Category Archives: TBR challenge

“A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)
When it comes to fantasy, I prefer the urban fantasy of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or the Newford books of Charles DeLint.

But after enduring “Wizard’s First Rule” earlier this summer, I felt like I should give a fair shake to one of the giants of the genre–the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. “A Game of Thrones” is a novel that’s long been on my bookshelf, sort of mocking me with its lengthy page count and complex political storylines. Each time I’d think about reading it, another book would come along to distract me.

Finally a reason other than “because it’s there” came along for me to read it. A book club I participate in chose it for our August selection. Finally, the motivation I needed.

And, at first, I was pleasantly surprised by the novel. It starts off well and manages to avoid a lot of the cliches that doomed my reading of “Wizard.” Namely the book assumes the reader has half a brain cell and can follow the on-going plot without the need to have characters sit around and contemplate events up to this point every 20 or so pages. For that, Martin should be commended.

Of course, Martin does include a long list of characters and relationships in the back of the book to help readers out and there were times at the mid-point I found myself flipping to it to keep in mind who relates to who and how. I say this because Martin has created an epic group of characters for the story. And that can be a good thing or it can be a daunting task. Add to it that the story shifts among multiple viewpoints and it would be easy to get lost in the details.

However, Martin never lets the reader get too far lost. There is a portion of the story in the middle where things slow to a crawl, but that’s only because Martin has to set things up for the final third of the novel when revelations begin to occur and the action jumps up a notch. I’ll admit it took me a while to plow through the middle third but the first and last third of the book are simply some of the best epic fantasy I’ve read of late. Of course, when the comparison is “Wizard’s First Rule,” that’s damning by faint praise. But the thing is “A Game of Thrones” works because it doesn’t fall back on the typical fantasy tropes. For a fantasy novel, there is very little of the magic usually associated with such books here–at least until the final few pages.

Also, I’ve heard Martin has a habit of taking unexpected turns and not keeping any character safe from death at any time. That certainly begins in this first novel, where based on how certain characters were developing and casting news for the HBO series, I assumed at least one or two characters would make it through the entire series.

Apparently that’s what I get for assuming.

The story is a long, complex and intriguing one that ends at a place that I’m curious to continue the journey. At least after in the near future. The idea of picking up the near 1000 page sequel to this one seems a bit daunting right now but I have a strong feeling I’ll be back to this universe soon.

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TBR Challenge: “Mission Canyon” by Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner’s second novel in the Evan Delaney mystery series shows the same assuredness of storytelling that won me over in “China Lake” but ends up being a far more satisfying and complete reading experience.

Several years ago, Evan’s boyfriend, Jesse, was paralyzed in a hit and run incident. Jesse’s good friend was killed and all the evidence pointed toward it being a deliberate hit and run incident, with the car’s driver, Franklin Brand, going on the run. Now, Brand is back in town, but for what purpose?

As Evan follows Brand to make sure he doesn’t leave town, she’s slowly drawn into a web involving the incident and who the real target of the incident was. As Evan uncovers the truth of what happened and why, her own life becomes threatened and the discoveries she makes could fundamentally alter her life and her relationship with Jesse.

I came to the Evan Delaney series after reading Gardiner’s “The Dirty Secrets Club” and being impressed by it. Hungry for more, I picked up “China Lake” and while there were snippets of what I liked from “Secrets” in there, it still felt like a first novel. With “Mission Canyon,” the trappings of a first novel are gone and Gardiner settles in with a satisfying, page-turning mystery thriller that sets everything up well and then delivers a nicely done payoff in the end. I want to say this story is a bit more personal for Evan, but that would be doing a disservice to “China Lake” since it was a story about her protecting her nephew in peril from an evil religious cult. The big difference is that it feels like Gardiner doesn’t have as big an axe to grind here with the antagonists and they come off as far more effective and threatening that way. They’re not quite the evil, moustache twirling kind of villains that we got in “China Lake” and the book is a lot stronger for that.

Also, having had a novel to get to know Evan, the book is more successful as we see and hear Evan’s relentless belief in those she cares about and her dogged determination to defend them. It makes one of the novel’s turning points and twists a bit more shocking when you come to it. It also helps to make Evan grow as a character and not just be a stock, plucky female private investigator.

