Star Trek: TNG: Hearts and Minds

33025284Hearts and Minds by Dayton Ward (website, Twitter, FB)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 386 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (30 May 2017)

A dual timeline Trek novel, the earlier timeline taking place mostly in the mid-21st century and the later timeline in Picard’s 24th century. On Earth, Vulcans have recently made first contact. However, other species have also had their eye on Earth and their intentions do not seem to be as honorable as the Vulcans’. Members of secret government agencies have decided that they have to take preemptive measures to secure the safety of Earth. On the Enterprise, Picard learns that one of his officers has been given orders by an admiral which may directly impact Picard’s own authority on the ship. The information the officer has may solve a centuries-old mystery that is playing out its final acts during the Enterprise’s current mission. With relations between a new species on the line, Picard and crew are hard at work figuring out how events of the past are continuing to influence their present, and how to resolve a volatile situation. 

Sometimes dual timeline novels are not my cup of tea, but this one worked out all right for me. It was interesting to see how events from Earth’s past are influencing the players in the 24th century. The theme of history being written by the victors is woven throughout and provides a sharp counterpoint to the utopian vision so often seen in the Federation. This story shows that not all history, not even the Federation’s, is what it seems to be. It makes you think about what you thought you knew. I found myself wondering what history I’ve been taught that is completely wrong. Lots, probably. 

This wasn’t my favorite Trek novel, but it wasn’t bad. I generally enjoy Dayton Ward’s novels and this was still a fun read, if not utterly gripping. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • There was a time when my people were gripped by a number of irrational fears, Presider, and it was because of such fear that we nearly destroyed ourselves.
  • …humans had not always comported themselves in the best manner, and for all the amazing leaps in science and technology, there remained significant work to be done in this area of learning how to live in peace and harmony with one another. While there had been some advancement, there seemed to be very little progress. Despite their apparently unlimited potential, were humans ultimately a lost cause?
  • It was no different when it came to those horrific occasions when he ordered subordinates on missions that led to their deaths. He never undertook such action lightly, and the repercussions of those decisions would always haunt him. Picard was grateful for that burden; it reminded him of the sacrifices made by those who answered the call to service and the tremendous costs that duty sometimes exacted. 
  • I do not fear the truth, Presider.
  • The path to the truth is a long one, but we can travel it together, if you’ll allow us to walk with you. 
  • ‘And where do we go from here?’ ‘Forward, Presider Hilonu,’ said Picard. ‘Always forward.’

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

47163589The Bookish Life of Nina Hill* by Abbi Waxman (website)

Her Grace’s rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Contemporary fiction

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Emily Rankin

Source: my  own collection/Audible

Length: 9:03:00

Published by: Random House Audio (9 July 2019)

Nina Hill is the only child of a single mother who never told her anything about her father. Imagine Nina’s surprise when she receives word via lawyer that her father has recently died and has a provision for her in his will. Along with suddenly gaining a dead dad, Nina also learns that she has a huge extended family. To introverted book nerds like Nina, that is horrifying. She likes her life just the way it is, with her job at the neighborhood bookstore, her trivia team, movie nights, her cat Phil, and solitude to read to her heart’s content. Nina’s world is thrown into upheaval as she learns to navigate a world in which she isn’t alone and has people who she can learn to lean on.

I enjoyed this book as a light, fluffy read. It wasn’t mind-blowing, it didn’t make me reevaluate my worldview or anything, but that’s ok. It was what I wanted it to be. I liked Nina – identified with her a great deal, actually. As an introverted, self-confident book nerd who prefers my own company to anyone else’s, I get where she’s coming from. I thought it was great of Waxman to show an introvert who is self-confident. So often, introverted characters are also insecure in some way or lack self-confidence, as though introversion and insecurity go together, which is bullshit. By the end of the novel, Nina does learn how to embrace a more open and spontaneous life, but I like that she struck a balance between learning and exploring new things about herself and not losing herself in the process. Nor did anyone, like her boyfriend or family, make her change who she is. I HATE when that happens, whether in books or real life. It could be my indifference to most humans speaking, but I just can’t imagine or believe stories where, for example, a super introvert becomes the life of the party and loves it by the end of the book, and changes to make another person like a lover happy. I would not change my basic nature for anyone else. Nope. Fuck that. I am who I am, take it or leave it. So seeing Nina find that good balance is affirming, at least to me, on a deep level. 

