Medicus is what I call a 'popcorn' book: a book to pick up and settle in with for an evening's cozy reading. Entertainment value: 5 stars, but several...moreMedicus is what I call a 'popcorn' book: a book to pick up and settle in with for an evening's cozy reading. Entertainment value: 5 stars, but several months from now I'll have a hard time remembering much beyond the main characters: Gaius Petrius Ruso, a physician stationed in Brittania with the Roman army, and Tilla, the slave girl he reluctantly purchases from an abusive master. Ruso, long suffering, wry, and a humanist doomed to be forever caught up in other people's suffering despite his attempts at pragmatism, is the main entertainment here. Downie does a decent job at bringing her world to life, but the plot and various plot threads are fairly predictable.
Inevitably, I've also got to compare Medicus to Lindsay Davis's very fun and entertaining Falco series, also a detective series set in ancient Rome. I do feel that Downie has a better feel for writing from the male perspective, but Davis's Rome is more finely wrought, her plots better developed. Both series have a nice element of humor, although readers who prefer to smile rather than laugh out loud with their mysteries might be more comfortable with Downie's more character-driven style.(less)
As a writer, I've never gotten a good handle on how to plot, which is one reason why this book was such a good read for me. From the first paragraph,...moreAs a writer, I've never gotten a good handle on how to plot, which is one reason why this book was such a good read for me. From the first paragraph, Hammett launches straight into his iconic story of the corrupt town and the enigmatic and morally ambiguous loner who arrives and proceeds to blow the corruption apart, and he nevers slows the pace for inconsequentials such as giving his protagonist a name.
As readers and cinema goers, we've seen countless iterations of the enigmatic loner taking down the corrupt system, to the point where the plot seems more than a little trite, to me at least. But Hammett (who may have well launched this peculiar American slant on it) knows his characters, has a fine grasp of their psychological depths and how to mine them (even as his protagonist plays the various thugs and villians against one another to their destruction). Underneath the blood and mayhem and petty corruption, Red Harvest is a thinking person's revenge story, but Hammett keeps the plot adroitly moving at break-kneck pace through so many twists and turns, the reader barely has time to register it.(less)
**spoiler alert** I rarely start a book that I cannot finish, but this one gets two stars for that reason. Maybe my expectations were off: I was expec...more**spoiler alert** I rarely start a book that I cannot finish, but this one gets two stars for that reason. Maybe my expectations were off: I was expecting a humorous fantasy in the Terry Pratchett vein. What I got was a limp fantasy romance that I imagine the author giggled over while writing it. I rolled my eyes a lot, and got my smiles from imagining drop-kicking the heroine over the nearest cliff.
I don't mind when a fictional character behaves stupidly -- to behave stupidly is human after all. But when the author builds up a big emotional reason to send the character out on a suicidally stupid mission I expect the character to be focused on the the deed to be done, and not to be spending the next 20 pages bonding with a horse she just met.
In any case, the big emotional reason had nothing to do with the story. The real reason the heroine goes haring off into danger is apparently so the hunky hero can rescue her. Does the average romance/fantasy reader really lap this sort of thing up? I'm out of the loop.(less)
A nicely written fantasy with a standard backdrop of circa-medieval kingdoms, a beautiful princess, a heroic prince, an evil wizard, and an imminent p...moreA nicely written fantasy with a standard backdrop of circa-medieval kingdoms, a beautiful princess, a heroic prince, an evil wizard, and an imminent power struggle over succession to the throne. The twist on the familiar themes turns on the various characters themselves, especially Tymon the Black, whose reputation as the world's most evil wizard is more calculation than fact. Tymon has been gifted/cursed with The Long Look: the ability to see into the future and the burden of averting great future evils by committing smaller evils in the here and now. The book thoughtfully explores the shades of grey between the heroic blacks and whites, not only for Tymon but for the other main characters as well.
I appreciated the approach, and the characters were sympathetic and well sketched out, but the book at times felt more like an exploration into the ethics of its characters than their emotional dilemmas. A bit more angst could have gone a long way.
Still, a good read with characters I liked, and a pleasant, if understated, sense of humor throughout.(less)
Probably just me, but I found book 19 a trifle bit tired compared to earlier books in the series. Or maybe I'm ready, like Falco, to get back to Rome...moreProbably just me, but I found book 19 a trifle bit tired compared to earlier books in the series. Or maybe I'm ready, like Falco, to get back to Rome and the familiar faces there.
Still a great read, especially for those of us who work in libraries and can get vicarious laughs at the all too familiar trials and tribulations of librarians working at the Library of Alexandria. And yes, like one of the previous reviewers, I was definitely getting Hitchcockian vibes when Falco pursues one suspect to the top of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Davis has a wonderful ability to convey the sense that she's done her research on Ancient Rome and its environs, while creating characters, institutions, and situations that are all too familiar to those of us living in the 21st century.(less)
Charles de Lint is one of the major writers of what has come to be termed 'urban fantasy'. My current goal is to pick some key sf/fantasy writers and...moreCharles de Lint is one of the major writers of what has come to be termed 'urban fantasy'. My current goal is to pick some key sf/fantasy writers and read their works from earliest to most current. This might not be the brightest idea I've ever had: Many, if not most, writers grow into their work over time, particularily if they've done a large body of work.
The Riddle of the Wren (De Lint's first book in terms of when he started writing) is a case in point. It's a competently written standard coming of age type fantasy with stock elements lifted out of Tolkien and other very familiar books from the fantasy genre. The characters are sympathetic, if unrounded. The world itself seems underdeveloped as well -- the book is one of the rare fantasy novels that could stand to put on some weight.
Still, it was a pleasant light-weight summer read. (less)
A dog, a cat, and a rabbit are made into killing machines by a secret government project whose ultimate aim is to replace human soldiers on the battle...moreA dog, a cat, and a rabbit are made into killing machines by a secret government project whose ultimate aim is to replace human soldiers on the battlefield with bioengineered animals. After We3 assassinate the last "tinpot dictator" on the government's hit list, they are scheduled to be decommissioned (put down). The scientist who worked with them sets them free. The animals, who've gained a capacity to communicate on a primitive mechanistic level and a bond and willingness to protect one another, only want to go home, but the government's efforts to hunt them down result in a predictable amount of ultra-violent bloodshed.
Poignant and brutal, this graphic novel raises serious ethical questions of the extent to which we can or should be using other creatures to forestall human suffering. Amid the sadness and bloodshed there are glimmerings of decency, not only in the three pets who only want the the lives they were torn from back, but also in the humans who cross their paths.(less)
I was something of a Mercedes Lackey fan when her earliest books came out -- not a fanatical fan by any means, but I read and sought out the subsequen...moreI was something of a Mercedes Lackey fan when her earliest books came out -- not a fanatical fan by any means, but I read and sought out the subsequent Valdemar books as they came out. Somewhere along the way I moved on to other things, and the reviews on her later offerings didn't motivate me to return.
I picked up Joust recently, in part because I was looking for a book of a certain length to read at a 10-12 pages a night from mid-August through September. This turned out to be an ideal book for my purposes -- it was a pleasant enough read to keep me on track, but not riveting enough to tempt me to read more than my 10 pages.
There's actually a really good coming-of-age fantasy book somewhere in here just waiting for an aggressive editor to break it out. Lackey has done a great job creating a fantasy world set in a world much like ancient Egypt (if a little too westernized for a truly different fantasy novel).
Vetch is a serf boy rescued from oppressive servitude by one of the Great King's Jousters (dragon-riders who patrol the kingdom's borders). The novel follows Vetch as he settles into his new position as dragon-boy, learns the ropes, excels, and fixes on the idea of hatching a dragon of his own.
Not much really happens beyond that in this 384 page novel. We're treated to long passages on Vetch's duties as a dragon boy, the care and training of dragons, the duties of the Jousters, Vetch's day to day resentments, attachments, worries, and lessons learned. That all this carries the story through 384 pages is a testament to how well Lackey has developed this world and the people and dragons who inhabit it.
Unfortunately, with only three characters who have major speaking roles, the story itself wears thin. The plot's bogginess isn't helped by the author's tendency to repeat herself numerous times, or when she allows Vetch to veer off into multi-page worries that turn out to have no bearing on how the story actually turns out. A paring down of the book by about 1/5 might have helped get things moving along without sacrificing anything important.
Still, an engaging story, and the jousting dragons are interesting creatures with a believable biology. I may pick up the sequel. (less)
Sweet rendition of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Aza, a self-consciously 'ugly' girl with a lovely singing voice, makes her way from working as a ma...moreSweet rendition of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Aza, a self-consciously 'ugly' girl with a lovely singing voice, makes her way from working as a maid in her adoptive family's inn to the Royal Court of a kingdom where the people spontaneously express themselves in song as well as speech. The tale is a bit of a mish-mash of fantasy court life, goblins, trolls, and magic mirrors, and with the exception of one dark presence in the mirror, the perils awaiting the heroine never seem very threatening.
I 'read' the Full Cast Audio version of this book.(less)
I've been in the mood for a space opera for a while now, and this one fit the bill nicely. Asaro is well know for her science fiction-romances, and, n...moreI've been in the mood for a space opera for a while now, and this one fit the bill nicely. Asaro is well know for her science fiction-romances, and, not being a big romance reader, I haven't been motivated to seek out her books before this. A friend of mine however is a big fan of Asaro, plus I found a free downloadable copy on the Baen Books Free Library website, so I decided to dip into the series.
"Primary Inversion" is heavy on the space opera (cybernetic-empathic soldiers, intergalatic intrigue, space battles) and not too heavy on the romance, which suited me fine. (It's the first book in Asaro's Skolian Empire books, a series of novels set in the same universe but not all focusing on the same characters.) Soz is a kick-ass heroine, her soul-mate, Jaibrol, is engagingly sensitive, and the first and third parts of the book move along at a suitably break-neck pace. Not the kind of science fiction that turns your brain around and puts it on backwards, but good fun nonetheless.
The pseudo-science jargon gets a heavy in a few places, but since Asaro has apparently taught physics at the college level, I'll happily accept her explanations of how things in the Skolian universe work without quite understanding how it all is supposed to work. This trick in this kind of fiction is that it SOUNDS cool.(less)
I "read" this one as an Overdrive audiobook checked out from my local library.
Asaro writes both fantasy and science fiction with strong romance elemen...moreI "read" this one as an Overdrive audiobook checked out from my local library.
Asaro writes both fantasy and science fiction with strong romance elements. She's probably best known for her Skolian Empire books, an extensive series set in an interstellar empire that is beset by a power struggle between members of the Ruby Dynasty (the empathic and telepathic traditional rulers of the Skolian Empire) and the Eubian Traders (the sadistic anti-empaths).
Not all the books in the series focus on the same characters. "Catch the Lightning" is considered a stand-alone book taking place at the end of the Skolian Empire time-line.
Tina Pulivok, a young woman of Mayan descent who is scraping by as a waitress in 20th century Los Angelas, meets a very strange man on the street on her way home from work late one night. The first half of the book focuses on her attempts to understand and then to help Althor escape back to his own universe. Tina, having fallen in love with Althor, decides to accompany him. The second half of the book deals with the dangerous treacheries afoot in the Skolian Empire that set Althor off track in the first place.
Asaro has a doctorate in physics, and she is thorough in working out the ideas behind her Empire and the technology that holds it together. Clunkily thorough: I lost count of the number of times Tina (the naive narrator) launched from an "I would later learn" into a lengthy explanation of how things work in the Skolian Empire. Still the characters are sympathetic and the universe of the Skolian Empire believable.(less)