Posted in Reviews

The Negligence Roundup: Fairy Tales, Space Princesses, Androids, and Air Castles

I tend to do these roundups when I haven’t read anything particularly enthralling. A combination of writer’s block, distraction, and the inability to ascertain why I liked a few elements of some books led to this entry. So, this is more of a catch up post — my apologies for my negligence.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

61gtghmu28l-_sy344_bo1204203200_This story was a less compelling Howl’s Moving Castle, without the charm and with a much more “new adult” feel. The story involves a wizard known as the Dragon who takes a girl every few years from the villages in the valley he protects. The girls and villagers don’t know what he does with them, but each girl is released many years later and chooses not to return to the valley. The girl chosen in this particular instance is the unexpected choice, and she ends up finding out that she has an aptitude for magic.

It was predictable, but in a pleasing way that many fairy tales employ. The story was too long in some parts, such as exploits in the city, and the same points were made again and again. The types of magic were interesting and each user specialized in his or her own type, though the main character’s seemed a bit convenient. It fit her personality, but felt contrived within her abilities. The characters were a little flat, though I could see the efforts made to make them more compelling.

With a good base needing a bit more polish and a much too drawn out ending, I call Uprooted a READ WITH CAUTION. I would much have preferred an actual dragon.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I chose this book because it’s considered a seminal work of science fiction, and also a-princess-of-marsbecause it seemed like a decent adventure to read about. I was both surprised and not surprised by its contents. Basically, a veteran of the American Civil War is transported to Mars, where he learns to deal with the indigenous peoples, cultures, and eventually falls in love.

The notions of the novel are very old school, with honor and bravery being at the forefront of manliness, and womanliness being pure and worthy of defending. The story was fast paced, but at times the time line seemed to jump a bit unexpectedly. I would think only a few months passed, but it ended up being years. The fauna and flora of Mars was described with a surprising hard sci fi kant, while some other parts were more inexplicable. The main character, John Carter, always has the answer, which was both likeable and annoying.

The whole story line of love/friendship conquering even savage hearts and humanity being sealed in the notion of love as we understand it in modern times was a little trying, as were the very odd and archaic use of commas throughout the work. It wasn’t a bad read, though, and anyone wanting a bit of retro sci fi adventure would probably enjoy it. I call it a READ WITH CAUTION.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick

doandroidsdreamThis is one of those novels that I liked a lot, but I’m unable to properly articulate why. The elements of the story are fairly simple. A cop hunts wayward androids for bounties in the post-ruined Earth, when most of the “good” parts of humanity have settled off world to escape the radiation and squalor. In his day of bounties, the main character confronts many concepts of identity, humanity, and religion.

The society was very interesting, as well as the story and how it kept me guessing. Usually, I can spot how a story is going to go, but these twists and turns kept me guessing far more than usual. I also enjoyed how the characters and story intertwined with one another, along with the insight into the self and humanity as a whole. I was expecting a different route for the story with each new fact I found, and I was almost always wrong. I especially enjoyed the almost 1984-flavored ending.

It was definitely a good read, even if I can’t get into the specifics of why and how without considerable writer’s block. As such, I would call this a READ.

Castle in The Air by Diana Wynne Jones

After enjoying Howl’s Moving Castle so much, when I found out it had a sequel, I decided to castle_in_the_air_coverpartake. This starts in a different land, one that might be at home as the setting for 1001 Arabian nights. Abdullah is a carpet salesman who daydreams about a beautiful princess and palace. After he’s sold a magic carpet, he is accidentally transported to this area — and eventually must save his princess and all the princesses of all the lands. The story is fairly cliche, but it has its quirks that render it amusing and fun to read, similarly to Howl’s. About halfway through the story, a sudden twist occurs, and a familiar character shows up.
I was completely thrown off by a few of the other reveals, despite being quite cynical when reading most books. Overall, it was a fun story, and if you enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, I’d say it was a READ. My opinion may be colored by my love for the characters, because much like Richard and Kahlan from the Sword of Truth series, I could read about Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer in nearly any situation. Otherwise, I think it’s a READ WITH CAUTION, as it’s not without its flaws and Abdullah’s prose gets a little hard to handle.

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Posted in Reviews

The Jaded Roundup: The Decent, The Unenthralling, and The Downright Awful

Occasionally, I do these reading roundups because either the books themselves don’t warrant a single review, or more frequently, because I’ve read several dull books. This time, we’re looking at the second book in a series, a first book in a series, and something that tried to be a book but should probably have been a made for TV movie.

