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Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea if Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christoper Paolini

Title: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Author: Christopher Paolini

Series: N/A

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds. Now she’s awakened a nightmare. During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move. As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

A decent sci-fi. I didn’t hate it. But I do have some thoughts.

Paolini has definitely blossomed as a writer. He always had the storytelling basics, but time and experience has done his craft well. I particularly liked his character construction. So many different personalities and a great dynamic between all of them. I’d be hard-presses to pick a favorite, and I love that.

I wouldn’t say the book was particularly original – I feel like I’ve read many different versions of at least the first 25%. But as the story progressed it started to get more and more creative. It eventually presented enough fun ideas and characters to keep my interest, and soon I was on board. There were one or two plot decisions that surprised me, which is always a bonus.

It is a bit of a drawback for me that it took so long to get going. While many of the scenes boasted action and a fast-paced momentum, the overall plot progression of the book was sluggish. If the scenes themselves hadn’t been so interesting, I could’ve easily gotten bored, and even wondered if I was starting to several times. There was an entire plot point (involving a blue staff) that caused a lot of story repetition. I thought it could’ve been removed completely without any negative effects (or at least merged with other sections). As it stands, I feel it drew the book out a lot longer than it needed to be.

Another criticism is the required “just go with it” attitude I needed to adopt while reading it. Particularly regarding the decisions and reactions of authority figures along Kira’s journey. A lot of what went on felt rather implausible considering what was at stake, even with the concession that most of it happened on the fringes of human-settled space. But still, a lot of things seemed too convenient and narrowly-focused to actually work. That said, it does take place during an alien invasion, so perhaps a lot can be chalked up to everyone being too busy with that to deal with this one aspect. I did appreciate that Paolini at least attempted to incorporate the on-goings in the highly populated worlds to keep me connected to the large-scale stakes of the conflict.

Recommendations: fans of Paolini’s work will likely enjoy this book for similar writing styles and voice. As far as sci-fi recommends go, it ranks somewhere in the middle for me – not the most original I’ve read, but better than many of them because of the fun characters. After compiling my “other books you might like” section, it occurred to me that despite the light adult content, the book still reads more YA (minus the romance) and would probably appeal to fans of that genre more so than scifi lovers. 

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Mirage by Julie E. Czerneda

Mirage by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: Mirage

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Web Shifter’s Library #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Relationships get complicated when you don’t know who—or what—you really are. Esen must find a way to rescue a hapless group of chimeras, beings who are a new and unique blend of species she knows, when she can’t become one herself. When Evan Gooseberry tries to help, he is shattered to learn he himself isn’t entirely Human and begins to suspect his new friend Esen isn’t what she seems. Complicating matters, a mysterious contagion has killed the crew of the ship that brought the chimeras—and Evan—to Botharis. Everyone’s been quarantined inside the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture, including over a hundred disgruntled alien scholars. The risks climb as Skalet and Lionel continue their quest to solve the disappearance of Paul’s mother’s ship, the Sidereal Pathfinder, only to find themselves caught in a tangle of loyalties as Skalet is betrayed by her own Kraal affiliates, who infiltrate the Library. All of which would be quite enough for one Web-being’s day, but Paul Ragem hopes to rekindle the romance of his first love. A shame Esen hasn’t told him who’s hiding in their greenhouse. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m a mega Czerneda fan, and Beholder’s Eye (the first Esen novel) has long been a go-to scifi recommend. It was my first Czerneda… heck, it was one of my first sci-fi’s, and I’m sure that plays a role in how thoroughly I’m enjoying this revisit, even 15 years later. Since that first read, I’ve read all of the sci-fi trilogy sets she has on the market, and one thing has become abundantly clear: Czerneda is having more fun than ever.

Her writing always had a good bit of situational humor (my favorite kind), but this latest trilogy really amps up that component, making the books an absolute riot. The tone actually fits in nicely with the latest generation of sci-fi that boasts a lighter, feel-good atmosphere (hi Becky Chambers), so she’s on trend, and recommending her just got even easier.

Good humor aside, she includes some of my favorite creature creations (aliens) across the genre, which is still true now that I’ve read a LOT more sci-fi authors. With a background in biology, Czerneda’s aliens are always well thought out and expertly executed. The fun element comes into play here as well – the ways the aliens interact with the main characters is always great for some laughs.

