Full-time astrophysicist, part-time writer, spec-fic book blogger. Mostly on SmashWords to buy DRM-free ebooks.
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Smashwords book reviews by Tsana Dolichva
- A Piece of the Action (Short Story)
on Sep. 24, 2011
An amusing tale with a satisfying ending. Despite the somewhat fantastical content, I found the characters, in particular, portrayed realistically.
- How Astrid Found Her Passion
on April 05, 2012
A fantasy story about an Australian woman who gets mysteriously transported to a magical kingdom and inadvertently tangled up in a local dispute between mages and a lord. Another fun, quick read.
- Loss Leader (Short Story)
on July 24, 2012
What happens when a company spends piles of money on a spaceship filled with cryogenically frozen settlers that the settlers aren’t keen on boarding? You treat the mission as a loss leader, of course. A bleakly amusing tale.
on Dec. 30, 2012
Transgressions is about Wamzut, a wizard who, before the action begins, lost his body and almost died in a magical battle. He was saved as a disembodied soul only due to a magical insurance device he had in place. The story opens with a priestess, Nessa, helping him take possession of a body whose soul has vacated it due to an unrelated magical attack. The new body is not that of an 80 year old man, however, but of a young, half-elven woman.
There is plenty of scope for this to go badly in terms of how it is treated in the text, but Berrie pulls it off without making it creepy. Wamzut, now going by Attina, the name of the woman whose body he's possessing, vows to find and stop the magical creature that killed Attina and commences that quest more or less immediately (after dealing with a few practical matters). Of course, things don't go entirely to plan and so, a more-epic-than-intended journey begins.
As far as the trans aspect goes, Wamzut is still at heart a man and refers to himself as male unless he's specifically referring to his body (and even then he usually says "Attina's body"). He also continues to be attracted to women and, after some (entertaining) urging on Nessa's part, a physical relationship blooms between them. I do think perhaps a bit more time could have been devoted to him angsting about his new genitalia, instead of being skimmed over, but the "how to be a woman" conversation was also skimmed over, underscoring that the focus of the story is on magical events rather than the new gender.
The world building was well thought out. There were lots of small world-fleshing out bits dropped in, which I enjoyed. A particular favourite was the psychic wave that rolls with the sunrise which interferes with some types of magic and jolts magic-wielders awake if they're sleeping.
I found the prose a little stilted at times, but given that it's told in first person by a technically 80 year old man, it is, perhaps, understandable. I got used to the style more quickly than I expected to but I suppose your mileage may vary.
Transgressions is very much a book 1. A lot of goals are introduced which Wamzut begins to world towards but not all are completed. The book did end at a logical break point but I was left wanting to know "but what about...?" It's definitely the first portion of a larger story and I am keen to read the next instalment to find out what happens.
I recommend Transgressions to fantasy fans, particularly those who enjoy stories about travelling between worlds/dimensions. Although I didn't think the trans aspect was handled poorly, I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a trans narrative; it's definitely more a story about magic than gender.
4 / 5 stars
You can read more of my reviews on my blog
- Hal Spacejock 5: Baker's Dough
on Jan. 19, 2013
Hal Spacejock: Baker's Dough by Simon Haynes is the fifth book in his Hal Spacejock series. I've read all the others, but it's definitely not necessary to have done so to enjoy this book. It's the kind of series that can be enjoyed just as much out of order.
Hal Spacejock is the captain of a cargo ship, haphazardly delivering cargo across the galaxy. His trusty sidekick is Clunk the robot — eminently more competent at just about everything than Hal is — and the ship itself is personified via the Navcom. In this adventure Hal and Clunk stumble into the middle of a mad rush to claim an inheritance left to a robot. The catch? Because robots are reprogrammed and have their memories wiped when they're sold to a new owner, no one is entirely sure exactly which robot is supposed to be inheriting. To make matters worse, the prospective inheritors and their owners have to go on a somewhat convoluted quest to dig up the robots' histories, all with a twenty-four hour time limit. High jinks ensue.
The Hal Spacejock books are light, fun and entertaining reads. Baker's Dough had me laughing and sniggering out loud several times. It was an easy book to pick up and during a stressful and busy week, it was the book I kept coming back to most consistently, despite being part way through two others.
Haynes doesn't skimp on the scientific plausibility (well... within reason) but he doesn't dwell on any of the science either. It was nice to read a book where the physics of weightlessness, for example, was actually mentioned as something relevant to the characters despite not being of high importance to the story. This sort of attention to detail is part of what kept me engaged at the story (as opposed to ranting at my husband/twitter/the reading device about a lazy slip of sciencefail) and contributed to making it a relaxing read. Also it had a strong ending which as I've typed this I realise I can't say much about without spoilers.
I highly recommend Baker's Dough (and all the other Hal Spacejock books) to fans of light-hearted science fiction. As I've said, the Hal Spacejock books don't need to be read in order to make sense; each is quite self-contained. I think each new book in the series has improved upon the ones before, however, so that might be an argument for starting at the beginning and working forwards.
4.5 / 5 stars
You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
- Lab Rat One : Touchstone Part 2
on April 03, 2013
Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst is the second book in the Touchstone trilogy, following on immediately from Stray. This is definitely not the kind of series you could read out of order and still easily follow what was going on.
Lab Rat One continues to tell Cassandra's story, the Sydney girl that took a wrong turn and ended up on another planet. The story continues with more of her training with the Setari — psychic space ninjas — and more discovery's of the alien people's past. As with the first book, the plot is driven in large part by things unexpectedly happening to Cass, often as part of the larger experimentation with her still mysterious powers. It gave me the inescapable feeling that she is both terribly unlucky and very lucky to still be alive. She continues to almost die a lot.
The writing has gotten tighter in this volume. Whereas in book one I felt there were some slow bits, I didn't get that feeling in Lab Rat One, where everything moved things along or was hilarious. The last quarter or so of the book (roughly from the snowball fight onwards, for those familiar with it) made me giggle a lot and the very end, though slightly surprising, was well done and made me happy and keen to keep reading.
The way the romance was done (or not done) in this book appealed to me. Without spoilers, Cass has a crush (since Stray, actually) on one of the Setari but decides that a relationship between them is unlikely to happen. She spends a lot of time trying not to have a crush on him, unsuccessfully but without it getting tedious for the reader. The former aspect struck me as realistic in the circumstances. She also doesn't let her feelings get in the way of almost dying her work.
One thing that didn't quite fit for me but I couldn't quite put my finger on when I was reading Stray is the YA label for this series. At first I put it down to the diary entry style being unusual, but I think it's more than that. Yes, Cass is eighteen so if the only requirement for YA is a teenage protagonist, it does technically fit the bill. But the story starts after she's finished school when — aliens notwithstanding — she would be starting to make her way in the world as an adult. Much as I'm not fond of the moniker, perhaps "new adult" is more apt than "young adult". Don't let either of those labels put you off though; it's first and foremost a science fiction book and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to readers of all ages. (Or if the term "science fiction" puts you off — why are you reading this blog? — my all means latch onto one of the other labels.)
I loved Lab Rat One and I couldn't not pick up the third book after I finished it (which was very inconvenient, since it was the middle of the night). For anyone who enjoyed Stray, this is a must read. If you thought Stray was kinda all right but weren't sold on reading more, I strongly encourage you to give Lab Rat One a go.
5 / 5 stars
You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
- Caszandra : Touchstone Part 3
on April 07, 2013
Caszandra is the final volume in Andrea K Höst's Touchstone trilogy. This review contains minor spoilers for the previous books (mostly just the relationship kind). If you haven't yet, I suggest reading my reviews for the earlier books — Stray and Lab Rat One — before reading the rest of this review (and ideally, reading the first two books themselves too). The series is about Cass, a Sydney girl, who accidentally falls through a tear in reality onto another planet, meets psychic space ninjas, and discovers that she has some powers of her own.
Caszandra picks up where Lab Rat One left off. Which is good because there was a bit of a relationshippy cliffhanger at the end of the previous book. Cass's relationship with Ruuel (now called Kaoren, his first name) progresses quite quickly in terms of seriousness, which made me a bit wary at first, but which turned out for the best in terms of story telling, I've decided. Another related aspect, which I don't want to be explicit about because spoilers, also made me a little uncomfortable, bu ultimately I think that was more due to my own dissimilarity to Cass as a person than anything else.
Caszandra continues the overarching plot well established in the earlier books: learning about Cass's power, fighting monsters and trying to learn about Muina's past. Muina being the planet Cass was first transported to and which had remained inaccessible to the alien people for a thousand years until she came along. This book ups the danger levels and the stakes. The Setari (psychic space ninjas) and Cass were always trying to protect people but in the lead up to the conclusion, the urgency for definitive world-saving becomes extreme. And, unsurprisingly, Cass continues to almost die in new and exciting ways.
The climax might have lost a smidge of tension due to the diary nature of the narrative — we knew Cass survived because she told us about it all being over before regaling us with the tale. However it was still all very dramatic and didn't loose any world-saving oomph. The end was satisfying in tying everything up nicely and I think other fans of the series will approve. (And for readers that want more, there's always the Gratuitous Epilogue, which I admit to skimming and reading the last chapter of.)
I don't recommend reading Caszandra without reading Stray and Lab Rat One fist. However, I can't imagine why readers who enjoyed the first two wouldn't go on to the final volume. I enjoyed this series a lot and I will definitely be reading more of Höst's books in the future.
4.5 / 5 stars
You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
- Trader's Honour
on May 25, 2013
Trader's Honour by Patty Jansen is a sort of standalone sequel to Watcher's Web. It takes place mainly on the same planet and some of the same people make appearances, but the main character is new and the main part of her story is entirely separate to the character's from Watcher's Web.
Mikandra has guts, something I like in a character (to the surprise of no one, heh). Instead of continuing to sit around in what she sees as a broken society, she takes steps to change her situation. First she applies for the Trader Academy, going to another Miran Trader family when her Trader aunt won't take her as an apprentice. Then, when it looks like her dreams will fall through because her sponsor family is in trouble, instead of running back to the relative comforts of home (if an abusive father can really be called a comfort), she sets out to help her sponsor's family. Helping in this case, involves travelling to another continent, when she'd never left the city before, and trying to track down her recalcitrant sponsor. Her mission turns out to be harder than she'd assumed but she sticks it out, even after being robbed on her first day there.
I enjoyed reading about Mikandra a lot. I was a bit hesitant to read Trader's Honour because I didn't enjoy Watcher's Web — I gave up about half way through mainly because I couldn't relate to the main character's reactions to her situation — but I decided to try the sample on SmashWords and was hooked. Mikandra is a very different character in a different situation. So if you haven't enjoyed Watcher's Web but the premise of Trader's Honour sounds like something you'd enjoy, I urge you to give it a shot.
Trader's Honour deals quite a bit with notions of how societies (should) work. The Mirani have two classes of people, the nobility (which includes Mikandra) and the working classes. The noble class not only limits the prospects of its women, but also believes that it's their duty to protect and care for the lower classes. As we learn quite early on, they don't do as good a job as they could. By contrast, Barresh, the other continent, is thought to be primitive and more or less useless. But when Mikandra arrives there she finds that, yes, it is very different (there's a bit of appropriate culture-shock on her part). Over time she learns that different does not mean worse, not the way the other nobles think, and starts to see a lot of potential around her. It made me think of biases against developing countries and how some are actually the world's fastest growing economies.
When the characters from Watcher's Web started showing up I felt a bit frustrated that I didn't have as much background information on them as if I'd finished the book, but it really wasn't necessary. It merely put me on the same level as Mikandra. And if I hadn't known there was another book, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't've cared.
Trader's Honour is an enjoyable science fiction read. It's low on technobabble and explicit sciencey stuff, although the worldbuilding is fairly solid. (If you're curious, Patty wrote about the worldbuilding here.) As such, I think it might also appeal to fantasy fans who don't mind a few aeroplanes and a spot of interplanetary travel in their fiction. I highly recommend it to science fiction fans.
4.5 / 5 stars
You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
- Hal Spacejock 6: Safe Art
on Aug. 31, 2013
Hal Spacejock: Safe Art by Simon Haynes is the sixth book in the ongoing Hal Spacejock series. Although there is a very small amount of chronology, the books all stand alone nicely, Safe Art being no exception. I have previously reviewed Hal Spacejock: Baker's Dough and Hal Junior: The Missing Case, the latter being part of a spin-off series for younger readers.
For readers new to to the Spacejock universe, Safe Art is not a terrible place to start. A few characters from earlier books show up, but you don't have to have read any earlier books for the story to make sense. Even better, Safe Art doesn't contain any significant spoilers for earlier books (unless you count the status quo as a spoiler). I think the most compelling argument for reading these books in order is that they get funnier as they go along and reading in reverse order might be slightly anticlimactic for that reason.
This book made me laugh a lot, news that I'm sure won't come as much of a surprise to people familiar with the Hal Spacejock books. There were a few serious bits, but there were no long gaps between laughs. If puns and written slapstick are your thing (I have to say visual slapstick doesn't really do it for me, but the way Haynes writes definitely does), or if you enjoy a good comedy of errors, then this is a book for you.
And if that hasn't convinced you, it also has pretty good physics, especially considering the lack of seriousness in most of the story. It's like if The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made more than a passing nod at the laws of physics. And also if Ford Prefect was a cargo pilot. (Yes, as I mentioned in my review of Baker's Dough, the ship travels faster than light and has artificial gravity, but everything else has accurate physics. There were a few instances I particularly appreciated since I can imagine another writer may not have bothered to be so careful.)
As well as enjoying Hal's and Clunk's antics as they attempt to deliver their cargo — and make snide remarks about the quality of the art they're transporting — I was also pleased to see the characters from "Framed" show up (a Hal Spacejock short story that's a fun read but not compulsory to enjoy Safe Art). And Harriet Walsh who appeared in an earlier book, although I have to admit it was a book I'd read long enough ago to not remember much about her except her name. Another reason I'm confident readers new to the series will have no trouble picking up Safe Art.
What more can I say? It's hilarious. Read it.
5 / 5 stars
You can read more of my reviews on my blog.
- Hal Junior 3: The Gyris Mission
on Sep. 02, 2013
Hal Junior: The Gyris Mission by Simon Haynes is the third book about Hal Junior, although it stands alone and the series doesn't have to be read in order. It is aimed at younger readers. I have previously reviewed the second book, Hal Junior: The Missing Case, and two Hal Spacejock books for adult readers, set in the same universe: Hal Spacejock: Baker's Dough and Hal Spacejock: Safe Art.
Hal Junior and Stephen 'Stinky' Binn live aboard a high-tech space station, far from the nearest planet. The rules are strict, and their lives are carefully regulated.
That's why they're so excited about the camping trip to Planet Gyris ... imagine a whole week of fishing, swimming, sleeping in tents and running wild!
Unfortunately, the boys crash land in the middle of a forest, and there's little chance of rescue. Is this the end of the camping trip ... or the start of a thrilling new adventure?
First I want to emphasise that this book absolutely stands alone in terms of the other Hal Junior books and the Hal Spacejock books. You do not have to have read any of them to enjoy The Gyris Mission. However, if you have read them, as I have, you may find yourself, like I am, desperate to know exactly how the Hal Junior books fit into the larger Hal Spacejock universe. Is Hal Junior Spacejock's son? If he is, how did Spacejock meet his mother? If not, why is he called Hal Junior and why does he idolise "Captain Spacejock"? Or is Hal Junior about Hal Spacejock's childhood? I was already curious before I read The Gyris Mission, and then Spacejock characters showed up AND NOW I MUST KNOW.
Ahem. As for the actual story. The Gyris Mission is a funny and exciting comedy of errors. Hal Junior does a lot of silly things, Stinky is forever reminding him of things they learnt in class and adult characters are absent at opportune moments. I've mentioned in my other reviews of Haynes' books that despite the honour and light-heartedness with which his books are written, he goes out of his way to include accurate physics. The Gyris Mission is no different. Stinky's reminders to Hal of relevant information they'd learnt in class felt natural and I think was a gentle way of educating the younger audience without preaching or talking down to the reader. It's certainly a book (/series) I'd encourage my kids to read. Y'know, if I had any. Haynes also does a particularly good job of describing space station life by portraying Hal and Stinky as being surprised by various aspects of being on a planet.
The Gyris Mission is a fairly short read (about par for the age group, I think) and full of action and laughs. I recommend it to younger readers with any passing interesting in science fiction or adventure stories. Or to adults who want a light read and/or are fans of Haynes' books.
4.5 / 5 stars
- Stained Glass Monsters
on Jan. 26, 2014
Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst is a standalone (ish) fantasy book from an author whose books I've enjoyed several times in the past. I added the "ish" because I just saw a listing on her website indicating that there will be another book in the same universe, apparently a sequel, but the first book is pretty self-contained.
This was a nice read. The two main characters — Rennyn, the powerful mage who has been trained her whole life to save the world, and Kendall, the teenage orphan that coincidentally crosses her path — provide nicely contrasting points of view. Rennyn is focused on her task and saving everyone (particularly the world and protecting her brother). Kendall, on the other hand, starts off following events only because she has nothing better to do. She's not very invested in what's going on beyond her own safety and given the opportunity to learn magecraft, decides to only bother until she can learn enough to get paid to be the most basic kind of magic wielder.
I enjoyed Stained Glass Monsters, but it's not my favourite Höst book. Although I was never bored, I did feel it moved a little slowly, especially in the middle. There was an element of following Rennyn as she went from points A, B, C to achieve X, Y, Z stages in her quest to save the world. To Höst's credit, we are spared needless details about X, Y, Z and all those scenes include some other element to drive the book onwards, usually character development.
I really liked that Rennyn was allowed to be a powerful and highly competent character. She had obstacles to overcome, but those were mostly external. What internal obstacles she faced were irrevocably linked with the whole world-saving thing. That she struggled to overcome them was because they were hard and anyone else would have struggled more. Also, Rennyn wasn't running around saving the world because she was a mystical chosen one. Her family, for historical reasons, saw it as their duty to protect the world and hence trained and planned extensively for the task. This is the only source of Rennyn's specialness. She was the only one who could do it (well, her or her brother, who was also prepared but Rennyn took point as the eldest) because she was the only one who had properly been prepared to do it. (Well, OK, one small aspect was because of her lineage, but not quite in the traditional "chosen one" sense.) It's a thoughtful twist on the "chosen one" trope.
You know what I've just noticed about Höst's books? It came up when I was reviewing Hunting as well. I start writing my review thinking "well, I enjoyed that but I'm not sure how much I have to say about it" and then I start writing it and, in the course of reflecting on the book, end up finding added depths that I didn't necessarily notice while I was actually reading. Thumbs up. There's also the fact that almost all the key players in Stained Glass Monsters were women, apart from Rennyn's brother and her love interest. Which makes me happy.
Stained Glass Monsters was a pleasant read and I recommend it to fantasy fans. Especially to readers of fantasy not wanting to commit to a long series, since it stands alone nicely (although I can see where the sequel might go).
4 / 5 stars