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Book Review: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Book: Starsight

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Skyward #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie. But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to. -Goodreads

The Review:

Starsight was a little weaker than the first book, but still brought the fun-factor in abundance.

The first half of the book left me wanting a bit… there were too many “convenient” plot points for my liking. Too many things left up to random chance all happening at once. So it took a great deal of suspended belief to get me through it. The writing also felt rushed. Like Sanderson didn’t have time to get the main character from point A to point B gracefully, so he just manifested a quick fix and BOOM: plot advancement. I think it was disappointing because I’m used to a lot more finesse from him. I can’t think of very many instances in his work where “just go with it” would be my advice, but it definitely applied here.

I also wasn’t crazy about the direction the plot took. The new characters introduced seemed… juvenile may be a little harsh, but the tone of dialogue and overall presentation brought the relative badass effect of the first book down a few notches. It became more fluffy, and I had signed up for a more serious we’re-fighting-for-our-very-existence type of story. Another factor could be due to the character voices the narrator performed for the audiobook, but I didn’t have any struggle with the first book, so something definitely changed, and my bet is on the overall tone of the text.

So with all of those concerns in mind, the first half of the book was… maybe not a struggle, but I wasn’t excited about what I was reading. However, somewhere in the last quarter of the book, Starsight picked up a killer momentum that won me back over. Things got serious, crazy new things were revealed, and the ending left me reeling. It saved the entire experience, and I’m back to being super eager to see what happens next. I’m sure if I didn’t have to wait for the next book, I wouldn’t feel the need to be quite so critical of this installment, but seeing as it’s all we’ll get until the end of 2021, I’m giving myself permission to be picky. ;P

Recommendation: this series is one of those I’d feel comfortable recommending to all members of the family 13+. It has that excellent mass-appeal, really fun characters, and it’s from an author I trust. Personal biases from this second book aside, the series as a whole has been delightful. Give it a go for something that manages to be both light and fun, yet still full of substance.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Network Effect by Martha Wells [May 5, 2020]

Title: Network Effect

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Release Date: May 5, 2020

The Overview: You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot. Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are. When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. Drastic action it is, then. -Goodreads

The Review:

There are few things in life that make me happier than spending time with Murderbot.

… which is ironic, considering it it would rather do literally anything than be social. The Novellas alone were enough to solidify the series as an all-time favorite, so discovering this full-length novel was in the works immediate jumped it to the top of my priority list for 2020. Network Effect was every bit as sardonic, action-packed, and endearing as the novellas, but took it one step further by adding even more depth to the characters.

The unique writing style is the best thing about these books (aside from character construction). It doesn’t follow typical storytelling constructs and often comes across as more conversational than anything else. There’s a great deal of punctuation used to convey Murderbot’s sardonic tone, and no shortage of profanity for comedic impact. I’ve never read anything that comes this close to how I communicate in my daily life, so even the bones of how the story was presented sang to my soul. There were a few occasions where the sarcastic voice was a bit heavy-handed, but this is one of the few cases I would rather a little too much than not enough.

And then we have Murderbot. The best character in sci-fi, hands down.

I think it’s my spirit animal. It’s awkward and introverted and just wants to be left alone to watch its tv serials and I can relate to every single solitary time it couldn’t bring itself to “people” anymore. But the brilliance in this novel is that, social obligational constructs aside, it still craves connection. And that’s where the story becomes much more than a action-packed sci-fi. It’s about a rogue SecUnit trying to carve out a place for itself in the universe. Did Murderbot make me cry? Maybe. I don’t know. Fuck off.

Recommendations: The Murderbot Diaries is in close running with The Expanse and Planetside as my favorite sci-fi on the market. It’s exciting, it’s funny as shit, and it has that magic X-factor that gets people emotionally invested. Start with All Systems Red, and I bet you’ll know within the first few pages if it’s something you’ll enjoy. I was hooked from the first sentence, and it has only gotten better from there. Consider this an official Obsessive Bookseller endorsement – this series is fantastic!

