Summer Reading 2017

Hey all!

I’m back after a two-week hiatus that was full of long walks, lots of non-fiction, and lots of family stuff (a new nephew, a funeral, and a surgery… phfewwww).  But I’m back now, and I’m so excited to introduce Summer Reading 2017!

If you’re not familiar with my Summer Reading Lists, you can check out this post.  Essentially, in order to further the joy that was free reading time during childhood summers (as opposed to more structured reading and class-related reading during the school year), every summer I set aside 3ish months and follow a themed reading list.  It sets apart the time as special, and it pushes me to read things I might not normally read.

Examples of past lists include:

  • Star Trek books
  • Fantasy books
  • Book I Own but Have Never Read
  • Hugo Award Winners

I’m excited to announce that from June 20-September 22, my theme is:

Books Written by People of Color

This theme came from wanting to support diverse authors and realizing there was a long stretch of my reading list where I read almost exclusively books by white women.  (Not on purpose, by any means.  But you know about my love for Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga…)

I can’t wait see what I discover this summer; I’m particularly looking forward to exploring different authors in genres that I typically read (science fiction, fantasy, Christian non-fiction, health).

For a bit of teaser, here are the first few books on my list:

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin
  • Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss

I will say, I have one more review to share with you before Summer Reading officially kicks off.  I’m also going to continue reading my daily devotional by Shauna Niequist.  And in early July, I’ll be reading a book by a white man because I already signed up for his blog tour.  But other than that, for the next 3 months, it’s only books by people of color.  Here we go!

Review: Shards of Honor

It’s another Vorkosigan review (and sadly, the last one till the fall)!  I went back in time a bit after finishing the short stories in Borders of Infinityand checked out where it all began – or at least where Miles began.  I’ll get to Falling Free (which takes place about 200 years before Miles was born) eventually.

Anyway, Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold was an absolute gem.  It tells the story of how Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan (Miles’ parents) met and eventually got married.  I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I’m absolutely a helpless romantic.  So I loved that aspect of the book.  But there was so much more to love than that.

Getting to know Cordelia and Aral more deeply was so much more than I was hoping for.  I love Cordelia in the books that I’ve read, but she’s been a very minor character so far.  It was fun to get to know her better; I like her even more now.  Miles’ father, Aral, was such a joy to get better acquainted with, too.  And we got to see more backstory on Bothari, who I’ve both loved and despised.  All of this puts so much of what happens in later books in perspective – or at least gives more depth to future events.

Apart from getting more history on these characters, the plot was fun – as if I’d expect anything less from Bujold.  I wasn’t expecting the story to take place over months, but Bujold pulled that off well.

Overall, this was another great Vorkosigan book.  Not my favorite, but not my least favorite either.  It drew me in and kept me invested the entire time.  Check it out if you’re looking for really great yet accessible science fiction.  And if you’ve never read any Vorkosigan works, Shards of Honor is one of the great places to start!

Review: Across the Wall

Hey all!  Let me tell you about Across the Wall by Garth Nix, please.  I initially picked up this collection of short stories just for the Old Kingdom story, but then I ended up reading the whole thing.  It was a good decision.

Across the Wall contains one Old Kingdom work (think Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel) – “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case”.  It takes place between Abhorsen and Goldenhand (which I haven’t read yet and have to put on pause due to Summer Reading 2017) and features Nicholas Sayre, who we met in Lirael.  The story may be short, but it’s full of tension, deception, and a creepy, blood-drinking creature.  I enjoyed it, and it made me even more excited to finish the series soon.

As for the rest of the stories in the volume, there were some hits and misses, and there was a ton of variety as far as subject material, genre, etc.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Charlie Rabbit” – a story about two young brothers and a stuffed animal trying to survive an air raid and the ramifications of war
  • “Heart’s Desire” – a twist on the traditional Merlin and Nimue relationship
  • “Hope Chest” – a western with a touch of magical realism.  So good.
  • “Endings” – a poetic, very short story that explores sorrow and joy.  I LOVED this one.

I also particularly liked how each story had a brief introduction by Garth Nix about how he’d come to write it – those were funny and insightful.  Overall, this was a very good read, and I’m looking forward to reading more by Nix in the future.

Check it out if you’re looking for variety, if you like fantasy, or if you enjoy reading the story behind the story.

Review: Borders of Infinity

Well, well, well.  Look who’s behind on the blog posts she promised y’all.  I’m not going to apologize yet again.  But I am going to get caught up.  Mostly because I’ll be on vacation next week…  So it’s now or never, folks.

Anyway, I just finished Borders of Infinity, a collection of Vorkosigan short stories/novellas (I never remember the difference, and I don’t care enough to look it up right now). Technically, this is kind of a review x 4 since I plan on sharing my thoughts on each of the stories in the book, but that seemed silly to put in the blog title… I don’t even know why, but I made that choice, and I’m sticking to it.

So without further adieu, I give you my reviews of the stories found in Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold.

“The Mountains of Mourning”

  • I read this last year, so you can check out the link above for that review.

 

“Labyrinth”

  • This short work was really enjoyable for me.  I was skeptical when I saw the cover and during the first few pages (A soldier created using human and animal DNA?  F’real?), but it turned out to be really good.  Bujold has a way of weaving action and heart-breaking moments together seamlessly.  We get to meet a new character (who I hope returns!), and we get to see a side of Miles that we haven’t seen before.  I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say in what way 🙂  Overall, this was a great short story – the plot was good, the characters were developed, and it fits well in the overall Vorkosigan timeline.

 

“The Borders of Infinity”

  • My friend (surprisingly not the friend who introduced me to Bujold’s books but who has shared SO MANY other great authors with me!) says that Bujold really hits her stride at the novella length, and after reading “Mountains of Mourning” and “Labyrinth”, I agreed.  And then I read “The Borders of Infinity”, and HOLY CRAP, YES SHE DOES.  This story wrecked me.  Seriously.  It was essentially a bottle episode, but there was so much depth to each of the characters and so much tension in their situation that I didn’t really notice at first.  Miles has gone through some difficult things thus far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the things that happen in “The Borders of Infinity” affect him deeply for the rest of his life.  The last few pages have been haunting me since I finished.  Seriously, this is one of my absolute favorites.

 

Borders of Infinity

  • There are 4 very brief chapters that seek to frame the three short stories in the volume.  Not much to say about them – they don’t really do much other than give a platform for Miles to tell his adventures and give us a little update on what he’s doing between Cetaganda and Brothers in Arms.  But we do get some more screen time with Simon Illyan, and you all (might) know that I really like him.  So I’m a fan.  I’m enjoyed the frame story, but it’s definitely not necessary.

 

Now that I’ve wrapped up those stories, I’m excited to step back in time a bit and check out Shards of Honor and Barrayar.  I’ll let you know what I think of those soon!

Review: A Case of Conscience

Hey all.  I’m still chipping away at my goal of reading every Hugo Award winner for best novel.  I just finished A Case of Conscience, and I’m excited to share my thoughts about it.

I went in with mixed feelings about reading this James Blish work.  I had read the blurb on the back of the book (which I don’t always do – I often like to read a book without knowing anything about it), and the premise sounded really cool.  But I’d heard pretty mixed reviews, and I was afraid that maybe the premise was cool but the execution wasn’t good.  So I was timid.

A Case of Conscience was a pleasant surprise.  The blurb I’d read described what it was about pretty well, but what I thought was going to happen in the book didn’t.  From what I’d read, I was expecting something similar to C.S Lewis’ Perelandra (which I LOVE), and while there were similarities between the two, they weren’t as similar as I thought they were going to be.  And that was okay.

This felt like a pretty typical science fiction piece from the era.  It was fast and under-developed in a few areas (world-building and characterization), but I think it shone as a thought experiment – as many of the pulp classics do.  Blish seems to have asked himself, “What if…?”, and then fleshed out the idea quite nicely.  The story raised some great questions of human nature, society, and theology.

As far as classic sci-fi goes, this is pretty middle of the road for me, but overall, I really enjoyed reading it.  Check it out if you’re looking for old-school science fiction that deals with religion as well.  Blish doesn’t dive in too deeply, but that makes A Case of Conscience that much more accessible.

Review: Ethan of Athos

Welp, friends, it’s another Vorkosigan review!  Surprise, surprise, given my recent obsession with these books.  I’ll keep it short and sweet, I promise.

Ethan of Athos is the first Vorkosigan novel that I’ve read that doesn’t feature Miles Vorkosigan as the main character.  In fact, he’s not even in the book – only just mentioned a few times.  I was curious as to whether I would enjoy this one as much as I’ve enjoyed the others.

And I loved it!

Ethan (the title character) was charming and clumsy and well-intentioned and ignorant and endearing and slightly frustrating and so lovable.  Seriously, I absolutely loved his character.  It was also great to get better acquainted with Elli Quinn, who we barely met in a previous book (The Vor Game, I think?).  We also got to see the Cetagandans from a different angle than we did in Cetaganda, which I appreciated.  I feel like reading that book right before Ethan of Athos gave me an appreciation for some of the Cetagandans that we meet in Ethan.  Some of them.  I also hate some of them…

Anyway, the story was Bujold’s typical fast-paced adventure that keeps you guessing and turns you on your head at least once.  Probably at least 5 or 6 times.  So far, her works haven’t been too rompy for my taste – just fun, easy-to-read, balanced sci-fi adventures with amazing characterization.  This one especially.  I laughed out loud multiple times, and I teared up a few times as well.

And I was REALLY satisfied with the ending.  I was afraid that Bujold was going to do something that I didn’t want her to do, but thankfully she didn’t.  Instead, she did something that I didn’t expect but that I very much approved of.  That’s all I’m going to say because I don’t want to spoil anything from this awesome book.

The stories Bujold weaves are incredible, and Ethan of Athos is now up there near the top of my list of her favorite works.  But there are still so many more for me to read 🙂

Review: The Big Time

Hey there, people.

I’m still catching up on book reviews, though I’m excited to roll out 3 more this week.  Today, I wanted to share a few thoughts on The Big Time by Fritz Leiber.  It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1958, so it’s an older one – like most of the Hugos that I’ve read recently.  (Though that’s about to change in the next couple of months, thanks to Summer Reading 2017.  That’s all I’m going to say about that for now, but I’m excited to share my Summer Reading plans with you soon!)

Anyway, The Big Time was a bit of a surprise for me.  It was a shorter work, and it took me a little while to get into it, but it vastly improved after the first few chapters.

Essentially, the story is a “bottle episode” – it all takes place in one location with not a lot of time (if any) occurring between scenes.  The phrase is more so used to describe a TV episode.  But whatever.  It gets my point across.

So The Big Time is a bottle episode of sorts, which I didn’t know going in, and I didn’t like at first.  But the premise kind of requires it – a group of people are stuck in a sealed location with an armed bomb and have to figure out how to disarm it/who in the group sealed them in with the bomb.  The story is short enough that this ended up really working for me, especially because there was a great smattering (is that a word?) of humor, historical commentary (thanks to everyone being from different times throughout history), and study of human nature.  At times if felt like a weird pulp fiction version of The Great Gatsby – but in the best way?

Check out The Big Time if you’re looking for short, classic science fiction!