Looking Back at November 2014

After such a successful October getting back on pace with my reading goal I had a very busy November with work and family obligations as well as the launch of the most recent World of Warcraft expansion. I went into the month knowing that the last two weeks were going to be a nightmare as far as reading was concerned, so I needed to load up on completed books in the first two weeks. I think I was rather successful all told.

I managed to finish November with 95 total books complete. My intent was to finish with 100 and take the entire month of December off from reading to decompress after the hard push over the last few months. That was a bit of a pipe dream though, and going into December with only five books remaining is absolutely wonderful at this point. Two months ago I feared I would need nearly 20 books in December alone to finish my goal.

As it stands, I can read my last few books without a lot of pressure and probably finish well before the end of the month, giving myself at least a little break before next year begins breathing down my neck.

Here are the books I read in November:

Along the way I also read a new novella:

I enjoyed everything I read this month, none of the books left me feeling unfulfilled or disappointed in any fashion. The one thing I did notice is that the Fablehaven series is really not well suited to being read back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I should have spaced those first four books out with others in between. I’ve made a point of not reading the fifth book until I read a few other things so that I can cleanse my reading palate a bit.

For December I will be reading the final Fablehaven book just to be sure I finish the series off and don’t leave myself hanging. I’ll also be reading the last two books in a trilogy from the Dragonlance universe I started a very long time ago. Then there is the final book of the His Fair Assassin trilogy and I’ll finish off my 100 books by reading the one my wife wrote even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Looking Back at October 2014

At the beginning of October I wrote a post regarding whether or not I would actually manage to read 100 books this year like I wanted. I mention in that post about October needing to be the “make or break” month in the process because if I didn’t reach a certain threshold it would be very difficult to reach my goal. I took that thought to heart and really, really pushed myself hard to reach 85 books completed by the end of the month.

There was a stretch of October for about 10 days where I read a book a day, which is both amazing and disorienting at the same time. Over the course of the entire month I read 16 full-length novels as well as five issues of Bastion Magazine and two novellas. I suppose I could have traded the magazine issues and novellas for another two books, but I used the shorter works as a way to cleanse my palate between novels and as a way to bring the number of unread items on my Kindle back down to a reasonable level.

All in all, I managed to make up all the lost ground from earlier in the year when I had months where I didn’t meet my quota. I am not officially back on pace with 85 books completed, leaving me with 15 remaining to be read. That puts me in a very good place as I head into the last two months of the year. I’d like to get six or seven books finished before the World of Warcraft expansion on November 13th, and then another three or four finished in the last two weeks of the month. It would be wonderful if I could arrive at December 1st with only four or five books left to read and be stress free with the goal.

Here are the books I read in October:

Here is the list of short fiction I read in October:

As you can see, that list is enormous compared to the lists from all the previous months in 2014. It did help that I chose books I was almost guaranteed to enjoy for the entire month, which meant none of them turned into a big drag that lost me time. I also focused on catching up with and/or finishing series so I don’t have so many left open-ended.

I think my favorites for the month were the Shadow Ops books by Myke Cole, and the two books by Marko Kloos: Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure. Of course, I also very much enjoyed Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie as it’s a wonderful follow-up to the first book in that trilogy. And, while I have not “caught up” with the entire series of The Dresden Files, I am now at least halfway through after finishing all the books I had purchased via a Kindle Daily Deal a few months ago.

Steampunk is a sub-genre that fascinates me, but I haven’t found the time to read. The two Romulus Buckle books were wonderfully written and very vibrant in their world building and characters. I’ve had those books sitting on my Kindle for nearly a year and decided it was high time I got them read. I’m glad I did because they were spectacular. I hear the third book is due out sometime in the first few months of 2015. I’ll be sure to grab it.

For November I have some good stuff on deck. There is the second of the new Star Wars canon being released, as well as the final book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, both of which I’ll be reading immediately when they load onto my Kindle. There is also the second book of a series about superheroes from a self-published author I’m looking forward to diving into and then I’ll be walking back into the Dragonlance books I exposed myself to earlier this year to try and make some progress on catching up.

Book Review: “Soulminder” by Timothy Zahn

SoulminderI’ve read a lot of Timothy Zahn’s work over the years and most of the time I have a pretty good idea about what he’s going to bring to the table. I received a request to review Soulminder directly from the publisher and given that Zahn is one of my all-time favorite authors, of course I jumped at the chance. It’s always great to see what kind of new idea he’s putting onto the page for his readers.

This time around Zahn is delving into the world of what happens when a person dies and their soul leaves their body. Is that soul a tangible thing? Can it be captured and held for some amount of time? If it can be captured, could something then be done to repair the body it came from so it can be returned and let a person continue their life? If so, what kind of impact does that have on society when suddenly terminal illness, terrible accidents, and death are no longer necessarily the end of the line?

Adrian Sommer and Jessica Sands have managed to invent a machine that allows them to recognize and trap a soul when it attempts to leave a person’s body at the time of death. In doing so they open up a world of possibility regarding what the soul actually is and what sort of systems and policies should be wrapped around the use of their new Soulminder machine. Should it be available to everyone? Is it even morally acceptable to trap a soul and then force feed it back into a repaired body? Does the ability to do what the Soulminder machine does change how people view religion in some fashion?

Sommer is driven by the death of his son and never wanting another mother or father to have to sit and watch their child die in a car accident from injuries that are easily repaired as long as medical assistance can be reached. Jessica Sands is motivated by the idea that continued advancements of the Soulminder technology could perhaps bring about the ability for humans to be immortal. From the very beginning these differing motivations begin to drive a wedge between the two parties and they spend a lot of time involved in things that check and balance each other.

Over the course of the book the reader gets to see the Soulminder technology from its inception, to widespread national use, to abuse by criminals, all the way to government corruption using it as a way to enforce slavery on their citizens. The impact and consequences of capturing souls and placing them back into repaired bodies are widespread and impressive across the board.

This book has much more of a political thriller or espionage feel to it than most science fiction books do, but it delves enough into the technology and science behind the Soulminder machine to keep it firmly within its genre. I admit that the book was nothing like what I was expecting, but at the same time it was exactly what it needed to be in the end. A book that kept me on my toes and seemed very grounded in how cause and effect of such a machine would actually play out.

Wrapping these kind of themes and questions nicely inside of a compelling science fiction story isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Zahn manages to provide just enough plot to keep the reader engaged while still keeping the focus very much on the issue at hand. If someone is looking for rip-roaring science fiction action this probably isn’t the book for them, but I would still encourage everyone to give it a chance. Sometimes it does a person good to read a book in their favorite genre that spends more time making them think about what their own choices would be in certain circumstances than it does blowing up spaceships or exploring new worlds.

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Book Review: “Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier” by Myke Cole

Fortress FrontierWhen I finished reading Shadow Ops: Control Point I was entirely hooked on the world Myke Cole has created for his books. I had a hard time believing that he was going to be able to top the amazing work he had done when I picked up Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier to see what happened next to my favorite military sorcerers. Well, I was wrong, because I promptly read the entirety of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier in about six hours. It seems that the idea of a military fantasy novel is right in my wheelhouse. I love these books.

Alan Bookbinder is the new viewpoint character featured in Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier to go along with a few appearances by Oscar Britton to keep the story cohesive along the way. However, the very first part of this book had me a little bit confused because Bookbinder arrives at FOB Frontier to be the new logistics whiz after coming up latent himself with a magical power nobody has any clue about and when he arrives he is introduced to Oscar Britton. I had to go back to my copy of Shadow Ops: Control Point to confirm that Britton had in fact ended the book not at FOB Frontier. After a few more chapters it became clear to me that Bookbinder’s viewpoint was jumping into the story at about the halfway point of Shadow Ops: Control Point and then running in tandem for a little while and extending the story to a new point by the time it was finished. Once I managed to get the timeline right I was fine, but a little more clarification at the beginning might be helpful to readers.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier deals with FOB Frontier being cut off from the Home Plane as a result of Britton’s actions as he and several members of the SASS escape from the base and begin forging their own path. When Britton kills the SOC’s only Portamancer in his escape, it leaves FOB Frontier with no way of getting ammunition, food, support, or anything else from the Home Plane. They are on their own with limited resources. To top everything off, Bookbinder, who has been barely holding on to his sanity while trying to deal with the commander of the base, is suddenly thrust into command by the assassination of Commander Taylor by rogue goblins. Bookbinder has to take action and take it fast in order to prevent the base from plunging into chaos.

While Bookbinder is dealing with the survival of FOB Frontier, Britton is trying to find a safe haven for himself and the small group of sorcerers that escaped the base with him. They first try to fix the problem they created by letting Scylla out of her imprisonment, but they are beaten back rather handily and realize they don’t have the skills and/or power to deal with her on their own. Their next plan is to escape back to the Home Plane and take refuge with one of the larger Selfer groups and try to work at overturning some of the discriminatory laws against Selfers. At first it seems like their plan is going well, but then they realize the leader of the Houston Street Selfers has been replaced by an SOC agent.

Alan Bookbinder turns out to be the more compelling character for me in Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier. I still like Oscar Britton, and will continue to do so, but for all the strengths that Britton had in the first book, Bookbinder is even more well-written from characterization standpoint. Bookbinder’s unique magic leads to some very interesting choices he needs to make for the survival of his group. I liked that he has to make those choices and that he has to be careful about who he lets know about his power. At one point it even threatens to undo all of the work he’s done in helping FOB Frontier survive.

The conclusion of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier has Bookbinder, Britton, and even Harlequin coming together to do the right thing and throwing the President of the United States into some seriously hot water. The setup for the third book is amazing and I can’t imagine what Myke Cole is going to do next with the series. These books are absolutely a must read for any fan of military fiction or fantasy.

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble   |   Audible   |   Goodreads

As It Turns Out, My Wife Wrote a Book

Every year in November there is an event known as National Novel Writing Month, or more commonly “NaNoWriMo” for short. The entire point of the event is to spend the month of November writing 50,000 words towards a brand new novel you’ve never worked on before. Anyone is welcome to participate in NaNoWriMo and a lot of really good books have come out of authors giving it a try. As a matter of fact, I’ve reviewed several books here on 20four12 that were originally written as NaNoWriMo projects.

As it happens, last year my wife decided to give NaNoWriMo another try for the first time in several years. When we first married we tried it once or twice as something to do together, but each time we fell by the wayside as school and work got in the way. This time though, she had a decent idea rolling around in her head and off we went to try again at the whole writing thing.

On my wide of things I only made it to 3,916 words before some very large projects hit my desk at the office and my time and attention was needed elsewhere. My wife however, managed to make it all the way to 15,443 words before the end of November rolled around. Granted, that’s not the entire 50,000 word goal for the event, but it was enough that she had a great start and over the next two or three months she kept going and wound up with a finished product she was ready to pass around to some folks for opinions and edits. Soon enough she had things ready to go and be formatted for use on a Kindle and loaded up into the Kindle Direct Publishing system on Amazon.

Not many people get to say they wrote a book from start to finish, but my wife is one of those people now. As an English major she knows her way around a sentence and she’s done a lot of other writing over the course of her life. Finishing a complete novel is something she’d always wanted to do and now she can cross that off the bucket list.

I certainly haven’t written a book despite how many of them I’ve read. Maybe that’s something I’ll be able to cross off my own bucket list at some point in the future.

Here are the pertinent details of my wife’s endeavor:

Autocorrect StaysTitle: Autocorrect Stays
Length: 157 pages
Available: Amazon

Cover Blurb: A high-strung writer named Nat Howell and a relaxed soul singer named Pat Cavanaugh meet at a child’s birthday party; the unlikely pair begin to expand each other’s horizons. Pat is intrigued by Nat’s quirky humor. And Nat is immersed in the warm company of Pat. A writer’s challenge is issued: they will write something and have it judged by a jury of their peers. The winner gets glory and a dinner date, although not necessarily with each other. Each goes on an unfamiliar path to churn out creative material. Who will be the victor and will the prize change with time?