Book Review: The Raven Boys: Satisfying and Mystical

Between preparing for my last day at work this week and my first day as a homeschooling mom next week, I’ve been busy, but over the Christmas break, I had time to query my book Stranger in my Own Head a little more, and start three new books, even while I was helping my eldest recover from wisdom-teeth-removal surgery. The first book will be a sequel to Stranger. The second is about a young man diagnosed with dissociative personality disorder, possessing 23 different personalities, but convinced that 22 of them are aliens. And the third is about a change in the Earth’s atmosphere that makes everybody immortal, including Laula Quimby, a girl who’s been fifteen for the past five years, perpetually at the beginning stages of cancer, and technically well past adolescence, and her mother, a brilliant volcanologist who might be able to save the world from itself, but at the cost of losing her daughter. All three books are begging for attention; I want to write all of them right now! Tell me which one you’d be most interested in reading in the comments!

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series. I read book one last week, and am halfway through Dream Thieves, the second book, this week. I think I might have found another new favorite author. Raven Boys is magical in both its premise and its style. Let me see if I can articulate why:

What Raven Boys is About

Blue Sargent, a teenager girl, is not clairvoyant, but her mother and all the other women who live at 300 Fox Way with her are. And every year, on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But she’s drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore (from Goodreads).

Why I Liked Raven Boys, and You Might Too

The quest that Gansey is on involves the activating of a ley line to find an ancient sleeping king who will reportedly grant one magical wish to whoever finds him and wakes him. But the king, Glendower, is buried very deeply and the location of the ley line as well as the instructions for activating the line and waking him are almost completely lost to history. One would think, by that description, that this book is merely a fantasy book, but it is so much more than that. Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah are each full-bodied characters, real, flawed, likable, and deep. What Raven Boys is, more than anything, is an exploration of the dynamics between each of them, with all of the accompanying prejudices, uncertainties, hopes, misperceptions, and dreams. In that sense, it’s more of a contemporary coming-of-age story, just with a little bit of fantasy thrown in.

But more than that, it’s a story told with an enchanting and descriptive style. Take this paragraph, for example:

A second later, the Camaro revved high, and the tires squealed out Gansey’s true feelings. Then the house was quiet. It was a sucked-out silence, like the raven boys had taken all the sound in the neighborhood with them.

Or this sentence:

Something inside him felt like the night, hungry and wanting and black.

They both show something that Stiefvater is really good at: showing reactions, and anthropomorphizing things to make them seem more dynamic and organic, more a part of the world that Gansey and Blue and the rest of them are trying to figure out. Gansey’s search for Glendower is a search not just for a wish but for an identity too, one that is separate from how he knows others perceive him and maybe even perceives himself, one that is closest to who he feels he really is. And, whether they know it or not, the rest of the group—Blue, Ronan, Noah, and Adam—are searching for their own true identities too, just from differently angles. And one really wants all of them to succeed.

Don’t expect continuous, high-paced action, although there is some of that. Do expect a moderate amount of swearing. Do expect that if you start reading book one, you’ll want to read all four books in the series, but since they’re all published, you won’t have to wait for another book to come out to find out what happens. You can binge read!

Book Review: Gemina is Both Brilliant…and Not

There is a sub-genre of science fiction that is perhaps lesser known for its name—space opera—than it is for the books and movies that comprise it. Star Wars, for example, is arguably the most well-known and epic space opera set of movies, but I don’t know many people (even writers) that would think to call it that. Yet it’s a very exciting sub-genre, I think, typified by space warfaremelodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalrous romance, and risk-taking. There is no singing. Well…usually. In Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s Gemina, the most recent book in their Illuminae series, there is plenty of singing, albeit of the pop-wormhole-station-PA-system variety, and plenty of warfare, adventure, romance, and risk-taking. In fact, there may even be too much; if it were a movie, it would be R-rated for its violence. But as a book, it’s brilliant…in a convoluted way.

What Gemina is About

The short, spoiler-free version? It’s about a ruthless special-ops team that tries to take over a space station called the Heimdall, a wormhole-manning waypoint, and the few teenagers who must fight ruthlessly to stay alive. The full, spoiler-rich version you can find on this lovely new site I found called BookSeriesRecaps.com. It’s a graphic novel, meaning it’s told through a collection of chat room transcripts, surveillance footage summaries, autopsy reports, radio transmission transcripts, etc.:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Things About Gemina

In some ways, I think this format is brilliant. It’s definitely not something I’ve seen before in the genres of space opera or YA. It makes for a much quicker read than you’d think the book’s 659 pages would necessitate. You don’t get a lot of heavy internal dialogue or emotion to slow down the plot. For an adrenaline junkie like me, this is great.

Some Not So Great Things About Gemina

On the other hand, though, missing those things almost completely means it’s much harder to connect with the characters. It makes the book seem like nothing more than a written version of the Alien movie, except with teenagers as the main characters. To a certain extent, every book, no matter how action-packed it is, needs to show the characters experiencing some strong emotion in order for the plot to move forward; they go on a rampage, for instance, if they get angry in reaction to something the antagonist(s) did. This book moves forward quite frequently on a revenge cycle, with Hannah (the main character) seeking to avenge (start: tiny little spoiler) the murder of the father at the beginning of the book (end spoiler).

And, as mentioned before, there is ALOT of violence. I shouldn’t have read as much as I did of it, but there’s something about reading it in a book that seems to make it a little less horrible than viewing it on a screen. But it’s still depictions of human-against-human violence, which I think there’s plenty of in the news these days. I don’t want to read it in my fiction too. And ALOT of swearing, although most of it is blacked out, as they’re in records that will ostensibly be reviewed in a court of law.

Who Would Like Gemina

If you liked the first book in the series, Illuminae, which I reviewed on Amazon, you’ll definitely like this one. Gemina’s story is connected to that of Illuminae‘s, so it’s kind of a sequel, but centered on different characters in a different setting. Also, if you liked These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, you’d like Gemina; both have high-society-debutante-turned-toughie-girl main characters. K.B. Wager’s Behind the Throne also comes to mind, although the transition from debutante to toughie is reversed in that book. It’s also got a high-octane plot.

 

 

Book Review: Colorless by Rita Stradling, Messed Up But Beautifully Told

I’m behind in posting reviews because, among other things, I’ve been helping my oldest through a grueling couple of weeks of playing catch-up at school. He was failing all of his 9th grade classes until a couple of weeks ago except for two, but is now only failing two, having brought the rest of them up to A’s and B’s by grinding out homework, staying every day after school to retake tests and fix assignments. We have a meeting on Monday with his principal, counselor, academic coach, etc., to discuss a different plan for his second semester. As happy as I am that he’s been able to rally, and hasn’t had any more migraines recently, I’d really like to help him figure out how to avoid his pattern of getting buried under missing assignments and then rallying just before the term ends. Of course, I’ve also been working, Christmas shopping, querying, going to critique meetings, finding a new home for my writers’ club, helping friends, etc. You’d think I wouldn’t have had time to read, but since it’s my reprieve, I have. In fact, I recently read Colorless by Rita Stradling, a book that reminded me of Stranger Things, a Netflix sci-fi/horror show in its highly intriguing portrayal of people trapped in strange circumstances they couldn’t figure out, no matter what they did. Colorless’ premise is awesome and unique, but the execution of that premise, while very enjoyable in some ways, was quite faulty in others.

What Colorless is About

Colorless is more or less a historical fantasy set in the fictional town of Domengrad, an analog of an early 20th century Russian town. The people of this town have three rules that they live by: fear the gods, worship the magicians, and forsake the iconoclasts. These rules were laid down by some “off-screen” magicians, and are enforced by a group of mute, hive-minded monks. Annabelle Klein, the main character, is heiress to a manor in that town, but the manor’s mortgaged down to its candlesticks, she’s betrothed to her loathsome cousin, and her parents suddenly and simultaneously die at the beginning of the book, and when that happens, all of the pigment drips out of her skin and hair, leaving her colorless. Within moments, Annabelle is invisible and forgotten by all who knew her.  Things are pretty bad for her.

What Wasn’t Great About Colorless

Given that, you would think that her first thoughts would either be to grieve, use her invisibility to solve the mystery of what she suspects is her parents’ murder, and/or try to find out why she turned colorless and invisible. But she doesn’t really do any of those things.  Instead, she just strives to escape the notice of the monks who come to the manor to investigate the possible existence of an iconoclast (someone who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions or a destroyer of images used in religious worship), though they can’t see or remember Annabelle either. As she does so, she meets Dylan, a stableboy on the estate to whose point of view the story then transfers, and thinks about Tony, her “loathsome” cousin, to whom the point of view then also transfers. All this eventually leads in a roundabout way to her meeting some young men who help to shed light on why her parents died and provide speculation about the monks’ or magicians’ connection between that and her invisibility. But they don’t help her solve the mystery or regain her color and visibility. And they even turn out to be connected to the monks in a Jacob-esque way that really makes no sense.

So, plotwise, it wasn’t the best. It would have been a much more powerful story better told if it had only been told from Annabelle’s perspective, and had focused on any one of her possible motives of  solving her parents murder or becoming visible and colored once again. It was confusing. I was frustrated with the lack of substantive information supplied during each chapter to help answer questions brought up in earlier chapters. It seemed like clues were constantly being given about the true nature of the enemy, and none were answered. The reader is constantly held in the dark about the motives behind characters’ actions, and there are a couple of plot twists that made no sense to me whatsoever. And there was a fair amount of swearing, which I thought was totally superfluous, and in fact, took away from the feel of the book. And, by way of “nutrition facts,” there is mention of a hoped-for gay relationship.

What Was Great About Colorless

That being said, I still found myself totally intrigued and drawn in. I would venture to say that, while I wouldn’t give this book any points for plot, and in fact, might even take away points for that (it’s my ten-star system, so I can do what I want with it, right?), I would give it all the points possible for setting and style, and maybe even extra ones. Stradling very deftly tells Annabelle’s tale such that the reader can easily “see” and “feel” where she’s at, even if they can’t understand why or how.

So, I’d probably award Colorless six out of ten stars.

I’m reading Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the sequel to the wowser YA sci-fi space opera horror Illuminae, as well as Penric’s Shaman, sequel to Penric’s Demon, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Watch for a review of Gemina coming up soon!

Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of the book through NetGalley, but my opinions are the same as if I would have paid for the book.

Book Review: Topaz Reign, a Gem of a Read

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted because I was asked to review the second book in a duology and had to read the first book in the series before I could read the second one and give it a fair review. Plus, life has been busy with Utah Valley Writer commitments, school visits, and doctor appointments. I’m glad I got to read Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards, the sequel to Emerald Bound. Both were based very loosely on different fairy tales and had little bits of time travel and immortality, making them genre-bending and somewhat hard to compare to any other published books. Ultimately, though, they were both good reads, Topaz Reign decidedly more so than Emerald Bound.

Emerald Bound

Maggie Rhodes, a high school junior and very curious teenager, learns the true roots of the tale of the Princess and the Pea after a spying attempt goes awry and her best friend Kate ends up as the victim of an ancient curse. Maggie discovers that an enchanted emerald that feeds on life is under the control of some people who use the power granted by the emerald to not age, and that it found its next victim in Kate. She meets Lindy, a school acquaintance with a mysterious past, and Garon, a handsome stranger claiming he knows how to help, and embarks on a quest to destroy the emerald and restore Kate.

I’ve compared the plots of various books to different kinds of woven textiles, like a rug in the case of The Fifth Doll by Charlie Holmberg, so in that same spirit, I’d like to compare this book’s plot with that of a loom-woven rug with a very loose weft. What I mean by that is that the weaving together of all the details presented in the first ten chapters of the story to set it up, came together in such a way that I feel like I could still see holes through them. There were some details that seemed to contradict themselves, as in the fact that Maggie describes her arms being frozen to the arms of a wooden chair by Calista, one of the people using the emerald’s power, on page 111, but then a few paragraphs later, says she “clutched at [her] middle,” and some details that didn’t seem quite plausible, like the fact that the creator of the magic emerald put into it a way for it to be destroyed, but his motive for doing so, though crucial to the resolution of this story’s conflict, is never given, not even to Garon, who spent several centuries trapped in time with the creator. Now, it’s entirely possible that I missed other details in the story that make these things clearer or more plausible, and if so, I hope someone will correct me, but these were details that took me out of the story a little bit.

Topaz Reign

I’m glad that I read Emerald Bound, though, not only for the overall story itself and the very satisfying ending, but also because Topaz Reign made so much more sense after reading the first book. You really can’t read the second book in this series without having read the first one. Here’s what Topaz Reign  is about (be forewarned that I have to spoil Emerald Bound’s plot a little bit to tell you):

Upon the destruction of the emerald, Lindy is sent back to the time and place she would have been if she had not been kidnapped as a baby, eventually sold to Calista, and kept in bondage by her for 400 years. Turns out Lindy was the princess of the Princess and the Pea fairy tale, and the soon-to-be queen of a tiny Scandinavian country. Topaz Reign starts, for her, seven years after she was sent back, shortly after she assumes the throne. Maggie, for whom time passes more slowly in the present day, keeps an eye on her from the history books, and notices chilling changes in them that indicate that Lindy went from the frying pan into the fryer. Garon, who is Lindy’s brother and now Maggie’s boyfriend, goes back in time to help Lindy, but things get so bad that he has to return to the future, get Maggie and her brother Tanner, and take them back with him to Lindy’s time to help save her and her kingdom. They also have to destroy a giant topaz created by the same man who created the emerald so that they can restore their own mother to her rightful mind, and they do this with the help of Bea, one of their mother’s caretakers and, as it happens, the Thumbelina of fairy tale. All that with the possible but dubious help of a giant pearl that O, the creator of the topaz and the emerald, also made.

Like the first book, this one relies on a lot of details coming together at just the right times and places, but these details are more tightly-woven this time. We finally meet O, if only briefly, and some people’s motives are more clear. There were still some fraying “threads,” if you will, that decrease the story’s plausibility slightly, but overall, it’s a very intense, fun read, somewhat reminiscent of K.B. Wager’s Behind the Throne. The author is great at descriptions. If you like speculative fiction, young adult romances, magic, or fairy tale re-tellings, you’ll like these books.

Nutrition facts? No swearing. No sex or nudity. Some violence (sword fighting, etc.).

Star rating? 7 out of 10 stars, for great characters, awesome voice(s), cool premise, and a rich plot.

Full disclosure? I got free copies of both books from the author, but my opinions would’ve been the same if I’d bought them.

 

 

Book Review: Unearthed is Exceptional…But…

Sometimes, reading a really good book is like running my palm along the smooth side of a long sword…with my fingers curled around its very sharp blade. Being entranced by the flow of good prose or the seamlessness of a smart plot is like feeling the evenness of cold metal, but as a writer, I inevitably compare my skills to the writers of such good books and feel that I’ll never write that good, thus the cutting feeling. Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are two such writers, and their soon-to-be-released book Unearthed is one such book. It was phenomenally good, which left me feeling both elated and a little disheartened. But you will love it.

 

What Unearthed is About

From Amazon: When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered. For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance. In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race.

Why You’ll Like It

This book is, to some extent, reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with a young archaeologist having to find a very ancient, long-abandoned temple in the middle of a desert, interpret the glyphs etched therein, and survive the puzzles that the creators of the temple left behind to prevent anyone unworthy from reaching its center. There’s even an encounter with an “alien” race and a giant artifact. If Unearthed doesn’t get made into a movie–a better version of Temple of Doom–I will give up on any hope I ever had of Hollywood having good sense.

It’s phenomenal, for one, because of the premise. The Earth is dying, Amelia is on Gaia to scavenge something from one of the Undying’s temples to take back to Earth and sell so that she can get her 14-year-old sister out of bondage, since they’re parentless and Amelia had to become part of a scavenger group in order to provide the necessities of life for them. Jules is there because it was his father who originally decrypted the message sent from the Undying to Earth, then seemed to go crazy on live television saying that there was a hidden message that showed the Undying to be not as benevolent as they seemed. Jules wants to prove that his father wasn’t crazy by discovering proof of whatever the Undying’s true motive might be. Her goals are the opposite of his, but they have to unite against a common enemy to survive. In uniting, they eventually discover that they like each other…alot, but their goals can’t change.

Which leads me to the second reason I really liked this book: the main characters. The juxtaposition of Jules, a genius British teenage archaeologist, and Amelia, a street-smart American teenager, makes for many funny, “spicy” moments. There’s this paragraph, spoken by Jules, for example:

“The Undying certainly knew how to roll out the welcome mat,” I manage, meeting her gaze. She’s as rattled as me, and I know that endless fall will be flashing behind her eyelids as she tries to sleep tonight–just as it will behind mine. Assuming we survive until bedtime. “If this is the welcome mat, I’d hate to see their ‘do not disturb’,” she manages, with a weak laugh.

Or this sentence, spoken by Amelia:

A cliff like this has got to look like death on a tea sandwich to someone like him.

