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Monday, September 30, 2019

Worldbinder (Runelords, #6)Worldbinder by David Farland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. The best I can say is that I enjoyed how the author was willing to destroy the original world by doing a kind of Final Fantasy 6 twist on it, meshing two worlds together, with the unenviable results of certain characters waking up with multiple alternate-reality memories, then trying to make a go at saving the last of humanity from there.

Forcible attributes are an aspect, of course, as is the Earth King (minor, here), but what has really taken over is the idea of the Shadows taking over lots of people's lives. And in this other world, now combined with the previous, there are a ton of them. All siphoning off life as bloodlust and draining the world's vitality dry.

No reavers this time. Just demons.

I feel like I should be happier. It's fun on several surfaces. I'm good with him taking chances, bringing back old cool characters in different incarnations, but there wasn't all that much of me LIKING any of the characters as much as I had in any of the previous books. That may be because there was no build-up, just a big 'plop'. Here you go! :)

Some people might enjoy it more. I enjoyed it enough, but I hold some reservations.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28)The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 2019

This may be billed as a YA novel by the redoubtable Pratchett, but I'm just going to shrug. It's fun and funny and I will always look at this novel as a sly reference to Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, including multiple minds linked together to make a full intelligence. No, not wolves. RATS. Such a lovely image.

But no, this isn't all this is.

Talking rats and one very special talking cat and a stupid-looking boy con their way through Discworld. What more could anyone want? Villains, pied pipers, rats in human skin? Ah! But this is Pratchett and we've got all that and sausages that don't deserve the name sausage.

It really is quite delightful. :)

No. Not the sausage. The BOOK. :)

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To Be Taught, If FortunateTo Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The good:

I honestly enjoyed the science bits and exploring the worlds. I kept thinking of Peter Watts' book, Starfish, where the people alter themselves for the harsh environment rather than the other way around. But unlike Peter's book, this is downright mild and doesn't go for the mental health issues. At least, it doesn't go for them in quite such a hardcore way.

The bad:

This is hard-SF, and while the cool focus is mostly on biology rather than physics, we still have to ignore quite a few things. My main concern is that it felt quite a bit like the dozens of short stories, novelettes, and novellas that go this same route to one degree or another. The only new thing this brings to the table is HOW the story is told, and even that is... okay. I still had a good time.

But all told? Interesting worlds and a slightly interesting end.

Never mind that we can almost always expect Earth to fall apart during ANY space exploration attempt. That's always a done-deal.

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Semiosis (Semiosis Duology, #1)Semiosis by Sue Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel was a most pleasant surprise, driving way beyond my character-oriented expectations and diving right into some hardcore generational storytelling on an alien world with an EXTREMELY interesting dominant life form. :)

I really loved the whole pacifist angle and loved how many problems it caused. But on the other hand, it set up a very cool mutualism with the aggressive bamboo.

I recommend this book for all you folks who loved Children of Time, Grass, or any other hard-SF author dealing with awesomely alien worlds with unique problems for colonists. Make no mistake, this IS a generational starship kind of novel. The starship happens to be a planet and it has a lot of nasty challenges, but the premise kept me on the edge of my seat during the entire read.

Oh, and while I said this wasn't designed to be a character-driven novel, I happened to love almost all the characters in it. Especially the naive ones. I knew something bad would happen to them. It always does. :)

But the real treat here? The biology and chemistry!

I might just rank this book into one of my favorites lists. It's been a while since I read some truly serious SF that takes itself seriously.

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sons of the Oak (Runelords, #5)Sons of the Oak by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this, but mostly that's because I re-gifted my wit back to the person who gifted theirs to me.

Wait. Does this just make me one of those eternal observers?

Nah, just a reader. :)

Even though this is officially a Runelord novel, it breaks most of its ties (except a few characters and all the mechanics) with the previous four. And you know what? I like it. A lot. The stakes are a bit more off in the future and the heroes are mostly all quite young. If I didn't know any better, I would call this a YA. But since it's right in the middle of a huge arc and focusing on a new generation, it's just right. It reminds me of Feist in a good way.

Oh, and I like the baddies. We've got a good look at the biggest bad and a new and interesting lesser boss. Our hero ain't a Green Man, either. What can I say? I actually LIKE fire, too! :)

I'm hooked. No need to fret over losing our old favorites. I've got my new ones lined up. :)

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Friday, September 27, 2019

The Lair of Bones (Runelords, #4)The Lair of Bones by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know, in general, I really enjoyed reading this. All the endowments, the whole sum of all men thing, still has its creepy-ass aspect to it but we get to see a lot more of the people who give up their best traits for the high-and-mighty elite. It may not resolve anything, but at least we know that the GOOD devotionals are doing it out of love.

Would YOU go blind so your elite leader could have super-freaking-excellent sight? Or become weak so he becomes strong? Or sleep for twenty years so he can heal super quick?

No? Well, this is a fantasy and I just have to assume that there is some cultural s*** going on.

Putting that aside, I got all giddy when so many of the main characters went all out and dived into the earth to put an end to the gigantic crab leader and stick it to the million-plus reavers pouring out of the ground to put an end to all mankind. I have no problems with that. It was awesome. :) Supermen, nature magic, massive stakes. It's all here.

It's even awesome despite the nagging questions I have after reading it. Like all those seemingly useless plot threads that seemed to be so important in the text -- only to go absolutely nowhere at the culmination of the final battle.

Ah, but at least a certain cinder-boy got a satisfyingly ignoble end. :)

You know, for four books that take place over a single week, I'm pretty impressed at the way it gets pulled off. It's epic and the magic system allows for a ton of movement and events to occur very quickly. That's fine by me. But there's just one thing... the end of this book sped the hell up in a rather spectacularly annoying way. As in, everyone lived happily ever after even though our MCs basically have to split up because they're living at different rates and OH, btw, all these young-ass characters are suddenly old men and women. Yeah, yeah, the magic system has consequences, but still, these were FOUR BOOKS taking place in a week! Until the end when everyone dies of old age. lol

I know this sounds like I have a major issue with these books but it's just not true. I have a need to complain very loudly about a series I think does a great job pulling a very interesting rabbit out of its hat and I want to bitch and moan because I actually love it and wish I could see it fixed. Or explored further.

Fortunately, there are 4 more books. Guess what I'm reading? :)

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Fly by NightFly by Night by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read a number of book-centric books over the years and quite a few of them are YA. Some hit you over the head with the book and others are subtle enough to flow right over you and sneak up and bite you in the behind.

This one is the latter kind.

Sure, the power of words is all over the place, but where I like it most is in Hardinge's worldbuilding. The history of this place is not only fascinating and rough, but clever and multilayered. I get the impression we're in an early English period right after the printing press came out. But unlike that period, books soon became anathema. Like religious persecution, even.

Of course, that makes our heroes and villains well-learned action types falling in with thieves and revolutionaries, and that's just plain fun.

So why did I give this four stars rather than five? Because some of the text is a bit dense and the flow wasn't perfect. But I LOVED the world and had a pretty good time with the characters. And the God Goose. :)

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My second Madeline Miller, I have to admit I liked Song of Achilles slightly better, but ONLY SLIGHTLY. I loved both. :)

She really brings Circe to life, from Hawk to Nymph to rambunctious daughter of Helios to the mistreated sister to the woman who just says "f***-it I'd rather live alone. "

I didn't really miss the lack of a constant plot.

This is a story of a life, even if it is a story of a god's life, and she's really caught in a sore spot. I simply LIKED this in the way I'd love to watch a movie about a wonderfully complex character as she lived and grew as a person and sometimes had these famous people drop in every once in a while. Daedalus, Jason and his Argonauts, Medea, a certain main of Ithica, and a couple of badass gods, too.

And you know what? She comes out on top. Some tragedies, yes, and a lot of crap, but I love how this ends. Even with the tragedy.

I can see why so many people fall in love with these books. :) I did, too.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Wizardborn (Runelords, #3)Wizardborn by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the hints of new directions going on in this one. The different kinds of wizards, in particular. I can do without the walnuts, but the whole learning-depth about reavers, about fire, and about water seems very promising.

Oh! And let's not forget about our fair observers who are so preoccupied with time! :)

I say this is a promising series. Epic in the sense that it is epic fantasy, yes, and not as grandiose as some, but much bigger in a few ways than most. Many, many shadow worlds? I likey. Worlds out of kilter? You bet! Ravening hoards pouring out of the earth, destroying whole cities overnight? Yep!

Most interestingly is the magic system in general. The attribute-based one. Metabolism additions make people live faster. They die faster, too, but the whole world slows down around them while they become super fast to everyone else. Giving that to horses is very funny... horses who run as fast as cars on a highway. :) The whole thing is pretty awesome as long as I don't think about the one little snag. (That's a pretty huge snag.)

Anyone who gives an attribute like Wit or Stamina or Metabolism then LOSES all but a tiny tiny portion. That means there need to be gigantic institutions set up for idiots, the energy-less, and the peeps who sleep for 20 years. Each addition comes with a subtraction, and most of those are severely glossed over in these books. Because if the givers die, the person currently enjoying 2 times normal strength will lose that addition. If the person has a thousand additions, that means there has to be a welfare state of a thousand taking care of the victims or the recipient will lose it all. If there's an army with an average of 20 or so additions per warrior and a hundred per captain and thousands in the army, then there ought to be a vast ocean of idiots and weaklings and sleepers left at home. Who is taking care of them? WHO???

Okay. So let's ignore that and enjoy the fantasy for what it is.

It's fun! Comfortable! It stretches some interesting boundaries in fantasy! It makes me interested in the rules and how to break them! I want to break them! Or at least write some stories about the seedy underside of patient management. :)

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Runelords, #2)Brotherhood of the Wolf by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a perfect world, I believe these novels should have been published as novellas. The end of book 2 is actually the end of "book" 8 and as far as I can tell, all of the Runelords Saga is one long story. I'm guessing, of course, but it feels very focused and quite epic.

It kinda has to be. The tale of the Sum of All Men and the Earth King deserves no less. Some strategies, much more along the way of consolidating or losing power, this particular book culminates in a massive uprising of monstrous Reavers that threaten both sides and all of humanity.

The epic battle is just that: epic. Very enjoyable. Massive. Bloody. :)

That being said, I now appreciate just how much I love Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle. There's a lot of similarities between these. But if you like the Demon Cycle, I'm pretty sure you'd love Farland's Runelords. With all that entails.

My only problem is with the direction of the plot at the end. Am I happy that it had to go this way? Not really. I mean, it may turn out pretty awesome, but hamstringing the Earth King made me a little pissed.

Fortunately, I'm pretty gung-ho about learning how these books will rectify that. :)

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, it looks like Apollo has shined on me today. And I will, as so many have before me, confirm that this book is a great one.

Retellings of ancient stories can a complicated slog or a brilliant adaptation, of course, but the best are always the ones that come with beautiful, lyrical language, bold interpretations, and a rip-roaring sense of style.

Good news! This one satisfies on all levels! And I have to admit that I always suspected, from the original, that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. It only made SENSE that such a reaction could only be born of great passions.

And so that brings us to the reality of this tale. It is not so much about growing up or cross-dressing or bearing the enmity of Agamemnon.

This is a ROMANCE. :)

Καλησπέρα σε όλους!


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Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Runelords (Runelords #1)The Runelords by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man versus Nature. Writ large.

Or larger, if you consider we're dealing with whole armies concentrated into a single man or the Earth in the other.

This is an epic fantasy that's competent in characters if not in extensive worldbuilding. But more importantly, it runs with a very, very cool idea. And cool ideas are COOL.

The skinny? Attributes can be given or taken from people and added to other individuals. Use runes plus guile, absolute force, or desperate pleading, and then you've got some insanely powerful superheroes and supervillains. Think that Jet Li movie, One, but instead of sucking, make the possibilities unlimited for all characters. Want super eyesight? Take 100 the good eyesight from a hundred people, let them go blind, and become hawkeye. :) Same for Wit, Endurance, Metabolism, Glamour, or others.

Have the big bad become a god with all these attributes. He is the sum of all men. Now set the overmatched hero against him.

Cool, right? Simple, fun, and interesting. Not classic literature, but FUN. :)

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Tender MorselsTender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who has read this book, the beginning is the absolute worst.

Not that it is badly written or boring. Hell no. It's all the incest, forced abortion, rape, and attempted suicide.

By the way, this is a YA. My inner critic was cursing and carrying on and wondering how the hell I could get through this freaking grimdark nightmare.

And then it lightened up. Got magical. Got heavenly. Sometimes it even got humorous. And then it became a retelling of Snow White. With the magicked prince that is a bear. And then it became a different kind of story. One about healing. About redemption. About power. And about finding one's way in the world. Or worlds. Or within timelines, dreamlands, and Fae-ish realms.

There's a lot of characters in here, and I won't deny that I didn't care for some and always perked up for others, but reading about the dwarf was always particularly interesting. He's not a nice man but he's not a complete tool like some we encountered.

This is not an easy book to read. Emotionally. The text is quite beautiful. But damn, this fable holds no punches.

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The Silent LandThe Silent Land by Graham Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can reading a book like this be considered walking (or skiing) a well-known path when it is, in fact, covered in snow?

White, delicious snow that bruises, locks-in, and blankets you in sweet, sweet comfort just before it kills you?

The answer? Yes. The nature of snow is still the nature of snow and the nature of this story, how well-worn, is still a thing of beauty.

So where am I going with all this? It's simple. It's atmosphere, baby. It's characters. It's going on vacation and finding that time and all other people in the world has gone away. It's about love... and the other thing. :)

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Children of Earth and SkyChildren of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm just going to have to place Guy Gavriel Kay's books into a shelf of their own. A genre of their own. I mean, sure, there are certain authors that have come close, such as some of Umberto Eco or Kim Stanley Robinson, but Kay's writing just plops us down into what, by all apparent aspects, seems to be our Rennaisance Europe or something very, very close.

All names and a lot of history is altered but to any normal comparison, we're dealing with the Ottoman Empire and Christians. Italy! A regular author might have just skimmed some aspects and thrown them in, but Kay instead goes deep and rich and detailed. Not only exploring all the misconceptions and prejudices on either side, but taking it full-force into spies, exiles, and intrigue of all kinds. And let's not forget the battles!

Lush writing, gorgeous characters. What's probably the best part of it IS the characters. I get into them not because of any particular plot point but because of WHO and WHAT they do, how they do it, and how interesting their choices twist the full story.

But what is the story?

Well, like the last one I read, the full culmination winds up being the WAY the lives are lived. Personal successes and failures. Not the overarching plot. :) I think it works brilliantly. Of course, I was invested in each character, so I would think that. :)

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 9/18/19:

So, do I have anything I want to say that I didn't say in my original review? Yes. Possibly.

My least favorite section usually involved all the jewelry making and the eventual rise and fall of the metal as a main character in the story. But this time? Maybe I just happened to be in the right mood. Tagomi's crisis in perception was VERY PKD and pretty delightful this time around. The jewelry being a catalyst, a doorway through the Yin into the Yang and vice versa, resonated strangely and through a back door into my consciousness. This time.

Otherwise, I still enjoyed the novel. Even if it is, and always be, a complicated relationship. :)

Original review:

This book is complicated for me. I only cared about Juliana's story as an actual story. There were times where I was invested with Frank's tale, too, and Tagomi had his moments, but as a complete and cohesive novel, the overt tale wasn't anything special. Nothing much happened except the hint of an attempted coup, the beginnings of an attempted assassination of an author, and the near-tragedy of a jewelry maker.

So what's all the fuss about? Why do people think this PKD is the bomb? Why did it earn a Hugo back in '62?

It's complicated. Just like my relationship with the novel.

Let's get the heavy out of the way. The whole damn thing was written with the extensive use of the I Ching. Hell, I learned the I Ching and used it extensively after reading this novel, just to get a deeper feel. This is a practical crash-course in PKD's fascination with all things mystical and religious, focused on a tight beam of almost pink light and driven right into the heart of every character's life. It's easy to extrapolate into all his other works from here, or backtrack to this instant. Everything is connected.

I loved this part of it. The twists and the turns, the inexplicable and the merely odd things that happen to the people, all of it could be blamed on the I Ching, and by extension, the vagaries of real life. Truth is hereby written.

I just don't think it made for a particularly exciting tale... just a pretty profound one.

And then there's the other part of this book which generally captures most people's attention. It's an alternate history where the Germans and the Japanese won WWII and split up the USA into occupied territories. We spend most of our time in the Japanese sector of California, where Frank is relatively free of the threat of being thrown into a gas chamber for being of Jewish ancestry.

Nice set-up? You bet. PKD's details are vast and deep, too, throwing us into an immersion both amazing and scary as hell. It's a crash course in cultural mindsets, too, although I cannot be any kind of expert on how the Japanese really think. I cannot tell anyone how accurate it is. BUT, I can say it was a huge eye-opener the first time I read this.

As a novel of worldbuilding, what PKD accomplished here is beyond excellent. Perhaps it only seems so this far down the timestream from when it was written, and perhaps it is a genuine masterpiece regardless of when we read it, but a great working knowledge of all the historical players is almost a must before dipping your toes in this water. I think I'm not too bad at history, having read a great number of non-fiction books, but since I wasn't living through the events, I felt lost a great deal of the time.

It was almost as if PKD almost refuses to divulge the hidden treasures in the events without our active and fairly intense participation, but it wasn't so much the name dropping that I had troubles with. It was the importance of the events that happened to each of the characters that stymied me. So, again, we had to return to the I Ching and divine the deeper reasons.

Themes can and will be untangled with enough effort, and they're pretty cool, but this novel is by no means a simple and straightforward read.

And then there's the third awesome aspect of the novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a prophetic and I Ching written novel that's hugely popular in this alternate world. It depicts a world where Germany and Japan lost the war. An additional I Ching reading about the veracity of this novel tells us that it is a hidden truth. It's real. And people all across the nation seem to realize it, talk about it, and generally obsess over it.

How cool. Right? A mirror of the universe *mostly* reflecting our own and driving its inhabitants a little bonkers in exactly the way that PKD's novel did for us in this universe!

Well, it wouldn't be PKD without at least TWO world-shattering shenanigans, right?

So, I've got all these high props of the novel and a teeth-grinding annoyance held out for it for the SAME REASON. Am I and this book in a relationship? Yes. But it's complicated. ;)

Very cool stuff, but it requires a lot of effort to really enjoy. It's high maintenance. :)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary WritersA People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got into this book with the expectation that at least some of the stories by these well-known writers would be hopeful or optimistic in the face of obvious injustice. After all, the whole collection IS a tribute to Howard Zinn's classic, A People's History of the United States. So of course, an SF future treatment of the same would probably be about resistance and standing up for what we believe.

In actual fact, quite a few do follow that idea, but more of them felt like truly dark futures with no hope in sight. Normal stuff, actually, tho very creative, like pushing the trend of current legislation to the full horrible ends, be it abortion, the welfare state, the patriarchy completely winning, or even all blacks being deported.

Truly horrible stuff. Like tattoos being the last books available for anyone to read. Or virtual realities suffocating the life out of us. You get the idea.

Fortunately, all these stories are pretty great. Exciting. Or nasty. Fun, or thought-provoking, or enraging. Few are actually hopeful, but maybe that's just a sign of the times. A lot of us are really disgusted at how much backsliding we've seen.

*waves his fists at the air*

My favorites?

Read After Burning by Maria Dahvana Headly.
The Blindfold by Tobias S. Buckwell

But I also really got into:

Our Aim is Not to Die by Merc Rustad
The Referendum by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Calendar Girls by Justina Ireland
The Sun in Exile by Cat Valente

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Monday, September 16, 2019

The New Voices of Science FictionThe New Voices of Science Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This short story collection caught my eye primarily because Hannu Rajaniemi's name was on the cover, but I wasn't fooled. Not really. This just happens to be a collection of the best SF stories to come out in the last five-ish years, as selected by him and Jacob Weisman.

Was I still interested? Yeah! After all, those guys have good taste. :) And when it comes to good tales as a whole, I enjoyed this entire book.

I've read a number of these stories already, and if I have, I'm lightly skimming over them. Otherwise...

Openness by Alexander Weinstein - A cool, scary look at intimacy worthy of a Black Mirror episode, where giving another person access to all your secret kinks, buttons, and memories can be either a great boon or a relationship killer. Me likey.

The Shape of My Name by Nino Capri - Time travel done in a very interesting way, focusing more on a strained familial relationship than anything else. The focus is clear but all the side discoveries are quite visceral.

UTOPIA, LOL by Jamie Wahls - Clever take on virtual reality and memes, with the added benefit of AIs and badass choices. Cool twist.

Mother Tongues by S. Qiouyi Lu - Linguistics-focused tale of parenthood and only wanting the best for the child with a very dark twist. It made me very sad.

In The Sharing Place by David Erik Nelson - What seems to be a tale set in the brackets of the Stages of Grief eventually becomes something much more interesting, more creative. Very chilling.

