Illumination Required

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. I liked the story, the world building and the characters. There was some very thoughtful stuff in there. There’s action and tension and the real sense of danger you don’t get from a lot of books without being over the top.

This book also brought up some questions that are worthy of discussion from a publishing point of view. It was an interesting choice to put the story forward as a series of found documents and compiled messages or reports. That certainly helped the speed of the book, a very quick read. What didn’t work for me was the tiny font that actually carried story information across waves or swirls or ship patterns.

To be fair about this – I was reading on an electronic device. That might make a difference. IF I had been reading a hard copy of the book, perhaps the swirls and such would have had a better feel. As it was, even when I attempted to use the e-reader’s ability to make fonts larger or zoom on pictures it was a fail. There were parts of the story I missed just because I couldn’t read it. That was very frustrating.

IF you’re going to get a copy of this book I recommend it for the story, but not so much for the layout.

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Fool Moon

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Went back and listened to this one. Much like the first (Storm Front) I was surprised at how much I didn’t remember of the details. I’d read my copy long enough ago that there was still tension when I listened despite knowing “the future” of the characters. STILL really well done.

I am really enjoying listening to the audio production. Having the book read to me is a neat way to experience the story. I did actually pick up on one teeny tiny flub in the reading – but it was so slight that I suspect most people wouldn’t catch it.

Absolutely worth going to get this version and digging back into the series!

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Carlisle Vs. Army

Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football's Greatest BattleCarlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle by Lars Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s no half star available on the rating scale here – I’d really put this book around 3.5 stars.

I liked this book and the slice of history it represents. One of my favorite parts of this book is the way it ties together the other things that were happening at the time when the game in question was set to go off. Historic context is very important. It’s also fascinating to draw parallels to things that still happen today, around 100 years later.

I did struggle with the way the story flow of the book was chopped up. The author went backward and forward across the time line even in the same chapter and more than once it pushed me out of my momentum so it took longer to read than it might have otherwise.

I find this book more interesting based on the simple fact that I, and my parents and my sisters family, live very near where these things took place. When I mentioned this book or folks in this area saw the cover they generally had some knowledge already about the famous Jim Thorpe. There is a lingering sense of pride even after those same 100 years and all the related issues.

IF you happen to be near the central Pennsylvania area you will find this book of interest. Some of the places mentioned are still around. If you’re a fan of football as it is played today, it is worth digging into this story to get a sense of why the game is what it is and how we’ve landed where we are. I’ve heard other versions of Pop Warner’s story, not in connection with Jim Thorpe and it interests me to see the contrasts. A different view point is always good to have. I Recommend this book based on those particulars.

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Storm Front

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know if I’ve reviewed Storm Front on here before or not. There are a number of books I read prior to joining the Goodreads community that I have avoided writing reviews for unless I have gone back and read them again while a member of Goodreads.

I got the first 4 books of The Dresden Files as a gift this year and I was thrilled. I love this series.

Going back and listening to the unabridged audio was a very interesting way to approach this. I knew the story, but what I hadn’t realized was all the little details that I’d forgotten over time. Some things I “knew” for sure turned out to be remembered incorrectly or worse, tainted by the television version of the story.

I recommend this series all the time. I have 2 extra “loaner” copies of the first book (I’ve ‘lost’ a handful over the years to folks that fell in love with the series). IF you’ve read the book before, listen to this production. It’s a great way to go back to the series. IF you’ve never read Storm Front before, I highly recommend it. Great series and worth the effort.

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Still Burning

Centralia (Images of America: Pennsylvania)Centralia by Deryl B. Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a single sitting book for me. Generally I really like that as an idea, but somehow for this book it didn’t work. I had difficulty with the pictures. I understand that many of the actual photos would not be easy to see – but having them reproduced in this volume somehow managed to make them even harder to see clearly.

I think I wanted more of a timeline based series of pictures. Some of the photos are doubled up in here and they don’t always progress chronologically. The author mentions at least 3 times the play that he wrote… once would have been enough, particularly given the brevity of the written word in here.

The story of Centralia is certainly an interesting one and for that I’m glad to have taken this quick peek back in time. IF it were anything more than a quick peek I would have been very disappointed. As it is, one sitting works for me and I’m moving along.

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Bright

In a rare moment of timeliness I’ve actually had the opportunity to watch “Bright”, the new film from Netflix. It was released yesterday (December 22, 2017). I watched at home with a couple of close friends. I think that’s the most telling thing ~ this is a movie production with a number of well known Hollywood actors that I didn’t go to the theater to see when it opened, I went to the couch. Best seat I’ve had for a new movie in a while. That was a good thing because this movie felt like it was longer than the listed two hours it was supposed to be.