Because of the premise, there aren’t alot of other characters that come into play until just before halfway through the book, and even then, they aren’t very well-developed, but Amelia and Jules’ banter and bickering is plenty entertaining.

And the fact that the plot depends so much on the actions, feelings, and reactions of these two characters makes the fact that it is so awesome that much more amazing. What I mean by that is you wouldn’t think that it would allow for too many plot twists, but it does. In fact, there are several insane twists that I was totally shocked by, but in retrospect, realized that they had been well-built-up to, oftentimes quite surreptitiously. Well done, Amie and Meagan, well done.

I do have to say, in the spirit of a nutrition facts label, that there was a lot of swearing (primarily on Amelia’s part).  I lost track after 54 swear words, which happened probably around two-thirds of the way through the book. And I didn’t like the cover, but that’s just me.

But…

All this being said, keep in mind that the ending is a HUGE cliffhanger, one of the biggest I’ve ever read. I hate cliffhangers with a passion, mind you, because I think they’re unfair to the readers and manipulation on the part of the publishers, but I will be waiting on pins and needles for the sequel to this.

 

I asked for this book through NetGalley because I’d read Amie and Meagan’s Starbound Trilogy, which I reviewed here and which is also very good, and Amie’s Illuminae, a YA sci-fi horror-ish graphic novel (graphic in the sense that it’s told with visuals as well as text). I knew going on that they’re writing was going to be good, but I think they’ve outdone themselves this time. So, off I go back to further revise my second manuscript and study the craft so that I can one day publish a book as good as this.

If you go to AmieKaufman.com/preorder, you can preorder the book (it comes out in January) and be entered to win some really cool stuff, like your name in the sequel to the book. On her site, she does say that the book is being made into a movie so whew!

 

Book Review: The Knowing is Amazing

When I reviewed Sharon Cameron’s book The Forgetting almost a year ago today (where has the time gone?), I told you I was amazed by the author’s talent for sending me on a journey of the imagination that I had a hard time coming back from. I just finished the second book in that series–The Knowing–and as much as I was amazed then, I was even more so by this book. Mind you, it’s been a busy week for me, with Halloween, work, and another batch of query letters that I’m sending out to agents, so it was hard to find reading time, but it was worth it. The Knowing is amazing.

What The Knowing is About

Goodread’s description:  Samara doesn’t forget. And she isn’t the only one. Safe underground in the city of New Canaan, she lives in a privileged world free from the Forgetting. Yet she wonders if she really is free, with the memories that plague her and secrets that surround her. Samara is determined to unearth the answers, even if she must escape to the old, cursed city of Canaan to find them.

Someone else is on their way to Canaan too . . . a spaceship from Earth is heading toward the planet, like a figment of the city’s forgotten past. Beck is traveling with his parents, researchers tasked with finding the abandoned settlement effort. When Beck is stranded without communication, he will find more in Canaan than he was ever trained for. What will happen when worlds and memories, beliefs — and truths-collide?

Why I Thought it was Amazing

There’s a lot that goes on beneath the surface (interestingly enough, given the setting of the book) of what’s happening in the book. On the face of it, Samara escapes to Old Canaan to find a cure for the Knowing, and Beckett goes there too to [long spoiler alert] find out what happened to the colonists his predecessors sent to this planet, then the three accidentally meet, and are in fact, forced to hide from New Canaan’s Council for fear of capture. Then, they embark on a journey back/to New Canaan, each for very different reasons and feelings, thoughts, loyalties, and plans changing a lot along the way. By the time they make it to the Outside settlement on the surface, before they descend Underneath, Samara to hide until she can get into the Archives to maybe find a cure for the Knowing and then give herself up for execution, and possibly Beckett and Jillian too in place of her imprisoned parents, Beckett to discover as much as he can about this people (to heck with the protocol), and Jillian because she’s being dragged along, Samara has decided she can’t give Beckett in but doesn’t know what to do with him, Beckett keeps following (almost blindly) [end long spoiler alert].

