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Although my taste generally runs more towards epic fantasy door-stoppers, with massive world-building and bloated casts of characters, Moth and Spark was an enjoyable diversion. I could have done with less romance and more dragons, and would have preferred to see the middle act shortened in favor of expanding the final act, but that's simply a matter of personal preference, and not a criticism of the book - which delivers on exactly what it promises. Anne Leonard's writing style fluctuates a bit here, with the opening chapters actually coming across as stronger and more polished than the heart of the novel, but overall the entire book is solid. Corin is nicely established in the opening chapters as a capable leader, a young man with a good heart, who happens to be laboring under a compulsion. Tam is similarly established as a strong young woman, not just smart but clever, who aspires to rise above her caste. Both characters are a bit too perfect, a bit too pure, but while that might otherwise be a flaw, their romance works precisely because of it. As for that romance, I thought it was very well played out, even if it was rushed. Their dialogue was natural - amusing at times, tender at others - and their relationship progressed very well. The fact that they complement each other so well, with Tam's newly revealed visions conveniently serving Corin's role in fulfilling the prophecy, was not surprising. What was surprising was the fact that, while the connection provided them with purpose, it was not relied on as the primary connection between them. I've seen that done before (I'm looking at you, Terry Goodkind), especially in stories where insta-love is necessary to the plot, and it always feels artificial. The court intrigue and military drama surrounding them, however, wasn't nearly as strong or as detailed. There were glimpses here and there of a solid high-fantasy core, but Leonard always seemed to pull back just as I was getting into things. To be fair, that element clearly is not the focus here, but it did have an impact on how I read the story. As for the final act, make no mistake, there is some fantastic action and adventure in the closing pages. It approaches silliness at times, and there were a few plot/tactical holes that made me groan, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. The final chapters move along at a great pace, with some genuine moments of dramatic tension, and the ultimate climax more than pays off on the promise of the opening prophecy. For those readers in the mood for a light, romantic fantasy, then Moth and Spark is a great pick. For those readers who come for the romance, but who walk away wanting more of the epic fantasy elements then it may just be the perfect gateway novel as well.
There's at least one book each year that strives to be the next big mainstream/genre crossover . . . one book that tries to achieve a sort of mainstream literary respectability, while still managing to resonate with genre fans. More often than not, those crossovers don't work, and just end up disappointing one group, while alienating the other. As such, I'm always a bit reluctant to give those books a read, but read them I do, hoping that, this time, there really is a crossover success in the making. With that said, I am pleased to declare that The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is indeed the first crossover success of the year. Whoever Claire North really is, she (or he) demonstrates a flair for literary magic here, coupled with an honest love for the genre. At its roots, this is a hard science fiction novel, one that deals with the complexities and paradoxes of time travel, as well as the intellectual and political drivers of scientific progress. In different hands it could have been dense and dry, boring to some, and bewildering to others. Fortunately, Claire North is able to easily convey such lofty concepts and explore them in a conversational manner. There is a definite 'geek' factor to the conversations between Harry and Victor, which are often as amusing as they are fascinating, but the discussion never goes over the head of mainstream readers. It's a smart book, but one that tries very hard not to boast about its own intelligence. On the surface, this is a mainstream novel about one man's journey (okay, journeys) through life. It's a story of love, loss, triumph, sorrow. In fact, there's an almost Dickensian feel to the story of Harry's birth, his complicated parentage, and his ever-changing idea of family. For, you see, no matter how long or short his life, Harry is reborn to the same parents, in the exact same situation, every time . . . but with the memories of all his past lives. Everything else about him changes - who he loves, what he does, how he dies - but he always begins the same way. There's a sad inevitability to his life, in that no matter what he does he will always die to begin again, but there's also a wondrous sort of potential in how he chooses to live each new life. Just beneath that literary surface, nurtured by those genre roots, is the heart of the story. As we quickly learn, Harry is not alone in his cycle of rebirth and remembrance. In fact, there's a legendary/mythical Chronus Club that has arisen over the centuries to bring them all together, an informal group that's as much about playing elaborate games as it is about maintaining the temporal status quo. While members are free to dabble with possibilities and experiment with new experiences, there are key events that must be allowed to proceed as they always have before. That means no assassinating Hitler before he comes to power, no preventing JFK's assassination, and no interference in the fate of the Twin Towers. Of course, when you're talking about immortals, reborn with lifetimes of memories, it's no surprise that one or two should be tempted to break the rules . . . which brings us to Victor. Without spoiling too much, Victor is a man much like Harry, except he's not content with merely living one life after another. He's begun advancing technological progress across the globe, picking up where he left off with each