220px-academs_furyAcadem’s Fury by Jim Butcher

Overall, this wasn’t a bad read. Maybe I’m just burned out on fantasy for a while, but though I enjoyed Butcher’s world in the Codex Alera book one and two, I just don’t feel particularly intrigued to go further. The basic story of book two involves Tavi at an academy to learn to be a Cursor while the rest of the realm fights and sputters over different threats, some real and some imagined. I highly prefer the parts of this world that involve the non-human races like the Marat and the Canem. To be honest, I just really didn’t find reading about Tavi to be that great anymore. I wouldn’t say no to reading the rest of the series in the future if I felt like it, nor would I necessarily discourage others from reading it, but it just wasn’t for me. So, this was a READ WITH CAUTION, and where I’ll end on the series for now.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas81pujydq2yl

I started this book with the thought of really tying to enjoy it. I wanted to like this. I really did. Sometimes I think I get bogged down in genre or general story themes, so I tried to keep an open mind about this. It wasn’t written poorly, and the story wasn’t necessarily bad, but it just didn’t capture me. The novel follows an assassin who has been sentenced to work in the mines for her crimes, but is then “rescued” to compete and become the King’s champion. To become the champion, she must fight her way to the top. The wind up to the real meat of the story takes a while, and even then it’s bogged down with many points of views, odd love triangles that aren’t love triangles, and threads of story that are dropped and picked back up at random times. At a certain point, I put down the book after a reading session and just didn’t pick it back up. Eventually, the library check out expired. I’m going to call this a READ WITH CAUTION, because I feel like it does have potential, but it failed to ensnare me, and as such I didn’t feel it was worth my time.

PrintArmada: A Novel by Ernest Cline

After reading the book jacket blurb on this book, I knew I was in for something less that thrilling. I thought, however, that it might be pulled off well. Cline is known for Ready Player One, a book I enjoyed. As I’m a pretty geeky person who plays video games, I thought a novel written by Cline that supposes video games have been training people to fight in a real alien war could be fun. Boy, was I wrong. Armada isn’t awful from the get out. It’s written in what I call a simplistic young adult sense, with a lot of stream of consciousness. I could get by with everything that happened, from government conspiracies and aliens showing up to people playing a game to train for the military without knowing it, but then they had Carl Sagan tell me the aliens drew a swastika on the moon Europa. And a little girl’s synthesized voice said we’d disturbed their holiest temple and must die. It was at that moment that I put the book down and thought for a moment. I picked the book back up a day later and read on. Things did not improve. While I wasn’t expecting much, Cline seemed to think he could take a very similar premise as to what gained him fame beforehand and just shove it in a slightly different box. The prose felt like it was simply there to hold every reference to science fiction that Cline could come up with, to the detriment of the story and conversation. Pages go by with in-depth description the reader doesn’t need or even want, and then the things that are really interesting are left unexplained. Add in an awkward romance angle where the main character meets a girl that should basically be named Geeky Stereotype Badass Dream Girl #1, and it’s just a bit too much. Plus, the book takes a leap a bit too far into the realm of suspension of disbelief by presupposing, apparently, that no amateur astronomers exist. Anywhere. So, this is a RUN. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

oryx_and_crake_1-large_Spoiler-free Snippet

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a solid dystopian novel that imagines a future where genetic engineering and scientific modification has flung itself forward with little regard for the ethics and moral practices that drive our current society. The overall world was intriguing and the structure of the story was interesting, as it built on different bits of knowledge revealed by the memories of the main character and his journey back to the source of everything going awry. This intrigue was marred a bit by a feeling of bland post modernism that bordered on boring, as well as a disproportionate amount of scientific jargon and explanation. This is a READ WITH CAUTION. If you’re looking to dive into Atwood, I’d check out The Handmaid’s Tale first, which is actually one of the first books I reviewed on this blog.

Here, There Be Spoilers

The overall story of Oryx and Crake is a discovery of what came before through the memories of one of the last remaining people who actually existed pre-apocalypse. Snowman, as he named himself, is the narrator, taking us through his life with snippets of memories and explanations gleaned from interactions with the odd human-like people he is caring for: the Crakers. As the tale unfolds, you learn more and more about Snowman’s life, who Crake and Oryx were, and ultimately that Crake was right off his rocker. There’s a good dynamic of reader info given, reader guesses made, and actual info given to the reader throughout the story.

