City of Stairs (The Divine Cities #1)

20174424“Time renders all things, and all people, silent.”

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Category: Fantasy, Steampunk
Pages: 452
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014

Make sure to check out this week’s podcast episode! (Special announcement this week!)
City of Stairs introduces you to a world many years after a war. The Continent was once ruled by beings known as the Divinities. When the enslaved Saypur revolted and killed the Divinities, the set up laws so that none of the citizens of the Continent could worship, research, or even talk about the history of their own world and culture. Our story jumps in 75 years later, when a professor from Saypur is murdered while researching these lost deities.

This author does many things well and that starts with some fantastic world building. This was mostly on the fantasy side of things but there was a pretty good dose of sci-fi too and a well-done blending of the two genres is pretty much automatically intriguing.

What starts out as a somewhat simple world of one culture suppressing another is expanded upon and made more complex with every reveal about the history of the Continent and the Divinities. The stories for all the different landscapes and countries are interesting and the Continent’s capital of Bulikov is described in such a way that it is remarkably vivid. This installment really revolved mostly around that one city but we were teased with just enough description around the founding of other cities and the history of other areas that exploring more of them in the next books is almost a necessity.

The characters were also another high point, if only slightly less so than the world-building. Our main character Shara Thivani, is not just a one dimensional super badass. While she definitely is a badass, she is also more. She has struggles, she has emotions that get in her way sometimes. There is also Sigrud, her “secretary.” He is this massive mountain of a man that is vicious and terrifying but at the same time he is intelligent and truly caring for the ones close to him. It is almost impossible to not like his character.

The mystery itself does go down some crazy paths; this is not your usual murder mystery. What starts as a simple “who is the killer” plot plot thickens and it turns into a huge, complex plot involving lies, cultists, and secrets. (Hint: go check our spoiler review podcast to hear all the spoiler-y things.) The only bad thing about all this was the initial question of who killed Efrem Pangyui gets set on the back-burner for most of the book. It is answered by the end of this installment but mostly is just a catalyst for Shara being in Bulikov and discovering the wider plots.

Really the only actual negative that can be said is that the pace slowed down quite a bit at times. This really only applied to maybe the first third of the book and being the first book in a series this can somewhat be forgiven as a good amount of setup is sort of expected and it by no means made the book unreadable. The world has to be established to get it off the ground. Hopefully the next book still holds true to the great world building while keeping the pace good

Overall, City of Stairs blends together spy thriller and murder mystery with some si-fi and fantasy. It does this so well that it almost makes a genre of its own. With such a great blend storytelling, great characters, and a mystery that keeps you wanting more, you should definitely check this one out.

Greg’s Thoughts

Though before our podcast I did not finish this book, I will be because I want to. I am actively invested in this world and want to know more! Give me more! ( Thankfully the next 2 books are already released.)

I don’t know if I can give this book a perfect score. My only reasoning is I feel that when telling a story action should speak louder than words. I know you can’t completely get rid of exposition and I am not saying this completely ruins the book. But there were a few to many moments of characters standing around a table spewing info for us. Again this is not a huge negative, but it slowed the story down a little to often for my taste.

Rating:

9-loved it!

Dani’s 2¢

Greg and I agreed on this book so much that I really don’t have anything else to add. I saw so many good reviews for this book and series that I worried it would be a case of an over-hyped book that I ultimately would have the unpopular opinion on. But no, City of Stairs deserves all the praise it gets.

Rating:

9-loved it!

Thoughts After Book Reviewing for a Year

 

My relationship with books and reading has changed over the past year and a half that Books Geeks Unc has been a thing (even though it was originally The Fantasy Nerds. Same difference) and I just kind of wanted to reflect on that.

Before we started this site, I read maybe 2 or 3 books a month and I reread a lot. Once we started, we decided on 2 reviews per week. So 8-10 books a month. That was a huge jump up! I was so excited about that, and still am, because I love that I am reading more than I ever have and reading more new-to-me stories than ever.

I absolutely love it. But it gets hard to balance at times because I/we do work full time (poor Greg works two jobs now) and I have 2 kids as well so finding time to read is sometimes a challenge. I never read audiobooks before we started this and I pretty much would not be able to keep up if it were not for supplementing my physical reading with audiobooks. It just wouldn’t be possible.

And now, we have also started Controllers and Keyboards, a gaming podcast. That one is less work intensive for me because I am not the one that organizes the shows and have recently handed off the editing of that podcast to my husband, Jordan. But there is still keeping up with the gaming and the books, the job, and the kids and there are only so many hours in the day!

Partially because of this and also in part due to the mental fatigue of pushing myself through reading slumps in order to have content for the site and show, I stress over how I will fit everything that I need to do into every week. I got into this because I love books and stressing over something takes away from the pleasure of it. So over the past couple of weeks I have kind of started re-evaluating my reading habits.

First, I am letting go of having to have 2 books read each week.

This is the most obvious way to de-stress over books. There are still so many books that I want to read and I feel like the TBR is always so huge that I will never read all the books that I want to and I am kind of just accepting that. Obviously I will still be reading at least the one per week for the podcast and most weeks there will probably be the second review, but I am not going to force it. If this one goes well, maybe I will do more blog posts instead!

Secondly, and this one is less obvious but goes a little bit hand in hand with the first, is doing away with books on my TBR that I was only planning on reading because they are what is buzzing at the moment.

I think that this is something that many book bloggers/reviews/booktubers go through at some point, but I start to feel sometimes like I am reading books solely for site content because they are what is buzzing right now and not because they are actually something that I am interested in. So this second point is really an effort to admit when something doesn’t sound like it will be something that I will like.

For me, a great many of these books will be YA.

YA has never been “my” genre. But it is so immensely huge in the book industry, especially in the online community, that it was impossible to avoid. The most marketed fantasy books seem to be YA fantasy so that was what ended up on my TBR because that was what I was seeing. But I don’t really like YA, particularly YA fantasy. I know many people do and it is not my intention to insult it or anything like that, it is simply not what tickles my fancy and I frequently find myself frustrated with them.

I think nearly all genres have a semi-set list of tropes that you can see in most books of that genre. Where I like the tropes that appear in high fantasy and some sci-fi, the YA fantasy tropes do nothing for me. (In an interesting aside, while I have issues with so many of the YA fantasy/sci fi books that I have read, what few books I have read of YA contemporary I actually did really end up liking.)

That is not to say that there are not some YA fantasy/sci fi book that I like (Six of Crows, Illuminae, Gilded Cage) and it is not to say that I am swearing off all YA from now until the end of time. I may still pick one up every now and then. Mostly, I am just swearing off reading books that don’t appeal to me for the sake of “keeping current.”

So yeah. I guess that’s all I had on my mind. I think there might have been a shorter way to say all this though….

*ahem*

…..I didn’t read a second book this week.

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)

30078567The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity.

Author: John Scalzi
Category: Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Publication Date: March 21st, 2017

Make sure to check out this week’s podcast discussion!

The Collapsing Empire imagines a future for humankind in which humans have long ago left Earth and settled on dozens of new planets forming the Interdependecy, a system in which all planets and settlements rely on each other in order to prevent any motivation for interstellar war. The success of the Interdependency hinges on the Flow, a warping of space-time that allows for faster than light travel. As luck would have it, scientists are now discovering that the Flow may be breaking down which would lead to the end of life on all the settlements that were created to rely on others that they will no longer have communication or trade with once the Flow dissolves.

This was a wonderful space-opera-esque story that didn’t rely on the density of most space opera books. It is a quick, fun read that has almost no slow points.

The main complaint with this book? That there wasn’t more of it.

As engaging as this story was, it felt like a very long introduction into the conflict. There was almost no action, the focus was largely on setting up the politics. Again, that was not necessarily bad, this was still a really good politically driven book. But there was constantly times where there was almost some action and then it was all resolved with dialogue instead and it kind of left an anti-climatic feeling.

The Flow is a really inventive take on faster than light travel and because it is it’s own thing that is separate from technology but is required for trade and communication. While it might have taken away from the “accessibility” of the writing, it would have been nice to see a little bit more of the science behind the fiction. There is not really an explanation for why the Flow is breaking down, just that it is. This was certainly not a deal-breaker but it would have added a little more immersion into the world and the conflict.

Finally, the last bit that it would have been nice to get more of is the religion. One of the main characters, Cardinia, is a leader both politically and religiously. While the politics was explored fairly deeply, the details of the religion are pretty much absent. Again, this is more a matter of immersion than a true flaw in storytelling. There are a few plot points that revolve around Cardinia being the head of the only mentioned religion but the details are just not there.

Dani’s 2¢

I think that these “flaws” are largely derived from an effort to give readers that don’t like science fiction space operas purely based on the density of the books a positive experience in the genre. It is kept almost as brief as possible while still telling an engaging story.

With that in mind, I was able to not focus on what was missing too much and enjoy what was there and what was there was a great introduction into a new imagining of the future of humankind after Earth.

Rating:

8-really liked it

Greg’s Thoughts

This one came out of no where for me. The politics and the mechanics of the flow were both in treating. The fact that I was wanting more from this very short book just shows how fun this world is. Pirates, conspiracies, and some secrets makes this series one I am looking forward to!

Rating:
9-loved it!

Wrath (The Faithful and the Fallen #4)

27411345“It will be a dark day, a bloody day, a proud day, for this is the day of our wrath.”

Author: John Gwynne
Category: Epic Fantasy
Pages: 682
Publication Date: November 17th, 2016
I think I said in a review earlier in the series that this series reads like a celebration of high and epic fantasy. Nearly all the familiar tropes from the genre are there but in a way that almost seems to acknowledge that is what they are and reminds us why they became tropes in the first place: because in the hands of a talented author they literally create magic.

While reading Wrath, I realized that it has been a long time since I finished a completed series. I am up to date on several continuing series but it has been too long since I experienced the conclusion of one. And endings are hard to nail.

This ending was a tad predictable. Nearly everything that I thought was going to happen did. Again though, it was was just so well written (and I didn’t quite guess it all) that it was still a very satisfactory ending to a wonderful series.

Looking back over the series, I would have to say that the third book, Ruin, was my favorite of the series, though this final one is a close second. The character development was the best part of the series for me and by this last book, it was all pretty much done and characters decided. The characters were still just as wonderfully written as in earlier books, they just were finished developing at this point so there was naturally no movement there.

And that kind of brings me to my only real “complain” (even though it is really only half a complaint). I mentioned in my review for Ruin that though I like the main character, Corban, I have trouble connecting with him. That stayed true for this book as well. He is a good character and written great for what his role in the story is. For some reason though there is just something missing that leads to me failing to respond to him.

Still, even through not connecting well with the main character, this was a fantastic series that I would have to highly recommend to anyone that loves the genre.

Rating:

8-really liked it

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle #1)

113436One boy. One dragon. A world of adventure.

Author: Christopher Paolini
Category: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 503
Publication Date: April 2005

Make sure to check out this week’s podcast discussion!
Eragon is the story of a young boy and his discovery into a world of dragons, magic, and betrayal. Written when the author was sixteen years old, Eragon is a good introduction into fantasy books if you are new to the genre.

Let’s get the negative out of the way. This is certainly a book meant for a younger audience. The exposition can be very clunky at times. The story does borrow from other popular series. (Star wars, Lord of the Rings, etc) Not to mention the relationship between Saphira And Eragon really doesn’t click until near the end. Now in small doses these things are not all terrible, but it does add up pretty quick. It is easy to see why a more veteran fantasy reader could find this book annoying.

Aside from a little bit clumsy writing at times, the biggest complaint was probably Saphira, which seems weird since she is a pretty central point to the book. This may have had something to do with the audiobook making her sound angry all the time, but frankly, she kind of seemed like a bitch. Apart from being a dragon, which are simply awesome by default, there wasn’t really much to create a connection to her. A big part of the emotional pull of the book is supposed to be the relationship between her and Eragon but when she is constantly telling  him everything he is doing wrong and just generally complaining, she was actually pretty annoying.  This made it almost impossible to get a sense of the bond between them.

The magic system is interesting. You use the energy inside you to do whatever you want. They use a ancient language to use the magic and the word that is said in that language is what the energy becomes. This is a very cool way that gives us a reason as to why the magic needs a weird word.

There is much more to say that we did say in our podcast. (Hint: go check that out!) Eragon is a fun adventure that continues onto a fun and adventure.

Greg’s Thoughts

I don’t know what much else to say besides that I don’t understand the hate i have seen it receive online. It should be taken as a introduction to fantasy for young readers. I still love and enjoy this book. One thing we can all agree on is that the movie was terrible.

Rating:

7-liked it

Dani’s 2¢

Basically, if Star Wars and LotR had a baby, Eragon would it be the most predictable offspring. I don’t remember noticing this when I originally read the series some 12 years ago but there it is.

Still, the writing is good, though not really great. Probably the best thing about this series is it is a good introduction course almost in the world of high and epic fantasy for the demographic that it targets. It isn’t really childish, just a fairly straightforward plot that I think has the potential to engage young readers that want to explore the high fantasy genre.

Rating:

6-it was good

The Underground Railroad

30555488.jpg“You need to be strong to survive the labor and to make us greater. We fatten hogs, not because it pleases us but because we need hogs to survive. But we can’t have you too clever. We can’t have you so fit you outrun us.”

Author: Colson Whitehead
Category: Historical Fiction
Pages: 306
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016

This isn’t my “usual” genre and I guess it kind of shows. This book did almost nothing for me.

I like the premise. Pre-Civil War Georgia; a runaway slave; the metaphorical underground railroad made literal. Lots of potential, right?

But man, I had some trouble getting through this one. I felt like the pacing was uneven and honestly, I just couldn’t really bring myself to care about the characters.

Most of the book was told from Cora’s point of view but it would switch to other’s sometimes. The most common secondary point of view was Ridgeway, the slave catcher. I didn’t mind his point of view but I really did not care about him. I didn’t find him to be all that interesting and was bored to tears reading his chapters for the most part.

Any other points of view were one-off chapters; I can only think of three off the top of my head and only one of them really seemed to fit the story for me and that was a chapter about Cora’s mom, Mabel.

There was a chapter centered on Ceasar, the slave that Cora runs away with. This chapter was just so awkward to me because it was placed toward the middle-end of the book and covered his point of view for things that happened at the beginning of the book but really added nothing that Cora’s POV didn’t cover.

The last one was from the point of view of a doctor that Cora encounters and I can kind of see the purpose in having his backstory but, again, everything that his chapter covered was covered, and more impactfully, by other events in Cora’s POV.

I wanted to but I couldn’t make any connection with her beyond her being a representative of an American slave. I do not at all deny that many of the things that happened to her and that she learned about happening to other black people were horrific. In a way, that was probably the part of the book that I liked the best in that it was eye-opening.

As a society as a whole, I think it is not very well remembered just how deep racism ran in the United States. We remember that some people were (and in some twisted minds, still are) viewed as inferior based on skin color but reading the justifications that were used to promote that belief are kind of astounding. Everything from bringing in “science” (“their brains are made for servitude”) to religion (“if God didn’t want the n*****s to be slaves, he would make it so”). Even amongst those that claimed to be allies of freemen and ex-slaves participated and encouraged a system that revealed that they didn’t truly see them as fully “human” at all.

Bringing the “underground railroad” metaphor to life sounds like a really cool concept in theory. They way that it worked out here though was really nothing more than a cheap plot device to make the story move faster.

All in all, I liked the subject of this book but some style choices and, frankly, blah writing has me kind of wondering why it got so popular.

Rating:

4-boring