A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad - I've read this twice and have seen it reprinted all over the place. If you haven't read it, enjoy a printed tale as tasty as steak. Don't ask if it's a forgery. :)

Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer - Also a commonly reprinted tale, but quite fun. A Hugo winner.

Ice by Rich Larson - Probably my least favorite of the collection, this was a tale of sibling rivalry on an ice planet. Genetic jealousy.

One Hour, Every Seven Years by Alice Sola Kim - Very oppressive in isolation and loneliness, this time travel tale seems to have lots of hidden gems in it. The descriptions of Venus and Mars and their places in the tale struck me as rather important. Time to see the sun!

Toppers by Jason Sanford - This one really caught my imagination. Apocalyptic New York meets a creepy Whispering Mist that is a lot more than it seems. Two thumbs up.

Tender Loving Plastics by Amman Sabet - AIs and foster care. What could go wrong?

Welcome To Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse - Another Hugo winner. And it's easily one of the best stories I've read in the last few years. :) Quite sharp.

Strange Waters by Samantha Mills - Another re-read for me, Water is not always water, and fishing is not always fishing. Great worldbuilding, interesting mash.

Calved by Sam J. Miller - Another re-read. Excellent setting with a frustrated dad just trying to do right but unable to get a grip on the future world or his own slightly estranged son.

The Need for Air by Lettie Prell - A virtual reality warning. Pretty heartbreaking but my sympathies are all for the son.

Robo-Liopleurodon! by Darcie Little Badger - Nanotech in the ocean. Need I say more? Aren't you excited? I was! And am!

The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi by E. Lily Yu - The transformation from gamer to ... dreamer. Pretty mild, but interesting.

Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar - Probably one of my favorites in the bunch, it combines a voluntary medical trial with horrible time-travel-ish side effects, reality modifications, and the very uneasy feeling that memory inside time is all that we have. Parts of me would call this a horror.

Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker - Very enjoyable tale of aging traveling rockers butting heads against a VR tech world.

A Study in Oils by Kelly Robson - I can't decide whether I think this is the best one in this collection or not, but it's really close. I'm a sucker for redemption stories... especially when it comes tied to horrible sanctioned free-range revenge and art. :)

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1)The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this is a near-perfect arrow shot going through the hearts of all the very best penny dreadfuls, from Frankenstein to Doctor Moreau. Add all the delightful references to Dracula, Van Helsing, Hyde, (and even Lamarck!), and we've got ourselves a great mish-mash of fantasy, SF, and horror classics in one delightfully female-heavy tale that invites the heavyweight services of Sherlock in for the ride.

It really is charming. For the first half, I was entirely on board like I was watching Penny Dreadful or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or reading A Night in the Lonesome October. :) That kind of thing.

But while I still enjoyed the meta-writing banter between some of the main female characters, the over-plot got kinda ...tedious... near the end. Not bad, mind you, and in fact, the whole novel was a real charmer for how it drew in so many well-beloved classics, but I've never had a soft spot for the whole Moreau line.

Maybe it's because I know too much about science to really be able to love quite that much handwavium. Most of the time I can move on just fine. If I started quibbling about science in SF I might never get beyond a handful of books. :)

BUT that doesn't detract all that much from the story. It's solid, creative, and a real nostalgia-fest.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and EssaysPeter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, this angry sentient tumor has a big thing about using Peer-Reviewed articles in his essays. That's great! I think it is really funny when he uses lesser-known articles to debunk the whole methodology of psychology. Or when it's set against right-wing-religious nutters.

I read this mainly because it's Peter Watts. Period. He's smart, isn't afraid to burn bridges, and he has the whole Curmudgeon thing DOWN. Get off my lawn! But he also has a point. Many of them. And when it comes right down to it, I agree with most. Like keeping literature smart, not so dummied. Or keeping information free enough to counteract the really crazy things that can, even now, happen to say, the bird flu.

The rest of the essays were either homages to old pets, having a flesh-eater on his leg, or pretty cool summaries of stories we can't find but we should have read. :)

Other than that, and let's be honest, it reads like a series of spruced up blog posts with proper annotation and bibliographies. :) Fun, at least for me, but aside from the ideas within, it's nothing too serious.

The ideas are, of course. I think I need a drink after being reminded about how we've reaped the whirlwind. Humans really are the worst. :)

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The Prisoner of Limnos (Penric and Desdemona, #6)The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am kinda surprised by this novella. Penric's in love! LOOOVEEE. And he goes to great, adventuresome lengths to help his love.

You know, scaling the highest religious order castle, perform death-defying stunts, rust door locks, blow up seagulls, and dress up as a woman.

You know, the normal stuff that women ask of us men.

:) I had fun! So is this a romance? I do believe it is. The fantasy bits are cool, but they only serve the romance. :)

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Jade War (The Green Bone Saga, #2)Jade War by Fonda Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book continues the modern equivalent of an Italian (mafia, old world, new world) and Japanese (isolated island with strategic resources) Urban Fantasy. It does it in wonderful style.

Where the first one felt very Godfather with magical Jade stones that can only be used by certain bloodlines except when a special drug is involved, this one picks up the pieces of the clan warfare and scatters them into the new world. Modern warfare takes on a particularly economic cast. Gaining contacts and building relationships off the island is much more important now. But that doesn't stop the hell from breaking out at home, of course. And this book is a bit more unpredictable than the first.