new life, bringing progress to mankind faster and faster, with an eye towards becoming something more than just physically immortal. Burdened with the knowledge that Victor's efforts are hastening the end of the world, bringing it closer each and every time, Harry takes it upon himself to interfere. It is their complex relationship that ultimately drives the narrative, keeping the reader engaged, and providing the true emotional and intellectual heart of the story. Here are two men who understand each other better than anybody alive, who share so many of the same hopes and dreams, and who have been friends, allies, adversaries, and mortal enemies, depending upon the life lived. It's the strength of Harry as character that keeps us engaged, and his strength as a narrator that keeps us from getting lost in the sometimes scattered recollections of his lives. Just as importantly for a book involving time travel and resurrection, there's genuine tension to the story, and honest surprises along the way. Even the final confrontation is perfect, tying up all fifteen lives in a manner that not only makes sense, but which is as ingenious as the story demands. All said, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an exceptionally well-written novel, one that flows quickly and easily in spite of the lofty ideals sometimes being explored, and which offers something of substance for all readers, no matter how their shelves may lean.
With Morningside Fall, Jay Posey's Legends of the Dustwalker saga is beginning to remind me of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Saga. Both series started off strong, with first novels that really impressed me with their imagination and their storytelling, and which guaranteed I would keep on reading. Unfortunately [minor spolier here], the second volume in both series suffers from the absence of the protagonist who made the first book so compelling. That absence made this a frustrating reading experience for me. The world building was taken to the next level, the threat of the Weir was far better explored, and we finally get something of a primary antagonist in the final portions of the book. In addition, the writing was just as solid as it was in the first book, contributing to an enhancement of the overall atmosphere. There really was a lot to enjoy and appreciate here, but Wren is no Three, and that's a very big 'but' indeed. I didn't like Wren much in the first book, and I didn't come to like him any better here. He's too innocent, too precocious, and too vulnerable. I wasn't necessarily looking for him to stand up and become a hero, but I was hoping he would serve some purpose other than to be the typical kid who needs to be rescued. He just rubs me the wrong way, leaving me exasperated and anxious to move on to the next scene that doesn't center on him. As for his mother, I really liked the darkness and the edge of Cass in the first book, but at lot of that seems blunted here. Sadly, it seems as if she's just not as interesting without Three there to challenge her on a personal and intellectual level. It's not a bad read, and the last 100 or so pages are worth sticking it out for, but it was a long, slow, difficult read getting to that point. I found myself skimming in places, and getting tired of all the walk-on auditions to replace Three as Wren's guardian. Morningside Fall definitely suffers from middle-book syndrome, adding to the issue of trying to replace a protagonist, but it ends with enough promise to make a third book a likely-to-read, if not quite a must-read.
As Richard Laymon novels go, Island is definitely one of his lesser works. It's a shame, because it seemed to have so much potential for the patented Laymon brand of bloody carnage and lustful insanity. I mean, here we have one sexually frustrated young man and four scantily-clad women, all of whom are stranded together on a tropical island, with a sadistic murderer on the loose, and a possible traitor within their ranks. While we do finally get a glimpse of the twisted potential in the last 160 pages, it's largely fleeting (just a couple of chapters of true depravity), and the final twist seems like something Laymon only dropped it in there because he knew the reader would expect it. If only somebody - particularly Rupert or Kimberly - had decided to take a walk along the beach, we could have skipped a lot of filler and gotten right to the good stuff. The whole journal approach was entirely wrong for the story, and Rupert was a weak choice for a narrator. We get page after page after page of Rupert writing in his journal and obsessing over which of the women he'd like to fantasize about most, what little they're wearing, and just how many different ways he can try to sneak a peek of just a little bit more flesh. Okay, so that's not entirely fair, since he does tell us about the killings, but his habit of blurting out the fact that something horrible happened or somebody else has died, then backtracking to tell the story, quickly grows tiresome and robs the book of any real suspense. There were several points where the book had the chance to go sideways, to take one of those patented WTF turns that Laymon does so well, but he never takes the bait. There is a very nice bit of play with one of the sisters, leaving us to keep changing our mind as to whether she really is on the killer's side, and some dark suspicions laid out regarding the dead father, but that's really it until we get to those final pages. By then, the whole story has become so drawn out that what should come as a brilliant shock instead falls flat. It almost feels as if Laymon wrote himself into a corner, needed to find a clever way out of it, and ultimately settled for something less. I really wanted to like Island, and I think the core of a classic Laymon story is hidden in there, but it's far too long and very poorly executed. At his best, Laymon can get your pulse racing and your imagination running wild, leaving you feeling giddy (and guilty) with the need to reread that last crazy scene. Here, though, he just leaves you looking at the clock and counting the pages left, futilely hoping that all will be redeemed.
Okay, so let me put this one into context for you. I don't read nearly as much science fiction as I used to, and military science fiction is a sub genre I've really only dabbled in. However, I do appreciate a good alien invasion story, and I was already curious about Weston Ochse's Seal Team 666 series, so I decided to give Grunt Life: Task Force Ombra a read. While I likely didn't enjoy it as much as a fan of the genre might, it was still a good, solid read with some elements that surprised me. The story has an interesting start, with a well-foiled suicide attempt atop a bridge that includes a pop-culture Lethal Weapon reference. It's an important connection, in that both are action-packed stories, with moments of sorrow and darkness, and elements of dark humor to alleviate that darkness. In fact, the idea of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not just elements of the story, but the driving force behind Task Force Ombra. By taking a hard look at where such dark thoughts come from and what they can do to a human being, Ochse sets up an interesting sort of evolutionary defense against the overwhelming psychic influence of the alien invaders. As for those invaders, I like the fact that Ochse allowed to be so . . . well, alien. Although insect-like in their appearance and behavior, there's more to his aliens that just that easy sort of comparison. Their mental/emotional abilities dwarf anything humanity can imagine, and their motives are incomprehensible. In fact, while there is some debate about who they are and what drives the alien Cray, understanding that motivation simply isn't important to a grunt - understanding how to stop them, hurt them, and kill them is. The opening arc of the story was, by far, the most interesting to me. Getting to meet the suicidal men and women recruited for Task Force Ombra, seeing how they're trained/conditioned in prison-like conditions, and watching as they engage one another in a confessional sort of catharsis is fascinating. Ochse devotes a considerable amount of time to setting the stage for his grunts, and I liked that. The explosion of all-out hostilities and actual war against the Cray, lacks quite the same depth, although it never forgets where it (or its grunts) came from. Having said that, there are still some interesting elements to the war, with experimental guns, swords, and well-armored mecha providing a very sci-fi contrast to the very human (and haunting) idea of massive airliners being used in suicidal attacks. A fast-paced story with some daring ideas, Grunt Life: Task Force Ombra is a must-read for fans of the military science fiction genre, and definitely worth a read for sci-fi fans in general.
While I picked up the ARC of this several months ago, I almost didn't bother to give it a read. The "Apollo 13 meets Cast Away" tagline sounded interesting, but it also left me wondering just how Andy Weir was going to pull it off. After all, both of those movies succeeded largely based on the charisma of Tom Hanks (which can't exactly be captured on the page), and the true story element of Apollo 13 was responsible for much of that story's dramatic tension. A fellow reviewer tossed MacGyver into the tagline mix, however, and suddenly I was curious enough to give The Martian: A Novel a chance, Hey, what can I say . . . but I'm glad I did! This was an absolutely stellar read, one that is full of action, drama, humor, and real emotional engagement. It's a testament to Weir's storytelling that, going into the last ten pages, I honestly wasn't sure whether Mark Watney was really going to survive. The story wastes no time getting started, and the situation is almost as exceedingly dire as it is tragic. It's also a very lonely, claustrophobic start to the tale, with Mark the only character in a very small-scale drama. He's got a habitat, a rover, and a spacesuit. That's it. That's all. He can't even communicate with his ex-crewmates, much less anyone back home. He has a plan for sustaining himself by cultivating the potatoes NASA sent for Thanksgiving dinner, but it involves a lot of dirt, a lot of feces, a lot of urine, and some dangerous tampering with his life support systems. In the meantime, he has a USB stick full of disco tunes, a second full of 70s TV episodes, and a third full of murder mysteries. Just when you start to wonder how long Weir can maintain that kind of tension, we're finally transported back to Earth for the other half of the narrative. The world is in mourning for the lost astronaut, with Mark a fixture on just about every news program and talk show. When a SatCon search for his body instead turns up evidence of his survival, politics and emotion begin a battle that carries through right to the end. With all due respect to Mark's struggle - and this is one of the most fascinating survival stories you're likely to encounter - it's the Earthly drama that really sells the story, especially once it takes on a multinational dimension. • How much do you tell the public, and how much can you really hide from them? • Is it better to let his team think the've lost a crewmate, or to tell them they abandoned a man to his death? • Do you plan for a sustenance mission, rescue mission, or retrieval? • Most importantly, what is the life of one man worth, especially when the odds of survival are so astronomically stacked against him? There are some startling twists and setbacks to the story throughout, both on Mars and Earth, which keep the tension high and the reader guessing. There's also a lot of science and technical detail that I'm sure may try the patience of some readers, but which I found fascinating - even if I didn't always understand it. The journal style narration of Mark's story is important, in that it's his only form of communication for a very long time, and it's more realistic than if he were to set out to write his own story. Plus, that off-the-cuff, automatic permanent recording of his spoken thoughts allows for some moments of gallows humor that really help to humanize the astronaut and the scientist. If you are at all curious, then make the time for The Martian: A Novel. It's an amazing story that works as a human drama, science fiction adventure, and a sort of survival manifesto. Really, give it a read. You won't regret it. This is a read that is (if you'll excuse one last space pun) really out of this world.
What could be worse than being stranded on an uninhabited island? How about being stranded there with a deranged lunatic who is infected with highly-infectious parasitic worms. Not enough? Well, how about not just being stranded, but physically trapped there by shadowy military forces who won't let so much as a bird or fish escape its shores. Still not enough? Well, how about being trapped there, fighting the parasitic worms inside you, with an adolescent sociopath who is only too happy to exploit the situation. Still not enough? Well, how about we add a thin layer of conspiracy, with the very tangible suggestion that those military forces are deliberately allowing the horror to play out. Gotcha. Yes, in a book that's been described as part Lord of the Flies and part 28 Days Later (which isn't a bad comparison, even if it only tells half of the story), The Troop proves to be a throwback to old-fashioned, late 80s, pulp horror, with a little 90s cynicism mixed in. Nick Cutter has crafted a grisly tale here that pulls no punches, and which wastes absolutely no time in getting to the good stuff. At first, the story structure seems a little odd, especially since it spoils its own ending early on. The bulk of the story takes place in real time, exploring the Boy Scout troop's struggle to survive a situation they barely even understand. Spaced in between chapters, however, is a series of newspaper articles, scholarly pieces, and courtroom transcripts of the inquiry that is destined to follow. Ultimately, however, that second layer of storytelling really enhances the story, adding additional weight to the situation, and creating new doubts and questions for the reader. It also creates more of a mystery than we might have otherwise expected, as we try to guess which of the boys is the sole survivor. The contagion at the heart of the story is as disgusting as it is brilliant. If you've ever thought a tapeworm was gross, or shuddered at the thought of people who deliberately subject themselves to said worms in a desperate effort to lose weight, then get ready to lose your lunch. The tapeworms here are genetically engineered to be ruthless parasites who quickly devour their hosts from the inside out, creating in them a ravenous, insatiable hunger. We're talking men who, in a matter of hours, begin to look like desiccated walking corpses, and who will chow down on anything they can get their hands on - from bugs, to dirt, to the wooden splinters of the cabin floor. Then, just to add to the ick factor, you can see the tapeworms wrapped around their victims' spinal cords, making their back-flesh flow and undulate. As for that teenage sociopath, I don't want to spoil one of the darkest aspects of the story, but he's the creepiest part of the tale, simply because he's so human. There's an extended scene that will stick with you for a very long time, where he not only convinces another Scout that he's infected, but all-too-easily talks him into slicing himself up in a futile attempt to catch the tiny worms inside. What he does to the first Scout to be infected is even worse, not just because it's so cruel and so playfully callous, or because it gives him a disturbing hard-on, but because he contrasts it to the abuse of a kitten that first catapulted him over the line from curious to sociopathic. If you're in the mood for a good, intense horror story, and have the strong stomach needed to make it through to the end, then be sure to check out The Troop. Just be careful what you touch, eat, drink, or breathe, because that next pang of hunger just might be something more . . .
J.M. McDermott is to be commended for delivering on his rather ambitious concept. This is, first and foremost, the story of a maze . . . but it's also a tale of interwoven lives inside that maze. There is that of Maia, who remembers life aboard a space station, even if her daughter knows nothing but blood. There's Joseph, who returned home from his high school reunion to find something in the darkness. There is Wang, who sees a future that could have been. There's Julie, who knows nothing but a life inside the maze, and Lucius, the Neanderthal who loves her. And then there's Jenny, the ghost, who just may be much more than that. There is some very weird, very visceral horror surrounding these stories - the bug-like, plant-like, and beast-like monsters just scratch the surface. More than that, though, there's a palatable sense of hopelessness and dread to the maze and those who exist within it. It is neither a safe nor a happy place to be. For that matter, it's not a healthy place to be either, with the hopeless denizens surviving on blood, maggots, and even cannibalism. One character describes it as a sort of Bermuda Triangle that people stumble into it, but which is indifferent to them. What is it really? Why is there? What is its purpose? Well, we never really find out any of that, but that's not really the point. To get back to that idea of being literate, this is a very well-written, carefully-crafted tale. It's structured just so, with a mother and daughter bookending not just the pages, but the ideas and lives within. The language is short and abrupt, taking unexpected turns on a regular basis, and often doubles back on itself to repeat words, phrases, and more. It reads like a maze, but that's not to say it's futile or frustrating. Reading is itself an experience, with the stories a part of that experience. To be honest, I'm not sure if there's a great purpose or deeper message to the work, or whether this is just a story of survival against all odds. What I do know is that Maze makes for a fascinating read that may try a bit too hard, at times, to be literate, but which never forgets that it's higher purpose is to entertain.
If you enjoyed Under a Graveyard Sky, the first in the Black Tide Rising series, or are a fan of John Ringo's unique brand of military-driven science fiction, then odds are pretty good you're going to enjoy To Sail a Darkling Sea. The zombies take something of a back seat in this second volume, which is probably a good thing, since zombies can wear a bit thin after a while. Instead, the focus is turned to the survivors, with some really interesting exploration of the conflicts that arise when civilians and military personnel are forced into close quarters, especially in a world where power and authority is very much in question. I was pleased to see that the book at least addressed, even if it didn't outright resolve, some of my concerns from the first book. The stress and weight placed upon 13 year-old Faith's shoulders is touched upon, avoiding the breakdown I thought was imminent, and resolving it instead with a transition to military discipline. She is largely the star of this second volume, which is no less implausible than it was on the first book, but she's given room to grow and to earn the reader's respect. She's simultaneously set up as a teenage sex symbol, and defended against characters who see her that way. What ultimately made that contrast work for me was the emphasis on the nightmares she experiences on the Alpha, with all the women who’d been raped and murdered trying to warn her of something, and how the spectre of those rapes continues to haunt her actions. As for the promise of multinational intrigue, it's still just that - a promise - but we do learn a bit more about the three governments who still retain a measure of power. More interestingly, we get to explore the potential for a cure, and the power that brings with it in a world without borders. It's a valuable bargaining chip, and one that nations would quite literally go to war over. At the same time, Ringo makes us think long and hard about the logistics of post-apocalyptic survival - how you keep the equipment of war running, how you keep survivors fed, and how you manage all the little things like cleaning, cooking, laundry, and the rest. Overall, this was a slower book than the first, and one I found got a bit repetitive by the end. It lacked some of the storytelling power of the first book, and got a little too involved in the military-driven elements for my tastes, but I recognize that's Ringo's niche within the genre, so I can hardly complain. It's still a well-written story, with some good, snappy dialogue, and a real flair for imbuing characters with distinct personalities. I liked the way Ringo brought the military and civilian worlds together, and thought the whole conflict between Faith, the Hollywood big shot who accosts her, and the Captain who would rather suck up to a celebrity than defend one of his soldiers, was exceptionally well played out. Like the first volume, To Sail a Darkling Sea just stops, without the benefit of a climax to provide a sense of even temporary conclusion. There's a small resolution in the epilogue, but it's almost after-the-fact. The literary critic in me cringes at that betrayal of the traditional story arc, but the realist in me appreciates that Ringo didn't set up an arbitrary 'big' ending, just for the sake of ending on a bang.
While we may only be a month into 2014, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Brian Staveley may just have the debut of the year with The Emperor's Blades. This was a book that reminded me, in different ways, of my first encounters with the likes of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. It managed to feel fresh and original, yet familiar at the same time. I knew, before the first chapter was over, that I'd be reading this one cover to cover. Why? Well, for me, a really great fantasy novel must possess 4 things in order to succeed, and I'm pleased to say this covered them all. First, it has to have a strong narrative voice, one that's both intriguing and entertaining. I don't want to be educated, talked-down to, or dazzled with unnecessarily embellished language. When I read a fantasy novel I want to feel as if the author is sitting in the chair across from me, spinning a story that he or she is enjoying just as much as me - and that's exactly how I felt with Staveley. That's not to say this is a casual or conversational sort of novel, just that it flows well and naturally, driven by a man who loves the telling as much as the tale. Second, it must have compelling characters with either a slowly unveiled back story, or who grow and evolve through the story. With The Emperor's Blade we get a bit of both. Kaden, Valyn, and Adare, provide our entry into the story, with each chapter focusing on one of the Emperor's three children. Even though they are on the cusp of adulthood, there's still something of a coming-of-age story here, with the siblings growing significantly by the time the final page is turned. They're all strong characters, as admirable as they are likable. Each has been placed into a difficult situation, trapped there by duty and obligation, but even if there's some longing and resentment, there's no whining or endless complaining about their plight. Adare gets the least amount of page time here, and I'm sure some readers may frown at her role, I quite liked the way she was able to command a situation in which she's powerless to do more than watch and wait. As for the slowly unveiled back story, that belongs to their leaders and their teachers, to their friends and their foes. Staveley doesn't weight the story down with too many characters, but he invests his time in making each of them complex and well-rounded. You may hate some of them with a passion - particularly some of Valyn's fellow cadets- but you'll still find yourself anxious to learn their secrets. Third, a really great fantasy novel has to imbue me with that sense of awe or wonder. In some cases that's done with dragons or other mythical beasts, and in others it's done with acts magic or faith. There's a fine line between imbuing and overwhelming, however, and that's where so many authors miss their mark. Rather than putting the wondrous at the forefront, Staveley weaves it carefully into his story, keeping it secondary to the characters. There's the soaring birds that the Kettral ride into battle, and the ferocious slarn that live deep underground; there are leaches who can drawn on elemental and emotional elements for their power, and the monks who seem to have a very different power of their own; and then there's the old gods and the new gods, embracing different aspects of the realm in a really interesting dual mythology. Finally, above all else, I need a story that's as deeply layered as it is compelling. If there's anywhere Staveley stumbles a bit, it's here, but only because I suspect so much of the story is yet to be revealed. We see the world through the eyes of Kaden, Valyn, and Adare, so we don't have the opportunity to ferret out plots and conspiracies of which they're not aware. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed what Staveley did here, particularly with the plots and counter-plots revolving around all three characters. The plotting and backstabbing amongst the Kettral was exceptionally well-played, and it's been a while since I've cheered quite as strongly as I did for Adare against Uinian IV, Chief Priest of Intarra. As if it weren't enough that the Emperor has been assassinated, there are some very personal vendettas to be survived here, in addition to the royal ones, and the way in which they all cross in the end is as rewarding as it is surprising. Like I said, if this isn't the debut of 2014, then I'd really be surprised. This is epic fantasy for a new generation, gritty and grim at times, but never losing sight of the awe and the wonder. I'm honestly not sure where Staveley intends to take the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne next, but The Emperor's Blades has guaranteed a space on my shelf for subsequent volumes. Take a chance, pick it up, and read a few chapters - enough to meet all three offspring - and I guarantee you'll find yourself putting off other things to read 'just one more chapter' well into the night.