Spoilers ahead ~

I thought it was a very interesting choice by the storytellers to just dump us into a modern day society where elves and orcs simply live. There was no long text explanation about why or when this happened. There was no “this is when things changed”, it was simply the way things are. Interesting, but maybe not the best choice. I get it, you can’t do a LOTR thing where you’ve got 6 hours of movie… OH, wait. It’s Netflix, so yes that totally could have been done. Netflix routinely posts entire seasons of shows all at once. People then watch when and where they can. I hear some folks out there, “but this is a movie…” and I will counter that with the abomination that was a string of special effects and made up romances supposedly based on The Hobbit. Those three awful things are one film. As much as I dislike the result, the example stands. Netflix and the storytellers could have really expanded this world and given a deep, rich background that wouldn’t leave people looking at light up milk bath trees and thinking “what?”.

I will actually compare this to a role playing game / series of novels from the 90s – Shadowrun. Shadowrun did the world building behind the change. They brought magic and magical races into the world and then shook society up to make the changes in the world understandable. In Bright ‘Elves run the world’ really felt like a cosmetic application that allowed for comparison to how “gritty” the part of the story we’re dealing with really is. In Shadowrun Native Americans gain power based on how the world changed. It’s explained in terms relative to the story. It mattered and followed through. Bright felt like they wanted to paint over a things as they are today with a makeup brush and say “it’s allegory” without explaining what happened to bring us there. Telling me you’ve got 2,000 years of history isn’t the same as making me believe it in the story without being told. We never learn anything about the background that makes a “prophecy” believable in this context.

On to that portion of our program. OF course Will Smith was capable of picking up the wand with his bare hand and not blowing up. Saw that coming all the way. That’s why we’re riding with these guys. OF course they were going to win, there was very little doubt of that.

I will say I didn’t see the resurrection of the orc coming. I thought it would have been really interesting if they’d just let him die and deal with the results of that. OF course that would have meant a movie that went a very different direction and that’s never where we were headed. Now ANY future show or movie in this franchise will be required to deal with the idea that people who were dead can be made NOT dead by waving the magic stick around – even if the person waving the stick has only a “new recruit” level of training. The cost looked totally survivable, although that was tossed directly into the “obscure character death” category so we didn’t need to deal with what that meant in this world.

The other thing that bothered me was a standard thing with films. It’s so standard that I’ve actually taken to trying to avoid watching movie trailers altogether. I used to love to see what was coming out. Now all those trailers do is spoil all the best parts of any movie. The same was totally true for this film. I saw all the best parts in the previews. That was the most disappointing part of it all. Not only was the story predictable, but the best and funniest moments were all shown before I started watching. There were really funny parts that still landed in context, but I knew they were coming.

All of this might sound really negative, but I did actually enjoy watching the film. I don’t think I’m rushing back to watch it again but I will be interested to see how this all plays out ~ will there be more from this world? Go, check out some urban fantasy and see if you think this will be the next trendy thing in film or if it will just die and go away… and maybe be brought back by magic wand.

MHI Again!

The Monster Hunter Files (Monster Hunters International Book 7)The Monster Hunter Files by Larry Correia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really fun collection of short stories. I particularly liked the first two stories, even if the one by Jim Butcher was released ahead of the book itself (and I read it long before I actually bought the book). There was a lot of what I would consider “classic” monster hunter stuff in here. I was really amused by the story in the Enchanted Forest. One of my favorites.

Not all the stories were in that vein however. There were a couple of stories that felt like they were forced to fit the world building of the monster hunter universe. These were stories from popular authors that have series of their own that didn’t stretch out past the characters as they’re known in the other series. Those stories were easily the weakest to me.

All in all, I was really happy with this one. IF you like the monster hunter series I suggest you go and grab this book.

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Philcon 2017 Review

Taking off for another convention within about 18 hours of departing Philcon this year has delayed my normal post con review. Traveling for about a week straight was tiring and it is taking me a while to recover and get all my things back in order.

I was really happy with Philcon this year. The team managed to get a great guest line up and some really interesting panels. Above and beyond the normal comings and goings of the convention, it was fantastic to be able to reconnect with friends and colleagues that I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.

I got to be the moderator on one of the most entertaining and exciting panels I’ve seen in a while. The future of sports. More than one person looked at me with skepticism when I told them this was a topic for a science fiction convention panel. You shouldn’t be shocked, there are numerous references in movies and other media that tie directly to science fiction. There’s also a ton of actual science behind all this too. It was one of the best panels I’ve had in a long time. I’m actually going to recommend snatching the idea for another con in the spring – I think it’s worth running again.

