[Book Review] Romance on the lam

Book Review: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga, #15)(Vorkosigan Saga #15)

I can’t believe it’s been fifteen books already. Here is the latest installment in this military space opera series, following Ivan Vorpatril. In the past, Ivan has played the Watson to the series protagonist Miles’ Sherlock Holmes. But with Captin Vorpatril’s Alliance, it’s his turn to get his very own book.

Captain Ivan Vorpatril, confirmed bachelor, is happy as an admiral’s aide on an easy assignment, far from the politicking of the empire. On the other side of town, Tej Arqua and the exotic blue-skinned Rish are on the run, assassins on their heels and a price on their heads.

And of course, Tej and Rish’s troubles soon become Ivan’s very big and inconvenient problem. 

Bujold does it again – the novel is a rollercoaster of plots and resolutions, all with the humor and wit we’ve come to expect and love in her Miles’ series. I wasn’t very keen on reading a book from Ivan’s point of view (he’d never really struck me as an exciting character), but man, was I wrong. Ivan is great. He’s my favorite. I want more books about Ivan.  Continue reading

Advertisements

[Book Review] Treachery, kidnapping, and 24th century super-commandos

Book Review: The Ramal Extraction: Cutter’s Wars by Steve Perry

The Ramal Extraction: Cutter's WarsAfter marathoning through both of the Expendables, Lockout, and the latest Mission Impossible, this title was a perfect segue off-screen and into some book action. Science fiction, check. Fancy guns, check. Rugged guy on cover, looking coyly over his shoulder, check.

Colonel Cutter leads one of the best mercenary forces in the galaxy, men (and women, and aliens) for hire for the right price. Having just completed an easy mission, they’re hired for an extraction – the daughter of a powerful Rajah has been kidnapped by villains unknown. The team finds itself facing insurgents, assassins, a furious groom-to-be, a very short timeline, and no idea who had taken the girl. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] The Great Bay, by Dale Pendell

The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, by Dale Pendell

North Atlantic Books, 2010.

Maybe you’ve seen those images of the earth’s biggest cities underwater, edited to show the predicted effects of climate change on the coastlines we know and love. Maybe you remember the summer when Armageddon and Deep Impact came out, or the next year when Y2K-induced panic sent people rushing to 7-11 for more bottled water.

Fortunately, The Great Bay isn’t really like that. Though it’s the story of The End of the World As We Know It, it’s a gradual end, with lots of beginnings. It’s a history of the earth after the Collapse, a global pandemic that kills most of mankind. What happens next happens slowly, over the course of almost sixteen thousand years.

That’s a pretty enormous scope, so Dale Pendell focuses in on California, and the gradual widening of the San Francisco Bay into a basin at the center of the state. While this is the earth’s story, told on a chronological scale only earthquakes, canyons, and rivers understand, Pendell gives it a human voice. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] There’s a Dead Canary in the Coal Mine

Meg’s Review: Variant by Robison Wells

Audiobook read by Michael Goldstrom 

When we made the tagline for The Canary Review, I had thought it was just sort of a fun phrase. After all, we were still selecting books that had a lot of promise, ones that we would most likely love and be excited to pass on to all of you.

But let me tell you, Canaries: I took a bullet for you on this one.

When I was about halfway through Variant, I shambled out to the web to see what others were saying about it. One review on BN.com opens as thus: “No matter what anyone tells you, it is unique and original and fresh and omg and thrilling, but it is not dystopian.”

That quote is approximately 1/6th correct. I’ll let you guess which part that is at the end of the review.

Variant opens with Benson Fisher  happily on his way to a new boarding school. He is an orphan who has long been caught up in the foster care system and is excited to find a place that was geared towards helping out those in similar situations. But when he reaches Maxfield Academy, he finds out the truth: something is terribly, terribly wrong with the school. Besides the subtle tension between cliques and the lack of any adult supervision (besides the security cameras everywhere), there is the constant threat of Detention for rule breaking. And it’s implied early on that it’s not the fluffy, go-write-some-lines sort of Detention. Continue reading

[ Roost Report ] Star Wars: Thrawn turns 20

Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition by Timothy Zahn

Ask any Star Wars fan what their thoughts are about Lucas’s enhancements to the Star Wars Blu-Rays and you’ll get everything from “Who cares?” to “Darth George is destroying my childhood!”

At least there’s one reissued Star Wars classic coming out this month that no one has redone.

The 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire, book one of the Thrawn Trilogy and #88 on NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books list, features no extra scenes, no digitally-enhanced text, and no additional adjectives. The only thing that’s changed is the cover… and maybe the font.

So, it’s been twenty years. Now it’s in hardback and includes a new short story; big deal. And I want this because…?

First off, what’s it about?