It’s that undercurrent that carries the first two-thirds of the book: the evolution of both Samara’s and Beckett’s knowledge about what happened to the people of Old Canaan (i.e. the people of The Forgetting), the actions they take once they learn that, and the feelings that each possesses about each other and the other key characters in the book. The rest is action that happens so fast that it’s a little hard to keep up with, and all of that action is in reaction to the complicated discoveries made in the first two-thirds. If I had to compare this to a visual (e.g., gif or meme), as I am wont to do, I would say that this represents the book pretty well:

As far as stars, I’d give it 9.5 out of 10 just because I feel like there were one or two incidences where Cameron didn’t reveal certain things (like the reason for the existence of the Outsider village by the Underneath) until too late in the story, which made it harder to keep up with things.

If I were to make a nutrition label for this book, I would say that there was no sex, no swearing, a fair amount of violence, and some great descriptions of both valorous and ignoble deeds.

Who Would Like This Book?

Fans of any of Sharon Cameron’s other books would obviously like this book, as would those of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Series and of Amy Kaufman’s and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars. Speaking of Amy Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, I’ve just started reading their not-yet-released Unearthed! I’m excited.

Book Reviews: As You Wish, Man Called Ove, & Long Earth…Whew!

I actually read 2 1/2 books this week: an ARC of As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, Terry Pratchett’s The Long Earth, and Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. The first you can’t get until January of 2018, but even then, I don’t know if you should. The second, I very much regret that I can’t recommend, and the third, I think that there might be something wrong with you if you haven’t bought and read it yet. Here’s why:

Book Review: As You Wish…Not Quite

This book, about a small town in the middle of the Mojave Desert where everyone gets one wish on their 18th birthday—a wish that always comes true—and a main character who’s seen how wishes have broken the people around him, and thinks that it just might be possible that one can’t actually wish for happiness, had a cool premise but too much swearing for me. I’ve developed a general rule that I’ll tolerate about 20 swear words in a book; it’s got to have a really strong hook (i.e., good style, lots of action, unique character(s)) to compensate for the profanity, and even then…. I didn’t finish it because nothing had hooked me by the 20-swear-word limit.

So I’ll give that feedback to the publisher through NetGalley, and tell you that you might enjoy reading it if you don’t mind profanity. I personally think that I, like you, am spoiled for choices when it comes to books these days, and if profanity’s not my thing, then there are plenty of books out there without it that I’d rather spend my time and money on.

Book Review: The Long Earth: so Very, Very Long

Before J.K. Rowling came along, Terry Pratchett was the U.K.’s best-selling author. After she emerged, he was bumped down to second place, but not for lack of talent and effort. He wrote, by my count, 145 books, with 85 million copies of them read around the world in 37 languages.  He’s been awarded 10 honorary doctorate degrees and countless awards. His talent and skill cannot be refuted, even by those outside his chosen genre of fantasy and science fiction. I first became acquainted with him by reading his The Wee, Free Men, part of the Tiffany Aching series. “Charming” and “witty” are terms that don’t even begin to describe this book. One of my bucket list items is to read all of his books.

That being said, reading (or rather, listening to) The Long Earth was a chore. It strives to answer the question of what would happen to the human species if a discovery was made that there are infinite parallel Earths out there, none of which are inhabited by other humans, nor can be traveled to with any kind of metal, and on which various other species have evolved. I found none of the wit or pacing or “hard sci fi” that I’ve come to adore in other Pratchett books. Like one Amazon reviewer said: “In truth there is very little Pratchett in this book. There are many MANY exciting and fascinating concepts that would have made this pure awesomeness. There is endless potential here for further stories based on the universe, but this one does nothing except showcase the place.” I totally agree.

But I won’t stop reading Pratchett’s other books.

Book Review: A Man Called Ove: So Good

In case you’re one of those few who haven’t heard about this book, here’s what it’s about in a nutshell: a curmudgeonly old man is prevented from killing himself multiple times by neighbors who are needy and people to refuse to obey the sign that restricts parking in the residential area of his small neighborhood. It’s like the movie Up, only with more people that are adults, and more character. Take this paragraph for example:

For more than fifteen minutes he stood waiting for her at the station in his tight-fitting suit and his new-polished shoes. He was skeptical about people who came late. “If you can’t depend on someone being on time, you shouldn’t trust ’em with anything more important either,” he used to mutter when people came dribbling along with their time cards three or four minutes late, as if this didn’t matter. As if the railway line would just lie there waiting for them in the morning and not have something to do.

Every sentence in this book is imbued with characterization and style; every word is a brushstroke in the painting of Ove as not only a curmudgeon, but an (spoiler alert!) orphan, a loving husband to a wife who was paralyzed and rendered infertile by a drunk driver, a principled man, a hard worker, a dedicated Saab driver, and one of those loyal-to-the-death-but-you-wouldn’t-know-it-to-talk-to-him kind of people.