Next, and most importantly to me, Don Maitz was the artist guest of honor this year. I first encountered his artwork during my very first convention. Balticon 27 he was the artist guest of honor. He’d hung the picture 40 Thieves right in the entry. I walked in and was blown away. That was 25 years ago and this convention was the first time since then that I’ve been a part of the same con where he was attending again. I grabbed my copy of his book and practically ran to meet him. I was NOT disappointed. He brought amazing art, fun stories (jogging with a steer?) and tips on creating artwork! I went to a drawing demonstration he lead in the art show area and got to sit next to him as he created and doled out little things he’s picked up over all the time he’s been working. Words don’t really do it justice. I just sat there and took it all in, desperate to remember as much as I could.

When I got the chance to chat with him later he was at his sale table. I explained about Balticon 27 and just what an impact his art had – and he pulled out one of the samples of that exact painting, signed it and gave it to me. Then, as if that wasn’t nearly enough he graciously signed my copy of his book AND added a sketch. It was awesome.

A sketch and a signature!

For those who recall a little thing that happened a few years ago where a bridesmaid was defending a pizza… sadly there were no shenanigans of that level. I suspect it will be a long time before we see something like that again, but given that brides do show up from time to time…

there’s always the chance there will be another brawl.

Interesting panel topics, great guests and the chance to get up close and chat with folks in the industry – if you’re not signing up to go to your local convention you are missing out. I’m already looking forward to the next Philcon!

Ink and Bone

I’m going to start my book review of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine with the most important part. I finished this book then went and bought the second one and started reading. It has been pointed out to me that is a rare circumstance and speaks more to the quality of the story than anything I could have to say about it. So there’s that ~ there might be spoilery stuff below…

What if we didn’t lose all the works from the great library? What if indeed.

I really enjoyed the pace of this book. The story didn’t slow down for me. Even when the students were studying or working out how they were going to be tested next there were bits and pieces that tied in to the rest of the story. There was a lot more action than you might think for a bunch of librarians. The action was also believable – Jess ends up in the hospital more than once. None of that “I’ll just continue on because I’m so tough…” actually working out. He’s got the attitude for that, but more often than not he wipes himself out with that thought process.

Jess as a character was trying to do the right thing. He was not a whining anti-hero. I enjoy and appreciate that more and more these days. He was anxious, clever and dense in various turns, in love and certainly passionate about what he was doing. He really worked as a character for me. He played well off the others as well.

The rest of the cast of characters developed well. I consider it a well written character when I’m reading and think, “wow that guy is a douche. I wouldn’t get along with him…” and I got those visceral reactions more than once. Well done.

There is one thing that I would quibble with – and it is just a quibble really. The timeline. This book, even with the magic of obscurists, didn’t feel like a “modern” story. Despite having stated someplace in there that this was set in 2025 or something like that it absolutely felt like 1890. The technology, the locations and the general societal attitudes placed it there, but also the “technology” of the books hurts the concept if you move further forward. What I mean by that is this: you’ve got the ability to pass notes from one linked book to another all over the world. You have the ability to transport matter (if you can send books, you can send anything) and people across the planet without appreciable delay… even if it’s a limited ability. IF you take this time line as an “alternate history” those bits of technology change how major developments in our past happen during the 1900s. World War II CAN’T happen the way it did in our world if you have instant communication across distances like that. There’s no accident of timing. There’s no struggle to travel the distances necessary to fight others in a distant land… but why would you send soldiers at all? Just send the bomb and let that do the work for you with none of the danger.

I think there’s a lot of potential for this series and I am already enjoying the next book. I would recommend picking this one up and giving it a shot.

Divine?

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities, #1)City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m going to give this one a weak 3 stars. I struggled with this book on a couple of fronts.

Third person current tense? I’m not sure, but it was like a nature show narrator during certain parts and it really bothered me.

I actually liked the characters quite a lot once I got past the author’s style. I think the indestructible secretary was a little much, but I understood why he was there. It’s useful to have that sort of “action” person around if you are not that action person. There were times when Shara didn’t look like a hugely experienced operative, but I was totally willing to roll with that. I also really liked Mulaghesh.

The world building perplexed me a bit. I wasn’t sure how certain parts of technology were or were not supposed to fit. There was no clear definition of what worked and what didn’t, what people were aware of and what they were not aware of. Eventually I put it into the same category as an 80s Batman movie.

There are lots of parts to this book that look like a thinly veiled condemnation of modern religion. I think there’s a lot of potential conversation stuff in here. For that alone, I would say pick it up and give it a shot.

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