That's a good thing! I loved the characters and truly enjoyed every aspect of this tale. I feel quite invested. I feel Green. The tragedies and the injustices and the loneliness, the isolation, the joys... these are all brilliantly displayed. I'm not only invested in the clans and these characters, but I'm totally on board with the worldbuilding. The familiarities have grown into something much stronger. More enduring.

I can easily recommend this for any of you mafia junkies, you UF fans, and anyone who dies for great characters. :)

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4)Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm probably gonna piss off a few folks out there when I say I like this new storyline with new characters BETTER than the previous books in the series.

*gasp* *shock* *smoldering hate* :)

But it's true! Maybe I like (ahem) playboy (ahem) Alessandro better than Rogan and I enjoy the basic concept of Catalina, not to mention her self-discovery and growth as a character, MORE than Nevada. I just like having a theoretically more powerful Catalina offsetting the relationship. She's pretty bright. Careful. And while she does have a few weaknesses when it comes to this pretty boy, she's damn devoted to House Baylor.

I had a lot of fun and the magic spices it just right. :) The cooking scenes smoldered very nicely. As a romance, it's very formula, but I didn't care. A book rises on its character appeal. Some things really peeled. :)

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, #1)Jade City by Fonda Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm reviewing this purely from enjoyment. I had fun.

Every character was strong and very familiar to me since I've been a life-long fan of The Godfather. Yep. SO MUCH of the story seems to be a slight twist on the classic tale, but never far from that grand feel. I loved seeing the story twisted with SilkPunk, the addition of magic-granting Jade that enhances particular families' inherent abilities, be it strength, hardiness, speed, etc, and having the plot twisted further with an addictive drug that lets normal people do the same with the magical Jade as the ones who were born to it.

Simple setup, but a pure mafia-story mixed with superhero abilities... and pure fun for all that.

I was never once bored. :)

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Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins, #1)Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank goodness. A classic children's tale that doesn't suck. :)

Please, please be cross!

Well, in with the wind and out with the change, I say, and there's nothing more delightful than a rather hard-hitting charm-blaster like this. Mary herself is such an insufferable vanity, but she has such heart, and kids will always know the good ones from the bad. They always do. And it has NOTHING at all to do with a spoonful of sugar.

Stuff and nonsense. That stuff is all for the birds.

The best part is... my girl loved it. :)

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Myths of OriginMyths of Origin by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I find it almost impossible to review Cat Valente's work.

Why? Because I'm personally incapable of capturing all the freaky-cool things she is able to do with words. So what do I recommend? READ HER. You'll see what I mean and thank me for it and be sure to close your mouth sometimes or the flies will find new homes there. :)

Four novellas.

The Labyrinth - You could say this is a tale about a monkey and a minotaur going through a labyrinth, but that kinda misses the whole damn point that this is CAT VALENTE writing it. It's an early piece and really showcases just how freaking smart and educated she is. Add tons of scholarly references, make the prose as florid as you please, and turn the whole thing on its head by being a tale to be cherished in an Illuminated Medieval book. :)

Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams - Freaking awesome. An old woman in Medieval Japan takes on the role of a Sphinx, a dreamer, a devourer, and a goddess. I can't tell whether she's actually a place or a dream or just an old woman. But damn this one kicked my ass. :)

The Grass-Cutting Sword - Woman and snake. Is there a difference? Okay, no, this isn't a joke, but a seriously amazing piece that dives deep into a mental space that turns amazingly original and complex.

Under in the Mere - Maybe my least favorite of the bunch, it's still amazing for not only it's effortless scholarship, but its wealth of detail in Arthurian legends, its unique take on truly sensual (but not always sexual) takes on the knights and maidens, and the interesting place that the search for the grail takes them. ... CALIFORNIA? And yet it still reads like a traditional, if amazingly poetical, legend. :)

Valente is a treasure. Read it just for the language, stay for the ideas, and fall in love because there is no other way to be.

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Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Half illustrations, half art-on-art, this little gem of a book is just about perfect for anyone who appreciates art and/or makes it. :)

I won't say the advice is new but it is very emphatic and heartfelt, so you're not hearing any complaints from this corner.

Best advice ever? Have fun. Next best advice? Make good art. Or maybe I have those two reversed. Doesn't matter. It's all good advice.

And above all, when everything goes wrong, STILL make good art.

Why? Because it helps you through the hard times. And sometimes that's all you've got. I get that. A lot.

I do believe I'll be revisiting this book again. Maybe a lot. It's heartening. :)

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Monday, September 9, 2019

The Unkindest Tide (October Daye, #13)The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know that wonderful woman/monster, the Sea Witch? You know, the LUIDAEG? Pronounced loo-shack? *sigh* I love her so much. To some, she's a monster. But to me, she's just family. Family I've loved since the earliest part of the series. *sigh*

And now, we get SO MUCH OF HER. :) Lots of watery adventure with Toby with her squire, of course, but the main tale IS about Justice and Mercy. And tons of skin. TONS of skin. And before you guys get your minds in the gutter, I'm talking about FLENSING.

Boy, that got dark quick, no?

Well, this one is a dark one. Old tragedies and the fate of the Selkies. I got pretty emotional with this one. And I loved it.

Bonus novella about Raj, too! The Prince of Cats went through a bit of growing up. :)

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

SPQR: A History of Ancient RomeSPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a solid and well-rounded examination of early Roman history, cutting through what must have obviously been a bunch of BS written of and about themselves in the early days but also giving credit where credit is due.

