The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2) by John Scalzi (website, Twitter)
Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I read it as an: audiobook
Narrator: William Dufris
Source: my own collection
Published by: Macmillan Audio (11 March 2008)
The second in the Old Man’s War series, The Ghost Brigades focuses on the section of troops within the Colonial Defense Forces that are bred purely for fighting. Jared Dirac is something of an exception. He is a hybrid of the superhuman CDF soldiers and Charles Boutin, a notorious turncoat. The idea had been to transplant Boutin’s memories into a CDF clone of himself, but that failed and so Jared was given to the Ghost Brigades. Eventually, Jared’s ability to access Boutin’s memories works and he and his fellow soldiers go to hunt down the real Boutin before an alien alliance can devastate all of humanity.
I think this is my least favorite Scalzi novel so far. It isn’t badly written or boring, but I felt it was a little long on discussion and a little short on action until near the end. To be fair, it would be hard, I think, to improve upon the titular novel in the series, Old Man’s War, which was one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read in years. Ghost Brigades wasn’t a sequel so much as a standalone novel set in the same world as OMW. I like standalone books and get weary of series that go on forever.
Overall, this was fun and well worth the time to listen to it, but my favorite Scalzi is still Redshirts. 🙂
Fear Itself (Star Trek: Discovery) by James Swallow (website, Twitter)
Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I read it as a: paperback
Source: my own collection
Length: 290 pp
Published by: Gallery Books (5 June 2018)
Lieutenant Saru is a Kelpien, a species that is the prey of an apex predator species on his homeworld of Kaminar, and the only one of his kind in Starfleet. It is his nature to be fearful of everything, because he knows that the universe is a harsh place and fear can keep you alive. But on a rescue mission to assist an unaligned vessel in distress, Saru decides to try to overcome his fearful nature and steps out of protocol. As a result, he finds himself in command of an away team on a hostile ship that is then overtaken by a separate species. Saru’s next steps could either resolve an escalating situation between two belligerent races or be the first salvo in a war.
On the show, Saru is basically everything Starfleet stands for. He is smart and honorable and can, when necessary, step past his fears and rise to the occasion. That said, he is still not one of my favorite characters. However, this book went a long way to remedying my thoughts on him. We get a back story that helps to explain the officer he is today and why he might act in certain ways. I would have liked to get more of Saru’s history in general – why did he get asylum in the Federation, what was his life like immediately after coming to Federation space, etc., and maybe we will get that in a future novel – but overall, the author captured the Saru from the show really well, aged him down a few years, and gave an entirely credible portrayal of a less-experienced officer.
I really love the way Georgiou is such a mentor to all her officers. She could have busted Saru down to ensign. She could have tossed him in the brig and shipped him off for court martial. She could have yelled and screamed and dressed him down like anything. But she didn’t. She let him squirm a while, then she asked him what he learned from the experience. She asked him if he would make the same mistakes again in the future. She let him know that, while his actions were not acceptable, they aren’t insurmountable and taught him that even when everything goes sideways, there is learning to be had from it.
I also like the way we see Saru and Burnham’s relationship and learn it was always a bit antagonistic. She had a fairly minor role in this novel, which makes sense since it’s Saru’s story, but I really like that, actually. Star Trek is often such a collaboration that there really isn’t just one main character. It is nice to get novels focusing on just one person or another, at least on occasion. I really hope future novels will be able Stamets and Georgiou or even the less central characters like Detmer or Owosekun. I am delighted that the next book is about Lorca, my new massive crush, though I inadvertently read these out of order and that should have been the second Discovery novel.
Overall, a fun new addition to an awesome new Trek fandom.
Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):
You always expect the worst, Saru. Yes, he had replied, but I always hope for the best.
That’s the thing that separates a good officer from a great one, knowing when to bend and when to be firm. … If you want to command a starship one day, you need to learn when to make those calls. When to show boldness and when to use restraint.
Saru’s certainty that danger and death awaited him did not shade his life in morose tones. It made him all the more determined to live it, down to the very last second.
Violence will not change the facts. You cannot coerce reality into re-forming itself to your needs with a destructive act.
“We are the sum of our natures. We’re all on the path that our birthright set out for us.” “I’m not sure if I agree,” [Saru] replied, taking another sip of tisane. “I took a different path from the one I was born into.” “Did you? Ejah smiled again. “Or did you just follow the way to the path that had been right for you all along?”
Compassion is not weakness. Enduring is not living. And belligerence is not strength.
