Amber’s Goodreads review of Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

•January 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one was an unexpected charmer. I got it in a Humble eBook Bundle and I tell ya, I’m grabbing every single one of those that comes out. I’ve gotten several good books that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to pick up. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of it, but it drew me in. It only took me two days to finish, aside from the short story at the end. I had a lot of free “sitting around between classes” time and so I devoured this.

Even the romance surprised me. Despite how Vorkosigan and Cordelia meet, it isn’t a “Beauty and the Beast” situation: his reputation as the “Butcher of Komarr” turns out to be largely exaggerated, and he turns out to be a pretty honorable man, so there’s no “taming this savage man” aspect that’s way overplayed. I admit that the first time Cordelia starts to think he’s kinda handsome, I rolled my eyes. “Stockholm Syndrome much?” I thought. “They’ll be banging in a couple chapters.” But that didn’t happen either. I tried explaining it to my husband later on, and he put it, “Oh, like a civilized, dinner-table wooing.” Honestly, that nails it. The relationship that builds up is definitely based on mutual respect and admiration, which is amazingly refreshing. I like a sex scene as much as the next gal, but you get some books where it’s just instant sexual attraction, given into pretty much right away, and unless you’re really in the mood for that… let’s just say that the slow seduction (not even really a seduction, in this case) is more satisfying to me. It just goes to show how things can be pigeonholed by genre: this was listed as a sci-fi. If the word “romance” appeared at all, I would have assumed it was a sheer sci-fi nightie draped over a sexy body (you know how they do with some romance novels, it’s like the plot is there to just barely justify the screwing. It’s hardcore porn wrapped in softcore porn. Can you tell I don’t dip into the Romance section much?).

Another original twist is how the honor-bound, battle-hardened, militaristic people were actually from a nice planet, while the more scientific and peaceful Betans were from a hellhole. The general trope is that the warrior race is “forged in the harsh conditions” of some wasteland desert planet with acid rain and active volcanoes, but Barrayar sounds pretty Earth-like and pleasant compared to Beta Colony.

While Cordelia is strong, witty, super-smart and capable, she has a pretty realistic PTSD thing going on after all the excitement. The interesting thing is that [SPOILER] it wasn’t caused by the trauma visited upon her when she was captured by the Barrayarans, but by the well-meant but invasive “therapy” forced upon her by the Escobar and the stress of keeping her and Vorkosigan’s secrets. The terrifying reception she gets back home on Beta Colony provided a perfect way to get her back with Vorkosigan, despite her loathing of the culture on Barrayar. [END SPOILER]

Overall I was impressed enough to download the next installment in the series, Barrayar. I’m not sure if I’ll read all 7 or so novels plus short stories that make up the “Vorkosiverse” (the rest after this mainly deal with Miles Vorkosigan, son of Cordelia and Aral) but I’m definitely intrigued enough to want to know what happens next for these two.

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Amber’s Goodreads review of A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

•January 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

George R.R. Martin is like the gods of myth: he brings people up to their highest glory and casts them down. Several characters start this novel reclining on pillows and eating delicacies, and by the end of the novel they’re filthy, starving, and near death. Just when you think someone is going to triumph, all the worst possible things happen. It sure keeps things interesting, anyway.

This installment of the series covers the same span of time as the last but with all the characters that didn’t have POV chapters in A Feast for Crows, at least for the first half. The streams converge after that and we check in with some of the characters from the previous book. I was actually a little disappointed that Sansa didn’t show up in this one at all, but we get a little Arya and plenty of Jon and Tyrion, of course.

It ends on cliffhangers, which is to be expected, and we’re left wondering if ____ is really dead, if ____ is about to die as enemies descend. And now we have no idea when the next is coming out. As a writer, I feel for Martin because it’s stressful trying to get a story out (and in the last two books’ acknowledgements he’s said they’ve been tough ones), and I can’t imagine how much more difficult with hoards of fans clamoring for the next fix. I feel for him, but I hope it’s soon (or at least that we don’t have to wait five years for it… or that he doesn’t unexpectedly croak before finishing it).

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EDIT: If you want a good laugh, read the other reviews on Goodreads for this one. A lot of good satirists at play. I have to admit they raise some very valid points that I did not go into: annoyingly repetitive phrases or words (“nuncle” and “leal” grind my teeth); great sendups of the writing style; Dany losing strength as a female character; obsession over food, filth, and cunnies (cunnys?); Tyrion being much less witty and much more whiny; minor side characters given great attention for seemingly no reason; nothing much moving forward plotwise; etc etc. Sometimes I think Martin shifts POV so often to fill books out and keep us from realizing how little is actually going on.

Amber’s Goodreads review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

•December 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While it wasn’t as much of a page-turner as some books I read recently, Divergent was interesting. Like I mentioned in a reading update, the premise is a little hard for me to swallow and the aptitude test seems to have way too few scenarios to be any sort of conclusive.

I don’t know if it’s the first-person, present-tense narrative (which has to have a very distinctive voice to carry off – past tense you can get away with it sounding like a journal entry, but present-tense makes some of the narrative sound robotic, despite all Roth did to mitigate this) but I couldn’t get as into Tris as I hoped. No one is that aware of what their body is doing and what gestures they’re making. Sometimes I wished Roth would just have characters have a conversation without recording every gesture. I can make inferences and use my imagination. Again, it’s just that first-person thing that it seems EVERYONE does now.

Not that Tris isn’t a good character; the girl has some brass – I’m honestly surprised she didn’t come up more strongly Dauntless, she takes to it so well. It was a little weird how someone from Abnegation could sometimes be super selfless, and then sometimes be even more selfish (or at least self-interested) than the average person seems to be. Maybe she’s just never had friends, but her friendships aren’t all that deep, and she seems fine with the idea of getting rid of them the first time her friends are jealous of her.

I appreciate the portrayal of Four. The way I saw some fangirls gushing in reviews, I was dreading another Jace situation where the author very obviously has the hots for her own character. This is not the case. What does frustrate me, and this happens in a lot of books, is characters being seemingly confused about “what is this weird sensation, why am I so interested in this person? Wha… is this LOVE?” Christ, I knew what a crush was seemingly forever, even as a kid I knew what it felt like when I liked a person or was infatuated. I don’t get why these kids seem to take so long to figure it out.

Also, more world-building, please! How did the factions form, how did they decide this was a good way to go, was there some catalytic event? Seems like Chicago’s a tad beat up, how did that happen? And a tiny little measly wonder of mine: what did Tris used to do at home? Sit quietly and stare at the crackling fire? She says she wasn’t allowed to do anything for her own enjoyment. Did she help her mother knit the scarves she mentioned? Read the Bible? Do schoolwork? There has to be SOMETHING, even if she says she doesn’t even know what she likes to do. There can’t just be a whole lot of nothing for 16 years.

In short, I’m interested in reading the other two books in the series but I wonder if I should check them out of the library instead of buying them. As for me, I’m pretty sure I’d end up Amity, wishing I was as badass as Dauntless.

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Amber’s Goodreads review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

•November 23, 2013 • 1 Comment

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Orson Scott Card might be a douchebag as a human being, but he can write a good book. I really enjoyed Ender’s Game. I’m not sure if I’ll check out any of the sequels, but it works as a stand-alone. It kept me reading and I finished it pretty fast. There were a few weird things I’ll mention just for fun:

-I’m never so thrown by kids talking “too smart for their age” and it was established that these were extraordinarily intelligent and gifted kids, but there is a sort of stilted way that everyone talks, but it’s very consistent with the period’s sci fi so I barely noticed. What did irritate me is that slang. Jeez, I cringed. It’s almost racist.
-The NAMES. One of the kids is named Dink Meeker. Really?
-I haven’t seen the movie (which I hear is really good) but I wonder if “Peter and Valentine take over the world” bit made the cut.
-Not sure if the whole thing is the author’s wish-fulfillment (a lot of people say so, but readers are notoriously apt to attribute tons of an author’s characters’ traits and views to the author him/herself, and as an author I know this is a huge fallacy) but I do get the sense that Card was bullied as a kid. Then again, tons of us are, so no points for that observation.

Overall, I’m glad I knocked another classic that it seems everyone read as a kid but me (how did I miss it, I wonder?) off the list.

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Amber’s Goodreads review of A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

•November 9, 2013 • 1 Comment

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this one as much as the previous three, and not just because “none of my favorites are in it! Where’s Dani/Jon/Tyrion? :(” In this one we get to follow (not nearly enough of) Arya, another fave of mine, and a little of a new favorite, Asha Greyjoy. Seriously, I don’t see how anyone can accuse Martin of misogyny given the wealth of strong/dynamic/complex female characters. Asha is great, ballsy and witty, and I love her.

We also follow Jaime some more, and Sansa, who is definitely growing up some. And though Littlefinger is a scoundrel, I can’t help but like him a little. It’s the wit and intelligence thing again. I actually enjoyed Samwell Tarly’s journey more than I thought I would. Brienne is all right and Jaime grows ever less awful, but there’s one POV character who bucks the trend of being more sympathetic as we see things from their side, and that’s Cersei.

