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review 2017-04-09 06:30
Leah dithers
Unquiet Land: An Elemental Blessings Novel - Sharon Shinn

I liked this novel – I like everything by this writer – but it’s not her best work. In fact, the story seems an afterthought to Shinn’s latest series. It utilizes many of the characters I have encountered in the prior books.

The protagonist, Leah, also appeared before, in Jeweled Fire. There, she played a supporting role. Here, she is given a chance to shine, but sadly, her shine is a mere sparkle.

After 5 years of spying for the Regent in a foreign country, Leah returns home and tries to find a place to belong. She has a young daughter, Mally, whom she abandoned 5 years ago. Mally doesn’t even know Leah is her mother. Leah also has a former lover, but she is still resentful for his rejection 5 years ago. It seems, everything of importance in Leah’s life happened 5 years ago, but the story in this book happens now, 5 years later. Now, Leah tries to establish a new connection with Mally. Now, Leah tries to fit into the society she abandoned 5 years ago. Now, Leah tries to find a new purpose in life and a new love.

Leah’s story is quiet, as is Leah herself, and her new love grows gradually. There is no insta-lust there but lots of doubts. One of Leah’s doubts actually turned me against this book and its heroine. Her new love interest, Chandran, confesses to her early in this novel that a decade ago he killed his wife. She was a monster, or so he says, but he still feels guilty for taking her life.

After his confession, Leah is reluctant to trust him completely. She is dithering, afraid to jump full-tilt into the affair. Even though she is clearly in love with him, and he with her, she is stringing Chandran along, keeps him dangling.

The more I read about Chandran in the tale, the more I liked the guy. He is one of those men who doesn’t shy away from hard decisions but does what he feels right and then accepts the consequences, no matter how painful. He is a rare thing – a man with integrity.  

As the book progresses, the facts unfold, showing us that his former wife really was an evil bitch and deserved what she got. And still Leah holds back. Then, close to the end of the book, she gets in trouble. Her life is in mortal danger. Chandran is not in a position to help; he isn’t aware of the danger she faces, but her friend, a female soldier, jumps in and kills her enemy.

Afterwards, Leah doesn’t hesitate to feel grateful to her friend, doesn’t withhold her trust and affection the same way she has been doing with Chandran for the entire length of the book. In this case, killing is a good thing, right? If someone kills protecting her, that’s okay. But Chandran killed protecting someone else, in a situation unknown to Leah, so different standards must apply. The entire conditional approval of killing rubbed me raw and it poisoned the whole story.

Other than that one serious objection, I enjoyed this book.

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review 2017-03-26 04:35
Clock towers adventure
Timekeeper - Tara Sim

This novel didn’t really work for me, although it has an intriguing premise. Time can change. It can Stop. It can jump without continuity. The only things that keep the time from hiccuping are the magical clock towers. Each clock tower has an area of influence, usually a town and surrounding area, which together constitute a time zone. Built hundreds of years ago all over the world by unknown magical artisans, the towers are an enigma for most regular people.

The secrets of their construction were lost centuries ago. Nobody knows now how to build new towers anymore, and only magical clock mechanics, gifted with the magical sense of time, are able to repair them. They keep the towers running and prevent the time from Stopping.

Danny, the seventeen-year-old hero of this book, as a clock mechanic. He is thrust into the middle of the story, together with the readers: someone has been sabotaging clock towers around England, time has been acting up, and nobody knows the culprit. Danny’s father was one of the casualties. Three years ago, he was trapped in a town where the time Stopped. Nobody could get in or out of Stopped towns, and Danny still mourns his father. Danny himself was a victim of a bombing of one of the clock towers. He survived, but he still bear scars, physical and mental, and he is determined to figure out who is responsible for what is happening to the clock towers of England.

The story follows Danny through a series of harrowing adventures, blending several genres together. It should’ve been irresistible, but in fact, it drags. I think the author tried to combine too many genres inside one book.

There is the obvious fantasy angle – magical clock towers in the alternative Victorian England – which attracted me to the book in the first place. Then, there is a mystery inside the fantasy. The author follows the rules of the mystery genre and throws lots of red herrings into Danny’s investigation of the clock towers accidents.

I don’t like mystery genre very much. For me, a fantasy reader, the red herrings felt like an unfocused story. A bunch of characters who were not important to the main plot. A bunch of event that convoluted the logic and didn’t have any impact on the ultimate conclusion of Danny’s journey. I got so bored with the story meandering, I started skipping after the first 100 pages or so. Until I got to the last 80 pages, which I read in full. Strangely enough, I didn’t miss much by skipping over more than 100 middle pages. The story was clear, and I read it to the conclusion without wondering what happened in between.