She also has good characters. I like that Esen isn’t written from a human-minded POV. She’s a Web-Being with thought patterns and tendencies different than our own. Thank goodness we have Paul (human) to keep Esen grounded. ;P Czerneda also has excellent perspective immersion… which can sometimes be so well done that it sacrifices clarity for creativity. All of her books include these signature interlude chapters that take away all context and throw you into the depths of an alien perspective. They’re quite ambiguous and I often find myself retreading them to figure out what’s going on (not that reading them over helps much). Even when seriously studying them for the chance to become a beta reader for another Czerneda project, I struggled with these passages (which is probably why I just missed out on the opportunity). These passages also exhibit a clipped, to the point writing style that makes an appearance to a lesser degree in the rest of her works. Her writing is very stylized, and she often seems more interested in the cadence and mood of the delivery than she is in proper sentence structures (a liberty I don’t mind in the least as it makes the books feel more conversational). In recent books, that unique style has gotten more refined, to the point where the pacing of the scenes rockets (not to be confused with the pacing of plot-advancement, which is ironically a bit slow). It makes for an engaging read, just don’t blink or you’ll miss something.

Overall, this was a good bit of blue blob fun, and I can’t wait to see what Czerneda has in store next.

Recommendations: don’t start here! Go back and begin with Beholder’s Eye or even a different great series starting with Survival. Both hold sacred space on my bookshelves.

I’d like to thank DAW Publishing, Julie E. Czerneda, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Mirage!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep with Me

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5

Genre: Fantasy. Er, kind of. Scifi?

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: [Goodreads just has a stock-overview for the whole series. This one is about facilitating a meeting at the Inn between a cool magical being and a corrupt business man… among other things] Thank you for joining us at Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, during the Treaty Stay. As you know, we are honor-bound to accept all guests during this oldest of innkeeper holidays and we are expecting a dangerous guest. Or several. But have no fear. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your hosts, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will defend you at all costs. [But we hope we don’t have to.] Every winter, Innkeepers look forward to celebrating their own special holiday, which commemorates the ancient treaty that united the very first Inns and established the rules that protect them, their intergalactic guests, and the very unaware/oblivious people of [planet] Earth. By tradition, the Innkeepers welcomed three guests: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim, but during the holiday, Innkeepers must open their doors to anyone who seeks lodging. Anyone. All Dina hopes is that the guests and conduct themselves in a polite manner. But what’s a holiday without at least one disaster? -Goodreads

The Review:

Now we’re back on track! I really missed Dina and the Inn in the last installment (which was a great read, but it was more a spin-off than a true continuation) so I’m glad to see her back with flair. I really loved the conflict in Sweep with Me and the interesting characters who visited the Inn (the inclusion of so many non-human entities is what makes this series so fun). It hits the spot perfectly for that light-hearted palate cleanser between heavier reads, and sadly finishing this one puts me completely up to date with IA reads (::shrieks:: what am I going to do?!!?). This series has been excellent to recommend to people looking for something light, and it stretches nicely to fill a lot of spec-fic genres (it reads like an urban fantasy, the magic feels very fantasy, yet the concept and world-building is all modern scifi… I love it when books break molds). I can’t wait for the next one. :) Emerald Blaze (the newest Hidden Legacy book coming out August 2020) will have to hold me over!

P.S. I love the cook. He reminds me of Huido in Julie Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe / Clan Chronicles.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

Title: The Cruel Stars

Author: John Birmingham

Series: The Cruel Stars #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong. The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying. These five flawed, reluctant heroes must band together to prevail against a relentless enemy and near-impossible odds. For if they fail, the future itself is doomed. -Goodreads

The Review:

Although wildly entertaining, The Cruel Stars didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

It started out with a bunch of POV introductions, one at a time, that took up a good 20% of the page count. The language was a bit thick at first, and there were a few info-dump scenes where the entire conversation served no purpose but to tell the reader stuff about the character. Needless to say, it took a moment to get going.

But get going it did, and I found myself interested in most of the characters. The concept is that these slightly remarkable individuals will have to come together to save the galaxy from an elitist threat. So the culminations of events that eventually converged them together kept my interest really well. There was also a good balance between slow character development moments and action scenes (after the first 20%). When the inciting moment finally hit, I was hooked.

Up until the last few chapters, I had the book at a 4-star rating. But the way the events unfolded left me wanting. For starters, the “remarkableness” of the individuals involved didn’t play a huge role in the final conflict. What’s more, all of the interesting dynamics that had been building the whole book were reduced down to a surprisingly simple outcome. It was too simple for my tastes, taking the expansive feel of the story and reducing it down to a minuscule gunfight within a few mile radius. At least, that’s how it felt.

I loved the concept of the enemy – a group of human “purists” who are out to destroy any who have been genetically or cybernetically altered. But Birmingham didn’t really explore that much in this first book. There was a single sentence in passing that speculated on whether or not the alterations were destroying what makes people “human” at their core (implying it could eventually cause them to destroy themselves) that my mind ran with. It gave the hated enemy a really interesting ground to stand on because, theoretically, they could have an outside perspective of corruption that those ingrained in the system can’t see (or they could just be evil fanaticists… it’s hard to tell). But it got me asking questions: What does the “enemy” know that the POVs don’t?! Is there more depth here? But the problem is that none of this was explored in the text, it’s just my own conjecture.

