Friday, November 3, 2017

Mini Reviews: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, The Alice Network, Origin, Setting Free the Kites & Red Sister

"The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" by Becky Chambers
Wayfarers #1
First published in 2014
404 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5

I fell head-over-heels for this charming sci-fi novel!

"The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" is one of those books you just want to step right into. I loved the world -- a far-off future, set after we've wrecked Earth, full of other races of sapient beings and intergalactic travel. I loved the characters -- the multi-species crew of the wormhole-drilling ship Wayfarer. And I loved the main story and subplots, all of which totally sucked me in.

I was so attached to the characters that I was slightly bummed to see book 2 in the series is a standalone, sort of a spin-off featuring one of the minor characters from "The Long Way." But I'm sure my favorite intergalactic travelers will have cameos, and I'm excited to go on some new adventures!

"The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn
First published in 2017
503 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5

"The Alice Network" is a dual narrative set in WWI and just after WWII featuring two spunky, brave, exceedingly clever women both scarred by the horrors of war.

In 1915, stuttering but smart Eve is recruited as a British spy and sent to German-occupied France. In 1947 American college student Charlie St. Clair is in disgrace as a pregnant 19-year-old; even as her mother accompanies her to Switzerland to take care of the "Little Problem," Charlie is determined to find out what happened to her beloved cousin, Rose, who vanished from France during the war. The one and only lead she has takes her to a middle-aged, drunken and haggard Eve's doorstep.

Typically with dual narratives, I find myself favoring one story over the other, and while I may enjoy both I'm always itching to get back to my favorite character. Not so here; I loved both Eve and Charlie and was captivated by each of their stories!

Quinn's novel was inspired by the real-life Alice Network, the most successful WWI spy ring, and any historical fiction fan should enjoy this book. I couldn't put it down -- I devoured it in just over two days!

"Origin" by Dan Brown
Robert Langdon #5
First published in 2017
456 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

Dan Brown has turned out another typical Robert Langdon novel: a possible religious conspiracy, a frantic day's race around Europe to stop the bad guy/evade the killers, an eidetic memory, a Mickey Mouse watch and, of course, a beautiful female sidekick.

While this wasn't my favorite Robert Langdon novel, and while it was definitely formulaic, it's apparently a formula that works because I was positively tearing through the pages. And, as usual, I learned a few things from Brown's novel -- particularly that I must go to Barcelona and see the work of famous architect Gaudi.

Bloggers are always complaining about Dan Brown's less-than-stellar writing, and I guess it's finally gotten under my skin because I almost went into this one looking to see if they were right. I suppose it's true that he's no Pulitzer Prize winner, but who the hell cares when he puts out gripping, thought-provoking thrillers that keep me up way past my bedtime?

"Setting Free the Kites" by Alex George
First published in 2017
324 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

A really good friend of mine -- who happens to have very similar reading tastes -- recommended this book, and I went in with high hopes but tempered expectations. Young adult coming-of-age novels are decidedly not my thing, and that's just what this one is.

It's about two adolescent boys beset by grief -- one with a dead father, one with a dying older brother -- who find solace in each other's friendship. One is a risk-taker and one is conservative, one is bullied and one is his defender, one has a there-but-not-really mother and one has parents who are completely wrapped up in his brother. They balance each other out and are inseparable during a handful of formative years.

I did enjoy the 1970s Maine setting -- especially the small family-run amusement park where the boys spend their summers working -- but overall I found it a little dull. (At least I didn't have to suppress the urge to shake the characters by the shoulders for their naivete in this one like I typically do with contemporary YA!)

"Red Sister" by Mark Lawrence
The Ancestor #1
First published in 2017
467 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5

The worldbuilding! The characters! The edge-of-your-seat plot! "Red Sister" had me gripped from the first sentence, and then shortly after that I fell in love with our protagonist, Nona Grey.

This fantasy novel is set in a far-off future when most of the planet is covered in ice, forcing humanity back to an almost primitive state. Young Nona is rescued from a horrific situation and schooled as a "sister" -- a very special sort of nun -- and as she navigates her lessons over the next few years she must also navigate the complicated world of female friendship, her unusual skillset, and the very powerful man who holds a vendetta against her.

The Convent of Sweet Mercy reminded me a bit of Hogwarts, and the book was like reading a mashup of some awesome stuff: "Harry Potter" + "The Queen of Blood" + assassins.

I've never read Mark Lawrence before, but I very well might pick up one or both of his previous fantasy series. And in any case, "Red Sister" is one of the best books I've read this year and I'm anxiously awaiting the release of "Grey Sister" next April!


  1. Great wrap up!! I cannot wait to get my hands on The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!

    1. It was so good! And I've heard that book 2 is even better.

  2. I'm encouraged by your review of the Alice Network--I may have to try it. I had some fears about it....


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