Friday, March 25, 2016

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

It's hard to believe that I never got round to writing about some of the early books in the Vorkosigan saga, but it appears that Memory came out during the early days of this blog, and I never went full retro, as I did with Cole & Bunch's Sten novels. I recently finished Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, and it led me to re-read Shards of Honor (and continue through to Barrayar) in a moment of temporary new novel drought, as I had copies on my tablet ready to hand.

There are certain stories which I cannot read without sentimental tears coming to my eyes at times, and Bujold has written a fair number of them. A Civil Campaign is the weepiest one for me, but Shards did a pretty good number on me, too, and as I mentioned before, I began grieving for Aral all over again while reading Gentleman Jole. Crazy thing is, Shards used to be my least favorite story in the series. But I began by reading The Warrior's Apprentice when I was in my twenties, and now I'm in Cordelia's demographic. Odd, that.

This is, at the moment, the true beginning of the story. Captain Naismith is in charge of a peaceful survey expedition on an uninhabited planet (later named Sergyar), which is attacked by a small Barrayaran force which has arrived to garrison the planet and prepare a stockpile for their invasion of Escobar (we find this out over the course of the first half of the book). Also caught up in the scuffle is Captain Aral Vorkosigan, a man of strong personal integrity who has run afoul of the secret political police, and who is assaulted by one of his own crew and assumed to be dead, though  it turns out the conspirators really didn't truly understand the motivations of the man they picked to murder him.

Cordelia is left with one crew member dead and another nerve-damaged, when Aral arrives on the scene to make her his prisoner, technically, though the relationship soon develops into something far different. Together they journey for a week or so, facing the dangers of an untamed planet, followed by the dangers of untamed Barrayaran soldiers. Aral retakes command of his ship, but is forced to fight against another round of mutineers, and Cordelia manages to flee to freedom in the confusion.


Cordelia is now the commander of a top secret mission to supply the Escobaran forces with a secret weapon, a force shield which will reflect the Barrayaran (space) navy's weapons straight back at their own ships. The mission is successful, but she and her crew are captured by the Barrayarans and she is taken aboard the flagship as a prisoner - again. The fleet is commanded by Admiral Vorrutyer and Prince Serg, heir to the Imperium. These two are well suited to partner up, as they are both sexual sadists, and Cordelia is dismayed to learn that Vorrutyer has taken a personal interest in her, but she is rescued in a surprising manner, and then encounters Aral again on the same ship.

I don't want to say too much more, cause there's plenty of spoilers, but I think we all know the end of the story, if we've been reading Bujold for a while.

One little note that made me laugh out loud was when Cordelia bamboozles a pilot officer into smuggling her off of Beta Colony, one step ahead of the authorities. The pilot officer's name will be very familiar to anyone who has read The Warrior's Apprentice, and we wonder why the man didn't run screaming the minute he heard the name, Naismith.

Great story. Barrayar to follow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Rose-Red Chain by Seanan McGuire

You know, a person can slog along, trying to finish reading books over longer than normal periods of time, and begin to think that it's because they're distracted, too busy, under the weather, or some sort of excuse to justify matters. Then, suddenly, you pick up a book that is quite simply so riveting that you have to force yourself to put it down so you can get a decent night's sleep before work, finding yourself halfway through it in the first hour, and tearing through the rest as soon as it is possible to pick it up again. This latest book in the saga of Toby Daye is one such book. Loved it.

The book opens with Toby, the bridge troll Danny, her squire Quentin and her fiancee, Tybalt battling a large group of supernatural Mauthe dogs that has gotten loose from one of the inner realms of faerie. When Toby realized that the Mauthe were not hostile, but rather terrified of the modern world and decided to rescue them instead of killing them all, I made a mental note of this, thinking that the dogs would end up in the role of calvary to the rescue later on, but it turned out that they were simple a device to introduce us to Madden, one of the "dog" Sidhe, who becomes the first casualty when war is declared on the Kingdom of the Mists by the Kingdom of Silence, where one of the villains of a previous novel has taken sanctuary, and seduced its King into attacking Arden's domain.