I love profanity in books. Seriously. A well-placed f-bomb can completely elevate a scene, and I especially love when it’s used for comedic effect. But for it to work, it has to be incorporated with a certain amount of consciousness. Swearing is it’s own art form, and and based on its use in Cruel Stars, Birmingham was essentially fingerprinting with mud. The placement was random and in such great volume that it only served to make the characters sound crass and uncreative. Even its placement within each sentence made the language clunky and awkward.

So for some pacing issues, an over-simplified climax, an under-realized concept, and the chaotic use of profanity, I came away from the book disappointed in enough key elements that I probably won’t be continuing the series, but also still kind of glad I’d read it.

Recommendations: the book advertises that it’s similar to both the Expanse and Battlestar Galactica, but I thought it channeled Serenity more than anything else (if we must compare. Although it did have some similarities to the BG tangent Pegasus, but the comparison is thin). I probably wouldn’t recommend this unless you’ve already read a bunch of other titles in the genre and just want some mindless action with a little humor mixed in. I was a lot more critical in this review than I usually am, but at least the book provoked something from me. And despite my objections, it was still enjoyable to read. Do with that what you will haha.

Other books you might like (…better):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep of the Blade

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4

Genre: Fantasy… kinda

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Maud Demille was a daughter of Innkeepers. She knew that a simple life wasn’t in the cards, but she never anticipated what Fate would throw at her. Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had swore off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire. To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is a powerful vampire House, and Maud knows that a woman who turned down the proposal from its most beloved son wouldn’t get a warm reception. But Maud Demille never shied from a fight and House Krahr may soon discover that there is more to this human woman than they ever thought possible. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hate to say it, but this is my least favorite Ilona Andrews book so far… although even a bad IA book is still worthy of 3 stars.

It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The whole framework of the Innkeeper novels is built around Dina, her Inn, and the overall goal of finding her parents. This was a HUGE tangent from that, focusing on the sister (Maud) in a continuation of things that happened in the third Innkeeper book. It doesn’t take place on Earth and it’s plot is 100% removed from any momentum the series has built so far. I wouldn’t consider it a waste of pages, because it’s still and Ilona Andrews work and everything they do is enjoyable to read, but as far as series satisfaction is concerned, I’m annoyed. This should’ve been a spin-off (or a novella) instead of a continuation. Maybe if there had been even a thread of the original plotline present, I would’ve been satisfied, but no such luck.

All that said, it wasn’t a BAD book. It included fun characters, an exploration of a vampire home world (filled with vampire politics, scheming, and warfare), and most notably, continued a romance between two characters. I liked reading about all of theses things… it’s just not what I signed up for. Compound that with the fact the first 20% was a complete recapping of things I already knew from the book before it (just in more detail), and I’m still annoyed. It soothes the blow a little bit to consider that the chapters are first published as a free online serial, then compiled later into book format, so my rant may not be that justified… but still. 

Recommendations: I’m not saying skip it, but I’m saying I knew exactly what I wanted from a book 4 in a series, and this was not it. Even so, these authors dazzle me so often, even a book I didn’t care for from them gets 3 stars, so that’s still an endorsement for the quality of all things IA. I’m sure this will play into future novels, but suffice to say it wasn’t my favorite.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: One Fell Sweep

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper #3

Genre: Fantasy. Kinda

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Dina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage.

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!!Goodreads

The Review:

This was easily the best Innkeeper novel yet. The plot had a lot more depth. It’s clear where the series is headed now, and I find myself eager for the next book. I don’t know how they manage to hodgepodge so many genres without the story feeling clunky and piecemeal, but they do. It’s kind of brilliant – a fun blend of scifi (aliens), urban fantasy (supernatural characters), and fantasy (magic system). It also incorporates those very specific character dynamics the IA team is well known for. The actual conflict resolution for this one was a bit too tidy, but everything leading up to it was wildly entertaining. I loved the aliens (and the twist involving the aliens at the end), but I’ve always been a sucker for good creature creation, so that’s not surprising (I’d like to point out some similarities to another excellent scifi author – Julie Czerneda). Overall, everything these authors produce is quality, Innkeeper Chronicles being no exception! 

IA fans: for me this one ranks just above the Edge series and a notch or two below Hidden Legacy (however, if you plan on reading Edge, do those first to avoid some minor spoilers… wink wink). These books are functioning as perfect palate-cleansers between heavier series, and I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with myself when I run out of IA titles. I’ve been spoiled so far!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes