Looking Back at July 2014

I’m still playing a little bit of catch-up with the blog as I wind down my time at my current job (today is my last day) and prepare for my new job (Monday is my first day), but at least this time the monthly recap is only about a week late instead of an entire month late. Progress is progress I suppose.

July as an interesting month of reading for me. I read an entire trilogy from start to finish without anything in between, read the final two books of another trilogy, read what I believe to be a standalone novel (but I’m not entirely sure), and started a new series by an author I’ve heard lots of great things about over the past few months. On top of all that, I got to enjoy the latest installment of The Expanse, which I had been waiting a long time to pick up.

In no particular order, here are the books I read in July:

My interest in the books by Alex J. Cavanaugh came from a conversation with an editor friend of mine who said he had read the first one and wanted to know what I thought. CassaStar is not particularly long, so I gave it a shot over a Saturday afternoon and it grabbed me enough I went ahead and read the other two over the remainder of the weekend. I liked what the author was doing with the books, although they are still a little rough around the edges. I could see his improvement though, so I’d give another endeavor of his a fair shot in the future.

Born of Hatred and With Silent Screams are the second and third books of The Hellequin Chronicles, and I had read the first book a few months ago. I found that first book to be rather engaging and there was something about the main character that just kept eating at the back of my mind, so I read these two books to try to find the answer I was looking for. It took a while, but about three-quarters of the way through Born of Hatred I got the answer, and then continued on with my enjoyment of the trilogy. I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if Steve McHugh has any new material forthcoming.

The books by Myke Cole and Michael R. Underwood came from following my favorite authors on Twitter and seeing them talk about those two authors an awful lot, so I went out and got a couple of books to try. Shadow Ops: Control Point was much different from I was expecting and had me hooked from the first page. Shield and Crocus can best be described as “The Avengers you never knew you wanted to read about.”

And, of course, I absolutely loved Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey. It was recently announced that The Expanse has been extended into at least three more books in the coming years, one per summer (which is perfect), and I’m hoping it doesn’t start there. I hope I’m still reading new books in The Expanse series when I’m 50 years old.

As for August, I’m blatantly focusing on books closer to 300 pages more than anything else. I’m starting a new job, moving into a new home, and in general still making a lot of adjustments to my everyday life, so reading time is going to be at a premium. I think if I focus on the shorter books I have available to myself I can still finish eight or nine before the end of the month and keep my pace for the 100 books read this year goal.

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Book Review: “Hollow World” by Michael J. Sullivan

Hollow WorldHollow World is the first book I’ve had sent to me directly from an author with a request for an honest review. Michael J. Sullivan sent me an email a few months ago asking if I’d like to receive an advance copy of the book in exchange for a review around the time the book was supposed to be released. I read the synopsis he had sent along and decided the book looked interesting enough, so I told him to drop a copy in the mailbox and to pick a date he would like the review to be published. As it turns out, the book made it into the hands of readers a bit earlier than he originally planned with an early release by Amazon and the like, but I stuck with the date he had asked for anyways.

As it turns out, I really enjoyed Hollow World. It’s not a long book, Amazon lists it as being 416 pages in length, but it does not feel that long as you read. The narrative is crisp, moving ahead right when it needs to in order to keep the attention of the reader and avoid the pitfall of getting too verbose about mundane things. The cast of characters is kept to a reasonable number, really just a handful, and that helps to make each interaction feel meaningful and significant. Some books get bogged down in supporting characters, but Hollow World keeps the attention on those that matter most, Ellis Rogers and Pax, the two central figures to the story.

I feel like Hollow World fills a unique position in the genre of science fiction. The story begins with a classic time travel element as Ellis Rogers uses a homemade time machine in his garage to travel into the future in search of a possible cure for his terminal illness. When he arrives in the future he discovers an Earth where nature has retaken the surface and society lives almost entirely underground. Known as Hollow World, the massive underground city is home to amazing technology, artificial intelligence systems, and a human race devoid of gender. All of this falls into the typical science fiction realm, but over the course of the book, the technology seems to take a back seat to the story Michael J. Sullivan wants to tell. On the surface that sounds counter-intuitive to the idea of science fiction, but it worked perfectly. The technology is put to use when it needs to be to further the action, but otherwise the author lets the story shine through instead of using technology gimmicks.