Now, as he had then, he pushed back with all the strength he could muster, struggling to free himself from the inexorable gravity of the terror. If he could just stop himself from giving in to the burning fear for a second more, for ten seconds more, a minute, then he could hold it back. I am afraid, he told himself. But it shall not rule me.
Desperate Hours (Star Trek Discovery) by David Mack (website, Twitter)
Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I read it as a: paperback
Source: my own collection
Length: 384 pp
Published by: Gallery Book (26 Sept 2017)
I’m super, super, remarkably behind on reading the newest Star Trek novels. Like, I think I have 15 or so I haven’t got around to yet, so I’m a good 2 ½ to 3 years behind. This is a project I am looking forward to correcting.
Anyway. Desperate Hours is the first Star Trek Discovery novel, and it was terrific. This is set about a year before the Shenzhou’s mission to the binary stars and the star of the actual show. Michael Burnham is promoted to acting first officer when Captain Philippa Gregory’s previous exec officer left for his own command. But if Michael wants to keep the job, she has to prove that she deserves it. The opportunity for her to do just that presents itself in the form of a colony under attack. Burnham learns to think outside the box while still adhering to Starfleet protocols, and in the process, attempts to avert a disaster created by Starfleet’s own rules.
This read just like an action-packed episode. I like the self-contained story line; I get very tired of multi-book story arcs or series that go on forever and you have to read each book in order or you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I actually really miss that about the old numbered Trek books. One book = one story.
The characters were really well done in this. Mack has a terrific handle on them and they seemed like themselves as they are in the series. I did notice a couple minor things that made it obvious that this was written before certain episodes, like calling Saru’s homeworld Kelpia. Just a couple things that were explained later or in different detail in the show, but nothing that detracted from the overall quality of the novel.
Michael’s character was the best; she is very much like she’s portrayed in the show, but it is obvious that she’s younger, less experienced, and not just because the book says she’s younger. It’s a testament to Mack’s writing skills that he could craft a thoroughly credible version of a character many of us already know and love well.
Very much looking forward to reading the rest of them, and all future Discovery novels as well. I hope we get a lot more with Lorca. Ye gods, that man is fine.
Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):
This was everything she had feared Starfleet would be when she had first been courted to its service by Sarek and Captain Georgiou: reactionary, shortsighted, blinded by a knee-jerk impulse to seek security at the expense of knowledge. Then the advice of Sarek echoed in her memory: If that is what you find, it is up to you to change it for the better.
“Nondisclosure contracts?” Pike wondered for a cynical moment what century he was living in.
…the essential nature of life and the universe is impermanence: everything changes, and everything ends. Trying to resist that truth is the root of all suffering.
“Most of them will never know how close they came to nearly losing everything.” “That’s probably true for all of us, at one time or another,” Georgiou said.
“Don’t give up hope,” he said. “Selfishness will go away once the universe runs out of sentient beings.”
Judith Starkston’s PRIESTESS OF ISHANA is available free on Amazon Oct 2-6 in anticipation of the Oct 14 launch of the next book in the series, Sorcery in Alpara. An award-winning historical fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.
A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.
“What George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic…” -Amalia Carosella, author of Helen of Sparta
Carrie Fisher reads one of her memoirs, focusing on her various addictions and bipolar disorder. For as sad as much of the book was, she managed to make it hilarious. I actually didn’t care for her narration as much as I thought I would, given how much I enjoy Fisher’s various performances. But still, this is a great insight into one of Hollywood’s own.
I read this in part because I wanted to, I still miss my General, and because it ticks a box for Read Harder. I definitely recommend it for anyone who is a fan of Carrie Fisher.
In 6th century Scotland, twins are born to Morkan, a petty king of Cadzow. Languoreth and her brother Lailoken lived in a time when the old ways are being destroyed by Christianity, and the result is political instability and conflict. Although Languoreth wants nothing more than to become a Wisdom Keeper (Pike’s term for Druid), it is Lailoken who is chosen for that path. Languoreth is married to Rhydderch, a son of the High King Tutgual who is sympathetic to Christian interests. Rhydderch adheres to the old ways but his fairly tyrannical father has converted. Languoreth’s duty to her people is to act as their emissary, protecting and preserving the old ways as best she can. Through politics, strategic marriage, and ties of loyalty, Languoreth fights for her beliefs. Alongside Languoreth are Maelgwn, a Dragon Soldier for Emrys Pendragon and her lover; her foster brother Gwenddolau, later called the Other Pendragon, or Uther; and her brother Lailoken, who the common people began calling Mad Man – Myrddin, known to history as Merlin.
Languoreth of Strathclyde was a historical woman, mostly forgotten by history. Thus, the ‘lost’ queen. Fantasy that is based in reality is the best kind, in my opinion, because it takes a beloved story and turns it into something that might actually have happened. No matter how much we suspend our disbelief for the sake of entertainment, it is hard to imagine that a boy really did pull a sword out of a stone and that magic forged the historical foundation of Britain. It is thrilling, though, to find real evidence of men and women on whom the legends are based. Signe Pike did an absolutely stellar job in creating a believable and complex novel on the basis of bits of information.
The politics in this novel are detailed and readers feel the stress, uncertainty, and fear produced by it. The tensions between the old ways and the new religion are vividly depicted and reflect an awareness of modern social issues as well as ancient.
The creation of this world and the characters who will eventually become the well-known figures of Arthurian is intricately drawn out. It is not always a fast-paced novel, so for people who want all action, all the time, this may not be the book for you. For me, though, I’ve finally found a book that can replace The Mists of Avalon as a book I can recommend.
I had initially skimmed an ARC of this from Netgalley and left a brief review. However, I enjoyed it so much that I bought both the hard copy and audio version. I have to say, the narrator, Toni Frutin, is amazing. I don’t know why she hasn’t narrated more audiobooks, because she absolutely ought to. I also liked hearing the way some of the words are pronounced, which definitely didn’t happen when I eyeball read it.
There were some things I wanted more of, like Ariane needed more time in the story, I had thought. However, this is just part one of a trilogy, so I am hopeful she will make another appearance in the later books. Maybe she will wind up being the Lady of the Lake or something.
Overall, highly recommended. I am looking forward to reading the next installment.
Favorite part/ lines:
We may not always have the choice we would like. But we always have a
This second novel in Starkston’s Tesha series picks up right where the first story, Priestess of Ishana, left off. Tesha and Hattu are newly married and traveling to Alpara, his capitol city. Tesha is to be crowned as Hattu’s queen and rule beside him. Instead, as they travel through hostile lands, a dark force attacks Hattu and his army. Tesha frees the army through the use of her skills as a priestess of Ishana, but at a steep price. Tesha is drained of her strength and power, unable to move or speak. As she gradually recovers, under the care of her sister Daniti, it becomes clear to Tesha that Hattu has been overcome by the same dark force. Tesha must struggle against betrayals that take everything she holds dear from her, save Hattu and her new kingdom, without sacrificing herself in the process.
Second novels in a trilogy often struggle with a sluggish plot in some odd sort of literary ‘middle child syndrome.’ Sorcery in Alpara definitely does not suffer from this problem. From the start, it is full of action and magic, love and despair. Readers get several gut-punches as Tesha fights to save those she loves, even while being unjustly accused of a crime she didn’t commit.
A major subplot of the novel involves Tesha’s older sister, Daniti, who was taken captive by a faction of Hattu’s enemies. Daniti uses all her considerable skills to delay her captors from carrying out their plans. Helping her is Marak, Hattu’s second-in-command, who had allowed himself to be taken hostage to protect Daniti. Their whole story, while not quite as fraught as Tesha and Hattu’s, is intriguing and highlights some of the facets of being disabled in the ancient world. Daniti’s blindness doesn’t hinder her ability to be a formidable ally to Tesha and fierce enemy to Paskans and others who would overthrow her brother-in-law.
Hattu’s people, the Hitolians, are based on the ancient Hittites. Starkston does a masterful job weaving in elements of their culture and religious practices throughout her writing. The religious rituals the Hittites practiced lend themselves extraordinarily well to creating the magic spells Tesha and other priestesses use in this series. Using historically accurate details to turn them to one’s own purpose in a story really helps create a richer reading experience. Starkston has this practice well in hand and she uses her impeccable research on the Hittite culture to modify and implement magic rites within the world she has built around Tesha, who is herself based on a real life Hittite queen, Puduhepa.
In short, this is an excellent addition to the Tesha series. I can’t wait to buy a hard copy for my own library. Strongly recommended to anyone who loves historical fantasy, or who has an appreciation for well researched books with a seriously fun plot.
PLEASE NOTE: If you go to the author’s website, you can preorder a copy of this book for $2.99 on kindle. When you preorder Sorcery in Alpara, you get a free short story which continues the narrative of Anna, a prequel story to the Tesha series. The first short story installment comes when you sign up for Judith’s newsletter. I’ve received both and the short story and the newsletter are entirely worth your time.
