Thursday, November 15, 2018

James Review -- The Dreaming Stars

This week I decided to review Axiom: The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt. 

The story begins shortly after the previous book ends. Captain Callie Machedo, the remaining members of her crew, and the survivors from a wrecked sleeper ship they recovered, are in hiding, widely believed to be dead. They are hiding because they are the only humans who know about the Axiom, ancient and highly malevolent aliens who are in stasis but left numerous projects running while they are unaware. The Liars, the first aliens humanity made contact with, were once slaves to the Axiom, and they include a small sect known as the truth tellers. Most that know of them, including the majority of truth tellers, believe their goal is protecting the galaxy from their former masters but their actual purpose is preventing outsiders from interfering with Axiom projects.

Machedo’s crew is also trying to treat Sebastien, one of the sleeper ship passengers whose mind was altered by Axiom technology, leaving him a violent megalomaniac. During a secret trip to obtain supplies and new medications to treat Sebastien, Machedo receives word from Lantern, one of the few high-ranking truth tellers who truly oppose the Axiom, that it is safe for her crew to come out of hiding. Lantern also requests that they investigate the Taliesen system where contact has recently been lost with a truth teller cell.
Machedo crashes her own funeral, meeting her ex-husband Michael.  Michael’s family owns the Almajara corporation, and a number of the corporation’s personnel have vanished in the Taliesen system, so Machedo’s crew is hired to look into their fate. The investigation leads to a swarm of Axiom nanomachines consuming anything in its path for resources, only sparing the White Raven, Machedo’s ship, because it carries Axiom technology, thus leading the nanomachines to believe the ship is crewed by servants of the Axiom. The swarm is slowly making its way towards the system inhabited world where it will consume the planet. Upon entering the station, the nanomachines are linked, too; they discover dozens of Axiom playing a form of virtual reality 4x game. Players in the game can start tournaments, and whoever is in first place when the tournament ends becomes Emperor until the next tournament. The Emperor gains many perks including control of the nanomachines.

Sebastien claims to have recovered, so  he and Machedo infiltrate the game in a desperate attempt to gain control of the nanomachines before it is too late. But when Sebastien requests to be left in the game after the swarm is shut down, can he truly be trusted?
I give this book 8 out of 10. It has a wide variety of both ethical dilemmas and physical problems for the characters to face. Also, some of the challenges are mostly unique in my experience, However, I feel the story could use more combat sequences, especially when characters are active in the Axiom VR game. Also, the final solution to gain control of the nanomachines seems a little too easy to me. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book Review -- Heroine Worship

Previously, I reviewed Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex and even interviewed her on this blog. Today I'm reviewing the follow-up, Heroine Worship. Is it any good? Let's find out.

It's been three months since our heroines defeated Shasta and saved the world from a demon invasion. Since then, peace has reigned. Pretty good, right? Not for Aveda Jupiter. She's going out of her mind from boredom and feels she now lacks purpose. Thankfully, excitement is reintroduced when self-proclaimed reformed demon princess Maisie Kane asks them to come take a look at the demon portal in her lingerie shop. She claims the portal is showing signs of activity. They investigate and suffer a close call when the portal comes alive. Nate sees this as the right time to propose to Evie, and she quickly accepts. 

So, now Aveda is in charge of planning Evie's wedding. She wants everything to be just right, but the perfectionist in her may jeopardize their friendship. And if that weren't bad enough, a rogue puppy demon is latching onto the other brides in the city, making them enraged. Why is this happening? Who is responsible? Can anyone stop the bridezillas? And will Aveda hook up with Scott already?

Heroine Worship, unlike the previous book, is told from the POV of Aveda. This has allowed Kuhn to greatly flesh out her character. Instead of an egotistical spotlight hog, we get a caring friend who just needs to ease up. We see why Aveda and Evie are such good amigas. We can finally root for her, whereas in the first book, I wanted Evie to smack her.

Those hoping for another worldwide threat may be disappointed. The stakes here are much more personal. It's really about a group of friends working on their relationships. Yes, there is an antagonist behind the bridezillas, but it's an intentionally low-key character who just doesn't have the same presence as Shasta or Maisie. It's important to go into this with the understanding that the focus is on character development and interpersonal conflict.

Would I recommend this to fans of the first book? Hell, yeah, I would. Sarah Kuhn has delivered a more human story and kept the quality aspects of its predecessor. The real star of the show is the characters; they're well-realized and their personalities shine. The reader can easily dive in and inhabit this colorful world.

Bottom line: Read this book.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

James Review -- The Gods of Sagittarius

This week I decided to review The Gods of Sagittarius by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick. 

The story begins with two main plotlines that eventually meet and join. One begins with security specialist Russell Tabor being assigned to guard absent genius Rupert Shenoy. Shenoy is one of humanity’s greatest minds able to develop revolutionary idea but in some moments but he is quite literally capable of forgetting where he lives over the course of a day as well. Shenoy wishes to journey to the planet Cthulhu in an attempt to research the Old Ones, incredibly ancient and powerful aliens that he believes once ruled much of the galaxy or universe.

However, the journey does not start smoothly. First, the party’s ship refuses to activate after being told that the group wants to travel to Cthulhu. Then Andrea Melander, one of Shenoy’s aides, is stricken by an unidentifiable medical condition. Eventually, the party manages to reach Cthulhu where they travel to the planet’s primary human habitation, a prison. There they review security footage of an incident where something invisible killed and ate three prisoners. After this, the party begins searching for more clues but Basil Stone, Shenoy’s only remaining assistant, is struck down by an unknown force, but Shenoy finds a clue that makes him believe that either the secrets to the magic of the Old Ones or the Old Ones themselves can be found on the planet Cornwallis IV otherwise known as Chuxthimazi.
There they make contact with the native inhabitants Paskapa who quickly live up to their name by chagrining exorbitant fees for anything. While there, Tabor gets into a fight with police while defending Shenoy whom the police were planning to calm via beating with clubs. He finds himself thrown in a cell with Jaemu, a murderer belonging to the Vitunpelay species, who claims to have information on the Old Ones. The two forge an alliance to escape prison then set out to find Shenoy. Jaemu reveals that there is something linked to the Old Ones in the highly militaristic Mank Empire.

The second plotline follows Occo, a shaman of the Nac Zhe Anglan and her familiar Bresk. The Nac Zhe Anglan include a number of religious creeds with the differences in beliefs usually tied to whether the Old Ones were good or evil and their fates during an ancient war with an evil force. Occo finds the home cloister of her creed destroyed, and after examining the site, she determines that the attackers were either using Old One weaponry or a close copy. She declares herself a Gadrax, a form of quasi-legal outlaw unrestrained by many of the restrictions imposed on all her people’s creeds, seeking vengeance. She gains permission from the Envacht Lu, the order responsible for punishing the story from being creeds that violate the Dessetrai Pact, laws designed to prevent surviving Old Ones, or survivors of their destroyers, from discovering Nac Zhe Anglan as well as defending the Nac Zhe Anglan from hostile species, as long as she provides progress reports on her quest when able to do so.
The first step of her plan is to seize the Warlock Variation Drive, an Old One artifact held in a well- guarded storehouse of such artifacts belonging to another cloister. She pretends to join a highly dangerous religious rite occurring nearby, deliberately wrecking her ship then crashing into the storehouse. Once inside, she finds the drive, an organism rather than a device. It displaces her into a number of increasingly dangerous predicaments before she somewhat masters its use. Eventually, her journey takes her to Cthulhu then to the Mank Empire.

After the parties join forces, they must still face the defenses of the Old One Depository, whatever is inside, and the Morganites, charlatans secretly the power behind the Mank Empire who have long sought beings to brave the depository for them.

I give this book 7 out of 10. It has some great world-building and interesting characters and situations, but there are also some parts that are very slow. Also, I wish the conclusion felt more like an ending instead of seeming like just an opening chapter to a bigger story. Finally, the story needs some battle sequences badly. There were lots of interesting puzzles faced by the characters, sure, but I feel like a good fight or two would have stopped the story from feeling so boring at times.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

James Review Enderverse: Children of the Fleet

This week I decided to review Enderverse: Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card. 

The story is set after the end of the Third Formic War. Dabeet Ochoa is a young genius who never knew his father. However, he is told by his mother that his father was an officer of the International Fleet. He sends every form of application he can to get into Fleet School, formerly Battle School, which now trains children to lead colonization missions and scouting expeditions rather than training them to command war fleets.

After the applications are sent, Ochoa finds himself being interviewed personally by Hyrum Graff, once head of Battle School and currently the Minister of Colonization. During the interview, Graff reveals that the woman who raised Ochoa is not actually his biological mother which leaves the young man reeling. And shortly after the interview, Ochoa is kidnapped by a group representing an unknown nation. The international peace caused by the Formic threat is fraying rapidly in the aftermath of their eradication, and Ochoa convinces the men holding him that the best way to fulfill their goal of getting the International Fleet to intervene to end fighting on Earth is to let him go so he can help them raid Fleet School.

His captors agree but make it clear they will retaliate against his foster mother if he fails to aid them. After arriving at Fleet School, Ochoa holds himself aloof from the other students, and many dislike him because almost all of the other students had space experience prior to Fleet School which they feel make him a liability since he does not. However, Ochoa soon discovers that pieces of the refurbished Battle Room walls can be removed. He begins working on making structures from these pieces, but the process takes too long to be useful during Battle Room exercises with just one person. Zhang He, another student, notices Ochoa’s actions and becomes intrigued, offering to help him. When this doesn’t cut construction time enough, Zhang sets out to recruit a small band of students. However, eventually Ochoa receives word that the attack is coming, and after revealing the truth to the rest of the construction band, they set out in a desperate attempt to stop the assault.

The book also includes sections containing IM style chats regarding events in the story and essays submitted as assignments in the school.
I give the book 8.5 out of 10. I liked a lot of the new characters and thought the essay sections helped readers know more about the mindsets of the students involved. Also, I liked a deeper look into the motivations of the attack on Fleet School and what happened on Earth after the alien threat was ended. However, I felt the "Ochoa’s father’s true identity" twist was a little too predictable and that the story really needed more action sequences. Finally, there were multiple points where the synopsis on the back of the book contained false information, and I really hate when books are published without such mistakes being found and fixed.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

James Review -- Vicky Peterwald: Dominator

This week I decided to review Vicky Peterwald: Dominator by Mike Shepherd. 

The story begins with the protagonist en route to her wedding, which goes well despite an assassination attempt during the journey. However, Vicky’s father fails to attend, and intelligence soon indicates that he has been left penniless by the manipulations of the Bowlingame family, which Vicky’s dead and wicked stepmother belonged to.

Vicky leads a fleet to Greenfield, the capital of the section of the empire officially ruled by her father but now ruled by the Bowlingames. Vicky knows instantly that the message explaining why her father is unavailable is a lie, because he is supposedly hunting bears in an area where the breed of bear in question no longer lives. She leads a team to her father’s incomplete palace to find that not only is the structure unfinished, but electrical service has been discontinued in the depths of a harsh winter. Emperor Peterwald isn’t there, but three cooks who are the last loyal members of his staff and whom Vicky considers to be her aunts are there. The cooks are rescued, then Vicky launches raids against the homes on the various high-ranking members of the Bowlingame family on the world. Emperor Peterwald is rescued, but he is on the verge of starvation due to the shortage, and low quality, of the food provided for him and his loyal staff members, and it is unknown if he will ever fully recover.

Soon after the fleet returns to Vicky’s territory, a fleet loyal to the Bowlingames raids a small world loyal to Vicky, and in response, Vicky’s forces begin a counteroffensive. Their first target is the world of Dresden. When they arrive, Vicky’s forces find the High Dresden space station seeded with an array of boobytraps. And even when the traps are bypassed, the Bowlingame forces reveal that much of the planet’s civilian population has been taken hostage and surrounded with a variety of explosives.

Using a storm system as cover, Vicky’s forces land a strike force including the Grand Duchess herself. However, they soon find a badly-damaged bridge which will allow only a small team to pass, a team that must include Vicky because her computer Maggie is the best hope of safely disarming the bombs around the hostages. And in the end, Vicky’s team finds themselves in a desperate battle against overwhelming odds with the fates of the hostages on the line…

Also, throughout the story, Vicky and her computer Maggie face a number of struggles tied to Maggie's growing self-awareness, including a tragedy when Maggie’s plan to intercept an enemy missile salvo destroys a number of friendly small craft.

I give this book 8 out of 10. It has a number of interesting planning sequences, and I like the issues Vicky and Maggie face regarding Maggie’s growing sentience a lot. The main problem I have is that space combat has always been one of the author’s strongest areas in my opinion, but there is almost no space combat in this book. The missile attack I mentioned above is pretty much it, and the author could have easily fit a few more small space battle scenes in without disrupting the book’s plot.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Author Interview -- Sarah Kuhn

Today I have the honor of interviewing one of my favorite authors. A while back I reviewed Sarah Kuhn's novel Heroine Complex (see here for my review) and got hooked on the Asian girl power F-bombs. With three books in the series and even more awesomeness on the way, Ms. Kuhn is definitely on a roll. Lucky for us, she had time to answer a few burning questions.

How would you describe your writing to a newb?

Superheroine-powered romance-fantasy that’s as fun and vibrant and candy-colored as Jason Chan’s beautiful covers for the HEROINE series. (That’s what I’m always trying to live up to, anyway.) Packed with feels of all kinds. Spotlighting women of color getting to have fun and adventure and happy endings.

Where did the idea for Heroine Complex come from?

I grew up on a steady diet of superhero comics and I particularly loved the X-Men, because they always spend an excessive amount of time talking about their feelings, even when—especially when!—the world needs saving. I always wondered, though, who was doing all the behind-the-scenes dirty work—taking costumes to the dry cleaners, updating the social media, cleaning up all the superpowered messes left behind. I thought it would be fun to write about the person who has to do all that, the beleaguered PA to superheroes. That’s how I found Evie Tanaka, superheroine PA extraordinaire, who stars in the first book. And then all her friends wanted their own stories, too.

Who are your female role models?

Way too many to list here, but my biggest role models are my girl gangs, all the wonderful women I’m close to. When everything else in the world seems terrible, being part of those communities has saved my life.

Heroine Complex is told from Evie's POV. Why did you change to Annie's POV for Heroine Worship?

In the first draft of the book, Aveda was more of a one-note diva — she was really awful to Evie, and one of my editor’s first notes was that she didn’t really understand why they were friends in the first place. I had to go back and really explore that question, and that’s how I got into the deeper nuances of their relationships — how Aveda had really always been there to save Evie and they’d developed this not-very-healthy codependent relationship they needed to fix. It made me really feel for Aveda, to realize that everything she was doing stemmed from her ultra perfectionist nature and her fear of failure and of being alone. She became real to me through that process, so of course that made me want to her explore her story. (Plus, I really wanted to show how she and Scott finally got together!)

Which of your characters do you identify with most?

I always identify the most with whoever I’m writing at the time. When I wrote Evie, I felt her need for control and the tentative unleashing of her allowing herself to really want things. With Aveda, I felt that perfectionist nature and fear of messing up deep in my bones. And with Bea, I felt her need for whimsy and excitement and the deep grief she was trying to run away from. I think I have to connect to each character that deeply in order to write them well.

Have you written anything you wish more people would notice?

I have written a few tweets that I feel were very underrated.

What can a hungry writer do to get exposure?

I don’t think there’s any magic answer to that — except just write. Finish something. Start the next thing. Try different things. In any creative industry, we feel like we have control over so little — but as long as you’re writing, you’re steering the ship. (This sentence sounded good when I started writing it, and now I’m like, what? What does that mean?? But see, I can write another sentence — I’m steering the ship!)

Which of the superpowers in your stories would you most want to have? Say, the super handy GPS power?

That would come in extremely handy in LA, but my original dream power was shooting fire out of my hands, so I still kind of want Evie’s. (Probably no one else wants me to have this power, though.)


Saturday, September 29, 2018

James Review -- Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover

This week I decided to review Spider-man: Hostile Takeover by David Liss. 

The story begins shortly after Wilson Fisk, AKA Kingpin, returns to New York claiming to have reformed into a benevolent philanthropist. While roaming the city, Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, hears of a robbery at a Snake store and moves to intervene. He captures the thief, a young man named Andy. To convince Spider-man to let him go, Andy tells Parker of a supervillain active at a nearby construction site. Parker arrives at the site and defeats a handful of thugs but is ambushed by a new enemy able to match both his moves and his abilities.

Parker returns to Andy to find the would-be thief dead and is soon confronted by police lieutenant Yuri Watanabe who reveals that Andy had been murdered by a impostor Spider-Man, known to be an impostor due to slight errors in his costume. Watanabe also reveals that the construction site Spider-Man was ambushed at secretly belongs to Fisk, and Watanabe, who also wishes to bring Fisk down, forms a secret alliance with Parker.
Soon after this, the fake Spider-Man begins a series of actions designed to ruin Spider-Man’s reputation. And the conflict becomes more personal when one of these incidents leads to the death of Anika Adhikari, a young woman who had recently started working at the same research lab as Parker. Eventually, Parker and Watanabe realize that the fake Spider-man is just a diversion meant to distract Parker while Fisk makes his bid to become New York City’s Commissioner of Finance, a position that would let him cripple the city’s economy if angered or threatened, and the race to find a way to stop him is on.

Meanwhile, Maya Lopez, Fisk’s foster daughter who believes that Spider-Man had murdered her father years earlier, sets out to claim her vengeance. Her combat abilities, combined with years of studying Spider-Man make her just as dangerous as the impostor. And soon Parker is desperately struggling to find a way to convince her of his innocence before its too late…
I give this book 9.5 out of 10. It has a very interesting story and I enjoyed the battle sequences and the investigation plotline. However, there are a few areas that I felt needed more detail. Also, I question the necessity of killing Anika Adhikari. Sure, it gave Spider-man more motivation to hunt down the impostor, but I think he already had plenty of reason to go after him, and until she was killed, Adhikari had potential for interesting plotlines in future material.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

James Review -- Peacekeeper: A Peace Divided

This week I decided to review Peacekeeper: A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff. 

When the story begins, former Confederation Gunnery Sargent Torin Korr is leading one of the Confederation Justice Department’s new strike teams, elite units formed to deal with the threat posed by armed criminals and former soldiers turning to crime in the aftermath of the war between the Confederation and the Primacy. During a raid on a group of arms dealers, however, Kerr’s team finds a pistol. Due to how easy they are to conceal, handguns are banned by the Confederation to the point of attempting to wipe all knowledge of how to create them from member civilizations. Investigating the weapon soon leads to a theory that one of the Confederation’s largest weapons manufacturers may be linked to a human supremacist group plotting to seize power from the Elder Races that lead the Confederation.

Meanwhile an archaeological team on planet 33X73, a restricted world, is studying a long-fallen civilization and finds plastic in a latrine despite this civilization apparently never having developed plastic. This leads to rumors that the plastic is in fact the corpse of one of the bioplastic beings responsible for the war between the Confederation and the Primacy, and soon a group of attackers arrives to force the archaeologists to find and hand over the rumored anti-plastic weapon even though no such weapon has been proven to exist.
Kerr’s strike team is sent to rescue the surviving scientists, but due to the presence of Primacy members among the hostile force, this mission becomes the first planned joint operation combining Confederation and Primacy forces. On top of the difficulties in merging soldiers from two distinct-- and recently opposing--forces into one, it is soon revealed that one of the Primacy team members has kin among the attackers. Matters become worse when one of the Primacy soldiers is captured, mistaken for another who the attackers believe can aid their mission. And during the desperate mission to free the prisoners the true secrets of 33X73 will be discovered…

I give this book 7 out of 10. I like the characters and the overall story, but there are many sections I wish had been covered in more detail, and I would have liked to learn more about the Primacy’s culture. Also, I feel the Confederation handgun ban and its apparent effectiveness are so absurdly unrealistic that it utterly cripples my ability to suspend disbelief. Even if all legal handguns were banned, as long as there is any gun manufacturing industry, it is far too easy to make the jump from other guns to handguns for such a ban to be even remotely effective, or worth the effort, to attempt to enforce in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Game Called Revolution Free this Week

The first book in my first series is available for free on Kindle this week. Until 9/22, to be exact. Join Jeanne de Fleur and the knights of the Ordre as they fight to protect France from an evil conspiracy.

Monday, September 10, 2018

James Review -- Kris Longknife: Commanding

This week I decided to review Kris Longknife: Commanding by Mike Shepherd. 

The story begins with the execution of the rebel leaders captured at the end of the previous book. Kris Longknife then shifts her attention to the ongoing Iteeche civil war. Even as she struggles to recruit new ships for her fleet and training crews, she also works to find a way to minimize bloodshed in a culture where civil wars have led to the mass slaughter of civilians for thousands of years. She must also find ways to change many other traditions and attitudes that have stood for ten millennia.

After laying her plans, she launches an attack on Zargoth, the system that served as the staging area for the recent rebel attack on the Imperial capital. After easily securing space around the rebel world, she sends her aide and distant relative Megan Longknife to launch an operation against the bunkers used by the world’s leadership. After defeating the various security measures and eliminating the rebel leadership, efforts to secure the world and rebuild its infrastructure begin, but soon the efforts face sabotage from rebel loyalists that threaten to leave millions of Iteeche civilians without access to food supplies and basic services.
After Zargoth is secure, the combined Human/Imperial loyalist fleet moves on to their objective: an assault aimed as the first strike of a campaign against the rebellion’s major battlecruiser production centers. The offensive begins with an attack against the production center furthest from the imperial capital, but rather than finding the hoped-for lightly guarded system, Longknife’s fleet finds itself facing thousands of rebel warships…

I give this book 9 out of 10. The climatic battle was great. Also, I greatly enjoyed the deeper look into Iteeche culture and how it affected, aka hindered, their military as well as a peek into the mindset of some of the rebels. My main issue is that the look into the rebel point of view came too late. Basically, for the most part, you only see points of view for rebel characters in the final battle, and I feel adding some more into the Zargoth sequence would have been very interesting.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Aragami now Available on Nook and Kobo

Pretty self-explanatory, but yeah. You can now get Aragami on Nook and Kobo, meaning the entire Divine Protector series is available on those platforms. Discover Serika's deadly agenda today!