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Years ago while I wandered around the library as a teenager I stumbled upon a little book called Little Fuzzy. It was probably one of the books that made me love reading and still holds a place of endearment along side books such as Dune and Magician. Having never read any of Mr Scalzi’s work I was extremely nervous heading into this one. The original is quite a book and manages to be many things all at once: a science fiction story, a story of a man finding himself and a purpose, and a piece on the importance of protecting the environment. Could this one live up to the original?

Yes in some ways, no in others. The author did a great job putting his own mark on another author’s IP, but this one did not venture into the deep mental processes of what was happening on the planet nor what could happen to the fuzzies. Sort of glosses over the issue of environment devastation in just a few short passages. The original, least to me the young reader, seem to have more weight and depth.

The blurb:

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

This retelling of the tale takes some departures from the original. Having not read the original in about twenty years my memory of that story is a little blurry but most notably thinking that Holloway was a bit of a turd. When I think about him these days, I am reminded of the character Bruce Willis played in the film The Last Boy Scout, a total burnt out and washed up waste of a man. Someone you did not know and did want to waste your time getting to know him. I remember that tale being one of redemption as Holloway does battle with the giant and powerful ZaraCorp to save his new friends. In the end he moves from the dark side to become their champion.

This books does the same thing but Holloway I thought was a bit softened. Scalzi’s writing is excellent and any thought I had of putting this book down was impossible. The interaction between Holloway and his dog Carl is a sheer joy to read and reminds me of my own dog. The life he breaths into these ‘voiceless’ characters, the dog and later the fuzzies themselves, is simply put, damn good writing. I am sure my neighbor heard me laugh out loud more than a few times at the hilarious interactions between Holloway, the dog, and the fuzzies.

As the story unfolds and pressures mount, Holloway turns into a bit of a master planer and organizer and outwit and out maneuvers the giant corporation almost to the point of unbelievably. This is only saved by Scalzi’s masterful writing ability. As the novel progresses it turns surprisingly into a very good page turning court room lawyering book. I tend to not like books that cover court room drama, but this one is just done so well that I hardly noticed I was reading about court room actions. Though the book is a familiar one, Scalzi still manages to put his own twists on situations and still have guessing what will happen next.

I did feel the book was a little short. The ending seemed a little rushed, but that could have just been my hands frantically trying to keep up flipping the pages as I tore through the book over two sittings. The very ending was a bit of a shock for me (and I would probably have left it out of the novel) and seemed a tad bit too much Walt Disney for me, but given the rest of the book was top notch, I will give it a pass.

For those looking for serious science fiction, this one is not that. It does have some elements of science fiction but Scaliz, wisely in my opinion, steers clear of the mumbo-jumbo of hard sci-fi and rather focuses on telling a compelling story. This book would be suitable for young readers, though a young teenager could probably better understand the morals of the story and protecting the fuzzies from those trying to rape their planet.

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[eBooks] A note to eBook publishers

I got it, you are proud of your books. You have every right to be so. For God’s sake do not clutter up your sample book with the comments of reviewers about your previous books.

Listen.

I downloaded your sample book. I took the first step. Then I flip through ONE HALF of the sample…YOUR chance to impress me, YOUR chance to get me to drop my hard earned dough, on people talking about your other books. I can, and more likely WILL, get those reviews off the internet or from the reviews other place: on blogs, Amazon.com, and on GoodReads. I do not need people wasting one half of your chance to snag my attention. When the sample is roughly 20 to 30 pages, two to five (!) are taken up by copyright, ISBN and “book designed by” (what does that mean anyway?) jargon and then you go and waste another three to seven pages of review snippets.

Well, you see where I am going. Some samples I get one chapter after all the mess to snag my attention. Sometimes I get five chapters. You do the math and figure out which book I will probably buy. This last one I just downloaded (I will not mention the book or author) I literally had one chapter amounting to a whole six pages after all the nonsense the silly publisher put in the front of the eBook. Buying this book? Doubtful.

Anyway, just my thoughts.

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I picked this book up because of two things, neither really a good reason to pick up a book, but both seem to work for me. First, the cover. Evocative and very cool looking, almost spooky in a Louisiana scares me sort of way. Second, the era of the book was the Revolutionary War, a time period I feel that is just lacking any exploration in any media…just seems like we have forgotten this period and all the coolness that happened then.

The book is the extraordinary tale of one girl’s journey from a no-name orphan into a world of adventure. The author’s writing is easy to read and not a challenge to understand the action going on in many of the scenes. He has an good style that lends itself to the subject matter and simply make you forget about the historical inaccuracies and even some of the implausible situations the heroine finds herself in.

The books’s blurb:

America is on the brink of war with England, and Fin Button is about to come undone. She’s had it with the dull life of the orphanage, and she’s ready to marry Peter and get away from rules, chores, and a life looked after by the ever-watchful Sister Hilde. But an unexpected friendship forms between Fin and the fiddle-playing cook, Bartimaeus, which sets her on a course for revolution.

With Bart’s beloved fiddle and haunting blunderbuss as her only possessions, Fin discovers her first taste of freedom as a sailor aboard the Rattlesnake. She’s hiding some dark secrets, but there are bigger problems for the crew—they are on the run from the Royal Navy, and whispers of mutiny are turning the captain into a tyrant.

When Fin finally returns home, will she find Peter still waiting, or will she find that she’s lost everything she once held dear?

The book is roughly 300 pages and opens with the young girl and her daily routine in the orphanage.  It gets into a bit of coming of age as she realizes love, wanting more from her life, and rebelling against the nuns that try to force her to be an upstanding woman who will someday run a house and bear children. At first, this is appalling to her, much preferring to wrestle and punch with the boys. After a series of mistakes she ends up working in the kitchen with the interesting cook who has a mysterious past, and the titular fiddle. And thus begins the adventure.

I will say the first one hundred odd pages are a battle to get through, at least for me. They really delve into the girl, Fin, growing up, realizing she is falling in love, and yearning to spend her life with one of the other orphans that has made a name for himself in the town. This part I honestly had to battle through. It was slow and tough going.

Once that part is through, the book literally takes off and becomes a huge page turner. I took extra long lunches to get through them and not wanting the book to end.  The wandering tale and the extraordinary situations and people she meets is excellent. I do not want to give away too much of the story, but as can be surmised from the cover and the blurb, there be pirates here! And if you like pirates, you will love the last 2/3rds of this book. It is full of swashbuckling action that leaves you wanting to watch another pirate movie.

I would give this book four stars. Yes the first third is a challenge to struggle through (especially if you are a grown male) but once you get through this, the book is well worth it. I will certainly be picking up the second book in the series and reading it as well.

The author maintains a website with more information on the books: http://www.thefiddlersgun.com/

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I have long held a desire to read the Johannes Cabal series of books after the cover of the second one caught my eye in a Barnes and Noble a few years ago (yes, I am a cover-whore). I remember picking up the first book and stumbling through the text and thinking “Ouch! Who would read this?!” due to its unique grammar structure and use of old and rarely used words. Needless to say I put the book down and never looked back.

That was until about seven months ago when I discovered Kindle samples and downloaded the first book’s sample. I valiantly attempted a second climb through the digital pages…and subsequently failed. I think anyone would agree I made a brave attempt by passing the 100 page mark but I ultimately gave up. The book was just difficult to read and I could not wrap my head around this Cabal character.

A few weeks ago the second book’s cover caught my eye. My penchant love for anything steampunk proved the better of me and I downloaded the sample. The stars aligned. Pigs sprouted wings and took to air. Somewhere, an angel got their wings. I made it through the sample and actually enjoyed myself while reading the opening of the book. I risked everything and purchased the book.

The blurb:

In this genre-twisting novel, infamous necromancer Johannes Cabal, after beating the Devil and being reunited with his soul, leads us on another raucous journey in a little-known corner of the world. This time he’s on the run from the local government. 

Stealing the identity of a minor bureaucrat, Cabal takes passage on the Princess Hortense, a passenger aeroship that is leaving the country. The deception seems perfect, and Cabal looks forward to a quiet trip and a clean escape, until he comes face-to-face with Leonie Barrow, an enemy from the old days who could blow his cover. But when a fellow passenger throws himself to his death, or at least that is how it appears, Cabal begins to investigate out of curiosity. His minor efforts result in a vicious attempt on his own  life—and then the gloves come off. 

Cabal and Leonie—the only woman to ever match wits with him—reluctantly team up to discover the murderer. Before they are done, there will be more narrow escapes, involving sword fighting and newfangled flying machines. There will be massive destruction, not to mention resurrected dead . . . 

This structure of this book is a little odd, perhaps that is part of its charm. In my eyes the book is really three short stories. The first sets up how Cabal escapes a madman as he helps start a civil war. The second is a trip aboard a flying ship (I must note that the one in the book is most notably nothing like the one on the cover). The last 40ish pages are written in an entirely different vein and cover the occurrences immediately following the results of the second story.

All three tales are decently told, hold your attention, and play an interesting insight into what makes Cabal tick. Some of this information you will not want to know. Cabal is the best of the worst of anti-heroes ever put to page. He is cruel, evil, plotting, conniving, mean, but also intelligent, resourceful and to top it off, a necromancer. While it is mentioned far too many times to count, his skill is brought to bear but twice. More often than not his strongest power is simply his wit and intelligence.

My one main complaint with the book is that it appears to be striving to be a Sherlockian adventure complete with strange speaking sentence structure and the almost extreme overuse of archaic words that few alive will know the meaning of. Thank the Lord I use my Kindle App and can find definitions of words with a single tap, otherwise I would have been left wondering what a word meant probably about once ever three or four pages. I found this tedious and annoying at times. Frequently I felt like that little kid talking to their older brother who purposefully uses big scientific words simply to make me feel inferior to him.

I understand the female protagonist, Leonie, was present in the first book and she was a welcome addition to this tale. The perfect foil for Cabal, their dialogue was probably the one thing I enjoyed the most about the book. She loves him it is clear, but she hates what he is at the same time. The built up, and often hinted at, love story never fully develops. I think this was a wise choice for the author. If Leonie fell for Cabal I think it would jump the shark and make this just not as good a book. As is, this is a perfect sub-plot roller coaster to add just the right amount of flair to the tale.

This tale is truly an internal struggle for the reader as Cabal is the guy you love to hate, the one you shouldn’t but do find yourself rooting for. He really is a terrible person, more often doing the right thing, the nice thing, only because it affords him a better position later. When the sh|t hits the fan, this would be the guy throwing the poo directly at you. Cabal, love him or hate him, he is an entertaining fellow.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a good read, just one that took a bit longer and felt a bit more like a struggle to get through than others I have read. I would recommend it for those that like a little challenge and enjoy something a little different. I would add that reading the first does not seem to be a requirement to enjoy this book. There seemed to be some back story I missed from the first book about the relationship between Leonie (and her father) and Cabal, but this was nothing that seemed so important that it was necessary to have read before this book.


Next book up for review is The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson. This is the story of a young girl thrust into a wild tale involving the American Revolutionary War, pirates, nuns and secrets. The blurb:

America is on the brink of war with England, and Fin Button is about to come undone. She’s had it with the dull life of the orphanage, and she’s ready to marry Peter and get away from rules, chores, and a life looked after by the ever-watchful Sister Hilde. But an unexpected friendship forms between Fin and the fiddle-playing cook, Bartimaeus, which sets her on a course for revolution.

With Bart’s beloved fiddle and haunting blunderbuss as her only possessions, Fin discovers her first taste of freedom as a sailor aboard the Rattlesnake. She’s hiding some dark secrets, but there are bigger problems for the crew—they are on the run from the Royal Navy, and whispers of mutiny are turning the captain into a tyrant.

When Fin finally returns home, will she find Peter still waiting, or will she find that she’s lost everything she once held dear?

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Book Reviews

Here lately it seems that book reviews have become a major focus on my blog, a welcome addition imho. As such, I began thinking more about how I rate books I started thinking about my rating scheme and that I have been somewhat unorganized and inconsistent. Therefore, from this time onward, I will be using the SF Reviews rating system. Viewable here, this seems to have become somewhat of a standard on the web. I have gone back and changed the star rating of my reviews to reflect this system’s application.

Here are my thoughts on how I will rate all books in the future:

5 stars: A masterpiece.
Some of my favorite books of all time. An absolute must read. If you have not read this one, you are missing out.

4 stars: I very much enjoyed it.
I would highly recommend this book. I highly enjoyed the book and would certainly recommend it to another.

3 stars: I enjoyed it.
This is a good book, there were either issues with it or it proved to be slow read. Not necessarily a bad book but there are better choices out there.

2 stars: I didn’t enjoy it.
If you have previously read this author and enjoyed the experience or if this is the next step in a series, consider it readable. Unless you get it for a bargain, odds are you should skip it. There are better books to read.

1 star: Only a fool would enjoy it.
This book is a complete waste of time. Save your dough. Spend it on something else, anything else.

Any book in the four and five stars range I would consider a book worthy of being read. A three star is good if you love the author or genre. This doesn’t mean I did not like the book, just there are minor quibbles I have with the book and would have rather read something else. Two stars, I did not care for it, but you might. To each his own as it were. This usually translates to me having an issue with the book: the author’s voice, his/her style of writing, plot or story holes, or in general was just not enjoyable read.  One star books will probably be rare because I would prefer reading something enjoyable than continue to fight to finish a book that is a mess.

For those interested, my GoodReads reviews will match those posted here, so there is no need to duplicate your reading efforts.

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