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Familiar Diversions

I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.

Currently reading

An Extraordinary Union
Alyssa Cole
Progress: 108/258 pages
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World
Abigail Revasch, Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, Tara Sands, Listening Library
Progress: 190/473 minutes
The Mystic Marriage
Heather Rose Jones
Progress: 302/426 pages
Ichi-F: A Worker's Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant
Kazuto Tatsuta
Progress: 448/553 pages
The Naked Sun
Isaac Asimov
Progress: 20/187 pages
Fluency
Jennifer Foehner Wells
Progress: 58/367 pages

Book shopping

I'm visiting my sister today, and I always get anxious about the trip (whee, driving anxiety), so I bought some books. Not that I'll be touching them during the visit.

 

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) - Martha Wells  Coffee Boy - Austin Chant  Peter Darling - Austin Chant  

Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology - Claudie Arseneault,Brenda J. Pierson 

 

And I'll be delivering the CatStronauts volumes today. Crossing my fingers that they go over well.

Reading progress update: I've read 184 out of 184 pages.

CatStronauts: Race to Mars - Drew Brockington

This one was better in the internal logic department than the first volume. And yay, I read the volumes in the right order - the Moon one definitely comes before this Mars one.

 

And Grim, you'll be happy to know that Cat-Stro-Bot is back and helps save everyone again. :-)

Visual novel review - Hitogotchi

 

In this visual novel (downloadable for free here), you play as a monster who’s just gotten a new caretaker, a human named Nadine. You can ask Nadine to talk to you, play with you, feed you, or help you get to sleep - similar to the things required to take care of a Tamagotchi, which, according to the description, was part of the basis of this game. However, unlike a Tamagotchi pet, you have a real-world physical form, and there are serious consequences if Nadine doesn’t take good care of you.

Warning: everything on the screen moves a bit, even the choice buttons. I eventually decided that I liked the way this contributed to the game’s overall unsteady mood/atmosphere, but I wish there had been an option to turn this movement off. I was a little worried that focusing on constantly moving text might activate my motion sickness.

This was another one of my freebie visual novel downloads. It’s very, very short. The download page doesn’t say how many endings there are, but it looks like there are probably three, and I managed to play the game through enough times to reach them all in less than half an hour. Gameplay is simple. Each day you can do 1-2 activities with Nadine, and you get to choose which ones: eat, sleep, play, or talk. During each activity, you must choose between 2 responses, although sometimes there’s a bit of internal struggle or an extra conversation with Nadine that requires you to choose between 4 options (sort of). There are no “save” or “back” buttons.

I didn’t realize this going in, but this is more of a horror game than a romance, even if you do your best to choose the nicest sounding responses in every instance. (Note: Sometimes seemingly “bad” responses have better results than you'd expect, I suppose because Nadine didn't know exactly what was going on in her monster's head.)

You can opt to have the monster behave rudely and/or frighteningly towards Nadine, or you can try to make friends with her. All the while, you’ll

struggle against carnivorous urges - so definitely make sure Nadine keeps you well fed, ha.

(show spoiler)

At any rate, two of the three endings are bad ones. The third ending is technically good and even includes a cute final image, but when you take into account the urges the monster was struggling with throughout the entire game, it’s still kind of disturbing.

All in all, this was so-so. Nadine’s reactions to some of the monster’s responses were a little weird, and the game was too short for the “good” ending to truly feel natural. Still, the premise was interesting and I enjoyed most of the artwork. Nadine, in particular, looked cute.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

On sale for $0.99 (US only, I think)

City of Strife: (An Isandor Novel) (City of Spires Book 1) - Claudie Arseneault

I read and reviewed this a while back. Lots of POVs but it usually handled them well. Fantasy politics that kept me hooked, plus loads of LGBTQIA+ characters (all or nearly all letters have some rep, explicitly mentioned in the text - more smoothly done than my statement might make it seem, although it got to where I found myself waiting for the inevitable explicit mention of an identity for every named character).

