Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Why I Read It: Darkcargo raves about this author.

Where I Got It: Won it from Goodreads, supplied by publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Those into fantasy adventure with flawed, fascinating characters.

Publisher: DAW (2012)

Length: 288 pages

Series: Crescent Moon Kingdoms Book 1

Late last year, I joined Goodreads, a book community site that has several on-going giveaways at any one time. That is where I won Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, who Darkcargo has been stalking politely and professionally following for some time now. I received my ARC in the mail about a week ago. Throne of the Crescent Moon is due to be out, in hard back, February 2012, and is to be the first in a series.

This magical, nitty-gritty tale is set in the Kingdom of Abassen, primarily in the cit of Dhamsawaat. Adoulla Mahkslood is a professional ghul hunter and an overweight old man. He is assisted by the young, and overly pious, Raseed bas Raseed, of the forked sword. They start off with a simple quest to kill some ghuls in nearby marshlands, about a day’s ride away. There, they discover more than they expected – indicating deeper and darker magic is a-foot. Unexpectedly, the desert tribeswoman Zamia Banu Laith Badawi renders aid. She had been tracking the ghuls in order to avenge the dead of her tribe. She is full of pride and anger and loss and will not stop her hunt until she has killed the jackalman-beast monster that slayed her people.

And all that was just the first night of reading. You can see how I was sucked in to the story from the beginning.

As these unlikely heroes attempt to unravel the mystery to this evil and defeat it, they are assisted by long-time friends to Adoulla – husband and wife Dawoud and Litaz. One’s a mage and the other an alkhemist. All their efforts are integral in fending off this ghul-raising evil and saving the city of Dhamsawaat. Perhaps. And that is why I am glad there is another book in the wings. Last night when I finished Throne of the Crescent Moon, I truly wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these characters.

I really enjoyed this book, for a number of reasons. Characters, places, magics, and cultures new to me – not based on European mythologies. Also, each character was flawed in some way – which made them very real to me. And despite their imperfections, they were still fighting for the good. The bad guys are really bad – like no qualms about killing little kids or stabbing you in the back kind of bad. I appreciate this in a fantasy – it makes the struggle for good all the more important.

The play of light and dark makes for a whorling gem of a tale. The relaxing use of cardamom tea in between action scenes had me wishing for a hot cup myself. Saladin Ahmed sprinkles his prose with references to foreign places that make this story all the more tangible; camels trained to sniff out ink mushrooms and honey fried colocasia roots are just two such examples. All in all, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a most engaging book and I fully encourage you to check out his works.

What I Liked: Fantasy set in a non-European culture; flawed, real characters; cardamom tea; really bad dudes.

What I Disliked: Now I have to wait so long for the next in the series.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 01/08/2012 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

The Last Watcher by D. B. Clifton

Why I Read It: Spooky & suspenseful – just what I needed to start the day.

Where I Got It: Won it from Reviews by Martha’s Bookshelf (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Those into dark guardian against evil stories.

Narrator: Simon Prebble

Publisher: Mind Wings Audio

Length: 1 hour and 2 minutes

Series: This is the 1st part in a 4 part adventure.

This story starts with a young, unassuming man, Philip Thomas, traveling through the old Byzantine lands – Turkey, Bulgaria. His beloved and trusted mentor recently died from a horrible, wasting, painful disease and he is racked by his doubts in God. This young seminary student ends up driving the backroads of Bulgaria and running out of gas. Sigh. It’s happened to me to, just not in Bulgaria.

He takes to his feet, and that is when the spooky shit starts to happen. The imagery was vivid and detailed enough that I could picture myself walking side by side with this young man – the odd scrabbling sounds in the dark, the intense feeling of being alone in unknown woods. He ends up at a cabin that is filled with religion icons, music, and an elderly monk who is a guardian of some trapped evil.

While this was a short listen, D. B. Clifton thoroughly entertained me. I look forward to reading more of his work, and completing The Last Watcher series. In an hour, Clifton took our main character from feeling lost and disillusioned to finding his place in the world, along with a realization of his on mortality.

Simon Prebble provided an intense performance in this demonic religious drama. His Bulgarian accent and Greek pronunciation were quite believable.

What I Liked: The intensity of the story; the Bulgarian monk & his music appreciation; the mystery of the situation; unifying take on religion.

