Chachic's Book Nook


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Top Ten Books in Sci-Fi

Top Ten Tuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, we got to choose what genre to focus on for our lists. I wanted to highlight sci-fi because it’s a genre that I haven’t fully explored. In no particular order, here are the sci-fi books that I’ve enjoyed reading:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews

Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

Touchstone trilogy by Andrea K. Höst

And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

… and I’m one short. I couldn’t even make it to ten! I wasn’t sure if dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels are considered sci-fi so I decided not to include them (in any case, I haven’t read a lot in that sub-genre either). I guess it’s pretty obvious that I need to read more from this genre. Would you happen to have any recommendations for me based on the titles listed above? Connie Willis and Linnea Sinclair are already on my TBR pile.


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Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K. Höst

I really liked Andrea K. Host’s And All the Stars last year and even included it in my best of 2013 list. I have been meaning to read the rest of her books since then. I know that several friends (namely Rachel, Estara and Li) have loved the Touchstone trilogy so I requested a review copy from the author and started reading it as soon as I was in the mood for sci-fi. I used to say that I’m not much of a sci-fi reader but given how much I enjoy reading Andrea K. Höst’s novels, it seems like I should read more from that genre. I read the omnibus version of the trilogy so this is a review for all three books – Stray, Lab Rat One and Caszandra – although I wouldn’t be mentioning any spoilers.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Touchstone TrilogyOn her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive.

The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people? What is the intoxicating mist which drifts off the buildings in the moonlight? And why does she feel like she’s being watched?

Increasingly unnerved, Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, where nanotech computers are grown inside people’s skulls, and few have any interest in venturing outside the enormous whitestone cities, Cass finds herself processed as a ‘stray’, a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.

Can Cass ever find her way home? And after the people of her new world discover her unexpected value, will they be willing to let her leave?

Aussie teen Cass tells her story in diary format, so a big factor of the reader’s enjoyment of the Touchstone trilogy is based on how well you can relate and connect with her character. At first I thought it wasn’t going to work for me since I’m not a big fan of stories where the main character is stranded somewhere by herself. However, I found it easy to like Cass and the pace picked up considerably once she was rescued and brought to the alien planet Tare. Cass is smart, funny and has realistic reactions to finding herself suddenly stuck in an unfamiliar world. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to adjust to living in a foreign country, finding yourself in another planet with a drastically different civilization and language is probably a thousand times worse. I could definitely understand her homesickness and loneliness. I also feel like Cass handles herself quite well in spite of the physical and emotional obstacles in her path. Plus, I always think it’s a good thing when the main character of any novel is a book lover. Some excerpts:

“I’ve spent my life with stories of people who don’t walk away, who go back for their friends, who make that last stand. I’ve been brainwashed by Samwise Gamgee.”

_____________________________

“I’ve spent my whole life reading books. I vaguely remember Mum reading to me in our own bedtime sessions, and our house is practically a library. The way I think, the way I act, most of that’s because of the books I’ve read.”

How can I not like someone who says things like that? I was also fascinated with the technologically advanced world that Andrea K. Höst created – with nanotechnology and tiny computer interface that can be injected in human brains. You can do all sorts of amazing things with the interface like record what you’re seeing, watch movies, read books and play interactive games. In this world, there are also psychic space ninjas called Setari who are specially trained military personnel tasked with keeping the known planets and the space around them safe. Setari have special talents like telekinesis and enhanced sight/senses. Due to certain developments, Cass spends most of her time with the Setari and even befriends some of them. To be honest, I was a little confused with the number of Setari and their talents but I didn’t let that bother me and just kept reading.

One of the aspects of the story that I truly loved was the romance. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what will happen with Cass having such a big crush on someone. I thought she was destined to have “On My Own” as her theme song but fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Slowest burn romance that I’ve read in a while! It reminded me a little of the romance in Crown Duel, with a male character who’s all stoic and unreadable, skilled in combat and also a great leader. I was so absorbed by this series that I kept squeezing in time to read it even though I was supposed to do other things – like pack for a trip home or get some sleep. I even read bits and pieces of this in the car, which I don’t normally do because it makes me dizzy. I hope that gives the rest of you an idea of how engrossed I was. The story lingered in my mind days after I finished reading it, giving me one heck of a book hangover. I devoured the Gratuitous Epilogue, which features the events after the trilogy, right after I finished the three books. What’s interesting is that I think Touchstone will even be better as a reread because I wouldn’t be confused by some of the things that initially bugged me and can pay attention to other details instead. I can now safely say that I’ve become an Andrea K. Höst fangirl. Seriously, more of my reader friends should be introduced to her work. If you haven’t read any of her books, consider this a push in the right direction. I already have Medair in my Kindle and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Touchstone and hot choco

“All these planets, and none of them have chocolate. Severe oversight in world creation.”

Other reviews:
Me and My Books (contains spoilers)
The Book Smugglers – Stray, Lab Rat One, Caszandra


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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

My very good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous has been raving about the Saga graphic novel series so I’ve been really curious about it. Last Friday, Kinokuniya Books was having a sale and I decided to drop by and see if I could grab any interesting books. I ended up buying the Saga Volume 1 and Volume 2 since the cost wasn’t too bad after the 20% discount. I found it hilarious that the copies that I got had stickers that said “Unsuitable for the young.” I opened up Volume 1 on Sunday afternoon to try and read maybe one chapter and I ended up finishing it in one sitting. I picked up Volume 2 right after. I was in the middle of other novels but I chose to ignore them in favor of Saga.

Saga

I’m not really much of a graphic novel reader. I’ve only read a couple of them and I think the only other graphic novel / comic book series that I’ve reviewed on the blog is Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo. It’s not that I have anything against graphic novels, it’s just that I’m not familiar with what’s out there and I find them a bit more expensive than paperbacks or hardcovers. But I’m usually game to try something that comes highly recommended (or if a friend lets me borrow his or her copy so I could check it out). I’m so glad I decided to give Saga a try because I really enjoyed reading it, it’s now right up there with Trese as my favorite graphic novel series. But again, that’s not saying much since like I mentioned, I haven’t read that many graphic novels. Saga is the story of Alana and Marko, two soldiers from the opposite sides of an ongoing war. These two are from different worlds and different species and yet they find a way to bridge their cultural differences and connect. Even their personalities are poles apart but I feel like they balance each other well – Alana is sassy and quick to anger while Marko is more reserved and is a pacifist. Alana and Marko’s relationship is new and definitely not perfect, they argue and bicker but I love that their conversations are peppered with humor. There were actually some scenes that made me laugh out loud while I was reading. Also, I think it’s awesome that Alana’s favorite book plays a significant role in the story.

Saga3

I think the art also complements the story very well. I feel like it reads like an animated film, with some very unusual creatures and settings thrown in (because of the space opera / sci-fi nature of the story). It never got confusing even though the points of view shifted quite a bit. That’s another thing that I liked about the story – there are people after Alana and Marko, those who oppose their union and think that it will have a huge impact in the war effort. But even these characters are portrayed as complex individuals with their own motivations behind their actions. Like with any kind of war, there are a lot of gray areas instead of clearly defined good versus evil. In a war that has been going on for so long to the point that the fighting has been outsourced, it gets even more complicated. Ultimately, I feel like Saga is about family, relationships and how war affects human interactions. Saga is something that I wouldn’t have picked up if I wasn’t curious about it because of Maggie and another friend IRL who read it about the same time I did. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a space opera adventure story with some romance in it. Can’t wait for Volume 3.

Saga4


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And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst

I have been hearing good things about Andrea K. Höst’s books for a while now. I’ve been curious about And All the Stars, particularly, because it’s a standalone. My friend Estara was generous enough to send me a Kindle edition as a gift a few months ago and I downloaded it right away. Now I’m not a big fan of science fiction – I rarely venture into that genre and would only do so if a book comes highly recommended by someone I know. I don’t know why but I tend to get confused by the details in sci-fi (while I don’t have that kind of problem with fantasy novels). I was in the mood for something different so I decided to give And All the Stars a try last week.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

And All the StarsCome for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

It would be very difficult to talk about And All the Stars without giving away minor spoilers but I’ll do the best that I can. I really enjoyed reading this because of the surprising twists and turns so I wouldn’t want to ruin other readers’ experience by bringing up spoilery details. The story is set in present day (or not too far into the future) Sydney, where strange spires suddenly shoot up in the middle of well-populated cities all over the world. The spires spray an unknown dust-like substance that produces a cloud of haze. No one knows what the effect of the dust is on living things and I was wondering right along with the characters. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long as the story unfolded quickly. I have to be honest, I did have a hard time getting into And All the Stars at the start – I found it a bit difficult to picture the opening scene. I had to pause and try to figure out what was being portrayed. And that happened several times throughout the book, I would be thrown out of the story for a short while because of difficulties in imagining the scene. I didn’t let it bother me all that much and I would like to be clear that I ended up really enjoying the book as a whole. It may be a minor thing but I really liked that Manila was mentioned in this one because that rarely happens:

And All the Stars Manila excerpt

Other major cities were mentioned as well, emphasizing that what’s happening in Sydney is also taking place on a global scale. Aside from that, there’s also a pretty diverse set of characters within the story. I could relate to that because of where I live now (Singapore), which can be considered a cultural melting pot. Madeleine is a likable heroine, so devoted to her art that everything else fades away while she’s drawing or painting. While I’ve never had that kind of artistic talent, I enjoyed reading about it. Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was how at its core, And All the Stars is about friendship and people getting together to help each other in the midst of a crisis. Of course, I’m also a big fan of stories that surprise me and this one did. There was a scene that made me stop and say, “Wait, what?” and then I just wanted to finish reading this as soon as I could. Plus there was a slow burn romance that I could totally root for, one that is much more complicated that I initially expected, making it all the more swoon-worthy. I also liked that this is a short standalone (the paperback edition says it has 204 pages) and is a perfect sample of the author’s writing. Can’t wait to try the rest of her novels. Highly recommended for fans of unusual YA. Like I said, I’m not a big sci-fi reader so you don’t have to be one to appreciate And All the Stars.

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
The Book Smugglers
Book Daze


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A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Sabriel by Garth Nix is one of my favorite fantasy novels. So when I found out that Garth Nix has a standalone sci-fi YA novel due to be released this year, I was immediately curious. I grabbed a copy of this when I saw the UK edition in a bookstore in Hong Kong. In his website, Garth Nix mentions that he doesn’t have time to answer all of the emails that he gets but that you can get a postcard from him if you send him an email asking for one. Right after reading the Abhorsen trilogy, I loved it so much that I sent him an email, asking for a postcard and yay, I got one. This is what it looks like:

Here’s the summary of A Confusion of Princes from Goodreads:

A Confusion of Princes by Garth NixYou’d think being a privileged Prince in a vast intergalactic Empire would be about as good as it gets. But it isn’t as great as it sounds. For one thing, Princes are always in danger. Their greatest threat? Other Princes. Khemri discovers that the moment he is proclaimed a Prince.

He also discovers mysteries within the hidden workings of the Empire. Dispatched on a secret mission, Khemri comes across the ruins of a space battle. In the midst of it all he meets a young woman named Raine, who will challenge his view of the Empire, of Princes, and of himself.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you’re aware that I’m not much of a sci-fi reader. I only pick up sci-fi titles when they come highly recommended (like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold and Grimspace by Ann Aguirre) or when it’s written by a favorite author – like A Confusion of Princes. So it’s probably not surprising that I had a hard time getting into the first half of A Confusion of Princes. I really don’t know if it’s because I’m not as familiar with the genre or there was too much information at the start of the book. In any case, I was starting to feel bad that I wasn’t as into reading this book as I expected when the pacing suddenly picked up (or I’d become familiar with the terms by then so I didn’t find it confusing anymore). At the start of the novel, Khem was arrogant and clueless but that’s mostly caused by how he was brought up as a Prince of a powerful Empire. There are millions of Princes in the Empire and they’re brought up to be the leaders in their society. I found that kind of set-up intriguing. What’s also interesting is that Princes are constantly fighting one another, knowing that the next Emperor will be chosen from their ranks. Even though he was kind of annoying at first, I liked Khem’s character. He’s an intelligent person and learns to adapt and change his ways when he begins to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around him. I also liked his sense of humor and it was fun to see things from his point of view.

If the first few chapters were slow, the latter ones were really fast-paced – so much so that I felt like some parts of the novel weren’t developed as fully as I’d like. Sure, it made me happy that there’s romance in the novel but I wasn’t really invested in it because everything felt rushed. Khem meets the girl and then BAM, he starts caring for her immediately while he’s still in the process of learning what’s it like to be a normal human being who has feelings. He also goes through a huge transformation in the second half of the book and I had a hard time believing that something like that could happen so fast. Like I said, I liked Khem’s character but I did have problems with the pacing of A Confusion of Princes. Maybe there could have been a balance between how slow the first part is and how fast the last part is? Again, I’m not even sure if I had problems with this because it’s sci-fi instead of my usual fantasy or contemporary reads. As always, I still think you should give this a try if you feel like it’s something that you’d like. Recommended for sci-fi readers and Garth Nix fans. However, if it’s your first time to read a Garth Nix novel, I suggest that you start with Sabriel instead of this one.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Readventurer


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Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews is a romantic science fiction story set in the same world as Silent Blade. I gobble up everything written by Ilona and Gordon, the power couple behind the pseudonym Ilona Andrews. I’m so glad they decided to revisit this world because I thoroughly enjoyed reading Silent Blade and I even reread it a few weeks ago. I’ve been wanting to read Silver Shark ever since Ilona first posted snippets on their blog. So when she offered review copies on Twitter, I jumped at the chance to read this. In this futuristic setting, kinsmen with enhanced biological abilities are the most influential people and they’re grouped by family similar to the mafia. I loved the Hispanic/Italian heritage evident in this world. Kinsmen who can read minds and are mentally capable of attacking other people are called psychers. Claire Shannon is a psycher living in a planet colony torn by war that has been going on since before she was born. She’s been trained to fight for something that she doesn’t believe in and that has made her weary. When the war ends, she’s forced to pretend to have no special skills to live as a civilian on a new planet. She ends up as an admin assistant for Venturo Escana, a powerful psycher and the head of a company that provides cybersecurity.

I’m constantly surprised at how much worldbuilding can be packed in such a short story. I think it was a great idea to write the story from Claire’s point of view because we get to see Silent Blade’s setting through the eyes of a foreigner and I feel like that added depth to my perception of the world. It was easy to fall into the lush and vibrant setting in this novella because there weren’t that many technical ideas to complicate the story. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not such a big fan of sci-fi, I usually don’t want to get bogged down with stuff that I don’t understand. No need to worry about that in this one! Plus, I always enjoy romance in my fiction and Silver Shark is based on the Billionaire and His Secretary trope. Kinsmen are ruthless people but because this is a romantic story, we get to see Claire and Ven’s softer side and that’s something that I was able to appreciate. Sparks fly the moment the two of them meet but there was enough time for the romance to fully develop. There’s mutual admiration between the two main characters based on their working relationship. I also liked that the authors continue to build into the world that they created because psychers weren’t even mentioned in Silent Blade and look how fascinating their abilities are.

Silver Shark occurs a few years after Silent Blade and both Meli and Celino appear in this story (loved that scene, by the way) but both novellas can stand well on their own. I was really excited to read this and it lived up to my expectations. I would gladly read anything else set in this world. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Ilona and Gordon would continue the series because these novellas are satisfying reads and they tide me over until their next book is released. More please? Highly recommended for Ilona Andrews fans or anyone looking for a romantic read, I promise the sci-fi elements are easy to understand even for non-sci fi readers. I keep meaning to read more books like this ever since I discovered Silent Blade so if you have recommendations, feel free to list them in the comments section.

Other reviews:
Bookyurt
Kindle-aholic’s Book Pile
The Bookaholic Cat
Literary Escapism

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