This is a day late since I was out for a while yesterday and never ended up on the computer for very long. Last week I received two surprise review copies.

Beneath the Skin by Adrian Phoenix

The third book in The Maker’s Song about vampire rock star Dante Baptiste came out at the end of December. Since there are two other books in the series that I don’t have, I most likely will not be reading it. I did read a review of the first two books over at The Book Smugglers recently, and these don’t really sound enough like my type of books for me to track down the previous novels.

Master of None by Sonya Bateman

This novel actually doesn’t have a cover on Amazon yet although there is one on Sonya Bateman’s website. It’s also an urban fantasy about an unlucky thief and a djinn. The release date is March 30th and it is the start of a new series. Since it doesn’t require I track down more books to read and it sounds as though it may be humorous, I might give this one a try.

Ascendant Sun
by Catherine Asaro
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.81/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.9/5

Ascendant Sun is the fifth novel published in Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire series. Currently, there are thirteen novels total in this science fiction series and chronologically Ascendant Sun comes after five other novels in the saga (it is not really sixth chronologically since there are three other novels following different characters set around the same time as this one). I would not recommend beginning with this book which is a direct sequel to The Last Hawk, the first book about the character Kelric. Although I think The Last Hawk is a decent starting point for the series, I do think it is a good idea to read Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas (in that order) before reading Ascendant Sun or you will miss a lot of what is going on due to Kelric’s rather limited perspective.

Please note that Ascendant Sun begins soon after The Last Hawk ends, which means there will be spoilers for the previous book in the plot description. If you do not want to know what happened, skip down to the horizontal line, which marks the end of the plot description.

After spending eighteen years on the planet Coba, Kelric returns to the Skolian Empire only to find it greatly changed. The Skolian web has collapsed, Aristos are openly walking around, his parents are being held in protective custody, and many of his family members are now dead including his brother Kurj and two of his Imperial heirs. Kelric realizes he is now the only surviving Imperial heir but decides it is best not to reveal he is in fact alive due to the current political situation. Yet Kelric himself is dying and needs money and better medical facilities than are available nearby in order to be healed.

After receiving some care at a clinic Kelric is at least well enough to manage for a little while, although he will still die if not treated. He finds a job to earn some money and is later approached by a man who can pay him a great deal of money. However, this high-paying job requires that he travel to a place he’d really rather avoid – Eubian space. In spite of the risk of capture, Kelric accepts since he realizes he just might have a chance to do some good for Skolia.


So far I have read four of the books in this series in addition to this one – Primary Inversion, The Radiant Seas, Skyfall and The Last Hawk. Ascendant Sun is easily my least favorite book in the Saga of the Skolian Empire so far. All the other books were absorbing and difficult to put down, but I actually found this one difficult to get into and outright boring in a lot of places. There were certainly some great parts, but a lot of times I found myself reading this one just to get to the end instead of because I was enjoying it.

One of the reasons Ascendant Sun was disappointing was the incredible amount of infodump. The first couple of chapters covered the events in The Radiant Seas and there was also a lot of explanation about the empire in general and what occurred in The Last Hawk. It was probably intended to be accessible to readers even without being familiar with the other books in the series, but personally I don’t think this book works well on its own at all anyway. The main moments I found satisfying were ones that I would not have cared about were I unfamiliar with some of the other characters and what had happened in Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. It was emotionally satisfying to read certain scenes because I had been following the plight of these characters.

All the explanations certainly slowed the book down, but that aside, it also just seemed a lot slower paced and less interesting than the other books although I’m not entirely sure what it is about it that kept me from being interested in what was happening at times. At first, I thought it was because it was mainly about Kelric and didn’t carry on the main story, but I quickly realized that couldn’t be the case. My favorite of the books, The Last Hawk, was all about Kelric and had far less to do with the other books in the series I’ve read so far on its own (although I suspect it will be important to the overall story arc just because of how it affected Kelric). Perhaps it is because for a while it seemed to be following a similar pattern as The Last Hawk but was missing the compelling setting and secondary characters (although there was one new character that I liked).

In spite of its failure to completely capture me to the same extent as the other books, it was not all bad. Kelric is still a character I enjoy reading about with his intelligence and introspective nature. There were a couple of interesting revelations from Kelric’s time spent among the Eubians, and I do enjoy how Asaro manages to make a people with the need to torture others sympathetic and human – not good by any means, but many of them don’t seem completely bad either. Two parts near the end also had me so excited I could have jumped up and down (if I had no dignity, that is) – not because they were surprising but just because it was so fulfilling to see them finally happen.

Although it is not the strongest book in the series, Ascendant Sun is not a waste of time for fans of the series who have read at least The Last Hawk, Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. There is a lot of explanation and slow parts to get through, but there are also some occurrences that are very rewarding to read about.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of related books (in chronological order):

Jan
06
2010

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while since I know everyone has a different view of what constitutes a specific number for a rating. Some people may consider a 6 good while others may consider it bad or mediocre. I did write a post like this a long time ago, but considering my husband may have very well been the only person who read this blog at the time, it’s time for a new one. Also, I think I’ve been able to figure out which one means what to me better than back then. I think I will start linking to this post in each review in case anyone is wondering the basic idea behind the number given to a book.

To Rate or Not to Rate

One of the reasons I’ve put off writing this for so long is that in spite of the fact that I do use them, I think the contents of the review itself are far more useful and important than the rating. After all, tastes differ – I’m not (too) delusional and realize I’m not the sole authority on what makes a good book. Just because I liked or disliked a book does not mean you will have the same experience with it I did. So it’s more important to read the specifics of the review and see if it sounds appealing to you or not.

There have been many posts on various blogs about why or why not to rate and a lot of people believe they are useless. Honestly, I can’t say I disagree with any of the points that are brought up against using a numeric ratings system. They do vary because sometimes I am torn between whether or not to rate based on actual writing skill or how much I personally liked the book, and sometimes after some time passes, I may decide a book should have been one point lower or higher than what I gave it depending on how much it did or did not stick with me (which is one of the reasons I do the end of the year favorites list). Sometimes I do worry that some people put more emphasis on them than the review, and then I obsess over the number too much when it’s not the most important component of the review.

In general, I now try to rate mostly based on what I thought of it just so people with similar taste can get a better overview of just how much I liked it (when this blog was in its early stages, I couldn’t make up my mind so I did not always do it that way). I know that there are some reviewers whose taste is similar enough to mine that if I see they gave a book a rating of 9 or higher, I snap that book up and don’t tend to be disappointed.

There have been a couple of times I’ve considered getting rid of ratings, but I’ve always decided to keep them for three reasons:

1) It’s fun even if I do get neurotic about what to rate a book sometimes. I like seeing a general measurement of how much someone did or did not like a book when I visit other blogs.
2) I think it is helpful in cases of extreme ratings. For instance, if a book is rated 9 or 10 I really loved it no matter what quibbles I pointed out (and I do try to point out areas that others may have issues with even if I personally was not all that annoyed by them so sometimes I’m afraid of making it sound like I enjoyed a book far less than I did). That may not be useful to some people, but to others who tend to enjoy the books I really love, seeing a very high number may be.
3) If you do happen to find them useful, ratings are there. If not, you can always ignore them.

So that is my (rather long-winded) view on ratings. Essentially, I think they are subject to slight changes over time and not nearly as important as the written part of the review, but they may be helpful to some people if they are extreme enough.

Decoding the Numeric Ratings

Here is the basic logic behind what the numbers I give a book mean.

10 – This is without a doubt one of my very favorite books I have ever read. (I believe I have only given out two 10s – one to The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine and The Virtu by Sarah Monette.)

9 – Loved it.

8 – Great.

7 – Good. I consider 7 to be the average good book. It’s one that I liked well enough to want to read more in the series/by the author but I’m not head-over-heels in love with it.

6 – Somewhat good. It had some good points but on its own it didn’t make me want to read more in the series/by the author (which doesn’t mean I won’t, particularly if it is by an author who has written other books I’ve enjoyed – just the individual book didn’t quite meet “average good” for me).

5 – It’s ok. Can’t say I liked it but can’t say I actively disliked it either. (Since I tend to be able to see the good and bad points to most things, I give this one a lot more than a rating meaning I outright didn’t like it.)

4. Slightly disliked it.

3. Didn’t like it.

2. Hated it.

1. Despised it with every fiber of my being. (This is the only rating I have never given out.)

If I’m torn between two ratings, I rate it somewhere in the middle; i.e., 7.5 means pretty good, somewhere between good and great. Basically, if it’s at least a 7, I thought it was worth spending time and money on.


So that’s my view on ratings and why I use them even though I completely understand where the people who are dead set against using them are coming from. Hope that is helpful to at least some people!

And, no, it doesn’t have to be this one. ;) Once again, the Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll for best review site is open. It will be until January 14.

I was really surprised to see several of my favorites missing from the list and I wish I could add them all. It seems like a lot of the ones that were on there last year are missing, at least so far. Maybe I just caught it late last year after just about everyone had already voted.

I hope everyone is having a happy 2010 so far! Now that the holidays are over, I’m starting to get back into writing reviews (four left at the moment). Of course, as of tomorrow, my vacation is also over, but I suppose that means I’ll be going through fewer books than I have been over the last week.

This week I’ll be going back to the old format since I have a much more manageable number of books for the week – one.

Of Darkness, Light, and Fire by Tanya Huff

This is an omnibus containing two unrelated books, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light and The Fire’s Stone. The first one is urban fantasy and the second is traditional fantasy. I received this as a gift from a friend. We made a deal this year in which we each picked three of our favorite books from 2009 and the other person has to read those three books in 2010 (the first favorite one has to be read by the end of February). One of her three picks for me was The Fire’s Stone so I’ll be reading that one sometime in 2010 (along with Duma Key, which will be my first Stephen King book, and one other book that I’ll talk about when I get it – that’s the one I need to read by the end of next month). I’m looking forward to reading both of these books since I’ve been wanting to read something by Tanya Huff (shame on me, I have another omnibus containing two science fiction books by her I haven’t read yet).

Graceling
by Kristin Cashore
480pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.29/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.17/5

The YA fantasy Graceling is Kristin Cashore’s debut novel. Her second novel Fire, a loosely connected prequel set 35 years prior to Graceling, came out last year. Cashore does recommend reading Graceling first to avoid spoiling part of it, and even though I read these two books in reverse order, I can understand why since it would have taken me a lot longer to guess what was coming if I had not read Fire first. Currently, Cashore is working on a sequel to Graceling called Bitterblue, which takes place about six years after the end of it.

Sixteen-year-old Katsa’s two different colored eyes mark her as one of the Graced, people with a specific super-human ability. Some people may be Graced with storytelling, mind reading, or dancing, but each person’s ability is at least somewhat unique. When Katsa was eight years old, she hit a man who seemed a little too interested in her – with enough strength to kill him. Ever since then, her uncle the king has found his Graced killer useful for keeping his subjects in line and calls on her to threaten those who aren’t behaving as he’d like.

Katsa hates her uncle and the jobs he makes her do, and she formed the Council in order to do some good. Together she and her friends in the Council set out to rescue an old man, the father of the Lienid king, who has been kidnapped by one of the other kings for an unknown reason. While there, she meets a Graced fighter but lets him live in spite of her better judgment. Soon the two become friends and work on discovering the motives behind the disappearance of the old Lienid.


After reading Fire and loving it enough to include it in my favorite books read in 2009, I of course had to read Graceling. I was a little worried I’d end up disappointed with it, mainly because I had heard Fire was an improvement over the first book. Fire is in my opinion the stronger of the two books – it’s more polished and better paced, plus I loved Fire more than Katsa as a protagonist. Yet Graceling was still very good with several of the elements that made me enjoy Fire so much – it was very readable and hard to put down once it got going, it had a great female lead with some complex problems, it contained some other wonderful characters, and it was not a perfectly happy story where everything works out 100% perfectly for everyone.

It’s probably no surprise that the highlight of this book for me was the characters. Katsa is very hot-tempered and often angry, particularly since she despises her role as her uncle’s torturer but feels like she has no choice but to obey the king. It is fun to see her grow throughout this novel, and the people in her life who help her along the way are such endearing characters – her cousin Raffin and Po. There is a bit of a love story and I think Cashore writes romances very well. Katsa is not a brooding, angsty woman who thinks of nothing but getting married and having children (quite the opposite since she is quite vocal about her desire to do neither). Falling in love is not in her plans, but it happens in spite of herself and even when it does it never makes her lose sight of her goals.

The way the story unfolded was also very well done. Part of it I knew about due to reading Fire first, but I really enjoyed the extra complexity that was revealed about the Graces. Katsa and Po’s Graces were not as straightforward or simple as initially portrayed and learning more about them and what it meant for both characters was enjoyable, if somewhat too convenient at times.

Graceling is another lovely book by Kristin Cashore with a strong, complex female lead. Between this novel and Fire, it’s guaranteed I will pick up anything written by this talented new author.

8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Other Reviews:

Review(s) of related books: