Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes - Book Review

From the publisher: The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes's fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity's last chance.

I heard a lot of good things about J.S. Dewes's The Last Watch and when it showed up as a review I option, I jumped at the chance. Just the description alone sounded cool and I was curious to see if the book would live up to the hype. 

Cavalon Mercer, the disgraced grandson of the ruling despot, is sent to join the Legion aboard the SCS Argus, which is stationed on the literal edge of the universe known as the Divide. Adequin Rake is the commanding officer of the Argus, a high ranking officer with commendations and the weight of the universe on her shoulders, both figuratively and literally.
When the crew of the Argus discover that the Divide is beginning to collapse in on the universe, they try to contact Legion HQ but quickly realize they've been abandoned and are on their own to try and prevent the end of everything.

With Mercer and Rake, Dewes has created to engaging point of view characters. At first glance, Mercer seems to be a spoiled member of royalty, with a smart mouth and rebellious attitude toward authority that often get him in trouble. Rake is a by-the-book former Titan who wears the stress and strain of her responsibilities. However, there are many levels and hidden depths to both of these characters that Dewes slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The supporting cast is varied and well written, as well, with Jackin North in particular standing out for me. Hints of an important history surround North as The Last Watch progresses.

The plot of The Last Watch is well structured. There are very few dull moments, but that doesn't mean the rest is all action. There is just constant forward motion, the events and characters consistently moving towards the climax of the book. I was always curious about what was coming next and each chapter built on the previous one in a steady climb toward an unexpected (at least to me) ending. 

I also enjoyed the setting. The Divide is an interesting concept; the edge of the universe that will cause anything it touches to cease to exist is a forbidding backdrop to The Last Watch.Throw in an alien race that humanity had fought for around 1000 years and a corrupt royal family, along with a sense of history in this world, and Dewes has created a very lived-in world. It feels more like the type of world building typical of a fantasy novel. With at least one sequel on the way, I'm looking forward to exploring the world of Mercer and Rake further.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes. It was an entertaining and absorbing novel with interesting characters. I would recommend it to fans of The Expanse and military sci-fi, maybe even fans of Firefly for the setting. 

I received a preview copy of this book from Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler - Book Review

From the publisher: Django Wexler's Hard Reboot features giant mech arena battles and intergalactic diplomacy. When did academia get to be so complicated?

Kas is a junior researcher on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. But when a con-artist tricks her into wagering a large sum of money belonging to her university on the outcome of a manned robot arena battle she becomes drawn into the seedy underworld of old Earth politics and state-sponsored battle-droid prizefights.

Is it time to get back to the books, yet?

I recently finished Django Wexler's Shadow Campaign series (a fantasy version of Napoleon's career) and enjoyed it. I also enjoy a good giant robot/mecha suti of armor story. So, when I read about Wexler's newest book (novella, really) I decided to give it a chance. 

Hard Target takes place way in the future, when mankind has left Earth far behind for the most part. People are constantly plugged in to a future version of the internet through a neural net implanted in their head. And the Scholarium is interested in studying everything about the past. Scholar Zychtykas Three (better known as Kas) is a junior researcher studying old computer codes. She finagled her way onto a field research team headed to "Old" Earth. While there, she plans to study battle mechs/robots and their code structure. However, Kas doesn't really fit in with the rest of her group. Zhi is a mech pilot from a really rough part of town. She cons Kas into betting a lot of money on Zhi in a mech fight, and the worst possible outcome occurs. As the two try to set things straight, they realize that working together they might both achieve their goals.

Hard Target is an interesting story. The selling point for me was the mech battles, but really, that isn't much of the story. Most of it is Kas and Zhi trying to get out of the deep trouble each seems to find themselves in. Wexler does a nice job of developing both characters as much as he can in such a short story, and there are several twists as the plot moves towards its climax. His writing propels the story along, with a few slow spots.

High points: I enjoyed the few mech battles. I like Wexler's writing style in general.

Low points: The names, slang, and a few other strange words kept throwing me out of the story. I don't mind creative vocabulary, but it was enough of a distraction in Hard Target that I nearly quit reading. The story stalls a little when it becomes exposition-heavy. Additionally, there is a same-sex relationship that didn't really seem necessary to the story.

Overall, Hard Target by Django Wexler was a decent story. It excels when it focuses on the mechs and Kas and Zhi working together, but drags in the other parts.  

I received a preview copy of this book from Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir - Book Review

From the publisher: Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

Andy Weir's first book, The Martian, was a huge hit about an astronaut stranded on Mars and the effort to rescue him. It resulted in a movie that was also a hit. His second book, Artemis Moon, was a mystery on the moon and didn't get quite the same attention but it was an enjoyable story. Now, with Project Hail Mary, Weir returns to a similar situation as The Martian. The result? A good read that doesn't quite recapture the incessant readability of his first book.

Ryland Grace wakes up to find himself alone on a spaceship with no memory of who he is or why he is there. Through trial, error, and patience, he begins to recover his memory and figure out just what is going on. And much to his astonishment, he realizes that he is the only hope of saving Earth from certain doom and he might not be qualified for the task.

Project Hail Mary is told in both the present time and with flashbacks, as Grace's memory returns in fits and spurts. This helps to put his present situation in context and provides Weir the opportunity to make several important reveals that wouldn't have near the impact if the story was told in a straight linear style. There are also several twists and turns that keep the reader guessing as to just how this story will turn out.

Weir has created a relatable character with Ryland Grace. I don't want to reveal too much and spoil it, so I'll just say that the first person narrative and Grace's self-deprecating humor work really well. I felt invested in Grace's struggle to figure out who he is and his quest to save humanity. 

The story is also entertaining. There are enough twists to keep things interesting and Weir's writing style carries the reader along. Additionally, I never quite felt sure about how things would turn out and I did not see the ending coming in advance. I appreciate that because many books telegraph the resolution well in advance.

Overall, I enjoyed Project Hail Mary. While not on the level of The Martian, it was still an intriguing story with an interesting premise and protagonist. I would recommend it to fans of Weir's other books.

I received a preview copy of this book from Random House Publishing - Ballantine and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Dark One Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: From #1 New York Times Bestselling, Hugo Award-winning author, Brandon Sanderson (The Mistborn Trilogy, The Stormlight Archive series), along with Nathan Gooden, Jackson Lanzing, and Collin Kelly, comes Dark One, the first book in a series of original graphic novels, from Vault Comics. Some worlds are made to be broken. Paul Tanasin is a young man haunted by visions of a dark and fantastic world?visions he initially believes are hallucinations. But when he discovers they are prophecies from Mirandus, a world in which he's destined to become a fearsome destroyer, he'll have to embrace the fear, rise up as the Dark One, and shatter everything. Dark One examines the dual roles we often take on in life-the ability to be a savior as well as a destroyer.

I'm a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson's books in general, but especially his Cosmere stories. When I heard The Dark One was going to be published as a series of graphic novels, I was pretty excited. This was a cool way to read the story and would go much faster than some of the door stop-sized Cosmere novels that can take a while to get through. Even better, when I found out I had an opportunity to preview this graphic novel, I jumped at the chance. 

One of the first things that drew me to Sanderson's books was his often new and/or unique approach to fantasy tropes. In this case, what if the traditional "chosen one" was actually chosen to be the great bad guy? This may have done before, but I can't say that I know of any books with this premise. Couple this with Sanderson's writing style and the greater Cosmere stories he is telling and I'm all in on The Dark One.

A quick summary: Paul Tanasin is a young man (late teens/early 20's) who sees a psychologist regularly. You see, Paul has nightmares where he is destroying people and creatures. However, his dreams seem to take place in another realm rather than the modern city he lives in. Additionally, he has a "friend" that only he can see, one who claims she is his sister. Paul's mother, a high powered defense lawyer, is about to take on an unwinnable case, defending a confessed serial killer. She doesn't have time to deal with Paul's hallucinations and dreams.

Meanwhile, in the magical realm of Mirandus, rumors that the next Dark One is rising reach the Kingdoms of Light and the Chronicle King. The wizard Illarion has a plan: when the Dark One rises, the Narrative answers by calling a Destined One. And Illarion has been training him for years. Additionally, the Chronicle King's daughter Feotora fancies herself the kingdom's savior as well. Illarion sends a Chronicle Knight to destroy the Dark One before he has ascended, and things go sideways from there.

The Dark One Volume 1 begins in the middle of the action and only picks up from there. I found Sanderson's story very engaging. Paul is a very interesting character and his journey to Mirandus and his ascent to become the Dark One is well thought out. Illarion and Feotora, the heroes in this type of story, may not be exactly heroic. And just as this volume closes, a huge surprise is revealed.

The denizens of Mirandus constantly refer to the Narrative (capital N every time) when referencing events in the past, present, and future. I found this approach to a guiding force unique, almost meta. It's very clever having characters in a story refer to the overarching events in their lives as the Narrative, talking about the roles they play, and how their world is very cyclical. Its a nod to the reader and the tropes of the fantasy genre.

Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly have taken Sanderson's story and adapted it to the graphic novel format. I think they've done a terrific job. Nathan Gooden's artwork really fits the story and reminds me a little of Jae Lee's art. 

I really enjoyed The Dark One by Brandon Sanderson and others. I read it (200+ pages) in two sittings and now I'm anxiously awaiting the next volume to see what happens next. I highly recommend it for fans of fantasy stories and any fan of Brandon Sanderson. This is well worth the time spent reading.

I received a preview copy of this book from Vault Comics and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Teddy by By Laurence Luckinbill; Adapted by Eryck Tait - Comic Book Review

From the publisher: July 1918. Preparing to speak to an eager audience, 61-year-old Teddy Roosevelt receives the telegram that all parents of children who serve in war fear most: His son Quentin’s plane has been shot down in a dogfight over France. His fate is unknown. Despite rising fear for his youngest son, Teddy takes the stage to speak to his beloved fellow citizens. It is, he says, “my simple duty.” But the speech evolves from politics and the war, into an examination of his life, the choices he’s made, and the costs of his “Warrior Philosophy.”

Overflowing with his love of nature, adventure, and justice, Teddy dramatically illustrates the life of one of America’s greatest presidents. His many accomplishments ranged from charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba as commander of the Rough Riders, to facing down U.S. corporate monopolies, to launching the Great White Fleet, building the Panama Canal, and the preservation of hundreds of millions of acres of natural American beauty.  And finally, to the vigorous life at Sagamore Hill and his immense pride in a beloved and rambunctious family. Teddy reveals how even the greatest of men is still just a man, and how even the most modest man can grow to be great.

I've always thought Theodore Roosevelt was a pretty good president, but I didn't really know a lot about him. Most of my view came from hearing or reading some of the legends surrounding the man. When I had the chance to read Teddy by Laurence Lukinbill (adapted by Eryck Tait), I seized the opportunity to find out more about the man. The fact that Teddy is a graphic novel just made it more appealing because I wouldn't need to push through a long biography, but could consume a lot of information in a shorter amount of time.

Teddy is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt but it's unique in its presentation. Roosevelt is preparing to give a speech in July 1918 when he receives a telegram regarding the whereabouts of his youngest son, a fighter pilot who he learned had been shot down. Roosevelt's speech proceeds to give a look at his legendary life while all the while reflecting on his service and the duty of all Americans. I found this fascinating. With Teddy himself narrating events, we get some insight into the situations that made Roosevelt so popular. There is a look at his first marriage; his time out West as a failed rancher; the story of the "Teddy" bear; his time in New York politics; and his second marriage. We read about his time as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy; the Rough Riders; and how Roosevelt eventually became President of the United States. There is a look at his family life; his life post-Presidency; and his feelings about World War I. 

I really enjoyed reading Teddy. The art was spare and simple, but matched the story perfectly. The details and stories that Lukinbill shared were informative without being so bogged down and boring. I learned several things about Roosevelt the man, particularly as regards his motivation(s) for getting involved in all the various interests he had. My takeway from Teddy is that at his heart, Roosevelt is a family man who dedicated his life to service and our country. And regardless of your politics, those are two pillars I can get behind and respect.

I highly recommend Teddy by Laurence Lukinbill, adapted by Eryck Tait. It is a fast moving and informative look at the life of Theodore Roosevelt. I would recommend it to anyone who likes Roosevelt or wants to learn more about the man.

I received a preview copy of this book from Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson - Book Review

From the publisher: One of the most viewed paintings in American history, Custer's Last Fight, copied and distributed by Anheuser-Busch at a rate of over two million copies a year, was destroyed in a fire at the 7th Cavalry Headquarters in Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1946. Or was it? When Charley Lee Stillwater dies of an apparent heart attack at the Wyoming Home for Soldiers & Sailors, Walt Longmire is called in to try and make sense of a piece of a painting and a Florsheim shoebox containing a million dollars, sending the good sheriff on the trail of a dangerous art heist.

Next to Last Stand is the latest in Craig Johnson's terrific Walt Longmire series, and it's a nice change up from the past few stories, which all dealt with some really heavy topics and subject matter. I read somewhere that Johnson wanted to give Walt a reprieve of sorts and Next to Last Stand does that, without taking anything away from the challenges and risks that Walt and his crew face.

Next to Last Stand kicks off with the death of a Charley Lee Stillwater, a veteran who had been living at the Wyoming Soldiers' and Sailors' Home. In the process of going through his things, $1,000,000 and what looks to be an old painting are discovered. This intrigues Walt, who begins the process of trying to discover where the money came from and the authenticity of the painting. This leads Walt to the story of Custer's Last Fight, a famous painting that was destroyed in a fire but prints of which are in bars all across America. Things go from there, fairly quickly at times.

One of the highlights of the Longmire series, for me, is the characters. Next to Last Stand involves many of the usual group: Sheriff Walt Longmire, of course, a little older, a little more beat up, and still recovering from a near death experience; Vic Moretti, the undersheriff, foul-mouthed, sassy, and a take-no-prisoners attitude; Henry Standing Bear, a Cheyenne and Walt's best friend, a steady influence; and Ruby, Walt's dispatcher and de facto organizer. Throw in a "Count" who has a shady past but a lot of knowledge about art; his assistant; his ex-KGB bodyguard; and some colorful vets at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, and you've got the makings of a classic Walt Longmire mystery.

Johnson's Longmire books always have an intriguing mystery, but part of the joy of reading these stories is the knowledge of Wyoming and the Big Horn Mountain area that comes in to play. This time, there is a focus on Gen. George Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn. Johnson, usually through Walt and Henry, loves to share his passion for his home state (and the bordering states) with his readers. I always pick up a little knowledge, and enjoy Walt's sort of non-stereotypical characterization as an educated (particularly literature and history) man, rather than just all action-oriented.

Overall, Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson is another enjoyable Longmire book. I always enjoy the opportunity to spend some time with Walt, Vic, Henry and the other denizens of Absaroka County Wyoming. I would recommend this both to longtime readers of the series and also to new readers, as it would be a fine read all on its own.

I received a preview copy of this book from Penguin Group publishers and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi - Book Review

From the publisher: The Last Emperox is the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling Interdependency series, an epic space opera adventure from Hugo Award-winning author John Scalzi.

The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction . . . and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known.

Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people form impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough.

Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown?

The Last Emperox is the final book in John Scalzi's Interdependancy trilogy. It brings to a conclusion the storyline begun in The Collapsing Empire and continued in The Consuming Fire. So, is it successful at resolving the story? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, too, but maybe a little more complicated than that.

When The Last Emperox begins, the empire of the Emperox Grayland II (also know as Cardenia) is in the midst of fragmenting due to the collapse of the Flow streams which provide a way to travel between star systems. As detailed in the first two books, this will isolate each system, eventually resulting in the deaths of the great majority of humanity as they know it. Grayland is continuing her attempts to discover a way to save everyone before all systems are cut off from each other. Assisting her in this task is her boyfriend/chief Flow expert Marce Claremont, the sentient starship Chenevert, and the foul-mouthed and sex-crazed but very calculating Kiva Lagos. In the meantime, she continues to have to deal with attempted coups and assassination attempts from various factions, including her own noble family (the Wu's) and her perpetual foil, Nadashe Nohamapetan. Political maneuverings, scientific discoveries, and an ending I did not see coming all come together to make this an exciting story and a satisfying conclusion to the series.

As in previous books, Scalzi has written some interesting and engaging characters. And by this time, the readers are very familiar with their quirks and personalities. They continue to grow and develop, particularly Kiva Lagos and Cardenia/Grayland II. Both characters have nice arcs that you can trace through the other two books, and the conclusion for each feels genuine, if a touch unexpected. I also enjoyed reading about Marce and seeing him take on a bit larger role. Scalzi's humorous writing style mixed with sarcasm is evident in the characters, which is something I enjoy when reading (I don't really like it when everything has to be Serious all the time).

My only complaints about The Last Emperox are the same I had for the previous two books. First, every few chapters, there seems to be a chapter that is a huge information dump, tons of exposition with little dialogue. For me, these chapters would bring my reading momentum to a screeching halt, as the speed and flow of the story would come to a near halt. Additionally, there is a lot of cursing, particularly the "F" word. While it is part of a character's personality to use this word so much, it seems a little excessive to me. Finally, the amount of sex in the book can be gratuitous, although not graphic. I will say that of the three books, this one had the least amount of sex in it.

Overall, I enjoyed The Last Emperox, and the Interdependancy series as a whole. It was relatively fast paced and engaging, with interesting characters and some newer takes on space travel and science concepts. John Scalzi did a terrific job of telling the story he intended to tell and resolving it well in The Last Emperox. He also left enough threads left untied that he could easily revisit characters, ideas, of the Interdependancy universe without messing with this trilogy or undoing the choices in this series. I would recommend The Last Emperox (and the series) to Scalzi fans, general science fiction fans, and readers who like a bit of humor and sarcasm in their stories.

I received a preview copy of this book from Tor and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.