Monthly Archive: November 2015

Bad Books – Part 1

So far, if you read my reviews it probably sounds like there’s nothing I dislike or can’t slog through. Not true! Rare enough, but there are books or series I have abandoned or never been able to get into. I’ve been rather lucky with my foray into “cheap Kindle books” over the past, say, year or two. Or perhaps I’ve been selective. I can’t review what I didn’t buy because it didn’t sound like something I really like.

I thought I’d try to name and comment about some of those, as best I can remember them. I’ll obviously post about any new ones I encounter as I run into them. If I remember others from the past, I can do more posts like this. (As it turns out, this will be about just one book and I’ll definitely cover others in future posts.)

The granddaddy of them all is Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I first tried reading it all the way back when it was the only book in A Song of Ice and Fire. People on the rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan newsgroup talked about it, with some hating it, most liking it, and some thinking it made Jordan and Wheel of Time look pathetic. My sister had read and loved it. As I recall, the copy I tried to read was hers.

I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t even get as far as Bran’s “accident.” I felt like a heretic, but I thought it was boring, and didn’t get far enough then, or learn enough from outside sources, to at least find it a fascinating concept poorly written or presented.

Flash forward. GRRM becomes a media star and gets his masterpiece filmed, by all accounts, beautifully. People who would never in a million years have thought to pick up those books are avid fans of the show and, in many cases, read the books as a result of seeing the show. People around me love the show and the books.

Feeling like I am missing out, someone gifts me the first book for Christmas 2013. Now, I know more about the characters and plot, without ever watching the show (we don’t have cable), because I read things, watch clips or trailers, etc. I have spoiler non-avoidance issues. Which is funny, given that I sometimes think I say too little in my reviews for fear of telling people too much about the books.

So I tried again. I got much farther into the book, but found it a slog. Putting it down and losing my place, I found I could pick it up, open it to somewhere, start reading, and feel like I missed nothing if I had skipped ahead. It seems bizarre that I had trouble identifying where exactly I had left off upon picking the book up again.

Eventually, bored, my reading petered out. Yet the story was interesting enough that I pointedly read all I could about what happened in the books and the shows. I even developed my own theory that Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were the pivotal characters the whole thing would come down to in the end.

It was after abandoning Martin that my Kindle reading took off. I still feel vaguely like there might be something wrong with me for not getting into such a widely read, highly regard book. But then, I do run into people who have felt the same. Come to think of it, it’s a bit like Dune. Way back when, I read the first Dune. I found it tedious, but managed to get through it. I never even tried reading the others, and have been told that the first one is the only one that was good enough to bother with at all. It strikes me as more socially acceptable not to have liked Dune.

There you have it: One book (without regard to frugality) that I could not finish and would never recommend. Two, if you count my aside when I remembered Dune at the end.

The Bellbottom Incident

Third and final volume in the Incident Series, The Bellbottom Incident by Neve Maslakovic ties things up nicely. Along the way, it gives us a higher proportion of adventure to buildup than the first two. That is, most of the book is a chase to the recent past. This was set up at the end of the second book when a time-orphaned teenager disappears to the past. The wrong past, as it turns out, since she only gets as far as 1976.

This is a great look at the rules of time travel as the author has imagined them, their implications in recent time versus far time, and at the role of human nature.

It is worth noting that these three books are more like one story in three volumes. You could read the first and walk away, but really, if you read more than that, you gotta read all three.

One of the locations in 1976 is the Fort Myers, Florida area. This tickled me, as I lived there for about six weeks at the beginning of 1986. If six weeks is long enough to describe as “lived there.” I took a semester off and stayed with a friend, his first wife and her daughter. Had he not decided they had had enough of Florida, the lack of decent jobs and people they could relate to, I would presumably have been there for at least a few months. I lived a stone’s throw from the Edison Mall and his summer home. I’ve been on the Sanibel Causeway, and even seen what it’s like in dense fog. I kind of liked the area, enough that I thought about trying to stay on my own when my friend moved back north. I just couldn’t see how I could swing it, and how I could do that and also complete college.

