Random Review: Warbound by Larry Correia

This review does not contain spoilers.

Book Name: Warbound
Author: Larry Correia
Series: Book #3, The Grimnoir Chronicles
Publisher(s): Baen
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal
Release Date: August 6, 2013

Rating: 10/10

When I started reviewing books I was told by a couple of other reviewers that many times the best books are the hardest to write about because the reviewer often tries too hard to tell how good the book was. This is the case with Warbound, Larry Correia’s third and likely final book in the Grimnoir Chronicles. Like Hard Magic and Spellbound Correia paints an incredible picture of his alternate history world of an Earth in the early 20th century where a small percentage of the population is suddenly endowed with magical abilities. Of that small group and even smaller group has powers that are pretty powerful.

The catch is those “gifted” by magic can do only one thing. The main character in the first two books, Jake Sullivan, is a Heavy that can alter gravity. There are others who are things like Torches (who control fire), Cogs (who build things), Crackler (who control electricity/lighting), and fades (teleporters). Warbound is centered around Faye Vierra, who is the “Spellbound”. As a child she was believed to be a fade, but now she can perform any magic she wishes. The previous two books of “The Grimnoir Chronicles” explain why people suddenly got magic and why Faye is able to absorb powers from others. I won’t spoil it, you should read Hard Magic and Spellbound to find out why.

Like many of Correia’s book there are lulls in the action where he fleshes out characters, which has sort of become his trademark. Nearly every character of meaning in his books at some point gets a well detailed backstory, and it’s obvious they are not just things suddenly thrown together. They are precise and well thought out, and really help bring out the story. Written in the old “pulp” style it would be easy to over do it, but in Warbound Correia’s backstories are written to near perfection.

If you’re into action sequences you won’t be disappointed as that is another of Correia’s strengths. Warbound has plenty of them, and in a fantasy setting it would be easy to way over board with some of the things the characters do Correia somehow manages to both be subtle and “in your face” at the exact same time. The battles between the Imperium of Japan and the Knights of the Grimnoir are written so well that, as funny as this sounds, because there’s no way effects can match the picture Correia paints they would probably make for a bad movie. What they do is make for an incredible book.

One of my favorite parts of Warbound (and “The Grimnoir Chronicles”) are the made up quotes from (mostly) famous people at the beginning of each chapter. My guess is that must have been one of the hardest parts of the book for Correia to write. There are a couple of misses among them, but for the most part they are really spot on as to what the person would have likely said.

All in all, an incredible finish to one of the best trilogies written in a long while.

Apparently I’m a “binge-watcher”

I was having a discussion the other day about my TV viewing habits, and it seems that the cool kids are calling how I do it “binge-watching”. It must be a thing because it has its own Wikipedia page. According to Wiki binge-watching is defined by most as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting”. I’ve been doing this for years, so I find it funny that it’s supposed to be some sort of new thing because of “on demand” streaming services.

In days of yore when VCRs were the in thing I often recorded shows and then watched them in groups of two or three as my schedule allowed. In most cases you could only get six hour long shows on a tape so being careful that I didn’t miss anything I’d make sure I watched them after the fifth one. Most of those shows I recorded were on opposite of another show I was watching so it was easy to have only one program for each tape. So that, apparently, was the beginning of my binge-watching.

To me binge-watching should be way more than just watching a couple of episodes at a time. You get into the four or five neighborhood in one sitting and that’s really binge-watching. It looks like the cool kids set the bar low so they could be part of the group. After all, who wants to be on the outside looking in on something so trendy?

The first time I remember watching more than that four or five episodes at a time was years ago while The West Wing was on the air. I had missed the first few seasons and was catching reruns on Bravo. The problem was they weren’t showing them in order so I was missing a lot of stuff continuity-wise. After watching what was the first couple of episodes of season two (only I didn’t know at the time where they fit into the continuity) I was very confused because they using flashbacks and I had no idea if that was new material they were showing looking back or inserting old footage to remind viewers of what came before.

I mentioned this at work and long time friend Peter–who also worked with my father for years at Thom McAn–said he had the first season on DVD and would lend it to me. He brought it in on a Friday and I took it home to watch when I got the chance. An early morning thunderstorm woke me up on Saturday and when I couldn’t fall back to sleep I went out to the living room to watch a couple of episodes. I was so hooked I watched 12 that first day, stopping only because my wife and I had dinner plans that evening. On Sunday were the last 10 of the first season. The look on Peter’s face when I brought the DVD back and started talking about the episodes was incredible. I wish I’d taken a picture.

I eventually went out and bought all the season, and every other summer still watch them all. The 154 episodes in a handful of days is the absolute definition of binge-watching.

My wife and now regularly watch TV shows on our DVRs like this. There are a couple shows I watch as they air but for the most part I DVR everything (mostly so I can zap the commercials) and we watch them in groups of two or three. The last show I truly binge-watched was the first season of House of Cards, watching all 13 episodes over a two day period. I haven’t watched season two yet because my wife never saw season one and I think she’d like it. We’ll fix that soon.

Looking at it in a broader perspective watching TV shows in batches is also how I like to read books. When I start an older series I usually run through them non-stop until I hit the latest released book. I just seem to get more out of them doing it that way. I’ll bet good money I’m not the only one doing it that way.

Can “binge-reading” be far behind?

Doing more blog maintenance

Nothing drastic like last Sunday where I changed just about everything on the blog. Today I just rearranged some stuff in the menu on the right side and added a list of blogs I follow that I think folks should check out. Most I had already mentioned in this post but now they’ll always be listed. If you don’t see yours and you think it should be there, just add a comment and I’ll be glad to rectify the situation.

I’m also thinking about going to a custom URL. If anyone has any advice on that, good or bad, speak up. I’m really thinking about it more for the “cool” factor but if it causes a potential headaches I’d like to know before hand. Heck, if you have any advice at all about anything on the site let me know.

It will be another full week of posts, with a book review a couple folks have asked about (they know I read it because it was listed on the Goodreads widget for awhile) and some other stuff in the “drafts” just waiting for me to mash the publish button.

Until next time…

My ten most favorite books

Within a few hours on Facebook recently I was “tagged” by my buddy Mike (who doesn’t have a blog but absolutely should, he’s one of the wittiest people I know) to name my ten favorite books, and by friend Kile to name my ten most inspirational books. Because I’m trying to blog more I figure this is a great place to add those lists. This post we’ll do my ten favorites.

Naming my ten favorites is easy, especially since I’m going to cheat a little. I read a lot of books that appear as part of a trilogy/series so I’m going to be mentioning the first book of a particular series in my favorites list while really meaning you should read the whole series. So, in no particular order:

Lamentation by Ken Scholes, which is the first book in the “Psalms of Isaak” series. It is world building at its finest and just about as character driven as a fiction book can be. Great blend of science fiction and fantasy and an incredible story told well.

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia, the first book in the “Monster Hunter” series. It happens to be, at least so far, the best book in the series in my opinion, but they’re all so well done it’s kind of a “must read” for anyone into either hard science fiction or fantasy.

The Edge of the World by Kevin J. Anderson, the first book in the “Terra Incognita” series. Anderson is known more for his hard science fiction, but he dipped his toe in the water of the fantasy genre and really wrote a winner.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. His first book, and it was incredible. Could be the second best book he ever wrote, just behind…

Red Storm Rising by Clancy. Superb book with awesome battle scenes. For me, the book all thrillers are judged against.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, the first book in “Kushiel’s Legacy” series. It’s a bit wordy and sometimes tough to get through, but the next five in the series are flat out awesome. The last three, dubbed the “Moirin Trilogy”, are decent but a ton of story momentum is lost when Carey jumped so far into the future.

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke, the first book in the “The Stormlord Trilogy” (also called “The Watergivers”). Fantasy at its finest. Using Australia as a base for her world building Larke really nails the story of a world where rain only comes to the masses if the Stormlord grants it, and what happens to the Stormlords when they bring rain.

The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller, the first in the “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” series. To be blunt, Miller is a fantasy genius. Awesome story written incredibly well. What’s amazing is the last book (so far) in the series is a prequel, and somehow despite knowing how it has to end Miller still surprises readers with the ending.

Empress by Miller, first book in the “Godspeaker” trilogy. Critically speaking not as well received as the “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” series but for my money it’s just as good. It’s in my review queue so I’ll have more to say about it later.

On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, the first book in the “Incarnations of Immortality” series. An intricately wound story where every major character (the Incarnations) is related in some way to all the others. I discount the money-grabbing eighth book in the series which should never have ben written.

So there’s my ten, but I feel like there should be an “honorable mention” section so I can add:
Hard Magic by Correia, first book in the “Grimnoir Chronicles” series.
Havemercy by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett, the first book in the “The Volstovic Cycle”.
The King’s Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells, the first book in the “King Rolen’s Kin” series.
The Poet by Michael Connelly. Nominally a stand-lone novel, the character Jack McEvoy also “stars” in The Scarecrow.
The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron, the first book in “The Legend of Eli Monpress” series.

Looks like my work here is done. Until next time…

Random Review: Tom Clancy Support and Defend by Mark Greaney

This review does not contain spoilers.

Book Name: Tom Clancy Support and Defend
Author: Mark Greaney
Series: Nominally first book in the Campus series
Publisher(s): Putnam Adult
Format(s): Hardcover/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Thriller
Release Date: July 22, 2014

Rating: 9/10

When Tom Clancy passed last October there were questions if his series would continue under a different writer. Clancy’s latest collaborator Mark Greaney was an obvious choice to do so if the Clancy estate was interested, so it was no surprise Greaney was pegged to continue the saga of Jack Ryan. How will Greaney do taking over Clancy’s most famous character? Well, considering most credit Greaney for Clancy finally getting his fastball back it should be easy for him even though he’s now fully writing them under his own name. But for now we don’t officially know the answer because in Tom Clancy Support and Defend Ryan does not appear and there are only brief mentions of him.

The main character in the book is Dominic Caruso, the nephew of now President Jack Ryan and operative for “The Campus”, an quasi-civilian organization that uses information “borrowed” the usual suspects of US intelligence and acts on it in ways government agencies are not generally allowed to. Technically Caruso is an FBI agent, although he’s not assigned any duties and information about him is hard to come by. Caruso’s twin brother Brian was killed off in Dead or Alive, and the effects of that are still causing Dom issues. The assassination of a friend and his family, which almost kills Dom too, only adds to his mental anguish.

Unlike many thriller writers Greaney doesn’t treat his character like a super hero, performing death defying acts one after another. Greaney instead treats the Caruso character like he is, a well trained operative that knows when he has to take chances and when he should lay low. That’s how Clancy generally used Jack Ryan, and Greaney has obviously learned that lesson.

The plot of Support and Defend, while simple, is very Clancy-esque. It’s a standard bad guy vs good guy story, with a couple of twists and turns to keep the reader involved but not enough to make a convoluted plot that’s hard to follow. Like Clancy, Greaney has every character acting as they logically would without the sudden gimmicky actions other authors use to drastically change directions in the story.

The “bad guy” in the story is Ethan Ross, who works for the National Security Council and is giving secrets over to an organization of whistleblowers. As in every Clancy plot there’s a “badder guy”, and in this case it’s Iranian Mohammed Mobasheri, who infiltrates the whistleblower organization in an attempt to get an “inside man” to download sensitive intelligence data. Greaney does not treat Mobasheri like a caricature, nor does Greaney go out of his way to make him evil. He writes Mobasheri as a guy just doing the job he was assigned, and to me that adds significant credibility to the story.

Support and Defend is well plotted, well written, and a very good read. Greaney has taken the first step in Clancy’s shoes without tripping. Hopefully that’s going to become a trend.

Random Review: Tuck by Stephen Lawhead

This review contains spoilers.

Click the links for my reviews of the first two books in the King Raven Trilogy, Hood and Scarlet.

Book Name: Tuck
Author: Stephen Lawhead
Series: Book #3, King Raven Trilogy
Publisher(s): Thomas Nelson Publishers
Format(s): Hardcover/Trade Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical fiction/Fantasy
Release Date: February 17th 2009

Rating: 8/10

It was going to be a tough challenge for Stephen Lawhead to create a finale as good as the middle book in the “Raven King” trilogy, and while he didn’t reach the high bar he set in Scarlet Lawhead gives us a really fine concluding book in Tuck. Like the previous book Lawhead uses the voice of the title character to tell the story. Brother Aethelfrith, AKA Friar Tuck, is a Saxon who was taken in by the Church during his youth and is as good and kind as the antagonist Abbot Hugo is self-centered and evil.

Tuck picks up at the exact moment Scarlet ends, with Bran ap Brychan having declared war against King William the Red and Hugo, who William has given control of the lands that should have been Bran’s under an agreement made in Scarlet. While originally outnumbered Bran uses superior tactics and weaponry–the Welsh longbow was the most potent weapon of the era–to whittle down the manpower of Hugo, and even after receiving reinforcements Rhi Bran y Hud continues to tilt the scales toward his favor.

As Lawhead did in Scarlet we have another great escape story in Tuck, only this one in the far north as Bran tries to raise an army. This is where the last of the legendary Robin Hood main characters, Allan a’Dale, is introduced. Bran’s efforts are for naught as he returns without any soldiers, and to further add to his misery against Bran’s wishes Mérian has gone home looking for help from her father and has not returned. A visit from Tuck to arrange her release finds Mérian’s brother is now king, and he is a loyal vassal to the Normans.

After Bran’s eventual victory results in Hugo and the Normans returning to King William with their tail between their legs, William calls his lords to raise an army to defeat Bran and the Welsh. Only, not all of his lords answer the call. There is a large skirmish before the main battle where everyone’s intentions are set in stone, but on the morning on what will undoubtedly be a large battle Tuck stumbles into a position to influence King William.

The ending is a touch anti-climatic, but truly fits the tenor of all the books. It’s a fine reimaging of the Robin Hood myth, and very well done. At the end of the book Lawhead has included some notes about the books, which are a great companion piece to the trilogy. Throughout Tuck there are several poems which tell the plot of the book as if a minstrel is singing it. It takes until the epilogue to get their full story, and is another nice touch by Lawhead.

So with three books in the series I’ve rated highly is there anyway I can not recommend “The Raven King” trilogy? Of course not. It was an outstanding series, and well worth reading.

Random Review: Brotherhood of War (books 7 to 9) by W.E.B. Griffin

This review does not contain spoilers.

For my review of the first six books in the series click here.

Series Name: Brotherhood of War
Author: W.E.B. Griffin
Series: Books 7 thru 9 of a 9 book series
Books included: The New Breed, The Aviators, Special Ops
Publisher(s): Jove
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical Fiction/Military fiction

Rating: 7/10

In book six of the story, The Generals, W.E.B. Griffin painted himself into a corner with a prologue that listed what happened to the main characters in the series. Because some of them were no longer in the military having them involved in a future story would be impossible, so Griffin simply created new characters and set The New Breed so it started in what was the middle of the timeline in The Generals so that there could be some interaction between the old characters and the “new breed”. The problem I have is the characters Griffin created were basically the same ones he just got rid of, just changing their names and making them younger.

Griffin continued the cycle by starting The Aviators in the middle of the timeline set in The New Breed, and unfortunately for the reader lifted some portions of chapters from the sixth book to the seventh. In Special Ops Griffin started the book just about where The New Breed ended, which means The Aviators overlaps the book that came before it and after it. Again, in Special Ops lifts sections of the previous books and simply inserts them into the latest one. It made it easy to see these three books were nothing but a money grab.

Because of the way Griffin wrote them the last three books can be read without reading the previous six, which was obviously by design. It took away from the momentum the previous books set and when read in succession as I did it really caused issues as the story lines progressed. The last three aren’t bad books, but they are by no means the high quality the first six were.

I do think they’re worth reading, especially if you’ve read the first six in the series, but be forewarned that they are not Griffin at his best.