The war between Imperial Forces and the Rebel Alliance didn’t disappear overnight. Five years after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Han Solo (married and expecting twins) and Luke Skywalker (lone Jedi Knight) are still working hard to help reestablish the New Republic government and drive out any remaining Imperial Forces.

And they missed one. Lightyears away from the capital planet, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant military tactician, is piecing together the remains of the Imperial Navy in order to strike back at the New Republic. He’s got a couple aces up his sleeve that will make it nearly impossible (i.e. will take three books) for the New Republic to win.

There’s also a former employee of the Emperor out to kill Luke. That’s always fun.

Why is this book so awesome?

The Thrawn Trilogy is credited for establishing the Star Wars Expanded Universe, allowing other authors to pick up where the Hugo Award-winning author left off, as well as reinvigorating the space opera franchise. It’s not just the solid story, but the incredibly well-developed characters that make Heir to the Empire along with the other two of the trilogy (Dark Forces Rising and The Last Command) three of the best Star Wars novels ever published.

There are two characters in particular that make Heir to the Empire worth reading. The first is the trilogy’s namesake, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Considered to be the best villain in the Expanded Universe, the blue-skinned, red-eyed military leader was inspired by historical and literary figures such as Robert E. Lee, Alexander the Great, and Sherlock Holmes. He’s cold, calculating, intimidating, and a lover of art–all traits he uses against his enemies. (As Thrawn explains, “Learn about art, Captain. When you understand a species’ art, you understand that species.”) He was featured later in the Hand of Thrawn duology (Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future, also by Zahn) as well as the recently-published Choices of One (another Zahn novel) and miscellaneous mentions here and there.

The second character is Mara Jade. A powerful Force-user, Mara was once an Emperor’s Hand–a dark side spy/assassin who could go places and do things the Emperor couldn’t. Despite the Emperor’s death, Mara’s days as a Hand aren’t exactly over. (Just mention “Luke Skywalker” and watch her reaction.) Mara also keeps in the spirit of strong female Star Wars heroines. She isn’t a damsel in distress; Mara’s intelligent, powerful, skilled and in every way Luke’s equal. Thanks to the Thrawn Trilogy, Mara went on to become not only one of the most central characters in the Expanded Universe but Mrs. Luke Skywalker.

What does this version have the other doesn’t?

Littered throughout the book are footnotes by Zahn, explaining his thinking process, why he made the choices he did, and what was carefully planned versus “That sounds good.” The annotations also cover how he approached specific scenes and characters, and how his choices have impacted the overall mythos of Star Wars.

Excerpt annotations hit the web earlier this year, and later a scanned page to show fans how the footnotes would be worked in. Here’s an example of one of the hundreds of excerpts, this one explaining the origin of Thrawn and his title:

“I wanted HEIR’s villain to be a military leader, as opposed to a governor, Moff, or Sith. But a normal admiral seemed too commonplace. Hence, the Grand Admirals. I first ran across the title, by the way, in connection with the German navy in William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” –TZ

Star Wars or not, having the opportunity to jump inside the author’s head is fantastic. As a writer, I love learning how authors approach their novels and characters. Knowing Zahn’s thinking process while reading along with Heir to the Empire instead of an interview at the end or a memoir-ish forward is worth repurchasing the novel.

So this is like repurchasing a movie on Blu-Ray you already own on DVD just because of the extra behind-the-scenes stuff?

Yeah, kinda.

Unless you really want to read Zahn’s thinking process or the exclusive short story, there’s no need to repurchase the hardcover. $30 can be a lot to ask for these days, so stick with your $7 paperback. Otherwise, the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire is a fun addition to a literary collection.

And if you’ve never read Heir to the Empire? Shame on you.

Is there more to come?

So far there’s been no official word whether Dark Forces Rising and Last Command will get the same 20th anniversary treatment (internet rumor is it depends on how well Heir to the Empire‘s sales go). I hope they do just so nerds like me can have a complete collection.

[Book Review] If they cast Nina Dobrev as Number Seven, I’m in.

Meg’s Review: The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore

I am someone who forms immediate attachments to characters. I bawl at the point of catharsis in every sports movie; I’d lived through all of their strife and am now irreversibly connected to the football player or the upcoming tennis star . Halfway through the first few chapters of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, I was so concerned for Mikael Blomkvist’s fate that I could hardly turn the page.

So it says something that, at the end of The Power of Six, I really couldn’t give a shit about a single character in the book.

(Well, no character other than Bernie Kosar, the shape shifting companion to John (aka Number Four). Although BK can take the form of any monster imaginable, he chooses to hang out in the form of a beagle. I can’t help but love him.)