Personal history aside, I loved this book, and the set of them it completed. It was worth the $4.99, especially given that it was well edited. It’s not that it leaves absolutely nothing to your imagination, but it ends things satisfyingly, and without any obvious temptation for future books in the same fictional universe. Not that it couldn’t happen.

The Runestone Incident

The Runestone Incident is the second in the Incident Series by Neve Maslakovic. The series appears to be destined to be three and done, apart from a brief prequel that I have no plans to read.

This is a fairly direct sequel to the first, in that it helps to be aware what happened, and to know that you liked the concept and direction of these stories. In the background of all of them lurks a slow moving romance.

At the same time, the historical focus is completely different. Julia Olsen remains the delightful point of view character. The university in Minnesota, where she works, remains the central setting. The university’s time machine, used for a wide range of historical research, remains central to the plot and the inevitable hijinks.

This time it’s the Kensington Runestone, its authenticity and whether Scandanavians made it that far into the future United States during the fourteenth century. There are history lessons embedded in the fiction that I largely knew already. There is also authorial license with details we cannot know beyond a doubt happened one way or another. It is fiction, after all.

Once again, putting it down was a challenge. Since I reviewed the first book shortly after finishing it, and am doing the same with this one, you can see how closely this post follows that one. I blew through it avidly.

It is possible that you may find the build slow and have less patience for the preliminaries than I did. The serious action starts well into the book. Then again, if by serious action you think of it as climactic action, that makes sense. While these are science fiction, they are also a form of mystery. The build fits that.

Recommended, in case that wasn’t clear. I bought this Kindle edition on sale for $1.99. It is normally $4.99, the top of my preferred price range. I did pay full price for the third installment after finishing the first, and the second installment did nothing to make me regret that. I plan to read that next, despite a substantial queue of other options. Stay tuned.

The Wheel of Time Companion

This is not a “frugal” review, and is not really a review. More of a concurrence with another’s review of The Wheel of Time Companion. At $21.99 (I paid a couple bucks less, at the final pre-order price to get it on the release date), it is not a cheap read, though for a hardcover of its size it’s not so bad. The thing is, it’s a combined collectible and reference for the avid fan, rather than something with inherent story value. Guess I should add a category for reference works here.

“It’s a dictionary” was exactly my first reaction. There are some cool entires. I was tickled by the entry for Bela, and with some of the clarified details on characters. However, as the linked review notes, it is little more than what we either know from reading the series, or could glean from the glossaries that appeared in the series (or could find in a wiki). I, too, have found things that could have been elaborated on were not. Things that could have been organized for ease of reference or comparison were not. I can’t remember what it was, but I found at least one thing I tried to look up was completely absent.

I was intensely glad I did not buy it in Kindle format, but as a collectible, I would never have done that. It would be ridiculous to peruse – and it is for perusing, not flat out reading – in electronic format with no appropriate aid to navigation.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the wonderful art by Ariel Burgess not being in color. I’d already seen much of it elsewhere and was a big fan, looking forward to seeing it in the book. I would also have loved improved maps, rather than reprints from the books, albeit all in one volume.

I don’t really regret the purchase. I would have done so even had I know the book was not to be what I had imagined. I am that much a fan of The Wheel of Time. I am enjoying having it sitting by my chair and picking it up periodically to thumb through or to look up items it occurs to me to, well, see if they did a decent job on, at this point.

But I still find it hard to believe that something years in the making, meant to be the crowning glory, was as ill-considered as it seems to have been. It makes no sense. Clearly plenty of effort went into it. And sure, it is a way to rake in more money for the estate and publisher, and a way to throw some public glory as well as additional work to Robert Jordan’s assistants. It’s just… it could have been amazing. It’s not.

The Far Time Incident

The Far Time Incident is the first in a three book Incident Series by Neve Maslakovic. I went into it skeptical, based on the description, but I do have a weakness for Vesuvius and Pompeii, and the price was discounted from the usual $3.99. How I liked it (and the first 16% of the second in the series, also bought at the $1.99 discount) can be extrapolated by my just having discovered that there is a third and final book in the series and bought it on the spot for the full $4.99. That’s the most I normally prefer to pay for Kindle books. I paid that despite knowing the length is relatively short, and despite having a pile of other books available to read.