I mean, obviously, those two twins suckled at the teats of a wolf. Obviously.

But seriously, there's a lot of interesting facts that make me wonder whether the original tales of a city founded on liberty and the forceful taking of nearby tribe's women might not have been a fanciful tale, too. After all, there were a lot of positive things that came out of Rome that doesn't quite jibe with the whole idea of a bunch of brother-murdering brigands with a penchant for rule by rape.

Obviously, early Rome has gone through a TON of narrative revisions on itself. And continued to do so right through all the Emperors. Murder one average, run-of-the-mill Emperor, run his name through the muck to justify murdering him, and then play yourself up as a liberator.

Poor Julius. It's not like he was trying to set up a single rule system that cut out the senators. And then those same murderers did everything they could to ESTABLISH the same rule they used as an excuse to murder the poor sod! Alas.

Fascinating history, of course, and it goes well beyond the more notable examples. Probably most interesting to me was Augustus Caesar. He was a rip-roaring murderer in his youth but he got a MASSIVE PR overhaul. I don't know which agency he went to, but they did a BANG-UP JOB. So much so it set the whole tone for the next 1.5 millennia. :) That's BRANDING.

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Adventures of a Computational ExplorerAdventures of a Computational Explorer by Stephen Wolfram
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a TON to say about Stephen Wolfram, but for the sake of reviewing, I'll highlight. :)

I'm a fanboy. I mean, back in the day when I first saw Wolfram Alpha get released, I practically pooped myself. An all-round science tool that aimed to combine every known function in the world in one easy search bar that you can use real language with? I downloaded the hell out of it and squeed with joy that there were people like this in the world that would make things like this.

Everything that can be computed, in ONE PLACE. As much knowledge as possible, as broadly applicable as possible, available to everyone.

I mean, sure, it's bound to be buggy and a constant work in progress, but this is a pure repository of knowledge, man, and IT'S FREE. :) And it's not just about data, but about how to calculate reality. :) Yay!

Okay, peeps, I know this seems really geeky and all, and I agree. But Stephen Wolfram is a real-life hero. He's putting his prodigious mind into the problem of Everything. Language, Rosetta Stones for aliens, repositories of all knowledge, and working out the problems inherent in his Theory of Computational Equivalence and the Theory of Computational Irreducibility. (Put simply, nature does the same thing as well and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, writ large.)

It also means he's doing all the heavy lifting for an AI that will rule the physical world.

But fortunately, he's also been a real-life SF example of someone who has recorded and programmed, in the Wolfram programming language, every instant of his life, correspondence and thought process, including every keystroke he's ever made, every meeting he's ever been in, and he's now in a very unique position to be uploaded directly into the web, maintaining everything he is and every decision he's made, ready to combat said AI. :)

I joke, sure, but the reality of such a monumental undertaking is REAL. This book is an autobiography of sorts and he loves to share. I kinda wondered where he was going with a lot of it, but then I came up with my theory and so narrative consistency is resolved. :)

Fun fact! All those equations in the movie Arrival? Thank Stephen Wolfram's son. :) Both were consultants to make the math real. :) No BS. :) That's REAL STUFF, man! :)

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

PhysiognomyPhysiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes a book will spoil you and sometimes a book will amaze you and sometimes it will blow your mind.

This one comes close to doing all three.

Think phrenology taken to a full sociological extreme, with abuses of power included, throw it into a land that could be hell, but all it’s inhabitants are so used to the strangeness that they take everything, including architectural explosions created by headaches, in stride.

And the follow a wildly abusive character filled with outright funny insults, watch him self-destruct, bring innocents along with him, and then have him go through a transformative arc.

A lot of these aspects may seem usual in the fantasy realm, but what I’m neglecting in my description is the sheer imaginative force of this world, the people within it, and the amazing richness of every line.

I can easily recommend this for anyone tired of the same old fantasy. This is really rich fare.

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The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War, #2)The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Few sequels can demand as much love as this one can.

I mean, Poppy War was all kinds of fantastic, leading us up a fairly well-worn path only to rip the rug out from under us and get BRUTAL. But this one takes that brutality and cranks it up a notch or two, showing us that all consequences can meet their match with idealism, honor, and hope.

Not that there is much idealism, honor, or hope for Rin. But she can follow it. Lend her fiery arm to the cause. Even lose big, maybe even lose bigger, and still keep killing in the name.

I'm just going to come right out and say it. I love this book. I think I like it a lot more than the one before it. It's more heartbreaking, higher stakes, more desperate, and the full war and the hope of something great rises to one hell of a fever pitch.

So what if you have to kill a few gods. So what if the populace starves. So what if allies betray or are betrayed. The end is all that matters.

But that end? .... speechless. Brilliant.

And now I'm completely hooked for the next. Burn bright, Rin! Burn sooooo bright!

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Buzz Kill: A NovelBuzz Kill: A Novel by David Sosnowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel punches a lot of my buttons and tweaks a lot of my pet mental projects in a great way, but surprisingly so. I simply chose it on Netgalley based on the cover! Shame on me, right?! It looked funny.

So what did I get? Some good humor? Yes! But this is almost incidental to the main plot. Indeed, the main point is about some rather serious topics from dementia to suicide to the very nature of consciousness and cutting-edge AI research. Wow, right? And none of these are cursory beasts. The author takes everything very seriously, thoughtfully, and does it with some really fantastic characters in George and Pandora.