I also liked that Nina was a confident and strong woman who also deals with anxiety. I also check that box. My anxiety isn’t as bad as Nina’s was portrayed, but my brain sometimes just doesn’t shut up and it can get overwhelming. Pot helps. So does Xanax. But I appreciated seeing a character like her who could have anxiety and not be depicted as completely unhinged, unbalanced, hysterical, fragile, or whatever else is so often inaccurately associated with women generally. I do think some of her coping mechanisms weren’t the healthiest. I get wanting to be alone to freak out in private, but sometimes being with people who care about you is better. 

Nina listed her Five Perfect Things in the book. Hers were: books, cats, dogs, honeycrisp apples, and coffee. Then she said that everyone has a different five perfect things. I think mine are:

  1. My imperfect daughter
  2. Books
  3. Apples with peanut butter (also honeycrisp for me)
  4. Tea
  5. Dogs 

I could add another, rainy days spent at home, since technically my daughter isn’t a ‘thing’, she’s mostly human. 

What five perfect things would you choose?

 

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Memoirs of a Traitor

41t033qmoel._sx331_bo1204203200_Memoirs of a Traitor by Lee Levin

I read it as an: ARC

Source: HNS

Length: 384 pp

Publisher: Royal Heritage Press

Year: 2018

Presented as a found document, Memoirs of a Traitor is the story of William Stanley, knight banneret, and brother of Lord Thomas Stanley. These brothers played an interesting role during the Wars of the Roses, fighting for the Yorkists at the Battles of Blore Heath and Tewkesbury, but later fighting for the Lancasters at the Battle of Bosworth. Sometimes you just can’t fucking decide who to fight for, you know? Like most others of their peers, they were primarily concerned with keeping their heads securely attached to their shoulders. One managed to do so, the other, not so much. Just the way the cookie crumbles, I reckon. This book tells the tale of William, the younger Stanley brother, supposedly written from the Tower the night before his execution for treason for his role in supporting Perkin Warbeck’s claim to the throne.

This was a very readable book. The style was conversational, engaging, and yet still informative, if somewhat too informal for my usual taste. First-person narratives are kind of hit or miss for me, but since this was supposed to be Stanley’s own written account, there was no other way it could have been written. Sometimes it worked fine and helped draw me into the story more fully; other times it brought me out of the story because I thought it was cheesy or distracting. I do think it really limited the extent to which the other characters were fleshed out. Only a handful of secondary characters were really given very much attention or life. Most were pretty flat, with a couple notable exceptions such as Baron Simon de Rochford and Owen the squire. It would have been nice to get to know them better. I didn’t think the rest had well developed voices and it was difficult to differentiate them on the page.

I think, too, that the pace might have been a little too fast in that some major events or battles happened too quickly with not enough detail given. I get that the premise of the book was that William was hunched over a parchment, scribbling his thoughts in a hurry in one night before going to the block, but it felt like there was too much lost that would have been good to add depth and flavor to the tale had it included more detail. However, all the main points are touched upon and this really would be a great book to use to introduce someone to the Wars of the Roses who isn’t as familiar with it. The overall historical accuracy and engaging writing style make it easy enough to forgive some glossing over of the finer details, especially given the first-person narration.

All in all, I found this to be an enjoyable read and would recommend it, though with some caveats.

^This is a longer, more detailed version of a review my published via the Historical Novel Society.

Star Trek: Section 31: Control

30753665._sy475_Star Trek: Section 31: Control* by David Mack (website, Twitter, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 352 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (30 May 2017)

Section 31, the unethical and ungoverned shadow branch of the Federation, has a longer history than previously known. Dr Julian Bashir and Agent Sarina Douglas uncover a deeply held secret that has followed 31 for its entire existence, some 200 years. They realize it is their best chance to bring down the organization and hold it accountable for the multitude of sins it has committed over the years. With the help of Ozla Graniv, a brave investigative reporter, and a few select old friends, Bashir and Douglas embark on their most dangerous mission to date, determined to bring to an end the unseen agency and its mastermind, a being known only as Control.

This was everything a good Trek novel should be – action, fighting against the odds, a little romance, and plenty of fun technobabble. It’s been really nice seeing the development of Bashir and Douglas over their last few missions and this was a grand culmination of everything they’ve sought to do. I loved seeing Garak again – he’s always a favorite – as well as Data and Lal. I confess I don’t actually like Lal all that much, but she was integral to Bashir’s mission this time and she did a good job with it. I shall have to reread the Cold Equations books again now. 

The exploration of artificial intelligence, though it has been done before, was still interesting in this novel. What was really the best about it is that it digs deep into the utopia of the Federation and destroys it. This was definitely not a terribly feel-good book; it was dark and gritty and felt very real. But, it IS a Star Trek story, so it also had a kernel of hope in the end. I also love that the ending is left open to more exploration of this story line without being a cliffhanger. I don’t think this is it for Bashir. Or I certainly hope it isn’t! 

