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!

Review: It Starts with Food

I’ve mentioned in a couple previous posts that my husband and I are doing the Whole30.  If you haven’t heard of the Whole30, it’s essentially eating only nutrient-dense, whole, minimally processed food for 30 days.  You can eat: meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and eggs.  You can’t eat: dairy, legumes, grains, anything with added sugar.  The goal: eat good food, heal your gut, figure out how “unhealthy” (by certain standards that they lay out extensively in It Starts with Food) foods affect your body, and improve your relationship with food.  And other things.

My husband and I have been considering doing the Whole30 for a while, and we finally pulled the trigger.  Since we’re both information hoarders, we researched a ton on their website, in the Whole30 book, and I checked out It Starts with Food from the library.  As of today, we’re ALMOST done re-introducing all the food groups (to see if we have weird reactions to any of them), and I must say, it’s been a really good experience overall.

But about the book:

It Starts with Food by Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig was a really good read.  It covered almost everything that I needed and/or wanted to know about the Whole30 program in a way that was easy and fun to read.  Dallas and Melissa did a great job of explaining more science-heavy information in an easy-to-understand way, and they weren’t afraid to encourage their readers to skip whole chapters if the science wasn’t interesting or important to them.  They had great summaries at the end of each chapter, too, which was helpful.

I’ve read a few criticisms of the Whole30 program in general, saying it’s based on bad science or too many restrictions.  Having read the book (and I’m slowly working my way through the Whole30 book), I think those criticisms are pretty misinformed.  Yes, the Whole30 program has many restrictions, but you’re encouraged to eat as much good food (again, based on their definitions: good cuts of meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs, and nuts) as you want.  They also discourage you from counting calories or weighing yourself at all during the program.

As far as the science goes, I felt that Dallas and Melissa are very straight forward in saying that some food has certain bad affects on some people.  The whole premise of the 30 days is to cut out those potentially harmful foods then to re-introduce them slowly to see how they affect you individually.  They backed themselves up with plenty of peer reviewed research and were honest about what they knew (the nutritional content of vegetables) and what they suspected (peanuts contribute to systemic inflammation in some people).

Anyway, all that to say, I really enjoyed reading It Starts with Food, and I’d encourage you to check it out it you’re considering the Whole30, are curious about how what you eat affects you, or desiring to make a health change.  It’s a great place to start.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings: It’s Finally Here!

If you’ve been following along with this blog for a while, you might have heard me talk about The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan.  Well, friends, I have exciting news:

Book 5 was released today!

I can’t wait to read the final book in the series.  It will be a little while till I can get to it (though I’m first in line on the waiting list at multiple libraries…), which is unfortunate.  But my husband is talking about reading the series soon, so hopefully we can just geek out about how great they are while I wait.

Until then, check out my review of book 4, In the Labyrinth of Drakes.  And even more so, check out the AMAZING COVER of Within the Sanctuary of Wings.  Holy cow.

SanctuaryWings-fullcover

Review: Cold Tangerines

A few years ago, my roommate recommended reading Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.  She was processing through some aspects of her relationship with food and had really liked the book.

(Disclaimer: I haven’t shared much about my Christian faith on this blog, and I don’t really plan on it in the future.  That’s not the purpose of this blog, but I also don’t plan on avoiding mentioning it at all – especially when it connects to one of my book reviews.)

A few months later, I was in a weird place in my faith and remembered what my roommate had said about the book.  I checked it out from the library, and thus began my absolute adoration of Shauna Niequist’s writing.

Fast forward 3 years, and my husband gave me what he called a “Niequist pack” for Christmas – 3 of her books that I hadn’t read, as well as a copy of Bread and Wine.  That’s how I came by the book Cold Tangerines, and I am so very glad I did.

Shauna Niequist has a way of weaving essays about life and faith and food and hardship and joy in a way that speaks directly to my heart, and this early book of hers is no exception.  Cold Tangerines is filled with 2-4 page essays on topics ranging from trying to get pregnant to attending funerals to struggling with body image to writing to quitting a job you love to moving to traveling to trying to find yourself in college (and before… and after…) to so much more.

The theme that threads the essays together is finding joy in the everyday things, finding the extraordinary in the mundane.  I love that concept, and Cold Tangerines brought me so much joy every day that I read it.

I’d sit on my couch with coffee or tea by my side with the blinds open to reveal either sunshine or clouds and read an essay or two or three a day.  Her writing is vulnerable and lyrical; her essays are easy to read and easy to relate to.

And one of the unexpected consequences of picking up Cold Tangerines a couple of months ago?  I started writing again.  After reading the first two essays one night, I was finally able to sit down and write something that had been stirring inside of me for a long time.  My writing had felt stuck for so long, but I wrote the rough draft of my very favorite short story that night, and I’m so thankful.

Check out Cold Tangerines or some of Niequist’s other writings if you need a breath of fresh air, a reminder of the simple joys in life, or a friend in the pages of a book.  You’ll find all of those there.

Review: Clariel

Hey all.  I’m still working my way through the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix.  It was so fun to revisit the original trilogy that I first read when I was 13 or so.  Honestly, I didn’t remember much about them, particularly Abhorsenso it was almost like reading them for the first time, which was cool.

Once I finished the original three, I was so pumped to check out Clariel, a prequel that takes place 600 or so years before Sabriel.  Because I knew there was a prequel, I caught a reference in Abhorsen that I hoped hinted at a sweet backstory that would be explained in Clariel, and I was totally right.  AND I LOVE ORIGIN STORIES, OK?!

As usual, I don’t want to spoil much for you, but here are some of my thoughts.  For me, Clariel started a little slow.  I quickly grew tired of how much she complained and whined about having to move from her small hometown on the edge of the Great Forest to the city for her mother’s career.  As I was reading, I often forgot that Clariel was supposedly 17 – so much of what she did and said made me think she was only 12 or 13.

While the beginning was slow, there were still some redeeming qualities in that first third of the book.  We get to see the Old Kingdom during a different time and from a different angle.  Garth Nix does a great job of further deepening his beautiful world.  We also meet some really cool characters.  So it wasn’t too bad.

AND THEN THINGS GOT CRAZY.  I’m a very expressive person, but I try to limit my all-caps usage.  It’s totally applicable here.  Seriously, I was reading all non-nonchalantly, wondering where things were going, and my husband got home from work.  I put the book down in the middle of a page to talk to him, and then 20 minutes later, I picked it back up again, turned the page, and all hell broke loose.  It was unexpected and awesome.

From then on Clariel was action-packed and heartbreaking and captivating, and I was so invested.  We get to see a familiar character, which was a pleasant surprise, and we also get to see more of his/her (nope – not giving ANYTHING away about him/her) backstory, which makes their actions in the original trilogy even more awesome.

And Garth Nix ends the book in one of my very favorite ways – it’s short and sweet and to the point.  He doesn’t drag the story out too much after the climax.  If anything, it was almost too brief at the end… almost.  So many books I’ve read say too much at the end in my opinion, lessening the effect of the final action.  But that’s just my opinion.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the Old Kingdom short stories, and then finally onto the newest book, Goldenhand.  Such good reading in my future 😀