The tone, or perhaps more appropriately, the feeling evoked by this book was one of dryness, of casual desolation and the silence of once-occupied emptiness. It was similar to walking into a once-bustling warehouse that is now musty, dark, and quiet. The immediate timeline setting was more interesting than most of the memories you encounter within the novel, and I would almost have liked a book more about the present than the past, though the two are woven together decently.

Atwood employs the use of dystopian-style words and phrases a little too liberally for my tastes, taking the general satire of naming conventions in modern culture further than Orwell or Huxley might have. Corporations, products, medicines, and even foods are all given branded, corporate-funded names that are quite obvious notes to the reader about the society, but it easily becomes overwhelming alongside all the scientific mumbo jumbo.

It was interesting to read about Snowman’s depiction of the familiar plight of word people versus number people. That is to say, word people often end up feeling less valued than number people, and tend to hold jobs viewed as less important, even though the value of marketing the projects the number people produce is quite emphasized within the novel. As a word person, I know that feel, bro.

The ending was interesting in that it totally let the reader decide what Snowman would do. You’re left to contemplate and weigh the consequences of all the ways he might act. I appreciate the elegant tie in to the beginning of the story, as well as the thought behind all the different avenues that Snowman might take.

There’s also some very interesting commentary about art versus science versus religion, specifically shown with the Crakers themselves. Even without influence from the previous culture, they start to create–a thing that Crake warned would bring nothing but trouble. Did Crake leave them too human, or did Snowman influence them too much? Was it Oryx who succeeded in squandering Crake’s dream of perfect humans? We’re left to wonder.

Overall, it was a decent enough book set in a familiar and alien world. I call it a READ WITH CAUTION. If nothing else, the mental image of men with erect, bright blue penises waggling them in a greeting dance to a random woman was amusing.

Posted in Observations

The Best and Worst Reads of 2015

Since the day we arbitrarily chose to mark the new year has recently come and gone, I thought I would take a look back at the best and worst reads I experienced in 2015.

As I looked back through my posts, I was struck with overwhelming mediocrity. Either I chose poorly, or I was just basically unimpressed with a majority of the books I read. There were a few good ones sprinkled in, as well as some horrific combinations of letters and punctuation marks masquerading as “books.”

The Best Book I Read in 2015: Howl’s Moving Castle

howlsmovingcastleThis title goes to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, with All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr as a close runner up. It’s funny; I actually didn’t give Howl’s a full review, because I wasn’t sure exactly what more to say than it was very enjoyable and vibrant. I loved the brand of magic and mischief woven throughout the book, and the characters all stood well on their own. That being said, I did recently watch the Miyazaki movie before reading the book, which I admitted may have colored what I thought about the book a bit. Either way, I still say this is a great read and should be considered if you’re looking for a whimsical story and characters with some real depth behind it.

The Worst Book I Read in 2015: Arena One

13451182This dubious title goes to Arena One by Morgan Rice. While it wasn’t my worst reviewed book (that title goes to a book called Dust by Jacqueline Druga that I didn’t even get past the first few pages in), it’s the worst one that I actually read enough of to feel like I did more than simply put it down in disgust. Aside from a very predictable, overdone plot, Arena One felt like the author had binge-watched teen dystopian, post-apocalyptic movies and then decided to write a book with everything she liked about every one she’d seen. Add that into clumsy writing, inexplicable circumstances (surviving multiple motorcycle and car wrecks within the same day, traveling 200+ mph in a disused motorcycle with a sidecar, gas being viable long past its half life), and a sloppy romantic twinge, this book was just too unbelievable to even finish. The worst part is, I’m still having to block books by this author from my Google Books recommendations. At least it was free?

So there you have it. Oddly enough, both my choices were books for which I didn’t write a full review. I’m sure that means something. It was a pretty anticlimactic year on the reading front. Hopefully 2016 fares better. Any suggestions for how I might make 2016 a better year for reading?

EDIT: Title originally said 2016. I have changed it to 2015. Apparently I’m having the opposite problem of writing the right year too easily this year.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

200px-furies_of_calderonSpoiler-free Snippet

Jim Butcher is an author oft-suggested by those who find out the type of books I like. For some reason, however, I’ve never been drawn to his work. When my fiance began reading Furies of Calderon, a early work of Butcher’s, I felt a little intrigued and took a dive in order to, at the very least, incite book discussions. The world of Calderon sees nature spirits called furies bonded with humans to aid work and play. Dealing in Romanesque settings blended with familiar sword and sorcery elements, the book isn’t something completely unexpected. The characters and basic story are intriguing, but Butcher seems to draw out certain parts. There’s a little too much ponderous political intrigue for my tastes, as well. Overall, I call this a READ WITH CAUTION, as most fantasy readers would probably enjoy it enough to not regret having delved into this world. I intend to read the second book at least, because while it isn’t the best series start I’ve read, I do think spending more time in this world could be entertaining.

Here, There Be Spoilers

Butcher’s Furies of Calderon follows a few different points of view, including Amara the cursor and Tavi, a young boy living in rural lands. Amara finds her teacher to be a traitor and barely escapes to a rural farming community, where trouble follows her to an already troubled stead-holt. Tavi winds up in the midst of this, and the two must warn the local garrison and king of an impending attack by a brutally savage people known as the Marat. There are wild wind storms, “fury crafting” of all sorts (think of a somewhat modified Avatar: The Last Airbender flair), and dramatic battles.

The characters were generally likable, although the main protagonist was a bit transparent and overly special. Tavi lives with his aunt and her brother, and is the only member of their race in memory to not have access to the wild spirits that bond with people like ethereal Pokemon. As such, life is a bit harder for him. It’s immediately obvious that he is going to have a special talent or significance. While this isn’t bad, it was an expectation that I read the book with, and probably colored some of my opinion of it.

I didn’t have much of a problem with many of the characters, aside from a little too much hand-wringing on the part of many of the females. Even though none of the women seemed phoned in or otherwise weak, they were either crazy enough to make Lady Macbeth take a step back, or too caught up in thought to act quickly. I think Butcher’s style of drawing out certain scenes added to this feeling. Some of the males felt this way as well, but not nearly to the same extent.

The overall story is fairly simple, but catches your attention enough. The pacing is a bit jarring, and Butcher seems to enjoy reaching a crescendo in action, then switching to another character and bringing them to that point as well before moving forward. While this isn’t a bad tactic when used sparingly, it was a frequent occurrence here and made me want to yell “Oh, come on!” to the book once or twice.

While mostly unremarkable, Furies of Calderon is an entertaining look at sword and sorcery with some flair that isn’t quite common fare in the fantasy world. Think of it as a TV show that wouldn’t air during prime time, but you’d still watch when you caught it on while flipping through channels. Some of you might binge watch it, others might run away. As such, this series opener rests squarely in the READ WITH CAUTION category.

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized

Fantasy Roundup: Werewolves, Circuses, and Moving Castles

silver-in-the-bloodSilver in the Blood – Jessica Day George

Silver in the Blood was an interesting take on Victorian-era historical fiction married with the supernatural. Two girls find out that they’re shapeshifters, having inherited a legacy from their family to protect and uphold a certain ruling family. Though this novel was a little too full of clothing descriptions and the ramblings of teenage girls for me (partly things I have issues with in most historical fiction), it also had some unique takes on the whole vampire, werewolf, and general shapeshifter legends. I also quite appreciate the changes the girls undertake as people and how they don’t immediately bow to tradition or ignore it. These were strong female characters that were actually written as females, rather than having to take on more masculine traits in order to be written as strong (a pet peeve of mine). So, if you’re into the supernatural of that sort and you enjoy historical fiction, probably of a young adult-type variety, I could say you’d enjoy this book. I would call it a READ WITH CAUTION, because there are a few considerations to be made before you’d decide to read it.

The Gracekeepers – Kristy Logan23012481

I picked up The Gracekeepers because it was recommended as a similar work to Station Eleven, which I enjoyed. It was more of a young adult take on that type of world, though. While I agree that there were similarities in the novels, such as a sort of literary fiction take on a speculative fiction novel and a traveling troupe theme, The Gracekeepers fell short of being more than mediocre. The writing was decent, but many of the characters felt flat. While their motivations and personalities should have been interesting, they just sort of melded together into this blob the color of a stormy ocean. The settings and ideas behind the novel and its story aren’t bad, and could have been a lot more interesting if the tone of the book hadn’t been so lackluster. Definitely a READ WITH CAUTION.