That’s one of the satisfying parts of this installment: we get to see Cersei spiral down in “wicked queen from Snow White” style, plotting against the “younger, prettier” queen, Margaery Tyrell. She makes enemies of friends and sends away good counselors and able officers because of their connections to Highgarden, installing bumblers in their place; feels herself constantly surrounded by either enemies or fools; constantly makes foolish decisions she thinks are so smart and clever that turn around and bite her in the ass (like re-arming the Faith); and acts less like her father (as she prides herself on believing) than another Mad King Aerys. Littlefinger put it so well that I laughed out loud: “Cersei stumbles from one idiocy to the next, helped along by her council of the deaf, the dim, and the blind. I always anticipated that she would beggar the realm and destroy herself, but I never expected she would do it quite so fast.” (pg 892).

And yes, I know that she’s a product of her upbringing, raised to be an over-proud lion who believes she’s owed the world. Thanks, Tywin, for that. And she’s had a hard time of it, not getting to marry Rhaegar and having to put up with that brute, Robert. That doesn’t excuse anything. “I’m just doing it to protect my son” is what she tells herself, but overall she seems more concerned with keeping hold of the throne so she can be the queen she was “supposed” to be and was cheated of. I suppose we’ll find out in time if all the Tyrells really were plotting against her (aside from the plot we learned of last book, with Oleanna’s scheme and Joffrey’s demise) or she’s being overly paranoid, but that’ll be another book away, since the next one focuses on all the characters left out of this installment.

Again, I can see how what I think of as the “soap opera method” of spending a little time with this character, barely getting anywhere, then on to the next, keeps people reading, but I have a horrible habit of wanting to flip ahead to see what happens next to the person I was just reading about, and this style makes it really hard to resist. I can also see why Martin chose to do the “half the people in this book” thing, because otherwise it would have been one chapter per person, and we hardly would’ve gotten anywhere. I’m lucky: I started this series after he started writing them again. I feel for all the people who read the note in the back about he “devoutly hopes” A Dance With Dragons would be out the next year (2006) when it didn’t come out until 2011. Sometimes being late to the party is a good thing.

Overall, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on but the pace seems really slow compared to the last three. I think it’s probably a symptom of trying to show us what’s going on everywhere with everyone. It’s still good, just not amazing, and of course essential if you want to know what’s happening as the series goes on. We’ll see how the next one turns out.

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Amber’s Goodreads Review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

•October 1, 2013 • 1 Comment

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the concept of Coldtown and Holly Black’s treatment of vampires in the short story of the same name that she published in The Poison Eaters previously, so when I heard she decided to expand the concept into a novel (with a shout-out in it to the story, I noticed ;)) I knew I had to pick it up. It took being invited by my friend to a signing in the little bookshop near our hometowns for me to grab it, but I’m glad I did and that I went to the reading, because Holly Black is so much fun in person.

But on to the book. For anyone who’s sick to death of the neo-vampire, the sparkly, “vegetarian,” tame blood sipper, this is a must-read. Black does a really good job of blending this alluring, sexy, dangerous-but-safe view of vampires into the original horror movie monsters, with gore and real life-threatening danger. The vamps manage to be fascinating and enticing one moment, repellent and horrifying the next.

Tana, our hero, doesn’t want to be a vampire… entirely. I found this pretty realistic. Unlike a lot of the other kids (many of whom find out it isn’t so great after all once they’ve turned), she isn’t looking to become one, but admits that part of her is intrigued by the idea. Even at the end she hasn’t quite made up her mind.

There is somewhat of a maybe-budding romance but it does not dominate at all, and Gavriel is not idealized to be this noble, restrained, “good” vampire; he’s a monster too, and a half-mad one at that. Still he’s pretty sympathetic as a character, and I think the flashback chapters help with that.

One thing I really liked was the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They start out romanticizing death, and then the last one is pretty much saying, “death’s not that great, best to avoid it.” I thought it was funny but also matches the progression of the story nicely.

The concept of the walled city containment method and reality TV was really interesting, and I think Black did a good job of carrying it off. It’d be interesting to see what someone would do with a movie based on this.

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Amber’s Goodreads review of A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

•September 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m noticing that this volume got higher reviews than the first two. I think there’s a reason for that: a lot of my friends quit after the first one, and the rest after the second. It depressed them, they said, or they got so mad at the injustice of everything and how horrible people were to each other that they couldn’t go on.

Maybe I like it dark, or maybe it’s because of how fascinating Martin makes his world and characters, but I was glued to the machinations. Every time a chapter ended, I had to fight the urge to flip again to the next chapter with that character’s POV and see what happened. It’s a really good page-turning strategy.

So much happened in this one, and believe it or not some justice gets served. I kind of wish my friends had stuck with it because of that. It’s all a cycle, of course. It reminds me a lot of Norse sagas, and I bet Martin got some inspiration from those stories. Life is like that. Like Littlefinger told Sansa way back when, life is not a song. I think most of the people who dislike this series expect fantasy that’s a little more ideal, and that’s okay. Me, I love the drama of it all and I look forward to reading the next one.

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