The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I read this book as a part of the Sword and Laser Book Club on goodreads.com. If you’re interested in science fiction and fantasy,I highly recommend it!

This book is not what I would normally read. It seemed to be a bit steampunk, which is not my thing. However, it had magic, which I like, so I thought I’d give it a try. Plus, I was able to borrow it as an ebook from my library!

The book is about two kids who are the players in a contest of magic. The circus was created as a sort of ¬†game board or arena for the contest. The players are not aware of each other initially, but as you can imagine, as the game goes on, they do become aware of each other, and that’s when things get more–not complicated, but more emotional. I won’t say too much more on that for fear of spoilers. ūüôā

Anyway, the setting is a turn of the century circus, that only appears at night. It appears without warning, and leaves without warning. The time line of the story shifts between the two players and the creation of the circus, and a young boy named Bailey, who becomes a fan of the circus in the near future. The timelines come together, eventually. I found myself going back to the heading of each chapter to make sure that I remembered what time line I was reading, but that got easier to follow as I got used to the story.

The other interesting thing about the book was the use of tense. As I’m sure is the case with many people, I am used to reading stories that are told in the first or third person, usually in the past tense. This story is told in the third person, but in the present tense. It took a bit of getting used to, but I didn’t find that it was distracting. There are also “interludes” that are told in the second person present tense. I could have done without those interludes, but it wasn’t bad.

While I thought the story itself was interesting, the setting was not. ¬†As I stated at the beginning, this felt like steampunk to me, and the time period isn’t one that I find compelling or interesting. I know that I am probably using the term “steampunk” incorrectly or loosely, but that’s what came to mind as I was reading.

It seemed as though the author was going for a certain mood, and for certain imagery, not necessarily for developing the characters. I didn’t feel as though I really knew the characters. I knew what happened to them, but it would have been nice to have gotten into their heads more, to see more of the toll that this contest had on them. I wish that my opinions about the book were a bit less scattered and unfocused, but this one was a little bit harder for me to get my head around.

I would only recommend this book to people who like this particular time period, and are not heavily into epic fantasy.

Lillypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPad out of 5

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

I have had this book on my “to-read” list for quite some time. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it because slavery isn’t exactly a feel good topic. However, I am determined to get some of these books off my list, so I gave it a shot. Kindred is the story of a young African-American woman in 1976, Dana, who is transported back in time to early 19th century America- to a slave plantation. Needless to say, things don’t go very well. Dana does not just go back to the antebellum South, she goes back to the very plantation where her ancestor, Hagar, was born into slavery. I am not a real fan of time travel stories, but this particular cast of characters, and the way the story unfolds, drew me in. What was interesting about this story was that Dana is not what I would consider to be your typical protagonist, at least in this situation. She is not from a wealthy family, she is not spoiled. She is an aspiring writer, who takes on odd jobs through an employment agency, to make ends meet. She is used a blue collar woman who is used to struggle, and this background serves as a foundation for the work (both physical and mental) she has to do. There are the typical issues with a modern woman being dropped into a world that does not have those ideals, but they are handled with a grace that I appreciate. Ms. Butler does not hit us over the head with these issues, but they come to light very organically. Dana is a smart woman, but she is not omniscient. She is a quick study, and she is able to use her wits and what she has read about this time period to keep herself alive. We also spend some time with Dana and her husband, Kevin. Dana’s time travel has a profound affect on Kevin and their marriage. At one point, (mild spoiler) Kevin goes back to the plantation with her. Not only is Dana changed, but Kevin is changed as well. His experiences, as a white man during this era, are quite different form Dana’s, and influences many of the choices they both have to make throughout this ordeal. What was very interesting was that there was no discussion of how changing events in the past would then change the future- the butterfly effect. This is a common trope of the genre, but I did not find that here. It seemed as though the way time travel works here, is more along the lines of “whatever happened, happened”- there was nothing Dana could have done in the past to change the future. The universe will always course correct. In a way, it frees up Dana to take necessary risks to keep herself alive, and to get back home. I have always enjoyed Octavia Butler’s works, and I would have to say that, surprisingly (at least to me anyway!) this has become one of my favorites of hers. If you are looking for a story with a light touch of fantasy, then I would highly recommend Kindred.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is a fabulous writer, and her voice is greatly missed in the science fiction world, indeed in the whole of literature. I have read other books by Ms. Butler, including Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Wild Seed and Fledgling. ¬†I don’t read science fiction that much (I prefer to watch on TV or film, rather than read it), so I can’t say that I am surprised that I have mixed feelings about the book. I feel it necessary to mention that I did a combo thing here. I both read and listened to the audiobook. I will say that Amazon’s Whispersync technology worked perfectly, and I was able to seamlessly move from page to audio with no problems. I actually enjoyed listening to the audiobook more than I did reading it. Anyway, here are my thoughts.

I thought that the main character, Lilith, was an interesting choice as narrator. She wakes up on a spaceship after life on earth, and earth itself, have been basically destroyed due to what seems to have been a nuclear holocaust. In the end, the exact detail isn’t important, but we do know that however the destruction of the earth happened, it was the humans’ fault. The strange beings that captured Lilith are attempting to help humans and Earth get back on track- press the re-set button so to speak. Of course, things are never that simple when you are dealing with aliens! There is always a price. And the aliens have a plan.

The first part of the book felt very lonely to me- its just Lilith and the aliens, getting to know each other. I wanted to get a better idea of the fear that Lilith was going through- she seemed to be pretty calm about the whole thing. I was not able to connect with Lilith in the way that I would have liked. You learn a bit about her past, but I still never felt connected. I couldn’t imagine myself in her place. Even when we learn about tragedies in her life, I could never get in her head. I think this would also have helped me to enjoy the second half of the book more, because it is quite different from the first half.

The second half of the book is where we begin to see other humans. The other humans also came across very flat to me. They are representations of certain types of characteristics, rather than fully fleshed out characters. And maybe they don’t need to be- maybe this is something that gets flushed out in subsequent novels in the series ( I believe there are two more books). But I never felt that they had an importance to the story, other than to fill certain roles. They are one dimensional with no signs of getting a noter dimension. We definitely are not seeing the best that humanity has to offer. We also get to see the humans interact with the aliens, and Lilith’s gradual attitude change when it comes to the aliens and their plan. I won’t reveal to much, but let’s just say that not everyone is on board with the plan.

The premise of the story is interesting, and I think that the overarching themes are there- what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be different? What is “normal”? How far would/should we go to save humanity? Is humanity worth saving? I may try the second book to see how these questions are answered, but I can’t say that I am that excited about it.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPad  out of 5

The Iron King (The Accursed Kings, Book 1) by Maurice Druon

I have a confession to make. I, like many people, read this book because of GRRM (George R.R. Martin). I am a huge fan of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve been reading it (and re-reading it) since the fall of 1998. So yes, I have had to wait 5 years between books, but it was so worth it. I even went to a WorldCon in 2006 with some other members of the Brotherhood Without Banners from westeros.org, and hung out with GRRM. I will never forget that because he hugged me! Squee! I have a nice picture with him as well. It was great fun hanging out with him and other members of BWB. I’m not active on that site any more, but my love for the series has not wavered since then. Needless to say, if GRRM recommends a book series, I am more likely to try it. So, enter The Iron King.

I listened to this book on audio, and I think that helped quite a bit. The narrator was very engaging, and really kept the story moving. I think that if I had “read” it, then I may have a slightly different opinion of the story.

The story is about the French King Philip IV and his court in the 13th and 14th centuries. As you can probably guess, there was a lot of drama. It almost plays as a soap opera, 13th century style. It reminded me of the Showtime TV Show The Tudors, but probably more historically accurate.

I know very little about the history of France’s monarchy, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the historical events. This is historical fiction, so I would venture to say that the major events are accurate,but obviously the conversations and probably minor events are not exactly right. The story itself was engaging and the characters were interesting, if not the most deep. There was a certain surface level treatment of the characters that at times could make them a bit cartoonish, but I think that was the intended tone of the book. This is not some grim dark fantasy where every character is either evil or some crazy shade of gray, so the darkness that is in there (there is a torture scene in the book that is not particularly graphic, but you do feel the gruesomeness of the act) is subdued by the tone.

There were lots of names and places thrown out, and at times it was a bit hard to follow. I did get the names and the matching husbands of the princesses confused at times, but, without giving away spoilers, that issue works itself out eventually. It was definitely a set up book for the remaining 6 books in the series. I am going to give the second book, The Strangled Queen, a try.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPad LilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

 

Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones

It took me awhile to pick up this book. I kept seeing it on amazon.com, and it seemed interesting. I shied away from it initially because I was feeling a little burned out on dystopian and/or armageddon stories. I was coming off the Hunger Games, Divergent, The Passage, etc., so I waited. When I saw that I could borrow the book (and the rest of the trilogy) for free through Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, I figured I’d give it a try. I am very cautiously optimistic.

Maybe I should’ve know that the end of the world would involve some sort of (slight spoiler) alien/spider/mutated human thingy, but I was definitely not prepared for it. The book began slowly, and a bit tedious. It was funny that I started this book while sitting in the waiting room of my dentist, and Emily (our protagonist) started the story in a doctor’s waiting room. Ha!

I became irritated and somewhat impatient with the step by step, detailed description of the normal things Emily did. This was a recurring irritation for me throughout the book. I mean, do you really need to tell me how she took out her laptop, booted up her computer and checked her email? I did that in ¬†about 13 words, the ¬†author took a good two paragraphs. This happened at later points in the story as well. I wanted to scream “I know that!!”. ¬†At one point I just said out loud “too many words!”. ¬†This style made the story drag a bit, and it seemed to take forever for the action to start. Things did pick up towards the end, but it was ¬†a bit of a slog to get there. It certainly didn’t go in the direction I thought it would (I may not have read the book at all if I had know of certain developments), but I think that’s a good thing. I felt the same way about The Passage by Justin Cronin, and I ended up liking it.

The protagonist, Emily Baxter, was a tough nut to crack for me. Even after I’ve finished the book, I don’t feel like I know her. I won’t get into too much detail, but I never really knew what she was going to do, or have some idea of how she would react to different situations, even though we are inside her head. I don’t really know her personality. She’s a bit all over the place. Maybe the author was going for an “every woman” type, but Emily ended up not really being any “type” at all. But perhaps for some people that’s a positive.

In the end, I do think I will continue with the series. It picked up enough by the last third for me to at least want to know where the plot will take me next.  This book is definitely a set up for the rest of the trilogy. I get the feeling that this may have been a rough start to an interesting series.

LilyPad Rating:  LilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell

This is my first stab at doing book reviews beyond just a couple of sentences, so please bare with me! I’ll try not to make most of my review into just a summary of the plot. What I will try to do is give my best impressions of the book, and whether I think it was worth my time to read.

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I finally finished this book. It took a month, which is unusual for me. It wasn’t the length of the book, but I was distracted by other things. Mostly different television shows. But maybe that says something about the book itself.

I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, but there was never anything that made me not want to put it down.

Anyway, I will give you the general premise. The book is the story of the early career of Parmenion, a half Spartan soldier who eventually becomes one of the greatest generals of the time. He eventually serves under King Philip of Macedon, and in a later book, under Philip’s son, Alexander the Great.

I initially picked up this book while reading one of the threads on Goodreads. I enjoyed David Gemmell’s Troy series and I like Alexander the Great as an historical figure, so I thought this book would be right up my alley. And it was, but it really didn’t stay that way.

I am not much of a military fantasy person, I tend to prefer political intrigue over detailed descriptions of battles and military strategy.  (I do realize this is a story about a general). Obviously, some battles and military talk in a fantasy novel is usually a given, but some stories focus more on that than others. There was some political intrigue going on, namely the efforts to liberate Thebes. This happens around the middle of the book, and to me it seemed to drag on for quite  awhile.

Character wise, I really liked Parmenion, and I somewhat identified with his struggles, but at times I wanted to just tell him to get over it and move on. I think it would have added to his character more if we had gotten at least a glimpse of his earlier childhood, before his training as a soldier. There was a bit of romance in the book as well, which I can take or leave, but it was brief and seemed to be added in just to break up the military/battles. There’s definitely magic and mysticism thrown in, which was interesting, but played a bigger part in the story than I would have thought. It almost seemed out of place for the world the author was creating.

All in all, if you liked David Gemmell’s previous works, you should definitely give this one a try. However, I prefer his Troy series (Lord of the Silver Bow, Shield of Thunder, and Fall of Kings). ¬†Its been awhile since I’ve read it, but it I remember the Troy series feeling bit more sprawling and epic. It focused on the story of the Fall of Troy, more from the point of view of Andromeche and others.

 

Lily Pad Rating: 3 LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad