5 star review, Challenge

March TBR Challenge 2017 & OpenLibrary – Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Son of the Morning

This month’s challenge is “Comfort Read”, but my moods are too dicy to try to call anything I haven’t re-read a comfort read. So I offer you this gem from 1997, the exception that proves the rule in my general hatred of time travel romance-the only time travel romance I actually enjoy and a near annual re-read. What makes for a comfort read? I dont know, but this one is on my list. So this was on my TBR because I was due, not because it is new.

A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of fragile, old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the intriguing legend of the Knights of the Templar — long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power — Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a celebrated warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him — and to save herself — she must go back in time.
Summoning the magic of an arcane ritual, Grace steps back to the barren hills of 14th-century Scotland, enduring the perils of an untamed land to confront Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. Driven by a mix of fear and passion, Grace enlists this brazen knight to join her in a modern-day search for a killer. In their quest to protect a timeless secret, they uncover a love for all time — and a deadly duel of honor that risks everything they have.

Once upon a time, shortly after I had moved away to college, I was bored at my mom’s house and this was the longest book I had not read, so I picked it up, thinking blegh, and then was so sucked in I left several hours later than I had intended and even stole one of her precious books. So yes, I own a couple of copies, but this one is also available on Open Library, with the usual disclaimers.

This is also the book’s 20th anniversary, so it seemed like a good time to bring it up for people who may not have ever encountered it before. Due to the longevity of the book and the fact that so many different book blurbs have been used, I may be a bit more spoilery than usual.

On to the actual review:

Have you ever met someone who was sweet and kind of delicate that you always kind of figured would be the type to collapse and never recover when hit by tragedy? But then when they are, while they might have completely shattered, they somehow managed to glue themselves into a sharp ball of all that brokeness and somehow managed to survive and complete their objectives? Never the same again, but completely not what you were expecting either.

That is Grace St. John. A sweet woman with a solid simple life, she loved her brother and her husband, was nice to the neighborhood teen, and loved her job as a translator. In short a round little cream puff of a woman. And then suddenly, it was all taken from her. Her husband and brother both killed, she’s the prime suspect. She has no resources, no skills, and no fallback position; and absolutely no clue why any of this is happening.

Most of the story follows her journey as she fights to stay alive and to solve the mystery of why this has happened to her. It is a story of a woman putting herself back together, inexpertly mended and complete with really sharp edges. It is a story about obsessions.

And I found it remarkably fascinating and was literally not able to put it down, despite the fact that the romance was light (I mean the love interest is in another freaking century for most of the book), and despite the paranormal element (when I already didn’t care for time travel and paranormal was barely a blip on my radar at the time) it was GOOD. I mean I honestly didn’t know which direction the author was going to go; was she taking the topic seriously, was Grace cracking up, was it some coma dream? I just simply didn’t know!

Grace was just so interesting, and eventually so confident and competent that I couldn’t help but root for her, even when I thought she might be out of her damned mind. The love interest, well, I am meh over him to be honest, but Grace really dug on him, so I was even rooting for her to get him too. He was the trapped prince waiting for the queen to rescue him, and basically she did. It totally rocked and was kind of an eye opener for me at the time. The WOMAN could be the rescuer, could be the one to do the leg work. The man could be the object of desire and the one who waited. It kind of blew my mind.

As for how well it holds up. Well except for the payphones, it really held up quite well I think, but take my opinion with a grain of salt, because I am surely reading with my rosy colored sentiment glasses. But if you never picked this one up, thinking it didn’t sound like your cup of tea, well give it another look, because this one is I think a little something special and out of the ordinary, even today.

Son of the Morning

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5 star review, Challenge

#TBRChallenge 2017 -Theirs Not to Reason Why & First Salik War by Jean Johnson

 

Cantankerous and contrary, those are the watch words for this year. The first TBR Challenge of 2017 is short story. Yeah, that ain’t happening. The only thing I have really read, and consequently re-read since the end of December has been Jean Johnson’s space opera series. What we have here EIGHT books, the first five written are one series, and then the second 3 are a second series set in the past explaining the circumstances that lead up to the first series. These books come in at least 3,200 pages depending on which way you count them.

There are two ways to read them. One is to read them in the order they were published, as recommended by the author. The other, the way I did it, is to read them chronologically. There are things you get I am sure from reading them the way the publisher intended, but I am going with chronological.

I suspect though I am going to struggle to articulate precisely what captured my attention and imagination in these books, despite just how deeply I was captivated. I mean seriously, I read them in one great gulp, turned around and immediately started back over, finsished, read one other book, and then started all over again. That puts them in the same camp as Dred Chronicles, Linesman, and Class 5. But oddly, I can not so unreservedly recommend these as I do them. Don’t get me wrong, I DO recommend them, but there are some caveats on this one.

First Salik War describes our world several hundred years into our future. A time when the planet Earth has joined together as one government and essentially one people. We’ve united as one with no differentiation in race, color, creed or religion into one people, a bit pompous and honor bound but essentially well meaning. Psychic abilities have been proven as just another form of energy and can be documented and used in an efficient manner. Which is helpful since it turns out that all those claims of alien abduction were quite true and we have a great an highly technologically advanced enemy in space, the only way which we can counter is through the use of psychics. Meanwhile we are taking our first steps into space outside our own solar system. And the precognitive Psy are ready with a doozy-we are about to meet a whole bunch of aliens, some friendly and some not so much.

Meanwhile in a galaxy far, far away, we meet a people very like our own who have not only their own precognitives, but also a religious icons; The Prophet of a Thousand Years- who foretold this meeting and many other events with directions to save all people as much as possible, and The Immortal-the first Empress of the V’Dan who saved them from a disaster on Earth and brought them to a new planet ruling the under her directions and with directives from the aforementioned Prophet.

So we have Jacaranda MacKenzie, an earth military veteran, politician, and Psy at the head of things for our side. And on the V’Dan side we have Li’Eth, a soldier and Psy for his own people. And when these two meet, sparks fly, worlds collide, and events few could have foreseen (more on that in a bit) unfold.

The V’Dan are not the only aliens out there though. Most of them are friendly and allies, so I am going to give them short shrift in this review because I have a lot to cover, and though they are well done and interesting, I could send a ton of time describing it and not really give most readers anything that tells them whether or not to read these books or not. The one notable exception are the Salik, a creepy frog like carnivore race with a taste for eating sentient species. And that is where most of the conflict comes  from.

There is really only one notable thing that needs to be stated up front about the V’Dan, due to the ecology of their world, The Immortal-to save her chosen people used gene therapy in order to keep them well which resulted in them developing colorful spots. In their culture these spots which come with adulthood are what denotes maturity. This obviously creates a great deal of cultural conflict when they meet the people from their motherworld who have no such marks, and furthermore a people who fought long and hard to NOT judge people based on appearance.

So overall it was very interesting the way Johnson handled first contact. The difficulties in communicating, the cultural SNAFUs, the risks inherent micro-biologically when meeting people from different worlds, all fantastically done. This is where I have my hesitation in recommending. While Johnson includes a variety of POC in her books as a matter of course and the people on Earth and her United Planets tend to treat each other as equals, when it comes to how the respond to the other peoples they meet, even counting in the extreme amount of disrespect they are obviously getting, well there was a slight grating colonialist superiority attitude that on occasion made me uncomfortable with the story in the way that I sometimes get reading historical fiction with a Brit in some foreign clime. It was a very similar pompous attitude of bringing enlightenment to the backwards natives vibe. And it is odd, because I even agreed in this case that the V’Dan were in the wrong, but something really rubbed me wrong in how it was written.

But besides that one thing, the stories themselves were fascinating.The way ALL these different aspects were interwoven, the love story, the intriguing hints to the future (or nods to previous events depending on which way the series have been read), the building conflict and eventual (albeit unstable) resolution made for a very satisfying read. And I genuinely like Jacaranda despite finding her a bit pompous.

In fact this has come the closest to reading as “real” to me when it comes to a first contact, building of relationships, and climax of interspecies alliance of probably any space opera/science fiction I have ever read. Frankly, it was that thing I didn’t even know I was looking for and now don’t know if I could live without.

Which brings me to the first five books, 200 years after the First Salik War:

…What if you could see the future? What if you foresaw that, three hundred years from your time, your entire galaxy would be destroyed in an overwhelming invasion? What would you do to stop it, when it would all happen long after you were dead and gone?

These are the questions that Ia must face, and the obstacles she must overcome. Spurred by her teenaged visions of an apocalyptic future, the young heavyworlder woman seeks to set up a series of events, a domino-chain of actions and repercussions that will hopefully stop the coming invaders long after her time has passed. But in order to do so, she must enter the military and engage in a four-front war: an old, barely contained enemy whose twin goals of galactic conquest and lunch terrify all sane sentients; an ancient foe whose technology vastly outstrips anything the Alliance can fling at it; a fanatic, xenophobic religious movement on her homeworld which Ia dares not stop; and her ongoing battle against Time itself.

If Ia fails, the stars and planets of the Milky Way will cease to exist, and so will the countless lives that depend on them. But the odds of her winning the ultimate battle are very, very small, when even the slightest, most innocent-seeming misstep could domino down through time in the wrong way, and doom untold septillions of sentients to a dark and terrifying fall. Bound by the ice of her duty, burned by the fires of her conscience, driven by what she foresees, Ia must become the herald of death herself:

The soldier known as Bloody Mary.

It is so dramatic and teenagery and sumptuously angsty. A fifteen year old girl comes into a blazingly powerful precognitive gift that shows her the end of the universe, with one slim hope of forestalling disaster. And she throws herself into this with all the strength she can muster and develop. A fifteen year old girl forced to grow up overnight in horror…and then really never able to grow up or develop any further, held in personal stasis to this grand and impossible hope as she races against literally Time itself to set up a future that will progress long after she has died.

And that is where I can see this being difficult for some people to get into, because really Ia doesn’t grow or develop as a character, it is definitely a function of who and what she is at the outset…who and what she HAS to be, but it can be a little disconcerting to spend that much time with a character that really doesn’t change.

Nevertheless, I could have hated her, I honestly didn’t expect to like her because on the surface she is the epitome of the special snowflake YA heroine. But it didn’t take too long until I was firmly on her side and completely rooting for her to win. Johnson did a wonderful job of making the special all powerful snowflake a character that for all her powers had flaws that she recognized and owned up to, making her human and thus a character to care about.

The story itself is this pageantry of warp and weft, a breathtakingly complex tapestry woven into the past and present and a future I literally beg Johnson to write, because Ia is the Prophet of a Thousand Years, the one who set The Immortal into play and everything.

On the face of it, the stories are simple, we follow one character’s life as she tries to save the universe, a story that has been told probably a hundred times. But it is just so fascinatingly complex and mind bogglingly complex that it is far away from simple. And the character, I rooted for her, and I hurt for her, and I WANTED her to get more, but knew as well as she did the consequences. Just…damn. It got to me. With a heartbreaking ending. One I keep going back to even knowing what I will be getting.

The author has made some noises that she will write the Fire Girl Prophecies, which would take us further into the future to see how Ia’s carefully laid plans play out, and honestly I need this the way I needed Alexandra Ripley’s abomination of a Gone With the Wind sequel, because I pine. I don’t expect to get a different ending for Ia though, I just really want to read and see the results of her sacrifices, that they were worth it and they mattered. But even if I never get that, I am glad to have read the ones that are here, they moved me.

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Challenge, News

2017 Challenges: #TBRChallenge #FitReaders

tbrchallenge2017

I will be joining this challenge again this year, probably complete with chastisement posts if I don’t follow through again. I had a lot of fun with it, though I am fairly certain my TBR grew 4 books for every one I managed to pull off it. Ceste la vie?

fitreaders-2017

I am also going to be adding a new challenge this year. I know some of my blagh this past year is from my poor health. Lack of sleep, stress, and probably most relevant has been my weight. In October 2016 I weighed at 196 pounds, I could not get up off the floor by myself. I used to be fit and active and just way more capable. SO I wanted to get back to that, I started out just tracking steps with Google Fit with my phone and went back to MyFitnessPal, moved to a basic pedometer I received for free through a work sponsored weight loss program, and a couple of weeks ago I “invested” in a FitBit Charge 2 that I got myself for Christmas knowing that I take things more seriously when I spend money on them (as I am known for being notoriously cheap). I am also one of those who does better if they put it all out there for people to look at so feel free to “friend” me on either of those services if you are using them too. I have lost 25 pounds, but that isn’t enough since the goal is to be healthier. To that end my reading is being done while walking around (safely in my own home or yard) and I am trying to exercise more. MY mantras are two fold.

  1. Never lay when I can sit, never sit when I can stand, never stand when I can walk.
  2. 16×625=10,000=6.25 minute an hour. Every little bit adds up.

Hence the challenge. I am not sure yet how often I will check in or how I will display my progress, or lack thereof, but display it I will.

december-2016-fitbit

And beyond that, I am just going to try to take a go with the flow and flexible attitude, which isn’t in my nature, but something’s got to give, and I need it to NOT be my body.

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