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My current book review policy is behind the LJ cut. Click to read it.Collapse )

(Art by hamburger.)

2018 books: Shards of Honor, Stardoc

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Know how you put off a task because you know it will disappoint people? I should have reviewed this book as soon as I gave up on it, because at least then I could have better written my reasons for it, but I know a lot of people loved the series and I hated the idea of disappointing you guys.

This book didn't work for me, but I suspect the later books in the series, maybe once Miles is the main character, might work better for me. I did like a number of parts of the story: the war, the background, and I liked both main characters. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book, when she was trapped on the planet and trying to stay out of the enemy's hands.

But then she was caught by them and... she fell in love. In days. Something like five days after they met, these two enemy people, alien species to each other, were in love and talking about long-term relationships.

Someone on Goodreads described this book as more romance than anything else, and that's how it felt to me as well. They had a 'love at first sight' (or at least lust at first sight) thing going on, and so so so quickly moved into a relationship.

I stopped reading at 45% (sorry!), but will try one of the later books.

Stardoc by S. L. Viehl
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

After I gave up on Shards of Honor, I wanted something different. "Not another woman-in-space book!" I said to myself. Looking through the tiny, tiny covers on my kindle, I saw what I thought was Stardogs. "Ah ha! Perfect! That should be completely different!" ...but the font had been so tiny, it was actually Stardoc, which was about a woman in space.

Stardoc, about (hold onto you seat) a doctor in space, wasn't a bad book. It followed the main character as she left Earth and went to some frontier planet to practice medicine there. The aliens were interesting, the planet was interesting. At times the medical cases were interesting. But, like Shards, this one seemed to be leaning towards romance as well. She meets a sexy blue alien, experiences love/lust at first sight, and days later the two are talking about a lifelong relationship. There was also some Dark Mystery subplot about her father, but that held no interest for me.

While on the surface, things kept happening in the story (medical case after medical case), there was no overarching plot through the whole book other than the rarely mentioned Dark Mystery around her father, and the romance. Like Shards, this book felt more like a romance book than anything else. I stopped reading at 40%.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 45% + 40%
Previous abandoned book total: 708%
New total: 793%
Pet Noir by Pati Nagle
Traditional or self-published: Self-published? (From the "publisher's" website: "Evennight Books is a small publisher specializing in fiction by New Mexico writers. Formed in 2010 to bring P. G. Nagle’s backlist back into print...")
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

A collection of mystery-ish stories told from the POV of Leon, a cat geneteched to have opposable thumbs, human-level intelligence, and the ability to speak. In a somewhat logic-stretching move, a "small town" space station's security department bought one of these very very expensive cats to help them solve a case. Each of the other five stories in the book involve Leon and his human cop/partner solving other cases.

The first story (Leon as a kitten, just arriving on the space station, everything new to him) was the best by far. I would have rated the book higher, if it were only that story.

One of the reasons this book sat in my To Read pile so long was the title. To be honest, I had picked up this book expecting it to be so bad that it might be amusing. It wasn't bad at all -- it was exactly what it billed itself to be. I'm not a mystery book reader though, and the whole 'noir' genre doesn't work for me, so through my own fault, the book wasn't a good match for me. As the stories went along, Leon's voice changed, and it was more and more sounding like noir, so eventually I bailed. I stopped reading at the 63% point, in the middle of the third story.

The Man-Kzin Wars by Larry Niven
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

What a confusing book. The ebook version I have has the cover of Book 4 of this series, yet the stories inside belonged to Book 1. Anyway! There were three stories in this book. The first, by Niven, was so amusingly dated. Published in 1966, though written long before that, astronauts on a spaceship smoked. The story's whole view of the future was so... cute? That humans would be so detached from violence that they couldn't even make themselves use words like 'war' anymore, they physically got sick and had to go into therapy if they did. I finished the whole story, but it did nothing at all for me.

The second story, by Poul Anderson, completely didn't work for me. Too hard science fiction-y, too dry, I skipped much of it. The third story, by Dean Ing, was more interesting (a human was captured by the cat-like Kzin and left as a prisoner on an empty planet), but still didn't hold my attention well enough to continue. Gave up on the book at the 74% mark.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 63% + 74%
Previous abandoned book total: 571%
New total: 708%

Currently reading: Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold. Edit: Hrm. Even though this is book #1, it's recommended as the second book to read? Oh well, it's the one I have, so sticking with it.
Yesterday I reviewed Pet, a short story set in the Captive Prince trilogy. Since I have no way of tracking short stories anymore, I gave it a whole book credit and intended to read the other stories as part of Book #9.

Turns out that didn't work out so well... While Pet worked as a stand-alone story, the others did not.

Luckily I picked at random the best one to start with, Green but for a Season. It was about a character named Jord and his time in the Prince's Guard. I'm sure, if read after the book that plotline was part of, this story would have been a lot of fun, but I don't remember much at all about the series, so for me this short story was about people I didn't know and a conflict I could barely recall at all. I finished it, and it was mildly interesting, but I can't say I enjoyed it.

The other two short stories, The Summer Palace and The Adventures of Charls, were intended as the trilogy's real ending. For reasons I can't recall (deadlines with her contract?) the author had ended the third book badly -- basically she *didn't* end it, just ran out of time to finish it. So, without remembering the last book at all (beyond that I hadn't enjoyed it), these stories were meaningless to me. I got about halfway through one and didn't bother starting the other.

If I read other short stories this year, I'll toss them into Book #9 to try to bring that up to a full book's worth of reading.

Currently reading: Man-Kzin Wars VI. No, I haven't read books 1-5, but as these are collections of stories set in that universe, they don't need to be read in order. This is the one I just happen to have.
Pet: A Captive Prince Short Story by C. S. Pacat
Traditional or self-published: Self? (I can't find any website for the listed publisher, other than one message board post claiming it's a very large, very old publishing house. Her main books are traditionally published, but have a different publisher listed than the short stories...)
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

What a wonderful little story! Told from the POV of Ancel (a "pet", a person owned for sex, but treated very well -- like a beloved pet). I loved the character's voice and his journey from a boy prostitute working in a small town whorehouse to a powerful (so to speak) pet. I really liked the Berenger character (the lord who bought his contract), and the difference between the two of them. I agree with everything hamsterwoman said in her review of the story, including that while it was interesting to have a different view of the rape scene, it didn't "fix" it (but I wasn't seeking a fix, so that was fine with me).

I wish I had remembered the books better though, I feel like I would have enjoyed this story even more if I had.

Bookkeeping note: This was a short story, not a book, but I have no system to track short stories, so I gave it a book number. I'm going to try to track down the other short stories from the series, and count them as part of Book #9 for this year.

Tarin of the Mammoths by Jo Sandhu
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Like so many YA (or younger) books set in prehistoric times, the main character is a boy with a deformed leg (it's always a leg or foot, never an arm, neck, back or any other body part). Like all those other books, all he wants to do is be a hunter, but he can't because of his leg. This book was no different than those others: Tarin wanted to be a hunter, but could not. After he ruins an important hunt, he sets out on a journey to help his tribe in some other way.

When you're not the target audience of a book, you can't blame it for not being a good match for you. Tarin of the Mammoths was written for readers ages 9-11, so it's not surprising that the characters were just way too black/white for me. I did like the setting and the world building, but all the characters, from major to minor, just didn't work for me. There were way too many flaws in logic as well, everything from a long swim in "glacial runoff" doing nothing but making them shiver, to their packed clothing being dry after the boy and his pack were carried by a river and underwater so long that he nearly died (including going over a waterfall). I wanted to like this book, and it was a fast read, but after multiple nights of not wanting to continue it, I gave up at the 71% point.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in this books: 71%
Previous abandoned book total: 500%
New total: 571%
Gauntlet (Arena #2) by Holly Jennings
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I loved the first book in this series, but this second one just so so so completely did not work for me.

Set in the future, VR video games are the biggest, most popular things in the world. Gamers are the most fit athletes around, and usually the most beautiful/sexy/cool people as well. (Since games are so popular, the biggest players are used in most ad campaigns, so they have to look good.) The first book featured a woman and her team entering a tournament. This second book centers around a much larger, worldwide tournament.

All that would be well and good. I enjoyed the gaming and tech parts of the story, but in the first book it was the characters who sold me on it. In this second book, the characters were what drove me away...

Minor spoilers for the first book.Collapse )

So anyway. I was curious about the game and the other teams and how the tournament would go, but the characters drove me off this book. Quit at the 28% point.

The Cats of Butterwick Sands by Gabriella Thomas
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

What a cute cover this book has! Alas it was the only thing about it that I liked. Supposedly a book of stories about the cats in a town, but it felt more like it was about people who owned cats. Also, though it was published this year, it felt so dated. I would have believed this was a book that came out in the 1950s instead of today.

It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't for me. I stopped reading at 8%.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 28% + 8% = 36%
Previous abandoned book total: 464%
New total: 500% on the nose! Five book credits so far from partial books.

Currently reading: Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile (Book 1) which feels like Clan of the Cavebear for very young readers.

Book #8 of 2018: Arena

Arena by Holly Jennings
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Timing is funny sometimes. Just last week, I deleted all the LitRPG books off my Kindle. Picking a book at random from my To Read pile, I ended up with Arena, which is LitRPG.

But know what? It was good. Very very good.

The plot was about a "world series"-ish VR video gaming league. Professional teams train all year to try to become the champs. Like all video games, you can die in them, which is why these games have such a large worldwide following -- nothing like watching beautiful people kill each other, especially when they don't really die and can fight again next week.

The main character is a young woman, a member of one of those professional teams.

Oddly it did so many of the same things that the bad books did:
* Gamers as professional athletes -- gamers as some of the most physically fit people in the world. In those bad LitRPG books, that was completely not believable at all, but in this one the author explained it and made it work. The gamers worked very hard, physically training all day most days, to keep in peak condition.

* VR video games as more popular than any RL sport: While near the end of Arena my belief in this was stretched a little, the author still made it work much much better than any of those countless bad books ever did.

* Gamers as highly sexy people -- people fans threw themselves at to sleep with. Again, what was handled so poorly in those bad, self-published LitRPG books was completely believable in this one. Because the gamers were actually selling a product (advertising) as much as gaming, the gaming industry teams needed beautiful/sexy people.

Things this book did differently than all those bad ones:
* Had a female main character. I don't usually care the gender of characters in a book, but in this case it worked out really well to have her be a woman.

* Was traditionally published.

The author, a lifetime gamer herself, made the whole fictional world so believable. I really loved most of the book so much. It wasn't without flaws, however:
* The ending really, really bothered me a lot. Not just the main character, but her team of four other worldclass gamers made such an amazingly bad decision... I wanted to stop reading then and there, it was just so painfully stupid.

* Problems got wrapped up way too easily. Like the main character realized she had an addiction to the game, and solved it quite quickly... I chalk the easy solution part up to this being a YA book. I'm really not sure I buy that people can be addicted to video games though, so that made me a little frowny as well.

One element I didn't like, though I wouldn't call a flaw:
*I did not enjoy the whole subplot about one woman trying to change the whole system. Came off as too Hunger Games-ish to me.

But still, even with those issues, I loved this book so much. That being said, there's a second book out already, but I don't think I'm going to read it. I suspect it will be more of the "fighting to change the system" plotline, which hadn't worked for me. Hm, though now that I finished this book, I can look at the second without fear of spoilers... Looks like I was wrong. I think I'll pick up the second book and start it tonight.

Edit: UGH. Went to buy the second book:

Why does the ebook cost MORE than a physical copy? ARG.
Tax season.
The time: Last week.

I kept putting off doing my taxes, then said that I'd do them on the coming weekend for sure. But it was Thursday and suddenly I felt like settling in and getting them done, and yay getting them done early, so I did them.

No surprises, owed money to federal and state.

Wrapping up them, TurboTax asked for my driver's license number and expiration date. I fetched my license. Entered the number. Checked the expiration date...

What the hell? "Why does it have 2017 as the expiration date? Isn't this 2018?"

It did. And it is.

I had been driving with an expired license for three months.

In a panic, I checked the DMV website. It let me renew it online, which I thought was odd but hey. Worried though, I kept reading.

"Licenses can only be renewed online up to 60 days after they expire." It had been 90 days on the nose, so why did the site let me do it..? I kept reading:

"Licenses can only be renewed up to 90 days after they expire, must be done in person." Bolding mine. I was reading that on the 90th day. Oh my god, was I going to have to completely retest? Take the book test? The driving test?

With a thin hope that maybe they would count it at midnight of the 90th day, I got dressed, jumped into an Uber, and went to the DMV.

The line was literally out the door. It took an hour of waiting just to get in the door, at which time they told us it would be a FIVE HOUR WAIT from that point.

But what choice did I have?

Eventually I got through the first check-in line (the line before you even get a number to wait to be served). The woman laughed at me. "People come with a ten year expired license and can renew!" What the hell? So was the website totally wrong?

I don't even know. I didn't have to retest at all (YAY). I did, however, pay twice now, once online and once in person, and I have no idea how I will get that straightened out.

Why hadn't I gotten notice about my license expiring? Because I had moved and they had an old address for me.

But the government knows where I am. I get voting registration and election mail. How does one part of the government know where I am, but not a different part?

Blah. Thankfully I hadn't gotten into an accident or anything when I hadn't had a license...
Arrndgros by Pyotr Andreyev
Traditional or self-published: Self-published
Rating: Liked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

In most books and films, orcs are not just bad guys, but generic bad guys. Arrndgros followed a whole lot of different orcs, all different tribes and races of them, through different stories in different parts of the world.

The first chapter (nearly novella-length) was wonderful. I loved the orc character (a young male fighting to become a man of his tribe). I loved the world-building, I loved the writing, I loved everything.

Chapter two... and those characters were no where to be seen. We met a whole new tribe, new characters, all that. I was confused, but quickly enough fell in love with those characters.

Chapter three... more new characters. And these characters/tribe/culture worked less well for me. This book was starting to feel more like an anthology than one single story.

I read up to chapter five. While some of the previous characters started to return, my interest finding out what was happening was waning and waning. I pressed on to the 52% point before I stopped reading.

It's such a challenge to rate a book like this. I LOVED the first two chapters, and then my interest went downhill, so I just averaged out things.

The Dark Portal (The Deptford Mice #1) by Robin Jarvis
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Disliked (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

I love talking animal stories. This one, about a bunch of mice that fight against a bunch of bad guy rats, should have been a perfect for for me. However, all the characters had very strong accents and they were all written out. I do not enjoy that, so I stopped reading at the 5% point.

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these books: 52% + 5% = 57%
Previous abandoned book total: 407%
New total: 464%

Currently reading: Arena by Holly Jennings

The end of LitRPG books (2018 books)

LitRPG (people trapped inside a video game) books should work for me. I play video games all the time, I'd love to live in one, so LitRPG should be a great match for me. Unfortunately, the books are the worst of the worst. Overpowered male characters who have more power, fame, and money than anyone around them, with beautiful women throwing themselves at the MC for no reason... They're all just bad bad bad.

But before I knew how bad they were, I got a bunch of them. So now, like horrible little landmines, I keep stumbling onto one when I pick out a new book to read. I decided to do something about that. Last night I searched for them all, and tried them all just so I could be rid of them.

None of them were worth a full review. Almost all of them had major grammar errors on the first page. The one or two that didn't had other issues (writing, overpowered male MC, whatever). I'm just listing them here now for bookkeeping purposes.

The first three were all published by the same "boutique literary agency" that is "aiming to bring the best in modern Russian science fiction and fantasy to the foreign reader". These books had originally been published in Russia, and were translated into English.

You're In Game: Stopped at 4% (Hated, traditional)
Start the Game: 1% (Hated, traditional)
Survival Quest: 1% (Hated, traditional)
End Online: 1% (Hated, self-published)
World Seed: Game Start: 5% (Hated, self-published)

Partial book credits:
Point reached in these book: 12%
Previous abandoned book total: 395%
New total: 407%

Currently reading: Arrndgros. The most oddly titled book I might have ever read.

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