And, unlike most adult-genre books, especially ones about old people, something interesting or amusing or soulful on almost every page. The pacing and plot weaving are impeccable. It’s truly a treasure to read.

That’s why I’m doing a giveaway of one copy of A Man Called Ove! Click here to enter for a chance to win. If you’re already following me, comment on this post to be entered.

Note: I got a free advanced reader copy of As You Wish from NetGalley, but I purchased The Long Earth and A Man Called Ove. All opinions contained herein are, of course, my own, and should be taken as such.

Book Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, a Pleasant Read

Some books are wild rides. Others are mountain treks, difficult but well worth it for the beauty and exercise. Others are walks in the park on cool summer evenings, where the sound of children laughing on swing sets and the breeze caressing the back of your neck makes you forget all your cares. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance: A Novel by Ruth Emmie Lang is one of those walks. It’s such a relaxing read that it borders on boring, but it’s pleasant nonetheless.

What Beasts is About

Weylyn Grey is an orphan boy raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin. He’s not like other people. But one day he single-handedly stops a tornado that threatens the family that takes him in, and he and they realize just how different he actually is. Weylyn’s story as he grows from boy to man is told from from the perspectives of nine different people, seven of whom knew him, one that only heard about him, and from Weylyn himself…for one chapter. It’s less about his powers, which he’s very uncomfortable with, and more about how other people perceive him before and after they surmise that he has unusual abilities but doesn’t want to use them, for good or bad.

What I Thought of Beasts

If I had to give this book a genre, I’d say it’s adult literary paranormal or fantasy. It’s A Man Called Ove meets Twilight. If you like that genre or either of those books, you’ll probably like this one. It’s prose is like soft grass under your feet, the kind that’s slightly cool to the touch and doesn’t contain a sprig of crab grass anywhere.

I’ve admitted before that I can be somewhat impatient when it comes to plot development. In fact, I think my exact words were “I’m an adrenaline junkie.” So, when I say that a book might be boring, you have to keep that in mind. As Beast’s plot moseys back and forth from present day to Weylyn’s growing-up years, and from one character’s point of view to another, one can almost hear the laughs of the children on the swing sets at the park fading and growing louder, then fading and growing louder again, as they swing back and forth.

And the fact that it’s told from so many points of view—which can be quite disorienting, I must say—means you get to know Weylyn only by the reflections made by other characters about him, as if they were all holding up mirrors pointed at him, encircling him metaphorically, and we as readers are standing in the circle right next to Weylyn unable to perceive him directly. This is what’s called a literary foil, and it’s an interesting, artistic technique. If you enjoy books that are more about getting to know the characters than about finding out what they do or what happens to them, you’ll like Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance.

It will release on November 7, 2017.

Stars? Six out of ten.

Visual? Strolling through a park (couldn’t find).

Nutrition facts? A few “grams” of swearing, no violence, no sex.

 

Book Review: Sherlock Mars, a Light-Hearted Read

If you’re at all familiar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you’ll understand me when I say that the world desperately needs another book like it. The wry humor, random and rampant world-building, the characters with awesome names (Zaphod Beeblebrox? Ford Prefect?) and even more awesome personalities all make for a romp of read. I recently read a book—Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon—that was similar, and, while I enjoyed it, wished it could have better filled the huge shoes left by its predecessor.

And truly, the Hitchhiker’s Guide, may be the only one of its genre (a very small, niche one) to grow such big “shoes.” It was originally a radio comedy on BBC Radio in 1978, but was later adapted to other formats, including stage shows, novels, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game, and a 2005 feature film.  A prominent series in British popular cultureThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has become an international multi-media phenomenon; the novels are the most widely distributed, having been translated into more than 30 languages by 2005.

What Sherlock Mars Is About

“Fine dining, virtual reality, and murder,” proclaims the front cover. Molly Marbles, the main character, runs a successful restaurant on a terra-formed Mars. When a virtual restaurant opens next door, offering the experience of delicacies with none of the calories, she’s worried about what it will do to her business at first, but then finds that it’s quite a boon. But then, when the virtual restaurant’s owner is murdered in her kitchen, Molly, amateur detective, cranks into high gear to help the police solve the mystery. While doing that, she also helps plan her pop-star diva daughter’s wedding, keeps her kitchen staff from feuding, and protects her android friend from the humans-only mob. And tries to figure out if the infamous Cereal Serial Killer, who has escaped from prison, has anything to do with anything.

