Posted in Books

Looking back at my history with Kindles

Last week, my parents bought me an early birthday present — a brand-new Kindle Paperwhite to replace my old one, which had gotten a hole in the screen somehow. I’ve found it a delightful gift, especially since my previous Kindle was from 2014. Yes, I run technology into the ground, especially if it’s still working. Ask me how old my iPad mini is and why my wife keeps begging me to buy me a new one for Christmas, only to hear my refusal of “Hey, it still works!”

But I don’t mind an upgrade, no sirree! There’s more screen real estate, far faster page turning time, a “warm” backlight feature for reading before bed, and I even got a cover to go with it to keep it from getting scratched.

What’s weird to consider is that this is actually only my third Kindle… ever. I’ve had more kids than Kindles at this point in my life. Thanks putting my geeky life down in this blog, I have a record of this journey. My first one was 12 years ago in June 2010, presented to me by my father-in-law. This was the second edition of Kindle, I believe, with the clicky page turning buttons and the keyboard (which kindles needed for some reason, maybe shopping). My favorite feature with that one, aside from reading eBooks, was having a free internet via cell towers that came with the device.

Then for Christmas 2013, I bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite because I had to have that backlight. This became the trusty powerhouse reader that I would tote around for almost a decade — a time span that seems absolutely wild to me now. Other than slow page turning, I had no qualms with it. It was very durable, I could read in the dark, and it was small enough to slip into my pocket.

In fact — embarrassing admission time — just two weeks ago I had my kids tearing the house apart looking for this Kindle so that I could take it with me on a trip. Only to realize after 20 minutes that, yes, it was in my back pockets. I guess this is the new “those missing glasses are on your head.”

So now I’m onto my third. This actually delights my kids, because my old tech becomes their new toys. I’m setting up my old Paperwhite to be the kids’ ebook reader, and they are jazzed about it. And it pleases me, because I don’t like to get new stuff only to toss old tech onto a pile to be forgotten.

Posted in Books

Book Report: Legends & Lattes, Mort, and more!

Another five novels in the bag for 2022, so it’s time to do a quick book report and share my thoughts on each!

Legends & Lattes

I’d heard this one described as a “cozy coffeehouse fantasy” that constituted a quick and smooth read, and it was indeed that. It’s nothing more or less than a fantasy of an Orc who hangs up her adventuring sword in favor of starting a coffee shop in a town unused to such modern establishments. It spends a whole lot of time detailing the store being built, which was fine, although I wasn’t quite buying all of the coincidences that brought every perfect person into Val’s life for this project (even with the doohickey).

Mort

My first Death novel from Pratchett. I’d heard a lot of good things about Mort but ultimately came away feeling unsatisfied with it. Mort is a gawky kid who takes up an apprenticeship with Death, who ends up checking out of the biz to try to find some fun in his life. Mort takes over, messes things up, and tries to find romance along the way. Some OK jokes but nothing like the City Watch series.

Strangeworlds Travel Agency

I’ll say straight-up that this ended up being a DNF (did not finish) for me, not necessarily because it was bad, but just a little too kiddie for my tastes. It’s about a girl who joins a society of explorers that jump through suitcases to visit other universes. And it’s fine, I guess, but it just dragged after a while and didn’t have enough hooks to keep me after about half the book.

The Mask of Mirrors

Book reputations aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. This one got such rave reviews that I snapped it up on audiobook, struggled to keep my attention after a few chapters, switched over to a printed version, and felt the same. There’s potential in a tale of a grifter who worms her way into a major merchant family, but it didn’t stay interesting enough to keep my attention. This went on the “did not finish” pile.

Agent of Change

This is my first Liaden Universe novel, a series I hadn’t even heard of before this year — and yet it’s been going on some 24 novels and countless short stories. And let me tell you, I was BOWLED OVER by how good it was. Interesting, decent action, funny bits, nice world building, and all-around good writing. I was on board with this start to finish, and by the end, I wanted to go through the other 23 books to catch up. Fun story about a space spy and a scrappy merc who become partners and make best friends with a giant turtle.

Posted in Books

Book Report: Blacktongue Thief, Battle Mage, and more!

Time for another round of five books that I’ve read recently! We’ve got at least three must-read gems in here, so read on…

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Without any preamble, let me just say that this is one of the absolute best fantasy books I’ve read in a long, long time. It hit all the spots I’m looking for: A funny and likable main character, a whole lot of interesting worldbuilding, and a good balance between grit and grins. It follows Kinch, a semi-talented thief who’s tasked with escorting a small band of travelers up into giant country to perform a vital mission. I listened to the audiobook of this (read by the author) and was blown away by the conversational language and gripping narrative. Against, you’ve got to read this if you like fantasy.

Battle Mage by Peter Flannery

I’ve never felt as conflicted as a reader than with this book. On one hand, it’s almost, almost bordering the realm of stilted and doe-eyed writing that’s the bane of many bad fantasy novels. Yet on the other hand, it has some actual depth and competence. It’s the story of a kid who makes a bad mistake that nearly gets his whole village wiped out and then has to redeem himself by becoming a super-powered battle mage who loves dragons. Parts of it are very good, very gripping, and other parts are a generic slog. I ended up with a DNF around 70% into this 824-page monstrosity, so my final verdict is quite mixed indeed.

Dead Space by Kalli Wallace

Give me a mystery set in an outer space environs, and I’ll gladly sign up for a tour. Dead Space follows a somewhat lowly security officer who wheedles her way into joining an investigation covering a murder on an asteroid. But things get complicated, and then more complicated, and then even more complicated until a whole bunch of reveals and connections are made. Top-notch stuff, other than some bizarre political posturing shoved into the midst of the text. Had me captivated start to end.

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

A man wakes up buried underground with no recollection of who he is — only that he can sense parts of his shattered obsidian heart scattered throughout the world and must re-absorb them to reclaim his memories. Thus begins a rather fascinating if grimdark adventure through a fantasy world that’s barely recovering generations after an earth-shattering war. There’s a great magic system, some terrific characters, and a few nice twists and turns. However, I wasn’t really buying the author’s attempt to have the main character torn between trying to become a better person now or slipping back into the terrible man he used to be. Scene after scene he’s like, “Oh I’m going to be really good… AFTER I mercilessly slaughter this person and steal their soul. But I want to be good!” The balance isn’t quite right there. Still, a gripping read that made me snap up the sequel right away.

The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien

What starts as an indentured servant fleeing with the child of parents who committed suicide and a wet-behind-the-ears cop who pursues her quickly becomes something far more interesting. For one, this is taking place on a giant generational world ship that’s in the middle of its 100-year journey to another planet. For another, the “world” is coming to an end because there’s this ever-expanding hole in the side of the ship that can’t be fixed. And so what we get is a sad but fascinating adventure at the very end of humanity as these people face their collective demise and try to give those last days purpose. It’s a book that got in my head, emotionally, and I had to put it down a few times because of that. But good stuff all around.

Posted in Books

What’s better for reading novels: Audio, Print, Kindle, Phone, or Computer?

While I never seem to get enough time to read these days — and perhaps part of that is not making it a priority over other forms of entertainment (games, movies), I do squeeze some reading into each and every day in a variety of ways. In fact, one thing that I’ve noticed is that in 2022, we have so many more ways of reading books than when I did as a kid or younger adult.

As someone who’s availed himself of each of the main types — audiobook, print, Kindle e-reader, phone, and computer — I started to think about which one was “best.” Or, at least, best in a certain situation. So let’s look at each of these and see if there’s a winner.

Print

With the rise of technology in the field of book reading, there’s a not-insignificant crowd out there that swears by print and print alone. And I’ll admit, there is something about the tactile feel, look, and even smell (yes, smell) of a printed book that you can’t get with any other option. They also look really nifty on a bookshelf, especially if you have a nice selection of hardbacks.

For me, however, hard copies are not my favorite. They’re bulky and not always pleasant to hold (either using two hands or one that has to do some extra muscle work to keep the pages open). They also can be easily subject to damage. I only buy physical books for church work and study, as I do enjoy going through my commentaries every week for sermon prep.

Audio

I’m a huge fan of Audible and leap on every discounted sale that they do, having racked up around 130 or so titles in my library. The marriage of a great author and a great narrator can create an amazing experience that lets me “read” a favorite book in a new way. Audio books also have the benefit of fitting into little slices of my day — meal prep, commuting, biking, walking — that let me do double duty. The downsides here are that audio books take longer to read, don’t allow you to easily see names for that ever-important recall, and are expensive if you don’t find sales.

Kindle

This right here is my preferred reading device since I got the second generation model back in the day. As a lifelong reader, I LOVE the Kindle for its ultra-portability, the adjustable font, the easy-on-the-eyes screen, the backlight, and the ability to store thousands of books on a device that’s lighter than my phone. Downside? It’s a single-purpose device that I have to make a conscious effort to bring with me where I want to read, so sometimes I’m hunting around for it or don’t have it at my beck and call when I’m somewhere else.

Phone

The Kindle app on the phone was the first way I ever interacted with this platform, and while I don’t use it that often, it’s kind of nice to have as an ever-present option. I changed the way I read books from flipping pages to scrolling, since scrolling feels natural, and I can get in a few pages here or there. People don’t really think anything of someone staring at their phone these days, so it’s not obvious I’m reading. Downside? Small screen, harder on the eyes, not usually something I think about.

Computer

OK, this is a weird one, but it comes up from time to time, so I’m including it. I have the Kindle app on my laptops and, yes, it comes in handy on occasion. Usually that occasion is “stuck in a meeting where it’s OK for me to use my laptop and I only need to half-listen anyway.” So there’s a way to read books. It’s OK. Definitely not the way I like to sit back with a novel, but the way it syncs across platforms makes it an option.

Conclusion

This is a purely subjective call, but for me it’s a mixture of Kindle and audiobook for about 90% of my weekly reading, followed by some print and light phone usage. I usually end my day in bed reading for a half-hour with my Kindle in the dark, and that really helps to calm me for sleep.

Posted in Books

Book report: Greatcoats, Admiral, and more!

I don’t have any set quota that I want to hit for reading in 2022, except for “more than the pitiful showing that was 2021.” I usually am working through two titles — one on Kindle, one on Audible — and thought I’d give a report every time I hit five of them. So here are the first five titles I read this year.

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Ostensibly a locked room mystery set on a spaceship, Far from the Light of Heaven suffers from trying to do too many things at once without doing any of them well. Thompson gives us an intriguing setup — a ship full of hibernating passengers that arrives at its destination with dozens dead and no clear suspect — but then muddies things up with too many developments, a weak central story, and a cast that’s all about an inch deep of character development. It was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end, but I knew well before the final chapter that this was a misfire.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

This is my second Kingfisher book after Minor Mage, and now I’m seeing a pattern. Both had a good core concept — here, a teenage girl who has a magical affinity for working with bread and bread alone — both try to be whimsical, and both are kind of very thin and shallow. I liked the concept of a girl learning to use her weird magical talent to save her city more than how it was actually executed, and that’s a shame.

Second-Hand Curses by Drew Hayes

Using the public domain realm of fairy tales, Hayes navigates it with a trio of mercenaries — a guy who climbed a beanstalk, an undead creation, and a werewolf — who are always out for profit. And if the profit happens to help people cursed or plagued by magical scenarios, so much the better. This book is broken up into episodes as the trio go on their journey, and while most are interesting twists on familiar tales, the descriptions sometimes get a little too stilted and awkward for my liking. Still, it was a good read.

Tales of the Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell

I was beyond delighted to return to the Greatcoats world for a fifth book, even though this is a series of short tales instead of a larger narrative. De Castell didn’t give me as many stories as I was hoping (although the “Vol. 1” part is promising), but he made up for it with some great moments, unique characters, “what happened next” answers, and some other perspectives. I really liked one that features a disgraced Greatcoat and a series of other ones that feature a new Greatcoat who’s both fat and an expert in the supernatural. This was a breezy read.

Admiral by Sean Danker

I’d been hearing about this book for a while, so I sprung for an audiobook version a month ago. It’s a scifi survival tale that at least nominally revolves around two mysteries. What’s happened to put four soldiers inside an abandoned spaceship, and who is the main character — the titular Admiral? I was looking forward to some good mystery reveals, but what I found was that the book is mostly about this foursome figuring out how to survive and keep going. It’s fine, just fine. Not quite as amazing as I’d hoped, but it was a decent listen.

Posted in Books, Gaming Goals

Looking back at Syp’s gaming journey in 2021

Hey, look at that, another year done! Today is both the last day and last Bio Break post of 2021. Figure that this calls for a little self-indulgent reminiscing before charging into 2022.

MMORPGs

Let’s take a look at MMOs first, since that’s my primary focus for video gaming. I read back through all of my gaming goal posts and whipped up a little chart to show which titles I was engaged with at any various point during the year:

At the start of 2021, I had all but completely lost interest in retail World of Warcraft and strongly shifted to WoW Classic. This held a lot of interest for me through the launch of Burning Crusade Classic and right up to the Blizzard scandal breaking. Haven’t touched either game since, although I do sorta miss Classic from time to time.

Lord of the Rings Online was a mainstay of the year aside from an early summer break. Things really took off for me in the fall when I got into the Treebeard progression server and invested a lot of time in a character there. While I haven’t played War of Three Peaks or Gundabad, I feel like I got a good year out of that title.

Elder Scrolls Online was another mainstay of the year at the start and end, although always to varying degrees. Sometimes I was really, really into it, and sometimes it was a “eh, I’ll log in once a month to dawdle around.” I also tried one last, big push to get into FFXIV, going all the way through Stormblood but arriving at the same place I always do with this game — feeling that it’s bland and not really for me.

I bounced off of New World far faster than a game I was so greatly anticipating, which is the biggest personal disappointment of the year for me. I was delighted, however, to return to the world of Fallen Earth and ended the year really pumped for SWTOR.

Some old favorites, such as DDO, GW2, RIFT, and Star Trek Online, got little to no playtime this year from me.

As usual with MMOs, it’s the memories and shared experiences that I’m going to take away as far longer lasting than any in-game accomplishments. I mean, if I could repurpose all of that WoW Classic or FFXIV time which amounted to an abandoned character, I would do it. But it’s just how it goes, and I’m glad that I at least got to meet some great folks and bang out a few blog posts about them.

Other games

It really wasn’t a big year of gaming outside of MMOs for me, although there were a few exceptions. Wildermyth turned out to be as amazing as everyone said it was, and I want to return to it soon to blog another campaign. I quite enjoyed returning to do another blog series on RimWorld. Tried out Pillars of Eternity 2 — liked it, didn’t stick with it, should come back some day. I might’ve dinked around in Cyberpunk 2077, I don’t remember.

I only did two retro game series this year — Torchlight II and Curse of Monkey Island. That’s an all-time low for me, but I kind of needed a break from doing those older games, so I took it. Not quite sure when I’ll return, but I have hopes that it’ll be something you’ll read in 2022.

Most of the mobile games I played this year were the same old ones — Bloons TD 6, Clash Royale, Battle Legion, bit of Shattered Pixel Dungeon.

Books

Really didn’t get as many books read this year as I wanted, either in print or audio. I’d really like to change that next year.

Let’s talk print, first. I loved going through the remainder of Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch series for the first time. Far From the Light of Heaven was a great scifi mystery in space, The Last Graduate was an excellent follow-up to Naomi Novak’s magic school series, Hollowpox was fine but not quite as enthralling as the first two books in that series, Velocity Weapon wasn’t quite up to everyone’s high recommendations, Spellbreaker was fine. I started a ton more books that lost my interest — I’m not going to force myself to finish something I don’t like.

For audiobooks, a lot of it was listening through old favorites, such as Harry Potter, Dark Tower, Jurassic Park. I did The Last Watch, which really let me down after reading all sorts of kudos for these books. Locked In was a decent enough scifi yarn.

Other than books I read to my kids and some for church, that’s about it. I totally slacked on reading!

See you on the flip side

That’s it for Bio Break this year. Thank you thank you thank you for reading my often silly and insignificant ramblings. I look forward to sharing a whole lot more in the months to come.

And if you haven’t, check out my cult movie review site, Mutant Reviewers, MMO music podcast (Battle Bards), and Community Rewatching 101 podcast.

Posted in Books

2020 Wrap-Up: 10 great novels I read this year

Periodically I like to share what I’ve been reading. At the start of the COVID pandemic, my wife was transitioning to a stay-at-home teacher, we had little where to go, and I fully figured I’d have loads more time to read. The truth ended up being that my reading was more or less the same as it had been previously. I slowly made my way through various books, some better than others.

One big change that I made this year was to organize all of my to-read books into a massive list separated by books that I own, books that I want (but do not own), audiobooks I have, and audiobooks I want. It’s a rather larger list than I would like to admit, and unless I retire at 50, I don’t think I’ll ever have time to get through them all.

In any case, here are the best novels I’ve read — audio and print — during the course of 2020:

  1. Hollowpox — Our family was really excited to dive into the third Morrigan Crow book and see how her adventures in the mythical city of Nevermoor continued. Seeing as the theme was a contagion, it felt weirdly relatable.
  2. Guards! Guards! — I’m only now starting to get into the Discworld books, and I found this one to be laugh-out-loud funny. And pretty clever.
  3. Magic for Liars — A really well-told mystery set in a sort of Hogwarts school. I should also mention Westside too, as a fantasy mystery. Both were great.
  4. Zero World — This one kind of blindsided me, being a scifi spy thriller on an alternate world. Really great world building with this one, and I’m up for a sequel.
  5. Emperor of Thorns — I finished up this re-read with the audio version of anti-hero Jorg and his fascinating journey through a post-apocalyptic earth. Really great narration on this one.
  6. The Merciful Crow — A solid fantasy debut about a clan of plague doctors who use their small talents to try to save a kingdom.
  7. Sabriel — I enjoyed the discovery of this older fantasy novel and its self-contained story of a girl with singular talents on a quest to rescue her father.
  8. Crowfall — Very nice to finish up this series, although it wasn’t nearly as impactful as the first two books.
  9. The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver — There’s a sub-genre of time travel tales where a person goes back into their younger self, and this book kicked off a whole series regarding that. It was okay, with the first half being far better than the second.
  10. Spellbreaker — This was an interesting one. Kind of like magic set during the Pride and Prejudice era. Lead character can undo spells but not make new ones of her own, and she falls for a mage with problems of his own.
Posted in Books

5 good books I’ve read lately

Unfortunately, my book consumption has not been anywhere near as high as I was expecting it to be this year. But I’ve made enough progress to share another bundle of books that I’ve finished in the past few months:

Sabriel

So I had a free credit on Audible that I spent on a promising-looking post-apocalyptic novel called The Last Tribe. And that turned out to be one of the most boring stinkers that I ever forced myself to sit through six hours before giving it up, returning it for credit, and buying Sabriel on a whim instead. And a good choice that was, because this is a delightful discovery of a brisk fantasy read about a necromancer who straddles a WWI-era England-like country and a fantasy nation. She goes on a quest to find her father, who’s been killed, and bumps into all sorts of interesting characters. Bonus enjoyment for the narrator, who happened to be Tim Curry!

Parenting

Biblical counselor Paul Trip wrote this acclaimed book to give struggling parents 14 principles to help them understand their role as parents. The struggles he shares from other parents are very relatable, but it’s the application of God’s grace and the gospel that truly sets this apart from a lot of parenting tomes. It’s really adjusted how I understand and execute my role as a father, and for the better.

Great quote: “You have been put into your position as parent to display before your children how beautiful, wise, patient, guiding, protective, rescuing, and forgiving God’s authority is.”

Lock In

John Scalzi has a good imagination for a scifi writer, and I do like the world he conjures up of a disease that “locks” people into their brains, giving them an outlet with robot bodies and a virtual worldscape. The mystery here is OKish and the dialogue rather silly at times, but it kept my attention.

Velocity Weapon

I’ve been slowly reading through this novel of a brother and sister in another solar system who end up separated in space and time after a great tragedy. There’s a whole lot of twists and turns, and the three perspectives lend a lot of variety. I almost gave up on this one in a few spots, but I’m glad I didn’t.

The Sword in the Stone

I always have a nighttime book that I read to my kids, and for the past month, we’ve been going through this origin story for King Arthur. I’ve never read it before myself, and while some of the language is archaic and hard for them to understand, I think we’ve all been enjoying it.

Posted in Books

5 good books Syp’s read lately

Looking for a few good book recommendations to help out with The Long Wait of ’20? Here are five I’ve really enjoyed over the past few months.

We’ll start with Band of Brothers, which I picked up on Audible as my last title before I turned off my subscription. I’ve seen the miniseries several times but never read the book, and as it turns out, audiobooks are an amazing format for historical accounts. It’s a great, fast-moving narrative with a lot of quotes from the soldiers who were there and all of the hard and bizarre things they went through as they fought across Europe in the last year of WWII.

I’ve also been making a concerted effort to chew through the list of Kindle books that I bought or got on sale but threw on a (virtual) pile and never touched. I’m doing a thing where I’m reading the first three chapters to see if it’s hooked me, and if it does, great; if it doesn’t, I’m on to the next one. A Closed and Common Orbit surprised me because I wasn’t really expecting to be that engrossed by this side-sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Instead of focusing on that crew and ship, it follows a newly born artificial intelligence and her quest to find herself as well as the backstory of her mentor/protector. Really good stuff.

Our adult Sunday School class just finished up with JI Packer’s Knowing God. It’s a weighty work, but I mean that in the best of ways. Instead of froo-froo theology, this is a deep examination into the character of God as revealed through holy scripture. My favorite chapter talked about the “good” kind of jealousy and how God is jealous for us as a husband is for his wife.

Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark trilogy is perhaps one of the more underrated grimdark weird fantasy series on the market. It’s truly excellent, with a much different kind of fantasy world and one big hulking guy who is on a long, twisty path to redemption. This final book, Crowfall, does a great job wrapping up a lot of the threads from the first two books while arriving at a rather uplifting ending.

I guess it’s the month for crow titles, because The Merciful Crow took me on a whirlwind adventure from start to finish. I love it when a book makes me want to turn the page to find out what happens next, such as in this tale of a caste-based society where the bottom rung — the Crows — are the only ones immune to a plague sweeping the land. The lead character finds herself growing into the role of a chief before her time, all while protecting a snobby prince and his bodyguard from an attempted coup.

Posted in Books

6 good books I’ve read lately

I haven’t done a post on my reading, mostly because my reading this year has taken a huge hit due to exam preparations (that I am thankfully past now). But as of late, I’ve had a big spike in actual reading, which is augmented by audiobooks that I usually devour in the car or while making dinner.

So here’s a list of some of the books that I genuinely enjoyed and would recommend:

(1) Nevermoor and Wundersmith

This is a delightful new fantasy YA series that gets compared, as all YA fantasy does these days, to Harry Potter. But it’s really its own unique beast with a lot of imagination and great world-building. It’s about a cursed girl named Morrigan Crow who lives in a fantasy world but is then transported to a different — and more secret — part of the world to be tested and trained in the Wundrous Society, a collection of specially skilled and talented people. It’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s good enough that I started reading it to my kids at night.

(2) The Hod King

The third book of Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series continued to take the tale of Thomas Senlin — once a mild-mannered school teacher, now a pirate/rebel/criminal — in new and interesting directions. This isn’t a series that stays still but rather takes the reader on a journey that can’t properly be predicted. It’s definitely one of the best fantasy series written in the last five years.

(3) Darker Shade of Magic series

I only recently got into these books after many recommendations (to which I’d pass because I didn’t like the book art). Should’ve read them sooner, because they’re a lot of fun and very imaginative. It tells a story of four worlds — four Londons — that only select few magicians can cross between. Each of the Londons has its own strengths and weaknesses, from the magic-infused Red London to the faltering White London to our magic-less Grey London to the dying Black London. The series also has the best and most cheeky pirate/thief ever, the self-promoting Delilah Bard, and I’d recommend reading it just for her.

(4) Sleep Over

This looks like an easy book to skip — it has an abysmal cover and little promotion — but it’s actually a really gripping post-apocalyptic saga that uses various perspectives and stories to tell about a world that one day woke up… and couldn’t sleep again. What would happen if no one could ever fall asleep? It’s an interesting question that’s teased from multiple angles.

(5) Pilot X

Now THIS one was odd… but kind of endearing, too. It’s a weird sci-fi tale about an alien time traveler who, over the course of his bizarre career, ends up fighting a Dimensional War between the three dominant civilizations of the universe. It doesn’t always make sense or is as fleshed out as it could be, but at no point was it dull or lost my interest.

(6) The Last Dance

I can’t remember the last time I kept toting my Kindle around with me to devour more of a book in any spare minute I had, but The Last Dance ended up gripping me in such a way. It’s a very well-written semi-hard scifi mystery told about a disgraced captain who is being investigated while en route to Mars. Through extended testimonies from the crew, the backstory of the captain and the ship are unfolded and, ultimately, connected. Really amazing work that takes a rather unlikable character and gradually helps you understand his motivations and root for him.