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Smashwords book reviews by LG

  • Draykon on Feb. 16, 2014

    What initially attracted me to this book was its absolutely gorgeous cover, reasonably interesting-sounding description, and decent reviews. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me, and I ended up spending maybe two months slogging through it. I wasn't a huge fan of English's writing. It was a little too flowery for my tastes and featured a massive overuse of adverbs. I became very tired of the words “rather” and “quite.” It felt like one or the other of them was used on every single page. I also became very tired of all the fantasy names – this, from someone who cut her teeth on fantasy. There were weird, almost Lewis Carroll-like names for everything, and I wasn't always sure they were necessary. I didn't need constant reminders that Draykon was set in a fantasy world. “Nivvens” could easily have been called “horses.” The same goes for many of the other things that had real-world equivalents. In some cases, the fantasy names were a little confusing. I couldn't read “whurthag” without imagining a warthog, although I'm pretty sure whurthags had more in common with big cats or other large predators. I could have put up with English's writing, however, if either the story or characters had grabbed me. That didn't happen. I liked Eva well enough, but I actively disliked Llandry. Whereas Eva was older (maybe in her forties?), competent, and usually had a good head on her shoulders (except for a few blips involving Tren), Llandry was young (20) and appeared to suffer from To Stupid To Live Syndrome. Yes, I know, she had crippling social anxiety and parents that were maybe a little too overprotective. Even so, I didn't think that completely excused her behavior. Even after she found out people were being killed for having istore, she kept a little piece of it around. She followed after Devary like a puppy, despite the fact that any idiot could see she'd only slow him down. I couldn't understand why he wasn't more angry with her when he learned she'd been following him. I mean, he was on a secret mission to deliver the last known piece of istore to someone who might be able to find out more about it. Llandry was well-known as the discoverer of istore. Having Llandry around was practically like having a giant neon sign saying “you'll probably find some istore here!” I couldn't decide whether English was trying to set up a future romantic subplot between Llandry and Devary or not. On the one hand, Llandry seemed to have a crush on Devary, even though I don't think she realized it. On the other hand, Devary's behavior towards Llandry felt more like that of an indulgent family member than a potential love interest – not surprising, since he was an old friend of Llandry's mother. At any rate, there was absolutely zero chemistry between Devary and Llandry, and I do hope that was intentional. Draykon's story didn't grab me any more than its characters did. I think it could have, if maybe 100 pages had been edited out. The occasional interesting event would happen, and then there'd be pages and pages that didn't seem to accomplish much of anything. It felt like most of the book happened in the last 60 or so pages. The story became a little more interesting to me near the end, and part of me wants to know what happens next in the series. However, I'm not nearly hooked enough to buy and slog through the next book, if it's as much of a drag to get through as this one was. Extras: The book includes a color map of the seven realms and a glossary. (Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2012/11/draykon-e-book-by-charlotte-e-english.html)
  • Tribes on Feb. 16, 2014

    After finishing The Sixth Discipline, I wanted to try something else by Buxton but didn't feel ready to read the book's sequel, No Safe Haven. I spent some time looking through descriptions, and Tribes sounded like it had one of the biggest things that appealed to me about The Sixth Discipline: an exploration of a fascinating sci-fi/fantasy culture. I was also intrigued by the bit about Jahnsi being from a fighting tribe. The cultural stuff did turn out to be really interesting. I liked finding out how everything worked, from the planet's justice system, to tribal badges, to the service every tribe member was required to do. While I found the world interesting as a whole, I particularly enjoyed the little details that showed how the tribal system affected the way native Mariposans thought and behaved. For example, Jahnsi thought of LuAnne as “the Mingo” because, to Jahnsi, a person's surname is their tribe. Also, their tribal name automatically tells others what their gender is. It wasn't necessary to specify that someone was female if you said they were a Han-Lin, so the idea that a Mingo could be male or female seemed odd to Jahnsi. Speaking of Jahnsi, I liked her. As a Han-Lin, she knew how to fight, but she wasn't a dark, gritty warrior heroine. I think that, to her, fighting was often just a job. She was very practical about it. There was always a risk of getting hurt, but she was experienced enough that she had a fairly realistic idea of what her risks were. There was one part where she decided to take on a job involving a dispute over an order of uniforms that weren't the right color. She viewed the job as a good, fairly low-risk way to earn money, because it was only going to involve hand-to-hand combat. Hob, on the other hand, was much more worried about the possibility she might get hurt. While I wouldn't call this book a sci-fi romance, it did have some romance it in. I thought Jahnsi and Hob's relationship moved at tad fast. Hob had spent his entire life as a slave, and a good chunk of that time as a sex slave. Because the drugs the other slaves were given didn't work on him, he was fully aware of everything he was made to do. Granted, Jahnsi was different – she forced nothing on him. I still thought things went a little more quickly and smoothly between them than they should have. They were a couple after maybe eleven days (or less?). LuAnne and Forest's relationship also started fairly quickly, but it was more believable to me because neither one of them had gone through the lifetime of abuse that Hob had gone through. I spent much of the book very curious about what would happen once LuAnne found Hob. Would he be willing to go to his aunt? Would he be forced to go if he wasn't? What was going to happen between him and Jahnsi? I absolutely did not expect what did happen, not even with the hints (like Hob's brain implant) that there was a little more to the situation than just an aunt looking for her long-lost nephew. I wasn't really happy with the way things developed. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but...well, it felt a little Borg-like and creepy. And the romance-loving part of me was disappointed by the ending. I suppose some people might feel that things end on a positive note for Jahnsi and Hob, but I had serious doubts that their relationship was going to last long, since there was already strong evidence that Hob felt the duties of his new life took precedence over his own wishes. I could easily imagine his aunt forcing him into an arranged marriage, and I seriously doubt Jahnsi would be willing to stand by and be his mistress. LuAnne and Forest's relationship was actually more satisfying to me than Jahnsi and Hob's – an unusual feeling for me, since I tend to identify more with younger couples in books than older ones. Hmm, what else? This is a bit spoiler-y, but I loved that Andre Ortega got what was coming to him. He was horrible. Also, I was not a fan of the number of times (two, I think?) that Hob had his ability to make choices for himself taken away from him by people he should have been able to trust. Especially considering his history as a slave, he didn't hold this against those people for nearly as long as I thought he should have. And, ugh, Jahnsi's reaction after she found out the shocker that was the identity of one of Hob's former customers. Hob didn't deserve that, although at least she realized pretty quickly she was out of line. All in all, Buxton's turning out to be a good author for me when I need a "interesting sci-fi culture" fix. Her characters sometimes act in ways that make me rage at them, but I still get a decent-to-good read overall. (Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/03/tribes-e-book-by-carmen-webster-buxton.html)
  • Feef's House on Feb. 16, 2014

    The descriptions I've seen on Goodreads and Smashwords all led me to believe that this story would focus more on the bonding process between Shadia and Feef, one of the pets Shadia regularly took care of. That didn't turn out to be the case. While the descriptions of the various pets and their individual characteristics and needs were really interesting, not much attention was paid to any one pet, at least until the disaster. Shadia didn't seem any closer to Feef than she was to Gite or any of the other pets. For me, this story was so-so. It was too brief to do much more than scratch the surface of anything. Shadia, a loner, is rarely shown interacting with anyone. A short paragraph described some of the gifts her clients gave her, and I found myself wishing that the story had continued, even just a bit, past the ending. I wanted to see her begin to make connections with others more. I felt like I barely got to know her, any of the pets, the space station, and the other residents of the station. (Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/04/feefs-house-e-short-story-by-doranna.html)
  • Fountane Of on Feb. 16, 2014

    This was different from Durgin's usual stuff. No animals, and kind of dark. Maybe darkly humorous? Augie was not a sympathetic character. To me, he seemed to be the sort who grasped at “get rich quick” schemes and thought himself clever for doing so. He didn't bother to get the LitEd (reading) education that his workplace offered because he didn't feel it was necessary. Also, he resented those who were educated and didn't want to become like them – he didn't realize it, but he judged educated people just as much as he believed they judged him. The ending was clever and tied in several things that had previously been mentioned – even the story's title served as a clue. If I had to name one complaint about the story, it would probably be that what the pills truly did was kind of...silly? That's probably not the best word for it. These pills were supposed to be future tech, but they did something that people could easily do right now if it weren't for the politics and ethical concerns. The future tech...wasn't. Anyway, I thought Durgin did well with the short story format and wasn't left feeling that Fountane Of should have been longer. (Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/04/fountane-of-e-short-story-by-doranna.html)
  • Earthrise (Her Instruments Book 1) on Feb. 16, 2014

    I first became aware of this book when several people I follow on Booklikes added it to their “planning to read” lists. The cover was gorgeous and caught my eye. While I was checking out Mindtouch, I saw Earthrise again and realized they were by the same author. I bought both of them at the same time. This book had a much stronger start than Mindtouch, and I appreciated that it had more of an actual plot. There is something addictive about Hogarth's writing, and it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll be reading more of her works. That said, I did feel that Earthrise was a slightly less enjoyable read than Mindtouch. My biggest problem with the book was Reese, who was very, very prickly. She had reason to be. She grew up on Mars and was part of a family that followed the tradition of having only girls and reproducing via artificial insemination. Her family would have preferred her to stay with them, take care of her mother in her old age, and then have a baby who would eventually take care of her. Instead, she disappointed them all by going off and captaining a merchant ship. We only see her family once in the book, but they make it clear that they're not an accepting bunch. As a result, I think Reese expects rejection more than she realizes, and so she puts up walls around herself. Thick, spiked walls. I put up with her prickliness in the beginning because I wanted to see what caused it. Also, it was clear that she was more prickly with newcomers, like Hirianthial, than long-time crew members. Maybe she'd open up more as she got to know Hirianthial, or at least stop kicking at him so much. She did make a bit of an effort to learn more about Eldritch (although reading romance novels featuring Eldritch didn't seem to be the best way to go about it), and I loved it when she defended Hirianthial from undeserved emotional abuse after tragedy befell a patient in his care. However, in the last 10% of the book, Reese behaved in ways so boneheaded that I actually cheered when her crew members bit her head off for it. She absolutely deserved it. Yes, she was in a tense, dangerous, stressful situation, but so was everyone else, and she was the only one acting like an idiot. Despite a whole book's worth of evidence that Hirianthial was stubbornly honorable and more capable than stereotypes about Eldritch might lead one to believe, she continued to insult him by implying that he might read her mind on purpose and by complaining that he was constantly in need of rescue. She had so little trust in Hirianthial, even that late in the book, that she refused to listen while he tried to quietly lead them all safely through enemy territory. My head almost exploded. While I appreciated that she later apologized to Hirianthial for what she said and did, her apology came a little late and might not even have happened had a crew member not asked her to treat him less like dirt. I really hope that, in the next book, Reese's behavior towards Hirianthial improves. I'm not sure if Reese and Hirianthial are going to be a romantic couple, but, if that's where things are going, they're off to a really crappy start. Unlike Reese, Hirianthial did soften and warm up as the book progressed. I can't remember how old Jahir, the Eldritch in Mindtouch, was, but Hirianthial felt much older, more wearied and worn down by his years. Even his physical condition made him seem older – he had arthritis in several of his joints. He was a doctor, and his greatest concern was saving others' lives, even if he ground himself down in the process. Being with the crew of the Earthrise brought him a little more back to himself, I think. One of my favorite parts of the book involved the crew members getting together to make him a thank you gift, which they then (minus Reese) braided into his hair. This book had more action and less alien culture info than Mindtouch, although there were still some nice tidbits. For example, a brand new (to me) being called a Flitzbe was introduced. Also, a sizable portion of the book took place on Harat-Sharii, the home world of the polygamous (polygynous?) Harat-Shar. The way their medical industry worked was both fascinating and horrifying. I learned a little more about Harat-Shar family groups, but I ended up with more questions than I started with. Irine and Sascha's relationship, for instance, had me doing a triple-take – like Reese, I wasn't quite comfortable with their complete lack of issues with sibling sexual intimacy, and I couldn't help but wonder what sorts of taboos the Harat-Shar had, if any. The action portions of the book were good and reminded me a bit of Joss Whedon's Firefly at times. Like Mal, Reese was perpetually short on funds and occasionally did things she wasn't entirely comfortable doing, because otherwise there was no money to keep going. At least once in this book, that bit her in the butt in a major way. Because she and her crew were primarily merchants, not fighters, they tried to talk their way out of trouble when they could. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. They could, and did, run away from trouble when possible. One of my favorite early scenes involved the use of crates of berries as accidental weapons, because the Earthrise was not equipped with real ones. All in all, this was a decent book that I would have liked a good deal more if Reese's behavior hadn't been so bad so close to the end. The storyline was fairly interesting, I liked most of the characters, and it was nice to find out a little more about the overall universe that Mindtouch had introduced me to. Some parts of the book could have been tightened up a bit, while others might have benefited from a bit more detail. For example, I would have liked to have seen and learned more about Reese's life and family on Mars, and, while the portion that took place on Harat-Sharii was interesting, I suspect it could have been shortened without hurting the story. (Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/11/earthrise-e-book-by-mca-hogarth.html)
  • Mindline on Feb. 16, 2014

    I really enjoyed Mindtouch and was thrilled when I saw that Mindline had been released. In Mindtouch, Jahir was given a choice between remaining near Vasiht'h and developing their budding mindline, or leaving his new friends and the mindline behind and accepting a residency at Mercy Hospital on Selnor. He chose to go to Selnor. Mindline picks up where Mindtouch left off. Vasiht'h has decided it was a mistake to send Jahir off on his own and has arranged to finish up as much of his education as possible through distance learning on Selnor. While he is traveling to Jahir as quickly as his limited funds allow, Jahir, unaware that his friend is coming after him, is rapidly running himself ragged. Not only is the residency program extremely difficult, Selnor's higher gravity is making every day feel like a grueling marathon. Things only get worse when a large number of mysteriously comatose patients start showing up at Mercy. I love Jahir and Vasiht'h. A lot. But it occurred to me, while I was reading this book, that they might be a bit too wonderful and nice for some readers. I think Vasiht'h's only failing in Mindline was that, when his temper finally exploded, which it only rarely did, it was hard for him to rein it in. Jahir had two main failings: he was so pretty that all humans fell a little in love with him (the stuff with Levine seemed unnecessary and repetitive after the minor incident with Berquist in the previous book), and he cared so much about others' well-being that he tended to neglect his own. I really wish the portion of the book in which Jahir was killing himself hadn't dragged on for so long – it made for painful reading. Everyone around Jahir and Vasiht'h liked them or learned to like them. That didn't bug me, because I liked them too – sometimes I found myself reading with an involuntary smile on my face. What got to me was other characters' comments about their education/professional development. Jahir literally almost killed himself trying to save patients, even after it became clear that they could not be saved. I'd have thought he'd be censured for not recognizing his own physical limitations and for running the risk of turning himself into another patient in need of care or, worse, a corpse. Instead, he was later praised for his dedication. When Jahir and Vasiht'h scheduled therapy sessions on their own after their faculty oversight canceled all their official appointments, I expected they'd be censured for doing something that could have potentially been dangerous or unethical (they were only student therapists, after all). And yet the same thing happened to them that happened to Jahir on Selnor: they were praised, told that there was no more they could be taught, and sent on their way. I would love to get a medical professional's perspective on this book, because this all seemed pretty dodgy to me. Jahir and Vasiht'h were wonderful, nice people, a solid (asexual) couple, and students who were praised by every single teacher and patient they encountered. So, yes, they were more than a bit perfect. I can recognize that. But I loved them anyway, when I didn't want to throttle them for trying to kill themselves for the benefit of others. Mindline had fewer lovely, intimate moments than Mindtouch, but there were still some good ones. I enjoyed the hair cutting scene, and their negotiations over the details of owning their first apartment together. Their mindline added a new dimension to their relationship, allowing them to share memories and tastes. The other characters in the book were, unfortunately, not quite as vivid as Jahir and Vasiht'h. I kept getting several of them mixed up. Paga, a Naysha (aquatic Pelted) and one of Jahir's physical therapists, was the most memorable of the bunch. The structure of this book was odd. The first two thirds were a medical mystery of sorts, while the last third was quieter and, like Mindtouch, more focused on Jahir and Vasiht'h finishing up their schooling and trying to figure out what they were going to do with their lives. I had assumed that the epidemic of comatose patients would take up the entire book. Moving from the first two thirds into the last third was jarring, like stumbling from one story into another. I think, if that transition had been smoothed out, I'd have enjoyed the book even more than I did. Overall, I liked this book. Jahir and Vasiht'h are, so far, my absolute favorite of Hogarth's creations, and, as usual, I enjoyed how alien culture was worked into the story. It's too bad this is a duology – I'd love a third book focused on the early days of setting up their own practice. Extras: At the beginning of the book, there's a brief glossary. At the end of the book, there's a recipe for Almond Saucer cookies. (Originally posted: http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/12/mindline-e-book-by-mca-hogarth.html)
  • Mindtouch (The Dreamhealers 1) on March 18, 2014

    I'm still on the lookout for decently written romantic stories featuring at least one asexual character. This was tagged with “asexual” in Smashwords. There was no guarantee it contained any romance, but the cover art looked good and I liked the excerpt well enough, so I decided to give it a shot. This is, I think, the first time I've purchased something through Smashwords without having at least read a freebie by the author, so it was a bit of a risk. I'm happy to say that it turned out to be a risk worth taking. Despite its incredibly frustrating ending. There are several reasons I should not have liked this book as much as I did. - There were occasional things about the writing that bothered me, such as a few instances of two characters speaking within a single paragraph. - I had no clue how to mentally pronounce Vasiht'h's name, which also made it hard for me to remember what his name was. In my notes, he was V. - Several terminally ill children were prominent minor characters. I dislike reading books that are guaranteed to make me cry, and there were lots of warning signs that I would be crying at some point. (Slight spoiler related to this included in the original review on my blog.) - I had trouble taking the Pelted seriously at first, figuring they were just something that Hogarth dumped into her world because Yay Furries! I mean, there was Vasiht'h, a mammal with eight limbs (four legs, two arms, and two wings). Hogarth won me over, though. The Pelted turned out to have a rich history (and icky origins) that had an effect on how certain characters thought and behaved. - I had no clue what kind of story this was going to be. Neither the description nor the one review I read told me much. For the longest time, even while I was reading the book I had no idea what its focus was and what sort of ending it might be working towards. But I liked it anyway, mostly because I liked Jahir and Vasiht'h a lot. Like I said, not much really happened. Jahir and Vasiht'h went to class, worked on papers and assignments, went out for ice cream and other goodies together, and occasionally visited a group of sick children at the hospital. There was no villain, but there were plenty of absolutely lovely conversations. The focus was mostly on Jahir and Vasiht'h's budding friendship and their struggles to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. Reading Mindtouch sometimes felt more like checking up on a couple friends than like reading a story. Except real life goes on and on, and stories are supposed to have an actual ending. It took a while, but I did eventually start to see what Mindtouch was working towards. Fairly early on, maybe around the 20% mark, I started noticing signs that there might eventually be some asexual romance between Vasiht'h and Jahir. As the story progressed, those signs became clearer. For several reasons, there was absolutely nothing sexual about their relationship and how they interacted, but the level of intimacy between them was so high that when, for instance, they exchanged gifts on Maker's Day, a Pelted holiday, I actually blushed a little. I loved how homey they were together. Jahir did their shopping while Vasiht'h did most of their cooking. Jahir noticed that Vasiht'h liked to bake when he was upset, so he shopped accordingly, without having to be asked. Little things like that made me smile. As Jahir and Vasiht'h grew closer, they also had to make more decisions about their futures and what they were going to do with their xenopsychology degrees, and that's where some of the conflict came in. They both had reasons for choosing the paths they chose, but those paths weren't necessarily good for them and also had a high probability of forcing them apart after graduation. I wanted so badly to jump into the book and shout, “You're both making the wrong choices! Stop it!!!” Unfortunately, at some point I started reading this book like it was a romance that happened not to have any sex in it. Maybe if I hadn't done that, then the ending wouldn't have upset me so much. Or maybe not. At any rate, the book ended juuust before the point where a romance novel would have ended. I felt like I'd smacked into an invisible wall only a few feet away from the finish line. Since Book 2 doesn't even have a release date yet, my only consolation is that Hogarth has written several short stories starring Jahir and Vasiht'h. Those will have to do, I guess, but I really hope Book 2 comes out sometime in 2014. Extras: A glossary and a recipe for kerinne, a drink Vasiht'h enjoyed. I wish I had known about this recipe back when I was on meds that I needed to take with fatty foods – it would have been perfect. Now, though, it sounds horrifyingly rich. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • The Runaway Roommate on March 18, 2014

    This is one of the two books I read and finished during my vacation. I remember being annoyed by several aspects of it while I was reading it, but my overall feelings upon finishing were more “meh” than rage-y. However, organizing my notes in order to write this review really highlighted for me just how many things I disliked about this book. I suppose I'll talk about the good aspects first and ease into the rest. I downloaded this because it was free and because the “Kdrama” bit in the series title caught my eye. In the end, the most prominent K-drama-related aspects were the italicized bits at the beginning of every chapter, which featured Casey and her friends talking as they watched K-dramas. K-drama titles were rarely (never?) used, but, even with my limited experience, I think I was able to identify a few of them. I wish Mae had included some kind of guide at the end that identified specific shows referred to in the book, but, even without definitive answers, it was still fun trying to guess them. Casey's “voice” was relatively likable, despite the fact that she occasionally said things that made me raise an eyebrow. For example, I thought it was more than a bit hypocritical to state that she didn't support game piracy but did think it was okay for her and her friends to get bootleg K-dramas. Her reasoning was that K-dramas are hard or impossible to find in America, which made me immediately check to see when this was published: 2012. While I think legal, English-subtitled DVDs may still be somewhat difficult to get, I know of several legal sources of streaming K-dramas. Dramafever, for example, went live in 2009. The romance aspect of the book was incredibly bland. There were really only two obstacles between Casey and David: David's girlfriend and Casey's supposed lack of attractiveness. The issue of David's girlfriend was essentially dealt with 9% into the book, as David mentioned that he felt Shannon was too high maintenance. It was inevitable that he would break up with her. As far as Casey's attractiveness went, David seemed to like her right from the get-go. The problem was that Casey was an Unhappy Fat Person. One of her best friends commented disapprovingly about Casey's choice of pizza over her own choice of grilled chicken salad without dressing. She referred to herself as a "dumpy slob" who was four sizes heavier than she used to be a few years ago. Her status as an Unhappy Fat Person essentially cost her a promotion – she didn't have the self-confidence and enthusiasm her boss was looking for. Even though Casey's boss never mentioned her weight, Casey's self-confidence and enthusiasm plummeted around the same time she gained weight. Plus, Casey herself brought her weight to my mind by mentioning that her boss was "supermodel thin" and basically the exact opposite of her in every way. It wasn't until later in the book that further context was given. Casey became depressed after her boyfriend moved out, moved away, and dumped her in a note he left behind. She no longer enjoyed running, and she stopped doing all the healthy living stuff her boyfriend had convinced her to start doing. I initially expected the romance to develop either after Casey lost weight and started eating healthy again, or while she was in the process of doing those things, so it was a surprise when David showed clear signs of interest only a quarter of the way into the book. Had she not doubted her own attractiveness (because Unhappy Fat Person), the two of them might have gotten together much sooner. Casey never did go back to the lifestyle she had while dating her old boyfriend, but she did get back into running. It was framed as her getting back into doing something she enjoyed rather than as an activity she was doing in order to lose weight, which was nice. On the minus side, although weight loss was never mentioned in numbers, one of her friends did comment that she was gaining some attractive “curves” and asked her if she was dieting. Also, Casey and David didn't have sex until after this weight loss, so there was still an element of “sex and romance are for thinner heroines only.” Whereas the Unhappy Fat Person stuff wasn't in the book's description and took me by surprise (if that's supposed to be Casey on the cover, she doesn't look much like a "dumpy slob" to me), I suspected right from the start that I might have problems with the whole “half-Korean hottie” aspect. The book could have benefited from chapters or sections from David's perspective, or more scenes involving David and his mother, anything to make him seem more like a complete human being. Because that, combined with some of what Casey and her friends said in the italicized bits at the beginning of each chapter, made it seem like David's biggest draw for Casey was that he half-Korean and good-looking. On-page interaction with David was generally pretty superficial. His mother came by maybe once, and of course she and Casey instantly got along because Casey liked the Korean food she'd brought and they both liked K-dramas. Again, just superficial stuff. There wasn't much detail about David's family life, his work, his goals, anything. This is one of those times when the process of writing a review for a book might have actually lowered my opinion of it. At any rate, there are currently two more books in this series, but I have no plans to continue on. Extras: At the end of the book, there's a note from the author about Korean dramas. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • The Sixth Discipline on March 18, 2014

    I found this book to be kind of slow-paced, but still decent. The main thing keeping me from buying the sequel, No Safe Haven, is residual anger at Ran-Del and, to a certain extent, Francesca. More on that below. In the first third of the book, readers learn about city dweller and Sansoussy culture through the eyes of characters who know as little as they do. Although Ran-Del has been kidnapped, Stefan wants him to come to like living in the city, so he's perfectly willing to answer whatever questions Ran-Del may have. Then, when Francesca stays briefly with Ran-Del's people, she gets to ask basic questions about Sansoussy life. I appreciated that neither city dweller life nor Sansoussy life was depicted as wholly “good” or “bad,” although it seemed like the book paid more attention to the nitty gritty details of Sansoussy life than it did city dweller life. While I liked Ran-Del and Francesca's question-and-answer sessions at first, I eventually got to the point where I wished Buxton had incorporated information about the different cultures into the story more smoothly. I was happy when the story moved on to its next big phase, Ran-Del and Francesca's marriage. Unfortunately, that part became increasingly frustrating and stressful for me, to the point that I checked whether there was a sequel just so I could find out whether Ran-Del and Francesca were still married by the end of the book without actually looking at the last few pages. When I first started reading the book, I felt more sympathy for Ran-Del than any of the other characters. I gradually grew to like Francesca, though. She did what she could to make it easier for Ran-Del to get back to his people, and I loved that, when things started to get a little steamy between her and Ran-Del, she stopped things enough to give Ran-Del an opportunity to decide whether he really wanted to go further (Sansoussy people only have sex after marriage, so Francesca was more sexually experienced than Ran-Del). I couldn't imagine Francesca and Ran-Del getting married and actually being happy together, but I did come to like and sympathize with them both. After they made their marriage 100% binding for both their cultures, things changed, and I began to get more and more frustrated and annoyed with Ran-Del and Francesca, but mostly with Ran-Del (I can't reveal my reasons for getting upset with Francesca without including a spoiler, so I'm just not going to go into that bit). Ran-Del had made such a big deal about Sansoussy marriages, and how Francesca needed to realize that she couldn't sleep with other men, and how he of course would never even think of sleeping with any woman but her. And then he proceeded to spend a lot of time with Janis, a woman who he knew was interested in him and didn't care that he was married. He got angry when Francesca felt jealous, conveniently forgetting that, unlike him, Francesca couldn't read his emotions and know for a fact that he wasn't cheating on her. There were a few times I came very close to hating Ran-Del for the way he handled the situation between himself, Janis, and Francesca. I wasn't sure what sort of ending the book was moving towards – since this was a science fiction novel, and not romance, a happy ending wasn't guaranteed. Although the description of the sequel told me that Ran-Del and Francesca would still be married by the end of the book, I couldn't imagine how Buxton would make me believe in the longevity of their relationship. I didn't really want them to stay together, but I didn't know how Francesca would deal with the threats against the House of Hayden without the aid of Ran-Del's special abilities. Surprisingly, Buxton did manage to convince me that Ran-Del and Francesca's marriage could work. I wish the deciding moment hadn't come so late in the book, and I wish I could believe that Ran-Del and Francesca would handle future bumps in their relationship better. If I do get the sequel, it will be some time from now, because the idea of reading more about the two of them still stresses me out a little. I loved the book's exploration of two very different cultures, and I liked both Francesca and Ran-Del as individuals, but as a couple they were kind of nerve-wracking. I might take a look at some of the other books Buxton has written, instead. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • Shades of Empire on March 18, 2014

    What attracted me to this book was the author's description of it – multiple interesting-sounding characters whose paths intersect, plus lots of potential for political intrigue. Sadly, although it did turn out to be an interesting read, it's probably my least favorite of Buxton's works so far. The main reason for that? Two words: rape fatigue. One male character was raped, but, for the most part, women had it worse. In this book, if you were female, you were probably either raped or threatened with rape. On-page rape was relatively rare and I don't recall any of it being graphically described. There were just so many references to rape, period. A woman in the Emperor's harem who tried to run away was raped by a monster as punishment. Antonio, the Emperor's son, wasn't fit to be around human beings – not only was he a rapist, he was an incestuous rapist. Maddy, the captain of a merchant spaceship, was threatened with rape by one of her crew members. Girls in villages like the one Alexander, one of the Emperor's Own Corps of Guards, grew up in all lived with the threat of rape and were sometimes scarred by their own parents in an effort to avoid being captured and put to work as prostitutes. The list goes on. It probably didn't help that I started reading this shortly after I stalled on the first season of Game of Thrones, outraged that the writers had inserted rape scenes where the book had had none. Moving on. The book takes a while to get going, and I thought the second half was more interesting that the first. By the second half, all the players were finally in motion and (mostly) had all their cards on the table for readers to see. There were several storylines, but they all tied together in one way: could the Emperor be overthrown without throwing the Empire into complete chaos or putting someone worse in his place? Readers got a look at the players involved in pretty much every aspect of the conflict: the rebels, those aiding the rebels, and the Imperial family. The various storylines could, for the most part, be mapped to the book's various romantic relationships. Initially, my favorite romantic couple was Maddy and Thad, because of all that lovely romantic tension brewing just under the surface. When they became an actual couple (sort of), I grew less interested in them and eventually came to prefer Peter Barranca and the mystery woman he was required to sleep with in order to hide the fact that his marriage was a sham. In general, Peter was my favorite character, and probably another reason why I preferred the second half of the book to the first. Although having all those characters in the book meant that readers had lots of “favorite character” and “favorite hated character” options, one drawback was that the characters weren't explored in the kind of depth I would have liked. I felt like I knew many of the characters in only a surface-level kind of way, with Alexander being one of the biggest exceptions. I understood Cassandra a little better near the end of the book, after she told Alexander a little about how the way she grew up affected her, but I would have liked to have had more of that earlier on. Antonio, Vinitra, and Paznowski were other characters I would have liked to understand better. Okay, so Antonio was a human cesspool, but was he always that way? He was clearly worse than his father. Vinitra was unbelievably passive and so bent to Antonio's will that she might as well have been his puppet. How did Antonio manage to warp her that badly, considering that the Empress did everything she could to stand in his way? And Paznowski. There was an attempt to explain him and his devotion to Antonio, but I didn't buy it. He seemed too smart to put himself under the thumb of a guy like Antonio. It didn't help that I couldn't wrap my brain around the idea of a relatively undamaged person being at all attracted to a guy like Antonio. I actually expected more intrigue and betrayal than I got – for a good chunk of the book, I steeled myself for either Vinitra or Paznowski, or both, to suddenly reveal that they weren't as devoted to Antonio as they seemed. With Vinitra, I think I was hoping she'd become something less pitiful. Paznowski was just a disappointment. He was far more cunning than Antonio, and the way his story ended was a huge waste of potential. The ending is written as being a primarily happy one. I kind of wish there had been a “X years in the future” ending that at least showed the fate of the empire, since I wasn't convinced that its many years of corruption had truly ended. The way the various couples' romances were resolved worked for me, though, even when they were resolved in a more open-ended way. Other Comments: - I really, really could have done without Antonio and Vinitra's on-page sex scene. It was definitely a brain bleach moment. - Although her sexual "policies" weren't my cup of tea, some readers may find Maddy's views on sex to be refreshing. She feels free to have sex as often as she likes, and what happens in the bedroom doesn't need to affect what happens at work. For example, she can have sex with a crew member one day and reprimand him for screwing up on the job the next. She's consistent enough that no crew member expects her to behave otherwise. - Those who are particularly sensitive towards representations of autistic characters may have issues with parts of the beginning of the book. I've only ever met a couple autistic people, so I'm not the best judge, but I was bothered that several characters seemed to equate "stupid" with "autistic," even after they said they didn't. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • Kei's Gift (Darshian Tales #1) on March 18, 2014

    Just based on the number of times I've seen it recommended, I think this might be Somerville's best-loved book. I've owned it for a while and decided I was finally in the mood to read it. When I start reading e-books, I usually dive right in without bothering to check their descriptions or genres. I thought at first that this was m/m fantasy romance. Sixty pages in, I decided I needed to reset my expectations, because Kei and Arman hadn't even met yet. Plus, the book's earliest (and, for the next several hundred pages, only) sex scenes involved Kei and Arman with other people. Now that I've read the whole thing, I think it might best be called fantasy (epic fantasy?) with strong m/m romantic aspects. Arman is a general in the Prijian Empire, ordered to begin the invasion of northern Darshian – the Prij have already conquered southern Darshian. Kei is a healer in the small village of Ai-Albon, in northern Darshian. Both men view each others' peoples as savages. To Kei, the Prij are greedy, war-like, and stupidly superstitious. To Arman, the Darshianese are simple, weak, and inferior. With time, they might even be grateful to their Prijian invaders, once they learn how superior the Prijian Empire is. When Kei is made one of the Darshianese hostages and assigned to be a slave in Arman's household, the two men gradually learn more about each other and even become friends. However, they're still on opposite sides of a war, and their friendship is a fragile and complicated thing. Kei's people have good cause to hate Arman's, and Arman's people have the power of life and death over the Darshianese hostages. I am the kind of person who stresses out over the lives of characters I care about. This book stressed me out so much, and there were times when I had to take a break because I was afraid to see how things were going to turn out. For readers who are like me, here's a bit of reassurance: yes, the ending is a happy one. Although I called this fantasy fiction, the fantasy aspects are very light. The Prijian Empire and Darshian both have what appears to be a fairly high percentage of infertile people, so both societies are very concerned with fertility and successful births. Among the Darshianese, some of these “infertiles” have gifts, like being able to move things with their minds or speak telepathically. The Prij view tales of Darshianese gifts as fantastic stories. At least in this book, no Prijian infertiles are gifted. This is a very long, slow-paced book, and it takes a while for events to move forward. Sometimes I noticed the length and felt vaguely like certain parts of the story could have been condensed, and sometimes I sank into the story and barely noticed how long it was. I was a little impatient with how long it took for Arman and Kei to finally meet, but I appreciated their slow-building relationship. At the time Kei was forced to be a part of Arman's household, Arman was filled with grief and hatred. Their friendship and the eventual hints of attraction they felt for each other were complicated by their respective positions. It was wonderful, intense, emotional stuff. I'm a fan of slow-developing relationships and romance, and this book gave me that in spades. There were times when the story went outside my comfort zone. For example, the relationship between Kei, Reji, and Arman bothered me for a while. When reading romance, I prefer it when the characters are emotionally and physically involved with one person. After Kei and Arman became a couple, I wasn't sure how things were going to go. Early on, some of Reji's comments made me think that he was perhaps more content to have a long-term relationship with Kei than Kei realized, and I dreaded the “break up” scene. It went better than I expected, but it bothered me that Kei viewed Reji as the lover he no longer had sex with and Arman as the lover he did. I saw it as unfair to both Reji and Arman, although they mostly seemed fine with that setup. I wanted Reji to be able to move on, and I wanted Arman to know he had a lover who cared for him and would never leave him for someone else. After the years Arman spent married to Mayl, I felt he needed that. All of this was dealt with in a way that worked better for me by the end, but, like everything else, it took a while. Lots of things went more smoothly than I would have expected. This is not exactly a complaint, but I did spend a good portion of the book expecting horrible things that never happened. I tensed up before Kei's “break up” with Reji, before the trial at Ai-Darbin, and all throughout the events at the end. I won't say that everything was resolved easily, but it did all go much more smoothly than I expected, which left me feeling kind of...disappointed? Which is weird, because it's not like I wanted the characters to suffer more. Probably my biggest complaint about this book was how black-and-white some things were. The Prijian Empire was warlike, superstitious, and arrogant. I struggle to think of a single good to say about it. Kei, a hostage and slave, had no reason to like it, and even Arman didn't seem to like anything about his home country besides Loke, his friend and servant, and Karus, his teacher. Darshian, meanwhile, was positively presented. It wasn't 100% perfect, but it was definitely better than the Prijian Empire, to the point that several Prij wanted to move there by the end. I had similar issues with the way Mayl was depicted. At first, I thought she might end up being a more nuanced character. I thought her and Arman's marriage had started off well and then soured, but later it was confirmed that Arman had dreaded his marriage to Mayl right from the start. There was never any attempt to present motivations for her behavior, beyond “she's a horrible person.” Considering the very balanced way in which Arman was characterized, this bugged me. I didn't necessarily need Mayl to be likable, I just wanted her not to be such a flat character. All in all, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of this series. I loved these characters and am a little sad that Book 2 jumps 16 years into the future, but I'm hoping that the focus on Karik will allow for a more balanced look at both Prijian and Darshianese societies. Additional Comments: This was not an error-free book. There were occasional typos and missing words. They came up often enough that I felt I should mention it, but not so often that they interfered with my enjoyment of the story. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • Rose Point (Her Instruments 2) on March 23, 2014

    Yes, I'm still on a Hogarth glom. Rose Point is the second book in Hogarth's Her Instruments trilogy. Although it has its problems, I think it's even better than the first, and I will snatch up the third book when it comes out. While visiting a horse-crazy colony on Kerayle, Hirianthial learns that he has a terrifying new power: he can kill people with his mind. He heads back to his homeworld for what help his people can give him, and Reese and the rest of the crew of the Earthrise accompany him, determined to support him in any way possible. However, the Eldritch homeworld has problems of its own. Liolesa, the Eldritch queen, has been scheming for centuries in an effort to keep her people's own xenophobia from killing them, and she had decided that the crew of the Earthrise will be perfect for her next move. For much of the Kerayle portion of the book, Reese was, disappointingly, the same distrustful woman she was at the end of Earthrise. Her transformation into a more accepting character seemed very sudden and was so complete that even her own crew members were shocked. I'd have preferred it if the shift had been more gradual and had featured more attempts on Reese's part to recognize she was being an idiot and to talk to Hirianthial about what it was that was bothering her. That said, I was glad for the shift in her behavior. Hirianthial was already damaged enough from the treatment he received while he was a captive on Kerayle. Had Reese further abused him, I might never have been able to forgive her. Her behavior was perfect. Instead of freaking out that his condition was probably making it impossible for him not to read her mind, she focused on making sure that the thoughts he received were happy ones. For the first time, she did good things for him without having to be told to do them. She was the one who asked the twins to talk to him, and she spearheaded the plans to keep him from leaving for his homeworld without them. And can I just say this? I'm so very glad that, when Reese found Hirianthial naked and nearly in shock (one of his captors had been about to rape him), there was not one moment when she had to struggle with thoughts of how hot he was. I have read way too many books and stories in which some male character sees an unconscious and naked woman and notices her lovely face, beautiful breasts, or some other such nonsense (the best example I can think of right now: Allie Ritch's Mating Season). Reese's biggest concerns were getting him to safety and making sure she didn't hurt him any more than he'd already been hurt. Yay for not being creepy. It was nice to revisit the Eldritch homeworld, after getting to see it once in Hogarth's Family. On the one hand, the Eldritch were these beautiful, courtly beings (with dialogue to match, so expect to see things like “prithee,” “for sooth,” and “verily”). On the other hand, all that beauty was a gloss over the truth: the Eldritch are dying out. The horses they depend upon are badly inbred, they have no medical technology to speak of, and many of the Houses are unable to feed their tenants. The Alliance and other colonies have everything necessary to save them, but first they have to overcome their own xenophobia. It's not necessary to have read Family in order to understand the problems the Eldritch are facing – in fact, I think Rose Point did a better job of explaining what was going on and how the Eldritch had managed to survive so far. Reese and her crew knew even less about how the Eldritch lived than Vasiht'h did, but, working together, they figured out an awful lot in a short amount of time. Their theories, along with Liolesa's talks with Hirianthial, laid everything out pretty nicely and did a good job of communicating just how dire the situation was for the Eldritch. Unfortunately, there is a lot of talking and not a lot of showing. I still don't entirely understand how commoner Eldritch live, and I'm still left with the feeling that the Eldritch are composed mostly of nobles and their servants. Even so, the stuff about Eldritch noble life was interesting. Reese had to learn a little about how to behave in order to be officially presented in court, and the rules about who could touch each other and how were fascinating. Plus, those details provided an opening for Moments between Reese and Hirianthial. I got the feeling, in the previous book, that Hogarth was working towards romance between the two of them. I was not entirely on board with this. One, Hirianthial got along with just about every other Earthrise crew member better than he did with Reese. Two, Reese seemed determined to insult Hirianthial at every opportunity. She complained about the number of times he had to be saved (even during a scene in which she was being saved by him), and she accused him of reading her thoughts, on purpose, without her permission. This was still the state of their relationship at the beginning of Rose Point. It changed, like flipping a light switch, to something lighter and more friendly, after Hirianthial's kidnapping. Hirianthial and this new Reese fit together much better, and I enjoyed the little signs that romance was developing between them (I loved the “Hirianthial is a single-dagger man” scene and the part where Hirianthial meets Reese after she's been dressed for court). However, this brings me back to my wish that Reese's...growth? maturation? mellowing?...had happened more gradually. I kept expecting the old Reese to reappear and flinch away from Hirianthial on the assumption that he was reading her private thoughts. Reese's thoughts and behavior didn't always seem consistent, and I groaned when she made a few incredibly reckless promises near the end. As much as she likes the Eldritch homeworld, she knows absolutely nothing about horses. Also, for all she knew, Kerayle had been overrun by pirates and all its horses had been killed. It didn't very smart for her to be promising to breed horses for the Eldritch. Unless one assumes she's going to end up with Hirianthial, who has hundreds of years of horse-breeding experience... You know, I feel like every time I review something that I enjoyed but still had problems with, I end up sounding like I hated it. I'm not sure how to fix that without still noting the things that didn't work for me quite as well, so I'm just going to say this: I did enjoy this, and I think it's probably one of the best books by Hogarth I've read so far (although I'm still more of a Jahir/Vasiht'h fangirl!). I'm crossing my fingers that the conclusion to the trilogy will be satisfying. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • The Case of the Poisoned House and Other Xenopsychiatric Studies on March 23, 2014

    I hate writing reviews for collections of short stories or, in this case, vignettes. I'm never sure how I should tackle them. Oh well, I'll do my best. Jahir and Vasiht'h have a unique way of working – they can see and affect their clients' dreams. This was a technique Vasiht'h pioneered in Mindtouch, so it was nice to see it fully figured out and in use. Some of the vignettes were funny, some were quietly reflective, and some were sad. They dealt with a Phoenix client who refused to sleep in their office because they didn't have an appropriate bed. They dealt with a Harat-Shar client who was there mostly because she thought Jahir was good-looking (Vasiht'h referred to events that took place in school – did he mean the human nurse in Mindtouch who had a crush on Jahir?). Not all of their cases were easy or successful. When their work drained or upset them, they looked to each other for comfort. The little glimpses of the homey behaviors I liked so much in Mindtouch were nice, although, like everything else in this collection, they were very brief and not quite satisfying. The longest and most short story-like entry in the collection was “The Case of the Poisoned House.” In that one, they dealt with a Harat-Shar client who'd been adopted by Hinichi parents when she was five. After their mother's death, her Hinichi brother, concerned for her, sought out Jahir and Vasiht'h. Jahir and Vasiht'h spent most of the story trying to figure out what the root of their client's problems was. Had she been on Harat-Sharii too long and unconsciously come to expect love to be demonstrated in the way a Harat-Shar would? Their biggest clue was their client's dream, in which she desperately cleaned a house in an effort to find the poison that was killing her but not affecting her Hinichi family. It was an interesting case, but it ended too abruptly – I would have liked to see how treatment turned out. This story had me wondering about how Harat-Shar raise their children – there were a few mentions of this in Earthrise, but they either weren't very clear or I just had a block where Harat-Shar culture was concerned. I agonized over buying this, because, at $1.99 for 9,690 words, it cost more than I would usually pay for something so short. I hit the “buy” button mostly because I loved Jahir and Vasiht'h in Mindtouch and knew this was going to feature them. The verdict, now that I've read it: it's nice, but definitely overpriced. Even if it were cheaper, I don't know that I would recommend it to anyone who hadn't already read Mindtouch and fallen in love with Jahir and Vasiht'h. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • The Snow Maiden, or the Case with the Holiday Blues on March 23, 2014

    This was more along the lines of what I was hoping for when I read The Case of the Poisoned House and Other Xenopsychiatric Studies. Whereas that collection was nice but ultimately unsatisfying, this felt like a full a complete offering. What can I say, vignettes just don't do it for me. The word count is skimpy, but at least it's all devoted to a single story. In this case, Jahir and Vasiht'h have been hired to help Lieutenant Commander Nisia Baker, a Seersa who's in charge of the environmental control for an entire starbase. Unfortunately, she may be buckling under the pressure. She's having trouble staying motivated, and depression is setting in. Jahir and Vasiht'h are limited in what they can do for her, because, for security reasons, no one can know what her job is unless they have the proper clearance. Jahir and Vasiht'h do almost none of the things they usually do when working with clients. Although they spend some time talking to Nisia in order to figure out what's bothering her, they don't use their dream therapy technique at all. Instead, they get creative. They manage to involve the entire starbase in Nisia's treatment and, at the same time, avoid revealing her job and responsibilities to anyone who's not supposed to know. The way they did it seemed a little far-fetched – I'm not sure it'd be possible for something like that to work that quickly and effectively. Then again, who knows? People latch onto stuff that sounds good all the time. At any rate, it was a nice little holiday story – probably the closest thing to a Christmas story I'll read for a while, since I'm one of those people who burns out on Christmas quickly, due to it appearing everywhere earlier and earlier in the year. While I still think Mindtouch is the best of the Jahir and Vasiht'h works I've read so far, this was still a good story. Also, unlike The Case of the Poisoned House (etc.), I think it could potentially work for newbies to Hogarth's Pelted Universe. It barely touches on information about the Pelted or Eldritch and, for the most part, doesn’t really need to. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • Family on March 23, 2014

    After reading several Jahir and Vasiht'h short stories and vignettes, I was happy to see that this was novella-length – I seem to like Hogarth's longer works more. Jahir and Vasiht'h have now been working together for 10 years or so. Their partnership is a comfortable one, but, because of the Veil and Eldritch xenophobia, there are lots of things Jahir has never been able to tell Vasiht'h. In Family, this changes. One of Jahir's cousins is getting married, and Jahir's mother specifically asked that Vasiht'h come with him as a guest. Aliens are not welcome on the Eldritch homeworld, but Jahir figures his mother has her reasons, so he and Vasiht'h set off to attend the wedding. Like Vasiht'h, I was excited at the thought of finally getting to see the Eldritch homeworld. All I knew for sure was that it would be technologically backward – no showers, horses used for transportation, no medical technology to speak of. I figured that meant it'd be some kind of pseudo-Middle Ages Europe. Life in the Galare manor was much like I expected it to be. There were a few mentions here and there of servants, although I never got to learn as much about them as I would have liked. The real surprises came when Vasiht'h visited a town near the manor. It was...worse that I expected. While this new information certainly put Jahir's desperation to leave his homeworld and learn something that might help his people in a new, starker light, my suspension of disbelief was strained. I honestly don't understand how Eldritch civilization has survived for as long as it has, and I'm still not sure I can wrap my brain around what an Eldritch commoner's life must be like. The primary reason I picked Family up was because of Jahir and Vasiht'h and, in that area, I was rewarded. Their relationship in Mindtouch was, for the most part, amazingly smooth and easy. The events in this novella put more strain on their relationship than I've seen in any other work they've been in. First, there were Vasiht'h feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment around most of the other Eldritch. He didn't know how to act, he didn't know what they were saying unless he was near enough to Jahir to make use of their mindline, he was under-dressed compared to them, and his very existence was looked down upon. Second, Jahir himself made Vasiht'h feel awkward. He was painfully aware of Jahir's wealth and status, in a way he'd never been before. Third, there was a lot going on that Jahir hadn't given Vasiht'h any warning about, and Vasiht'h being there made some of it worse. And fourth, there were repeated reminders that Jahir would likely outlive Vasiht'h by hundreds of years. Vasiht'h was forced to think about their partnership in the long term and how he wanted things to go past the point of his own death. Some of this was stuff that had occurred to Vasiht'h before, but that he hadn't sat down and really thought about, and some of it came as a shock. In any case, all of it kept Vasiht'h unsteady, and Jahir couldn't do much to help him and comfort him, because he was busy being an Eldritch noble about to attend a wedding scattered with political eggshells. They spent more time separated than I expected, although it did make the “you and me, we're still okay” moments even sweeter. While it was nice to recognize bits and pieces of other Jahir and Vasiht'h works in this one, it was also distracting. My brain kept looking for inconsistencies and continuity errors. The most jarring moment was when it was revealed that Sediryl, Jahir's cousin, probably played a part in Jahir's decision to leave his homeworld, because of his intense, secret, and forbidden feelings for her. She was passionate, fierce, and fun to read about, but Jahir's reaction to her inspired vague continuity unease in me. I remembered Jahir desperately wanting to get away from his homeworld's stagnation, but that was it. I did a quick keyword search of Mindtouch and found several mentions of Sediryl that I had forgotten, but none of the depth of emotion I would have expected the name to conjure up in Jahir, considering his reaction to her in this novella. I'm not sure if this is some kind of character continuity issue or not – I'd have to reread Mindtouch to be sure – but it bugged me. Although I felt it had some issues, I still really liked Family. It had several of the elements I've come to love in Hogarth's works: fascinating details about alien cultures, characters I care about, and great conversations. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • Laisrathera on June 15, 2014

    This is a tough one to review. I like Hogarth's writings best when her “family” groups are together, and, unfortunately, the Her Instruments group was split up for most of this book. I was all set to say that this was an okay read that got better as the action picked up, and then the Earthrise “family” was reunited, the ending happened, and it was perfect. Laisrathera starts a while after the end of Rose Point. Hirianthial has mostly healed up and is upset that Reese was left behind on his home world. The Alliance has agreed to help the Eldritch against their pirate and Chatcaavan invaders, but they're embroiled in their own battles and so the resources they can provide are limited. Meanwhile, Reese and Irine are doing what they can to oppose Baniel, his Chatcaavan ally, and Surela, Queen Liolesa's usurper, not knowing when Liolesa and Hirianthial will manage to bring reinforcements. I have to be honest, the first third or so of this book was a slog for me. It felt like the characters were doing nothing but talking, planning, and debating. Yes, okay, so they were all in a tough situation with limited resources, and they had some difficult decisions to make, but it was kind of boring and I wanted them to finally /do/ something. Hirianthial's storyline picked up bit when he, Sascha, and Bryer joined the crew of the scout ship. That was the moment when I first realized that a big part of what I missed was the Earthrise “family." Solysyrril, Tomas, Narain, Lune, and Jasper were a tight-knit group that had been together almost ten years and felt like it. What kept me going during Reese and Irine's storyline was Val. I loved him. He was a breath of fresh air: more informal than most Eldritch, irreverent, funny, and comfortable in his own skin. Hogarth surprised me by actually making me wonder if there was a chance he and Irine might end up together (An Eldritch and a Harat-Shar? Shocking!). And did I just imagine it, or was there really a moment where Irine thought Val and Belinor might make a good couple? I couldn't help but laugh at the thought that Irine might be shipping Val and Belinor while I was off shipping her and Val. I was disappointed that Reese got to do so little in this book, but, at the same time, I liked that she was finally forced to think about how she'd behaved over the years and what she wanted to start doing differently if she survived. True, she'd stopped snapping at Hirianthial as far back as Rose Point, but in this book she examined the reasons behind her change. I kind of wish some of that had been more apparent back in Rose Point, because it might have made the shift in her behavior less jarring. When Reese and Hirianthial were finally reunited, Reese knew what she wanted to say and do – no more beating around the bush. The romance fan in me cheered, and then Hirianthial reminded both Reese and me that, oh yeah, Baniel and the Chatcaavan still needed to be dealt with. Whoops! But there was time for more later on, and it was great. The ending somehow managed to be incredibly satisfying while still leaving some things open. I want to know more about what happens to Surela, whether a couple Eldritch I liked ever end up with anybody, and how Reese, Hirianthial, Sascha, Irine and the rest are doing a few years down the line. Those are more the kind of “wants” that happen when characters feel alive than the “wants” that happen when something feels unfinished, however. The trilogy itself was wrapped up excellently, and brought back some of the “alien culture” stuff that I love about Hogarth's writings. I loved that Hirianthial talking about his first wife led to an explanation about various levels of formality in Eldritch names and wasn't the jarring awkwardness it could have been. I loved that Hirianthial's gift for Reese recalled thoughts and feelings she'd had as early as the first book in the trilogy. I had to fight back the happy tears so that I could keep reading, the ending was so nice. I think that, on the whole, I prefer Hogarth's Dreamhealers duology to the Her Instruments trilogy. Also, Rose Point is probably a better book, overall, than Laisrathera. But Laisrathera's ending? Wow. Perfect for the trilogy and perfect for Reese and Hirianthial. So very good. Extras: Two sections: "The Species of the Alliance Universe" and "The Seven Modes of Eldritch Grammar." I especially liked the one on Eldritch grammar, because I had somehow gotten it into my head that the various colors were telepathic/empathic shades of meaning. It turns out that the different "colors" are actually prefixes. Rating Note: I struggled with the rating for this. As I slogged through the beginning, I thought it might be a 3-star read. Then parts of it were good enough to rate 3.5 stars, and that ending was 4.5 or maybe even 5 stars. I settled on 4 stars. (Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
  • Nine Goblins on July 05, 2014

    The story starts off split between two sets of characters: Sergeant Nessilka and her goblin troops, and Sings-to-Trees and his various patients. Goblins have been at war with humans and elves for some time, mostly because they don't have much of a choice. When humans moved into goblin lands, the goblins, preferring to avoid conflict, moved out. Eventually, though, there were no other places they could move. A few disagreements and misunderstandings later, and the war began. The elves joined in as allies of the humans. When Sergeant Nessilka and eight of her troops accidentally end up trapped behind enemy lines, her goal is to get everyone safely home. Although Sings-to-Trees is technically an enemy, he's a very unusual elf. He's more concerned with taking care of his animal patients than with the war, and he has fond memories of the goblins that used to live near his home. He might be able to help, but first he and the goblins have to deal with whatever is mysteriously emptying out nearby farmhouses and villages before it gets them too. It took a while for the story to really get going. All the characters' paths didn't cross until about halfway through the novella. However, not once did I mentally start tapping my foot, waiting for something to happen. I was enjoying the characters, world, and writing too much for that. The story's wry humor and quirky details reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. For example, on the one hand, Sings-to-Trees is a stereotypically gorgeous, nature-loving elf. On the other hand, when readers first meet him, he has his right arm up to the shoulder inside a pregnant unicorn's birth canal, is bruised from the contractions and being kicked by his ungrateful patient, and is splattered with unicorn crap. His home and his life were all arranged with his patients in mind, and his own people tended to steer clear of him, because they preferred nature that was clean and pretty. Most of the goblins were fairly basic characters, with one identifying trait and not much else. Weasel stuttered and was good at catching small animals, Thumper was huge and liked thumping things (and people), Gloober always had his finger up his nose, etc. Taken as a group, they felt like a family. No nonsense, long-suffering Nessilka gave them direction and tried to keep them all together and safe. I liked Nessilka right away. Blanchett, who rarely spoke for himself and preferred to act as “interpreter” for his constant companion, a teddy bear, was another favorite of mine. His inability to function without his teddy bear was heartbreaking. The ending was perhaps a little too light and fluffy, considering that there was still a war going on. However, after all that tension (creepy recently vacated farmhouse ::shudder::), all those bodies, and that tragically messed up “villain,” I appreciated it. I very much hope that the author plans to write more stories (or even novels?) set in this world. More exhausted, busy, pragmatic elven veterinarian would be especially nice.
  • Queen of Roses on July 29, 2014

    I bought this book primarily because the main character is an artificial intelligence. I'm happy to say it worked out really well for me. In the world of this book, AIs are basically indentured servants. If they end up with decent-paying jobs and manage to avoid having to pay for too many of their own upgrades, they have a chance of becoming free AIs. Sarafina is an accountant AI who ends up becoming the main AI of a cruise ship after her bank is bought out. It's not at all the kind of work she's used to or would prefer to do – accounting didn't prepare her for dealing with biologicals on a daily basis – but she tries to adapt. At least the ship has one other AI, Pilot, who she can talk to, and she's delighted to learn that one of the ship's newest passengers is a free AI. Unfortunately, Sarafina's first cruise has problems right from the start, including stowaways, glitches that keep taking out security cameras (Sarafina's primary “eyes”), a drunken captain who hates AIs, understaffing, rapidly growing Life Support-generated algae paste, and trouble-making child-passengers. It took me a while to realize that this book was not just going to be about Sarafina desperately trying to keep all of the ship's problems hidden from the passengers and somehow keep the passengers happy at the same time. There were significant mystery/suspense elements, although it took Sarafina a while to realize that some of the passengers weren't just odd. Almost all the named characters behaved at least a little suspiciously. Belinda Keevy, a child who'd been waiting for her aunt, happened to disappear at the same time that a power surge disrupted Sarafina's memory and caused several of her security cameras to go offline. Mrs. Selsda, the child's supposed aunt, seemed remarkably unconcerned when her niece wasn't immediately found. Instead, she was more interested in gambling and flirting with either the First Officer (not surprising, since he was pretty handsome) or the Captain (very surprising, since he was a drunkard). The Captain hated AIs and might have had something to do with the apparent suicide of Sarafina's predecessor, Big Girl. Not even Sapient Loren, the free AI, was 100% trustworthy, sometimes making comments that didn't quite fit with its usually light, flirty personality. Sarafina's POV placed sometimes frustrating limitations on the story. She didn't always pay close enough attention to things that made me wildly curious, either because she didn't know enough about human behavior to realize something odd was going on or because her programming didn't permit it. The way she existed in the ship also meant that I couldn't get a human's eye view of what was going on, and certain sensory details were missing. It felt very odd. The way she could divide her attention also made for a sometimes hectic story. Once I got used to Sarafina and realized I was dealing with a mystery/suspense story, I enjoyed trying to keep track of various suspicious details and guess at probable suspects. I correctly guessed Loren and Roger's role in the story only a third of the way in, although there were lots of details I got wrong or didn't even consider. The absolute mess that Sarafina and the crew had to deal with, while somehow not alarming the passengers, was great fun. I laughed when the poor First Officer realized exactly how much trouble they were all in and how few resources they had to work with since the cruise ship's owner was so cheap. For the most part, I loved how the AI aspects were handled. Sarafina was amusingly proper. There were moments when her thoughts seemed potentially a little too human, but there was nothing that felt glaringly out of place to me. The dynamic between Sarafina and Pilot, two owned AIs, and Loren, a free AI, was interesting. I was very much a fan of Loren and would love a sequel (or entire spin-off series) starring Loren and Roger (Loren's human assistant). Their relationship was one of the more fabulous things in this book, and I didn't get to see nearly as much of the two of them together as I would have liked. That said, not all of the AI-related stuff worked well for me. AI memories and behaviors were messed with more than I would have liked. And it wasn't just villains doing it! Not only did it upset me for the AIs' sake's, I also felt that it was sloppy on the author's part, a crutch that became overused near the end. I wouldn't call the ending of this book entirely satisfying. The whole thing with Belinda Keevy was never fully explained (and it really needed to be, because OMG the things she could do), and a few other story threads weren't completely tied up. I really, really wish there were sequels. Even so, I'm glad I read this and plan on checking out some of McCoy's other books. Additional Comments: There were several things in the book that didn't quite seem to fit, but most of them were explained by the end. One possible editing error I noticed, however, was Pilot's name. Originally, he told Sarafina that his real name and nickname were both Pilot. Later on, however, it was stated that the name he was given at birth was Adonis. (Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)