My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
Dune
Jhereg
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Review: Dreamlander

Dreamlander Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

An Average Parallel World Story

A moderately interesting premise about parallel worlds accessible through dreams; and something that many fans of the fantasy genre have either encountered, or perhaps even imagined, in our youth. In fact, I find echoes of the Thomas Covenant series … except that the protagonist here is actually a decent human being and not a miserable twit. Of course, the world building more a lot more simplified here, so I am tempted to call it even … except I hated Thomas so much that I was never able to finish that series … so the win goes to Dreamlander here.

Lael is an alternative world accessible to earth through our dreams, provided we exist in both worlds. In other words, when we sleep on earth, we are awake in Lael and vice versa … ignoring the obvious problem of time asleep vs time awake not being one for one between the two worlds. If your doppelgänger dies, the survivor stops dreaming. Leal differs from earth with its more primitive and/or limited technology that gives it a steampunk feel in a basic feudal society on a word with only two warring nations (Lael and Karod [sp?]) . There is a mysterious shape changing (or size changing) proleptic being known as The Garowai that doesn’t seem to add much outside of a typical McMuffin. Stir in a blue blooded master warrior race called the Cherazzi and their companion Riever race that contributes a few support characters to play the cat’s paw and that is pretty much the extent of the world building.

Once in each generation, there appears a prophetic human able to actually (physically) travel between the worlds using an artifact (magic rock) called the Orimere. Only in this case, Chris Redston is the Second of the generation, with the first setting the scene for the coming conflict between the only two nations known on Lael that puts both worlds “out of balance.” If Chris can’t defeat the enemy warlord, both worlds will be destroyed. Oh … and apparently Chris is also The Gifted … who is some form of messianic figure that is supposed to do something in Lael. The two other players in this drama are The Seeker, a minor love interest whose job is to find The Gifted when they appear, and the Keeper, a treasonous Cherazzi who keeps the dream rock until The Gifted comes. There is a lot of hand waving here to gloss over the things that make you go huh, but the pacing of the story is fast enough that you don’t have much time to dwell on any of it, so it mostly works … until you get to the end.

The narration was strong, but there was an aspect that didn’t feel natural to me and was an ongoing irritant throughout. The character voices were actually pretty good though. At 21 hours, there is a lot of entertainment here.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Dreamlander #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Review: Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks

Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by Walter Brueggemann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ***

A Tilt Against Exceptionalism

Using the Jewish experience of Babylonian exile and destruction of the Temple, the author examines the Hebrew Scripture to help us understood how the problems of Jewish Chosenness intersects with American Exceptionalism … where both lead to a destructive nationalism that is unable to see the reality of their vulnerability (highlighted by US response to the 911 attack on NYC). Brueggemann begins by pulling from Psalms and the Prophets examples of the Jewish world view as God’s chosen people and compares this with the modern American culture of exceptionalism that seems to be its spiritual heir where both give rise to the hubris of elites that denied their vulnerability and fostered an increasing injustice to those on the margins as those same elites began to feel safe ignoring their plight. The author generally sticks to what can be extracted from scripture without any other historical context, so there is an obvious bias that comes through in the analysis; however, you don’t have to look very hard to find this same debate in today’s world … and for some readers may hit a little too close to home for them to accept the author’s judgement here.

And then the world ends … the Temple is destroyed … the Towers fall … the unthinkable happens and each society suddenly feels vulnerable and abandoned. They each ask the same question … How could this happen if God is with us? It is a good question … and the author makes the point that what happened is that instead of us walking with God, we were walking on our own expecting God to keep up. In other words, God did not abandon us, we abandoned God. Here to Brueggemann uses scripture to capture the grief and despair evident in the lamentations of Israel and the prophetic tasks demand of us to get back on track. Here is where the author more fully develops the social justice aspect demand of us by God’s law to love … and where those who still retain some shred of pride and superiority of being God’s chosen might take offensive at the extreme nature of this call to action.

The narration was decent for that type of academic genre; however, the sound quality was not consistent and at times you could hear a phone faintly ringing in the background.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Chapter 1/0 - Forward (10m)
Chapter 2/1 - Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (4m)
Chapter 3/2 - Reality Amid Ideology (72m)
Chapter 4/3 - Grief Amid Denial (85m)
Chapter 5/4 - Hope Amid Despair (78m)
Chapter 6/5 - Living Amid Empire As Neighborhood (57m)
Chapter 7/6 - Concluding Summary (16m)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#RealityGriefHope #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Review: Denver Moon: The Saint of Mars

Denver Moon: The Saint of Mars Denver Moon: The Saint of Mars by Warren Hammond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ****

SF Noir/Mystery done right

Solid Narration by two voices that was a lot of fun. Set on Mars, the last refuge humanity and in the hands of the terraforming efforts of indifferent aliens bent on mind control. A society with an oppressed android population just waiting to rebel (an obvious riff from Blade Runner). An authoritarian church in the middle of a power drama. Denver is a PI one the outside looking in and barely making it following the tragic events detailed in the first book (recommend reading that first) when she takes a case to infiltrate the rebel cause with the head of her android friend Nigel and her AI enhanced handgun. There is plenty of action and betrayal in this classic mystery drama about the first living saint of mars.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheSaintOfMars #DenverMoon #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Review: The Bones of Prophecy

The Bones of Prophecy The Bones of Prophecy by J. Rokusson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a debut novel that is the first of the Elder Blade trilogy. The jacket blurb promised great fight scenes, world-building, magic and mystery … and it delivers on all of those. The magic system is based on inked patterns on skin that is charged with power to enhance some human aspect (strength, vigil, et al) and is used to great effect in the captivating fight scenes. Then there is the mystery behind who exactly is the MC and what divine plan is he wrapped, when early on, he is set on a path that robs him of his past and set him on a veritable scavenger hunt designed by a dead god with a gift for future prophecy. There is a certain amount of hidden depth to the world that makes it real and interesting … and fits the dark nature of the protagonist. What’s more, the author uses the MC amnesia as a way to progressively introduce the world to the reader that is woven into the story … and does this very well.

Despite this potential, the author comes up short in one area … the ending … which frankly seemed like more of a messy dream sequence than anything else … still, it kept my attention all the way to the finish … which wasn’t really much of a finish actually. None of the open plot mysteries found any resolution, giving the ending a feel like this was only a chapter break for the next book to pick up and continue … not exactly a cliffhanger (no suspense here, just continued unanswered questions). Without something here, I just can’t justify adding another star, but I did enjoy it enough to continue the series.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheBonesOfProphecy #TheElderBlade #BookSirens

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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Review: Christian Love

Christian Love Christian Love by Bernard V. Brady
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: *****
Performance: ***

The Evolution of Christian Love

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)

This is a review on how the understanding of the Command to Love as a Christian vocation has evolved since the founding of the faith centuries past. The other begins with how love is portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures (aka Old Testament), focusing on the aspects of ahab (broadly between persons) and hesed (compassion and mercy). Examples are taken from Ruth, Tobit and Song of Solomon among others. Dr Brady follows that up with another two (2) part chapter on Agape (Greek) and Caritas (Latin) in the New Testament (the latter coming from a Latin translation of the Greek). From there, we start to consider the various theologians and philosophers who were the thought leaders of their time, such as St Augustine (another two part chapter), three (3) medieval mystics (Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich and Hadewijch), Courtly Love poets such as Andreas Capellanus in response to the mystical love movement … eventually bring us to the present time after considering St Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. Our modern understanding was greatly influenced by 19th century theologians such as Søren Kierkegaard, Anders Nygren, Reinhold Niebuhr; and 20th century activists such as Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II; to finish with Jules Toner and Gene Outka.

Dr Brady skillfully weaves in all of these sources to come to three (3) general propositions about Christian Love.

1) God Is Love
2) Humans Love
3) The Full meaning of human love is found within the full participation in God’s Love.

In other words, we have the Lover, the Beloved and the Love shared between them (one of the concepts frequently used to explain the concept of the Christian Trinity).

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Preface 0.1 - I Love Therefore I Am (7m)
Chapter 1.2 - Love In the Old Testament (70m)
Chapter 1.3 - Romantic Love (72m)
Chapter 2.4 - Love in the New Testament (73m)
Chapter 3.5 - St Augustine (106m)
Chapter 3.6 - Ordered Love (94m)
Chapter 4.7 - Mystical Love (74m)
Chapter 5.8 - Troubadours and Troubled Romance (39m)
Chapter 6.9 - St Thomas Aquinas (50m)
Chapter 7.10 - Martin Luther (40m)
Chapter 8.11 - Christian Love is Sacrificial Love (43m)
Chapter 9.12 - Love Activists (84m)
Chapter 10.13 - Self Regard, Other Regard and Mutuality (70m)
Chapter 11.14 - Reflections on Christian Love (29m)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ChristianLove #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Thursday, September 14, 2023

Review: Magic Mirror

Magic Mirror Magic Mirror by Sean Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ***

A simple and boring mystery

The story centers around the mysterious disappearance of a creative genius and the subsequently finding of his car in the middle of a lake far away from his last known location. The primary characters are the diver that found the car, who for some reason becomes a key part of the reopened investigation … and an FBI agent sent in to ride herd. The diver has a dark past and the FBI agent some personal drama that provide nearly all of the conflict until the end, where the story does pick up the pace somewhat. For most of the story, the only villain in sight is a tech billionaire that provides the author with an opportunity to preach and moralize about society today and they are some issues with how some of the tech actually works that seem to defy conventional science. There are also some new agey elements that bookend the story and a few minor plot surprises, but this is unfortunately undermined by the complete lack of any reader suspense for most of the book. In fact, there is way too much of the “narrator” within the story talking (aka info dumping) that there is actual action or true dialog, making the whole about as exciting as a Great Courses lecture. The performance was solid though.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#MagicMirror #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Review: The Dragon's Thief

The Dragon's Thief The Dragon's Thief by Ava Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in a YA Shifter Fantasy that teams up a human street rat (aka thief) and a [hot] shape changing dragon with a hint of romance. The world building here is decent, with elves on top and humans on the bottom and the dragons as the conquered former lords of all the world. There is a basic mythology about how magic came into the world by way of a dead god that centers on a mountain from which the dragons get their power … so when the elves managed a sneak attack against the aggressive dragon expansion that hide the mountain from them, the dragons basically lost all magic except their ability to changed into a humanoid (a bit of a stretch, but easy to work with).

There is plenty of distain and prejudice against the short lived and fragile humans by both elves and dragons, but in an enemy of my enemy trope, we get a dream team that just might be able to upset the status quo … but that is for the series arc … here we have two parts, each and a plot conflict to resolve. The first is when the human thief’s sister is unfairly arrested and “disappeared.” Saskia needs the dragons help to rescue her and strikes a bargain that is the focus in part 2. Despite the growing, and somewhat innocent, attraction between the two conspirators, there is a good balance of tension and individuality between them that makes for an entertaining, if somewhat slow, story … picking up momentum toward the end to earn an extra star.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheDragonsThief #TheMagicofDelphire #NetGalley #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, September 10, 2023

Review: Word: An 11-Session Study of Matthew

Word: An 11-Session Study of Matthew Word: An 11-Session Study of Matthew by Sarah Howley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

through the nature of Jesus” revealed to us in the Gospel and prefigured in the “Old Testament.” It begins with some general guidelines for group and individual that make it clear that each session is designed to help you begin your study and is not scripted or overly biased to a particular conclusion. Each session starts with an Introduction that tries to weave in a contemporary context before reading the specified chapters for that session. Afterward there are a series of questions to help kick off the discussion/meditation before looking at links from the Old Testament and finishing with a quick section to encourage thinking about [discussing] how to apply the lesson in today’s world. There is very little exegesis, interpretation or exploration of original context (that is left to your discussion) which allows each session chapter to be very concise and short. Most of the discussion prompts are fairly basic and/or simple which may lead to a more shallow discussion that doesn’t reveal much that is new or interesting if you have studied the text previously; however, it remains a good place to start for many.

Welcome to this Study
Suggestions for Study
Study Introduction
Session 1: The Messiah was Born (Matt 1-2)
Session 2: Starting a Ministry (Matt 3-4)
Session 3: Come ye Weary (Matt 5)
Session 4: Relations with God (Matt 6-7)
Session 5: auth of the People (Matt 8-10)
Session 6: Kingdom Treasure (Matt 11-13)
Session 7: Abundant Provision (Matt 14-16)
Session 8: Children Enter the Kingdom (Matt 17-19)
Session 9: Kingdom Work (Matt 20-22)
Session 10: Woes and Warnings (Matt 23-25)
Session 11: Gift of Power (Matt 26-28)
Study Conclusion

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#StudyOfMatthew #TheSonRevealsTheFather #LibraryThing


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Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review: Fractal Noise

Fractal Noise Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Performance: *****
Book: ***

The second book in the FractalVerse series following “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” and is [unexpectedly] a prequel to the first; which I liked a lot.  However, the connection is not obvious, so I think you can read them in any order.

Previous Review of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

This review is for the audiobook, which had a production quality and narration as good as any that I have experienced before, short of an actual cast and/or full sound effects dramatization.  I think this is a major reason that the exceptional level of internal dialog and navel gazing introspection as a four (4) man team walked across an alien landscape to investigate a hole was actually bearable (I doubt I could have slogged through reading it on my own).  By way of comparison, you could make a case that it has about as much action as "The Martian" by Andy Weir or "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C Clarke … fortunately the storyline, as well as the quality of prose, is similar  so it all sort of works the same way.  If you didn’t like either of those books in comparison, this may not be the book for you.  The only complaint I have with the audiobook would be the uselessness of the bookmarks (I hope this is fixed before it is released).

The basic plot is a world exploration and quasi first contact story with the expected set backs and drama needed to generate the required plot conflict that makes this more a psychological character study with some interesting but limited world building and a few science details/predictions that serves as the McGuffin.  Each of the four (4) members of the exploration team have personalities that are difficult to connect with despite the heavy emphasis on back stories and motivations.  More to the point, it seems that each team member is broken in a way that fosters a bit of 'roid rage between the other team members that is sure to generate some head scratching.  How any of them got through a basic psyche eval is anybody’s guess.  

Half way through their terrestrial trek (and the book), it is pretty obvious the mission was now at risk and prudence would typically demand an abort … but where is the story in that right? They will be there tomorrow if they can just survive today. So instead we get a classic example of group think that really stretches credulity. On the plus side, the story does pick up the pace a bit. As everything starts to fall apart, the glacial pace begins to accelerate. However, if you are looking for a tradition ending, you may be disappointed. This story is primarily about self discovery aided by the surreal storytelling where the “hole” is really just a prop in that story. Although not really needed, there is a terminology glossary and over all timeline at the end.

1. Opening Credits (1m)

2. Apprehension - Chapter 1: Perspective Shift (23m)
3. Apprehension - Chapter 2: Questions (59m)
4. Apprehension - Chapter 3: Arrival (37m)

5. Confusion - Chapter 1: Alpha Zone (55m)
6. Confusion - Chapter 2: Beta Zone (53m)
7. Confusion - Chapter 3: Gamma Zone (74m)
8. Confusion - Chapter 4: Delta Zone (28m)
9. Confusion - Chapter 5: Epsilon Zone (76m)

10. Desolation - Chapter 1: Zeta Zone (52m)
11. Desolation - Chapter 2: Eta Zone (30m)

12. Consummation - Chapter 1: Breaking Point (20m)
13. Consummation - Chapter 2: Apotheosis (47m)

14. Addendum - Appendix 1: Terminology (28m)
15. Addendum - Appendix 2: Timeline (4m)

16. Afterword and Acknowledgements (9m)
17.  Closing Credits (2m)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#FractalNoise #FractalVerse #NetGalley #Audiobook

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Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: Eluthienn: A Tale Of The Fromryr

Eluthienn: A Tale Of The Fromryr Eluthienn: A Tale Of The Fromryr by Sam Middleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Vampire story with a twist.

After a slow start to introduce the two (2) PoV, the action picks up quickly and continues almost nonstop, making this hard to put down once it ramps up. First up is Lyander, a disgraced exorcist (aka demon hunter) for the universal church of the Fromryr, an alliance of peoples (humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, et al.) that control most of the ancient magic and technology of a long vanished, advanced civilization that carved out the extensive caverns and tunnels deep below the surface world. Demons and their ilk get their power from the Immuratic dimension while some other monsters, such as vampires, are from the Aeturnic dimension … so when Lyander comes across a corpse that could be a living myth, he teams up with a sarcastic witch hunter to get to the bottom of it all, despite apparent antagonism from church authority, as the whole world seems to come apart at the seams. Along the way, we see the second PoV following Brazier, and his surviving crew from an ice mining ship lost in the vast caverns of Formoria, converge to help build a rich and extremely interesting fantasy world.

Woven into this well executed plot, is some amazing world building on top of a dystopian fantasy trope. Through the entire story, it is clear that we only see the tip of the iceberg here with the potential for discovery adding the the intense action … and for me … it all made sense … from the magical force that comes from the gyre ice (ref ice mining) to the dysfunctional politics to the steampunk like tunnel ships … it was all well done and awesomely fun (can’t wait to return to this world).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Eluthienn #BookSirens #KindleUnlimited


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Sunday, September 3, 2023

Review: Consider the Ostrich: Unlocking the Book of Job and the Blessing of Suffering

Consider the Ostrich: Unlocking the Book of Job and the Blessing of Suffering Consider the Ostrich: Unlocking the Book of Job and the Blessing of Suffering by Scott Douglas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a study of the Book of Job, considered by the author and many scholars to be the oldest [intact] book of the Tanakh/OT (the debate on this doesn’t appear to be nearly as settled as stated by the author, with most scholars place it in the 7th century with the final version circa 4th century BCE). The timing really doesn’t have much impact on the author’s exegesis; however, it does provide an interesting take on the creation story that seems less formed that what we have in the final redacted version in Genesis.

The Book of Job is primarily interested in answering the question of "why God allows believers to suffer.” Before diving into the book, the author provides a brief introduction to Job and his friends who drive much of the Socratic dialog that explores this theme. Then we get to the prologue of the book that setups a celestial courtroom drama by which the story of Job’s suffering unfolds … and to be honest, I have never found Job to be an easy read with the continual repetition and verbosity making it difficult to pay attention and focus on the details. This is where the humor and organization of the author saves the day to break up what to me is a monotonous and overly formal dialog … and provides an interesting interoperation that I had not considered before (and rather like). Ultimately there is no real answer to the question of suffering, only an example of how we should respond to it … with an overlooked perspective on how the friends of Job treated him in his suffering … highlighting a way of interpreting Job as a modern critique for how we respond to the suffer of others around us (something that seems to be lacking in today’s world).

I. Introduction
Chapter 1 - Job: A Biography
Chapter 2 - Why Did God Allow for Job to be Tested
Chapter 3 - The “Friends” of Job
Chapter 4 - The Literary Structure of Job

II. Job, the Prologue
Chapter 5 - Job, the Prologue (Job 1-2)

III. The Sparing of Words Between Friends
Chapter 6 - Job Laments (Job 3)
Chapter 7 - Do We Deserve Bad Things (Job 4-5)
Chapter 8 - The Heavy Load of Job (Job 6-7)
Chapter 9 - The Reason For Pain (Job 8)
Chapter 10 - Don’t Ask Why, Ask Why (Job 9-10)
Chapter 11 - Discomfort The Broken (Job 11)
Chapter 12 - Supported By Wisdom (Job 12-14)
Chapter 13 - Does Wisdom Have to Come With Grey Hair? (Job 15)
Chapter 14 - Life, Unexpected (Job 16-17)
Chapter 15 - Accept the New Normal (Job 18)
Chapter 16 - The Dark Path of Job (Job 19)
Chapter 17 - The Gluttony of Zophar (Job 20)
Chapter 18 - Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People (Job 21)
Chapter 19 - Eliphaz 2.0 (Job 22)
Chapter 20 - Fear God (Job 23-24)
Chapter 21 - Bildad’s Last Stand (Job 25)
Chapter 22 - Misunderstood (Job 26-27)
Chapter 23 - Job Comes to Terms With Grief (Job 28)
Chapter 24 - Here is My Cross (Job 29-31)

IV. Eli-Who?
Chapter 25 - Eli-Who? (Job 32-37)

V. God Speaks
Chapter 26 - Consider the Ostrich (Job 38-41)

VI. The End?
Chapter 27 - And They All Lived Happily Ever After (Job 42)

Discussion Questions

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ConsiderTheOstrich #BookSirens

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.