What I Liked About Sherlock Mars

Sometimes it’s really good to read a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously or that even successfully pulls off a joke, pun, or sarcastic comment. For that alone, I enjoyed Sherlock Mars. Consider, for example, this line: “Before I knew him, Trenton had crashed his Porsche-Aquila XXX racing car…and most of his body was destroyed. When he was offered the choice of being a brain in a bottle or becoming the first human android, Trenton chose android and said the choice was a no brainer.”

What Could Have Been Improved

  • The writing could have been less stilted or awkward, in places. Take this sentence for example: “‘I’m sorry,’ a clipped voice that I can’t tell whether it’s a person or a program says, ‘we have no Sol Brody listed.'” It would have been stronger if it had been worded more like this: “I’m sorry,” says a clipped voice that sounds both mechanical and human. ‘We have no Sol Brody listed.”
  • It also could have been edited just a little more. Take this line: “I want see what they did and if I can learn more about Rick.” There’s obviously a “to” missing between “want” and “see.” Not that most people would care about this, but there are enough of those kinds of mistakes that it becomes a distraction.
  • If the plot I described above sounds a bit random, that’s because it is. To a certain extent it’s okay, as long as the central mystery or conflict is kept present enough in each scene to justify its presence. But I found that some scenes just tended to be “fluff,” not really related to the plot but just there for the fun of it.

Who Would Like Sherlock Mars?

Obviously, anyone who likes anything by Douglas Adams should probably buy this book. More probably, though, anyone who likes Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series would love Sherlock Mars. Pratchett was the U.K.’s best-selling author before J.K. Rowling.

Nutrition Facts, Gifs, and Stars

Nutrition facts: really no profanity, sex, or violence.

Gif: really couldn’t tell ya

stars: maybe a six out of ten

 

Book Review: The Atopia Chronicles, a Heavy Read

Atopia Chronicles, by Matthew Mather, is one of the few books I actually borrowed from the library a while back. I buy most of my books these days–used or new on Amazon or Audible, at garage sales and library sales–for a variety of reasons. And I borrowed it through OverDrive, the library ebook app, which was awesome. If you like to check out books from the library, I definitely recommend this (although you often have to wait in long virtual lines for some books).

While at first I was intrigued by the premise of this book, which is that Earth’s elite humans have flocked to an idyllic, enormous, corporate-owned artificial island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to escape the rest of what has become a too-polluted planet, I was ultimately disappointed. It’s epic sci-fi in terms of its scale, with very detailed explorations of a society taken over by technology, and is a compilation of several peoples’ stories.

What Atopia Chronicles is About

In the near future, to escape the crush and clutter of a packed and polluted Earth, the world’s elite flock to Atopia, an enormous corporate-owned artificial island in the Pacific Ocean. It is there that Dr. Patricia Killiam rushes to perfect the ultimate in virtual reality: a program to save the ravaged Earth from mankind’s insatiable appetite for natural resources.

What I Liked About It

Of course, in a book like this, the world building, or descriptions of this different world, has got to be thorough and imaginative and unique. If not, the whole book, like all big sci-fi books, falls flat on its face. The worldbuilding also has to be integrated into the story, as opposed to just being done in long tracts of text. I thought Mathew did a good job of this.

What I Didn’t Like About It

The main thing I thought could have been done better, to make this book stronger, was to have taken out half of the characters and their stories. The theme could have been conveyed twice as strongly in half as many pages. None of those stories are really related to the others, so you spend the whole book jumping from story to story.

And some of the characters were…well, just really not relatable. I almost didn’t read past the first chapter because the first main character is so not likable. If I were Matthew Mather, I would have picked any one but her to start the compilation.

Who Would Like This Book

If you’re a fan of books like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or Foundation by Isaac Asimov, then this book might appeal to you. It’s thought-provoking, heavy, and elaborate.

Nutrition Facts, Gifs, Stars, Etc.

As mentioned, I don’t have the book in my possession anymore, so I can’t provide a nutrition facts label. But I can give it four out of ten stars, and give you this gif to illustrate how I felt when I read it:

via GIPHY