What I Disliked: All male cast.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why I Read It: I was looking for something outside my normal genres.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: This was a tough story. If you’re looking for a well-written tough story, then this might be the one for you.

Narrator: Lisette Lecat

Publisher: Recorded Books (2004)

Length: 10 CDs

I haven’t decided yet whether or not I liked Purple Hibiscus, but it made me think; and I truly enjoy thinking. Every once in while I stick with a book not because I particularly like the subject, enjoy the prose, or find the text entertaining; I stay with it because it is stretching the few brain cells that call my head home. You know what I mean?

C. N. Adichie‘s writing kept me engaged for 10 discs (appr. 11 hours). The setting is Nigeria near present day. Kambili (15), her brother Jaja (17), and her mother all live under the tyrannical roof of her well-respected father. A main theme throughout the story is domestic abuse and how these 3 survive, told through the eyes of Kambili. Her family is rich and privileged; Kambili and Jaja go to private school, the family has at least 2 vehicles and a driver, they have wait-staff, etc.

As the story unfolds, Kambili and Jaja get to go to their aunt’s house for a short visit, their first unsupervised visit away from home. Of course their father sends them with modified schedules; yes, he has day-to-day schedules for everyone in his household. For the first time the kids are free to laugh, watch TV, and listen to music throughout the day. There is even singing, something their father sees as unchristian and therefore not allowed in his house. The kids start to bloom into real people in the few short visits they have at their aunt’s.

Kambili and Jaja of course have to adjust to a less privileged household – like no indoor running water, no guaranteed 24-7 electricity, no guaranteed petrol for the car, no daily meat for supper. But they gladly trade all their privileges for bunking with their cousins, the lack of indoor ventilation, no daily sodas, and the enjoyment and freedom of their aunt’s house. While much of the book was a bit tough to listen to, the book is hopeful and left me with a believe that life would turn out OK for Kambili.

Lisette Lecat was the audioartist for this book and she did an outstanding job. There are sounds in the Nigerian tongue that just don’t exist in the American span of dialect. She pulled off both female and male voices and brought forth the emotional sides to the characters.

What I Liked: Being saturated in a foreign culture; the blooming of the main characters (the children); the book ends with hope; the author took on a tough subject.

What I Disliked: Familial physical abuse can be tough to listen to.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 08/04/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston

Why I Read It: My man & I are Orson Scott Card fans.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobookjukebox.com (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Space opera fans, Ender’s Game fans

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, Emily Janice Card, & cast

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2012)

Length: 12 CDs

Series: The First Formic War, Book 1

Let me say this up front: This is one of the best books I have listened to this year so far.

Set in the same universe approximately 80 years before as the well known Ender’s Game series, this book covers the first contact between humans and the alien Formics (AKA Buggers, Ormigas). Victor (Vico) Delgado is a free miner, living with his family on the ship El Calvador mining precious metals from asteroids. His young life is about to take a turn as his best friend, and second cousin, Allejandra decides to leave El Calvador to live with the Italians. Bereft of his close friend, and perhaps his first brush with love, he must adjust. But while he is trying to adjust, things start to happen pretty quick, like cousin Edimar spotting something unknown in the starry sky moving at incredible speed – perhaps an alien ship.

Lem Jukes is an intelligent man, but driven by corporate greed. the Jukes Corporation have a new toy – a big toy that can disintegrate asteroids of various sizes, freeing up the metal for easy collection and huge monetary gain. Lem also has an overbearing father, Ugo Jukes, head of the corporation. Lem is driven to stand on his own and prove his worth and he has many opportunities in this story to do so. Lem turned out to be one of the more complicated characters in that he has some inner conflict going on.

I really enjoyed how this tale captured space culture; those bred and born in space have physiological differences to those bred and born in a gravity environment. The laws of physics, theory of gravity, and the known limits of human endurance weren’t ignored willy-nilly in this space opera, which was quite refreshing. The characters started off simple, in their little worlds, doing their every day deeds; and then they quickly had to grow and morph into something more as the threat of alien invasion became apparent.

The full narration cast was awesome, a truly quality performance. Stefan Rudnicki performed as Witt, a leader of the elite international armed forces called MOPS. Rudnicki’s voice could make remote control assembly directions sound intimate and exciting. Vico and his myriad of emotions he exhibits throughout the tale were portrayed well by the narrator. Emily Janice Card, the daughter of Orson Card, had a smaller performance but one that gave her the opportunity to show off her praise-worthy ability to roll her Rs. This audio version includes a short interview with the author at the end of the book (I love such bonuses).

What I Liked: The free-miner culture of close-knit family; alternately hating and praising Lem Jukes; Imala Bootstamp who shows up late in the tale (no nonsense lady); Mono, an aspiring machinist; there’s always something going on in this book, from start to finish; zero-gravity and how it affects everything.

What I Disliked: I now have to wait months for the next in the series. Sigh.

Books That I’ve Been Meaning To Get To

My best good buddy over at Darkcargo.com is doing a BTIBMTGT Party and I am bringing my books to play.

In her words:

Maybe your BTIBMTGT pile includes a classics or two, maybe a book that (gasp) is non-fiction, perhaps your hang-up is…well, I don’t know what your hang up might be, but some of the hitches in my get along are:

  • I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about this book and I don’t want to be disappointed.
  • It’s big. I’ll read it when I finish these seven-thousand other shorter books.
  • I don’t have a copy. (??? don’t look at me like that! I dunno, these things happen.)
  • I’m not sure I can or want to review this book on my blog and so I should read these others that I feel more comfortable reviewing.
  • No one should know that I read this book…and live to tell the tale.

So here’s what I thought would be fun. Gather your books and arrange your affairs for whatever time is good for you to do LeaveMeAlone Booky Time, sometime over the weekend after next weekend (23rd-27th August-ish).

On YOUR BLOG, I want to read a post about the books that you tried on for size and fit, I want to know why you chose them, what you thought of them and so on. They don’t have to be whole reviews for the whole book, just the initial impressions. (If a post like this doesn’t fit well in your blog for whatever reason, I’m happy to post guest posts here.) I’ll continue to post cross-links for the participating blogs so that we can go and explore.

If you want to play with us, you can sign up for email updates and Organizing Book Readers (worse than herding cats) kind of stuff either here in the comments or over at Darkcargo’s Post.

As you can see by the pictures, I have a nice little stack of books ready to go. You?

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Why I Read It: This was a monthly Darkcargo book selection.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Those who like little bunny stories.

Narrator: Ralph Cosham

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2010)

Length: ~16 hours

Lots of fuzzy bunnies. They’ve got ambitions, bad dreams, prerogatives. Watership Down starts off with one rabbit that has been blessed with the gift of foresight having a bad feeling and that is why he and those who will follow must leave the warren. A handful of connies set out, not really knowing where they are going nor really why, except Fiver has a vague, deep feeling of dread towards the warren.

Soon Fiver is proved right and we learn of the doom of the home warren.  The rabbits have made it to a new warren, very laid-back, breakfast served every day by humans.  Fiver and Hazel and crew consider staying for a while. However, soon Fiver is expressing his concerns and fears and the hares must move on after a nasty encounter with a wire trap.

They find a nice cozy place and dig a new warren, something male rabbits typically don’t do even though they are capable. They have no ladies with them and soon this becomes something they must acquire. They befriended a gull when they tended to it so his wing could heal up. The gull then scouts out the nearby area for other connies and tells of a nearby warren. A delegation is sent to this warren which is very organized and militant in nature lead by a general of a bunny named Woundwort. He is hard core.  And he is not interested in letting any of the does leave. Indeed, he isn’t interested in letting the delegation leave.

And I will leave the story there, so that you can find out for yourself how it ends.

Most of you have probably read this book or seen the cartoon movie. I saw the cartoon when I was a kid and it really turned me off on this book – violent, bloody hares. But I am glad to say that the book is much more civilized – most violence is referred to and not described in detail.

There was a little beforeward from Richard Adams where he explained that he started off by telling this story in shorter bits to his daughters during car trips. His daughters eventually demanded he put the tale to paper, which he did. However, he couldn’t find an English publisher for it and so the manuscript came to the US, where is was first published. Shortly there after, it made it’s way over to England and was a big hit.

I enjoyed how the rabbits had their own mythology and stories. There are several segues into these tales and they were instructive and imaginative. While there were few female characters, probably because they came into the story late, they are considered integral in sustaining the new warren.

Ralph Cosham is the voice actor for this audiobook and he did a great job. I really enjoyed listening to his voice – an even cadence and smooth pronunciation of rabbit names and words.

What I Liked: The bunny myths; Woundwart is a badass; the gull and the whole idea of interspecies cooperation.

What I Disliked: Fiver’s foretelling ability is used to kick the story off and again whenever things are boring; no true, filled out female characters.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 02/02/2012 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

The Fear Principle by B. A. Chepaitis

Why I Read It: Intrigued by mystery set in future with strong female lead.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobookjukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Dark mystery/psychological thriller enthusiasts.

Narrator: Diane Havens

Publisher: Wildside Press LLC

Length: 8 hours 46 minutes

Series: Book 1 of Jaguar Series

Set in a future where part of our solar system has been successfully populated by humans for generations, Jaguar Adams is a healer of sorts. After the destructive Killing Times on Earth during Jaguar’s childhood, the criminal system and the treatment of the criminal psyche were revamped.  Jaguar and the other Teachers work with hardened criminals on a planetoid orbiting Earth, using a variety of talents and subterfuge to force the criminal to face their principle fear. Time and the plethora of subjects who have undergone this treatment have shown successful rehabilitation of these criminals. Jaguar is already working a case when her boss Alex decides to add a second to her work load – Claire, an assassin embroiled in some political intrigue. However, Nick, a coworker and once trusted friend, wants Claire’s case. The rivalry turns violent and the mystery heats up.

B. A. Chepaitis wove together an intriguing tale of the search for justice, the survival of betrayal, and the principle fears of the main characters. Ever had a really good dark smoky whiskey? Yeah. That’s what this book was like. Sometimes I would sit for hours savoring this book, and sometimes I had way less time, yet each dip into this novel left me wanting more. I was fascinated with the main characters from the beginning because each of them had a past to unravel in relation to the current drama that was unfolding. While Jaguar nearly gave everything in her attempt to help others face their principle fear, in the end she had a fear of her own to face. I found myself relating to several of these characters as they were not wholly evil or good.

It took me a little while to get used to Diane Havens as the narrator. Speaking principally from Jaguar’s point of view, most of the book is done in a sultry tone and once I got to know Jaguar a bit better, I found this to fit. The narration started off a little stilted, but cleared up into a nice pace and distinct characters within 40 minutes. By the end of the book, I felt Havens was Jaguar’s voice and I look forward to listening to the next in the series.

What I Liked: Jaguar and her strong sense of right and wrong; there are big cats in this tale; The Killing Times creeped me out; the key to Claire’s rehabilitation; Jaguar’s use of sex and her refusal to be ashamed of it.

What I Disliked: I have mixed feelings about Nick as he turned into one of those characters you love to hate; I didn’t quite grasp the new technology that was the source of the political intrigue and wanted that fleshed out a bit more.

Zero History by William Gibson

Why I Read It: Really enjoyed the first 2 in this series.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Those who enjoy modern fiction/mystery with a fashionable twist.

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2010)

Length: 11 CDs

Series: Bigend (or Blue Ant) Book 3

William Gibson continues the odd, twisty, fashion-saturated world of Hubertes Bigend in this third book of the Bigend series. Henry Hollis finds herself in need of employment, and Bigend has a proposition for her. He is in search of a specific and elusive fashion designer, the maker of Gabriel Hounds garments. They are rare, extremely well-made, and very expensive. In this endeavor, Bigend puts Hollis together with Milgrim, who is now clean, having spent some very lengthy, intense time in an institute that specializes in getting patients off drugs.

I do believe this was my favorite book of the trilogy. Milgrim’s new body and clear mind allows his character to grow and respond in new ways to the various situations he finds himself in. Put him together with Hollis and her band member/friend Heidi and we have a very interesting trio. Heidi’s chaotic militant character got a lot more page time in this installment, and I truly enjoyed her straight forward approach to life and the sparring mat.

As with the rest of the series, this mystery centers around fashion. Not only is Bigend trying to track the Gabriel Hounds designer, Milgrim brings to him the concern that Hollis and himself are being followed by at least one party. If you haven’t read this series, I don’t want to give away too much; yet I will say that Book 1 (Pattern Recognition) did not have the same characters as Book 2 (Spook Country). Book 3 has several of the same characters from Book 2 and the ending pulls the trilogy together quite well.

Robertson Dean gave a wonderfully clipped, English, at times quasi-European performance. Hi voices from Book 2 remain true in Book 3, yet allowing for growth in character (i. e. Milgrim). I truly loved his loud, direct voice for Heidi.

What I Liked: Heidi’s various uses for the word ‘fuck’; Israeli army bra; Fiona’s courier body armor; the Blue Ant; Hollis’s boyfriend; the espionage aspects; penguin and manta ray.

What I Disliked: This book started off a little slow, but I knew it would be good, so I stuck with it.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

Why I Read It: A few book bloggers I follow recommended it.

Where I Got It: The Library

Who I Recommend This To: If you want a bit of fictionalized art history in bite-sized pieces, check this out.

Publisher: Scribner (2012)

Length: 337 pages

Each chapter within this book is it’s own contained story, starting with an art piece created in 1333 in Italy going forward to a 2008 photograph and concluding with a completely fictional chapter set in 2060. As the title implies, each art piece captures an image of a female reading. I found I enjoyed Katie Ward‘s earliest chapters the most in this book, yet once we left the distant past to times that encompassed technology that I was familiar with, my attention drifted a bit. The final chapter, a futuristic piece, kind of tied the book together.

The earlier chapters gave me pleasure in living the times, people, morals, and atmosphere of those who created the art featured. I loved traveling from Italy, England, Netherlands. The imagery from each chapter stayed with me clearer than individual characters. I don’t know why, but this book lacked punctuation designating who and when someone was talking, so the people in each chapter blurred together for me. Once I stopped rereading multiple paragraphs to keep track of who was speaking when, the book picked up.

What I Liked: The atmosphere for each chapter was distinct; the whole concept of moving through time via art pieces of the literate female.

What I Disliked: Lack of punctuation made it difficult to keep characters distinct; sentence fragments were sometimes too vague for me to figure out and by the end of the book, I was not interested in taking the time to muddle through them.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Why I Read It: My better half has been recommending it for years.

Where I Got It: Library download.

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in the drug culture.

Narrator: Ron McLarty

Publisher: Recorded Books (2005)

Length: ~6 hours

Most people probably know this book better from the related film of the same name starring Johnny Depp. I guess it would be sufficient to say that this book is a fictionalized autobiographical account of a drug binge in Las Vegas in 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson and his friend/lawyer. Thompson’s character has several aliases throughout the book, which serve his sometimes-correct paranoid need to avoid some kind of law enforcement or others seeking accountability from him. He’s a journalist, initially sent out there to cover a big car race and later requested to stay to cover a drug law enforcement conference.

The book started off interesting, with a catalog of drugs in a car with two guys heading from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Thompson is hallucinating about bats, very large bats. Then they pick up a hitchhiker and freak him out with their paranoid talk – or were they talking out loud? Once at Las Vegas they go from hotel to hotel abusing people, staff, customers, inanimate objects, themselves. It goes on in this vein the entire book.

In honesty, I never got into the drug scene, though I did more than my fair share of alcohol in college. Some of the things in this book, I understood (such as the lack of interest in things and people going on around you except in relation to your addiction of choice) while other things I just did not get (like the range and depth of mental alteration brought on by the drugs). With that said, I did not particularly enjoy this book though I do believe it captured the essence of drug addiction taken to the edge. In particular, there is reference to the lawyer picking up a young woman, taking her back to his room, inviting her to enjoy a mix of drugs and alcohol, and then using her for sex. While the scene itself is never covered in depth, the reaction by the lawyer and Thompson – dodging any kind of responsibility for harming another being, on purpose, for pleasure alone – pretty much got the point across. The only thing you care about are the drugs/personal pleasure – and it is the same for anyone else hanging out with you. Not only are you bad company, you are hanging out with bad company who do not care about you. Given the opportunity, your friends would sell your belongs, hair, blood, body for their drugs.

Our narrator Ron McLarty had a variety of annoying voices for the characters (they felt a bit exaggerated). I had a hard time imagining these Los Angeles residents talking with the accents they were granted by the narrator; again, in honesty, I never heard Thompson talk so these voices may be spot on. However, with that said, McLarty kept the characters separate and true through out the book, with a variety of female and male voices for the minor characters.

What I Liked: Fast-paced; captured how the 2 main characters think they are being clever; captured the obliviousness to personal hygiene by the drug-addled.

What I Disliked: I’m not sure what the point was to this book and I fear it was the glamorization of the drug culture – kind of a Free Spirit idea gone sickly green with pustules.