All in all, “Mission Canyon” is a far more complete and satisfying novel than its predecesor. I wonder if I’d read it first if I’d regard it as highly as I do “Dirty Secrets Club.” After all, part of the fun of a novel author is the joy of discovering their tricks and storytelling technique in the first novel you’re exposed to.

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TBR Challenge: “Presumed Guilty” by James Scott Bell

Presumed Guilty
While not quite in the same league as Robert Whitlow, James Scott Bell shows promise in the realm of compelling, well-written Christian fiction.

Dallas Hamilton’s seemingly perfect world is shattered when her minister husband is arrested for the murder of an adult film star. Her husband was working with a local politician to combat the world of adult entertaiment. In the course of the investigation, secrets are revealed, including that her husband slept with the victim and had a previous affair. A hard drive full of pornography doesn’t help his case and soon a media circus has erupted.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ family is also falling apart in other ways. Her son is home from Iraq and appears to suffer from some kind of post combat stress issues. He can’t hold down a job and has anger issues with his father. He lashes out at everyone and denies God. Dallas slowly tries to chip away at what’s wrong and what happened during his time in combat to change her son.

Bell’s story works well enough when it confines itself to the dealings of the legal system and the dilemma may men face in fighting the temptation of adult entertainment. The reflections by Dallas’ husband, Ron, in prison on how he’s gone down the path to ruin he’s followed are compelling, though it doesn’t fully explain a decision he makes halfway through the story.

Which is part of my problem with the story. There are a lot of twists and turns, including a vast conspiracy at the center of the story that bogs down the novel’s final half. For every believable twist and turn, there was another one that left me scratching my head. And while Dallas, Ron and the son feel like authentic chracters, there are still other characters in the story who come off as too one-note and serve only as ways to advance the plot. And the journey taken by the son, while interesting, is one that is a bit predictable in the end.

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Challenges for 2009

The 42 Challenge for 2009

Your mission–if you choose to accept it–is to read, watch, listen, and review 42 sci-fi related items. (Items isn’t the best word, but how else would you define all that this challenge could involve). What’s acceptable? Practically everything: short stories, poetry (???), novellas, novels, episodes of TV shows, episodes of radio shows, movies, comic books, graphic novels, audio books, essays or articles about science fiction or science fiction writers, biographies of science fiction authors. This isn’t quite as intimidating as it sounds. This is much more than a reading challenge. It would be intimidating (in all likelihood) to try to read that many books. But when you make each short story, each TV show episode count as individual items, then it is much more manageable I hope! (This challenge could be as easy as watching Season 1 and Season 2 of Stargate SG-1, for example.)

Find out more here.

To Be Read Challenge 2009

To remind you of the rules:
* the challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 monthsyou can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
* you need to have a list posted somewhere for others to see (even if it’s in a comment here)
* you CANNOT change your list after January 1st, 2009!!!
* you can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
* audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
* re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren’t TRUE “TBRs”
* you CAN overlap with other challenges
* OPTIONAL: you can join the Yahoo! Group created for participants of the TBR Challenge, if you want to have a place to keep your list, or just to share with others about how you’re doing! 🙂

My list:

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
In the Woods by Tania French
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Presumed Guilty by James Scott Bell
Mission Canyon by Meg Gardiner
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaur

Series Challenge III

The challenge starts December 1st, 2008 and goes until November 30th, 2009.

The rules are easy:

1) Pick a couple series you already started and now want to finish (meaning, you’ll be all up to date with the series when it ends).

2) Read at least 4 books, more are also okay, of course!

3) Post your review of the books on your blog or in the comment section, no matter how long. If you post the review on your blog, please post a link to the review in the comment section so that everyone else can check out your review.

4) Have fun!

More Information on this one is here

Star Trek: Destiny novels
Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card
Evan Delaney mysteries by Meg Gardiner
The City of Ember series
Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan

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“The Truth” by Terry Pratchett

A lot of your enjoyment of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld series comes down to your awareness of the object of Pratchett’s satire.  In the case of “The Truth,” it’s the world of newspapers and journalism in general.  Having a background in this, I found a lot of Pratchett’s zingers and satire to be dead-on accurate in their humor and observation.