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by Niki Hawkes

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The Obsessive Bookseller’s Mini Book Review Blitz! [4]

Mini Book Review Blitz!

It has been a while since I’ve put one of these together, but I’ve come across a lot of stories lately that were either too short or just didn’t garner enough emotion (good or bad) to warrant full reviews. Here are some snapshot opinions:


Book Info: Ark [Forward Collection] by Veronica Roth

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Ark had it not been a review obligation (audiobook production review), but I’m glad I did. It was a lot more understated than I was expecting – a story more about human connection and the little things that make us tick rather than some grand tribute to the end of the world. The main character was a horticulturist trying to catalogue as many plant species as possible before earth gets hit by an asteroid. Humanity had already gone through the grieving process and has settled into a subdued acceptance of Earth’s fate, and the MC’s calm, somber voice was my favorite thing about the story… it was intentional and fitting. All that said, I was expecting a twist or something to change the energy level of the story… to amp up the excitement or pull on my emotions. But it kind of faded out the same way it came in: chill. Overall it was an entertaining short, yet I’d caution you to throw out preconceived notions of Roth’s writing patterns before diving in and just enjoy it for the subtle short that it is.


The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

Book Info: Stone in the Skull [Lotus Kingdoms #1] by Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 2/5 stars

I’m writing a mini review for this one because, even though it has only been a couple weeks since I finished the book, I couldn’t tell you much about it. It’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky series, and I couldn’t help but wonder while reading if she was riding the success of previously developed characters and relationships (which were lost to me) instead of composing something fresh. It certainly felt like I was missing some key components and to be frank – not a whole lot happened. Two of the female characters were so similar, it took me more than half the book to realize they weren’t the same person (this is also a good time to point out that Bear used a lot of pronouns instead of calling the characters by name). It was an interesting, exotic world that I enjoyed reading about, there just wasn’t enough meaningful plot advancement to give me something to really dig into (… and there was a distinct lack of advertised dragons). One thing I did enjoy – I absolutely loved Bear’s writing voice. This is my first book from her, and the prose was one of the most lovely I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel (seriously). So I’m not done experimenting with her yet. I just wish I’d had more to rave about with this one.


The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Info: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

As my second time through this novella by Sanderson (this time experienced via graphic audio for a professional review), I liked the reread just as much. The basic premise is rife with authentic Sanderson creativity and world-building – a magic system using detailed stamps to reforge items into something new. I love reading about any magic element that requires a lot of skill, so the craft descriptions throughout the story were my favorite sections. I also thought the main character had a lot of interesting dualities. There were a few moments where her decisions surprised me, and I love that. Overall, of all the shorts from Sanderson (I think I’ve read them all), this is a top 3 for me.


Book Info: Randomize [Forward Collection] by Andy Weir

Rating: 1/5 stars

Upon finishing this short story for a published review, my first thought was: “what the hell did I just read?” My second was “where have I seen this author before?” Um, yeah, it’s the author who wrote the well-know book “The Martian.” I had to reconcile the seemingly pointless story with the weight behind a name like that. I haven’t read the The Martian yet, but I’m surprise he took the direction of hacking casino systems instead of something even more futuristic. I could definitely see a scientific thinker behind the words while reading, which now makes me think I’ll love the Martian even more, but the story left me feeling kind of “meh.” And I think the only reason is that I didn’t find the subject matter particularly interesting. There are so many heist stories now, you have to have a lot of fun with them to gain any traction, and this one was very straight-laced. It also delved into heavy technical description which almost made my eyes roll back into my head a few times. It was close. Overall, I’m interested in the brain behind this story enough to read more works from Weir, but I could’ve happily passed on this one.


by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Auberon by James S.A. Corey

Title: Auberon

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #8.5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Auberon is one of the first and most important colony worlds in humanity’s reach, and the new conquering faction has come to claim it. Governor Rittenaur has come to bring civilization and order to the far outpost and guarantee the wealth and power of the Empire.

