Book Thread 2023

Ok I finished Fourth Wing. The core story is engaging, but suffers a bit from a lack of world building. We hear a lot about the “school,” but little about the wider world. I think that was deliberate because of the story and it didn’t really strike me as odd until close to the end.

The sex scenes - I think there are two extremely explicit ones - really just detract from the book. However, a lot of the book is buildup of tension and sexual tension so those chapters are the “release” for parts of it. Anyhow, I’m no prude but would have preferred them less explicit and frankly, less of the romantic tension. It’s ok as part of the main character but ends up being too much and detracting.

It was a fun enough read for a junk fantasy novel with a ton of borrowed ideas. 3/5.

These kind of books make great examples of what to write if you want to be a successful author, but not necessarily what you want yourself to read.

In Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer, a young Diana saves a girl, Alia, from the outside world against the rules of the Amazons, then discovers she’s cursed and embarks on a quest to save both Alia and the world. I picked up this update of the Wonder Woman story expecting a stock retelling of her origin, and was pleasantly surprised to find a really good modern fantasy adventure instead. A lot of the standard elements of the Wonder Woman story are here - Diana leaving the island of the Amazons for the outside world, ancient gods and monsters impacting the present day, superheroic battle antics, lasso of truth. But really this is a journey of self-discovery for Diana, who feels insecure in her place among the Amazons and even more so in the outside world. And the other characters are well developed as well, particularly Alia who has a lot of parallels with Diana in her own life - they’re not just props to enable Diana’s story. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes modern-day fantasy adventure, regardless of whether you know or care about the DC superhero scene.

My daughter told me that the author had written in the romance genre prior to this book.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

This is the second book in the Imperial Radch Trilogy. It picks up where the first one left off. This book is less sci-fi and more mystery. It kind of reminded me of an episode of Star Trek where Kirk and Spock beam down to a planet and become involved in it’s inner politics, even though they weren’t supposed to do that.

I also thought this book was an easier read than the first one as the authors use, or maybe I should say the authors lack of use of pronouns is easier to follow. Radch language and culture only uses feminine pronouns, with everyone being she. In the first book that confused me, but in this one you get used to it much easier. It is interesting though that I think it would be almost impossible to know what gender any character is, even the lead character Breq.

I don’t think this book had the edge to it like the first, but as a middle book in a trilogy it is easy to read, you learn more about Breq and the world around her and it sets things up for the final book.

I enjoyed the first book in the series much more than two and three. They were fine but I thought one was great and felt the characters evolved much more.

Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, as one might expect from the name, takes the Cinderella fairy tale as inspiration. What you probably don’t expect is for the setting to be a future Earth, complete with cyborgs and spaceships and moon people. And also characters translated from other fantasy settings, such as an illusion-casting Fae queen of those moon people. It makes for a good story, well paced and written with characters that are easy to like. What it is not is particularly subtle or complex - the plot turns and emotional attachments are done in big bold strokes, which is not particularly surprising in a book written for young adults. Also this is not a stand-alone book, ending on a cliffhanger in the heroine’s story, so expect to keep reading the series. If those caveats are OK with you, then this one is well written with some fun world building and interesting twists on classic fairy tale characters.

I liked the subsequent books better than the first, Ancillary Justice, which wasn’t bad but for me had a very slow start and I thought didn’t have quite as good prose. Her recent book set in the same universe, Translation State, was also fun.

For another interesting take on gender, consider the excellent but very nihilistic noir novel Base Notes by Lara Elena Donnelly. The utterly amoral MC is nonbinary and despite having several explicit sex scenes the reader never gets to know what their physical sex is; of course the point of this is that it doesn’t matter.

That is what I have taken away from the first two books, the genders of the characters doesn’t matter to the plot or character development. I found that as an amazing revelation, especially in a book that is character driven.

I’m currently listening to William Boyd’s latest, The Romantic. I haven’t read any Boyd since Any Human Heart some time ago, and the reviews are all very good. So far I’m enjoying it. It’s a historical novel which seems to be a form of Forrest Gump in the 19th century. Our hero, Cashel Greville, grows up an orphan in Ireland, learns the truth about his parentage, joins the Army and finds himself at Waterloo, serves a spell in India as an officer in the British East India Company army, wanders around Europe as a young man, spending time with Byron and Shelley and Mary Shelley, and so on. I gather we will follow Cashel though his entire life, encompassing much of the 19th century.

There are actually a few (very few) clues in the book, for example Seivarden is at one point explicitly referred to as male, and IIRC, there is also a point when Breq’s body is hinted at being female. But as you note - it doesn’t really matter.

Loved the first three books. Haven’t read Translation State, but did read Provenance which was… OK, I guess? I might have liked it better if it wasn’t part of the Imperial Radch series. I like Leckie’s books in general and the first book was weird and interesting in all the best ways, but I don’t feel like the subsequent books really live up to the promise of the original world building, so they’re more “books I’ll pick up when I can” rather than “must-reads” for me.

Translation State gets more into the Presger translators and how really not human they are, I thought it was significantly more enjoyable than Provenance (and I like all her stuff).

Second in the DC Icons series, Batman:Nightwalker puts a young Bruce Wayne in the path of a terrorist group attacking the rich and powerful of Gotham City. This story is set well before Bruce’s Batman days, but of course there are plenty of hints of the future awaiting him. I found this book to be less impressive than the first of the series featuring Wonder Woman, not because of any fault in the writing , but because it’s just harder to fit Batman into the mold of “young person who hasn’t yet embraced their superhero persona”. This high school age Bruce has friends and interests and even a budding romance , very far from the dark, obsessed character that Batman becomes. Despite that, it’s still a well written novel, so if you’re a bit less of a Batman purist than me and are looking for a young adult adventure , this one may appeal to you.

Catwoman:Soulstealer is the fast-moving story of Selina Kyle’s journey from juvenile delinquent to assassin to thief and antihero. Along the way she crosses paths with many other Batman-world characters, most notably Poison Ivy and Batwing. All of whom are beautifully developed characters with flaws and trauma, with secrets and betrayals galore. There’s some of the usual comic-book-style silliness of secret identities and forbidden romance, but it’s woven so well into the larger story that I hardly cared. The plot is pure thriller, moving fast and ramping up to city-wide chaos. And I thought the emotional impact of the last few chapters was excellent , even if it was fairly predictable how things would end up. This third in the DC Icons book is the best of them so far, as far as I’m concerned.

Finished “The Man who Died Twice” (Thursday Murder Club #2) today. I think I enjoyed it more than the first book (I think most people tend to favor the first book in a series usually).

It depends. The first story is oftentimes an origin story, with certain archetypal plot points, character development. They tend to be written differently than other books in a series - there’s also the growth of the writer and their knowledge of the characters. Many times, the first book in a series is the author’s first book, and doesn’t gain the advantage of the author’s improvement at their craft.

Gross.

Well, it’s almost the end of the year! Thanks to everyone who helped to contribute to my reading backlog this year. I honestly don’t know how else I’d find good quality reads without you folks. Certainly not on Goodreads, which seems to be going downhill and also seems to be overwhelmingly represented by a demographic that doesn’t have similar reading interests to myself (at least if the past couple of years of Voter’s Choice Awards are concerned).
I just finished Martha Wells’ latest Murderbot novel (System Collapse, I think?) and it was…OK? Not as good as some of her previous stuff, IMO. I think part of the problem is that it continues on from the previous book and it’s been long enough that I don’t really remember what happened so I felt pretty lost. I’m also not sure that that I like the new emotional vulnerability of SecUnit. Still worth a read though if you’re a fan of the series!

System Collapse, while good, was IMO plainly inferior to other recent Murderbots.

I think part of the problem was a deliberate experimental approach that didn’t work out so well, part of it was the constant allusion to [redacted] which turned to not be such a big deal anyway in the scale of Murderbot trauma episodes, and part of it was dwelling overlong on technical elements of the situational challenges. After a while deserted alien megastructures become a bit passe if they don’t do anything all that new. And yeah, I get it, the terraforming engines interfere with sensors. You’ve told me eleven times already, I don’t need a twelfth. Also the corporate bad guys were largely uncharacterized except for the executive whatshername who wasn’t really a foe anyway.

However, all that said it really wasn’t that bad, definitely better than average in the genre, and well worth reading if you like Murderbot as I do.

I resemble this remark, I’ve gotten quite a few good suggestions from this thread and its cousins here on QT3. The other place I find suggestions is generally from podcasts - I’m already interested in the subject matter so when a book suggestion comes up, it’s generally relevant.

Agreed also on Goodreads - I jumped ship there a few years back when Amazon bought them. Been using Storygraph since for tracking, but until recently they’ve had no real recommendation game, and what they’re working on now is still very much work in progress.