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review 2020-07-29 18:04
A Cold War thriller devoid of thrills
Show Of Force - Charles D. Taylor

When I was growing up, my local library was one of my favorite haunts. It was by walking through their stacks and perusing their displays that I came across many of the books that I would take home to enjoy. One of these was Charles D. Taylor’s novel. Before Tom Clancy made his millions churning out tales of Cold War-era conflicts between the superpowers, Taylor published his tale about a battle between American and Soviet armadas in the Indian Ocean. I can still remember how I was drawn to the stark minimalism of the dustjacket, and how eagerly I devoured the description of the battles that waged between the opposing vessels. Recently I encountered a paperback copy of the book at a used bookstore, and seeing the book again brought all those memories of reading it flooding back, inspiring me to reread it to see how well it well it has held up.

 

What stands out most today are the very elements I avoided when I first read it. More interested in the naval battle than I was in the characters, I skipped over Taylor’s development of the novel’s two central figures. Though commanding forces on opposing sides, the two men, David Charles and Alex Kupinsky, are both portrayed as honorable men who over the course of their careers develop a strong friendship towards one another. Taylor first matches them up against each other during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the two young lieutenants find themselves on ships facing off against one another in the blockade. They meet face-to-face over a decade later while stationed as naval attaches in London, by which time they have gone on to further distinction in their respective careers.

 

All of this is meant to add a layer of tragedy to the battle that the author situates at the heart of his novel. Yet for all of his effort Taylor fails to develop his two main characters beyond this. Instead they become little more than archetypes of great naval officers – smart, dedicated, brave, and patriotic leaders of men. Even the log entries and letters that Taylor inserts between the chapters don’t do a lot to differentiate them or flesh them out beyond the roles they perform. And these two represent Taylor’s most sustained effort to develop any of the characters in his book, as the rest are often little more than names or even just titles inserted to play supporting roles.

 

This matters when it comes to the action. It was here where the contrast with someone like Tom Clancy stood out for me; by developing his characters to the degree that he does, Clancy used them effectively to convey the emotional impact of the action in his books. By contrast, the action in Taylor’s novel comes across more as zapping targets in a video game, with little real emotional impact conveyed in the description of the thousands of men dying as a result of the battle. It all feels incredibly hollow and pointless, an excuse for writing up what amounts to a paper exercise hypothesizing what a 1980s naval battle might look like. The artificiality of the premise and the conditions only underscores this, as it’s all so Taylor can have his ships pounding each other to smithereens.

 

In retrospect, its easy to see why novels such as Taylor’s are not regarded as great literature. For all of the enthusiasm their authors bring to writing them, by prioritizing the action over the characters they leave out what it takes to make for truly gripping fiction. The result is little more than a series of descriptions of imagined battles that in this book are conveyed with all the enthusiasm and punch of the rattling off of a list of ships’ names in a column. It makes me realize just how much my appreciation of the book is tied up with nostalgia for my naïve youth, and how in the end this caused me to remember this book with more fondness than it deserves for its merits.

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review 2020-07-08 00:47
Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle - Charles Gilman

For more review, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A few years ago I read the third book in this series (not realizing it was a series, just so captivated by that cover). I recently saw my library had the audiobooks of the previous books so I thought I'd listen to them for some quick entertainment while driving.

Overall, this was a good book. It was interesting to get the backstory on the world I was introduced to in the third book. The world-building was well-done and made the book intriguing and mysterious. The plot was a bit slow in the beginning with all of the introduction, some of which could have been sped through a bit. You know there is going to be some weird stuff going on at the school so it gets a little tedious leading up to that. But overall the book was well-written and interesting.

While the book is not necessarily very scary, there is a bit of animal cruelty, which may not be a good fit for sensitive readers. While it is not outright gory, it's pretty gross with enough details to be upsetting and is referenced multiple times. I dislike when authors fall back on cruelty to animals in order to show how evil a character is.

A good read although I could have done without the animal stuff. Interesting set up and a nice lead in to the next book.

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review 2020-07-04 14:59
Singularity Sky, Charles Stross
Singularity Sky - Charles Stross

This is what happens if you say to yourself, "I know! For my debut, I'll write an SF novel that's a giant allegory for the Edinburgh Festival!"

 

OK, there's more to it than that and it's a page turner. Those familiar with Stross's later works will see many familiar themes here - Cthulhu mythos, the Singularity, absurdities...

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text 2020-06-27 02:39
#FridayReads - June 26, 2020
A Search for Refuge - Kristi Ann Hunter
Proper English - K.J. Charles
Beneath a Ruthless Sun - Gilbert King
Wonder Woman: Warbringer the Graphic Novel - Leigh Bardugo,Louise Simonson,George Seaton
Wytches Volume 1 - Scott Snyder,Jock

I want to tell you there is a new book site called The Story Graph; right now it is in beta form. I signed up and imported my GR books to TSG. I haven't done much else except to finish filling out my profile (same handle I have here and same profile pic). Thanks to author Beverly Jenkins for letting all of Twitter know about the site.

 

This week I spent most of the time I could have been reading writing all these book reviews. I should be all caught up now; sorry for the tsnuami of reviews. Now that I am planning to write reviews on the regular, I should have more time to read. I am still reading A Search for Refuge for BL-opoly. I need to get to Proper English and work my way through Beneath the Ruthless Sun. Today is all about getting the two graphic novels, Wytches and Warbringer done. Time to buckle down and read all weekend long. 

 

Stay safe, stay healthy my BL friends. Kansas growing in COVID-19 cases and our school district sent out a parental survey yesterday, asking for feedback/input about how to go about doing school for the upcoming school year. I want my kids in school for their mental and emotional health, but I just want to keep them home for their physical health. My anxiety is high right now.

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review 2020-06-26 07:35
Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler

Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler:

From the Amazon page:

Theirs is a world of opposites. The privileged live in sky manors held aloft by a secretive magic known only as the Mysteries. Below, the earthbound poor are forced into factory work to maintain the engine of commerce. Only the wealthy can afford to learn the Mysteries, and they use their knowledge to further lock their hold on society.
Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

 

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

 

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.

 

But both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn both their worlds.

 

I only just finished reading this book. I didn’t know what to expect. I have all these free books and while the title sounded intriguing I hadn’t read much about it and since it was a while since I downloaded it, I couldn’t remember anything. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Freebies are always of varying quality. So many DNF:s, but also a few that are really great. The test of this is whether I would want to buy the book and in this case, I definitely would and continue to buy books in the series, as long as they are as good as this one.

 

You get to know Cettie very well, and Sera quite well. Also the (former) admiral is someone you get to know well. The others, not so much. Some of them are still quite likable. There are also scary ghosts that you don’t really learn much about. They’re probably ordinary spirits of the dead, but not quite. More like monsters that want to suck your body heat from you. All in all, though, this book wasn’t too terrifying. I would probably have been able to read it at the age of ten and up.

 

I love the world building. The sky manors are fascinating and they’re not just opulent mansions, but have their own set of rules that Cettie gradually gets to know. I’ll try to keep this spoiler free, so I’m not going to mention one of the coolest aspects of those manor houses but I really loved it.

 

Poor people participate in lotteries to be allowed to work as servants up in the sky and onyl a few are chosen. The rich use the slums to ’disappear’ undesirables. People can vanish without a trace and children usually don’t live to grow up. People can also ’deed’ away their children for a certain number of years into various positions, some quite prestigious, others backbreaking dull work. Some for so long they’re expected to die in servitude. It’s a sad, dark world inspired by Charles Dickens’ work.

 

Oh, and the book is well written and fascinating so I can really recommend it to anyone who likes this type of fantasy story.

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