Overall, this was a fun and fast-paced read that got me through a very long flight with minimal discomfort because it sucked me right into the story. 

Favorite lines (There ARE spoilers!):

  • To excise this cancer from your body politic, all you need to do is kill the body, burn it down to ash, and then resurrect and rebuild it with wiser eyes and a sadder heart.
  • Beliefs are dangerous things, Julian. Once we invest in them, it can be hard to challenge them without invoking cognitive dissonance. 
  • ‘Are you still with me, my dear doctor? … Are you blind to the sight of me? Deaf to the music of my voice?’ … There was naught left for Garak to do now but keep his friend safe, in a clean and well-lit place, and give him whatever time he needed to heal himself – or at least to die in peace, with his last measure of privacy intact and jealously guarded by someone who loved him. [*wibble*]

GIVEAWAY WINNER

The gods at random.org have spoken and the winner of the Jeri Westerson Shadows in the Mist giveaway is……

LYNN!

Please send me a DM with your address so I can send your book to you!

 

The Woman in the Window

40389527._sy475_The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  1 out of 5 stars (1 star only because I actually finished reading it)

Genre: mystery/thriller

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 427 pp

Published by: William Morrow (3/28/18)

Anna Fox was a child psychologist with a successful practice, happy marriage, and healthy daughter. Then she experiences a trauma and becomes agoraphobic. She hasn’t set foot out of her home for nearly a year and passes her time by watching old black and white films and spying on her neighbors through the windows with her camera. One day, she witnesses a murder and has a nervous breakdown when she tries to go outside to help. The cops don’t believe her – they think she’s just a drunk, which is true but doesn’t change what she saw – and her estranged husband doesn’t believe her, either. Anna has to convince everyone she is not insane or hallucinating in order to discover who the killer is and stop them before they come after her.

This book? Was WAY over-hyped. The writing style was all right and the basic premise of the story was theoretically interesting. The problem is that there was absolutely no suspense or nerve-wracking moments. The plot was entirely predictable and stereotypical, including Anna’s trauma and the identity of the killer. *Yawn*. Also, the theme of men writing women as crazy/ not believed/ let’s gaslight everything is so fucking dull. It *might* have been slightly more interesting if the protagonist had been a man, though that still wouldn’t solve the problem of being predictable. It was a readable story and only took me a few hours to read, what with work and all, but given the lack of anything unique or really interesting, I can’t really recommend it. 

Also, not relevant to the book, but as I was writing this review, I went online to look up the author’s website. Lo and behold, I discovered that he is a pathological liar and spewed various untruths ranging from his imaginary doctorate from Oxford to brain tumors to his mother’s death. He has no doctorate from Oxford, no brain cancer (or any other kind, it seems), and his mother is alive and well. Regardless of how good his future novels might be, which I doubt, I would never read another book written by this gross individual. There are plenty of people who are actually talented and don’t have to resort to pathetic grabs for sympathy to get noticed. Vox has a really good article about this author’s multitude of deceptions.

The Book of Essie

The Book of Essie34503571._sx318_* by Meghan MacLean Weir (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: YA/ contemporary fiction

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 336 pp

Published by: Knopf (12 June 2018)

Seventeen year old Esther Anne Hicks, known as Essie, is the youngest child of a famous TV preacher, similar to the Duggars. Essie has grown up with cameras always on, hair and makeup having to be done Just So all the time, most of the family’s conversations scripted and rehearsed. Everyone who watches their show of course thinks the Hicks family is perfect and a model of Christian whatever. The issue, though, is that Essie is pregnant. Her mother has a meeting with the show’s manager, excluding Essie from the discussion, about what to do – do they sneak her out of the country for an abortion? Does Essie’s mother fake a pregnancy to be able to claim it as hers? Essie convinces her mother to marry Roarke Richards, a boy at her school. Roarke’s parents are deep in the hole and are about to lose everything they have. An ‘arrangement’ with the Hicks wherein Roarke marries Essie will ensure that the Hicks will pay off all their debts and allow them to be comfortable for life. Against all odds, they talk Roarke into this plan. But he and Essie each have secrets that they fear to share with anyone. 

*Spoilers below cut!*Read More »

Dear Committee Members

19288259Dear Committee Members: A Novel* by Julie Schumacher (website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Epistolary; literary fiction

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Source: public library

Length: 03:55:00

Published by: Random House Audio (8/19/14)

In this fictional collection of letters of recommendation and various other correspondences from beleaguered professor of creative writing Jason Fitger, readers are given a hilarious and rather accurate insight into traditional academia. Fitger’s acerbic wit is a delight, and is frankly necessary at times to show the ludicrousness of various aspects to academic life. The story follows, loosely, the efforts of one of Fitger’s graduate students to find and be awarded with grants, scholarships, fellowships, random jobs, and other means by which he can support himself while finishing a novel he had begun prior to his graduate work, as seen from the point of view of Fitger and his correspondence. It is by turns riotously funny, deeply introspective, and sometimes wistful or regretful. 

As I listened to this, it made me simultaneously an iota relieved not to have to deal with these kinds of academic Gordian knots, and also sad that I didn’t complete a PhD and get to partake in the adventure. Maybe I am not too old yet to do so. In any case, this book made me literally howl with laughter. I’m sure my fellow commuters who might have seen me must have thought I was insane, finally having come to the end of my rope because of rush hour traffic. I’m just glad I didn’t crash my car in the process. 

To anyone who loves academia or who is considering a career in higher academics, you absolutely must read this book, or listen to the audio version, which is narrated by a man with a voice like Kelsey Grammar/Frasier Crane. Robertson Dean is a perfect choice of narrator for this; he gives an excellent performance and brings to life the depths of Fitger’s disdain for a multitude of people and actions. 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Belatedly, it occurs to me that some members of your HR committee, a few skeptical souls, may be clutching a double strand of worry beads and wondering aloud about the practicality or usefulness of a degree in English rather than, let’s say, computers. Be reassured: the literature student has learned to enquire, to question, to interpret, to critique, to compare, to research, to argue, to sift, to analyze, to shape, to express. His intellect can be put to broad use. The computer major, by contrast, is a technician, a plumber clutching a single, albeit shiny, box of tools. 
  • Literature has served me faithfully, no pun intended, as an ersatz religion and I would wager that the pursuit of the ineffable via aesthetics in various forms has saved as many foundering souls as a belief in God. 
  • Such are the communication skills of the up and coming generation. They post drunken photos of themselves at parties, they share statuses, they emit tweets, and send all sorts of intimate pronouncements into the void, but they are incapable of returning a simple phone call.

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The Long Mirage

30753726The Long Mirage (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)* by David R. George III (Facebook, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 386 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (pub date)

***Spoilers for this book and previous ones below***

In The Long Mirage, Quark has hired a private investigator to track down Morn, who has been missing for 2 years, since just after the original station Deep Space 9 blew up. Quark would have everyone believe that he misses having his best customer around, and Morn is certainly the 24th century equivalent to Cheers‘s Norm, wordplay on names and everything, but the truth is that Quark just missed his friend and is concerned about him. When the investigator he hired takes off with his latinum, Quark scrambles to track down the investigator as well as Morn. He’s joined by Captain Ro Laren, who is doing some soul searching, deciding whether it is time for her to move on or stay at DS9. 

At the same time, Nog is trying to figure out what is wrong with Vic Fontaine’s holo program, which was saved from the wreckage of DS9 but has been unusable for the most part since. Nog is worried about Vic because the last time he was able to enter the program, he witnessed Vic being kidnapped. Knowing that Vic is self aware and that the program continues running even without anyone else in it, Nog worries that Vic will come to a bad end in the 1960s Las Vegas program. He also has to work against time because he fears not only will the program erode beyond repair, but also there are some who want to fix it by reinitializing the entire program, a move that would reset it back to original specs and wipe out all of Vic’s memories, effectively killing him. Nog’s friend and fellow officer, John Candlewood, helps him sort out the mystery of Vic Fontaine. 

Then there’s Kira Nerys who comes back from the wormhole after being lost and presumed dead for the last two years. She’s been living a whole other life in Bajor’s distant past, but now she’s back with information that could rock Bajor to its core.

I don’t usually care much for the books written by David R George III, and this one was essentially the same. But it was the next Trek book in the stack so I tried to approach it with more of an eye for overarching themes than plot points. That helped, though DRG3 is just not my favorite Trek authors. I don’t know why, it’s just something about his writing I don’t like. In any case, this novel was full of themes of friendship and love, in all their variations. Ro and Quark reflect on their relationship over the past decade and come to a decision a long time in the making. Nog and Candlewood also reflect friendship in the best way – Candlewood simply doesn’t think that Vic is sentient and sees no problem with resetting the program, but he knows Vic is important to Nog, so he does anything he can to help his friend. Quark hands over piles of latinum, something he never thought he would do, to find Morn and make sure his friend is safe. No theme of love would be complete without a triangle of some kind, and we get that as well with the Altek-Ro-Kira saga. No one end up super happy with that one, which is at least believable and realistic.

