What I’ve Been Reading

How is it October already? Just last week (in August), I was thinking to myself: “You need to do another reading post.” I made a note in my planner and… turned the page. As always, I’ve been reading lots of awesome books, though. And, as always, I want to share the most awesome ones with you.

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire

The art caught my eye on this one. It’s an interesting style—less “comic” and more “fine art,” with swift lines and watercolour shades. It reminded me of another of my favourite comics, East of West, and it’s just as good. The story starts simply: ten years ago, giant harvester robots swept through the galaxy leaving destroyed cities, dead bodies, and terror in their wake. Since then, even the simplest robots have become enemy number one and hunting them down has given rise to an entire guild of scrappers who hunt rogue bots with the enthusiasm of bounty collectors. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

What I’ve Been Reading

I have participated in the Goodreads reading challenge for six years now. It’s the only challenge I’ve ever actually completed – probably because it’s based on the number of books rather than specific titles. This year I lowered my goal from 200 to 100, thinking I wouldn’t have as much time to read. I’m at 97 books right now and June has only just begun, so I think I’ll be adjusting the total back to 200.

Apparently I found time to read. I also found some great books!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I hardly need to recommend this book. It has won all the awards, and has over 400 five star reviews on Amazon. I’m going to recommend it anyway, because it’s just that good, and because of the sweet nature of the romance, it will appeal to a wide audience.

I love coming of age stories and I adore the trope “friends to lovers.” Both are handled beautifully in this slow burn love story about two boys whose friendship is all about discovering the secrets of the universe – and themselves. Ari’s struggle to accept himself will break your heart. The way he cares for and protects Dante will put it back together again. The final chapter is just beautiful. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

Review: Mission to Mahjundar by Veronica Scott

Mission to Mahjundar

Major Mike Varone and his cousin, Johnny, have been pulled out of retirement for one more mission to Mahjundar. A ship has gone down in the mountains and the crew needs rescue. Seems simple enough but simple doesn’t make a very compelling read, does it? Their first day planetside adds several complications. The crash course in language and culture doesn’t cover the current political climate or help them interpret the nervous twitches of their guide. The bomb in a public plaza is a more obvious marker of civil unrest.

The bomb is an assassination attempt, the apparent target the current empress. Caught in the blast radius is a princess of the blood, Shalira. Mike rescues the princess, discovering in the process that she’s blind and has been since a previous assassination attempt fifteen years before. His gallantry is awarded with ceremony, a useless dagger and a task: he is asked to escort the princess into the mountains to meet her betrothed. Acceding to the emperor’s request will delay their own mission. It’s made clear that refusing will result in permanent deferral, a withdrawal of permission to venture outside the city.

The journey into the mountains reveals the farce of Shalira’s impending marriage and uncovers a deeper plot that lies at the core of the political unrest on the planet. Mike and Johnny are drawn into events, at first unwillingly, and then because of the growing attraction between Mike and Shalira. On a remote and somewhat barbaric planet, Mike has found the woman of his dreams. Shalira has found someone who doesn’t consider her blindness an imperfection. For his part, Johnny is simply a good man, and loyal to his cousin.

I really enjoyed author Veronica Scott’s world building. Mission to Mahjundar reads almost like fantasy. The planet of Mahjundar has a rich culture and history, yet there are subtle reminders we’re in a future, either our own or one of Scott’s making. Technology is woven in with the magic, giving the reader the sense this planet has been inhabited for so long and has drifted so far from the mean, that technology is magic. Mike’s thoughts and recollections keep us firmly in the present, however. The universe of The Sectors clearly exists outside the planet, giving Mahjundar a place in the whole.

The action throughout the novel is thrilling and well-written, the choreography of every battle easy to follow. The various tribes are different enough to be interesting rather than simply derivative. I gained the sense of a vast and fascinating history leading up to the current events.

My only quibble is the romance. It moved a little too quickly for me. I would have liked more time spent on Mike and Shalira getting to know one another. They fall awfully fast and the chemistry feels very ‘heat of the moment’. The affection between them does feel genuine and there is a sense of destiny in their pairing. I simply prefer a longer build. The adventure and stakes are high throughout the novel, so we don’t get a sense of how these two will fare as a couple when their lives don’t depend upon the actions of the other.

Despite this little nitpick, I enjoyed Mission To Mahjundar. It’s a fun read, very fast paced and easy to follow with good adventure and excellent world-building. The love story is integral to the plot, which is a plus for fans of romance. Though secondary, Johnny is a great character and I’d love to see him revisited in a future book set in this universe.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Echoes (The Epherium Chronicles #3) by T.D. Wilson

Echoes (The Epherium Chronicles, #3)

Battle stations! Echoes, the third book of ‘The Epherium Chronicles’ by T.D. Wilson, begins and ends with conflict. Lester Styles, captain of the EDF Cestus, is in charge of the supply train headed for Cygni. He has one jump left to make and one ship reporting a problem with their space-fold drive. Appointing the Cestus rearguard, he waits for the entire train to make the jump before following. The Cestus never makes the jump. When Captain James Hood investigates, he finds nothing but wreckage and a few survivors. The purpose and perpetrator of the attack are a mystery, but Hood has his suspicions and more problems than stars on his chart.

The peace he brokered with the Cilik’ti is under threat and the Cilik’ti Ambassador, Kree, is keeping a dangerous secret. The colonists at Tau Ceti are struggling to maintain a foothold, battling the native fauna and an inexplicable side effect of the Embrace technology they used during the twenty-five year voyage. Fighter pilots are brawling aboard the Armstrong and someone else is bent on sabotage.

Skirmishes flare across the galaxy. The targets seem random but, as each threat is investigated, evidence continues to point to the ship that shouldn’t be, the one that followed the Armstrong’s voyage to Cygni. As if all this isn’t enough to keep the reader flipping pages, Maya Greywalker’s story shifts from the sidelines here, showing that her inclusion on this mission is probably more than coincidental.

The pace of Echoes far outstrips the previous two books in this series. There is so much going on, it’s difficult to take a pause and I ended up reading the second half of the book in one sitting. Every page revealed new evidence and a new twist, another problem Hood and his crew had to solve. There is combat and conflict, small scale and large. Space battles and more time with the fantastic MACE-equipped marines. More people to keep track of, but Wilson has done such a good job of cementing the places of the initial characters that the few additions walk in seamlessly.

I enjoyed the time spent with Rafael Sanchez and Maya Greywalker in this novel. We get to see them training together again and building something more than a friendship. These are two of my favourite characters in the books. Sanchez for his personality and Maya for her back story.

We didn’t get as much time with Hood, but that’s probably a good thing. He’s a busy guy and best left to doing what he does best, leading the mission. He faces new challenges this book, though, which keeps the entire story fresh. In fact, everyone faces challenges in Echoes. Every character is tested in some way. We’re at the mid-point of the series, so this is timely and a few words exchanged with author T.D. Wilson indicated that this is fully his intent with this novel, to see what his characters are made of.

Where to from here? To the third colony, I hope. So far, Cygni seems like a winner, but Tau Ceti may still be viable. What problems will the colonists of the third mission face? War is brewing, if not already declared, and saboteurs are roaming the galaxy, agenda undefined and Kree has a mission of his own, which could have a bearing on the outcome of many, many things.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Crucible (The Epherium Chronicles #2) by T.D. Wilson

Crucible (The Epherium Chronicles, #2)

Twenty-five years ago, the Epherium Corporation launched three colony ships to settle new worlds. In command of the new flagship Armstrong, Captain James Hood is directed to investigate mysterious signals from those nearly forgotten ships. His mission is complicated by startling revelations regarding the deep sleep technology used to quicken colonist’s long journey and a plot seemingly devised to prevent him from catching up with them.

Crucible, book two in The Epherium Chronicles, picks up the story up one jump from the Cygni system where Hood hopes to find a thriving colony. When they do find evidence of the colony ship Magellan and nearly three thousand colonists doing their best to tame a wild planet, Hood faces perhaps his most daunting challenge. Twenty-five years have passed for these men and women and Earth is not as they left it. An alien enemy has decimated the Mars. Many will have lost friends and relatives. But that’s not all. Cygni system might also be in danger, from the alien Cilik’ti and perhaps the corporation that funded the original mission.

Hood must prepare the colonists for the visible enemy first, the Cilik’ti. But even as they brace under the threat of invasion and attack, the invisible enemy is there, plans unknown.

Author T.D. Wilson combines several elements to make a very compelling read. The plot laid out in Embrace, the first book of The Epherium Chronicles, is expanded upon here without too much complication. The personal threads are deepened, however, with Hood being reunited with his uncle and two women he knew as a boy. If he didn’t already feel beholden by duty, he now has more than one reason to protect the new colony.

We learn more about the Cilik’ti in Crucible, which is much appreciated. There is no big passage of history for the reader to wade through, however. All revelations come exactly as they should, on a need to know basis. It’s difficult to elucidate this part of the plot without spoiling a good chunk of the story, so I’ll move on to the action. There’s lots of it and it’s all pretty awesome. Space battles, ground battles, power armour and classic David and Goliath conflicts. Wilson skips from view to view seamlessly so that we get in on every aspect, too, from the colonists and teams on the ground, to the men and women aboard the Armstrong. These pages were thrilling and the conclusion is never foregone. I enjoyed the tie-in with Hood’s chess games as the captain measured his progress against that of his enemies. The battle is much more than a game, however. It is, in fact, the crucible which will forever change humanity’s relationship with the Cilik’ti.

Crucible is a very enjoyable read. It’s got intrigue, plenty of action and a good dose of heart. Best of all, however, it’s not a sequel that either lets the story dip into obscurity or skip off on a vastly different tangent. We’re definitely still heading forward here, with a deeper and even more interesting story. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in the next installment, Echoes*, due to be released 30 March 2015.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Watch for my review of Echoes on Wednesday!