Hollow World also deals with a lot of other things not typically found as major themes in science fiction. Themes such as homosexuality, individuality, liberal vs. conservative viewpoints, religion, and many more. It was refreshing to see a science fiction novel deal with some of these themes head on instead of side-lining them as an afterthought behind sweeping action scenes and superior technology.

Ellis Rogers and Pax are two very well-conceived characters that I really connected with. Pax was my favorite of the two, but I think that was because I spent most of the book trying to put together all the details about what made him so special compared to the other genetically engineered humans in the Hollow World. I enjoyed Pax’s approach to plot events and loved the reveal of his secret towards the end. The time travel was also refreshing because it was not bogged down in minute details. Ellis found some research, had the educational background to see where the work had gone wrong, make the fix, and travel through time. Sullivan did not waste a lot of time on the intricacies of time travel, rather he used it as a mechanism to get the story moving and that was all.

Hollow World was a pleasant surprise as I read it and I’m glad I took the time to give it a try. I read a lot of mainstream science fiction and fantasy and often begin to feel like I’m reading the same thing over and over, but Hollow World broke me out of that cycle for a few days, which was nice. I would be very interested in reading a follow-up to this book, or maybe another book set in the same universe that isn’t a direct sequel.

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Book Review: “Burn” by Julianna Baggott

9781455502998_p0_v1_s260x420I’m so glad I waited to read Fuse and subsequently Burn until the later was available. If I had read Fuse and then had to wait I would have been very frustrated. I just wanted to see the ending of this story without sitting around for months.

Partridge is firmly entrenched inside the Dome with all of the other Pures and he’s having a tough time making any progress on his supposed revolution. His feelings for his father, mixed with his feelings about what the right thing to do about the Pures are making things really difficult. He’s discovered another official undermining his every move and he’s fighting a two or three-way battle at all times. He can’t be with the woman he loves, and he can’t accomplish his mission without forfeiting his personal morals.

Pressia, Bradwell, and El Capitan are dealing with the fallout of traveling to Ireland to find the missing piece of the cure Pressia’s mother was working on when she died. Bradwell has six gigantic wings on his back now instead of three small birds, El Capitan is struggling with a head injury and his love for Pressia, and Pressia is stuck in the middle of just about everything. It’s a tough situation for all of them.

Soon enough, through a series of more and more intense events the entire cast is put together one last time at the Dome. Partridge is on the inside trying to overthrow the government, but soon realizes that because the Pures have no immune systems anymore if he lets the Dome down they will all die. Pressia and her crew have arrived at the Dome and she sneaks inside to confront him. Bradwell and El Capitan take part in a siege that will hopefully use a bacterium they procured in Ireland to destroy the Dome from the outside with the help of an army of wretches.

As one might imagine: chaos ensues.

Going into this final book of the trilogy I kept my expectations on how things would end very low. I could see elements of the story leading me towards another happy ending where the Dome comes down, the Pures integrate with the wretches, and a cure is found that helps fix the fusings. Then everyone would begin the process of rebuilding the world together. You see that sort of thing a lot with these types of books.

I also could see the plot weaving me towards a very bittersweet ending where main characters are killed, love is lost, and hope is very fleeting for a brighter future. My gut was telling me to be prepared for this as the most likely outcome. There are pieces of these books that are downright brutal and a happy-go-lucky ending just seemed like it was going to be entirely out of place.

When the dust finally settled, things fell right in the middle of those two outcomes. There is some happiness for some characters, but there is a lot of sadness for others. Things don’t turn out the way that Pressia is expecting them to after all the hard work she’s put in, but they also don’t turn out anything like Partridge, El Capitan, or Bradwell hope they will either. There is a lot of hard justice at the end of these books, very similar to the Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping that Julianna Baggott has the same fortitude to leave things be with these books and doesn’t fall to any pressure to write just one more book. The ending might be bittersweet and a little bit brutal, but it was a solid ending. Very realistic given the world that had been built.

This trilogy was worth the time I spent reading it and I’ve already recommended it to a few other people who I think will appreciate what the author has done with these books. Give this trilogy a chance if you are looking for some dystopian fiction that really puts the intensity of how that kind of society would be in real life into play.

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Book Review: “Fuse” by Julianna Baggott

FuseWhen I read the first book in The Pure Trilogy last year I really wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a book I’d purchased on the cheap while it was on sale, and it was a recommendation by Amazon given some of my past purchases. Turns out, Pure was a pretty decent book with a lot of good things going for it. That meant I wanted to read the second and third book as well, but while the second book had just been released, I didn’t want to read it until the third book was available. I had a feeling I’d be frustrated at not being able to jump from one to the next immediately.

I was right. Fuse is a fantastic book, and it continues the story that came before in Pure with great skill and still manages to keep the reader guessing.

Back again are Pressia, Partridge, El Capitan, and Bradwell as they strive to find a way to bring down the Dome and find a cure for the disfigurements all of them from outside the dome are burdened with. In order to do both of those things a lot of sacrifices are going to need to be made by everyone involved because the world they live in is brutal and doesn’t like to stand down when it is confronted.

Partridge is forced back into the Dome as his father begins executing the wretches outside the Dome one by one until he turns himself in. Once there, he discovers that his father wants him to assume control when he ultimately can’t survive any longer due to his DNA unraveling so rapidly. Partridge is not entirely sure how he feels about that arrangement, but he doesn’t really find himself with a choice in the matter.

The rest of the characters try to chase down a cure for the fusings everyone suffers from on a daily basis. They’ve got a small black robot box by the name of Fignan feeding them clues as to the whereabouts of the next piece of the cure, but it’s taking them a long time to figure things out. Eventually they figure things out and as a result of the events that transpire Pressia uncovers a huge secret about Partridge’s father and Bradwell winds up with six giant wings. Sit and think on that for a minute. It’s crazy.

Discussing the finer plot points of these books is difficult because almost everything is a spoiler for something else, but I can say that El Capitan really took over this book for me. He’s been an interesting character to me since the first book and in Fuse he gets a lot of screen time that turns into superb character development, especially in regards to his brother who is permanently fused to his back. The two of them are forced by necessity to co-exist in a very unique fashion and in this book that relationship is forced to adapt and grow in ways I didn’t see coming.

Once again the world-building and character development by Julianna Baggott is amazing on the whole. I found myself sitting back in awe at some of the visuals she was painting in my mind using nothing but the words on the page. I was almost sad to be finished with the book when I was, and am certainly glad I had another book left.

If you haven’t given The Pure Trilogy a try yet you really should. It’s one of the most well-written and well-conceived trilogies of its kind and should be held up as a wonderful example of what YA literature can be if the author is willing to rely on ingenuity and unique ideas rather than well-worn tropes.

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Up Next: “Fuse” by Julianna Baggott

FuseWhen I read the first book in this trilogy last year I was taken completely by surprise with how much I enjoyed it. Julianna Baggott is an absolute master at world building and she’s created a world with these books that rivals some of the best I’ve seen. The entire premise of this trilogy is fantastic and is something so refreshing in YA literature.

I’ve got Fuse to read at the moment, but I’ve also go the final book in the trilogy, Burn, which came out just a week or two ago, to read immediately after. I was saving Fuse to read until Burn came out because I didn’t want to wait between them. I expect I’m going to love both of the books immensely by the time I’m finished reading them over this next week.

To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth, and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.

At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in ways she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.

To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price . . .