Two hackers, who never meet, but collaborate in creating an AI? Hell yeah. But make the AI serve the purpose of suicide prevention? I like the concept. Even such hard-coding might get VERY hairy. And what about consciousness? All the usual problems apply. All us Zombies, etc. :)

But none of these wonderful explorations of depression, dementia, or suicide would be quite as interesting without the wonderful cast of oh-so-real characters with all their human joys and frailties. This isn't some massive adventure. It's about what makes us, us. :)

*With some humor* :)

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A War in Crimson Embers (The Crimson Empire, #3)A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some epic fantasy is all about the meticulous worldbuilding, others about the way it's written, and others love to revel in the plot.

This one just finishes us off in the trilogy by being bloody FUN. I may have mentioned in the previous books how much I love crusty old women taking up the sword and waging war and all, but this takes it all the way. The whole world is embroiled in a fight of mortals against demons and past enemies team-up.

Bt do you know what's best? The damn crusty language. It's like the whole book is full of Irish humor and insults and everyone is randy as hell. And it's written in such a way as it's positive and delightful. Celebration of life, as, you know, everyone's pretty certain of a nasty bloodbath. :)

So yeah, I had a fantastic time. Gibbering horrors, bright characters everywhere, vivid text. This is a trilogy that is a delight to read. :) Grannies and their demon dogs rule! :)

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other StoriesThe Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well now. After having successfully avoided reading Susanna Clarke's short fantasy collection for a decade and a half after having loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I finally guilted myself into picking up the damn book and giving it a go.

Why so trepidatious? Because I thought nothing could top JS & Mr. N. And indeed, this does NOT top JS & Mr. N. Rather, it deepens it.

I really shouldn't have worried. :) Clarke's beautiful language, great charm, and naughty Faries are all in evidence here. We get shorts including Strange and many of the personages we loved from the novel, places reminiscent but not directly tied to the novel, call-outs to all Regency literature, Irish folktales, and best of all, throughout every story, is the CHARM. Let me stress this: Charm.

I read every one of these with a silly, easygoing grin.

Now that's some REAL English magic.

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one could have gone either way with me. Either I would bounce or I would fall in love. Fortunately, it had all the right mixtures, enjoyable classic storytelling, great characters, and above all, it was a very fun read.

So I call this one a winner. Whew! Aztec death gods. The 1920's. And we throw this poor girl into a situation where she must help a death god find his missing pieces before he drains the life from her and he loses his godhood... in mortality.

Such. A. Classic. Storyline. I mean, you can almost smell the romance from here. The transference of godhood and mortality between these two individuals, the hearts racing, the shared desire to quest it out sooner, faster, harder, before she loses all her vitality? Beautiful.

No spoilers. This is just beautiful Mexican storytelling. Tragic and heartfelt and desperate. And don't think this is all. It's a story about family, too. About brothers. Cousins. About life and death and reaching for what you want NOW. :)

Am I a fan? Yes, I am.

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Rosewater Insurrection (The Wormwood Trilogy, #2)The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While the wonderful first book in the Wormwood Trilogy had a slightly more interesting and convoluted storytelling structure befitting a mystery novel with explosively weird fantasy and SF elements, the second book tones that down and gives a much more straightforward tale.

This isn't a bad thing, considering what is being accomplished. Some mystery is here, of course, and the worldbuilding is phenomenal. This little Nigerian town was turned into a hub of spore aliens slowing taking over not just humanity but all life, but most of us frail humans LIKE THE GIFT of being cured of diseases, so there's a steady stream of immigrants. And curiosity seekers. And people who just like to invite tentacular horrors into their bodies for private use, like the telepathy, godlike transformative abilities, or whatnot. :)

This book leads us to human rebellion not against the aliens, but against the greater Nigerian government. Independence? Well, it's not always a popular move. But this is also very strange modern politics.

I really, really enjoyed the big action when it came underway. Very imaginative, wild, and fun. In some ways, this was a superior book to the first. :)

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The DiscovererThe Discoverer by Jan Kjærstad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Again, these books defy description.

Each one is multifaceted, complex, and rich, delving deeper and deeper into the life of Jonas, the one-time superstar of the Norwegian TV series, "Thinking Big", the genius, the magical penis, the Winner (book one, with tragedy), the Loser (book two, with hope), and book three, which I'll call the Revelation.

Not too different from "The Discoverer", I'm sure, but at least my title actually pokes at a theme that growls at me. Not a dragon, like in the second book, but a loving daughter who finally realizes who - and what - her father actually was.

And he was all of these things. Every book was accurate but they told the story of Jonas in wildly different ways.

This one is far from being dark like the first or especially the second. It looked to the future. It focused on forgiveness. On discovery, beauty, genius, and all the tiny interconnected pieces of a life juggled helplessly by one masterful sleight of hand. I use these descriptions purposefully - as if taken right from the book. And perhaps I should have quoted, but I'm lazy. :)

This book carries us much further from the events in the first book even though it sheds a lot more light on why and how and especially what drove Jonas to do what he did. No spoilers. But learning this one piece of knowledge is a LONG trek and should be experienced by the reader alone.

It's a transformative book.

I admit it cut me. But alone, I don't think it would have cut me unless I had experienced the first two books. I feel like I know Jonas better than I know myself. It's THAT kind of book.

Do I recommend the trilogy?

Yes. But be aware that it might be a monumental undertaking. :)

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