The story basically picks up where I Am Number Four leaves off: John, his best friend Sam, and Number Six are on the run from the evil Mogadorians and the US government (which thinks they’re terrorists). As the story opens, the trio spends a great deal of time trying to figure out what to do, which makes for some pretty dull reading. But, as though Pittacus Lore (the pen name of James Frey and Jobie Hughes) realized the presence of the ever-increasing boredom factor, John’s first-person narrative is left off every two chapters or so to visit Marina, aka Number Seven, who lives in a convent in Spain. Still, as the word ‘convent’ might imply, the split narrative doesn’t actually help the boring part.

And the book had to really work at being dull. As both Marina and John scramble to figure out how to save themselves (and Earth, and Lorien, their home planet), there are almost as many explosions as there are chapters. But the long passages of battles felt more like action for action’s sake than an actual part of the plot. Because all of the Lorien aliens have ‘legacies’ like telekinesis and fire-pulse hands, there’s all kinds of cool special effects going on, but at some point they just get silly because they’re so overused.  When the battle is over, there’s just a whole bunch of dead bad guys rather than a whole bunch of dead bad guys plus a new direction in plot.

The book clocked in at a slim 251 pages. On the one hand, that means the torture is fairly short-lived. On the other, is also means there’s almost nothing between the covers in the way of character development. But really, the characters are so one-dimensional that there isn’t much room for growth beyond, perhaps, Sarah’s character, who turns out to be a bit of a bitch. That fact does not bode well for the possible sequel film; besides Alex Pettyfer’s chest, Dianna Agron was the only redeeming factor in the first I am Number Four movie. The only other hint of development was the establishment of a rather strange love triangle between Sam, Six, and John–

It would only be fair to the guys to cast Nina Dobrev. I mean, if their girlfriends are going to drag them to see Alex Pettyfer, they should at least have something for themselves.

–that is so unstable that there’s no real tension there, either.

The issues with the first novel are present here too. Pacing is pretty miserable; I didn’t actually get interested in the plot until around page 200 (oi, it’s a 251-page book), but even then I was skimming over never-ending battle scenes. I think that if the first and second books were condensed and combined, we’d have about 100 pages of a fairly fun narrative.

New problems arise as well. The split first-person narrative was particularly distracting. Because the characters are so flat and indistinct, it some times took me a while to realize who was talking. It was particularly bad in the last chapters when the narrative switched every few pages. I’m all for telling a story from different points of view, but you’ve gotta give the characters their voices, so I don’t have to leaf along, wondering who’s talking.

Normally, two bad books in a series would mean that I would swear the rest of the franchise off forever. But I’m hooked on the badness and the strangely straightforward nature of the narration (such as when, during a battle, John hops on the back of Bernie Kosar, who had turned into a tiger-ram monster, like it was no big thing at all.) that I’m probably in for the long-haul.

Plus, I can’t abandon Bernie Kosar now. I gotta know if the beagle makes it.

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Fate’s Mirror

Fate’s Mirror by M.H. Mead

“Cut off from home and friends, Morris Payne faces a hacker’s worst nightmare—an artificial intelligence with access to every computer on the planet. The AI wants freedom and power, but mostly she wants Morris Payne dead.”

When the co-authors of Fate’s Mirror told me that after looking through my reviews, they thought I’d like their novel, I was skeptical. Was this going to be another political time travel satire? Or like the time when an author asked the Jedi Canary to read his psychological thriller?

I flexed my canary claws, read the sample…and then realized I’d downloaded the book and was already racing through chapter five, loving every minute of it.

Turns out, Fate’s Mirror is science fiction fun on a stick. It’s a Robert Ludlum meets Neuromancer in a future near enough to be recognizable, but far enough that the writing team that is M.H. Mead has its hands full creating a high tech world in all its 3D glory.

But let’s back up. So there’s this hacker virtuoso whose panic attacks make it impossible for him to leave his house. That’s all fine and dandy as far as he’s concerned…right up ’til someone goes and blows up his home.  Morris discovers that someone really is out to get him as he tries to figure out what happened, who’s behind it, and whether it has anything to do with his ex’s job in the government–and her sudden and brutal death.

Once I got past the first few pages (slightly rough, ignore them), it was a fast-paced ride. The authors aren’t afraid to change setting and direction by taking out characters and keeping me guessing.  Written in third person limited, we gain glimpses into the minds of most of the actors, seeing the characters from a delightful range of perspectives.

The narrative is one part cyberpunk fun, one (small) part romance, and one part myths-meet-virtual-naval-battles. To that effect, the story uses the possibilities of virtual reality to open the doorway to more fantastical world-building (think Tad Williams and his Otherland series).

Indeed, I pronounce Fate’s Mirror to be Cyber Opera (a la space opera, my favorite genre).

It takes a lot to get me to rave.

And, defying my expectations, this book had it.

“Morris Payne just might save the world. If only he can gather the courage to leave his house.”

Try the free sample on Smashwords and see what you think:

Book Links: Goodreads || Amazon || Smashwords || Authors’ Website ||

Check out our other reviews in our Independent Authors Series here.