Another genre convention that even worsened my impression of this novel was its YA approach. The protagonist, a seventeen-year-old gay boy, is chock full of teenage angst. He is unpleasant, unfriendly, and cares mostly about himself, like most teenagers I know. I’m not enamored of this genre and I disliked the protagonist. No, this novel didn’t work for me. 

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review 2017-03-23 21:27
Captain, wife, mother
Cordelia's Honor - Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ve been Bujold’s fan since my first reading of one of her Vorkosigan novels. Miles Vorkosigan, the hero of the series, is definitely my favorite sci-fi hero, but Cordelia, his mother, is much more. I love Cordelia. Her humanity and strength are humbling and uplifting. I hope such women exist in our lives, not just in Bujold’s sci-fi world.

Although I read and reread most of the books of this series more than once, this is my first review of this novel. It is Cordelia’s story, and it is divided into two parts: Shards of Honor and Barrayar.

The first part, Shards of Honor, opens with Cordelia as a Betan survey ship captain, exploring a newly discovered planet with her colleagues. Suddenly, her world explodes around her. Her scientific camp is destroyed. Some of her ship officers are dead or wounded. Unknown dangers threaten from every tree and bush, and her only ally in the frightening chaos is a Barrayaran officer, Aral Vorkosigan, who takes her prisoner. From that perilous position, Cordelia finally escapes, thanks to her courage and ingenuity, but her troubles are only starting.

Her twisty path weaves through the brutal war; she suffers capture by the Barrayaran military and the POW camp, but even when she at last reaches safety at home, troubles follow her in the person of the army psychiatrist who wants to wipe her mind clean of all she had endured. Especially from her love for Aral, the love that crept on her unawares, the love that changed her life.

Their love triumphs, of course, huge and poignant. The second part, Barrayar, begins after Cordelia’s frantic flight from her home on Beta Colony, one step ahead of the charges of treason and the dratted psychiatrist. Now, she is quietly married to Aral. Both are middle-aged, ready to settle down. He is retired from the military, and both of them are prepared to enjoy their retirement. They plan to start a family.

Barrayar interferes. The old dying Emperor of Barrayar asks Aral to become a Regent to his orphaned grandchild, five-year-old Prince Gregor. A patriot and an aristocrat to his bones, with honor imprinted on his psyche, Aral can’t say NO. Thus, Cordelia is thrust into the maelstrom of Barrayar’s turbulent politics, as the planet climbs from its almost feudal mentality towards galactic standards under Aral’s guidance. The resistance of the proponents of tradition is fierce, and Aral and Cordelia’s son Miles pays the price.

But Cordelia never gives up. She stands beside her husband, proud and free, a symbol of the new possibilities. She fights for her husband as only a Betan ship captain could, and she fight for her son’s life as any loving mother, and she wins in the end, although that victory comes with a painful price.

Cordelia is a marvelous human being, compassionate even to her enemies and a role model to countless young women on Barrayar. Loving and forgiving is her default mode, understanding and acceptance her dual mottos, but she could be ruthless to her enemies and acidic towards fools. I love Cordelia and I enjoyed her story. For me, it was, together with its sequel, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, the best two books of the entire Vorkosigan saga. And the best heroine in the sci-fi genre.

This book is a sci-fi adventure in form, a love story in essence, and an exploration of several deep and penetrating issues humanity has been wrestling with recently, from feminism to democracy. Although it is at times hysterically funny, the laughter is frequently tinged with sadness. So many of Barrayar’s problems mirror our own that Cordelia’s tale sometimes slips into satire. Other times, into philosophy. It captivates its readers with all its multiple facets and its irresistible heroine.     

A lovely, amazing book.

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review 2017-03-02 18:22
Jaran by Kate Elliott - My Thoughts
Jaran - Kate Elliott

I have been meaning to read these books for the longest time.  I'd picked up books 2 & 3 from the second hand bookstore a few years ago, but of course, held off until I could find book 1.  Well, finally, they came out in Ebook omnibus for a really great price - $2.99 - and who could resist that!

So... worth the wait?  Well yes and no.  The book is basically a fantasy set in a science fiction universe - maybe sort of like the Pern novels?  The thing is, you'd better like the heroine, Tess, because you're going to see a helluva lot of her supposedly growing.  To be honest, I found her really a bit too good to be true.  She really has no discernible flaws other than a stubborn unwillingness to actually talk to the hero, Ilya, about what's happening between them.  I wanted to smack both of them at different times during my read.  *LOL*

That being said, I really enjoyed the world-building - or shall I say universe building in this one.  Yeah, we've seen before the primitive society side-by-side with the space-faring society but the primitive world is being protected from the advanced bunch by interdictions - can you say Prime Directive anyone?  *LOL*  Yeah, it made me think, in a very loose way, of The Omega Glory from the original Star Trek.  E plebnista y'all!

What saved the book for me was the cast of secondary characters and the society of the Jaran.  Fascinating!  While I did lose a couple of my faves, I'm hopeful that further books in the series (there are 4 volumes) will continue their stories as well as that of Tess and Ilya.  And maybe Tess will stop being so perfect at everything.  A girl can hope!

 

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review 2016-12-14 02:40
Too close to home
Heart of Gold - Sharon Shinn

That was a powerful book, a scary book. It explored the sensitive themes of racism and terrorism under the quaint camouflage of fantasy. The action, allegedly, takes place someplace else, where people’s skins are blue and gold instead of brown and white, as they are here, but the punch this book delivers is all the more potent because of it. I read it and thought: even in fantasy, with its unlimited possibilities, the author couldn’t find a solution. How could we, in real life, do better?

There are two major races in the world of this novel: indigo (blue skin) and gulden (golden skin). The indigo race are old aristocrats. They own land and wealth. They are also a matriarchal society. The women inherit, hold government positions, get education. The men, traditionally, just serve as consorts and sperm donors, although the situation has been changing in recent decades. Some indigo men nowadays refuse to get married. They want to have an education and to hold a job, but that’s still rare.

The gulden race is the opposite. They are intensely patriarchal. The majority of them still live in their mountains. Women in the gulden society are property. They can’t even shop for food without permission – a special tag – from their husbands or fathers. Physical abuse of women and children is common in gulden families. Some women try to escape, but it is still rare. Most die in the process.

Both races look at each other as barbarians, indecent in their practices. The only place of change seems to be the city, where both cultures collide. Here, in the city, indigo men could find jobs. Here, in the city, gulden women could hide from their men-folks.

And here, in the city, a young gulden leader unleashes a string of terrorist bombings to force the indigo government to... do what? Now it gets dicey. What he really wants is unclear. He screams: “Freedom!” All terrorists do everywhere, but it feels like he wants to stop progress. Or maybe he just wants the indigo to back off and leave his people the way they are, and his women chattel forever.

I hated the guy. I hated his entire culture, but one of the protagonists, the indigo woman Kit, sees hidden qualities in the gulden way of life. A rebel in her own rich, aristocratic family, she prefers gulden, men and women, to her own people. She grew up among the gulden, as her father, a sociologist, studied the gulden race. It goes even deeper: Kit is in love with a gulden man. In fact, she is full of compassion and understanding for everyone, but is her compassion needed amid the racial hostilities and political intrigues? Is her understanding enough to make a difference?

Another protagonist, an indigo man Nolan, isn’t a rebel in the usual sense. Like others of his race, he doesn’t really accepts gulden as civilized, but he works with them. He is quiet and introspective, a man of science, a biologists, and he likes his job. He is not sure he wants to get married but he will accept life the way it is supposed to be.

When Nolan, by accident, discovers a plot threatening genocide of all gulden, his conscience pushes him to take steps, to ensure such horror doesn’t become reality, and the only one who could help him is Kit. They didn’t even know each other before their crazy attempt to save the gulden race, and Nolan makes some hard decisions along the way. He is so much out of his comfort zone, it’s hard to read, but still he doesn’t waver in his determination. Not everyone would consider his choices moral or ethical. Actually, no indigo did in the story, except Kit, and I’m not sure I do, but he did accomplish his goal: he saved the gulden from extinction, at a great personal cost. At a cost to all indigo, actually.

The terrorism stopped too, but that was in a fantasy tale. Unfortunately, the associations with the real life are too deep in this book, and the decisions and heroes of our life never go the way of Nolan and his ‘happy ending’. I don’t see a happy ending for our global terrorism threat. Things change even here, on this Earth, but much slower than in this author’s fantasy world. And not always for the better. So the reading of this story was a pretty painful experience for me, laced with disappointment and fear for the future. I wish it was as ‘simple’ for us as it was for Nolan and Kit.   

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