently a 3 day bender, hung over in an inn with little memory of the last 3 days. Somehow he's picked up 6 new, extremely prominent tattoos. They are resistant to magical investigation and local experts know almost nothing about them. Going to another expert for more advice, he's required to go on a quest first. Not that unusual of a start, right?
However, Alias is a her, not a him. She remembers her life as an adventurer but not the last few days or where she got the tattoos. She also seems to have picked up a lizardman companion who's not quite a 'normal' lizardman. Setting off to solve the mystery of her tattoos, she asks a local sage who sends her off to rescue a bard who is supposed to perform at a wedding in 2 days! This starts Alias and Dragonbait, the mute lizardman off on a series of adventures to solve the riddle of her past and what the tattoos have in store for her fate.
The tattoos represent 2 prominent wizards, an old dead deity, a criminal gang and 2 unknown factors. They also seem to both control and empower Alias, depending on the circumstances. Getting rid of them and gaining her freedom is her quest and obsession.
Along the way they meet some of the 'famous' characters of the Forgotten Realms setting and have a bunch of adventures. I enjoy this book because it is a fine example of Dungeons and Dragons fiction. where the game doesn't get in the way of a fun adventure. The adventures are epic and the characters are interesting.
I did not enjoy The Wyvern's Spur as much. It is in the same series, but only one of the characters from the first book appears in the second book, though there are plot elements in common. Giogioni Wyvernspur, who appeared briefly and without significance in the first book is the main character of this one. He has to find the ancient family good luck talisman, called the Wyvern's Spur. He knows absolutely nothing about it or what it can do, just that it is really important to his family, was very important to his long dead father and is now missing. He's not much of an adventurer at all, rather just a useless minor noble, so how he blunders around is sometimes amusing and sometimes frustrating as the authors have to bail him out of the problems they've put him in.
>116 Karlstar: Think you're going to read the final Finder's Stone book? I've found a lot of "series" by multiple authors in FR are barely strung together. One of the lesser reasons I don't read them any more :-)
>117 BookstoogeLT: If I remember correctly, it fell in between books 1 and 2, quality-wise, but that read was a long time ago. I don't have it, I probably should pick it up. You're right, these 3 are barely strung together, though book 3 has more in common with book 1 than book 2 did. Strange way to make a 'trilogy'.
>99 Karlstar: I'm hoping that others have read it but just not reviewed it. I haven't been posting reviews to LT on a regular basis for years, and I suspect others have lapsed as well.
>106 Karlstar: And that was a bullet right between the eyeballs! Interestingly, when they had that big book voting thing last year with Meredith Viera a year or two ago I watched a video on PBS during the voting process and they interviewed quite a few celebs and famous authors about their favorite books and what they'd be voting for. George R R Martin's was the biggest surprise, as he was voting for LotR. He's said the death of Boromir really changed him. He was no longer afraid to kill off his main (or his reader's favorite) characters. I'd really like to let him know I think he's taken that a bit too far. :o)
>119 clamairy: He sure has!
You're right about the reviews, since I really don't do Goodreads and my rule is that I write some review for everything I enter into LT, I do review a lot. Others obviously do not.
Slightly related, my dislike of China Mieville's work partly stems from his dislike of LoTR.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.