howlsmovingcastleHowl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones

I bought Howl’s Moving Castle long ago on a Kindle Daily Deal, but hadn’t read it. After starting a run of watching Miyazaki films, I saw the film version and was intrigued to read the book. Howl’s Moving Castle follows eldest-child Sophie as she gives up her boring life and seeks out adventure after having been bespelled by a witch. The writing is done well, with charismatic characters and intriguing places. Sophie is quite fun to adventure with, and the world itself feels vibrant. I cannot, however, truly say if I would feel this way about the book without having seen the visual interpretation. Miyazaki did an amazing job at capturing Sophie’s character, and while the two storylines do differ, I feel like I had a very precise image of many things in my head which may have caused me to enjoy the story more than I would have otherwise. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I can really give it much of a critique because of this, but I do think it was a very enjoyable READ, suitable for all ages.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Sanyare: The Last Descendant by Megan Haskell

51tybr0fhxl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I received an ebook copy of Sanyare: The Last Descendant from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Spoiler-free Snippet

I would classify Sanyare: The Last Descendant, by Megan Haskell, as an urban fantasy set in a fantasy world. While most urban fantasy I’ve read is set in our own world, albeit one with magic and such, this deals with different realms and only briefly touches on the human realm. The overall story wasn’t entirely innovative (as many fantasy tales tend to be), but it was written in a way that made it interesting, and the characters were done well. The climax felt rushed and sudden, and the ending felt a little like it was merely a set up for another book. Regardless, I think fans of light fantasy or urban fantasy could definitely find merit in Haskell’s world and its inhabitants. I will call this one READ WITH CAUTION, as the overall work was good, but the climax and conclusion had a few issues.

Here, There Be Spoilers

Sanyare: The Last Descendant, is an urban fantasy that leans toward the side of light fantasy. It has the urban locale and somewhat modern-day vibe to it, but it also deals heavily with realms other than the human one and doesn’t have the same grit that most urban fantasy I’ve read seems to contain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was something I thought about several times while reading.

Rie is a messenger for the high elves, a changeling who was once human and taken in by two high elves, though her human status means she can only be a servant in their culture. She’s treated well and life is good until she goes to deliver a message to a high elf living in the human realm, where she is attacked by two assassins. After finding out they are from the Shadow Realm and dealing with politics that will execute her for coming into contact with them (even unwillingly), Rie ventures into the Shadow Realm to try and find out why she was a target.

The novel contains a lot of complicated elvish names. While this is somewhat expected with so many elves running about, this traditional elf naming can be a bit cumbersome to read. Luckily, most of the main characters have simpler elf names, or go by shortened names (like Rie, herself). Otherwise, the cast of characters is one of less popular beings from the otherworld, including brutish redcaps and carnivorous pixies. Upon starting the book and reading about the pixie companions, I almost rolled my eyes (I don’t know why, but pixies always conjure up things like Barbie fairies), but was pleasantly surprised when they attacked the assassins and ate out their tongues.

There seemed to be a little too much awareness of sexuality within the story, at least between the main character and her love interest. I always wonder if perhaps I’m just not as aware of those I find attractive as other people, but I find it odd that in times of stress and being completely out of their element, characters still find the time to examine bulging muscles and get flirty. I don’t necessarily mind Rie’s attraction to the Prince, but it irked me a little how quickly and ardently she admired him, especially after having been around the beauty of high elves all her life (perhaps his differences as a dark elf made him more exotic). This may not be a problem for most readers.

The biggest issue in the book for me was that the climax, while much anticipated, seemed rushed and sudden. I felt like once it crested and started tumbling down the other side, I was still expecting or wanting more. I was very happy that Rie wasn’t imbued with all the superpowers ever, as some characters can be, and I was pleased with the way she solved her own issues. But I can’t help but feel like it just didn’t live up to the rest of the book, and that a spoiled princess getting scared and a challenge to a new ability of Rie’s were the only big things that happened. I guess I just felt like there should have been a little more, or a bigger issue with the souls, or something of that nature.

After the climax left me feeling a bit unsatisfied, the rest of the book seemed a bit off, too. The lengthy description of each child of the Sanyaro and the logistics of how Rie is his descendant may be necessary, but it felt a bit boring to read about, and seemed to go on too long. At any rate, the ending definitely led up to a sequel. I would consider reading the sequel, depending on how much it cost. I will also readily admit that my view of the ending could be flavored by feelings about the climax.
Overall, I would say this is a fairly solid light fantasy book, even if it did have its issues. I felt the characters were compelling and that the author really tried to bring life to a story that may have otherwise been a bit hum ho. I’ll call this READ WITH CAUTION, as many readers would enjoy it, but those with more discerning fantasy tastes may feel a bit underwhelmed by the last 20% of the novel.