What I didn’t find quite as spot-on was some of the twists and turns of the novel.  For one thing, the identity of who is behind the elaborate conspiracy is so easily deduced that it ruins some of the driving force of the last half of the novel.  Of course, the problem is that the readers know the identity (or can deduce it easily if you’re paying attention), while the characters don’t because they don’t have as much information as we do.  It’s a case of the reader being a bit too omniscient for his or her own good and ruining the final revelation a bit.

Another issue is the speed at which things occur.  William DeWorde goes from hand-carving a monthly newsletter for five at-home benefactors to running a newspaper complete with moveable type press within a week.  Pratchett works too hard to pile on absurdity after absurdity as the newspaper takes off in ways that William can’t expect and doesn’t prepare for.  Pratchett works too hard to make a few funny observances by compressing the timeline and making the story feel a bit rushed at points.

Which a lot of this can be forgiven with Pratchett being his typical self and finding unique ways to put words together to be both thought-provoking and funny.  Once again, Pratchett has this way of finding just the exact right turn of phrase and combination of words to make what he’s doing appear completely effortless.  But if you step back and look at it, you realize exactly what he’s doing and how he’s doing it.  And that alone makes “The Truth” worth appreciating.


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TBR Challenge: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis


Not exactly a sequel to “Doomsday Book” but a novel set in the same universe with the appearance of several minor characters from the original.Ned is suffering from time lag, a condition brought about by making too many jumps to the past to try and find the bishop’s bird stump. In the future, a rich benefactor is restoring the Covington Cathedral at great expense and wants every detail perfect. She has promised the University funding if she can utilize their time travel technology to make sure everything is exact, something which seemed like a good idea at the time but comes with unintended consequences.To escape the nagging of Lady Shrapnel, Ned is sent back in time to a different era to restore history. Seems a fellow historian brought back an artifact, something that should never happen. Ned’s goal is to return the artifact before history is set completely off course.




Willis’ book is a fun, entertaining read that has a tendency to wander down the primrose path at times. For the middle third, Ned is trying to figure out what his assignment is and not having a good go of it. The book also starts at a deliberate pace, setting up the universe and the characters. However, the final third that examines the nature of time and the implications of time travel is fascinating and will please most sci-fi fans.




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To Be Read Challenge June books

Star Trek: Titan – Sword of Damocles by Geoffrey Thorne

Star Trek novels used to be about whatever crew you were reading about showing up at a planet, finding something wacky and then spending the novel solving whatever crisis they stumbled across.   You could jump in and out of the Trek novels without much knowledge of prior events beyond which characters you were reading about this week.  Rarely did the novels build on one another and create some type of overall cohesive storyline or continuity.

Then came New Frontier and changed the equation.  Now it seems as if every Trek novels wants to tie-in to either an on-going series or the entire novel line as a whole.  And as with all things Trek, there are some that do it well (New Frontier, DS9) and some that just don’t quite spark my interest (Voyager).  Somewhere in the middle are the voyages of the Titan, a spin-off from Next Generation featuring the adventures of Captain William T. Riker and his crew.  The Titan is an explortion vessel and after spending the first three books dealing with the fall-out of Nemesis, “Sword of Damocles” finally feels as if it’s the first official stand-alone episode of this new series.

Not that you can’t or shouldn’t have read the first three to get everything that’s going on here.  There are some subplots that will be richer if you know the background, but on the whole this is the first truly independent Titan novel and the best of the series to date.  The Titan explores a region of space that disrupts the ability to generate a warp bubble and power the ship. Finding a nearby planet is the culprit, Titan sends a shuttle (they work out some technobabble way to get there) to investigate and ask the planet’s inhabitants to cease their experiments in order to allow the ship to go free.  The storyline opens up some real-world implications in the application of the Prime Directive that are far more compelling than a lot of the standard Trek episodes that look at if a captain and ship have the right to interfere or not.  The argument that it’s a nice policy until it bites you out on the frontier is fascinating.

