Top 10 Books of 2017


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Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiTitle: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (2014)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 375
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1 (Series Tracker)

In this steampunk series-starter, protagonist Elizabeth Barnabus uses the powers of illusion and deception to evade capture while simultaneously solving the mysterious disappearance of a missing aristocrat. While never crossing the threshold from “good” to “great,” The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter tells a compelling story in a fresh world with a likable heroine. I think I’d like to see how this series plays out…moving on to book 2!

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Children of Time

chaykovski.jpgTitle: Children of Time (2015)
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 600

More often than not, I’m left feeling that a book with a cool/intriguing concept fails to properly deliver on said concept. Children of Time is an exception to this trend. I was blown away by how masterfully Tchaikovsky executes this evolutionary tale.

I was immediately hooked on the story, which builds and builds as a spider species on an alien planet evolves across millennia, while the last remnants of the human race exist in a sort of suspended stagnation just trying to survive in deep space. The narrative is told in a very straightforward way, with propulsive pacing and a tremendous amount of momentum. It’s engrossing from start to finish with few lulls along the way. It easily joins the ranks of my favorite science fiction novels. Read this!

★★★★¾  out of 5

“Why should we be made thus, to improve and improve, unless it is to aspire?”

Review: The City of Brass

CityofBrass.JPGTitle: The City of Brass (2017)
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Pages: 528
The Daevabad Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Nahri is a supernaturally good healer. She uses this gift to further her aims as a con woman, not realizing that her skills are the result of a unique hereditary magic. When she accidentally summons an ill-tempered djinn warrior to her aid, she’s swept into an unknown mystical world where her mere presence creates ramifications that are thousands of years in the making.

There is a general charm and pace to S.A. Chakraborty’s writing that made for a delightful reading experience with the feel of a summer blockbuster popcorn movie. This densely packed world is filled with myriad characters, races, rivalries, and complicated histories. As such, the expansive vocabulary and terminology was sometimes difficult to parse, but I was so sucked into the culture and the feel of the world that it did not matter.

The City of Brass is an excellent debut novel that seamlessly blends together rich cultural worldbuilding, solid action, complex politics, and a set of nuanced characters. Each character is holding onto secrets that unfurl as the book goes on. With each subsequent reveal, more questions emerge as the stakes rise, and this dynamic leaves me excited for future installments in the series.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Thousand Names

9780451465108_large_The_Thousand_Names.jpgTitle: The Thousand Names (2013)
Author: Django Wexler
Pages: 513
Series: The Shadow Campaigns #1 (Series Tracker)

After striking out with The Powder Mage series and not completely loving this series-starter, I’m not convinced that “flintlock fantasy” is the subgenre for me. Even so, there is a lot to like about this book — interesting cultures, well-written characters, and unexpected twists to name a few. I learned more about military ranks, formations, and factions than I thought possible even when the overall story gets bogged down by long battle sequences that I struggled to follow.

It sounds like the second book improves upon many of the stumbling blocks I encountered within this first book (fewer battles, more focus on characters, better pacing/plotting, etc.), but I’m not going to rush out to devour it. Book 2 will likely fall to the bottom of my TBR pile, but I’m not ready to give up on the series just yet.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

9780375815300.m.jpgTitle: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (2017)
Author: Philip Pullman
Pages: 451
Series: The Book of Dust #1 (Series Tracker)

Despite Philip Pullman’s pronouncement that this is book is an “equal” (not a prequel or sequel) to His Dark Materials, this first volume is most definitely a prequel. In fact, it’s so firmly set on creating additional backstory for His Dark Materials characters that it leaves little room for new characters and storylines to shine. I would have much preferred a brand new story set in the familiar world, where known characters and events are merely mentioned in passing…but here we are.

The Book of Dust follows tavern boy Malcolm Polstead and his trusty canoe La Belle Sauvage, as he journeys to aide/protect baby Lyra from the oppressive religious agencies set to snatch her away. He encounters several familiar characters from the original series along the way.

Pullman’s writing evokes storytelling of a bygone era. Apart from (occasionally heavy-handed) allusions to present day authoritarian regimes, there is very little here that identifies this as a novel written in contemporary times. It makes it seem like a timeless story and I very much enjoy that aspect of Pullman’s style.

Overall, though, this feels like a missed opportunity to chart new territory in an established world. I hope the future novels divert further away from the known storylines and allow Malcolm to leave the baggage of the original novels behind.

★★½ out of 5

Review: Artemis

Artemis-Book-Cover-Andy-Weir.jpgTitle: Artemis (2017)
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 384

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In Artemis, snarky smuggler Jazz Bashara gets caught up in a dangerous get-rich-quick scheme that could rock the foundations of life as they know it on Artemis, the first ever Moon city.

Well, two major books into his literary career, I think Andy Weir’s genre/style is apparent — sarcastic, genius narrators who Macgyver their way out of outer space jams. This leads to a generally palatable adventure that moves along swiftly and is enjoyable enough, but doesn’t linger very long with me after I’ve turned the final page (or hit 100% on my Kindle, in this case). Artemis is told in a very visual, fast-paced way, which I think will translate well to the big screen (the film rights have been acquired). As a point of comparison, I thought The Martian was better served in book form, whereas the opposite might be true about Artemis.

The concept of a moon colony has been done before, but I liked Weir’s take on what the economy would look like and how the creation of the outpost was firmly tied to corporations and the commercialization so prevalent in today’s society.

My major issue with the book was that it felt like Jazz had this tacked-on personality trait of being a promiscuous woman, even though it added nothing to the depth of her character or the story itself. Every repeated mention or dirty joke about it felt forced, unnecessary, problematic coming from a male author, and generally kinda icky.

Overall, this was a mostly enjoyable adventure story, with a likable cast of characters, in an interesting setting. I can’t give it a rousing recommendation, but if you loved The Martian, you’ll probably have fun with this.


★★★ out of 5

Review: The Stone in the Skull

STONE-IN-SKULL-final-740x1124Title: The Stone in the Skull (2017)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Pages: 368
Lotus Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Set in the same world as Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, The Stone in the Skull tells the story of the Lotus Kingdoms, where two separate rulers attempt to overcome dangerous omens and the threat of war to protect their people.

This was my first Elizabeth Bear novel and it certainly won’t be my last. I can’t say I’ve read anything so gorgeously written with a setting so brilliantly realized.

I wasn’t sure that this book was for me in the very beginning, but by the second chapter I was completely hooked. This chapter introduces Mrithuri, the ruling rajni of Sarathai-tia, in beautiful fashion. In this section and beyond, Bear infuses the narrative with colors, aromas, tastes, and the like. It’s a masterclass in how to appeal to the senses of the reader. This amount of detail further enriches a fascinating setting, where unique customs and the physical makeup of the world combine to form a finely woven tapestry of worldbuilding.

Although the Gage and the Dead Man are billed as the main characters, it’s really Mrithuri and Sayeh who steal the show. They are strong, regal leaders who care deeply about their reigns and their people. I moved slowly through their sections to better savor each moment of their beautiful storylines.

All in all, The Stone in the Skull is one of the best books I’ve read in a good long while. It is fresh, engaging, and was a joy to read. I look forward to the sequel and a return to this wonderful world.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Arcanum Unbounded

91DTLL3xxtLTitle: Arcanum Unbounded (2016)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 672
Series: Cosmere (Series Tracker)

Here are some brief thoughts on each story of this collection:

The Emperor’s Soul – 3.75 – A beautiful story, which I very much enjoyed.

The Hope of Elantris – 2.5 – A decent short story; leaves me nostalgic for Elantris.

The Eleventh Metal – 3.0 – A nice primer for the Mistborn books that gives further insight into Kelsier’s backstory.

Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania – 4.0 – I loved the humor and style of this one. The call-and-response nature of the story and footnotes was very funny.

Mistborn: Secret History – 2.0 – This was disappointing; it’s an addendum to the story that feels unneeded.

White Sand – 2.25 – Features great artwork, but it’s a bit spatially disorienting. The written companion was much more clear, but the overall story was just okay — a simple, mostly interesting story.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell – 4.0 – I really dug this one. The world, the concept, and the execution were all spot on.

Sixth of the Dusk – 3.5 – I thought this was well done and I enjoyed the dynamic between the protagonists on a cool island/jungle world.

Edgedancer – 3.5 – Light in tone, and a bit too goofy at times, but it hits some satisfying emotional notes. It’s nice to see a new character and a new part of Roshar.

I read most books digitally, but owning this in hardcover is a must for any Sanderson fan. It’s really a beautiful physical book — the artwork, the layout, and the overall furtherance of the Cosmere through visual representations is a sight to behold.

★★★½ out of 5