4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2018

Here is my annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2018, these include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas and short stories.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

5 Star:

  • Hand of Mars (Starship's Mage #2) by Glynn Stewart

  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

  • Uncompromising Honor (Honor Harrington #14) by David Weber

  • The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N.K. Jemison

  • Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3)

4 Star:

  • Children of the Nameless (Novella) by Brandon Sanderson

  • Cartwright's Cavaliers (The Revelations Cycle #1) by Mark Wandrey

  • Air Awakens (Air Awakens #1) by Elise Kova

  • Dominator (Vicky Peterwald #4) by Mike Shepherd

  • Kris Longknife's Relief: Grand Admiral Santiago on Alwa Station (Kris Longknife #15.6) by Mike Shepherd

  • Through Hell Should Bar the Way (Lt. Leary #12) by David Drake

  • Admiral (Kris Longknife #16) by Mike Shepherd

  • Persepolis Rising (The Expanse #7) by James S. A. Corey

What am I looking forward to in 2019? Same questions as the previous couple of years: where is the Song of Ice and Fire #6 Winds of Winter, The Kingkiller Chronicle #3,  and Gentleman Bastard #4?  Looking forward to Through Fiery Trials by David Weber, Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey, Siege of Stone by Terry Goodkind, and ANYTHING by Brandon Sanderson (Starsight?, Wax & Wayne #4).

4 & 5 Star SciFi and Fantasy Reads of 2014

I forgot to post this last year.  So here it is.


Here is my annual post to list the top rated (by me) books I read each year.  For 2015, these include both books I read and listened to, as well as, novellas, short story's and re-reads.  I pulled this info from my Goodreads profile.  Needless to say, all of these are highly recommended.

5 Star:

  • Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (Audible)
  • Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson (Audible)
  • The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson (Re-read) (Audible)
  • The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley (Audible) - My review here
  • Dorsai! (Dorsai Series #1) by Gordon R Dickson (re-read) (Audible)

4 Star:

  • Skin Deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson (Audible)
  • Coming Home (Alex Benedict #7) by Jack McDevitt (Audible)
  • Imperfect Sword (The Lost Stars #3) by Jack Campbell (Audible)
  • Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie (Audible)
  • The Magician's Land (The Magicians #3) by Lev Grossman (Audible)
  • What Distand Deeps (Lt. Leary #8) David Drake (Audible)
  • The Thousand Emperors by Gary Gibson (Audible)
  • In the Stormy Red Sky (Lt. Leary #7) by David Drake (Audible)
  • The High Druid's Blade (Defenders of Shannara #1) by Terry Brooks (Audible)
  • Final Days by Gary Gibson (Audible)
  • Operation Shield (Cassandra Kresnov #5) by Joel Shepherd (Kindle)
  • Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman (Audible)
  • To Honor You Call Us (Man of War #1) by Paul H. Honsinger (Audible)
  • 23 Years on Fire (Cassandra Kresnov #4) by Joel Shepherd (Kindle)


What am I looking forward to in 2015?  Follow up to The Emperor's Blades, Defenders of Shannara #2, Cassandra Kresonov #4.

Specialized Roubaix vs. Roubaix

Unfortunately, I am a victim of the SRAM recall.  Since my bike (2014 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Sport SRAM Disc) is only about 6-7 weeks old, this news hit me hard.  I was planning on riding a lot over the Christmas - New Years holidays, and was told to  "STOP RIDING" immediately.  I contacted the store in which I purchased the bike asking for any alternatives available to keep me riding.  Luckily I purchased at a very good store, as they gave me an option to have a loaner until such a time as I can ride my bike again.  Thus they provided a brand new 2014 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Expert for my use.

Roubaix SL4 Sport SRAM Disc

Roubaix SL4 Sport SRAM Disc

So the positive from the recall is my ability to review 2 new 2014 Roubaix bikes and compare the SRAM vs. Shimano world.

Visually, the frames of the bikes look identical.  Both are SL4 FACT Carbon, but the Expert is 10r Carbon vs the Sport SRAM is 8r Carbon.  The difference means the Expert is slightly lighter and stiffer.  I could not tell the difference in reality.  The major difference is the SRAM components vs. Shimano.  Depending upon your own biases, this may or may not make a difference. The Shimano Ultegra is 11 speed vs. 10 speed SRAM, and the Ultegra components are a higher priced and premium components. The SRAM does provide hydraulic brakes for a reasonable cost (but also a recall).

Roubaix SL4 Expert

Roubaix SL4 Expert

Their are quite a few minor differences, many of which are the Expert has size-specific parts (i.e. lower headtube) where the Sport SRAM are standard size regardless of the bike size.  The handebars, wheels (due to SRAM Hydraulics), tires are also different.  

The last and significant difference is the seat post, as the Expert comes with the S-Works CG-R FACT Carbon w/Zertz.  This was the one component that the bike shop said that "once I ride with the seat post, I will want to spend the $200 to upgrade my carbon post on the Sport SRAM". Great, it is a sales opportunity for the shop as well.

For a spec list with differences, see the spreadsheet I created at http://sdrv.ms/1ij53Gy

So now on to my experience.  I dropped off my Sport SRAM at the shop so they could prepare the Expert for my use.  When I picked up the Expert it was prepared with all of my additions (Garmin, cages, bag, pedals, etc...) including my aftermarket stem and larger saddle.  With the saddle, they also used the seat post from my Sport SRAM.  Therefore I did not get the S-Works CG-R FACT Carbon w/Zertz in my test AND I will not have to spend $200 to get one on my bike!

S-Works CG_R FACT Carbon w/Zertz

S-Works CG_R FACT Carbon w/Zertz

I can't really say after a number of rides on the Expert that I can say there really is a big difference.  The ride felt comparatively smooth and fast on both.  It certainly does not feel like the difference I felt when I moved from Aluminum to Carbon as a frame.  I really felt no difference of ride.  I "heard" a difference since the Shimano has the ratcheting sound while coasting and prefer my silent SRAM.  Some people do like the ticking sound - it is an alarm to tell you to start pedaling!

Where I did have a big difference was in the shifting methods between the SRAM and Shimano.  SRAM uses the single/double shift method on the shifter (single for shift up and double for shifting down)  and the Shimano uses the brake itself for shifting down and the shifter for shifting up.  It did take a little to get use to it.  I found I shifted more accurately with the Shimano method since both up and down are single shifts, so I did not overshift shifting down as I did with the SRAM method.

There was also a difference in braking as the SRAM hydraulic disc felt stronger and quicker than the Shimano rim based brakes. The only negative i have to disc brakes is that it is easier to remove and install the front wheel on a rim based system than the disc system.  This only would affect those that remove the front wheel often for the auto bike carrier as I do.  Disc are also heavier then rim based, but this is not important to me.

So, do I like one more than the other?  Not really.  Both felt about the same.  Maybe if I got to sit upon the Expert's seat post I would feel differently.  But the $900 price of the Expert over the Sport SRAM is a bit steep and to me and not worth the money.  I am sure those that are Shimano centric, or like the size specific changes, or look for every ounce less, will think it well worth it.  I am just not one of those people.  If money is no object, you can get the best of both worlds with the Expert Ultegra D12 Disc at $6800 or go ALL OUT with the S-Works Roubaix SL4 Red DIsc for $8500.  Too bad I did not get one of those as a loaner.

That said, the SRAM recall does damper any enthusiasm I have for the Sport SRAM Disc.  For "bang for the buck" it is hard to beat if it did not have the recall.  I prefer a bike with disc brakes, and hydraulics are one of the reasons I selected the Sport SRAM.  Soon I should have my bike back with mechanical disc brakes to hold me over until SRAM provides the new hydrolic ones.  So I still do want my Sport SRAM Disc back and to give the Expert back to bike shop.

The Black Magician Trilogy

Instead of reviewing each book in this trilogy individually, I decided to complete all 3 books and then do a single overall review.  It was the story itself that caused me to do this, as after reading the first book, I had mixed feelings and felt it was to soon to make a decision regarding.  Overall It was just OK.  I am not seeking out the second trilogy.



The series focuses on a Sonea, a young poor orphan slum girl from the wrong side of the tracks (walls) that learns she has magic and follows her as she develops into a young women thrown into the mechanizations of the Magicians Guild, higher society and higher magic.   

The first two books in the series seem to be more adolescent novels than adult.  The first half of the first book is about Sonea on the run from adults (Magicians) thinking they all want to kill her, and the second half is about bad adults trying to set her up for a fail to prove their superiority due to wealth & status.  It was an essay on the prejudices and bigotry of the rich and privileged against the poor.  Basically the moral of the story is that the rich and privileged will become worse than the underprivileged to prove their superiority.  Other than that, when I finished I thought "what is this really about?".  I had no idea, so no review because I committed to reading all three so I kept going.

The second book seems to be only about Sonea being teased and abused by other children while the adults do nothing.  It is stalking, harassment, physical and mental abuse driven by one (again) rich and privileged student.  That is really all their was for a majority of the book.  The secondary arc in this book is a story about the Magician Dannyl coming to grips about his sexuality.  Bringing this in as a plot point seems only for the purpose to provide more moral questions than just class war.  But does not seem to really help the overall story. Yes there are some developments in the two arcs that moves towards a darker and greater story involved, but it is very far in the background.  Again I finished this book and thought "why is this moving so slow?"

I knew there had to be more than just these teen angst and class/culture war stories.  Something else was going on and just hints are given in the first book and expanded in the second.  You finally get a slight view of darker things happening.  So I held off on my review.  That said, the first two books did have a lot of character development, but the plots were frustrating.


Once I started Book 3, it explodes.  Really.  It takes two books to set up everything?  Would I say it was worth it?  Probably not (OK, no).  But the 3rd book takes off early.  The overall plot is revealed, a back story withheld is suddenly known, all of the tidbits slowly released in books 1 & 2 collapse into a stronger and more powerful plot.  What was hidden is revealed and we can finally get on with a worthwhile plot.  It is non-stop action which leads to a satisfying completion.  

That said, there are still annoyances.  The arc involving Dannyl really can be removed from the whole series as his personal struggle accounts to nothing in the 3rd book.   A lot of the books writing was devoted to this issue for no real reason other than adding more moral and ethical questions without plot affect.

I really loved the last book.  Really did not like the first two.