Julia Olsen, assistant to the science dean at a fictional university, is a delightful, relatable point of view character. In an academic world, she is not one of the academics. While helping to manage the time travel roster, she has never gone for a look at the past herself.

When a professor disappears on an unscheduled trip back in time, destination unknown, Julia assists the campus police chief in investigating what might have happened, and whether there was foul play. This leads to Pompeii, pre-eruption. Hijinks ensue.

This was an excellent read, with unexpected twists. I’m surprised that the average stars from Amazon reviews falls below four, rather than being four and a fraction. I didn’t peruse the reviews to see what the detractors had to say. Still, for it to have almost four, most people like it, and the number of reviews is high enough that the average isn’t skewed as it can be on a newer release.

I did not notice any editing problems, so you won’t find yourself distracted by that while reading.

California Dreaming

I finished this yesterday, but didn’t want to write and post the review the same day as Aftermath. This time James Philip brings us California Dreaming (Timeline 10/27/62 – USA), the second in his alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis gone hot from the perspective of the United States. The fantastic original series is from a British perspective.

The two series naturally interact, since these are the same events seen from different sides of the pond, through mostly different, if sometimes related, eyes. Coincidence stretches almost to the breaking point in the telling, but that can be the way of coincidence, so it’s not a real complaint.

Something sinister is happening behind the scenes. My personal theory is that the only reason for the October War in the first place was forces that didn’t exist or didn’t have their way in our own timeline. I could be wrong. Part of the beauty of the combined series it that there is such room to speculate and wonder. Having read the other series to date, I found myself anticipating larger events that would affect this (mostly) new set of characters. The author doesn’t disappoint, leaving things tantalizingly up in the air so we can’t wait for the next installment.

Something is rotten in America. Given that Americans were caught off guard by this, no wonder it was utterly baffling internationally.

The prices of $3.99 is a bargain for such an exceptional work. I had ordered in advance, so I had it in hand, virtually speaking, as soon as it released. Presumably the editing problems will be patched up in time, so you might see fewer or none. I’ve not seen as many errors in any of his other books. Mostly it’s wrong spellings, extra or missing words, as when you start to phrase a sentence one way and then change it, but leave a missing or dangling word. I’ve done the same many times. Too bad I can’t (as far as I know) flag a needed edit right from the Kindle.

That said, I would buy the entire rest of both sets on the spot, right now, if they were done, and read nothing but them until the conclusion. If there is a conclusion, per se, given that there’s an entire new timeline to play in, and endless possible repercussions. I would buy them in paperback, if they were available no other way. Your mileage may vary, but they are one of the best things I’ve read.

Aftermath

This review of Aftermath (Timeline 10/27/62 – USA) is sort of odd to write, given that I am waiting to reread the original series of Timeline 10/27/62 before reviewing those, which arguably should be read, at least the first one or two, first. The original set, starting with Operation Anadyr, have a British perspective. The Brits are in a hard way after nuclear cataclysm, complicated by the United States seemingly going mad.

All of these book are brilliantly written by James Philip. Aftermath was $2.99 and is just a bit longer than the abbrieviated Operation Anadyr, designed to get you hooked at 99ยข.

Aftermath sets you up with various characters, some with familiar surnames if you’ve read the other series, and the events of the ever so brief October War from their perspectives. Where were you when the Cuban Missile Crisis went off the rails? It’s more intriguing, having read the other series, but probably not vital. We start to learn where the US was hit and how the personal and political might go down.

This book had more need for editing than I recall in the other series, if much less than the next one in the USA series. The advantage of electronic books is the ability to fix errors as readers find them. My inner editor sees every one of them, but I’ve gotten over being stopped cold when that happens. It helps that it’s hard to put down. The next one gets even more so, as I’m sure I’ll tell you again once I have finished it.