the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘romance

This review is part of the #GuardAgainstTheDark blog tour!  To learn more (and enter a give away!), click here.

 

Cover art by Matt Stawicki http://www.mattstawicki.com

To Guard Against the Dark (Reunification #3) by Julie Czerneda

publishes Oct 10th 2017

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (Thanks DAW books!)

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Thesaurus.com has been no help whatsover. What’s that word for when a long series that you are emotionally invested in has come to a close, and while you’re sad it has ended, you’re happy because you can just pull the books off the shelf and visit the characters anytime you want?  I feel certain German, or perhaps Norwegian has a word for this.

 

To Guard Against the Dark has been 20 years in the making.  It was 1997 when Julie Czerneda published A Thousand Words for Stranger, the book that started it all.  The year I graduated high school was the year her novel A Thousand Words for Stranger came out, the year the world met a species that was in danger of breeding itself out of existence. Their lives a secret, their homeworld unknown, the Clan hid in plain sight, amassing fortunes and enemies.  Three trilogies and twenty years later, here we are.

 

Does that mean You need to read all eight books that came before this one to enjoy To Guard Against the Dark?  Certainly not. This is, however, book three in this particular trilogy, so you will want to read the two preceding books. You’ll be in good company, as I came to this series myself by starting at This Gulf of Time and Stars, which is the 1st book in this trilogy.  If right here, right now, is the first you have ever heard of this series, you are going to feel a little lost reading this review. It won’t help you newbies very much that there are a ton of intertwining plotlines in this climactic last novel and I am trying my hardest to avoid major spoilers.  But minor spoilers? Sorry, unavoidable. Continue at your own risk.

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The Emperor and the Maula, by Robert Silverberg

available Sept 30th 2017

Where I got it: received advanced review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

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Robert Silverberg’s The Emperor and The Maula is exactly what it says on the tin: this is a space opera version of the story of Scheherazade – in which a woman is sentenced to die at dawn and purchases another day of living by spinning a compelling tale for the emperor with dawn as her cue for a cliffhanger.

 

I love the idea of a space opera Scheherezade. Just think of how far an author could scale things up!  A number of years ago, there was a scifi anime made of The Count of Monte Cristo, with aliens, and travel to other planets, alien technologies and a very cool artistic style.  The writers took an earthly story and scaled it way the hell up, and it was brilliant.

 

What gives this wonderful little novella the “more” factor are its publishing history and the galactic scale a space opera environ allows. If you’re one of those readers who always skips introductions offered up by authors or their friends, make an exception for this one.  The history of this novella as seen through the logistics of the publishing industry is an adventure itself – rife with cliffhangers, cancelled publishing projects, word count requirements, adventures in selling the same story twice, concluding with the original novella being shoved in a file and forgotten about.   And now after twenty five years,  Silverberg fans can finally read The Emperor and the Maula in its nearly original form.  Funny, compelling, suspenseful, and given the space opera scale-up, this is exactly the kind of story an Earth woman might tell to an alien overlord on a planet far, far, away.

 

The Ansaaran Empire, benevolent ruling power of the known galaxy, brings culture and civilization to all planets.  Races living on backward planets are known as maulas, a word that translates to “barbarian”. If these people can ever find it in themselves to become cultured, perhaps one day, hundreds of years from now, they may be welcomed into the empire as citizens.

 

As an Earthling, Laylah is a maula and as such is forbidden from stepping foot on the sacred homeworld of the Ansaarans.   Knowing that the punishment is death, she travels far and wide, every year getting closer to her goal, and finally stepping off a starship and on to the sacred planet. Where she is summarily arrested. And then passed from one bureaucrat to another in a bureaucratic comedy of errors, as all of them know the punishment for her crime is death, but none of them want to be associated with the poor loser who will actually be responsible for someone’s execution.

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The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

published April 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

 

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I’ve been reading a lot of “thinky” books lately,  books that whether or not they were meant to drill into my brain and set the neurons a light all over the place, that is exactly what they did.   I was looking for something lighter, an easy read.

 

Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows has been sitting in my ARC pile for over a year. It received a lot of attention when it came out last year, and garnered many positive reviews. The cover art is super pretty!  The concept of the book sounds right up my alley – historical fiction with lots of romance, intrigue, and magic! But it never quite got my attention enough to pick it up.  I like political intrigue, and I usually enjoy historical fiction / historical fantasy.  I’ve been known to enjoy stories with some romantic subplots. And I was in the market for a lighter read. So I picked it up. If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s because she is famous for the mid-grade fantasy series Kat, Incorrigible.

 

The year is 1779, the location is the opulent Esterhaza Palace in Hungary. As you do when you’re a royal who just built your own version of Versailles, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy hosts nobles and royals for months at a time, including a famous castrato singer, Carlo Morelli.  The Prince’s mistress, Sophia, has invited her recently widowed sister Charlotte von Steinbeck to stay at the palace as well.  In the first handful of chapters, we are very quickly introduced to a very large cast of characters – Charlotte and her spoiled sister Sophie; Charlotte’s young and naive maid Anna; Carlo Morelli the famous singer;  Herr Hadyn the famous composer;  Franz,  a singer in the Prince’s opera troupe; the rest of the singers in the troupe, van Born the alchemist;  Mr. Guersney, who claims to be an English writer; and Friedrich von Hollner, Sophie’s long suffering husband.  It was a lot to keep track of, to the point of distraction.

 

The plot settles into and handful of intertwined plots including the widowed Charlotte and Carlo having immediate romantic chemistry between each other,  Franz and Friedrich getting involved in some kind of mysterious political maneuvering, Sophie being needy and petty to the point of ridiculousness, Charlotte’s maid Anna becoming a singer with the Prince’s opera company,  demonstrations of the paranormal at the palace, and Morelli’s inward depression and being a plaything of the nobles.

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outlanderOutlander, by Diana Gabaldon

published in 1991

where I got it: purchased new

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As much as I love speculative fiction, sometimes I want something a little different. As much as I usually eat food that’s pretty healthy, sometimes I just wanna eat Arby’s curly fries.

And I am now part of the Outlander cult. One book in, and I’m all about drinking the kool aid and fangirling all over the place. This book was curly fries, really good potato chips, and salted caramel ice cream all rolled into one. It was all my guilty pleasures bound together into a doorstopper of a book that was a surprisingly fast read. Reading this book was like the best hand-to-mouth snacking ever.

And yes I know it is a TV show now. I haven’t seen the show.

Some of you are saying to yourselves “she’s finally read Outlander!”, and others are wondering what the hell the rest of us are going on about. For those of you in the second group, Outlander is a portal historical romance. It’s 1945, the war is over, and Claire and her husband Frank are enjoying a much deserved romantic getaway in Scotland. It’s the perfect location for Frank to research his family tree, for Claire to talk to the locals about herblore and local medicinal plants, and for the two of them to get some mental distance from everything they experienced during the war. And then one night, Claire touches something in a stone circle and finds herself hurled back two hundred years.

She doesn’t yet know when she is, but she knows where she is, and since she’s been listening to Frank drone on about his family tree, she knows his many-times-great Uncle Jonathan Randall is floating around here somewhere. She’ll just find a Randall, and all will be good, right? Oh wow, so wrong.

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Parks-Recreation-NBC

I’ve been binge watching Parks and Recreation lately. I’m not usually one for the standard sitcom, but I really like Amy Poehler. And apparently I really like the guy who plays Ron Swanson. And I think I’m developing a crush on Aubrey Plaza. Parks and Rec is the perfect show for when my brain is fried after a crazy day at work. It’s funny, I like the characters, it’s got a long running story arc, characters change and grow. Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is so cheerful and positive, that if I knew her in real life I’d probably want to punch her. But on TV, I want to root for her. I want things to go well for her. Also, “Knope” is the best sitcom name, ever.

 

If you don’t know this show, it’s a mockumentary of a Parks and Rec department in a small Indiana town. Small town politics, office comedy, romantic comedy, weird bosses, awkward relationships, crazy ex-wives, semi-homeless guys, and lots of genius writing.  there are very few bad episodes of this show.

 

I’ve been watching a few episodes here and there for maybe 6 months, and I’m currently most of the way into  season three.  A while back, while channel surfing at a hotel, I got a season 6 episode, and found out that Leslie and Ben become a couple. So ever since Ben of the awesome  hair showed up somewhere near the end of season two, I’ve been waiting for those two to start dating. But, of course they can’t, because Ben’s boss Chris (Rob Lowe, in what is literally, my favorite part he’s played, ever) forbids people who work for each other to date. And technically, Leslie works for Ben, since he oversees the budget of her dept.  But, oh my god, the sexual tension between those two.  It’s as unbearable as it is adorkable. They obviously like each other, but neither of them want to break any rules, and they both don’t seem to realize that the other one likes them too (wow,that was a grammar fail!). Knowing that they get together later makes all this waiting for them to hook up even harder to bear! I read somewhere that ladies like plot-heavy and fore-play heavy porn, and dudes prefer porn that gets right to the sex.  Whatever network originally ran this show, did they realize the sexual tension between Ben and Leslie was basically  porn for women?  Because it is.

That is some David Tennant 10th Doctor epic hair.

That is some epic David Tennant 10th Doctor hair.

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51FDYgEMAsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie Czerneda (Reunification #1)

publishes Nov 3rd, 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks DAW!)

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If you’ve been following Julie Czerneda’s writing career, the phrase “a new Clan Chronicles novel!” is music to your ears. I discovered Czerneda through her Species Imperative trilogy, and quickly fell in love with her invitingly conversational  writing style, her characterization, and the way she writes alien species. Seriously, this woman is the ultimate master of writing convincing alien species. Formally trained as a biologist, Czerneda’s plots touch on evolution,  biology, ecology, and how it’s all related.  She’ll introduce you to an alien civilization and then prove their population isn’t living on their planet of origin, she’ll give a species a strong evolutionary process and then prove that it doesn’t quite work as planned. It’s true, physics and math will get us to the stars, but it’s biology that will give us the answers to whatever and whoever we find living out there.

I think the biggest question surrounding This Gulf of Time and Stars is can readers new to this series jump in here? The answer is it depends on the reader. If you don’t mind feeling a little in the deep end (some of my favorite authors have thrown me into the deep end, to fantastic results – looking at you China Mieville and Iain M. Banks!), or you’re willing to take 5 minutes to do a little research by reading Czerneda’s informative and entertaining Big Idea post over at Scalzi’s Whatever, you’ll do fine. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers to have everything explained right off the bat, you may prefer to start earlier in the series. Generally speaking, Czerneda is the kind of author who simply doesn’t explain things right away – part of her character’s journeys involves discovering for themselves what’s going on, and how, and why. and when I say “discovering for themselves”, I don’t mean coming of age (although some of her novels would qualify as coming of age), I mean discovering genetic secrets and information that  could tear apart an entire society and species. We’re talking big picture here.

This review does have SPOILERS for the first books in the series, and some SPOILERS for This Gulf of Time and Stars.

Here’s the very quick and dirty background of the series, the characters, and the world, in which I have grossly simplified everything in the name of brevity:

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.