In the category of Really Bad Ideas Arden's subsequent decision to send Toby as the chief diplomat to begin negotiations with Silence to try to halt the war really ranks near the top. Toby and her fetch, May, Tybalt and Quentin, and her friend the alchemist, Walther all journey to Portland where Silences is located in the physical world. Why Walther? The Sea Witch tells Toby she should take someone who knows the lay of the land with her, and Walther was born there before a coup by the present ruler, and fled to the human realm, where he has hidden ever since.

As it turns out, Walther is key to the success of the mission. It turns out that he is related to the former royal family in Silences, and that he also is the only person with the skill, combined with some of Toby's special knowledge, to create a potion which can waken the elf-shot true rulers of the land, who have been kept asleep for more than a century now, as conditions in their rightful kingdom grow more and more oppressive.

This plot moves right along, never a boring moment. After nine novels, McGuire's tale is still going strong.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Nocturnal Interlude by Amanda Green

One might begin to think that all of the bad guys in the shapeshifting society are out to get Mac, from the way things are going. She and Jackson return from a trip to Hawaii, where they have lots of fun in and out of the sun, and decide to tie the knot in a small ceremony, and find out that Mac's partner, Pat, has disappeared, apparently kidnapped, by an unknown entity who has abducted shifters and weres in several other cities previously - none ever being seen alive again.

Mac gets recruited, technically her enlistment in the Marines is re-activated, to detached duty for a division of Homeland Security which is aware of the existence of shifters and is committed to making sure that the "torch and pitchfork" scenario never comes to pass when shifters are finally outed to the public, which is only a matter of time, given modern forensics. Her cousin, Matteo, is part of the unit, and her grandmother, Ellen, has been aware of its existence for some time now, though her former colleagues in the Conclave are not.

Another good story in the series. Book # 4 is out already, and I think I'll pick it up next week on Kindle.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Nocturnal Serenade by Amanda Green

Another fair tale in the saga of McKenzie Santos, wherein we learn a bit of her family's history. It turns out that Mac's mother was freaked out by the family's furry moments, and refused to tell Mac about them when she was young, and had forbidden her own mother, Ellen, from telling Mac either. So we know now why Mac was shocked and appalled to find herself changing with the phases of the moon after being attacked by a were.

But when the brother of the villain Mac vanquished in the first books turns up on the scene and makes it his goal to destroy Mac and her family, and Mom is attacked and hospitalized, old issues rear their heads, and Mac and Mom must make up. Grandma Ellen turns out to be quite a handful, and will probably provide her granddaughter with some much needed training in the shifter skills.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

I needed my Vorkosigan fix way too much by the time this book came out. It had been long enough since the last one that I had completely forgotten the death of Aral Vorkosigan, Miles' father, and found myself grieving once again with Cordelia, three years later in book time. Cordelia, herself, and Aral's long time protege, Oliver Jole, now an admiral in his own right, and as we learn fairly early in the story, Aral's lover.

The menage a trois evidently worked quite well when Aral was alive, but Oliver and Cordelia were unable to kindle any fire between the two of them when Aral was gone, so they simply lapsed into being friends, and Jole ended up in charge of the Sergyar fleet, while Cordelia continued to serve as Vicereine of the colony.

These chapters of their lives are drawing to a close, as Oliver approaches his "twice-twenty" years of service to the Emperor in the fleet, and Cordelia considers turning over the reins of power to a younger person as the colony matures. She has also decided to quicken some of the fertilized eggs that she and Aral put in cryogenic storage back before Miles was born, and to raise a number of sisters for the new Count and his wife, Ekaterina's children to play with.

Always even-handed, she also gifts Oliver with some of the embryos, leaving the choice up to him of whether and when to start a family of his own, with the children of the man he loved.

So, this book isn't filled with all of the danger and frying pan to fire goodness that we've come to enjoy from our old friend Miles and his cousin Ivan (who doesn't even put in a cameo here), but at least we get to spend a bit of time with some old friends and to see the man whom Miles has become, now that he's not off derring and do-ing.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ctrl Alt Revolt by Nick Cole

Very much like Armada, by Ernest Cline, Ctrl Alt Revolt is an example of going one too many times to the well in using computer gaming as the scenario to play out real world events in a novel. Fun once, but after that it grows old quickly. It was my choice when I got a free week of Kindle Unlimited, and I never really did get into it enough to regret not having finished it when the week ran out.

This novel ended up being independently published when the editor at one of the major publishing houses took offense to the AIs (artificial intelligences) in this novel concluding that humans were a murderous species after observing the number of abortions that take place each year, but there were far more attacks on progressive shibboleths throughout the book that probably would have given her apoplexy should she have actually finished reading.

Wonder if Cole simply got tired of all of the lazy writing by liberal authors in their depictions of dystopias caused by global warming and so forth, and just decided to shake the tree and see what fell out.

Personally, I'd recommend that you either pick Soda Pop Soldier or this book to read as an example of Cole's gaming-based works. Two of them is one too many.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole

This is another one of those books that is a lot of fun for hard core computer gamers to read. Professional gamer Perfect Question falls into the middle of deep plotting by multinational corporations trying to get the monopoly on marketing through battles fought in a Halo-like environment. He is a mid level officer for Cola Corp's online army, and as the novel begins they're getting their tails seriously kicked by a competing army. As his pay for gaming is based on victories, things are starting to get a little tight in the real world, and when his girlfriend (whom we get to know not at all other than a quick description at the beginning of things) runs off with someone in show business who can help her career, he has to join an online fantasy game on the dark net to try to win some money to pay the rent on his apartment.

The mix of live and online game action in this one is tons of fun and a roller coaster ride through a world that reminds me of my first impressions of Neuromancer, back in the day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Betrayal by Amazon

Shortly after I first began book blogging, I decided it was taking way too long for me to scan an image of the book cover for what I was reviewing at the time, uploading it to blogger, etc. I discovered that if one became an Amazon associate, you could create a link to Amazon where the book was on sale, that included the cover picture, and so I signed up for associate status. Never made any money from people buying books at the link, but at least I had a nice image on every post.

A few months back, I noticed that the images on all my older posts had disappeared. Amazon changed the image URLs, and it was all cut adrift. Now, to make the blog look nice once more, I either have to go out and re-link those images, scan some independent ones, or simply delete all of the images from over a thousand posts.

Thanks Amazon!

Her Brother's Keeper by Mike Kupari

There might be a decent beginning to a swashbuckling science fiction series here for Kupari, if he chooses to follow up on it. Catherine Blackwood is a privateer, originally from the planet Avalon, who has been estranged from her family ever since she chose a career not suitable for a noblewoman of the Arthurian system (I think Kupari could have spent  bit more time with his place names rather than choosing something as overused as these).  Her father has requested her presence and asks for her help in rescuing her younger brother from a lawless world where one of his treasure hunting schemes has gone awry, leaving him a hostage in the hands of a megalomaniac.

Catherine recruits a crew of mercenaries to help break her brother free, as this isn't exactly the type of mission her own crew normally encounters while escorting merchant vessels from planet to planet. Some very entertaining adventures ensue, and Kupari makes use of some nice little plot devices to make sure things fall out the way they need to.

Hope to see more of this sort of thing from him in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2016

His Father's Eyes by David Coe

The main talent that Justiss seems to have is getting into trouble with other sorcerers who can reliably kick his butt. Once again, Phoenix is invaded by powerful users of black magic, who are using blood sacrifices to power their rituals. And again, as soon as he starts investigating their activities, he gets smacked down hard.

The bad guys, to their dismay, make the mistake of threatening people close to him, which definitely motivates him to get to the bottom of the crimes and to thwart their plots. Justiss' father, it turns out, was not as powerful a mage as his son is going to be one day, and even in his untrained way, he comes up with some very powerful spells when sufficiently motivated.

If this series keeps going along the same lines, it might turn out to be as good as Dresden.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making it Up

I'm going to go ahead and publish a bunch of short book reviews this week, to make up for long silence, one each day until I clear the backlog. Short on substance, perhaps, but enough info to make the read/no read decision.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Apologies may be in order

Life has been, well, just life, lately. Too busy to write reviews, barely have time to read. I got a week of free Kindle Unlimited, and didn't even finish the one book I checked out.

Things will ease up at some point, and I'll get more reviews out.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves.