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review 2017-08-11 04:52
Review: Children of God (The Sparrow Book 2 of 2)
Children of God - Mary Doria Russell

Children of God is the sequel to The Sparrow which I loved.  I liked this one a lot, but not quite on the same level.  In the first book, I was addicted to both the characters and the story.  With this book I was still addicted to the characters, and I did enjoy the story, but I wasn’t as thoroughly caught up in it. 

 

The format is similar to the first one.  We have two main time periods set several years apart, each of which continue from where the two main time periods in the first book left off.  There’s also a third time period that we see only occasionally, taking place further in the future.  In the first book, the mystery of how we got from point A (the earlier time period) to point B (the later time period) was a large part of what held my interest.  In this book, the story was more straight-forward despite the different timelines.  They were more like separate stories that converged, rather than two ends of the same story as in the first book.  There were some surprises, and it held my interest well, but I wasn’t reading it with that same desperate desire to fill in the missing pieces. 

 

Some of the new characters introduced in the book were less likeable, although I did love how the author gave some of the characters more shades of gray.  I think there were arguably more complex characters in this book, and I liked that.  I also liked that we got to know some of the characters on the alien planet better.  On the other hand, I missed the banter and fun that appeared more frequently in the first book.

 

I guess this review is more a comparison of the two books than a review of this book on its individual merits, but it’s hard not to compare them and it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to read this book without having read the first one.  The author does provide the necessary back story, but I think the emotional buildup from the first book goes a long way toward creating the investment and interest necessary for this book.  I probably would have rated this lower if I hadn’t read it straight after the first.  I’m giving it 4.5 stars on the sites where I can give half stars, but I had a very hard time deciding whether to round up or down on Goodreads.  I decided to round up, based on my enjoyment level as I read it.

 

Next Book

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.

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review 2017-08-06 05:22
Review: The Sparrow (The Sparrow Book 1 of 2)
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

I loved this book.  The two page prologue sets the stage very well.  It tells us that Earth learned of an alien planet and, for reasons only hinted at in the prologue, a Jesuit delegation is the first to travel to that planet.  The end of the prologue says, “They meant no harm.”  Which of course tells the reader that things don’t go well!  And at that point I was hooked. 

 

In the first chapter, our main character Emilio Sandoz has returned from the mission to the alien planet alone.  He’s broken physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  We alternate between that time period and the past, beginning just before the characters learned about the alien world.  We know from the beginning that awful things have happened, and we slowly zero in on those events from both ends of the timeline until finally, by the end, we have all the answers.  Non-linear story formats often work well for me, and this one particularly kept me hanging on every word.  I enjoyed both timelines equally.

 

It’s good that I didn’t know anything at all about this before I started reading it, or I might have been more reluctant to try it and I might have missed out.  Our main character is a Jesuit priest, so religion is a big part of this book.  Religion evokes strong opinions, whether in favor of it or against it, and authors often can’t resist trying to sway people to their own views.  When that happens, the book feels preachy and trite and is often full of tiresome “debates” between characters.  Even books that align with my own views are annoying to me if the author is too repetitive or obvious about it.

 

This book wasn’t like that, though; it was done really well.  The characters are who they are, and they believe what they believe.  I never felt like the author was trying to convince me of any particular viewpoint.  I didn’t have to agree with the characters’ interpretation of events in order for the story to feel meaningful and believable.  I could be an outside observer, invested in and sympathetic with the characters, but considering things from many perspectives without feeling like the author wanted me to settle on one particular perspective.  I was very invested in both the characters and the story.

 

There is quite a bit of humor in this book, particularly in the “past” portions.  I don’t know if I’d call this a dark or depressing book exactly, but it does go to some dark places, and you know from the very beginning that things aren’t going to end well.  I knew the best I could hope for was a bittersweet and hopeful ending.  I think if I hadn’t been prepared, if I’d been blindsided by how everything turned out with the mission, I would have rated this book lower.  Instead, the book became more about figuring out how things went wrong, and what exactly happened, and learning how this vibrant character we saw in the chapters from the past came to be in the wrecked state we saw in the chapters from the future.

 

I wasn’t completely without complaint.  There were some things that seemed a bit logically flawed to me, and one character (Anne) who occasionally rang false for me, but I enjoyed the general story so much that I was able to overlook any niggling annoyances.  There’s no question that I’ll be jumping straight into the sequel, although not without some fear.

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review 2017-07-24 04:34
Review: League of Dragons (Temeraire Book 9 of 9!)
League of Dragons: A Novel of Temeraire - Naomi Novik

Well, that’s it.  The last book in the Temeraire series!  I thought the ending was satisfying.  It wasn’t particularly surprising, maybe, but I was happy with how things ended up and I enjoyed the last book as much as I had enjoyed the previous books.  The rest of this review consists of general, spoiler-free comments on the series as a whole.

 

I really enjoyed the whole series even though, in retrospect, it lacked some of the things that are most likely to earn my enthusiasm for a book.  In particular, Novik used a straight-forward and consistent story-telling style.  There were surprises here and there, but this isn’t a twisty story with an intricate plot that keeps you confused and anxious to learn what the heck is going on.  I do normally prefer a twistier story, but it held my interest well anyway.  I would be surprised though if somebody who isn’t crazy for the books from the beginning were to change their mind if they tried to keep reading.  The things that made the series enjoyable for me from the start are mostly the same things that sustained my interest through to the end.

 

Novik writes action scenes well, and she also does very well with making characters likeable and sympathetic.  She writes the interactions between characters well too.  I was happy that there wasn’t much romance in the series; I think that would have taken away from the more interesting relationships and been more a source of annoyance than anything.  There isn’t anything too deep here, but I liked the theme of duty versus morality that showed up throughout the series, forcing our characters to decide which should take precedence when those two things were in conflict and to deal with the consequences of their choices.  Even though the series is set during a war, it has a fairly light tone.  Bad and discouraging things happen, but there’s also a decent amount of humor and optimism. 

 

I plan to keep an eye out for future books the author publishes, and I’ll read the new anthology (Golden Age and Other Stories) sooner or later.  Right now I only see a $25 hardcover available for pre-order so I’ll either borrow it from the library if it’s available, or I’ll purchase it when there’s a reasonably-priced Kindle edition available.

 

Next Book

A standalone fantasy book from the 80’s called Weaveworld by Clive Barker.  This is one of those books on my list that I bought on sale a while back and know absolutely nothing about, so I look forward to being surprised.  Hopefully in a pleasant way, but we’ll see. :)

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review 2017-07-22 15:55
Review: Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire Book 8 of 9)
Blood of Tyrants - Naomi Novik

Blood of Tyrants is the eighth and penultimate book in the Temeraire series.  I enjoyed it equally as much as the previous books, although a little more unevenly.  I was fully engrossed for the first 75% or so, but I occasionally felt restless toward the end.

 

Some of the early events, though occasionally frustrating, really highlighted Laurence’s character growth throughout the series, and Temeraire’s too.  I was also happy to see my favorite secondary character show back up.

 

This book doesn’t exactly end on a cliff hanger, but it did feel a little less wrapped-up than the previous books, setting the stage for the final events coming up next.  I look forward to finding out how the series ends.

 

Next Book

League of Dragons by Naomi Novik, the last book in the Temeraire series, not counting the anthology due out next month.

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review 2017-07-16 22:18
Review: Crucible of Gold (Temeraire Book 7 of 9)
Crucible of Gold (Temeraire) - Naomi Novik

This is the seventh book in the Temeraire series.  I enjoyed it a lot, on about the same level as the previous books, and definitely more than the sixth one.  Unlike the last book, there weren’t as many unlikeable characters and I think that helped.  I don’t have too much else to write about -- just a couple comments within the spoiler tags.

 

 

I expect that Riley isn’t really dead and will show back up sooner or later.  When a fairly significant character dies, it’s usually made more obvious and definite.  I won’t be terribly disappointed if I'm mistaken; I don’t much care one way or another except for the sake of the characters who do care.  I haven’t cared much for him since his conflicts with Laurence in the earlier books.

 

I thought Granby was better developed in this book.  I enjoyed learning more about him and seeing him play a slightly more prominent role in the story.  I also was very happy to see him finally put his foot down with Iskierka.  I hope he doesn’t back down in the remaining books.

 

(spoiler show)

 

Even though it took me 9 days to read this, it was only a reflection of my work schedule and not of my enjoyment of the book.  I was on a business trip for a little over a week, with many 16-18 hour work days.  I read most of this book within three days; the rest of the days involved reading the same paragraphs over and over with my eyes while my brain thought about work until I gave up the attempt. :)

 

Next Book

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik, the next book in the Temeraire series.

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