The story does involve time travel, paradoxes and the notion of fate and destiny.  However, in a story that could easily have been muddles under the weight of its various eras, paradoxes and solutions, the story stays straight-forward and it’s easy to figure out where the characters are and what is happening.  The only bad part is that solution becomes fairly evident early on in the crisis and plays out pretty much as you’d expect for a Trek novel.

That’s not say it’s a bad thing. There’s a comfort in the obvious solutions of Trek novels at times and this one is no exception.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

The fourth installment in the Temeraire series starts off slowly but ends with a bang and on a cliffhanger than almost made me glad I waited so long to read this one. (The fifth installment hits bookstores next week).

Lawrence and Temeraire reutrn from China to find Britian’s dragon population suffering a terrible plague that is weakening and threatening to kill them.  The problem is complicated by Napolean’s attempts and threats to cross the channel and invade the heart of the British Empire.  

Temeraire, back from China and having seen the attitude show toward dragons there, comes back wanting to generate more respect for his dragon brothers and sisters.  Lawrence’s family induces him to use his new-found celebrity becuase of his work with Temeraire to become the front man for an anti-slavery movement with the British empire.  Lawrence is not happy about this and only reluctantly agrees, seeing that the way the slaves are treated is much as how dragons are treated in his own country.

Temeraire is immune to the disease, leading to the hope that the African contintent contains a cure.  Lawrence lead an expedition to find a cure and save the British fleet before Napolean invades.

And that’s just the first half of the story.  The first half of the novel seems a bit slow until you get to the second half and Novik begins reap what she’s sown in the first half of the story.  The last half of this book flew by in one sitting as Lawrence and Temeraire are forced to make a series of choices based on their conscience, leading to a lot of jaw-dropping moments and a genuine series-changing decision in the final hundred or so page.  The book also ends on a cliffhanger, which Novik says was just where the story told her to stop and wasn’t an attempt to sell more of her next story.   I believe her because the central conflict of this story is over and to rush the consequences of decisions made here would be to short-change readers and fans.

It does, however, make for one of the best cliffhangers to a book I’ve read in a long time.

After two novels that while good, weren’t quite as great as His Majesty’s Dragon, Empire of Ivory is a return to form for this series. 


Filed under fantasy, review, science fiction, Series Challenge, TBR challenge

Series Challenge Season Two

I missed the first season of the Series Challenge but I’ve decided to participate in the second season.  The challenge is run by Crazy Cozy Murders and you can find out more about it here.

Again, the challenge will be for 6 months, from June 1st, 2008 until November 30th, 2008. And the rules are:

1. There is no set number of books you have to read, you just have to read the books so that you are all up-to-date with the series.

2. Post your review of the books on your blog, no matter how long.

3. Post a link to your reviews with the Mr Linky that I will set up as soon as this challenge starts.

4. Always remember this is for fun!

I’ve decided that for the challenge, I will try to finish three series I’ve been working on.  The first is the Temeraire series by Naomi Novak.  Yes, it’s cheating since I put the fourth book as part of the To Be Read Challenge…

The second is Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. I’ve read the first six books and will work on the other four.

Finally, I will try to read the rest of Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker series.  I’ve read the first and second book and, again, have the third on the list for the To Be Read Challenge.   But I figure why not at least try and finish the entire series this year.

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TBR (To Be Read) Challenge

Surfing around some of the book blogs out there, I stumbled across the TBR (To Be Read) Challenge.  The idea is to make a list of those books you’ve had on your to be read shelf and read at least 12 of them during 2008. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t start this blog until the first quarter of 2008 and only found the challenge a few days ago.  But I decided to go ahead and play anyway for the rest of the year and hopefully I can play along for the entire challenge in 2009.

So, here’s my list of books for the rest of 2008.

June: Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novak
July: Darkness of the Light by Peter David
August: Simple Favor by Jim Butcher
September: Prentice Alvin by Orson Scott Card
October: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
November: Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku
December: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

June: Star Trek: Titan: Sword of Damocles
July: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
August: On the Beach by Nevil Shute
September: The Truth by Terry Pratchett
October: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
November: Dorsai! by Gordon R. Dickson
December: The Deep Blue Alibi by Paul Levine

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