But Auberon already has its own history, a complex culture, and a criminal kingpin named Erich with very different plans. In a world of deceit, violence, and corruption, the greatest danger Rittenaur faces is love. -Goodreads

The Review:

A full review for a novella?! Only when it’s from James S.A. Corey. These novellas usually focus on periphery characters, and I love how in-depth and meaningful the authors make them. The stories are always about the human connection and digging into what motivates us. Auberon took a few pages to warm up, but quickly built momentum. I was totally enthralled by the end. There’s one scene in particular that about had me out of my seat in shock. And that ending! O_O

Auberon dives into the culture and struggles of an outpost colony. It presents some interesting dynamics regarding settlements that take on lives of their own, moving increasingly away from the entities that originally colonized them. It’s seems, no matter the setting, humanity is self-serving when resources are scarce, dragging its corruptive ways to the edges of the universe. Then throw in a character (Gov. Rittenaur) who’s supposed to show up and restore focus and order to this lot with absolutely no backing save his supposed “authority”… and you have a fascinating tale. And a stressful one.

And amidst all of those exterior dynamics, the story also provides an examination of personal vices and how they shape our behavioral patterns. I personally found Rittenaur’s vice especially poignant: perfectionism. A need for things to go according to plan and a strong desire for structure. The story really immersed you into the internal struggles of these characters, and I also thought the authors did an especially good job at incorporating sensory detail.

I’m not usually one for novellas unless it’s a series I’m super passionate about (The Expanse qualifies), and even then, I find they often don’t add a whole lot to the main story. The Expanse novellas are the exception. They may not always have direct influence on the story, but they always immerse you into what it means to be human – the point of the whole series, IMO. Auberon was a glimpse into the lives of those on the fringes of society, and it was a heart-wrenching one at that. These authors are brilliant at making me care about even the most insignificant players, and I’m always holding my breath, wondering what choices they’re going to make. People are beautiful, wretched, resourceful, loving, greedy, and always full of surprises, and this novella highlighted that variety for me.

Side note: apparently they incorporated a character from the Churn (another Expanse novella) but I read them so far apart I didn’t make the connection (or even remember the character lol). I’m not sure how this story will play in the bigger picture (if at all), but it was a good teaser to keep me satiated until the final novel comes out (I can’t wait!!).

Recommendations: The Expanse is one of the easiest series to recommend – it has a little bit of everything and is consistently good throughout the series (happily ignoring the tangent that was book 4). And the novellas are equally as good. If you haven’t picked any up, now’s a good time to start with the finale just around the corner…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Skyward

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Skyward #1

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. -Goodreads

The Review:

Skyward is an easy book to recommend. It’s a YA sci-fi adventure filled with great characters, lots of action, and plenty of snark that will appeal to the masses.

Two things about this book made it stand out to me: the abundance of training and battle scenes involving many fun members of a flight team, and how much I liked Spensa. I love learning new things from books that you can’t actually learn in the real world. How to fly spaceships (okay, not totally out of the realm of possibilities, but still…) and how to engage alien fighters in combat. The characters were great – I especially appreciated all the animated profiles and how they worked together as a team. I loved Spensa as a main character. She has an interesting backstory that fuels her determination – a trait that’s really attractive to me. She’s the type of character you can always trust to make things happen, for better or worse (meaning there’s never a dull moment). And she’s also a character willing to grow through each experience despite being incredibly stubborn….

The story is especially good at unveiling mysteries as it progresses. The more you find out what’s going on, the more questions you have. But the trickle of information is just enough to keep you page turning, but not so tight that you get frustrated (Maze Runner series, I’m talking to you). I had a bunch of theories while reading (none of which panned out… so far), but I liked the fact that the book was engaging enough to get me thinking beyond the words right in front of me.

I remember reading that this series is Sanderson’s creative re-imagining of a classic dragonriding story (he didn’t think he could bring anything new to the idea, so he went another direction completely… a direction involving a young girl’s determination to become a fighter pilot, sassy AI spaceships, and lots of alien ship battles. I definitely could see the influence, but everything else was just pure Sanderson awesomeness.

Recommendation: Sanderson books are always easy to recommend – his baseline quality is incredibly high. Yet Skyward is even easier than most because of its wide age-range appeal. It’s very accessible, with a great balance of silly humor, heavier problems, and loads of action to keep most readers engaged. As long as you’re even mildly interested in sci-fi, this is a great pick. I wish it had been around back when I was a bookseller because it would’ve made hand-selling during the holidays a bit easier.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Spaceside by Michael Mammay

Spaceside by Michael Mammay

Title: Spaceside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: Planetside #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Following his mission on Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler returns to a mixed reception. To some he is a do-or-die war hero. To the other half of the galaxy he’s a pariah. Forced into retirement, he has resettled on Talca Four where he’s now Deputy VP of Corporate Security, protecting a high-tech military company on the corporate battlefield—at least, that’s what the job description says. Really, he’s just there to impress clients and investors. It’s all relatively low risk—until he’s entrusted with new orders. A breach of a competitor’s computer network has Butler’s superiors feeling every bit as vulnerable. They need Butler to find who did it, how, and why no one’s taken credit for the ingenious attack. As accustomed as Butler is to the reality of wargames—virtual and otherwise—this one screams something louder than a simple hack. Because no sooner does he start digging when his first contact is murdered, the death somehow kept secret from the media. As a prime suspect, he can’t shake the sensation he’s being watched…or finally succumbing to the stress of his past. Paranoid delusion or dangerous reality, Butler might be onto something much deeper than anyone imagined. But that’s where Butler thrives. If he hasn’t signed his own death warrant. –Goodreads

The Review:

I love love love this series. I love the character. I love the story. I love how tight the writing is. I love the dry humor. I love that the mystery had me thinking about the book every time I set it down. It has been a hot minute since a series has drawn me back to it so strongly. It continues to provide all the story components I’m craving these days, and for me at least, it’s the perfect read.

The brilliance of this story is the superb main character, Colonel Carl Butler. I freaking love him. He’s straightforward, clever, and he really doesn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks… but at the same time he has this cool moral compass that drives him want to do right by people, even if he can’t always support it through action. The ever-present underlying sardonic nature of Carl’s thoughts delights me to no end. He’s written so well it feels like reading about an actual person, which is the highest compliment I can give to a character. He’s the main reason I’m loving this series so much and feel so connected to it.

Mammay’s writing is a breath of fresh air. I love the tone of his storytelling, the witty dialogue, and overall presentation… it’s so smart. The main character is excellent at reading people, and profile demands a lot of complex rationalizing and assessment that must have taken a lot of extra effort to infuse so seamlessly into the story. It’s absolutely fascinating! Mammay is also good at starting at a slow burn and building interest and momentum as the story goes. Good momentum in stories has often made the difference between a decent book and an amazing 5-star can’t-put-it-down read for me, and it’s always a factor I take into consideration when reviewing. This is the second time I felt catapulted to the end, and I freaking love that.

With not only one, but two awesome books under his belt so far, I can say with confidence that Michael Mammay is now one of my favorite authors. I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next!

Recommendations: it’s no secret that I’m an uber fan of Planetside (book 1) because I’ve been talking about it constantly. Spaceside was just as good! It’s a highly engaging military sci-fi that’s super easy to recommend because of its concise writing, dry humor, and exciting action. It hooked me right from the start. Give this series a try!! It might not delight you to the same extent it did me, but I can stand behind it as a great read you won’t regret picking up!

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by Niki Hawkes