How do you pick the next book you’re going to read?

I get asked that question a lot, especially from friends that have wandered into my office and see the bookshelves full of stuff I haven’t read yet. Right now my “to-read” list is about 200 books long (I don’t count it that often and don’t remember the exact number it was when last I did), which is a lot when you consider only books I own are on that list. But picking what I’m going to read next isn’t as hard as one might think.

Right now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m working my way though W.E.B. Griffin’s “Badge of Honor” series. As I’m reading them one after another picking what I’m going to read next is easy: the next one in the series. Like last summer when I ran though Michael Connelly’s books this summer was supposed to be all Griffin, but his stuff reads a lot slower than Connelly’s so it’s taken longer. “Badge of Honor” is the third series of Griffin’s I’ve read this year, and after I finish it (two more books to go!) I’ll just have his “Men At War” series about the OSS left.

After I finished his “Brotherhood of War” series I took a short break and read a few other things, two books I’d been waiting for that were in the military/thriller genre and then I went to Karen Miller’s “Godspeakers” trilogy for a change of pace. Picking the Miller series was easy, I said to myself “pick a fantasy trilogy”, and when I looked up there was “Godspeakers” right in front of me at eye level.

Then it was back to Griffin again for his “The Corps” series about the US Marine Corps, and when that was over I once again took a break for a book I was waiting for and continued on to Stephen Lawhead’s “King Raven Trilogy” while I waited for another book to come out. I picked the Lawhead books because I noticed they were separated into different bookcases. My OCD needed to keep them together, and the easiest way was to read them next. After I got bored with the fantasy stuff I saw I had a book misfiled (Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith) so instead of moving a ton of stuff to put it in the right place I read it next.

Which brings us to where I am now, nearing the end of the “Badge of Honor” series. Now as to what I’m going to read next I’ve already decided it will be The Gods of Guilt by Connelly. Assuming nothing comes out that I’m looking for before I finish the Connelly book it’s a good guess I’ll be switching back to sic-fi/fantasy for a bit. As some point before the end of the year I’ll start “Men At War”.

I know I’ll likely never read every book I’ve bought, mostly because I buy a lot of stuff from new authors just to support their hard work. Obviously most people don’t have as many at their finger tips to chose from as I do, so I’m curious as to how other decide what to read next. Do you just wander into a bookstore and pick up what catches your eye? Do you just fill up your e-reader and pick like I do? Or do you buy a large amount of books and work your way through them before buying more? I’d love to read your answers…

Random Review: The Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God by Karen Miller

For my review of the first book of the “Godspeaker” trilogy, Empress, you can click here. Be warned, that review contains some major spoilers.

This review contains no spoilers.

Book Name: The Riven Kingdom (book 2) and Hammer of God (book 3)
Author: Karen Miller
Series: Books 2 and 3 of the Godspeaker trilogy
Publisher(s): Orbit
Format(s): Mass paperback/eBook/AudioBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: September 1, 2008 and January 1, 2009

Rating: 8/10 for The Riven Kingdom, 7/10 for Hammer of God.

For as different a book as Empress was both The Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God are pretty much standard fantasy fare. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but after the first book I was expecting something different. In The Riven Kingdom we’re introduced to a simple island nation that is the center of trade for many other countries. Miller paints the picture of Ethrea rather well, contrasting it with the evil and ugliness of Mijak. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that eventually Ethrea will become a battleground between good and evil. In Hammer of God, that battle takes place.

Both books are pretty good reads, but in a lot of places they are predictable as Miller follows many of the tried and true plots of fantasy fiction. We have a dying king, a princess wanting to chose her own way as opposed to what tradition dictates, Machiavellian politics from friends and foes alike, and an unlikely hero. But as she often does Miller manages to work it all together and makes what’s old seem fresh.

What really sells The Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God is the moving back to forth between the points of view of both sides. It’s hard to write the action from both sides of a battle, but Miller does this very well. When you add to that several “third parties” that swirl around behind the scenes of the Ethrea parts of the books you could have needed up needing a scorecard to tell who was doing what for which side, but once again Miller ties it all together seamlessly.

The ending of Hammer of God is a little predicable, but it’s one of those times where that’s really where the story needed to go. The “Godspeaker” trilogy is one that I would recommend, but at almost 2,300 pages make sure you have a little free time ahead of you because I predict once you start it will be hard to stop.

Random Review: Empress by Karen Miller

This review contains major spoilers.

Book Name: Empress
Author: Karen Miller
Series: #1, Godspeaker trilogy
Publisher(s): Orbit
Format(s): Mass market paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 1, 2008

Rating: 8/10

Usually when I’ve read books in a series one right after another I like to review the series as opposed to individual books, mostly because I have the advantage of reading what comes after a book and the things that happen in it that may not have been tied together so nicely in just a single volume really come together in a series. In the case of Empress and the “Godspeaker” trilogy there are so many things going on that aren’t originally as they seem to review the entire series in a single post might be as long as one of the books itself. It’s also because Empress is so intentionally unlike the other two books in the series a review of all three might make little sense to the reader.

The entire premise of Empress is an odd one: in the end you’re supposed to hate just about everyone in it. It’s a daring concept by Karen Miller to write a book where you first have tremendous empathy for Hekat, a nameless young girl from the outskirts of the empire sold into slavery, and then nothing but hatred for her at the end. The descriptions of Hekat’s journey to Et-Raklion as she still doesn’t realize she’s a slave are heartbreaking. At that point in the book, and up to her escape from slavery, Miller makes Hekat into someone you really want to root for. Only Miller diverts from the usual “slave escapes to take on the overbearing establishment” premise and has Hekat become the eventual ruler of Mijak and continue the massive social exploitation of her people through religious tyranny. She considers the voices she hears in her head to be divine instructions, and follows them mercilessly.

There is one redeeming character in Empress, Vortka. He and Hekat meet in their youth and as Hekat moves up the military ladder Vortka becomes a priest of Mijak and eventually becomes High Godspeaker. When her husband Raklion, warlord of Mijak, cannot father a child Hekat seduces Vortka (before he is High Godspeaker). Zandakar is the result of that union. Years later after being named warlord and conquering almost the entire known world Zandakar hears voices saying that there should be no more warring, and takes a wife from people his army had conquered. Zandakar returns to Et-Raklion, and in a fit of insane rage Hekat has the woman and her unborn child killed and orders Zandakar into exile. Vortka essentially saves Zandakar’s life by hiding him and then secreting him away.

Hekat then names Dmitrak, her second son borne after essentially forcing then High Godspeaker Nagarak to impregnate her, as warlord. When Zandakar was warlord he used a magical weapon called “The Hammer of God”, and after its first use Zandakar’s hair turns blue. When Dmitrak used it, his turned red. While Zandakar had enough of war, Dmitrak thrives on it.

In the end just about every character in the book is pretty much despised by readers, and it has taken some readers a long while to realize they aren’t supposed to love (or even like) any of the main characters. Once they realize this, Miller has them right where she wants them. The battle scenes in Empress are bloddy, as are the large number of scenes of ritual sacrifices being made. But these are not gratuitous, they are written with a singular purpose in mind of showing how evil the people in the story are and what their blind devotion to the gods is doing to them.

Miller took a gigantic risk writing a book people would be inclined to not think positive about when they were finished reading, and really knocked it out of the park with the attempt. There are a significant number of negative reviews for Empress. Do yourself a favor and read the entire trilogy and then read the reviews for Empress. It will be worth the laugh.

Some random book thoughts for October 2013

Looks like this is going to turn out to be a very long post, so let’s get right to it…

As I mentioned in last month’s posting 13 Million Dollar Pop by David Levien was the next up from the “to-read” shelf. Just like two of his earlier detective books books, City of the Sun and Where The Dead Lay, 13 Million Dollar Pop is a pulp-style story featuring detective Frank Behr. This novel is a little different in that Behr is no longer working on his own but is instead working for a top level detective/investigation agency. With plot points reminiscent of John Grisham’s The Firm Levien weaves and interesting story centering around a failed attempt on the life of someone Behr was assigned to protect. While the book probably won’t win too many awards it was an enjoyable read.

Next came The Keepers of the Library by Glenn Cooper, which is the third book in an (at least as far as I can figure out) unnamed trilogy centering on an ancient hidden library. It is a very good series that is unlike anything I’ve read before. The first two books, Secret of the Seventh Son (AKA Library of the Dead) and Book of Souls are pretty much “must reads” to understand what is going on in The Keepers of the Library because they whole theme of the trilogy is set up in the first half of the first book. Cooper tells a great tale here, and I’m hoping his other novels get released in the US soon.

Third up was Dan Brown’s Inferno, a book I wasn’t planning on reading for some time as I don’t buy Brown’s books in hardcover. I was lucky enough to arrange a “trade” of sorts with a friend who had purchased it. He took several of the paperbacks I’d already read and lent me his copy of Inferno. A “win” for both of us.

Like all of Brown’s books Inferno is about as improbable a story as you can get, but he still hooks readers in with his great high-paced storytelling style. Despite a glaring math error (saying what it is will spoil the book) Inferno still delivers on multiple fronts. His plot twist that sets up the finale might not hold up well on a second reading when one can read the story knowing the outcome, but it doesn’t detract from the book so much that it fails. Fans of Brown will not be disappointed with Inferno.

One of my much anticipated September purchases, W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, interrupted the book I had started and the 23rd book in the “Alphabet series” featuring Kinsey Millhone was the best one yet. Grafton has really hit her stride the last few novels and despite writing for the same main characters for so long is still able to keep it fresh and manages to add so much more information about each of them without contradicting herself and her previous books. What’s really amazing is there has been no real duplication of major plot points in the 23 books except for the ones that were intentional. That in itself is an incredible feat. I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

The book I was briefly reading after Inferno that was interrupted by W is for Wasted was A Blight of Mages by Karen Miller. It’s the prequel to the four released books in Miller’s “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” universe, and despite knowing where the book had to end up it was a great story told by Miller. Looking at many of the reviews afterward I think people really missed the key component of the story: that someone treated as a god in the later books actually lead a significantly “less than a god-like” life while they were alive. The only negative about the novel was brought up on a blog post I forgot to bookmark so I can’t reference it (sorry to whomever it was) that said like the other four books in the series A Blight of Mages could have (and maybe should have) been broken into two books. There was a lot more story to tell that Miller glossed over, and a second book would have been great for those things.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu was a book I picked off the shelf when it was released just because the cover caught my eye, and the details on the back sounded interesting and amusing so I bought it. The Lives of Tao is a very good story, but I can tell you for certain the blurb on the front by Myke Cole “…laugh-out-loud funny…” is absolutely untrue. There is nothing in the book that is laugh-out-loud funny, and I’m hoping that people looking for something like that and not getting it don’t overlook how good The Lives of Tao really is. It’s nothing new by any stretch of the imagination and has a well used plot device, but it’s a very good start to what could be a decent series.

After finishing The Lives of Tao I was in a little bit of a quandary. I didn’t want to start a long book because a couple days later a book I really wanted to read, King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniels, was being released and I didn’t feel like doing what I did with A Blight of Mages and putting down one book for another so I was reluctant to start anything. As luck would have it while looking for something in some boxes still left unpacked from our move a year ago I stumbled into Casca: The Mongel that somehow ended up in a box with some other odds and ends. The book, like many of the others in the series before it, was credited to Barry Sadler (yes, that Barry Sadler) but was ghost written by others. It’s a very short book and I figured it was perfect for the time I had.

While I remember the other “Casca” books as being pretty good this one was downright terrible. Perhaps they were all this bad and in my youth I just thought they were good, but for whatever reason Casca: The Mongel is one of the worst books I’ve read in a long while. I gave it two stars, mostly because I did recall liking the earlier books. It should have been one star, but I can’t see anyone purposely going out to get the book over that one extra star so I’ll just leave it as it is and move on.

To make matters even worse, when I went out a week ago last Tuesday to get King Breaker my local Barnes & Nobel didn’t have it on the shelf yet and no one there could answer to me if they even had copies in the store (more on that later). So after ordering King Breaker I again was faced with what to grab next. I had recently picked up a few remaindered “Star Trek” paperback to have in the car in case I needed an “emergency book”, so I grabbed one of those. Weight of the Worlds by Greg Cox is an incredibly average book. It’s a stereotypical Star Trek original series story that brings nothing new to the table. After finishing it I could see why it was remaindered. Unless you’re a die-hard Star Trek fan don’t bother with this one. Of course if you are you likely already have it. I just hope you didn’t pay full price.

For books I picked up last month there was the previously mentioned W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton. Because I was unable to get neither King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniels nor Swords of Exodus by Larry Correia & Mike Kupari on the day they were released I ordered both from Amazon. The real winner there is N.K. Jemisin, as for me to get to the $25 level for free shipping I went off my “get from Amazon when you need to” list and picked up A Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. As soon as I mash the “publish” button I’ll be starting King Breaker.

The list of stuff I’m looking forward to this month is pretty short, so far just being Chu’s sequel to The Lives of Tao called The Deaths of Tao. Last month Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows by Tony Venables was on my “look at” list, and as I didn’t get a chance to I’ll likely look for it on Friday.

Until next time…

Some random book thoughts for May 2013

Despite having more than a handful of half finished postings, many that will probably never see the light of day, it looks like I’ve wasted enough time once again for a new month to roll around. So as we rumble into May here’s my random book thoughts since the last time. You should grab a beverage before starting, this is a pretty long posting.

While I don’t get a ton of comments on the blog about my book posts there are quite a few made on a couple forums I visit and from my friends, and apparently I made a joke last month when I posted “I have no idea which book I’m starting next”. After mentioning I had grabbed the latest “Spenser” novel anyone that knew me knew that Lullaby was jumping right to the top of the list. I buy very few authors in hardcover, and for some reason Robert Parker never made it on to that short list. Parker probably should have been considering that every single time a new “Spenser” novel comes out in paperback it becomes the next book up to read. So while I honestly was unsure if Ace Atkins’ first “Spenser” book was going to be next it seems everyone else knew it would be. And, as you have guessed by the picture above, it was.

For the record, the official name of the book is Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby. That is the first and last time I will ever refer to the continuing “Spenser” series using Parker’s name in the title. I get that the estate wants to keep Parker’s name on the books (obviously it will sell better), but find a better way. Seriously, it’s a dumb idea to include his name in the title.

Now, allow me to state the obvious: Ace Atkins isn’t Robert Parker. I’ve never read anything by Atkins before, so I really had no idea what I was about to see. I was pretty sure it would be an attempt to emulate Parker’s style, which is really what the whole “Spenser” series is. In the first part of Lullaby Atkins writes a decent story but really misses the mark in the “flavor” of Spenser. It was almost like in the beginning Atkins tried too hard to be Parker. If I had been Atkins’ editor I would have suggested the first third or so of the book needed a complete rewrite. It was decent mystery, but poor “Spenser”.

The middle portion of the book, which Parker generally used to get into Spenser’s private life as the detective spun his wheels on the current case, was significantly more in Parker’s style than the first part. The ending was classic Parker, with everything tied up neatly–or as neatly as Parker wanted it tied up–very quickly at the end. All in all it was a decent “Spenser” novel, and I won’t hesitate to get the next one (called Wonderland).

Up next was the two books of “The Fisherman’s Children” series by Karen Miller, The Prodigal Mage and The Reluctant Mage. The series is the continuation of the “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” series, set a few years after The Awakened Mage ended. I’ve had both the “Fisherman’s Children” books on my shelf for a long while now and I have no idea why it’s taken me this long to finally read them. Miller, who also writes under the name K.E. Mills, is an outstanding writer that doesn’t get near enough credit in the fantasy genre. Born in Canada but raised in Australia, you can add Miller’s name to the ever growing number of fantasy writers from Down Under that should be your “must read” list. You won’t be disappointed.

Over this past weekend I started The Black Echo, the first of many books by Michael Connelly. More on that next month.

Before I get into what I’ve picked up since the last update I want to mention that the fourth book one of the better series currently going and one of my personal favorites, “The Psalms of Isaak” written by Ken Scholes, is being released on June 18, 2013. The book is entitled Requiem, and picks up where the series left off in Antiphon. The publisher has put the e-book for the first installment, Lamentation, on sale for $2.99 until June 18th. Details can be found right here on Tor’s blog. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

So for new stuff, my two trips to Barnes & Noble netted three books. In my first trip I grabbed The Wise Man’s Fear, the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Kingkiller Chronicle”. It’s the first $9.99 mass market paperback I’ve ever bought, but at 1100+ pages and the first book, The Name of the Wind, getting so many positive reviews from friends I unhesitatingly picked up a copy. My second trip was last Friday, and seeing Crucible of Gold was out in paperback I quickly snagged one off the shelf. It’s book seven in Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire series”, set in the Napoleonic era with each side having dragons. An odd concept, but it works. A couple years ago Peter Jackson optioned the series, but there hasn’t been any real news that I can find on that front lately.

While scanning the new releases rack for science fiction/fantasy I saw an odd looking cover (and we all know that I have bought books just because the cover intrigued me). The Lives of Tao was the name of the book, and reading the back cover it’s a goofy concept that made me chuckle. So into my stack it goes. Just now I wandered over to author Wesley Chu’s website and found his post about the book’s release. It contains a little foul language, but you can feel his excitement in in the post. After my trek to the bookstore I had to go to Target for a couple things and saw they had The Last Refuge, the third book by Ben Coes, on the shelf at 25% off so that made three new books for the day.

Late in April I was doing a Google search looking for something related to “Tatnuck”, which is the section of Worcester, MA that I grew up in and have recently moved back in to. While doing that search I ran into the website for the Tatnuck Bookseller, which when I was a kid was near my house and was the first bookstore I regularly went into alone without one of my parents being with me. It was funny that despite being just a kid the folks that ran the store treated me like any other person that read books and really gave me an appreciation for good books. Stuff they talked about back then I still reference today some 30+ years later.

When I was in my late teens the bookstore outgrew its building and moved into a refurbished factory building on the same street but much farther down the road. I didn’t get there as often, but it was still a “family” type store and many of the great relationships I had at the old location continued. After a while they opened a second location in Westborough, MA, but soon after the economy took a downturn and when faced with closing one of their stores for me the unthinkable happened–they closed the one here in Worcester. With no way to get out to Westborough they soon fell off my radar as there were still lots of options to buy books.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago and those memories were refired by my search, so my wife and I made the trek out to Westborough (not that far, actually) to take a look at the store. Still called “The Tatnuck Bookseller”, most of the store isn’t books anymore. They had lots of cool stuff, but the front two-thirds was what I would call “gift” type merchandise. I don’t mean that in a negative way because my wife and I bought some stuff from that part of the store. (Folks will not be shocked I bought a sign that reads “Life is a game, HOCKEY is serious”. I’ll take a picture once I finally hang it). The books are in the back, and the racks were a mix of hardcovers and paperbacks. I was shocked to see 13 Million Dollar Pop by David Levien on the shelf as it was a mass market paperback that came out some time ago. I read the first two of Levien’s stories featuring detective Frank Behr, so that was an easy grab. It was then that I noticed paperbacks were 10% off, so when I finally hit the science fiction/fantasy rack I grabbed The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. They were books I had passed on earlier because I’m stubborn and don’t like to spend $8.99 on a paperback. Like $8.09 is that much different…

Checking out the new releases list for May all I saw that interested me was The Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon, which is good because after adding seven books to my stack, including two tomes of greater than a thousand pages, I could use a break to catch up a little. Because someone asked a few days ago I counted my “to read” books: 201. Some people might think that’s a problem. I certainly don’t.

Until next time…