Wonder is the story of August ‘Aggie’ Pullman, a boy who was born with a rare condition that leaves him with severe facial abnormalities. Because he spent so many years having various surgeries and health issues, Auggie never went to traditional school and was instead homeschooled by his mother. Then, 5th grade comes around and Auggie’s parents decide he needs to start attending a regular school. He tests into a well respected private school and starts middle school. A group of kids who were asked by the principal to keep an eye on Auggie and help him out are integral to his experiences in his first year at real school and Auggie learns that some people hide surprising depths.
My daughter read this in her class this year and she really liked it. She wanted me to read it as well and since I enjoy talking about books with her, I was happy to do so. I found the multiple perspectives to be effective in giving various angles to Auggie’s story. Sometimes, multiple POVs are just disorganized or distracting but it works well in this narrative. The book starts out with Auggie’s POV then shifts between his older sister Via, her friend Miranda, Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Auggie’s friend Summer. I do wish there had been a perspective for each of his parents and for Mr Tushman, the principal. It would have been insightful to get the views from adults who were a big part of Auggie’s story as well, so I feel that a lot of added depth was missed by leaving them out.
I enjoyed seeing the ways in which Auggie grew over the course of his first year in a real school. I have long said kids can be real assholes, and it held true in this book, but it was also a good example of how kids learn from example as well. Some are born assholes and some are born kind, but often they can be influenced one way or the other by the way they are raised. One kid was apparently born an asshole and that was reinforced by his horrid mother; another was basically good but his childhood reinforced ways for him to be an asshole; and one kid is just a good kid, although we don’t see the parents to know how they are raising their kids.
The overarching message was, of course, to be kinder than is necessary. I think this is a really relevant theme for kids to learn, all the time, but especially now. With the cruel, racist, hateful Trump administration eroding compassion and empathy everywhere, it is nice to read something that sends a good message, even though it was written well before that thing became President. Yes, I will find a way to make even a kid’s book political, because fuck Trump. NO, I am not empathetic to him or his toadies.
ANYWAY. It is a good message to teach kids not to judge anyone by the way they look, whether it is the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, or if they have medical conditions making them look different from most people. Auggie is a cool, funny, smart boy, but many people would never know it because they are shallow and freak out about the way he looks rather than trying to know the person inside.
Definitely recommended reading for all parents and kids. Reading it together is even better. Talk to each other.
Mateys. Why be pirates so mean? I don’t know, either, they just arrrrrr.
I know, I know. Sink me, it’s awful. But I know two jokes and that be one of them. I wasn’t goin’ to be passin’ up the chance to share it with ye. Ye’re welcome. Since September 19 be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, it’s also a jest worthy of the day. Why be there a Talk Like a Pirate Day? Well…why not? It all really started as a parodic (parrotic? Do pirates really have parrots?) holiday for jolly good fun by two silly scalliwags who thought it be a good idea. Nothin’ more to it than that. And really, what better reason be there to drink grog and read about some of the finest swashbuckling crews on the high seas?
There be pirate books a’plenty, far more than those penned by those most renowned authors Robert Louis Stevenson or Daniel Defoe (or Jonathan Swift, Herman Melville, Jules Verne, Bernard Cornwell, or Patrick O’Brian). So if ye want to be learnin’ about talkin’ like a pirate so ye sound more like an old salt instead of a sprog, have a gander at some of these fine volumes. Just don’t go droppin’ ‘em in the briny deep or ye’ll be keelhauled. Savvy?
And yes, I expect all ye landlubbers to talk (and write) like a pirate all the live long day.
Sea Witch by Helen Hollick. The first in the Sea Witch series featuring fictional pirate Jesamiah Acorne. Hollick’s research be impeccable and many other real life pirates have roles in these tales. This high seas rollicking adventure makes it easy to see why pirates be romanticized so often.
Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry. This be the story of Peter Pan, told from the perspective of Captain Hook, a Gentleman ‘o fortune who has been mightily abused by literature and that scoundrel Pan.
Winterwood by Jacey Bedford. A cross-dressing lassie privateer captain discovers she has a younger half-brother, inherits a magic winterwood box that might save all of the rowankind (like the wee fairy folk), and has a shapeshifting wolf courting her, to the great annoyance of her husband’s ghost. Read it anon!
Hook’s Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself by John Leonard Pielmeier. As the title suggests, this be the autobiography of the illustrious, dashing Hook himself.
Destiny’s Captive by Beverly Jenkins. Noah Yates sets off on the high seas, seeking adventure, not a wife. And then he be captured and tied up by a woman. Literally. A woman who be descended from pirates. Who then steals his ship. All manner of great, grand adventure ensues.
Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle. A boy be traded from pirate ship to pirate ship as long as he can remember, used as a translator between Spanish and his mother’s Taino Indian language. Then a ruddy hurricane sinks his ship, he escapes, and he gets to decide the fate of his former captors. To keelhaul or not to keelhaul…
Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller. A 17-year-old pirate captain allows herself to be captured so that she can search her enemy’s ship for a secret map to a hidden treasure. A true pirate will go to any length to seek treasure and adventure.
Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman. A fancy rich merchant’s sprog wants to flee his strict social class and go to sea to make his own way, while a young orphaned woman wants to return to her mother’s home in Curacao. They meet, fall in love, and must decide whether to follow social rules or not. A pirate would tell rules to walk the plank. The young man grows up to be Blackbeard, the most fearsome and renowned pirate ever to sail the seven seas…
Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly. Written by the former head of exhibitions at the British National Maritime Museum, this novel be all about the fact and fiction of a pirate’s life. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me…
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda. Pirate manga! Monkey D. Luffy wants to be the Pirate King. Instead, he accidentally gained the power to stretch like rubber, at the cost of never being able to swim again. Now, he and some pirate sprogs are on a quest to find the One Piece, which is reputed to be the greatest treasure in all the wide world.
In the year 1112, a young girl who had been given to the church by her parents as a tithe was entombed in an anchorite’s cell with another woman, Jutta. The mass of the dead was performed over the enclosed cell, as was customary, and the girl became an anchoress until her eventual release in 1136 upon Jutta’s death. The girl, now around 38 years old, was then unanimously declared as the next abbess of the Disenbodenberg convent. She went on to become a renowned theologian, composer, and mystic. The girl was Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 17 Sept 1179), medieval firebrand, visionary, thorn in the side of her male contemporaries, and she remains as relevant today as she was in her own time.
Hildegard was a product of her time and was not a feminist by any modern definition of the word, but she was a fierce advocate of the sacred value of women. Her theology was feminine, focusing largely on the idea of God as a cosmic egg, a womb that nurtures all things. She acknowledged the dogma of her time, which decreed that God was male, but she claimed that she was unable to bear looking upon the divine in her visions unless it presented as female. Although women were prohibited from preaching, nevertheless, she persisted, going on several tours to preach to her male superiors about the sins of the Church, which was rife with sexual misconduct and corruption. One of Hildegard’s more interesting visions, Ecclesia, depicts the Church giving birth to the Antichrist because of the venality of its clergy. She was not afraid of confrontation, and even wrote scathing letters to Pope Anastasius IV about the sad state of his Church:
You are neglecting justice, the King’s daughter [the Church], the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you. And you are even tolerant that this princess be hurled to the ground. Her crown and jeweled raiment are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night. They are hypocrites. (Fox, 1987, p. 274)
At one point, Hildegard and her nuns were even placed under interdict for refusing to comply with orders to disinter a suspected apostate, whom Hildegard allowed to be buried in hallowed ground in her convent. Hildegard refused to relent and eventually the interdict was lifted. She could, and did, go toe to toe with male authority, and bravely fought for her beliefs within the system that was available to her.
Hildegard was also a gifted composer of music, another realm generally designated for men only. Because she was a Benedictine nun and adhered to that order’s strict daily schedule, she sang the Divine Office eight times a day. She believed that singing was the highest form of prayer and music connected humankind directly to the divine. During her interdict, she was prohibited from singing, which was the harshest punishment for her. Hildegard said in a letter to the prelates of Mainz that “the soul is arises from heavenly harmony” (Fox, 1987, p. 359) and in music she referred to herself as a feather on the breath of God. She wrote over 70 songs and Ordo Virtutum, which is sometimes considered to be the first opera. A sampling of her songs may be found at the following sites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8gK0_PgIgY or http://www.slacker.com/artist/hildegard-von-bingen
Her mystical visions still bring inspiration. Often, they reflect her concept of Viriditas, the greening power, which she believed was the divine made manifest in everything on earth. She wrote, “I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars … I awaken everything to life” (Fox, 1987, p. 8-10). Hildegard felt the creation of all things reflected the face of the divine and that nature was sacred, something that is “highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats” (Sharratt, 2012, para. 6).
Hildegard’s death on September 17, 1179 marks a date of commemoration for this woman, a medieval mystic, visionary, healer, and saint. She was ordained a Doctor of the Church 900 years after her death. Today, women the world over still find solace and strength in her words and songs. We can use her for guidance to find our own viriditas, strength, and sacredness in nature, regardless of faith or lack thereof.