There is also lots of self reflection and self evaluation throughout. Characters seem unusually able and willing to view their own actions and come to a realization, whether it paints them in a good or bad light, with somewhat unbelievable frequency and ease. I like that some of them do this, but basically every point-of-view character does a lot of navel gazing and figures out things about their own actions which have been less than ideal. I think it was a little too much, though I applaud anyone taking the time to evaluate themselves and make changes to their behavior as needed. I think the debate on Vic’s sentience was rather unnecessary, as well. The sentience of “inanimate” objects, for lack of a better term, has been gone over and over and over with Data, Moriarty, and the Doctor. We get it; they’re sentient. Having that element didn’t add anything and kind of dragged it out more than necessary.

I enjoyed the debate / crisis of faith on Bajor, which resulted from the discovery years before of a new set of holy texts and a hidden temple. These things caused some Bajorans to have a crisis of faith, others to shrug it off, and others still to believe the newly discovered beliefs rather than traditional beliefs. In this, the book mirrored a lot of actual history, recalling elements of the Reformation as well as conflicts between major religious groups. It highlights a lot of politics and religion today, and I thought some of the best sections of the book were included in these discussions.

Overall, I enjoyed this DRG3 novel more than previous ones. Whether I would have anyway or if it’s because of my revised approach to reading it, I don’t know, but I’d say it was a decent addition to the DS9 novels. 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • “Debates are loud, and sometimes shrill, with a great deal of talking and very little listening. People demonize each other for differing beliefs. It is both turbulent and disquieting. … I am sad because of what all of this turmoil reveals – namely that there are many believers whose faith is so weak that they fear the falsework because they perceive it as a threat to the foundations of their lives. There is no room in their worldview for growth. They cannot abide change, whether for better or worse.” (135-138)
  • “In my experience,” Altek said, “people are never so threatened as when facts disagree with their deepest held beliefs – religious or otherwise.” (211)
  • “Wanting to cling to my convictions in the face of evidence to the contrary is the product of ego, or arrogance, or possibly just fear.” (215)

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Beautiful

45367879._sx318_Beautiful* by Juliet Marillier(website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: fantasy

I read it as an: audiobook, which is the only way it’s available currently

Narrator: Gemma Dawson

Source: my own collection

Length: 07:18:00

Published by: Audible Originals (5/30/19)

In this audio-only story, Marillier takes the fairy tale ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ and delves into the story of the troll princess who is shunned by the handsome prince who turns into a bear. Hulde is a princess, hidden away from the world by her mother, who becomes more abusive as the years pass. Hulde is given human servants to tend to her needs, and for one month every three years, Hulde has a friend, Rune, who comes to visit her. Her mother doesn’t allow mirrors in the Glass Mountain, where they live. Hulde has no real idea she is that different from the humans, and she has been raised to believe that she will marry a beautiful prince on her 16th birthday. When she learns that the prince in question had been cursed by her own mother, Hulde helps his fairy tale come true and then goes on a quest of her own to learn about the outside world, her own people, and how to be brave. 

I really liked that Marillier focused on a character who is generally overlooked in the fairy tale. Hulde would never have been the protagonist in a traditional tale, so giving her the spotlight is a good twist for the continuation of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’. I do think people will get more out of this story if they already have an understanding of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ but certainly it isn’t necessary. Knowing the fairy tale just gives it more depth. 

I think it’s a great message that Hulde is shooting for bravery rather than beauty. Despite the title of the book (which I think may be more tongue in cheek than anything?), the focus is not on the way heroine are traditionally beautiful and married to the handsomest prince ever. Hulde learns how to be brave and to appreciate her strength during the course of her quest, including the fact that trust in others is a part of being brave. She also learns that a beautiful person does not always mean they are a good person or are somehow more worthy of love and attention than others. 

The emphasis on storytelling woven throughout this story is delightful. It’s almost meta in the references to storytelling and the bards or memorykeepers who deal with stories. Marillier does this a bit in her other works as well, but it just struck me more strongly in this one. A story about a girl who loves stories and uses them to guide her quest in the presence of a troll-bard who tells her stories to help her keep going. Love it!

 This story felt a little younger than Marillier’s usual work, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable tale. Perhaps it’s because it is only available as an audiobook/ Audible Original that it wasn’t quite as nuanced as her usual style. In any case, it was pleasing to this long-time fan, and would make a great intro to her for younger listeners. While not a children’s story, I would have no hesitation at all letting my young daughter listen to this. 

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