Cleaning up that TBR pile — The Fortress

The Fortress
by S.A. Jones

I requested this book from NetGalley in 2019. It sounded interesting at first glance. But every time I picked it up and had a look at the book blurb, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Reading reviews made that worse. It sounds like this: The male main character is made into a slave under the rule of women that sexually assault and abuse him, to educate him in how he should treat women. I don‘t want to read that. It doesn‘t matter who abuses whom, it‘s horrible. And an eye for an eye is not a philosophy I buy into. Finally kicking this off my shelf.

Jonathon Bridge has a corner office in a top-tier law firm, tailored suits and an impeccable pedigree. He has a fascinating wife, Adalia, a child on the way, and a string of pretty young interns as lovers on the side. He’s a man who’s going places. His world is our world: the same chaos and sprawl, haves and have-nots, men and women, skyscrapers and billboards. But it also exists alongside a vast, self-sustaining city-state called The Fortress where the indigenous inhabitants–the Vaik, a society run and populated exclusively by women–live in isolation.

  When Adalia discovers his indiscretions and the ugly sexual violence pervading his firm, she agrees to continue their fractured marriage only on the condition that Jonathan voluntarily offers himself to The Fortress as a supplicant and stay there for a year. Jonathon’s arrival at The Fortress begins with a recitation of the conditions of his stay: He is forbidden to ask questions, to raise his hand in anger, and to refuse sex.

  Jonathon is utterly unprepared for what will happen to him over the course of the year–not only to his body, but to his mind and his heart. This absorbing, confronting and moving novel asks questions about consent, power, love and fulfilment. It asks what it takes for a man to change, and whether change is possible without a radical reversal of the conditions that seem normal.

Book blurb

Another overlong epic fantasy with insects…

…just not as well-written as Tchaikovsky‘s Shadows of the Apt.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants
by Clark Thomas Carlton

In a post-apocalyptic world humans have shrunk to the size of insects and (mostly) live as parasites in ant colonies. The description drew me in, it sounded like a fascinating idea. I requested and received this from Netgalley in 2017—yes, I am very, very late. But every time I picked this up in the past and read the first few pages, it didn‘t do anything for me. This time I was committed to making a serious attempt. I read the first 2 parts, up to and including chapter 33 (48% of 600odd pages) and I am calling it a day.

I struggled with the stereotypical racism, gratuitous violence, cruelty and physical abuse in the early chapters. Humans live in a rigid caste system and are ruled by royalty and clergy. All very clichéd. Our main character Anand belongs to the lowest caste and is little more than a slave and an untouchable. To add insult to injury, he is a half-breed and dark skinned, which apparently makes him even less of a person. Yes, the “primitives” are dark skinned. Wow.

I decided to keep reading in the hopes of developing an interest in the characters, but mostly just despised them. There was no depth to the characters or any meaningful personal development. Things happen to them and they move on to different things in the story, but they don’t mature or learn—it all felt very superficial. This happened and then that happened and then something else happened and the characters remained one-dimensional. I never emotionally connected. They all just remained their own paper-cut-outs. And the changes that do happened are never really explained.

At some point our main character Anand fell in instalove and decided he wants to marry a girl from his mother’s tribe. I say instalove, because he knew her for just a moment and had barely talked to her. Oh yes, and women in this book are either pretty or not pretty enough. And the not so nice ones spend their time screeching. Wow again.

I realize that Anand‘s origin story needs to be a nasty and and socially horrible one for this all to work, but all the cruelty, violence, racism and bigotry made me uncomfortable. Not necessarily a bad thing, I get that. But here it was so arbitrary. Maybe I could have gone with it, if the writing had been better, with engaging characters and a world building that had taken care to properly explore the social and cultural background of the various nations and tribes. 

The plot idea as such was not a bad one. I am pretty sure what will happen in the second half of the book and I will dip into some of the later chapters to satisfy my curiosity. But epic fantasy like this has been done before and very well. The setting with the insects and the downsized humans is not captivating enough for me to struggle through another 300 pages of this. There is also too much telling and not enough showing, as if the author is just working through his story outline. Sorry, I have not found any redeeming features, I am not entertained. DNF, not recommended. 💣

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher/author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

PS: There are many very good reviews for this book. Don‘t take my word for it, check out some of those reviews. Who knows…

Quirky animals

Strange Animals
by Tom Jackson

Great photos of spectacular animals. The cute, the bizarre and the beautiful… The book is organized by continent and each photo is accompanied by a short explanatory text about the animal.

If you love watching nature documentaries, you will probably like this. Great fun and a nice coffee table book.

How does a mudskipper fish manage to “walk” on land? Why is the Hoatzin also known as “The Stinkbird”? And once the female Pipa toad has laid her eggs, where does she put them? The answers? The mudskipper can “walk” using its pectoral fins, the Hoatzin has a unique digestive system that gives the bird a manure-like odor, and the female Pipa toad embeds its eggs on its back, where they develop to adult stage.

From the book blurb

I should probably not post too many photographic examples, as the book isn‘t out yet. But I can’t resist to show you a few more…

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review. You will have to wait until July to get a hold of this.

@amberbooks #amberbooks

Frodo works the night shift at an Amazon warehouse

And Put Away Childish Things
by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Harry Brodie is a not terribly successful TV presenter. His grandmother though wrote very successful children’s books about fairyland. And that fairyland might be more real than Harry ever thought, when someone not quite human comes to visit. 

Very British contemporary beginning. Nice world building for this novella-sized story. Noticed the wardrobe on the book cover? Put away the childish parts in that other story and what do you get? Something less cute and darker. 

Sarcastic, amusing, with a pretty clueless MC. Enjoyable for me, pretty depressing for the story‘s characters. They were all very believable, even those of the non-human persuasion. The plot was fast and well paced. The less you know going into this, the better.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Rebellion Publishing through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review. 

Space pirates, marriage of convenience — lacking both pirate action or romance…

The Red Scholar’s Wake
by Aliette de Bodard

Space pirates, galactic empires, a marriage of convenience, sentient ships, avatars and Vietnamese-inspired culture.

I liked the two main characters, but never really connected with them emotionally or warmed up to the writing style. The story was less exciting than I had hoped and really lacked some pirate action, all things considered. Kinda mellow, with a developing relationship that lacks explanation. I could have done with backstory and intro into the Xuya Universe. The concept of the mindship is an interesting one, but I was lacking context or a touch more hard SF. As a romance this didn‘t convince me either.

I could have easily given up on this book in the first half. The second half had more action and I enjoyed it more. Not enough world building and depth. For example, who are the Ashling? It is never explained. How do the bots look and work? Why are there mind ships, how are they created? Other ship types are mentioned and I have read enough hard SF to figure out what those ships are, but it‘s never even hinted at. How and why are there so many avatars and how do they interact on a physical level? How do people project them? Where does all the tea and food come from? Why are there passengers onboard of Rice Fish? I have so many unanswered questions.

And if this is romance, it lacks chemistry between the main characters. And I don‘t get the timeline. The characters behave as if longer time passes, but the story telling doesn‘t give any indication of that. There are scenes that hint at connections made over time between characters, but you never actually experience those developments. So how can I care?

This was a buddy read and a Netgalley, which compelled me to continue reading, but I did not feel an urge to do so. Which is a shame, because I like the plot idea. But the execution felt so… lacking? Not a satisfying read. Pretty frustrating, actually.

Would I read further short stories or novellas by the author? Yes, probably. Full-length novels? Not so much. Talking of that, there is a follow-up to this book, A Fire Born of Exile. The ebook contains what looks like the first chapter. I skimmed, but will not get it. Different characters to Red Scholar.

About the author | free short stories on her website | the Hugo-award nominated Universe of Xuya

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

Here is another Blast from the Past, zooming past at light speed…

I read this one in 2016…

Miasma (Star Trek: The Original Series)
by Greg Cox

Formulaic Trek with all the usual tropes, down to the amusing banter at the end.

I would have liked a little beforehand info, where to slot this into canon. Between Final Frontier and Undiscovered Country, maybe? Based on the hints given, I would suggest only reading this after at least having seen The Voyage Home, not earlier, to avoid spoilers. 

If I ever in my life should encounter a vehicle called Galileo, I will not be getting into that doomed deathtrap!

Despite the dire circumstances the crew finds themselves in after their crash landing, the story did not build up much tension for me until the second half of it. In terms of character and plot development this felt like a much shorter story. Nothing very exciting, nothing new or unusual, nice to have for any fans of the original series.

I received this free copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

January 8, 2016 – Started Reading

January 9, 2016 – 10.0% “He had taken part in more Starfleet funerals than he cared to remember, including his own.

January 9, 2016 – 25.0% “Ok, here is my guess. Sentient fog? Don’t tell me!”

January 9, 2016 – 40.0% “One redshirt left to go…”

January 9, 2016 – 85.0% “Spock doing a Gandalf impression, nice.”

January 9, 2016 – Finished Reading

The Enterprise-A is transporting a party of diplomats when it picks up a mysterious alien signal emanating from a nearby world. The planet’s dense, impenetrable atmosphere makes it unclear if the beacon is a distress signal, an invitation—or a warning to stay away. Spock, Doctor McCoy, and Chekov are part of a team sent to investigate, but an unexpected catastrophe forces a crash landing. Now the landing party is stranded on a hostile world, unable to communicate with the Enterprise. While Captain Kirk and Saavik race to locate the lost crew, a badly wounded Spock struggles to keep McCoy and the others alive until they can be rescued, even if that means making an unthinkable sacrifice…

Goodreads blurb

Blast from the past with Kirk and Spock

Another old review, never before posted here, read in 2015…

Shadow of the Machine
by Scott Harrison

The story fits in well after the original Star Trek motion picture, the characters stay true to the original series. I liked the various plotlines, but this was too short to explore any of the themes in depth.

Spock and the Vulcans in general seem to be a bit emotional to me. And Sulu came along as pretty bland in my opinion. But I never really liked Sulu, so I might be biased. 

Generally nice character studies, with a little bit of action towards the end to liven it up.

I recommend this to fans of the original series, but it is really only a little filler and it does not add anything relevant to the Star Trek universe.

An e-novella set in the Original Series universe—taking place immediately after the events of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

After its recent encounter with V’ger, the U.S.S. Enterprise has returned to dry dock to finish its refit before commencing its second five-year mission. The crew has been granted a two-week period of shore leave before preparations for their next voyage begins. Shaken by their encounter with V’ger, Kirk, Spock, and Sulu travel to their respective homes and must reflect upon their lives—now forever changed.

Goodreads blurb

Happy Lunar New Year 2023!

Yesterday the Year of the Rabbit officially started! 新年快乐! So, apparently, for us bookish people that kicks of the trend of reading books with rabbits on the cover. I can already see it—next time I‘m at my local bookstore, all these rabbits will be looking at me and whisper „buy me, buy me!“

Let‘s have a look at my shelf of owned books, aka the Rabbit TBR! The first rabbit on my shelf is a planned re-read:

Watership Down
by Richard Adams

I read this many, many times as a teenager, pretty much once a year for a long time. It‘s been so long, I don‘t recall exactly what I loved so much about this book, perhaps it is time for a reread. Perhaps it was the imaginative world building and the strength of the character developments. Plus I am curious—I only ever read this in the German translation, never in the original. So I got a secondhand paperback last year.

The Forest God
by Jamie Lackey

This is a 82-page novella and Netgalley, that has been on my shelf since August 2020. Yes, I am very late. I don‘t remember why I requested this.

The Forest God, incarnated into the body of hare, ready to die and live again. 
The Apprentice Witch, outcast and unwanted, unsure of her path. 
The Young Lord, frivolous and rootless, inconsiderate of his duties. 

Their three souls should be bound to a cycle of death and sacrifice, responsibility and rebirth. But the bonds lie broken and shrouded in mystery. The wood remains in precarious balance for now, but the village withers. 

Only together, can they set things right.

The Psychology of Time Travel
by Kate Mascarenhas

No idea. I added this 372-page kindle to my shelf in October 2018. About time, right?

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

That was it with owned rabbits… do you hve any bunnies on your shelves?

Great story, but odd writing style and pacing

To Each This World
by Julie E. Czerneda

The inhabitants of New Earth, the first Earth colony and home to Earth‘s surviving humanity, formed an alliance with the Kmet, an alien race. They receive news about the location of some of their own colony ships, sent out 200 years previously. Humans and aliens set out to find those colonists. Bad things happen. The true state of the human-alien partnership comes under question during the course of their expedition.

The writing style took some getting used to. Colloquial speech in writing, grammar be damned.

The pacing of this book was too slow, it took me forever to get past the first third of the story. Nearly gave up. There was a lot of idling. But I was also intrigued. Struggled onto the halfway point, still thinking about abandoning it. Muddled on. An low-and-behold, it got good! Great even! The action at the end made me happy. A bit too little, too late though. I appreciate all that world-building and set-up and character development, but I also wish the first half of the book had been half as long!

I cried at the end. Twice! I can‘t give it less than 4 stars, if I cry, right? Despite everything—what a slog.

Henry reminded me of Bren Cameron, just with less dress sense. The sandals were charming though. All of Henry was charming, really. Killian grew on me. And oh my goodness, those PIPs were adorable! And Flip! Loved him. It? Yes, the willy-bits were funny, too. And yes, I would get a sequel, despite the slog. I loved the construction of the portals. More portal mechanics would have been nice.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

What’s the First Line of the First Book You’re Reading in 2023?

To Each This World
by Julie E. Czerneda

Beth Seeker cupped her hands to shade her eyes. Seared brown desert stretched to wavering distant lines that might have been hills, but you didn‘t use Human words for things in the Split.

Ok, that‘s two sentences, but the first sentence wasn‘t terribly exciting.

Why This Book: It‘s a buddy read of my favourite group on Goodreads. And I was lucky enough to get it through Netgalley. And it involves colony ships, aliens, communication—right down my alley.

The book blurb:

From an Aurora Award-winning author, a new sci-fi novel follows three intrepid humans caught up in a conflict that stretches across time and space.

Biologist Julie E. Czerneda’s new standalone science fiction novel, To Each This World follows a desperate mission to reconnect with long lost sleeper ships, sent centuries earlier from Earth to settle distant worlds.

A trio of Humans must work with their mysterious alien allies to rescue any descendants they can find on those worlds. Something is out there, determined to claim the cosmos for itself, and only on Earth will Humans be safe.

Or will they?

The challenge isn’t just to communicate with your own kind after generations have passed. It’s to understand what isn’t your kind at all.

And how far will trust take you, when the truth depends on what you are?

I am about 20% into the book now. I like it, the two humans that have been central so far, are great and likable characters. And the alien(s) is nicely wacky. However, the first few pages were a challenge. The writing style takes getting used to.

Prompt taken from