The Crossroad of Blogging and Reading

I’ve been blogging about books here since March 2012 and I’ve had a lot of fun for the past two and a half years. My hope is that I’ll continue having fun blogging for many years to come, but right now I’m dealing with lots of things pulling me in a lot of different directions. As much as I wish this blog were a cash cow that pays all the bills with money left over, the fact of the matter is that I make nothing off of my endeavors here.

You know what? I’m entirely okay with not making any money off of my blogging because I started 20four12 as a way to fill time when nothing else was going on during slow days at the office. It seemed like a great way to get all of the great things I had in my head about the books I read down somewhere I could share them with others and for years I had been wanting to give blogging a try anyway. Making money from blogging would be great, but it’s not something I currently plan on doing here.

However, because I don’t make any money from 20four12, it’s also very difficult to put it ahead of other things that need my attention. I’ve got a wonderful wife and two young children need me to spend time with them as any good husband and father should. I’m also making a lot of adjustments in my career as a web developer at the moment as I try to take on more responsibilities at the office as well as improve my skill set for future projects I’m thinking about. Add all of that to the general hustle and bustle of everyday life and right now the time I have to spend writing, planning, and posting blog entries seems to be dwindling more and more.

Why is any of that important? I suppose in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t, this is just a book blog written by an amateur who reads a lot of books. I’m not changing the world or anything here, but I do like to do things right and not halfway. There are people who read this blog regularly through their RSS feeds, visiting the site directly, or in some other fashion, and for whatever reason I feel like if I’m not going to be blogging as much for the next little while I should at least give them a heads up, even if fewer posts here won’t be the end of the world for anyone.

So what am I going to do?

First, I am going to focus on one particular goal I set for myself this year. The one I set to read 100 books for the year. As of right now I’m three books behind pace, which should be easy enough to make up with six months remaining in 2014, but I need to stay very focused to make it happen. I set a lot of goals at the beginning of the year and some of them were a little to ambitious, but the one for reading 100 books is the one I really don’t want to give up trying to accomplish. With that in mind, writing a review about every single book I read is something I’m probably not going to have the ability to do.

Why can’t I write a review for every book? Because I need to free up some time. Why do I need time? That’s easy to explain: I want to move 20four12 away from being hosted on WordPress to being self-hosted. That’s the second thing I want to do in the last six months of this year. I have the requisite skills needed to make the change, but finding the time is a much more difficult proposition. If I back off on the actual blogging for a little while I might just be able to find those slices of time I really need to make it happen.

So, the end result of this decision is that my posting on 20four12 is probably going to be a little sporadic over the coming months. I’ll still be writing my monthly update on which books I’ve read to keep both myself and any interested parties up to speed on my goal for completing 100 books. I will also write an occasional review, but likely just for the books that really speak to me as I’m reading them. This is me giving myself permission to keep the blog going but also to get some other things done that have been piling up.

Perhaps none of this will mean a thing and I’ll somehow find myself with all the time in the world to get the new projects finished and still read all of the books and blog about them, but I have a feeling 20four12 will be a little less busy for a little while, and while I wish that didn’t have to be the case, I’ve accepted that it’s okay and nobody is going to go screaming through the streets in despair while I step back for a bit. I’ll blog when I can and I’ll make sure those posts are as amazing as they can be when I write them.

Book Review: “The Breaking World: Dawn of Swords” by David Dalglish and Robert J. Duperre

Dawn of SwordsTitle: The Breaking World: Dawn of Swords
Author: David Dalglish and Robert J. Duperre
Publisher: 47 North
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
Length: 609 pages

Obtained: I bought my copy from Amazon.

The Plot: Dezrel is a new world, a young world. The gods Karak and Ashhur have come to this world to try again at creating humanity after failing before. With this new attempt at humanity the brother gods have designated some known as the First Families to guide the fledgling race as it discovers the path it should take. The leading members of these families will never age and never die as long as they remain faithful to their respective deities, If they aren’t, the aging process begins. Sometimes, they haven’t exactly remained faithful, but they go to great lengths to try to hide it from others.

The children of Karak are at odds with those they have thrown out of their order and have threatened them with destruction if they don’t forsake their ways. The children of Ashhur are content to live their lives full of innocence, ignoring the happenings in other parts of the land. Ashhur has protected them, protected their lives so they can be happy.

Jacob Eveningstar, the very first man created by the god brothers is determined to find a solution to the problem as he knows that if the children of Karak go through with their plan the entire world, both the followers of Karak and the followers of Ashhur will suffer.

The Commentary: There is an awful lot going on in this book, and if you are a fan of the Half-Orc universe, you will find Dawn of Swords to be a wonderful eye-opening look at the early days of Dezrel that are referenced so often in the other books. There is a lot of great information in Dawn of Swords that adds so much extra depth to the books that take place after it in the Half-Orcs chronology. For no other reason than that I found Dawn of Swords to be a great read. David Dalglish has previously created such a vibrant world with his books and now Robert J. Duperre has joined Dalglish to take that world to the next level.

Seeing Karak and Ashhur in person for the first time was really exciting. I had pictured in my mind how the two of them would be from the other books, but I was only partly right with my mental picture. I had their general characteristics rather spot on, but the more subtle things I was pleasantly surprised with.

Having the chance to learn about the First Families and the life of Jacob Eveningstar was also a very exciting thing for me. They are referenced plenty of times in other books but they were always a mysterious entity most of the time. There is a lot going on with the First Families and I think there is a lot more to learn in the books that follow Dawn of Swords. I believe it is intended to be the first of a trilogy, but don’t quote me on that.

The world building in Dawn of Swords is spectacular. Dalglish and Duperre have a lot of room to work with Dezrel and because this book is essentially the origin story for all the other ones they get to do a lot of filling in the blank along with bringing new information to the forefront. All of it was done with fine dexterity, and while the book may have been just a tad too long for the story it was telling, the pictures being painted were fantastic.

Needs More: Action. Dawn of Swords has its fair share of action scenes, but at over 600 pages in length I went in thinking there would be more action of the epic variety. This isn’t a knock on the book by any means, it’s just that as a personal preference, given the amount of action I’ve seen in the other books of this universe, it was a little tame. Perhaps it comes as part of this book being such a big world building endeavor.

Needs Less: Exposition. I’m all about length epic fantasy books, but this on was just a hair too long for the content it was giving me. Perhaps 75 pages less would have done the trick for me. There were a handful of scenes that hung on just a little bit too long.

Worth It? Yes, I think so. Granted, this is not the book to start with if you are looking to read something from this universe for the first time because it deals with a lot of story that won’t make as much sense as if you’ve read some of the other books first. However, if you are a fan of David Dalglish’s previous books, this new prequel to those by Dalglish and Duperre will likely  be something you’ll enjoy.

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Book Review: “The Enceladus Crisis” by Michael J. Martinez

The Enceladus CrisisTitle: The Enceladus Crisis
Author: Michael J. Martinez
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Length: 320 pages

Obtained: I bought my copy from Amazon.

The Plot: Shaila Jain is back once more, this time as a leading part of the first manned mission to Saturn in an attempt to secure control of the planet’s resource rich moon, Titan. Along the way she runs into complications due to a competing Chinese ship that makes a reckless approach to the moon, causing Jain’s ship to redirect a secondary objective, the moon Enceladus. It’s not surprising that when Jain and her crew arrive at Enceladus things start to get a little crazy and they uncover a number of strange things happening beneath the moon’s surface.

For Thomas Weatherby it has been nearly two decades since his adventures took him on a fateful trip to Mars where he crossed paths with Shaila Jain and her team of researchers, and now he’s in command of a front-line warship, the Fortitude. He assists the navy in destroying a French fleet at the Nile, but then must give chase to an escaping French vessel that leads him to Saturn and an encounter with the mysterious and powerful race known as the Xan, a race he has encountered before.

While everything else is going on Andrew Finch has found a way to embed himself in a small group of Napoleon’s forces and finds himself discovering a very startling reason for the French to be invading Egypt in the first place.

The Commentary: I’ll be honest, it was going to take a powerful act of ineptitude for me not to like this book. It’s predecessor, The Daedalus Incident was one of the best books I read last year and I waited very anxiously for The Enceladus Crisis to be released. Everything about what Michael J. Martinez is doing with these books delights me, and this second book in the series was no disappointment.

The depth of the characters, especially Finch, Weatherby, and Jain is expanded by a significant measure in The Enceladus Crisis. They have all been given a little more back story to flesh out their pasts, they have all been given some relationship entanglements that keep them believable and honest, and they have all been distinctly marked by what happened in the first book. Marked in ways that directly impacts the kind of decisions they make when presented with the challenges in this book. It was great to see that kind of growth as it’s not uncommon for authors to forget those subtleties sometimes.

To my disappointment, Weatherby and Jain are never in the same room together, although they do think of one another at times. I had hoped for some more banter between the two of them during the action scenes, but alas, it was not meant to be, for now at least. I’m still holding out hope that the two of them will cross paths in future books and get to banter once more.

Martinez is building a very large universe for these characters to explore. In the first book the menace was somewhat specific, they had a specific bad guy to fight off, with a specific resolution. In The Enceladus Crisis, that is not the case. There are entities on multiple fronts that can cause harm to space and time, all of which will need their own solutions. I like this. It speaks to the idea that there is much more going on that can be exposed to the reader in future books, and perhaps speaks to the idea that there are more than just one or two books left to be read.

Needs More: Crossover between the timelines. In the first book, The Daedalus Incident, several key characters wound up occupying the same space on Mars for a little while as their respective timelines merged into one. That doesn’t quite happen with The Enceladus Crisis, although it does come rather close in spots.

Needs Less: Nothing. I may be suffering from clouded judgment due to being a bit of a fanboy when it comes to these books, but at no time while reading did I think to myself, “Man, I wish this would stop happening so much.” Take that for what you will.

Worth It? Good heavens, yes! If you’ve read The Daedalus Incident then you obviously need to read The Enceladus Crisis to see where the story goes next. This is a fantastic book and I can’t wait for the next installment.

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Book Review: “The Trilisk Ruins” by Michael McCloskey

The Trilisk RuinsTitle: The Trilisk Ruins
Author: Michael McCloskey
Publisher: Squidlord LLC
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Length: 309 pages

Obtained: I obtained my copy for free via Amazon.

The Plot: Trelisa is a xenoarchaeologist with a real dislike for the government. As a result, she takes a job working with a group of smugglers trying to find alien artifacts before the government can on a newly discovered world. The trouble is, she and the smugglers have no real idea what they are getting themselves into when the arrive at the destination planet.

Upon arrival they discover an underground facility unlike any they’ve heard of before and to make things worse, the facility is intelligent in some fashion, changing itself in order to prevent them from ever escaping to the surface again. While trapped, the smugglers meet up with a strange alien being they nickname “Shiny” who helps them to escape the facility and then the planet. Once they are free, Shiny takes them on a journey back to his native area of the galaxy where they discover several other new and shocking developments.

The entire time, the government is chasing them down, determined to recover all of the artifacts Trelisa gathers during the adventure and then punish them for their crimes.

The Commentary: Heading into The Trilisk Ruins I was a blank slate. I had never heard of the author, it was clear the book was a self-published work, and a friend of mine had sent me a text message asking if I had ever heard of it. Given that I hadn’t, and because I’m a sucker for reading things so I can tell other people whether or not they should read them I grabbed a copy knowing the worst that could happen was it turned out terrible, but at least it was free. Well, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t mind-blowing either.

The Trilisk Ruins holds rather true to what an experience reader of science fiction would expect it to be, a tale of aliens, spaceships, and mysterious circumstances that rolls along and doesn’t really wait for you to notice if it does or does not have any flaws. The most interesting parts of The Trilisk Ruins are the ones that feature Shiny, whether that be his introduction in the prologue, his viewpoint chapters, or when other characters are interacting with him in their own viewpoint chapters. The human characters are admittedly a bit thin when it comes to being unique or compelling, but they are serviceable as typical science fiction stereotypes. Would it have been nice if they had broken out into something more unique? Yes. Was the story ruined because they didn’t? No, not really.

It’s clear this book is the first of a series because a lot of groundwork is laid for Trelisa as a main protagonist along with the various bits of world building that happens. The book is relatively short and reads rather quickly, so anyone looking for a free science fiction book might be rather intrigued by what it has to offer. The book isn’t going to win any awards, but it does show the author as having the potential to write something a little more compelling with a bit more practice under their belt, and I like that sort of thing.

Needs More: Shiny. The alien is hands down the best part of the book because he is not anthropomorphized in any fashion which makes his viewpoint very unique and fresh. Giving him more screen time would have been a great idea.

Needs Less: Typical “government wants to keep all the secrets for themselves” stuff. It’s a trope that gets used all the time and while I can see the reason the author decided to use it as a backdrop for The Trilisk Ruins, it had no impact. There are probably better ways to create tension for the smugglers than such a worn out approach.

Worth It? If you are wanting to read something that is going to astound you, then The Trilisk Ruins probably isn’t your cup of tea. If you are looking for a capable science fiction tale that just happens to be free while you wait for another book to be released, or because you need something for a weekend vacation on the beach, then yes, The Trilisk Ruins is probably worth a download and a try. You won’t feel like you wasted your time, or at least, I didn’t feel that way.

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Book Review: “The Mad Scientist’s Daughter” by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Mad Scientist's DaughterTitle: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Length: 400 pages

Obtained: I bought my copy from Amazon.

The Plot: When Cat is a young girl her father brings home Finn and tells her that Finn is going to be her friend and her tutor. Cat doesn’t know what to think of Finn when she first meets him and is a little bit scared of him. However, as the years go by she realizes that Finn is actually an android, one of the most sophisticated ones ever built and the two of them become fast friends as he educates her as a tutor and becomes her closest friend at the same time, something that will serve as a catalyst to change their lives.

Later in life Cat leaves home to go her own way, finding a job, having romantic relationships with others, and generally just living life, but in the back of her mind stays Finn, the one person, or thing that she cannot live without. Their relationship is special in ways that nobody else in the world can begin to understand and it puts them in a place to break down barriers of what it does or does not mean to be human and to feel alive.

The Commentary: When I first heard about The Mad Scientist’s Daughter it was because I was looking over a list of books nominated for a variety of science fiction and fantasy annual awards. I didn’t know what the book was about and I’d never heard of the author before as being one that had a lot of well-received books to their name. It was simply on the list with several other books I considered to be very good. As a result, I filed it away as a book I might pick up someday if the opportunity came about, but I didn’t go out and buy a copy right away. Then a long time later the book showed up on the Kindle Daily Deal, which is a favorite place of mine to buy books I know I probably want to read, but don’t know if I want to pay full price. As I had noticed the book before I decided it was worth grabbing a discounted copy to hold on to until I found the time to give it a read. If I would have known how amazing the book was I would not have waited nearly as long as I did before picking it up.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is not an action-packed science fiction novel. That is apparent from the first few pages. As a matter of fact, the book reads much more like literary fiction that happens to have robots as part of the puzzle. It was such a major departure compared to the other things I was reading around the same time that it reached out from the pages and slapped me in the face. It was a breath of fresh air rushing through a world of reading filled with spaceships and lasers. The book really took me out of my element and I’m a better reader as a result.

The relationship between Cat and Finn is not something unexpected once you get past the first few chapters. You can readily see that the author is setting the two of them up in certain ways, but don’t worry, that doesn’t ruin anything. Their relationship progresses naturally, unforced, very much believable given the established circumstances. That’s what I loved most about this book. Everything seemed so very believable in a genre where oftentimes the reader is asked to plow ahead with a notable chunk of suspended disbelief. Not so with The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. The world Cat and Finn live in has robots, granted, none as sophisticated as Finn, but robots all the same. Relationships on the whole are different in this near-future setting, and civil rights are once again a hot topic of discussion, only this time concerning the rights of the androids.

When I finished The Mad Scientist’s Daughter I was sad. I wanted there to be another 100 pages for me to enjoy. I wanted to see what happens with Cat and Finn just one year down the road from where the book ends. I wanted to see what happens with the two of them so much. It’s unfortunate that the book appears to be a standalone work as I would very much love to read a follow-up book that jumps forward in time fifteen or twenty years and delves into the various political and cultural changes that were just getting started as The Mad Scientist’s Daughter ended.

As it stands now, halfway through 2014 I imagine The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is easily going to be one of the best books I read all year. Unless some more books really surprise me by coming out of the woodwork, I expect I’ll be featuring it again at the end of the year as part of my “ten best books I read in 2014″ list.

Needs More: Finn. Granted, Finn is a rather big part of the entire story, but when I finished I felt like I would have enjoyed a few more pages of him interacting with Cat. There are a few times when time jumps forward, particularly towards the start when Finn and Cat are just getting started in their relationship when she’s a young girl. It would be really interesting to see a little more about how as a little girl Cat played tricks on Finn to discover what he was all about.

Needs Less: There is very little in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter that isn’t necessary to the story as it’s a very tightly woven plot, but if there was one thing that I could have done with less of it’s the back and forth Cat has with some of her other relationships. I understand that they served at least in part as a contrast to her relationship with Finn, but once or twice they were just a tad bit overdone.

Worth It? Absolutely! I think everyone who is a fan of science fiction needs to read this book at some point. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked it up and was blown away by the quality of the writing and the crafting of the story. It’s no surprise that The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was nominated for so many awards.

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