Books Read in May, 2021
Between Silk and Sand by Marissa Doyle
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Magebird Quest by Dave Sering (RPG) (r)
Starsilver Trek by Diane Mortimer & Bill Pixley (RPG) (r)
The Treasure of Socantri by Gerry Klug (RPG) (r)
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
The Shattered Statue by Paul Jaquays, David J. Ritchie & Gerry Klug (RPG) (r)
Heroes and Villains by Edward R.G. Mortimer (RPG) (r)
The Pirates of Pompeii by Caroline Lawrence
Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers (r)
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan (r)
March, 2021 Locus
Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
And that was my reading for May, 2021. This was a pretty good month of reading for me, both in terms of the quality of the books read and the quantity of books read. Again, it doesn't seem like I read a lot of books in May, simply because I was back working (again) on getting some gaming stuff ready for the DragonQuest, 2nd Edition RPG. I re-read a number of game adventures for the DragonQuest RPG as part of the months reads (noted above), and a couple of the other books read this past month were a bit of a slog to get through. It was another month of getting back to reading for the joy of it, rather than reading because I was bored and had nothing better to do. Made for a good change, again. Regardless, my bookcases are stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ) still. The books I enjoyed the most were:
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong - Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes. A young woman from the trailer park. And her very smelly cat. Together, they will decide the future of mankind. Get ready for a world in which anyone can have the powers of a god or the fame of a pop star, in which human achievement soars to new heights while its depravity plunges to the blackest depths. A world in which at least one cat smells like a seafood shop's dumpster on a hot summer day. This is the world in which Zoey Ashe finds herself, navigating a futuristic city in which one can find elements of the fantastic, nightmarish and ridiculous on any street corner. Her only trusted advisor is the aforementioned cat, but even in the future, cats cannot give advice. At least not any that you'd want to follow. Will Zoey figure it all out in time? Or maybe the better question is, will you? After all, the future is coming sooner than you think. The first book in the Zoey Ashe series, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits is a weird and eccentric ride that will enthrall some readers and turn off others. I honestly don't know what to say about this book. Set in a world that is ridiculously violent and social media oriented, the basic plot is simple enough. The problem is that the characters here come across as one-dimensional, although our protagonist, Zoey Ashe, is fleshed out a lot more. Zoey is a strong character, but she tends to react to everything in the story, not really becoming active and part of the action until the last quarter of the novel, and even then, the sheer physical violence perpetrated on her in the last part of the novel was so over the top and really "futuristic" that I found it somewhat unbelievable. That said, most of the characters in the novel are brutal, cruel and mysoginistic, and they treat Zoey quite horribly. The main (super)villain of the piece, Molech, is totally one-dimensional and comes across as a truly stereotypical cyberpunk-ish type, but at least for the most part one understands what his goal is and what his purpose in the book is. The fun in this novel really comes from The Suits, the men (and one woman) who worked for Zoey's late father who are sworn to protect her. These characters come across as a bit more multi-dimensional, more complex people, but the reader only sees them this way through flashes, since this is, after all, Zoey's story. And, like I said, even they don't treat Zoey all that well. The prose of this book is all right, but drags at times with exposition. When the action happens, and there's actually quite a lot of it throughout the course of the novel, it's non-stop and fast-paced, but quite over the top and somewhat bloody. That said, the book is also hilarious, though I'm not sure some of the humour will appeal to some readers. The book could have used an edit to reduce the page count by about 50 to 100 or so. This book was certainly entertaining, and I would definitely recommend this book as an octane-filled ride for a good summer's entertaining read, but it's definitely weird and eclectic.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig - Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices... Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets? Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? In The Midnight Library, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place. When it comes down to it, this is the ultimate "What would I have done differently?" story. This book will certainly make the reader think and might give the reader some new perspective on life. The reader should be aware that this book starts somewhat darkly, but when it comes down to it, the story is one that is uplifting by the end. The novel, plain and simple, is about recognizing all the possibilities of your life, but it's more about letting go the regrets of what you could have been. The protagonist, Nora Seed is miserable, miserable enough to be not only thinking about suicide, but acting on it. Instead of the blackness of death, she awakes in the Midnight Library accompanied by her Elementary School librarian, Mrs. Elm. Mrs. Elm explains that the library is filled with books that represent all the possibilities of her life, an infinite number of paths, created by an infinite number of choices. When she chooses a book, she will be transported into the life, and can live it until she decides if it's a life she would want to continue. Author Matt Haig's writing is very good - clever, clean, and with no distractions, yet full of great observations and insights. Nora's character is a deep one, and is fully explored during the course of the story. One thing that bothered me is the fact that she is an extremely talented character - she could have been a rock star, an Olympic swimmer, a successful Ted Talk speaker, etc. - but this lends Nora depth, and provides an interesting set of alternatives to what Nora's life could have been. That drives home the book's main theme. My real problem with the book is the mechanism that allows Nora to revisit her past: a suicide attempt. This is an uncomfortable subject for a lot of people, and while I appreciated the author's take on the subject and the challenge that it represents to the reader, it seemed to be dangerous to have the suicide attempt itself be the mechanism for triggering the chance to relive one's life. That, and the fact that suicide really is never the answer and wastes the potential of a valuable and valued life. When it comes down to it, this matter could have been handled through time travel, a magic potion, a freak accident, anything but a suicide attempt. That said, The Midnight Library is a very well written parable of one woman's journey to find meaning in her life and move beyond her regrets. It is well worth a read, and I recommend it. I know that I'll be checking out some of Matt Haig's other work based on my read of this book.
The Pirates of Pompeii by Caroline Lawrence - Following the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 79, hundreds of refugees take shelter in makeshift camps. When children begin to go missing, Flavia Gemina and her friends Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus investigate. What is the truth behind the powerful and charismatic man known as the Patron? And can the friends survive when facing pirates, slave-dealers - and death? This is the third book in the Roman Mysteries series featuring Flavia Gemina and her friends, Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus, and continues on almost immediately from the events in the second book, The Secrets of Vesuvius - a Pompeii devastated by the eruption of the volcano, that also has significant ramifications for those living in the surrounding area as well. The story is set after the events of the eruption of Vesuvius, and involves a fabulously wealthy almost godfather-like type (is he a kindly family man or the hypocritical head of a Roman crime syndicate - or both?) and slave traders who are profiting by rounding up for sale the many orphaned children and runaway slaves in the area after the eruption. While the novel starts off somewhat slowly, the reader gains more insight into the four main protagonists, notably Nubia (and we learn that isn't her actual name). While the other characters get some character development here as well, Nubia's character and background are fleshed out some more, and the story is also about the Flavia/Nubia relationship of mistress and slave, among other things, with Flavia being poorly influenced by both the Patron, Publius Pollius Felix, and his eldest daughter, Polla Pulchra. The last third of the book sees the friends in serious danger, and the action is pretty much non-stop until the end of the book. This book has lots of cliffhangers and mini-mysteries, but the best part of the novel is the children's relationships, the accurately drawn setting, and the unflinching look at slavery in the Roman world. Author Lawrence does a good job of handling the topic of slavery in this novel, making it horrible enoough for middle-grade kids to understand, but not to the point they will be overwhelmed by it, though there are some bits here that are explicit enough to have made this reader wince at how the children slaves are treated. That said, this third book in the series changes the dynamics between several of the characters, and is just a fine read (though a bit tedious in the first third of the book) that offers up some interesting background on several of the main characters. While this book stands alone, I do suggest reading the second book in the series first. Highly recommended.
Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines - Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror, he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped. With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic... This book is the first in the Magic ex Libris series, and was a pleasant surprise. I'm a fan of librarians, and there are some really good novels (and shorter fiction) about them, but when it comes down to it, Libriomancer is a love letter to science fiction and fantasy books, well, just books in general. The world of this book, and presumably its sequels, is our world, but with a magical world behind the scenes. Not so different than a lot of books and series with an urban fantasy feel, but what makes this book different is the incredibly unique magic system. In this version of the world, full magical ability is very rare, but lesser magical ability is slightly less rare, and Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press and a fledgling sorcerer, learned that belief magnifies (their) power. This power comes about when multiple people read the same book, and the readers' collective beliefs in the book allow a libriomancer to reach into the world of the book and pull anything that can fit out into the real world. This ability does not come without cost, as it requires energy to manifest the items, and if the ability or book is overused, the characters from the book can possess the libriomancer and the fabric of reality can be threatened. It's an incredibly unique, really thought provoking concept, especially for afficionados of fantasy. Add to that the story is filled with inside comments, jokes, and cameos from real world books, both big ad small, as well as some fake books created for the story, and it just adds to the life of the nature of magic in this story and what libriomancers can do. The various characters in this book are also quite distinctive and strong in style and feel, notably the two main characters. Isaac Vainio, the disgraced libriomancer (from whose perspective the story is told), makes for a good narrator, and we learn a great deal about him, his view of the world, and the magic of this world. Lena Greenwood, the dryad companion who comes to Isaac for help after the events that befell the Porter psychologist/psychotherapist, gives the reader a unique magical connection to the world, and has an interesting background and personality. While the interplay between Isaac and Lena makes the story both endearing and gives it real emotion, the reader learns a lot about Libriomancy through the two characters, as Isaac either explains something about it to Lena or thinks about it. Their relationship is one that will seem familiar to a lot of readers, but there are some very nice twists and turns. The story has some interesting other characters in it, and while the various Porter (the organization that Isaac works for) characters are quite distinctive, it's the taxonomy of vampires that was fascinating somewhat here, too. In this world, even people that are untrained sometimes sink their hand into the world of the book, graze the fangs of a vampire, and then they themselves become a vampire, with all of the powers and vulnerabilities of the breed described in the book. The vampire plot of the story would make a good tale in and of itself, but this is the story about Isaac, libriomancy, and Lena, and their seeking out what's going on and the mystery of what happened to Johannes Gutenberg. This was a fun, entertaining read that picks up speed after about page 40 and then takes the story not only in fascinating directions, but offers up glimpses of slices of this magical world. Highly recommend this book. And I can't wait to get my hands on the second book, and see where author Hines goes with it.
Overall, I managed to read 7 novels, 5 RPGs and RPG products, 1 magazine, 0 comics, and 0 graphic novels in May. This brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 29 books, 12 RPGs and RPG products, 5 magazines, 37 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)