 

I enjoyed it and think it's definitely worth $0.99, if fantasy politics and lots of characters with overlapping stories are your thing.

Reading progress update: I've read 108 out of 258 pages.

An Extraordinary Union - Alyssa Cole

Have I mentioned that I really hate this time period (American Civil War) and usually avoid books set in it like the plague? I was hoping this might work for me because romance at least guarantees a happy ending for the main characters. But I'm still so nervous for the heroine, who's spying as a slave, and I'm worried she'll eventually encounter the guy she used to love (a free black man who was kidnapped into slavery - not the book's hero).

Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey

Decision at Doona - Anne McCaffrey

I’ve read many of Anne McCaffrey’s books, but for some reason I never got around to her Doona books. This first one primarily stars Ken Reeve. Earth is enormously overcrowded, so Ken is excited to learn that Doona, a planet uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings, has been discovered and that he and his family have been picked to be some of the first colonists.

The “uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings” part is important. Two hundred years earlier, a botched first contact situation led to an entire alien species, the Siwannese, committing suicide. This led to the Non-Cohabitation Principle, which stated that humans could only colonize a planet if there was no evidence that intelligent beings already lived there. Doona seems perfect - until the human colonists come across a settlement of cat-like aliens known as Hrrubans.

Nobody wants to go back to overcrowded Earth, but the Non-Cohabitation Principle is serious business. Still, it isn’t as easy as just packing up and leaving. They need the bigwigs back on Earth to believe what they’ve seen and reported, they need a ship, and they need orders on how to conduct themselves until a ship can come pick them up. Meanwhile, the Hrrubans don’t seem to care about any of that and are just as determined to interact with the humans as the humans are to keep their interactions with the Hrrubans friendly but brief.

I tend to gravitate towards first contact science fiction. And one with stubbornly friendly cat-like aliens? Gimme! Unfortunately, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I expected I would.

The first third of the book was probably the best. I enjoyed the humans’ initial interactions with the Hrrubans, particularly the Hrrubans’ polite determination to work together with the humans. I also liked that this seemed to be a subversion of the usual “colonists with more advanced technology save the poor low-tech natives” story, without going the “mystical natives” route. The Hrrubans were polite and friendly, yes, but even the humans noticed that the Hrrubans seemed more concerned with them learning the Hrruban way of speaking and doing things than the other way around. And although the Hrrubans asked the humans for help building a bridge, in the end it didn’t seem like the humans were particularly necessary at all. The Hrrubans had all the necessary materials, technology, and knowledge, so the bridge-building was really more of a cross-species togetherness activity than anything.

Early on, I suspected that there was more going on with the Hrrubans than they were letting on. How had whole Hrruban villages gone unnoticed during the initial evaluations of Doona as a possible colony planet candidate? Why were the Hrrubans handling first contact with humans so calmly and so well? I had a guess as to what was going on, and I really wanted to find out if I was right or if McCaffrey had something even better up her sleeve. I enjoyed the big reveal, when it came, although I was a little less thrilled with it when I realized that the book included an enormous spoiler at the beginning that I just hadn’t been observant enough to catch. It also bugged me that the big reveal essentially negated some of the things I’d previously enjoyed about the book.

The characters were pretty flat - most of them were little more than names to me. Also, many aspects of the story were dated. There was a reference to a hugely important event in 2010 that, obviously, never happened (and was linguistically suspect). And the colonists anxiously read communications from Earth using microfilm readers.

The thing that really turned me off this book, though, was Todd, Ken’s 6-year-old son. Since Earth was so overcrowded, everyone was taught from an early age to be quiet, move carefully, and not take up too much space. Todd violated societal norms by being loud, energetic, and occasionally aggressive. He was so difficult to deal with during the journey to Doona that he’d had to be locked up and supervised in 4-hour shifts. One of his first actions upon arriving on Doona was to run up to one of the Hrrubans and yank his tail as hard as he could.

While I could sympathize with Todd’s frustration with the requirement to keep his behavior restrained and with the way he was treated (more on that in a bit), the tail-yanking was absolutely not okay and he should have been old enough to know better. The humans were horrified, but surprisingly the Hrrubans treated Todd indulgently. Later on, one of them even said that his behavior indicated he’d one day be a leader.

As much as I disliked Todd, I also didn’t like the way his parents spoke of him. Until a certain point in the book, Todd’s mom (Pat, Ken’s wife) never said anything truly positive about him and Ken’s feelings about him were mixed but leaned heavily towards negative. At one point, Ken almost beat Todd but refrained because he’d have had an audience. When the Hrrubans offered to essentially act as Todd’s daycare, Pat couldn’t have agreed more quickly and Ken’s protests were token at best. (I initially understood the Hrrubans’ offer as a kind of temporary adoption, which made Pat and Ken’s relief and celebratory sex especially difficult to take.)

Todd turned out to be instrumental to the book’s ending, and...ugh. McCaffrey wanted readers to believe that 6-year-old Todd was incapable/unwilling to conform to behavioral norms on Earth, and yet

willing and able to become fluent in both the formal and informal varieties of a new language, learn an alien species’ formal etiquette, and behave according to those rules for hours on end.

(show spoiler)

Um, no. Even an adult would probably have had periods of boredom and mental exhaustion.

McCaffrey was one of my favorite authors when I was a teen, but this definitely isn’t making it onto my list of favorite books by her. Still, I won’t rule out reading the next book in the series, which was published a couple decades later and might potentially work better for me.

 

Rating Note:

 

I debated between 1.5 and 2 stars for this. In the end, I decided that the stuff with Todd, plus the many difficult-to-believe aspects of the world-building, pushed this more towards 1.5 stars than 2.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts - John Scalzi

Redshirts stars Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the starship Intrepid. It doesn’t take long for him to notice that something weird is going on. Everyone reacts strangely to any mention of away missions, and the Intrepid’s crew has a much higher than normal mortality rate. In an effort to avoid a dramatic and untimely death, Dahl works together with several other new crew members and discovers things that seem too impossible and bizarre to be true.

I went into this book expecting it to be a combination black comedy and Star Trek parody. It started off that way, but then it morphed into something that packed more of an emotional punch than I expected.

This is the third book by Scalzi that I’ve read, and I think it’s the best of the bunch. The premise was interesting and fun, even though the characters themselves admitted it wasn’t terribly original. As with Scalzi’s other books, I felt that the characterization was very thin - I kept forgetting who certain characters were and had to flip back to their introductions for reminders - but even if I had trouble caring about them as individuals I was still riveted by their situation. Was a solution even possible? I couldn’t stop reading because I just had to find out.

I spent most of this book approaching it like a weird adventure, which is part of the reason why the “ending” threw me off so much. My copy of the book was 317 pages long, and the story’s apparent ending happened on page 230. Honestly, readers could technically stop at that point. It’d leave a few questions unanswered, but the result would be an okay sci-fi adventure with a reasonably happy ending. (The brief fake-out pissed me off. I wish Scalzi hadn’t done that - it was upsetting and annoying.)

I vaguely remembered hearing about the Three Codas but, since I’d read reviews ages ago and hadn’t bothered to look any up prior to starting the book, they still took me by surprise. They dug a bit deeper into characters I hadn’t expected Scalzi to spend much time on, and answered a few questions I had thought Scalzi would avoid dealing with. Then again, I’d also thought he’d avoid any direct mention of Star Trek and the Enterprise, and I was wrong about that too.

I can’t say too much about the codas without including major spoilers, so please excuse the vagueness from here on out. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about them. I enjoyed them, I think, but aspects of them also annoyed me. The first one was my favorite, because it answered one of the questions that had been foremost in my mind. The answer the character arrived at in order to keep functioning and moving forward didn’t quite work for me, but it was better than “he quit” or “these discoveries had zero effect on his emotions or behavior.”

All three of the codas had some amount of emotional manipulation in common, but the second and third codas were the most obvious about it. I was relatively okay with the second one, because it at least gave me a peek at how one aspect of the big plan had worked out. The third one struck me as being more forced. This woman had a complete stranger show up on her doorstep, give her something that was either highly creepy (if she viewed it as coming from a deeply obsessed fan) or impossible (if she believed it), and then leave without an explanation. She handled it all way better than I felt was believable.

One thing in particular that bugged me about the second and third codas (and here I get into “unavoidable spoilers” territory): the way they

emphasized that the connection between the characters and their actors went deeper than surface level. I don’t have the words to fully explain why it bugged me, but the idea that the characters and their actors were essentially the same person didn’t sit well with me.

(show spoiler)


All in all, I liked this book a lot more than I had expected I would. Although I’ve seen quite a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, I don’t consider myself to be a Trekkie and was worried that that would impede my ability to enjoy this book. Happily, that wasn’t the case.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Life imitating fictional virtual pets

The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Ted Chiang

I read this ages ago, but I recall it touching on owners of virtual pets forming groups to try to keep their pets and the environments they live in going after the company that originally created them all folds. Well, I just came across a real-life example of something similar, although from the sounds of things there won't be a happy ending. Details under a spoiler tag, because it's depressing:

Virtual pets that eat DRM-protected food, and a legal battle means their food supply is about to go poof. I've seen people talk about patching the pets so they don't need food, but it sounds like that might not be possible. :-(

 

ETA: The company did at least release items that could make it so the pets don't need food, although it also sterilized them. Better than falling asleep and never waking up, I guess? There's an article here.

(show spoiler)

 

Another thing to add to the "reasons why DRM sucks" list.

I just noticed that an author whose book I'd given a positive review linked to the review on their site. I wonder if I'll ever stop feeling that weird mix of panic and excitement whenever that happens. Ha, I doubt it.

 

Also, this reminds me that I still need to finish the next book in the author's series...

Salamandastron by Brian Jacques

Salamandastron  - Brian Jacques

(I finished this a month ago and should have reviewed it back then, but I was more interested in diving into my next book than writing a review.)

Salamandastron follows multiple groups of characters whose paths eventually converge. The primary storyline starts at Salamandastron. Ferahgo, a blue-eyed assassin weasel, has set his sights on that place and is convinced that there is great treasure to be found there. He knows it’ll all belong to him if he and his band can manage to defeat Urthstripe, the great badger Lord, and his skilled warrior hares. Urthstripe, meanwhile, is distracted by family problems: Mara, his adopted daughter, has been growing increasingly rebellious and restless.

The secondary storyline starts at Redwall Abbey. Everything there is good food and celebrations, with occasional light punishments for scamps like Samkim the squirrel and his best friend Arula the molemaid, until a couple stoats accidentally do something horrible. Suddenly Samkim finds himself suspected of killing someone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of Redwall Abbey’s residents then fall ill with the dreaded Dryditch Fever.

This is the first Redwall book I’ve ever read. I had planned to start with Redwall, the very first book in the series, but my copy was used and fell apart in my hands when I opened it up. After a little searching online, I determined that I should be able to start with Salamandastron, the one other Redwall book I owned, without becoming too confused.

Salamandastron was given to me by a friend back when I was, I think, in middle school. If I had read it back then, I might have liked it more. Despite its copious amounts of (not explicitly described) violence and death, Salamandastron definitely read like it was meant for a younger audience - I’m guessing either the high end of the Middle Grade age range or the low end of the Young Adult.

Then again, who knows? Maybe the various accents in Salamandastron would have annoyed Younger Me too. The moles were definitely the worst, although the falcons and eagle occasionally gave me trouble too. Here’s an example that made me laugh bitterly - a mole saying he had trouble understanding an eagle:

“‘Och, these vittles are braw eatin’, Dumble. Ha’ ye nae mair o’ these wee veggible pasties the guid hedgepig lady made?’

Droony squinched his eyes until they nearly disappeared into his small velvety face. ‘Bohurr, you’m heagle do be a-talken funny loik. Oi carn’t unnerstan’ a wurd ‘ee be sayen, Dumble.’” (290)

Oh really. And how do you think I felt every time one of the moles opened their mouths? There were times I just gave up and skimmed certain characters’ dialogue. Why did Samkim’s best friend have to be a mole? ::sob::

I can totally see younger readers being drawn in by the anthropomorphized animals and action scenes. And food descriptions! This book was chock full of delicious-sounding food. Unfortunately, sometimes all that food and eating detracted from the story. For example, at one point Mara’s friend Pikkle took part in an eating contest. This was after he and Mara had nearly been eaten by carnivorous toads. Not to mention, Mara and Pikkle should still have been worried sick about what Ferahgo and his band might be doing to their friends and family back at Salamandastron. But no, figuring out who could eat the most hot spiced apple pudding was suddenly the most important thing.

This was part of the reason why the book read so young: serious stuff happened, but it didn’t seem to have as much emotional impact as it should. Several good characters died! At least one of them senselessly! And one villain’s fate was saved from being gruesome only because most of it happened off-page and none of it was described in detail. If the other Redwall books have body counts similar to this one, I don’t think it’d be too out of line to say that Brian Jacques is the George R.R. Martin of Middle Grade fantasy.

But, again, those deaths didn’t have much emotional impact. Beloved friends and family died, and characters moved on within a page or two and were soon back to happily gorging themselves on delicious festival foods.

Meh. I had hoped to fall in love with this series, but Salamandastron has left me with no desire to try more.

Additional Comments:

I couldn’t figure out how to fit it into the body of my review, but I wanted to mention it anyway: I have never seen so many characters practice such terrible weapons safety in a single book. Samkim liked to shoot arrows wherever, just for fun, and all the adults around him did was ground him and then worry they were being too harsh. And one character, an adult who should have known better, straight up stabbed himself (not fatally, but still) because he’d been playing around with a sword like it was a toy.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel

Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Ryohgo Narita

In the year 2002, a Japanese man has won a trip to New York, and he’s having a terrible time. A bunch of teens mugged him and took his most prized possession, his camera. If he wants to get it back, he’ll have to talk to a member of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate). Luckily, the man he speaks to is in a good and talkative mood, and boy does he have a story to tell. It starts in 1711, when an alchemist and his comrades summoned a demon who gifted the alchemist with the knowledge of how to make the elixir of immortality, and continues to New York in 1930.

In 1930, a young man named Firo has just been promoted to executive in the Martillo Family, a Camorra group. At that very same time, two cheerful and energetic thieves named Isaac and Miria have just arrived in the city, determined to right their past wrongs by doing only good deeds. Of course, they have a rather odd notion of what constitutes a “good deed.” And at the same time as all of that, an immortal old man named Szilard is being driven to a meeting by Ennis, his artificially created human servant. Szilard has spent the centuries since he became immortal trying to determine the recipe for the elixir of immortality, and it looks like he might have finally achieved his goal. Unfortunately, a fire makes things more complicated, and the two surviving bottles of the perfected elixir go missing.

Ennis has to track the bottles down or risk getting killed by Szilard. Of course, they just happen to look like regular wine, it’s the Prohibition era, and there are two different Camorra groups, a couple idiot thieves, some thugs, and several FBI agents in the area, so her job isn’t going to be easy.


My first exposure to this series was via the anime, which was confusing, violent, high-energy, and lots of fun. One of the reasons it was so confusing was because it didn’t entirely follow a linear timeline. Viewers would be shown events from 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1711, all mixed together. I have since learned that this is because the anime adapted events from the first three novels. Although this first volume in the series jumped around between the various prominent characters and their storylines, it at least stayed rooted in 1930 (with a few brief glimpses of 2002 and 1711).

Although the more linear storytelling was nice, I’d still advise most English-language Baccano! newbies to start with the anime. The only reason I might tell someone to start with the books instead is if 1) they absolutely needed more linear storytelling and/or 2) they couldn’t stand Baccano’s on-screen gore and violence. While this novel was a lot of fun and contained several bits of information that fans of the anime will love, the writing/translation was...not very good.

The book was very heavy on dialogue, which was probably a good thing, since the issues with the writing/translation were most noticeable in the narrative parts. The phrasing often seemed stilted, and there were times when I wondered how accurate the translation was, because certain statements contradicted each other. For example:

“They couldn’t die from injuries or illness. As long as they didn’t age, they could rely on regenerating even if they fell into boiling lava.

However… The exception was that they could be killed with ease.” (50)

I think that this is referring to the way the immortals could “eat” each other - the only way an immortal (the true immortals, anyway) could die was by being absorbed by another immortal. However, the phrasing is strange. Another contradiction:

“Why? Why did this have to happen now? Why a conflagration now of all times?!

There was nothing here that was flammable!

The liquor… I must haul out the liquor…” (57)

Umm… Liquor is actually quite flammable. And then there was just plain awkward writing, like this:

“In the instant he stood, frozen, the muzzle of a gun appeared from behind the falling Seina’s.” (163)

Seina’s what? I’m pretty sure it’s referring to Seina’s falling body, but the sentence structure made it seem like it was referring to something like “the falling Seina’s gun.”

In addition to awkward writing, the book committed the crime of being a historical novel with, at best, vague and handwavy descriptions. One of the things I had been hoping the Baccano! novels would include was interesting period details. There were a few, here and there, but not nearly as many as I had expected. Instead, more of the focus was on the action and dialogue. On the plus side, that probably contributed to this being a very quick read.

As awkward as the writing/translation was, it somehow never leached the fun out of the overall story. I still enjoyed this combination of Prohibition era setting, goofballs and deadly criminals, and immortality-granting wine. I could remember the end result of the two missing bottles of wine, but I couldn’t remember how they got to where they needed to be, so it was fun trying to keep track of them. Also, it was surprisingly nice to see these characters again. I haven’t seen Baccano! in a few years, and this book made me think that a rewatch might be a good idea.

If I had to pick favorite characters from the anime, I’d probably go with Isaac, Miria, and Claire/Vino. I still found Isaac and Miria to be delightful in this book, but one thing that surprised me was how much I liked and felt sympathy for Ennis. I couldn’t recall her making much of an impression on me when I saw the anime. I think the book might have included details about her history that weren’t included in the anime, but it’s been so long I can’t be sure.

Eh, I should probably wrap this up. Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would, although I’d hesitate to recommend it to Baccano! newbies - try the anime first. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the anime, it’s definitely worth giving this book a shot, if only for the extra character information.

Extras:

There's a 3-page afterword written by the author. Also, these aren't exactly extras, but the book includes several black-and-white illustrations and 8 pages of color illustrations (or 6, depending on how you're counting). Unfortunately, the color illustrations have text on them that needs to be read, and it's a bit hard on the eyes.

The illustrations were nice enough - often a better way to get an idea of what a particular character was supposed to look like than any of the descriptions in the text, if there were any. However, I did note one possible historical inaccuracy. One of the illustrations showed a 1930 New York cop. I googled their uniforms, and I think Enami might have gone with a more modern uniform design than was appropriate.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

The Course of Honour by Avoliot

The Course of Honour - Avoliot

[The Course of Honour is original m/m sci-fi romance posted on Archive of Our Own. Warning: one of the main characters was in an abusive relationship prior to the beginning of the book - mostly emotionally abusive, but a little physical.]

The Course of Honour stars Prince Kiem of the planet Iskat and Count Jainan of the planet Thea. Five years ago, the Theans sent Jainan to marry Iskat’s Prince Taam in order to secure an alliance. A month before the start of the book, Taam was killed in a flybug (personal aircraft) accident. Kiem learns to his horror that, according to the terms of the treaty, Jainan must remarry and he’s been chosen to be Jainan’s next partner. Jainan’s certainly attractive, but Kiem has never even spoken to him before. Plus, Kiem figures he’s probably still grieving. Not that he and Jainan have any say in the matter - the marriage is scheduled to happen tomorrow.

Right from the start, their marriage is complicated by assumptions and secrets. Jainan and Taam’s marriage wasn’t nearly as solid as they’d led everyone to believe, and Jainan is sure he’s in for more of the same from Kiem. Kiem, meanwhile, just wants to make things as easy as possible for Jainan.

I found out about this via a recommendation that said something to the effect of “it’s m/m sci-fi romance, good, and free.” Considering how many unread e-books I have, I probably shouldn’t have clicked through, but I’m glad I did. I sped through the whole thing in a couple days and would have downloaded more of the author’s works if any had been available.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t have enjoyed this as much as I did. As I was reading, it felt like there was some kind of background checklist going. If Character A says this, then of course Character B will eventually respond like so. If Characters A and B are in X situation, then of course Y will happen. For example, the instant Kiem and Jainan were stranded in the snowy wilderness, I knew that one of them would end up having to keep the other warm with his body heat and that it would probably lead to sex. (I was right, but I was pleasantly surprised that the sex wasn’t explicit and didn't lead to a sudden sharp increase in sex scenes.)

The world-building was extremely light, even in terms of Iskat vs. Thean culture. And some details and events were a little difficult to believe and probably would have irked me more if I’d stopped and thought more about them. For instance, it took Kiem far longer than I thought it should have to figure out that Taam had been abusing Jainan. I would have thought that a prince, even one as good-natured as Kiem, would have learned at some point not to take everything everyone said and did at face value.

Jainan, too, took longer than I expected to realize that Kiem was nothing like Taam, although I gave him more leeway. His big argument with Kiem felt a bit forced, though, like it only blew up that badly because the story needed him and Kiem to be separated for a bit. And the entire “let’s save Jainan” part felt like it’d fall apart if I examined it too closely. Even a prince with a mother who was a general should have had to do more than smile and show off a video clip of someone’s kid to get that far into a building like that without trouble.

Considering all of that, why did I love this book? The best answer I’ve got is the characters. Kiem was almost aggressively cheerful and charismatic. He remembered everyone, liked almost everyone, and could be shoved into a roomful of strangers and end up making at least half a dozen friends by the time he'd made his way out again. I was worried, at first, that he’d be a useless drunken rogue, but he turned out to not be like that at all. He spent a lot of his time networking and drumming up support for various charities, but he tended to have so much fun that it didn’t always look like he was working.

Jainan was the opposite, completely locked down and tightly controlled. While his and Kiem’s tendency to misread each other was frustrating, it was also a lot of fun - I was really looking forward to seeing them finally get onto something like the same wavelength. In the meantime, it was nice seeing Jainan gradually come out of his shell a bit and rediscover the things he’d enjoyed doing before Taam had boxed him in.

Oh, and I should probably bring up Bel, Kiem’s aide. First, I was happy that this wasn’t one of those m/m romances devoid of female characters with speaking roles. Second, Bel was just a lot of fun. Kiem and Bel made me think of P.G. Wodehouse’s Wooster and Jeeves, a little, although Kiem wasn’t nearly as silly as Bertie Wooster. I’d love to read a story about Bel’s early days as Kiem’s aide. I only had a couple issues with Bel in this book, which mainly had to do with how easily she kept getting pushed to the sidelines so that Kiem and Jainan could get bogged down by their problems without her. I imagine that her general competence and sharp eyes were a problem for the author.

All in all, I enjoyed this immensely. It had its problems, but the characters and sweet romance made up for them.

Additional Comments:

There were a handful of typos, as well as a couple distracting author’s notes that probably should have been removed before the work was marked “completed.” The one that bugged me the most was at the beginning of Chapter 25. It said something about Chapter 26 being late. For a few horrifying moments I thought I’d downloaded a work that hadn’t been finished yet, and I was going to have to wait to get more of the story.

 

Rating Note:

 

Part of me feels like I should score this lower because of the various issues I mentioned, but...nah. I can't guarantee I'd rate it the same if I reread it a year from now, and I doubt I'd have rated it this high if I had paid for it, but this is the rating I think fits it best right now.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Reading progress update: I've read 309 out of 309 pages.

The Course of Honour - Avoliot

Done! I enjoyed it. I could list all kinds of problems with it, and there were a handful of typos and two spots with author's notes that should have been removed before the work was marked as "completed," but the romance was sweet (and surprisingly there was no explicit sex).

 

Now to get back to my Booklikes-opoly read, which I've also been enjoying.

Reading progress update: I've read 216 out of 309 pages.

The Course of Honour - Avoliot

I had forgotten that Archive of Our Own includes original works as well as fanfic. I saw a recommendation for this sometime last night, and look, I'm already two thirds of the way through. Whee! If the author had other original works available, I would probably have downloaded them by now.

 

I mean, it's not perfect. If I didn't enjoy the main characters so much, there are things that would probably irk me more. It's a sci-fi romance that's extremely light on the world-buliding - it's easy to forget about the sci-fi aspect until the characters talk about data coins and flybugs and such. Also, I've noticed a few writing tics, like the tendency for characters to say "What" (no question mark) during scenes that call for them to be amusingly stunned. And the main characters spend a lot of time trying to read each other and yet are incredibly bad at it.

 

But I'm still enjoying myself. Even though I'm currently very frustrated with one of the main characters.

 

(Oh, and link here if you're curious and don't want to search. It's m/m sci-fi romance with political marriage and a bit of intrigue.)

Booklikes-opoly: May 14th

Books finished so far:

 

Decision at Doona - Anne McCaffrey  Redshirts - John Scalzi  Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Ryohgo Narita  

Against the Paw - Diane Kelly  Star Surgeon - James White  Salamandastron  - Brian Jacques  

 

Bank: $44

Roll: 7

 

 

 

Spot:

 

 

Oh, the sound I made when I realized where I'd landed. I was really hoping to avoid this spot. Plus, I wanted something that would allow me to either read Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human or J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and there is no way I can stretch Main Street 13 to fit.

 

I debated skipping this spot and waiting for my next roll, but then I realized that Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union was perfect and already sitting on my TBR, so I think I'm going to go with that. I may have to simultaneously read No Longer Human in order to finish that one before its due date, though.

 

An Extraordinary Union - Alyssa Cole 

Reading progress update: I've read 245 out of 245 pages.

Decision at Doona - Anne McCaffrey

 

All right, I finally get to roll again!

 

I imagine I'd have enjoyed this one more if I had first read it 20 years ago. Unfortunately, this was my first time reading it, and most of my problems with it could be summed up with one word: Todd. I hated that his parents had nothing good to say about him until the Hrrubans basically adopted him. At the same time, he also annoyed me. And the way McCaffrey used him near the end had me rolling my eyes. I had difficulty believing that a 6-year-old who couldn't/wouldn't be quiet, sit still, do as he was told, etc. could do everything that he did at the end of the book, especially since even an adult would probably have found large stretches of it to be boring or mentally exhausting.